A technical canyoneering descent to visit the famous Subway slot canyon
Prerequisites: One party MUST be very proficient at rappelling and basic canyoneering – enough so not only for them to rappel, but to organize and monitor everyone else as they rappel. Everyone must have rappelled before.
The journey to The Subway is a long one. It is tightly permitted with only a few parties allowed each day, thus the park service operates a lottery, although there are also last minute allotments through a drawing two days before and walk-ups in case of cancellations. The hike itself isn’t easy either, starting with a drive out of Zion and then back in the north end on the Kolob Terrace. That part was a bonus for me as I had never been up on the Kolob Terrace Road with the pine trees and high alpine feeling. Trail details are beyond the scope of this blog but there are some very good canyoneering websites that list plenty of details.
It is important to note that this is a technical descent. Rappelling is required which means ropes, harnesses and friction devices are required. They are not hard rappels but they are rappels. There are some short but mandatory swims so wetsuites are also required (some of this equipment can be rented in Springdale, but no one rents ropes).
Although our kids did not come with us on this journey but they have done Pine Creek Canyon with us which is much more technical than this one. They had climbed with us but had not done any rappelling. We took them out to an out-of-the-way country bridge and did free hanging rappels from there to give them experience. (you don’t have to use a bridge, we did because Pine Creek has vertical free hanging rappels, The Subway does not.) We ALWAYS had them on a “fireman’s belay” both at that bridge and in the canyon. A fireman’s belay is simply when one person hangs onto the rope at the bottom of the rappel. When the rope is pulled tight, the increased friction stops the person on rappel. Simple and it works.
You have to asses your ability and the fitness level of your child, but a fit kid 10 years old and older that do long hikes and has shown they can rappel without freezing up with fear can likely do this. Fireman’s belay always!