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Misery Canyon - Zion National Park

Summary: A very nice technical canyon with wading, swimming and route finding required. To complete this canyon you will need: good map reading skills, a compass or gps, a 75' rope, harness w/ descending gear, webbing, dry bags, helmet and probably a wet suit. This canyon technically lies outside the boundary of the park, so no permit is required.
Directions: From the east entrance to Zion N.P. drive a short distance past the pull out for Checkerboard Mesa to one of the next two smaller unmarked pull offs on the north side of the road (the second one is bigger and closer to your entry point). From the west you can arrive at the same location by driving 3.0 miles east, from the second (smaller) tunnel. The gps coordinate for this location is: 332834mE 4121689mN.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car (paved all the way)
Navigation: Difficult - you will need excellent map reading skills, compass and/or gps (with spare batteries)
Length: 8-10 hours
Date Hiked: September, 2002
Weather Conditions: Nice & warm
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the car park (gps: 332834mE 4121689mN) walk across the road and begin walking up the dry wash on the west side of Checkerboard Mesa. There is a pretty good trail to follow as you walk across the slick rock then begin a long sandy slog up to a saddle (gps: 332793mE 4120122mN). The path descends the other side of the saddle then bends left around the back side of Checkerboard Mesa. The trail descends in and out of four drainages (the 4th being Misery). Take care as you enter a drainage to pick up the trail as it climbs out the other side. At the second drainage the trail splits (this is where you will rejoin the path on the way out). Do not follow the footprints down this wash, but instead cross the drainage and climb the slick rock slope on the other side (gps: 333975mE 4119121mN). Continue down and across drainage #3 then route find your way down into drainage #4 which is Misery canyon (gps: 334563mE 4118883mN). It took our group about 2 hours to reach this point. Begin hiking down Misery Canyon. There are a few easily bi-passable pot holes at the beginning, then it's a sandy slog through a wide drainage for about 20 minutes until you reach the narrows. You have two options to enter the narrows: either stay in the drainage and perform a 25' rappel off an old crappy bolt on canyon left or climb the left slope and perform a 30' rap off a tree. The canyon then alternates between nice narrows and a wide sandy wash. There are a few down climbs & slides in this section, but nothing terribly difficult. We encountered a few shallow pools, but water levels will depend on recent weather. You will encounter two short drops in an area with a nice natural arch. You can slide down the first drop of 15' or thread your rope through the old anchor (what appears to be bent rebar) around the corner on the right for use as a rappel point or hand line. Use the arch as an anchor or try a belay and partner assist (like we did) to negotiate the second drop of 25'. Just below this point is another drop and natural arch which can easily be bypassed by climbing around on the right. As you near the east fork of Misery, the canyon will begin a series of steep pot hole drops. Avoid this section by exiting the drainage on the left and route finding your way down to the bottom of the east fork. A short distance beyond you will encounter a drop off of 25' formed by break down. Use one of the boulders on the left as an anchor. There are two great sets of deep narrows below this point. You will encounter a few down climbs and slides that you may wish to use rope for, but it is not necessary. Near the end of the second narrows you will enter a very cool chamber with twin arches and a large pool and warm spring. Swim through the pool then through a green hallway to the confluence with the East Fork of the Virgin River (also known as Parunuweap Canyon). Turn right, and as you wade down Parunuweap through a beautiful stretch of canyon keep an eye out for a use trail on the right located just before a prominent horseshoe bend in the stream. The use trail is your exit point, but most people walk the additional 1/2 mile to a small unimpressive waterfall before beginning the climb (while the falls is not interesting, there is a nice stretch of canyon that makes it worth the trip). On canyon right on the far side of the horseshoe bend is the Powell Memorial Plaque. It reads: "Major John Wesley Powell 1834-1902 explorer, scientist, Steven V. Jones 1840-1920 teacher, topographer, Joseph W. Young 1829-1873 Mormon pioneer leader, Descended Labyrinth Falls 1/2 mile below Monday, September 30, 1872 during first Parunuweap Canyon traverse. Powell named this canyon from the Paiute Indian word 'Parunuweap' which means roaring water canyon. Dedicated September 30, 1972." When ready, begin the very steep climb up the use trail. You will encounter numerous faint trails near the top. Pick a trail that leads you back up Parunuweap then Misery a ways, then the trail should bend left and take you over sand and slick rock up to the junction described earlier - if you carry a gps you can use it to help lead you back to the junction (gps: 333975mE 4119121mN). From the junction, simply follow your footprints back to your car.
Rating (1-5 stars):
This canyon is a real gem and one of my favorites in Zion. The author his wife and a friend completed this hike at a leisurely pace, enjoying the narrows and taking photos in 10 hours.
Maps: Trails Illustrated - Zion National Park, Zion N.P. Park Map
Books: None
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Nice narrows. Rappel arch.
Dark narrows. Parunuweap.