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Birch Hollow - Zion National Park

Summary: Normally I wouldn't reveal the location of such a nice canyon, but I'm afraid the cat is out of the bag and the hike has been published elsewhere. The result is that some non-enlightened individual has placed bolts at every rappel point. Disappointing, but this is still a very nice canyon and is now suitable for the novice canyoneer. To do a loop hike, you can go down Birch then up Orderville (a car spot at the Orderville trailhead is useful and will save you a 3 mile trudge). More ambitious hikers can go all the way down Orderville, then down the Virgin (a long day and you'll definitely need another vehicle). Birch Hollow lies outside the Zion NP boundary and does not require a permit from the Backcountry Office. To complete this hike you will need: enough rope to perform a 110 ft rappel, harness w/ descending gear, webbing, and helmet.
Directions: From the east entrance to Zion NP, drive east on Highway 9 for 2.3 miles and turn left on the North Fork Road (the first 5 miles are pave, the rest is well graded dirt). Zero your odometer at the Highway 9/North Fork Road intersection and drive exactly 8.2 miles to where the road crosses a shallow wash. Park on the left side of road next to this drainage.
Note: if you hit the abandoned houses on the left side of the road, you've gone too far, drive back the way you came 2 washes.
To spot a car at the Orderville trailhead, drive another 3 miles and turn left at the sign for Orderville to park next to the corral. Those with a 4-WD vehicle could save even more time by driving past the corral all the way down the rough road to the Orderville drainage, but you have to be pretty lazy to go through that much inconvenience to avoid getting some exercise.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car (if roads are dry), 4WD if you plan to drive the rough road all the way to the Orderville drainage
Navigation: Easy (once you find the canyon)
Length: 6-8 hours, longer if heading down Orderville
Date Hiked: September, 2003
Weather Conditions: Warm & sunny
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the parking area, route find your way down a steep slope into the wash. You'll have to push through some brush initially, then the walking becomes easier. If you're looking for clues to tell you that you're in the right canyon, about 20 minutes into the hike you'll pass through a short section of gypsum narrows then cross a wood plank bridge. After 40 minutes of hiking you'll hit a drop off over a wide cliff band (reportedly 100ft high). If you've brought enough rope, you could rappel down. The easier way is to use the developing hiker trail which bypasses this obstacle via a steep dirt path on the left. At the bottom of this cliff band, a 10 minute walk will bring you to another cliff band, and your first rappel, 85 ft using the large tree in the middle of the watercourse about 20 ft back from the edge (note 85 ft is the total single strand rope length required). A short stroll brings you to the narrows and the beginning of the fun. Entering the narrows you will have to down climb 2 drop offs of 10 ft each (a belay for less experienced members of your group may be desired). This is followed by:
Rap #2: 25 ft from 2 bolts and hangers (B&H) on the left
Rap #3: 110 ft down a nicely fluted wall from a tree on canyon left walk 20 feet to
Rap #4: 35 ft from 2 B&H on the right
Note: it might be possible to combine rappels 3 & 4 with a longer rope, however if you use the tree as your anchor you will likely have difficulty retrieving your rope.
Rap #5: 50 ft from 2 B&H on the right
Rap #6:  40 ft from 2 B&H on the right
Rap #7: 80 ft from 2  B&H on the left
Rap #8: 60 ft from 2  B&H on the left
Just below this rappel the canyon begins to widen and just beyond reaches the junction with Orderville Canyon.
If you spotted a car at the Orderville trailhead, turn right and walk up canyon. As you near the head look for a prominent trail that leads up a steep dirt slope on the right. Once on top, follow the trail which parallels the stream bed to the road which leads back to the corral & your car. It will take 1 - 1.5 hours to hike from the Orderville junction back to the corral.
If you are heading down Orderville, turn left. A description of Orderville may be found here.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife completed this hike with a group of 4 others in about 7 hours at a casual pace. Along the way we found an unfortunate (and frightened) skunk trapped in the slot between two drop offs with no means of escape. A member of another party hiking the canyon notified the Park Service as to the skunk's plight (for what it's worth, though I suspect animal rescues are not high on the Park Services list of priorities).

Skunk Update: After surviving more than 2 months trapped in the canyon without food, the skunk was rescued by 2 brave and daring canyoneers (Mike and Rick) who took pity on the poor creature. At great personal risk to their olfactory senses, the skunk was wrestled into a rope bag, carried out of the canyon and transported to a local animal shelter. The skunk was then fattened up over a period of several weeks before being returned to the wild. The very amusing account of the dramatic rescue can be found on the canyons e-group at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/canyons  (search for 'skunk' in the messages section). Great job guys!

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.
Rappel #1 Rappel #3 Rappel #3 as seen
from below
Rappel #7 Near the junction
with Orderville