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Cherry Canyon: a highway-side oasis

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Tricam, Nov 20, 2020 at 10:41 AM.

  1. Tricam

    Tricam

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    We had a week scheduled to be in the Zion area, but we broke it up with an intermission to meet friends at Red Rock Canyon. With access to Zion canyons being unpredictable, we looked for a canyon outside of the park to do before driving further west. We stumbled across the Virgin River Gorge area, which was almost perfectly halfway between Zion and Red Rock. I remembered driving through this area before - it stands out as the only noteworthy thing along the drive from Vegas to Zion. We debated between Cherry and Portal canyons, but we ended up choosing Cherry because it seemed to offer more action for the effort.

    Heading west from Zion, you have to drive through the Virgin River Gorge and turn around at the next exit to return to the parking area on the eastbound side of the highway. From the pull-off, we followed a well traveled trail down down to the Virgin River. We crossed the river in water shoes and left them near the bank for the return. Leaving the river, the trail is well worn and follows a wash before it steepens through a gully, where it becomes a a light scramble for a bit. After the gully, you continue on an obvious but steep trail that winds up through the desert to the start of the route.

    I loved the approach. I commented to my wife that this was exactly what I thought I was getting into (but never got) when I joined Boy Scouts years ago: adventure through desolate wilderness. Despite always having the highway in view, this area really has a remote feel to it, and the views of the desert life and canyon backdrop are incredible.

    After not too long, we found ourselves at the top where short downclimb drops you into Cherry canyon. We found a shady spot and ate lunch before beginning the descent. After a bit of hiking through the canyon we found the first rappel, which follows the watercourse down a smooth limestone slab. Before this point, I was a bit worried from looking at photos that this wouldn't feel "canyon-ey" enough. In the photos I had seen, everything was grey with gravel everywhere, and nothing jumped out like photos in sandstone slot canyons. It turns out that although the limestone rock is grey, it is worn flowingly smooth with unique features just like sandstone canyons, and the walls are immense and breathtaking. Although photos never seem to capture the beauty of canyons, I feel they do a particular injustice here. The water worn limestone is quite unique, and I found myself constantly in awe looking down canyon at the immense walls offset by the distant desert mountains.

    We worked our way down canyon through the rappels, which are in pretty rapid succession. All of the anchors are natural(ish), and they were in good shape. Most were boulders or cairn anchors, with a couple slung trees and bushes mixed in. One rappel gave us a mild challenge. It was somewhere in the ~80-100' range, and I couldn't see the bottom. I wanted to play the "guess and throw" game with a single rope, so I measured off what I thought was about right, tied a stopper knot in the tail, and threw. I heard it hit something, but I wasn't sure if it was the true floor. I rigged this with a figure 8 block, which I had reserved for a very limited use case: when I thought I probably would not need to lower, but wanted to have that option readily available, and didn't want to re-rig for myself. In testing at home, the version I came to trust is a variation on "Compact Secure" method, where I add a blocking half twist to the last bight. This variation is both blocking and easy to quickly release to lower if necessary. I ended up getting the rope length correct, so I didn't have to mess around with this.

    After about a dozen rappels, the canyon opens up, and you are presented with a few downclimbing challenges before it pinches off again, and there are a few more final rappels. We worked through these, then found ourselves back in the wash that leads back to the Virgin River. The afternoon light at this point was hitting the cliffs and gave them a beautiful glow. My wife commented that it felt like being in an Indiana Jones film.

    This canyon ended up being quite good - much better than expected. The scenery was amazing and unique, and it was a great way to split up the drive between Zion and Red Rock.
    Rapterman and ratagonia like this.
  2. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Crossing the Virgin River
  3. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    High up on the approach along a ridge
  4. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    I tried to make a friend, but he turned out to be a little prick
    NateFlet and hank moon like this.
  5. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Heading over an edge
  6. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Awesome smooth limestone
  7. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Amazing walls to this canyon
  8. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Walking through the canyon floor
  9. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Looking back up at the upper section
  10. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    The bottom section was more open, but still had awesome rock
  11. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    One of the final rappels
  12. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    Downclimbing towards the exit
  13. Tricam

    Tricam

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    [​IMG]
    The "Indiana Jones" exit
    Kevin, Dan Ransom, townsend and 2 others like this.
  14. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    Nice. I still haven't done any canyons in that area.
    Tricam likes this.
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