Technical Canyon Hike in Zion National Park’s “The Subway”

by New Mexico adventure photographer Michael DeYoung

I’m also always searching for the ultimate lightweight adventure photographer outfit that gets me into hard to reach places without sacrificing professional results. I haven’t found it yet but I’ll keep trying. An all day hike in Zion National Park’s Subway from the top down put my “bare bones” outfit to the test.

The top-down Subway trip is a 9 mile hike that involves cross country route finding, steep down climbing, rappelling, jewel numbing swims, a brutal nearly continuously wet 6 mile hike out, ending with a punishing 1000 foot ascent to the bottom trail head. In addition to photo gear we packed a wetsuit, canyoneering shoes, harness, rope and rappelling hardware, and all the normal day hiking gear of extra dry clothes, food, water, etc. Though we have most of our own gear, you can get all the top quality gear you need for this hike, including the wetsuits, shoes, rappelling gear, canyoneering pack, good advice, and directions – and even a shuttle – from Zion Adventure Company in Springdale.

Young couple play around on the slickrock while heading toward the entrance to the Subway hike decent, Zion National Park

Youthful energy early in the day. Hiking cross country on slickrock heading toward the entrance of the Subway

Because this was a shoot and I took two hikers that had never done this before, the day took 13 hours. In mid-October that meant all available daylight with a crack of dawn departure starting at 8000 feet at a chilly 28 degrees.

 

The lightest one body and lens outfit I have is a Canon 50D with the 10-22 EF-S. Remember that not sacrificing quality thing? The quality of this outfit just doesn’t hold a candle to the pro full-frame bodies and L lenses. So, it stays home.

The best body for this shoot would have been a 5D Mark II. Problem is I don’t have a 5D Mark II so I hauled the much heavier and trusty 1Ds Mark III. Canyon shooting is wide angle country so a full frame body is the only option for me. Canyons are a brutal environment for cameras too. There’s a constant threat of getting wet, exposed to windblown sand, and falling and banging around. This may not sound like the smartest place to bring a $6,000 camera. But the 1Ds is made for putting up with this kind of punishment. In retrospect, I’m glad I brought it.

Young couple check the topo map at the beginning of the Subway hike ,Zion National Park

Above the entrance to the Subway from the top. Checking the map for our position. Following visual clues from the guidebook instructions proved to be more useful than the map and GPS for route finding. The “old fashion” way worked better!

I went with only one lens my 17-40 mm and 2 580EX II flashes. The strobes were outfitted with the indispensable and lightweight Radio Poppers which let me place a light with wireless TTL almost anywhere I want. Completing the strobe accessories were a Honl 1/8” grid and some warming gels. Instead of a second lens, I would rather have the lighting capability of the 2 strobes. Unfortunately, one of the strobes went down early in the day so I only had one light that I could fire wirelessly from the Canon ST-E2 transmitter.

Young couple hike around deep pool of cold water in the Subway hike, Zion National Park

After downclimbing into the canyon this was our last pool we were able to skirt around before donning wetsuits and canyoneering shoes.

For support I brought my Gitzo backpack carbon fiber tripod with the Really Right Stuff B-25 ball head. The whole thing is 2.3 pounds. I love that little ball head and it’s amazing how well it holds the 1Ds with 17-40 attached. I wouldn’t use it for general purpose shooting but in tight spots where weight and size is an issue, this tripod and head combo get the job done. All the gear gets packed in a Watershed dry bag. Because we had to keep all the gear waterproof for the 2 mile technical section, every time I stopped to shoot it was 10-15 minutes just unpacking and repacking gear.

Image of male hiker holding day pack over his head while crossing a waist deep pool of cold water in the Subway hike, Zion National Park

Brigham wades an icy pool without a wetsuit.

It’s good that you easily forget about sore backs and aging aching joints after a pizza and a good brew. Already hit the reset button in my brain. I’ll be back for another punishing Subway adventure photography hike in a heartbeat.

Young couple swimming through deep pool in the Subway hike, Zion National Park, canyoneering

Brigham and Madison swimming an over the head deep pool in the upper Subway.

Female canyoneer rappelling in the uppoer portion of the Subway, Zion National Park

Madison rappelling in the upper Subway. The drops are short and easy but this one put us into a chest deep pool.

Young couple hold their backpacks over their heads while walking through deep pool in their wetsuits in the Subway, Zion National Park

Wading in wetsuits in the upper Subway.

Young couple walk through shallow water in one of Zion National Park's Subway hike pools

The Subway gets deeper and more interesting as you descend past the second rappel.

Male wading in a narrow pool in Zion National Park's Subway hike

Brigham wading in a narrow pool in the Subway.

Young couple of hikers hiking in Zion National Park's Subway

Brigham and Madison standing at the entrance of the Subway after changing into dry clothes. You can reach as far as this point from a round trip hike from the bottom up.

One Response to “Technical Canyon Hike in Zion National Park’s “The Subway””

  1. Wetsuits zion national park – Wetsuits | Diving Equipment Blog » Blog Archive says:

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