Short & Sweet.
Pipe Spring is an interesting little canyon in an unusual location, out near Lava Point, next to the MIA Route. It is at a higher altitude than most canyons, and well-shaded, thus is good when it is too hot elsewhere. Admittedly, the 2-mile, 900-foot of gain exit will discourage many people.
We had admired the slot from the bottom for many years, and I finally decided to drop it from the top in October 2009. Not every day does one get to do a 'new' canyon in Zion, but that was one of those days. Pipe Spring is near the top of the MIA Exit, a rugged, backcountry route which can be used to exit Kolob Canyon after descents of Kolob, Oak Creek and Boundary Canyon. The exit includes the top half of the MIA, then the hike back up to the West Rim Trailhead.
Because the canyon is rarely done, bring plenty of webbing and rings to re-rig many of the anchors. The approach and the canyon are on MIA Camp land (private land), though on the edge of the actively used area. You are a guest on the Camp's land; be a good guest.
Most people will choose to do the Upper section of the canyon, which has the best pay to play ratio, and makes for a fine moderate day out, 5 to 6 hours for most parties. People who have not done the MIA exit might use this to familiarize themselves with the terrain for an upcoming Boundary or Kolob trip. The section below the midpoint has some good scenery, but adding the lower half of the MIA exit is an unfortunate penalty for completing the canyon.
WGS84 UTM 12S Waypoints:
Pipe Spring: 323580mE 4138758mN
Top of MIA: 323762mE 4138921mN
Summer or fall
180 feet (55 m)
Navigation, basic anchor rigging
Helmet, rappelling gear, webbing, rapid links.
COLD WATER PROTECTION
FLASH FLOOD RISK
Low - the drainage is small and wooded.
Canyon begins and ends near the West Rim Trailhead, Lava Point.
TYPICAL TIME SCHEDULE
0:00 Leave West Rim Trailhead
1:00 Arrive at Pipe Spring
1:30 Arrive at top of first rappel
2:30 Top of Big Rappel
3:30 Finish Upper Section
(from here 1-1/2 hrs back to the trailhead)
4:15 Finish R9
(from here 2-1/4 hrs back to the trailhead)
5:00 Finish R10 at Kolob Creek
(from here full MIA exit takes about 3 hours back to the trailhead)
To get to the "Pipe Spring", you must follow the MIA Exit road-walk section backwards. It is very helpful to have done the MIA Exit BEFORE attempting this canyon.
Park at the West Rim Trailhead and head down the MIA Road -- the gated road on the north side of the parking area. If the gate is open, still do NOT drive down the road. It might be locked by the time you get back. There is a maze of roads in this area, and some details on the USGS topographic map are out of date. Follow my approach map carefully to reach the Pipe Spring 'picnic area'. But really, it is simple: go left at the first Y, go right at the next. Then follow this road straight. The road ends close to the edge of the MIA "pit". Follow the edge road to the right a short way to the pipe spring.
Follow the road next to the watercourse below the pipe spring, to the developed rappelling area for the camp. Descend the trail down in that the camp has established to the bottom of the canyon. Hike downstream. In a few minutes, the bottom drops out of the wash, with twists and turns down below. Looks like a rope might be necessary!
I usually bring 200 foot ropes.
Most of the raps are bolted, and might require being re-rigged.
R1: Pick a stout tree on the left and rap in, about 70 feet. This is a good one to rap with the ropebag clipped to your harness to get over the edge, and drop the bag clear to the ground, to avoid tangling in the trees.
R2: About 100 feet down a flute, off a 2-bolt anchor.
Walk through a few twists and turns.
R3: 50 foot rap down another flute.
The canyon opens up for a bit, and a class 3 exit can be made up the edge to the left.
R4: 40 foot rappel off a tree.
Downclimb about 20 feet down a chute.
R5: 180 foot rappel off bolts down a steep wall to a small ledge with a two-bolt anchor.
R6: 95 feet to the ground off a two-bolt anchor.
R7: 25 feet rap off a single bolt
R8: 25' down chute off single bolt.
A wonderful, narrow slot and a couple short raps and fun downclimbs complete the technical part of the upper canyon. You may have been here before, as this is the MIA slot. Walk out to the main MIA canyon.
Most people will want to hike out from this point.
It is possible to continue with two more raps all the way to Kolob Creek.
Lower Canyon (variation): follow the watercourse, with a bit of bushwhacking, to a very nice narrow slot that ends in a drop. Downclimb and rappel directly, or (easier) climb over the rib on the left and downclimb the chimney next to the wall. Saunter forward a few minutes further to a big drop
R9: 80 feet down a very nice chimney/crack from a sling around a boulder (or FiddleStick a tree). You are about 2/3 of the way down the lower MIA exit. You may want to leave much of your gear here. (Even smarter, maybe forget the last rap and head on up the MIA.)
Downclimb a few obstacles. Look for trails of use where descent is not conspicuous. Close to the creek, the MIA trail goes left and up.
R10: 70 feet down a chimney, fix the rope off a big tree.
Bushwhack 30 feet to Kolob Creek. (head upstream 50 feet to the start of the MIA exit). The creek may or may not have water in it.
From the bottom of Upper Pipe Spring Canyon, called the "MIA Slot" in the MIA Exit Description, you "get" to "enjoy" the top half of the MIA Exit, a steep backcountry route that some have mistakenly labelled a "trail". The route is sometimes difficult to follow - but finding and following the easiest route is quite important, as off-route, the terrain is even steeper and more hazardous. The MIA route has changed in the last couple of years, and become easier, though still steep. And easier to follow.
Follow the main watercourse upcanyon past automotive debris washed down from above. Follow this canyon five minutes along the basin floor, until it turns right and heads for the right-hand wall and slot. Climb steep dirt on the left directly up the fall line. The trail has developed cut-in steps. Follow the steep steps up several hundred feet to the base of the cliff above, then traverse right.
The trail crosses a side-drainage and climbs straight up the steep hillside. The trail is well-defined. Near the top, the trail is less well-defined and climbs a few sections of steep, loose rock/dirt. Be careful of partner-generated rockfall. In the last few years, a few lengths of fixed rope sometimes make the final, steep sections faster and less-scary. Ascend to the road.
Back to the West Rim Trailhead
At the top of the MIA Route is a logging road. Turn left (south) and hike about 200 feet (60 m) to the top of the hill. The exit road goes up and right. You may want to visit the picnic area with water coming from a pipe (The Pipe Spring), that is 200 feet (60m) ahead on the main road.
From the top of the hill, hike up. Follow the roads (generally north and west, but always up) to the West Rim Trailhead. Allow a half-hour for the top half of the MIA Route and an hour for the roadwalk back to the Trailhead. First time MIA'ers are likely to take longer.
From two large rocks in the streambed, often with cairns about, climb a well-defined trail up steeply to the base of a rock, then left and up, then traverse left and down to the top of the last rappel. Scramble up the canyon to the bottom of Rappel 9. Follow the canyon on the right up for a few minutes, until a trail on the left charges steeply up the hillside. Charge! The trail climbs directly up for several hundred feet, then traverses right to a pass.
From the pass, you can get a gander at the second half of the exit. Three standing dead trees (snags) mark the top of the route. Follow the trail down the other side of the pass to a streambed. Many people like to go across the streambed and up the rock on the other side, but I prefer following the streambed to the left for several hundred feet, to where a brushy trail cuts right up the steep hillside to the top. Walk briefly across the top of the hill, then find the least obnoxious place to descend the steep sandy hillside to the canyon floor below. Depending on exactly where you end up, you might need to go left 60 feet to get to the main streambed, or not. Follow the main streambed to the bottom of the MIA slot. (Follow the Top Half description above).