Letter to the Editor: Mocking or not, there is another side to the Zion Subway story

Composite stock image, St. George News

OPINION — I wanted to share a different opinion about The Subway hike from the article that was written this week.

Read more: Zion National Park visitors rescued after mocking rangers, hiking The Subway unprepared

I was also hiking The Subway Monday morning also with a group of six people. I have hiked the canyon many times over the years and was excited to take a new group of people to see this beautiful place. I called the back country station in Zion and got little help of the exact conditions in the canyon, I was worried about the flooding from a couple of weeks ago.

We hit the trailhead at 7 a.m. and we were on our way. It was a beautiful morning. There were a few cairns (rocks that help point you in the right direction), but we had a very hard time finding the trail to get us into the canyon.

My first point is that with this popular hike, Zion should have the trail marked better. Second, my group did have rope and plenty of supplies, but when we arrived at the place where the lady was hurt we too had to make the decision to jump over to the other side and do an easy climb down or do the more difficult rappel.

We decided to jump to help one person in our group who was worried about the longer rappel.

Once again the ranger never did tell me about this section of the trail and that the log was gone that people have used for last 30 years. My purpose in this email is to let you know there is another side to the story. The trail is an absolute mess and hard to find, the park needs to make a few improvements to make this hike more safe. (Fix the spot where everyone jumps now).

We never saw this other group that got hurt or lost, or we would have been glad to help them navigate the canyon.

One last note: I was hiking The Subway about eight years ago and there was a decent trail to follow. There were some workers from the park that were blocking the old trails and forcing you to pick a new one. This made no sense to me if they were trying to keep this trail so pristine, all it did was make it harder to navigate and destroy the vegetation with trails going every which way.

I think there needs to be some better input to make these trails better for everyone. Some people live right here and will never get the chance to see these places because you now have to draw a permit and the trails are a mess. So much for raising our fees to see the national parks.

Submitted by MICHAEL WILLIAMS, Nephi, Utah.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting..

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Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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  • Foxyheart August 3, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    You had the right equipment and were ready to rappel or jump. You chose to jump which is your personal decision. Glad you did not get hurt. However, the former hikers discounted the ranger’s warning (about needing equipment and that the log was gone) so could only jump. This was their bad decision before they even started.

    Talk about the locals needing a permit, etc, we do not hike, but love the canyon. Years ago, I used to work in Springdale. When the monsoons hit I would hop in my car and run to the end of the canyon to see the waterfalls. I can no longer do that unless I ride their bus, and the falls are gone by the time the bus gets there. They also do not stop at a very pretty area. They complain about no tourist money so they advertise heavily and then complain about too many tourists, too much damage, too many cars, restrict locals……

  • bikeandfish August 3, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    The downclimb on the far side is definitely not “easy” for most novices doing the Subway.

    Secondarily, the Subway is managed as a Backcountry resource which includes minimal maintenance and marking by the NPS. There is nothing difficult about the navigation into that canyon if you have backcountry experience and basic equipment and navigation skills, ie map and compass or gps. Its not a paint by numbers route by design. The accountability lies with the hikers not the park when it comes to safety in the backcountry.

    And many of us are disappointed in the crowds and demand for permits. But its my understanding that the promotion and advertisements are from the state and local businesses, not the NPS. I wish the state would end the Big 5 campaign but I doubt that is going to happen.

  • Real Life August 3, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    To the author, your case of blaming the park seems very weak.

  • Bender August 3, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    Lol, zip-line shown in image at top of article.

    • eddyjohnson August 5, 2018 at 5:40 pm

      Yea… didn’t include that in my reply, but did get a good laugh out of the “Photoshop” picture

  • Nick August 3, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    First off, it’s not a trail, it’s a route that leads to a canyon. A canyon is an ever changing environment.
    Logs come and go.
    2nd, It is OUR responsibility to be prepared to adjust to changes, manage risk, and know the terrain. It is not the Park Officials job.

  • Matt August 4, 2018 at 12:21 am


    I just did my first trip to the subway, top down Route… The very route that you’re referring to. for months I prepared for the hike by researching, reading, looking at videos….as well as taking 3 different Rappel courses, (as I’d never Rappeled before). One of them being in Zion at the Zion Adventure company the day before we took the hike. In all my reading and looking at videos, everything was very specific about having to Rappel. And not one article mentioned being able to jump down or over a log. Everything was always specific about the last Rappel being the longest one and right over the water and so that was what my group was prepared to do.
    We followed a map, along with the fact that Zion Adventure company was very specific about the trail which to take… As well as what route not to follow. This was the first time myself and either my two friends had done any kind of mild canyoneering. We were successful all the way through.

    This was the week before the group that’s reported in the story. I do think that the group was ill-prepared and was not focusing on what they needed to do and what was necessary to really realistically get them through the subway.

  • John August 4, 2018 at 12:30 am

    Are you a millennial? You sound like a millennial. Always blaming others for your ineptitude.

    • Real Life August 4, 2018 at 8:39 am

      You might be onto something there.

      • Striker4 August 5, 2018 at 4:51 pm

        Move out of your mother’s basement already

    • Patrice August 4, 2018 at 4:30 pm

      Are you an idiot? Because you sound like an idiot. Look at every scientific paper that says older people do not listen to younger people. Or you could read about the people who did this hike. The person responding is uninformed, but so is your moronic comment. With love from a millennial wilderness ranger who has to try and orient older visitors.

  • yikes August 4, 2018 at 8:04 am

    Again, Zion is not an amusement park where they do a test run on the rides every morning before they open. Also it seems you do not know how to read a topo map in order to find the way. And lastly…you “were excited to bring another group there” ??! Are you guiding people for money? I thought that was not allowed in Zion. Are you qualified to do this? Customers beware.
    Loved everyone’s comments by the way.

  • UT1 August 4, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    What an idiot, that group deserves what happened for the leader being arrogant. Yes, in today’s world a majority of people want to pass the buck and always blame others for their on stupidity. Just think of the reaction if the story read about how he was not prepared for a backcountry outing and used his experience as a teaching moment for people to be prepared on trips such as this, but no not this guy he’s pride would be broken.

  • eddyjohnson August 5, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    The whole point of the “Back Country” Hikes in Zion, is just that… They are BACKCOUNTRY.
    They are not well marked, they are not always maintained, and with every storm and flood, these canyons change dramatically. That is the appeal of the Backcountry. If you want to hike on a trial that is marked, signed, and has cairns at every turn, I would suggest the dozens of hikes along Zions main Canyon-i.e., Emerald Pools, Angels Landing, Weeping Rock, Observation Point, etc.
    Anyone that has done the Subway “Several Times” and still can’t find their way down the drainage needs to take up a new hobby.
    The lottery was very sadly implemented due to an excess of idiots that can’t navigate the Back country, and worse, don’t respect it. Graffiti, garbage, fires, and excessive erosion due to breaking new trails all led to the park service having to restrict and monitor those going in to the Subway.
    Do people REALLY expect the park to have up to the minute trail conditions, and be responsible for the backcountry routes when mother nature changes the conditions in the canyons? When you get a permit you check boxes acknowledging that you understand trail conditions change, and that you are ready for that. Do we need Cairns, Signs, and paths. What next? An escalator at the scramble, a metal bridge where the log once was, rangers sitting at the river pointing people to the exit?
    The choice to “jump” the slippery span over the falls to avoid the simple rappel, in my opinion is an irresponsible and dangerous choice. Waist deep in cold water is better than a sprained ankle… or worse, a fall. Stick to the shuttle hikes, and for God’s sake, don’t take new people along if ensuring a safe exit depends on a mile by mile briefing from the rangers.
    Speaking of the Park Rangers, these guys work hard to protect the park, and us. I for one respect the work they do. They block old trails at times to AVOID tearing up the area, and to minimize new trails which lead to erosion and lost hikers. Don’t blame the rangers for inexperience. Don’t confuse them up with the officials and politicians that are raising park fees.
    Most of us don’t want any more “Help” in the Backcountry. It is the lack of trail signs, cairns, and other manmade navigation aids that make these places attractive to most of us. Buy a map, a compass, learn how to handle new challenges, or simply stay out of the backcountry…
    The experienced hikers, and your poor friends will thank you.

  • eleven August 26, 2018 at 12:08 pm

    If you felt that any rappel in the Subway was more difficult or dangerous than jumping, your group did not have competent leadership. Jumping is never safe in canyoneering and where many serious injuries happen. Rappelling is almost always the safer alternative to jumping. Even in tropical canyons with big deep pools, a log could have shifted to under where you would land.

    The Subway top-down is different from a “hike.” It is technical canyoneering, which requires additional skills and gear.

    Canyons have constantly changing conditions. That is part of the sport. If you do not have the experience to tackle a canyon if one of the logs shifts, you need to practice more with an experienced canyoneer (not a hiker who has done the Subway several times).

    In canyoneering you always come prepared to solve the most difficult possible problems. You NEVER come less prepared because of information you received from someone or a trip report, even from a ranger who miraculously, personally did the canyon the day before. You never try a canyon you only have the experience to do under ideal conditions.

    The Subway is a beginner-friendly canyon with *competent leadership.* Its rappels are among the mildest and shortest in canyoneering. I’ve safely taken total beginners through harder canyons with much longer rappels with more difficult starts. I suggest joining canyoneering community facebook pages, looking for meetups, and making friends who are happy to bring you along. There will always be someone willing.

    Anyone can make or topple a cairn. It is foolish to rely exclusively on cairns and signs to navigate a wilderness activity. Many canyons have no trail at all. You can get free and inexpensive smartphone apps that work *without data* as long as you download the maps before you leave cell service area. Get free GPS waypoints from beta websites like bluugnome and roadtripryan and you will have step-by-step navigation the whole way. Back that up with physical maps and a compass.

    Ideally, every person could experience a canyon without seeing any evidence of another human being. That makes wilderness experiences transcendent. To suggest rangers should mar the wilderness to accommodate inexperience is horrible. Permits are godsends in places as high-traffic as the Subway. It is so popular it would be destroyed within a week without permits. You would never have the near-spiritual experience of walking through its beautiful formations and crystal-clear water because you would be pressing your way through noisy crowds and getting bored and cold waiting at each obstacle People would leave behind trash and human waste. Just the foot traffic alone would wear down the sandstone; ever seen rappelling rope grooves? That doesn’t take hundreds of years.

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