Parunuweap and Fat Man's Misery with an exit at the Powell Plaque
This is the ideal slot canyon adventure and one of the most beautiful places in the Zion National Park area. The hike in is decorated with charming water filled pot holes which summer months bring canyon tree frogs to the pools displaying all stages of development. The slot canyon lures the canyoneers to its bowels. Fat Man's Misery twists, turns and winds, offering rock slides, a couple of interesting rappels and enough difficulty to keep even hard core canyoneers interested. The narrow slot canyon has it all: trees wedged between the falls, bouldering, slides, warm pools, cold pools, sandy bottoms, towering canyon walls and a couple of fun rappels. The East Fork of the Virgin River (Parunuweap Canyon) is as impressive as the popular Zion Narrows but set in a more remote and wild environment. There are few adventures that can compare with a trip through Parunuweap, one of the Southwest's most outstanding canyons. However, this canyon is not the place for those without rappelling, down climbing, rope and route finding skills. This route is through a wilderness area offering little hope of running into other humans.
At a Glance
Never enter a technical canyon without the knowledge and skills needed to safely explore and return. Rappelling and down-climbing skills are required to navigate through Birch Hollow. Do not jump. Jumping in Zion's canyons have resulting in many broken bones. Many technical canyons, such as Birch Hollow, also require gps skills or excellent map reading skills to navigate.
East Fork Virgin River - The East Fork of the Virgin River is 50 miles in length and runs south, then west through the southeast corner of Zion National Park. The head of the east fork begins just west of Alton, Utah, runs through Mount Carmel Junction, then the right fork and left fork join right behind the Tree's ranch and fruit stand in Springdale. Checking the Alton weather prior to hiking the East Fork is important to get the report for the head waters.
North Fork Virgin River - The North Fork of the Virgin River is 40 miles in length and runs through Zion Canyon then joins with the east fork in Springdale. The head of the north fork is near Navajo Lake on the Markagunt Plateau.
Virgin River - The Virgin River is made up by the east fork and north fork which meet in Springdale behind the fruit stand. The water flows to the far corner of Utah in the booming city of St. George. It then runs across the northwestern corner of Arizona, near Littlefield. The water continues its flow into southern Nevada, at the mini gambling mecca of Mesquite and then dumps into the Colorado River at the Lake Mead reservoir.
Trailhead - Park at the second pullout southwest of the main Checkerboard Mesa viewpoint located at the far east section of Zion National Park. Cross the highway and look for the path of use along the narrow drainage. There are some fun pot holes and slick rock at the start of the hike.
Trail Beta - Follow the drainage that runs next to the west side of Checkerboard Mesa. Quilt Mountain will be on you right. (The unnamed mountain to the right of Checkerboard Mesa is called Quilt Mountain by the locals.) Follow the wash until the beaten dirt path become obvious on the left. The climb gets steep as the one mile mark and the head of the canyon is approached. The saddle is summited (5920'/1804m) at the one mile mark where Parunuweap is seen to the south. Hike down hill about 150 vertical feet to the bottom of the saddle and back into the wash. A slick rock bowl is in view. At the slickrock bowl start heading southeast for about .25 miles and then bear east southeast. Crossing the first drainage, still maintain an east-southeasterly direction. Continue east-southeast and cross the second drainage. After topping out the ridge after the second drainage steer further to the east and then head southeast to the bottom of the third drainage. Scramble up the slickrock to view the fourth drainage which is the west fork of Misery Canyon. It's about 3 miles from the trailhead to Misery Wash. Follow the wash into the west fork of Fat Man's Misery.
Fat Man's Misery Slot Canyon (West Fork)
Obstacle or Rappel - Once at the bottom of the Misery wash follow it downstream for a short distance where the canyon soon narrows to a very narrow slot with an immediate 12' drop which can be down climbed or there is a single bolt which can be used to set up a hand line or rappel line located on the left side of the wall. Don't be lured to the slings that may still be wrapped on a tree trunk above and to the left of the slot.
Obstacles - Continue down the slot canyon negotiating boulder downclimbs. The canyon will open up periodically, then narrow down again presenting more boulder problems and slickrock slides.
Obstacle or Rappel - Once near an open area the canyon drops abruptly out from under, and can be followed by a 50' rappel into potholes (May present pothole escapes) or scrambling up and to the left to find a steep descent (route finding skills needed) into the sandy bottom open wash below.
Rappel - The final narrow section that must be negotiated will require rappelling 35' to the slot canyon floor using webbing that has been slung around some boulders on the left side of the head of the drop. This is an awkward overhang start with a free hanging finish. Conditions may change and anchor building skills may be required.
Rappels or Obstacles - Once in the spectacular final narrows, going down canyon reveals dark rooms with a double natural arch (technically a bridge) overhead, and the final section has potholes fed with clear warm water spurting (sulfur spring) from a small tube in the rock. Parunuweap and the East Fork of the Virgin River now may be heard just around the next bend. There are four sections of Fat Man's Misery to pass through on this route.
East Fork Virgin River (Barracks) - Towering canyon walls enclose the East Fork of the Virgin River in much the same manner as the Zion Narrows. The exit is to the left, but first head to the upper narrows section of Parunuweap. This is the section of the river called the Barracks and is BLM land rather than NPS land. The Barracks section is a magnificent slot canyon. Hike about .5 miles to the right to explore the Powell plaque.
Powell Plaque and ZNP Boundary - Reads as: "Major John Wesley Powell 1834-1902 explorer, scientist, Steven V. Jones 1840-1920 teacher, topographer, Joseph W. Young 1829-1873 Mormon pioneer leader, descended Labyrinth Falls 1/2 mile below Monday, September 30, 1872 during first Parunuweap Canyon traverse. Powell named this canyon from the Paiute Indian word 'Parunuweap' which means roaring water canyon. Dedicated September 30, 1972."
Labyrinth Falls - Beyond Labyrinth Falls, to the west, is officially off limits.Powell Plaque Exit
This Exit from Fat Mans Misery is a little over four miles and ascends 1600' to the pass between Checkerboard Mesa and Crazy Quilt Mountain and then descends 600' to arrive at the trailhead on Highway 9 in Zion National Park. After exiting Fat Mans Misery and intersecting with the East Fork of the Virgin River, turn right and walk downstream for nearly .35 miles. A peninsula of sand and vegetation will appear on the right. The Powell Memorial Plaque is imbedded in the sandstone face at the western most end of this peninsula and Labyrinth Falls is just another short .25 miles further down stream.
At the peninsula look for the trail behind the vegetation heading uphill. Begin the exit by following the trail up 50' onto a shoulder above the river. Steer right, hugging the cliff on the right. There will be a couple of steep but short 4th class sections on the featured rock as elevation is gained. Continue north, following the weaknesses that make the steep hiking easier and safer. After about .25 miles a saddle is gained with steep sandstone slickrock on the left. It will be necessary to travel up and traverse a narrow ledge system to the north on this slickrock . The exposure of the bowl on the right may become a bit intimidating. Traverse the small ledge, in the watercourse from the left, to gain the short scramble to a well-beaten dirt path. This is the trickiest and steepest section of the entire exit hike.
Travel to the north on a fairly well beaten path. It will periodically travel some slickrock sections that are well cairned, and gains elevation steadily as a north - south running ridge becomes the path to follow. After about .75 miles the slope eases and travel requires less effort. Staying left of peak 5534, but maintaining elevation, soon yields views of the left fork of Fat Mans Misery on the right and another canyon on the left. Continue north on the ridge. After another mile of travel it will be necessary to drop into the drainage below and on the left, crossing over and climbing another ridge. Travel north on this second ridge for a short time, and start steering for the southern slickrock nose of Checkerboard Mesa. Soon it will be necessary to drop a short distance down into another drainage on the left and travel in a northwesterly direction, still aiming for the southern tip of Checkerboard Mesa. Begin looking for the well-beaten path that heads north to the drainage that separates Checkerboard Mesa on the right and Crazy Quilt Mountain on the Left. Once the path is located it becomes easy to maintain travel on the well beaten trail, up and over the saddle and the 600' vertical descent that will soon end at the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (SR-9) in Zion National Park.
GPS Coordinates WGS84 Datum
Trailhead Parking Lot
Begin at Mount Carmel Junction (on the east side of Zion National Park), and follow the East Fork of the Virgin River, past numerous side canyons and exit at the Powell Plaque.
Be sure to see the Checkerboard Arch along the way.
Optional Exit - 4WD Shuttle at Elephant Butte
Freestanding Arches in Zion National Park
GPS coordinates are only references and may or may not be accurate. Do not rely on GPS coordinates as the sole method of navigation. Always have an accurate, detailed map at hand and have the proper map reading and navigation skills before setting out on any hike. Many of the hikes listed in this guide travel into canyons where a GPS has limited capabilities. Always check your position with a detailed map before dropping into a canyon.
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Suggested Gear: A sturdy pair of shoes are recommend to hike the trails in Zion National Park. Many quality shoes will help grip the rocks and prevent injury.
Zion National Park, Utah
History of the Thunderbird
This is my new favorite quote:
"I don't know who Tanya Milligan is, but I mean www.zionnational-park.com
It's a better site than the NPS's anyway."
Written by the authors of the book: Favorite Hikes in and around Zion National Park