United States The Subway from the “Top”

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Laurent Martres

About This Spot

The alternative way to visit the Subway is to come “from the top down”, doing a full traverse to the Left Fork trailhead. Roughly 9 exhilarating miles. Almost the same as “from the bottom” but considerably more strenuous and technical. All in all, it will take you all day; around 8 to 10 hours.

My personal opinion is that the Subway is much more interesting as a full traverse than the standard round-trip hike from the "bottom". However, this is an entry-level canyoneering route that should not be undertaken by hikers without rappelling skills, unless your group has one or two experienced leaders. You need plenty of food and drinks (you can filter), a change of clothes and other necessities carried in a dry bag (which will also serve as a flotation device). You also need a smaller drybag for your camera, unless you wisely choose a waterproof point & shoot or waterproof case for your smartphone.

Given the above prerequisites, most people should be able to do this hike as long as they are in good physical condition, have good flexibility, no fear of heights, are willing to do a couple of short cold swims in narrow passages, and tackle three short rappels.

Keep in mind, however, that under not so good conditions, the Subway can become extremely dangerous, as illustrated by the National Park Service's log of rescues: an endless litany of people trapped overnight, broken bones, ledged hikers, and hypothermia.

The 2-mile approach is easy and lovely but be sure to correctly locate your point of descent (37.317999°, -113.03982°) and avoid getting stuck in Russell Gulch. After that you can’t get lost. Your first rappel comes quickly at a wide boulder field and it’s about 10 feet down to the next level. The creek then becomes deeper, forcing you to swim through a narrow section.

The second rappel is very short, but lands you in waist-deep cold water with the creek cascading on your head. This is the most interesting part from a technical standpoint: a 60-foot long swim through a very narrow slot (as in barely-squeezing-your-shoulders-through) called the Bowling Ball Corridor for an almost perfectly-round boulder lodged just above your head. Small logs may occasionally obstruct the narrow channel, forcing you to dive under, awkwardly shoving your resisting drybag under the boulder while frenetically treading water. Larger individuals may have to negotiate this part sideways. The third rappel is the Keyhole Falls, which is a good spot to take pictures of your party. You have arrived in the most beautiful part of the narrows: the Subway.

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