Canyoneers are inherently vain. It’s true! Every canyoneer on the planet loves the awesome action shot. They love great pictures and often, when they get that picture, they just relax and let it go. Others want to collect awesomeness. If there is the potential for a super-cool canyoneering shot, they have to get it. One place stands above all others when it comes to a great canyoneering pic, such as The Golden Cathedral at the end of Neon Canyon in Escalante. If I ever want to get a group together to do Neon Canyon, all I have to do is show them a typical pic of someone rappelling the Golden Cathedral. Availability is gone faster than free parking spots in San Francisco.
While I will admit that it does make for an awesome picture, Neon canyon is about as ho-hum as it gets. OK for the most part it is ho-hum. Neon canyon is pretty amazing when it is full of water. If not, it is a pretty miserable experience. We have all heard the joke or saying “uphill both ways”. Well, whoever invented that saying, did so after a trip through Neon. The first time I ever did Neon, it was full of water. It was a couple days after a flash flood and the canyon was more exciting than a platypus with a PhD in the culinary arts. We got to the bottom of the canyon, put our wetsuits on, and started swimming. We didn’t have to worry about any rappels or potholes. It was also fairly early in my canyoneering career. I didn’t realize how much of a rip-off the canyon was until I did it again after several years and a hundred different canyons.
There are two possible ways to get to Neon Canyon from the Egypt Trailhead, which is where you would begin. Both of them are super shitty. The shortest, super-shitty way is to walk straight across this plateau full of sand and hills. It shaves about two miles of shittiness off, but is a little more physically challenging. You have three major hills you have to go down before you get to a river that you must cross and then you start to walk up on the other side. So as you can see, you have to go up on the way in.
After a short hike, on the other side of the river, you can choose several different places to climb down. I have heard that this canyon is extremely long and, if you use the Burr Trail road, you can turn this canyon into a multi-day adventure. However, I have never done this and cannot verify if that is true or not. Anyway, once you are at the bottom, it is a simple walk with a couple down climbs. If it is full of water, it is a walk, with a lot of swims, and a couple downclimbs. There is potential for a couple keeper potholes. However, if you are having fun at high water, you will swim right over the top of them. At low water, one can be easily bypassed and one can turn into an adventure killer. If one can’t get out, one needs to reverse one’s path.
Then you come to the cool rappel. There is a large boulder that has webbing tied around it. It is here that you set your ropes, rappel through a small hole into a dome-like room. The total distance is about 85 feet with the last 80 feet being free hanging. Often times guide services bring people here to take pictures. If this is the case, be prepared to meet a host of gasps, clapping and admiration which are the only things that will make the upcoming shit-fest worth it.
Remember, I said you came down three large hills on your way to the river. Yeah, well now after you have climbed up once already, you get the thrill of walking back to your car- a three-mile hike that goes up 2 large, steep sand hills, and 1 ginormous slickrock hill, all in the heat of the day. Let’s hope the pictures look cool, because once you get back to the car, you probably won’t want to do it again or anytime soon.