Morning Glory Arch is a rappelling paradise in Moab, Utah. It is a simul-rap (simultaneous rappel) that takes two people down either side of a glorious arch. In order to get to Morning Glory you have to hike the Medieval Chamber trail and rappel down the Medieval Chamber route.
*This is a top-down description that will require two rappels: One at Medieval Chambers and one at Morning Glory Arch.
Once in Moab, head to the entrance station of the Sand Flats Recreation Area ($5 fee for day use). Drive along Sand Flats Rd for about 2 miles until you come to the road leading to the radio tower (this will be a left-hand turn if you are coming from the entrance). The road is directly before the over-flow camping on the left side of the road and is marked by a cattle gate. If you get to Loop F of the campground, you have gone too far. Go back. Park just before the cattle gate.
Start hiking on the road, toward the radio tower. After about a minute, you will see a sign for “Medieval Chambers and Morning Glory Arch” at the beginning of a wash. This is the wash you will be hiking in for a large part of the hike. This wash intersects with a 4 x 4 trail known as Fins & Things. It is also periodically marked with arrows.
After a while, the trail becomes narrow slots and there are some small drops. There are actually two ways to go at this point: a north canyon and a south canyon. This website gives a detailed description of each canyon. Both of them converge at the Medieval Chambers rappel. Both trails are very well traveled and obvious.
We took the south canyon. We actually did not know there were two canyon options until we checked our route description when we arrived at Medieval Chambers. We were using this website and by the description, realized we had gone south. The drop and wells described were very obvious. There is the possibility of pools with standing water that you will have to wade through on this route. Another group arrived while we were setting up our rappel and confirmed they had come through the north canyon. Both routes are good. They take the same amount of time. They both end at the top of the first rappel.
At this point, you will have to rappel or turn around and go back. At least a 70 meter rope, along with other rappelling gear, is needed. To find out more about the rappel, visit outdoorproject.com.
This is an amazing rappel. The colors of the canyon are absolutely gorgeous. The top is so hot and sunny then as you lower to the bottom it becomes very cool and shady. When we were there, there was a very shallow pool of water (a couple of inches) at the bottom of the rappel.
Do not bother taking your rappelling gear off at this point because the arch is just around the corner! Not even a two-minute walk and you are standing on top of a spectacular sandstone arch.
Please research and learn how to do the simul-rap before attempting it. If you are not into the idea of the simul-rap, you can still rappel off of an anchor set up around a tree above the arch. This website describes the rap off the tree. We did the simul-rap.
This is the most incredible experience with a rope I have had to date. The sensation of coming off the arch and hitting the open space is insane.
Make sure of two things:
1. Do not toss your rope down from the arch. There are a lot of people at the bottom. Also, your rope can get outrageously tangled and you might not notice since it the arch blocks the view. It is incredibly difficult to untangle a rope while dangling 50 feet in the air. Instead, lower your rope from the top, keeping yourself and hikers below safe. Our rope became horribly tangled and it was nerve-racking trying to untangle it while dangling in mid-air. This is photo turned out amazing but, as you can see, our rope is a rat’s nest. Not pictured: Our shaking arms and nerves from long minutes trying to free the rope.
2. If doing the simul-rap, equal tension must remain on the rope until both people have their feet safely on the ground. You do not have to have equal weight on both sides: it’s all about the tension in the rope! I hit the ground before my partner did but I had to maintain tension by keeping my hand in break position and keeping the rope tight until she also got to the ground. This part felt a lot like belaying a climber on the wall.
The good ol’ internet claims there are three ways to exit the canyon containing Morning Glory Arch.
1. The first way is to follow the main trail through Negro Bill Canyon, ending at the Colorado River. This way requires a shuttle. You have to arrange a shuttle ahead of time to pick you up and drive you back to your car at the Sand Flats Recreation area. This is absolutely my one and only recommendation! The safest and easiest way to exit Morning Glory Arch is by finishing the main trail and having a shuttle pick you up.
2. Loop trail back to Sand Flats Recreation Area. We learned about this trail on this website. We chose to try and follow this trail back to our car, which was parked at the radio tower of the Sand Flats Recreation Area. It seemed easy enough. It turned out to be not at all easy. What was supposed to be a one-hour hike took almost four hours. The trail is extremely difficult to follow. It meanders along and looks more like an animal footpath than anything else. Cairns will pop up here and there and then lead to a dead end. The trail periodically disappears. We are still not sure where the trail is supposed to end, because we finally scrambled up the canyon in a spot that looked safe and just happened to pop out on Fins & Things 4 x 4 trail. (By just happened to pop out, I mean my husband and his brother worked together with their outstanding sense of direction and spotty Google Maps data reception to make sure we stayed as close as possible to our target location every time the trail disappeared. Coming out at Fins & Things was a very educated guess by the two of them). I absolutely DO NOT recommend trying this route. The trail is not well-marked, it is difficult hiking, and you run the risk of having to do some very sketchy climbing out of the canyon.
3. Climber’s Exit: Talking to other climbers who have completed the climber’s exit, this is a big no. There is a lot of exposure and a 150-foot exposed no-fall zone. After that, you still have to hike part of the loop trail from option 2. While we were rappelling off the arch, there was a climber attempting this exit that got stuck and had to be rescued by another team.
I will repeat myself: Arrange a shuttle and take the main route.
Gear of the Trip:
Rappelling Gloves! Hands down (pun intended). The Morning Glory Arch rappel only uses on side of the rope (as opposed to most rappels, with use two). This causes you to ascend the rope more quickly than usual. The rope gets very hot and your hands get very sore. A good pair of rappelling gloves solves that problem easily.
Recommended Rappelling Gear Starter Pack:
*All of these suggestions are click-able affiliate links that will take you to Amazon so you can start your gear collection!
1. Climbing harness with ATC and locking caribener. This handy little set will let you start rappelling with friends who already have the rope and any other necessary pieces of gear. Your own harness, ATC, and locking caribener are the three items you need to bring with if you are rappelling with any group.
2. Climbing helmet. A helmet keeps your noggin’ safe (we all know this). But really, when you play on rocks your head is at a huge risk – and ya kinda need it.
4. Rappelling Gloves. See “Gear of the Trip” advice.
5. Static Climbing Rope. If you are a novice, go with someone who already owns a rope and knows how to set up a rappel. If you are becoming comfortable with rappelling, look into buying your own 65m or longer static rope. Static is the way to go for rappelling so you do not bounce around. REI has a great article on how to choose a rope that works for your purposes.