It would be an understatement to say that I haven’t been “on top” of sharing what’s going on. Here is to hoping I can get caught up in the near future. But hey, this blog is free, and our twelve or so readers will just have to deal with it.
In mid-June, six of my buddies and I embarked on what my wife called my “Bachelor Extravaganza!” We hopped on planes and met up in Zion National Park to complete (most) of the Trans-Zion Trek — a hike that traverses much of the park.
The Trans-Zion trek covers the 47 or so miles from Zion’s northwest corner to its east entrance. We opted to cut it short by 10 miles, stopping when we reached the main canyon. This made the logistics easier by requiring one less night and only one chartered shuttle ride.
After arriving and stocking up on supplies (read: much too much coffee and oatmeal), we checked into a Springdale campground for the night. Luckily, despite the 95+ heat each day, nighttime temperatures cooled to the 70s and we got some rest. A few hours later, we were up, packed, and loaded for our 7 AM shuttle to the Lee Pass Trailhead.
Our first day’s itinerary was our easiest. Mostly downhill and shorter than the next two days, it gave us a chance to get used to our packs and build some confidence. The views were spectacular as we descended towards La Verkin Creek. We scoped out the blooming cacti and freaky bugs.
Our first day was to end with a pretty good climb out of the La Verkin Creek valley to our campsite. We felt pretty good by the time we reached the base of the climb and opted to make two side trips. The first was to see Kolob Arch on of the largest rock arches in the world. The trail to the arch was surprisingly tough: climbing up-and-down steep sandy banks of the small stream. We made poor time but still got to see the arch.
Honestly, I can’t say that I would recommend the trip to the arch — especially as a day hike from Lee Pass. The view from the trail is pretty far from the arch, and being there in person doesn’t provide a more engaging view than the above photo. In fact, we had more fun exploring the small river (to avoid the steep banks) than viewing the arch.
Our next…errrrr…stop was the falls in Bear Trap canyon. Alas, we never made it. We either went too far or not far enough and never found the entrance to the canyon. Charles and Bryan forged ahead and reached a narrows in an unidentified canyon, but no one ever found the falls. After exploring for a bit too long, we were feeling tired and a bit grumpy. A trio of younger women passed us in search of the same falls. When they passed us later, none of us had the heart to ask if they had found the falls.
We cooked some dinner along La Verkin creek and prepared for the climb to our first night’s camp. We used a vacant campsite as a base for cooking and filtering water. Of course, as soon as we set up a couple arrived with a permit for the site. They were nice enough to let us finish, and we thanked them with donations of double-stuff Oreos.
Before starting the last few miles, we split into two groups. One finished filtering water and cleaned up after dinner, while my group forged ahead to set up camp. Climbing in the late afternoon heat — right after eating dinner — was…uncomfortable. But, we made it to our campsite soon enough. The second half of the group arrived just before sunset and we settled in for our first night on the trail.
Our second day was to be a LONG and exciting one. A few members of the group were optimistically hoping to hold it to for the bathroom at the Hop Valley Trailhead. A choice others mocked as unnecessarily uncomfortable.
Knowing it would only get hotter and with dreams of a real bathroom, we made great time climbing out of beautiful La Verkin Creek and into the high dessert biome. Everyone’s hairs stood on end when we passed some fresh mountain lion tracks. It had stopped raining maybe 10 minutes earlier and you’ll notice that there are no rain marks in this print. It is a little creepy to know that this mountain lion definitely
watched saw us. That had us on high alert and further encouraged a quick pace towards the restrooms.
We rested for about 45 minutes at the bathrooms and then trudged through the open land towards the Northgate Peaks. Getting to Northgate peaks was HOT and exposed. We poured sweat during what was definitely the most brutal part of the hike but we were urged on by the increasingly incredible views and geology.
After Northgate peaks, we approached what was our first water source since the previous afternoon. The spring was trickling so slowly that it took our group almost an hour to filter enough water to get everyone reloaded. I napped while others played Euchre. We had officially reached the stage of the hike where lying on the rocky trail was comfortable.
The above photo is of Wildcat Canyon — our intended destination for the second night. Somehow we got poor information about where to find the campsites for the canyon. Researching post-trip, I realized we were supposed to descend into the valley, but at the time we believed the campsites would be labeled just off the trail. No such luck. Instead we trudged on for about another 1.5 miles, ultimately camping at an unmarked site on the West Rim Trail. Sorry NPS…it wasn’t on purpose and we camped on durable surfaces away from the trail!
Day three was the most spectacular. We quickly reached another spring and loaded up for the rest of the trip. The West Rim Trail was actually pretty view-less for a number of miles, but as we approached the valley the views opened up. We caught glimpses of the maze-like canyon systems both east and west of the trail.
About 6 miles into the day, the trail split. Bryan, Charles, and I opted for the 0.6 miles with bonus views while the others planned to meet us at the spring when the trails rejoined one another. The views were WORTH it and gave me a chance to scope out some of the epic slot canyons.
We met back up, topped off our water at a nearby spring and set off on the last segment of our hike. At this point we were in day-hiking range of our exit trailhead and we started to see more and more people. At this point, too, the trail got downright ridiculous. Many times the trail was over exposed slick rock and marked with cairns or blasted with TNT out of the side of a cliff by the civilian conservation core.
Finally we reached Angels Landing — the narrow fin with 1500+ feet of exposure. Bryan, Charles, Doug and I opted for this side hike while the others were understandably pooped. I had done Angels Landing alone twice on previous trips to Zion, but Bryan, Charles, and Doug were rookies and welcome company.
Hiking with friends meant that I now had subjects for dramatic photos. The trail is EXPOSED, but really quite safe. There are chain railings to hold onto in any scary spots, and as long as you take your time and are careful, there should be no risk of falling. Still, I grabbed a chain and took shots of the boys in the most dramatic spots.
Okay, if looking at those pictures makes you nauseous, look at these two idiots (not us) hanging over the edge for fun.
Finally we descended through Refrigerator Canyon into Zion Canyon where we rode the park shuttle back into town and got some curious glances from day hikers who had a few questions about where we were headed with such big packs. Always fun to play the hero!