Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Zion Day 4: The Zion Traverse West Rim/Cabin Spring - the Grotto

My last morning on this leg of my trip, sunrise from campsite one wasn't too shabby. After Cabin Spring the trail heads down the canyon, stunning views as usual. Soon enough I could see Angels Landing to my south, although I didn't realize what it was.

looking down on Angel's Landing 
I think I made it to the turn off about the same time as the first shuttle load of hikers. Hiking down I couldn't see any people but as I stashed my backpack at Scout's Lookout a good 10-15 people were starting to head towards the landing.

If you aren't familiar with Zion this hike has quite the reputation (not a hike for solitude), complete with signs that mention you can die when you fall off cliffs. After Scouts Landing the trail climbs over 500 feet on a narrow spine. Many sections are super exposed and you can look down both sides of the canyon below, there are chains to help your travel and a few small landings to let people pass and catch your breath. Definitely not for those with a fear or heights.

people heading up to the top

and I'm so very far from the ground...

and the top

looking back up the canyon

The trail was starting to get crowded but well worth the spectacular views. I tuned out the high school lecture I was stuck behind (man I'm jealous of that field trip) and enjoyed my morning side trip. Down was much scarier than the climb up but less than half a mile and I was back to my backpack and heading down the final 2 miles to the Zion shuttle stop at the Grotto.

The entire trail down was paved and some pretty spectacular engineering went on there. Known as "Walter's Wiggles" the CCC of the 1930's deserves some major credit for that trail building. I made it down, enjoyed bathrooms with running water and caught the shuttle back to the visitors center.

looking back up at the Landing
I had been plotting what to do with my last day in Zion on hike down and headed into the visitor center hoping for good news about the Narrows. Hiking up the Narrows is tricky. Its all river walking and requires no permit to start from the bottom and hike the first 5 miles but then you have to turn around. If you want to hike the whole thing you have two options. You can hike from the top down which requires a shuttle and can try for a long 16 mile day or camp in one of the 12 sites on the upper half of the river. I had been too cheap to think about setting up a second shuttle during my initial plans but the Narrows sounded worth it. I had read permits went fast so crossing my fingers I headed to the permit desk. The nice ranger laughed and said he had a ton of permits, did I want a day hike or a campsite? I'd been thinking day hike but after some quick math figured I could have an easy 11 mile first day and with a quick 5 miles on my second morning I could still get back to my car and on the road to Reno within a reasonable amount of time (plus then I'd get another night of camping). Permits picked I walked back towards my car and the Zion Adventure Company hoping I could snag a last minute shuttle for the next morning.

What proceeded was a lot of hours of me running in circles and battling with myself about cost and logistics. Long story short minimum shuttle passengers are 2, and I am clearly solo. So I would have to pay double. Plus the water temps were still in the 40's in the Virgin River and I was told hypothermia is a real risk and renting cold weather gear was a must. Things changed a few times but after a few trips around town I finally rented some gear and switched shuttles to head out at 9:30 with a mystery couple the next day. I didn't have to pay for an imaginary friend and I was going to have a nice and easy late start.

After all the logistical shenanigans and a nice nap I figured I had enough time for a little more exploring. I walked back to the park and grabbed the shuttle. I went on the very short weeping rock trail and then back to the shuttle.

and yes the rock was weeping...

Back on the shuttle I realized I was pretty darn tired and vetoed any more hiking. I decided to stop at the Court of the Patriarchs. I'd only seen them as the shuttle had driven past on its loop but the rocks were pretty amazing. I had a book and my dinner and spent the last few hours of daylight enjoying the view and the Virgin River.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Zion Day 3: The Zion Traverse, Hop Valley - West Rim/Cabin Spring

I loved this day (so suck it up and suffer through the 30 plus photos because it was just that fantastic). I woke up a little before sunrise, packed up, and was on the trail in the chill of the morning. It was a long 5 miles of picking my way along the floor of hop valley. Minimal trail to speak of, mostly just following the creek and trudging along sand.

The last climb out of the valley was short but steep. Then it was still more sand (okay the sand ends here so no more griping on that front I promise) as I made my way to the Hop Valley trailhead. I left behind the cattle grazing private property area and enjoyed the gallon of water I had cached at the trailhead the day before. As I took advantage of the trash can and bathroom I laughed as the Zion Adventure Company pulled up with a new set of hikers caching water for their trek. Soon enough I crossed Kolob Canyon Rd and headed out onto the connector trail.

Online reports had mentioned this section could be overgrown and tricky to follow but I had no issues. The views just got better as I started to climb, crossing slick rock dotted with cairns I just kept grinning at how great the day was turning out.

Ten am saw me nine miles into my morning and at the Wildcat Canyon Trail. I vetoed a side trip to Northgate peaks because of how long my day was looking, besides now I have one more reason to come back. The trail opened up on an exposed edge of the rim and rounding a corner I found the amazing Wildcat Spring. I had no idea it was directly on the trail, plus I saw my first other hikers of the day. Strangely enough another group of hikers from Reno, the first other West Coasters I'd met so far on my whole trip. There was the usual trail talk and skepticism about a woman hiking alone but they were friendly and after they learned I had already hiked 10 miles to their 2 that morning they stopped with the quizzing. Gotta love early morning pissing contests.

I headed around the rim of the canyon and started the gradual climb below Lava Point. Then I was at the West Rim Trail intersection and heading out onto the long ridge line. I passed 2 folks heading the opposite direction looking miserable, it was so amazing out how could they be so unhappy? This park is spectacular. Unexpected clouds and a breeze were making my morning fly by. Just when I was thinking it was about lunch time I hit what a guide book described as the "SGA teaser viewpoint" a view straight down the Left Fork of North Creek to the South Guardian Angel mountain in the distance. Perfect lunch spot.

the teaser view

Then it was back to the ridge line and down into Potato Hollow. Hot, dry and open this section clearly suffered a nasty burn. I'd avoid campsites 7 and 8 out this way personally. A climb out of the hollow brings the trail to the true west rim and probably my slowest 2 miles in recent memory. Between photos and just staring at the views I was happy as a clam.

entering Potato Hollow

caterpillar season in Zion

I think my favorite views were around campsite 5, although 4 had a great sunset viewing spot as well. Around the canyon rim I continued, disappointed my campsite wasn't along the amazing ridgeline. But the views didn't end, the East side came into view and as the trail started to drop Zion Canyon opened up.

Rounding the corner to the East Rim

Soon enough I found campsite one and cabin spring. Murky, red and crowded I didn't hang out by the water long. After dinner I decided sunset was worth the trek back up to the west rim and headed back a mile or so back up the trail. I sat enjoying my view, getting restless I wandered the rim as the sun set finally catching up with the Reno folks I had seen earlier that day and then heading back to my campsite to enjoy my last night on this leg of my trip. Fantastic.