Friday, September 16, 2011

Zion National Park

Zion was amazing.  I am sure I will start many blog posts with something similar in the months to come but Zion truly was awe-inspiring.  The rock rises around you on every side, rearing thousands of feet into the sky.  When you hike to the top of one of these cliffs you truly feel as though you are on the top of the world.  The striations, curves and depressions give the rock around you such character that every step presents new and amazing views.

My first day in Zion I hiked the West Rim trail to Angels Landing, against the advice of one of the rangers who told me that the hike was “a zoo”.  I started early so as to avoid the crowds, and I feel I did pretty well.  There was a pretty good-sized handful at the summit but the crowd did nothing to diminish the spectacle before me…

Five miles, 1500 feet elevation gain- a decent hike to start your day with! The first couple miles are mostly shaded during the early morning, the trail well maintained, albeit a good climb. The last ½ mile or so is along a spur of land- you’re basically hiking along the top of a fairly narrow ridge with steep drop-offs periodically appearing on either side of the trail. The views are unreal. You stand on top of the ridge looking down into the valley and you think “I did this!” It does wonders for the self-esteem!

Here is a pretty cool website if you want to read more about Angels Landing. This guy is obviously a pretty amazing photographer and there are tons of photos that are way better than any I took.

During my ascent I met two very cool individuals named Mariah and Kris. It turned out that they had also planned to do the Narrows hike later that afternoon and we were enjoying each others’ company so much that we decided to do it together.

Mariah, Kris and me about halfway back down from Angels Landing.
The Narrows is probably Zion’s most famous hike.  The whole trail is 16 miles long and I had originally hoped to do the entire length, either as a day hike or as a two day trip; there are multiple backcountry campsites along the way.  However, I was a little pressed on time and also didn’t feel comfortable tackling a 16 mile-long hike by myself in unfamiliar terrain.  It wasn’t the length of the trail that I found daunting, but the fact that for significant portions of the hike you are walking in the Virgin River in water anywhere from ankle to hip deep (most of the time- although there was a portion where it was up to my armpits!).  Also, I’d heard that even storms 100 miles away could result in flash flooding in slot canyons and I wasn’t really keen on possibly experiencing one of THOSE on my own (or with someone else, now that I think about it)! 

The Narrows were very impressive, with the sides of the canyon rising sharply on either side and looming over you the entire way.  It was fun and a little bit of a challenge to have to hike in the water, and the We ended up hiking up the main canyon about 2-2.5 miles and then turned down Orderville Canyon do explore this narrower slot canyon a little.  We turned around after a mile or so, as the temperature was falling rapidly with the end of the day approaching. 

Here are links to both the main Narrows hike and to Orderville Canyon.

The three of us grabbed some dinner and called it an early night, camping in a primitive site just outside of the park.  The next morning we said our goodbyes; Mariah and Kris were off to do some mountain biking and I had more of Zion to explore!

The destination for the first half of my day was Observation Point, an 8 mile (round-trip) hike with an elevation gain of over 2100 feet, that required me to hike a portion of the West Rim trail.  The trail description said to allot 5 hours for the hike but I had a lot I wanted to accomplish that day so I pushed myself and finished it in 3, which made me feel like a rock star.  It goes without saying that the views were amazing. 
I used an online site to generate this panorama.  It did something a little funny to the middle of the picture but you can still get a pretty good idea of the view from the top!  :o)

After finishing Observation Point I checked out the Kayente Trail to the Emerald Pools, about a 2.5 mile hike with very little elevation change- for which I was profoundly grateful!  The pools were beautiful and the relatively cool and shaded hike was a welcome change from the heat and full sun of the Observation Point trail!

This concluded my time in Zion National Park.  I am sure I could have spent a week there but I was pretty satisfied with my day and a half, and felt that I had really picked a great handful of hikes!

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