Sometimes a quick reset is in order. You know – a change of scenery, pace, weather, etc – looking at things through a fresh lens. A cheap flight to Vegas, a short drive later, and voila, Zion NP beneath the feet.
Being that this was our first time in the park, folks who had spent considerable time in Zion suggested that in lieu of running and/or fastpacking the 50ish mile Zion Traverse, doing multiple, shorter trips would be preferable. So we heeded. Mid-April, with temps in the 70°s and the very beginning of the spring bloom. Not too crowded, but still some folks to contend within the first couple miles of all the main trails.
We spent the first day running/hiking a bunch of the main trails, and getting a feel for the lay of the land. Vertical relief about sums it up with gorgeous Navajo sandstone rising from the Virgin River for thousands of feet. The highlight of the day was an 8+ mile outing from Weeping Rock to Observation Point, where one is treated to panoramic views from 2100′ above the river. Highly recommended.
Day two consisted of catching one of the first shuttles to the Grotto TH. Our first destination of the day was Angel’s Landing where we jogged up the mostly runnable lower terrain until hitting the steeper, switch backed sections about 1.5 miles in. As this trail is a crowded, bucket list hike, there is guaranteed to be foot traffic no matter the time of day but an early morning start helps to mitigate the inevitable cluster fuck. And sure enough, despite our early start, we encountered a few parties that were in over their heads while we were on our descent. The views and the trail are stunning, but the human dynamic in such a place is also quite the marvel.
From here, it was a venture away from the crowds and into the backcountry towards the West Rim. This lollipop loop can eschew with the ~one mile side trip to Angel’s Landing and take you straight out to the junction of Telephone Canyon/West Rim Trail in just under five miles and ~2500′ of vertical gain. Here is also where you can find the only water source, Cabin Spring, which we scoped but did not use due to carrying just enough water in our running vests. From this junction, I’d recommend taking Telephone if you’re looking to do the loop, as this allows one to finish the second half of the loop with stunning vistas. Telephone Canyon is great, runnable singletrack, but with a different feel than the wide expanses of the West Rim. I’d say it is more enclosed and subtle in it’s beauty. Whereas the West Rim is in your face with miles of surreal sandstone scenery. If you haven’t been up here before, allot for extra time to gawk and take photos if that’s your thing. It was my perogative, for sure.
At the junction of Telephone and West Rim, one can descend North towards Potato Hollow for some out-and-back bonus miles (this is where the Zion Traverse goes) or you can round the bend to the West Rim. We took a brief detour towards Potato just to get a view of the land and soon turned back for the West Rim, as we only were carrying 2L of water apiece and didn’t want to cut it too close. The West Rim trail stays high for a while with views of Phantom Valley and further canyons to the south. It is quite the stunning landscape, especially seeing it for the first time. We were accompanied by a few backpackers and a handful of raptors aloft for this entire loop.
We took off the next afternoon, after stretching our legs for a few miles on one last trail out of the campground on the Watchman trail. Then back to the wretched city that is Vegas and soon back to home in Montana. Where, go figure, I was able to ski over a foot of fresh powder that very evening! Paradox and stark contrasts, to say the least.
It has been a while, I know. Thanks for visiting, you fine, kind people of this world. Where have I been, you may ask? Well the short story is, around.
It’s spring in Montana, and we’re getting dumped on as I type. Likely about 18″ or so in the alpine in the last 24 hours. That is on top of a plush 8′-12′ of snowpack that we’ve been so very fortunate for this season. It has been quite the winter – both in terms of stability and depth.
I’m currently on my 18th month in a row of skiing (and 75 months straight of throwing snowballs :), which may seem a bit contrived and/or fun. But I really didn’t have to work too hard for it this last late summer/fall. I even got to ski from one of the tallest peaks in the Wind Rivers during the total solar eclipse while on a five day backpacking trip there last August. Surreal, to say the least…Ask politely, and you might receive.
Well, enough small talk. I’ll leave you with a departing snap of the Winds looking towards Gannet Peak from an amazingly high and wide 12000′ plateau. Some trips tend to leave the well brimming for some time…
Well, well. After a full summer’s hiatus from the old blog I am back to share with you some personal highlights of the summer season here near home in SW Montana and beyond. Some technical WordPress difficulties led me to discard a midsummer 1000+ word recap of my longest race to date (53 miles) but I’ll do my best to decant some of that here in the near future. In short, 50 miles is a lot longer than 30 🙂
The main theme that unfolded for the warm season has been mountain traverses and ridge running for long distance training – both single-push days and planned overnights with tiny packs/vests. Fun, big weekend objectives with moderate mid-week training led to an avg of 40 mile/10,000′ weeks from June through Sept. Both my mileage and vertical gain ramped up incrementally (and slowly) through the summer as strength and weather joined forces. This training revolved around three mountain ultras – an Old Gabe 50K early summer tune up, the HURL Elkhorn 50M mid summer main event and lastly, The Rut 50K end of summer celebration. All of these runs are heavy on the vert with each over 10K’ on the up, hence the emphasis on such in my training. This proved to translate well, thankfully.
This summer has been spectacular for high mountain adventures and the segue into autumn has been most pleasant with an abundance of sun, warmth, and limited precip. A bit of end-of-summer snow fell here at Sept’s finish, but nothing to shut down sneakers in the high country. Recent snow will certainly linger on some aspects until winter lays its white brushstrokes again… but until then I’m into soaking in as many golds and bronzes as I can.
Here’s a quick recap of this summer-into-fall highlights for me. Most of the distance/elevation stats came from my Suunto Ambit2 GPS watch. Thus, variance is to be expected. In chronological order:
–Beartooth: Beaten Path from East Rosebud to Cooke City. July – 26 miles, 5000′.
–Gallatin: Mt Blackmore to Hyalite Pk high route. July – 18 miles, 6700′.
–GTNP: Paintbrush/Cascade Canyon loop. August – 20 miles, 4300′.
-Bridger: High ridge traverse from Morgan Cemetary to the ‘M’ (Overnight). September – 35 miles, 17,000′.
-Crazy: Big Timber Canyon to Cottonwood traverse (Overnight). September – 23 miles, 6200′.
-Gallatin: Devil’s Backbone (Gallatin Crest) Portal Creek to Grotto Falls high traverse. October – 25 miles, 6100′.
Julia and I also spent quite a few starry nights out in the alpine whenever we could. We actually bivied more than spending time in a tent this year, learning from it and giving more opportunity to practice astro and night photography. I’ve got a lot to learn in this discipline but am really stoked on some preliminary results.
As always, I’m super thankful for the support that I receive from friends, family, sponsors, and those of you out there on the internets/the gram/the whatever/ that are filling the well, one drop at a time. I’m looking forward to Hyalite ice coming in here shortly and to the (hopefully) ridiculously deep winter that will follow. Cheers, folks!
It’s now running season for me – having just completed the Old Gabe 50K for my second year and looking forward to a couple other mountain ultras before the short lived Montana alpine running season is re-blanketed in white. For the few months of summer that we have here, I do my best to run the hills as much as possible. But when I feel the need to ski, there’s usually snow to be found if you walk far and high enough.