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.
A week off and a short flight recently brought Julia and I southbound, to one of the most amazing places on Earth, the Grand Canyon. After a bit of pre-trip planning, we concluded that car camping on the South Rim and venturing out for a couple of runs would be an effective way to see a lot of the canyon in our short 3-night January stay. This was my second trip in over a decade and Julia’s first glimpse of the area. The inexpensive flights came with the small price of landing us in Phoenix, where we rented a car and then drove north, through Flagstaff and onto the canyon. We didn’t mind at all, as we drove through the desert and iconic Saguaro on the way to higher, colder elevations.
After our brief detour, it was onward and upward for the last five miles and 3000′. Fairly reasonable given the many mule switchbacks that lazily wind their way to the South Rim. By this time we could feel the legs starting to weigh but the scenery and solitude in such ridiculously outlandish country was enough to sustain. The last stretch went by easily and with much appreciation for the day. I’d like to give a big word of congrats to Julia for cruising on her longest run to date. Twenty miles in total and an experience not to be forgotten. Well done, J!
We experienced temps ranging from highs in the 50°s F to lows in the 20°s. From bluebird to overcast and even a a couple inches of snow fell one evening. Perfect running and hiking weather for the Canyon. Both Julia and myself used running vests from Ultimate Direction, much to our satisfaction. In these we carried wind pants and wind shirts, nanospikes, gloves and buffs, fuel for the day (mostly chews, gels, and bars), P&S camera, a liter of water apiece in soft-sided bottles (refilled along the way), a map, and a small emergency/FAK.
The only bit we didn’t need were the nanospikes, as nearly all of the trails that we encountered were free from snow and ice. Truly a pleasure. We did some hiking, sightseeing, and good eating for the remaining two days along the South Rim. Took in as much as we feasibly could during our short stay in such a large and intricate place. It was a wonderful trip and one that I imagine will trickle back to us for years to come.
Ahhh… a full-length Montana fall. We’ve had quite the autumn this year so Julia and I have been trying to squeeze in as much outside fun as possible during this impeccable weather window. While we have accomplished a lot of “done-in-a-day” recreation, backpacking has fallen off a bit this year due to a few large life events. Thankfully, this long fall season has allowed for us to play a little catch-up with the outdoors. Two free coinciding days recently yielded a most amazing, 20+ mile loop that is not too far from our back door. And with what has amounted to a quintessential Montana Indian summer, it has been hard not to get out to soak it in.
Ridgelines are high on the list of fun, as well as loop/lollipop hikes that allow one to traverse different ground nearly the entire trip. Time is sometimes of the essence, and bang for buck has become an increasing theme in our (and maybe your?) ever-evolving backcountry strategy. This particular loop held just what we were looking for – distance not too far or short, miles of ridgeline travel above and at timberline, high and wide alpine vistas, peaks to incorporate just off trail, a logical campsite midway at an alpine lake, and enough up/down to keep us working for it. Everything you need and nothing you don’t.
The loop begins and ends at S Fork Spanish Creek TH (N end of Madison range) and can be easily figured out from there with a topo, as it is the only true non-redundant loop. It is a great overnight trip, or would also be a great longer run for those so inclined. Overall length is in the low 20’s for mileage and ~5000′ for vert. Clockwise or counter is the only major remaining question. My vote is for a counter clockwise run, based on water availability and terrain selection. It could feasibly be done with just a handheld w/ inline filter if ran in this direction. It could almost be done without a filter, except for one important, and semi-suspect water source. As for backpacking it, we put in the longer mileage day and Indian Ridge first, and thought that this may be the preferred method to camp. But either direction would still be most pleasing.
A cold, calm night on a bench sitting above the lake yielded, (go figure, yet again) significant condensation inside of our single walled/hybrid Big Sky International Mirage 2P shelter. You’d think we have had enough time over the three-plus years of use to just get rid of it, but no, we press on because of weight/space balance and the hopes for optimal conditions. We do have a double-walled Hilleberg for more serious weather but it is overkill for a lot of summer use here in the Montana Rockies. So along comes the Mirage 2P and then we end up cursing it about half of the time. And loving it the other half.
So, it may be time to rethink the 2P summer shelter situation come next year. We’ll have to leave that one for when the time comes though, so until next time folks. Winter is currently knocking on the door.