Zion: A Hikers’ Promised Land

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Zion Valley from Angel's landing

Climb Angel's Landing

Unlike the Grand or Bryce Canyon where you are looking down into landscape, Zion National Park directs your attention upward.  Your eyes climb massive mountain walls up, and up, as you crane your neck to see the top.

In this park, you cannot take your car to a trailhead.  Instead, ride a bus to your destination and embark on an unparalleled wilderness experience.  A great example of what this place has to offer the adventurer is the climb up to Angel's Landing.

This hike is not for the faint of heart.  It is not for the ego either.  Take this climb seriously.  You need to be prepared, and you need to be in shape.  Also, you need to be able to hold your bladder for a few hours because the port-a-johns at the top are a no go.

Begin with about a million switchbacks.  When these are conquered, move forward to the chains.  Climb with extreme caution going forward because hikers have perished on this trail.   The way is steep and the footing shaky.  Also, practice the art of patience, this trail can be very busy, and you must often deal with traffic jams.  Do not worry, the view of Zion Valley is worth it.

At the top, do not advertently or inadvertently share your lunch with the chipmunks.  They have been habituated to hikers.  This is a problem you will encounter over and over again at our National Parks.  Take a stand against idiocy.  Do not feed the wildlife.

Look at that view.  You can see the most amazing things when you get out of your comfort zone.  The climb is difficult, but it is the payoff that motivates.  And Zion's Valley is a great payoff.

Our Experience

When we arrived at the border of Zion National Park, we waited for 45 minutes just to enter.  It is Spring Break 2017, and the lines are intense.  There are RVs, motorbikes, cars, vans, and bicycles.  Bighorn sheep line the roadway, grazing without inhibition.  We are shocked to see a tourist outside her vehicle no less than 5 feet from these creatures.  She turns and motions us to roll down our window.  She queries: "Do you think it is okay to walk by these guys"?  We stare at her with blank expressions as if to say "Are you crazy, lady?  These are wild animals".  She walks by them.

The drive is a beautiful one, especially if you can ignore the hordes of people parked everywhere, gawking and photobombing.  In this park, you look upward.  The rocks are fascinating.  We enter tunnels and exit them.  We roll down and down to the Watchman Campground, where we have a reservation, and it is a good thing, too, because no one is getting in here without one.

Settled into our campsite, we start a fire and attempt to stargaze.  We have our star chart out, and it glows in the dark as we attempt to pick out constellations.  The problem is that all the campers have campfires tonight and, as a result, there is a miasma at the Watchman.  It does not spoil our evening though, and we tell stories around our hearth late into the night.

Up to the Landing

The next morning we wake intentionally early to catch the first bus up to Angel's Landing.  We have heard that this is quite the hike.  As we are going to start the PCT soon, this trail will help us physically prepare.

The climb up is a paved EKG line.  It is steep and switchbacked.  We see people along the way in flip flops and tank tops, which is odd and possibly unsafe.  When we reach the landing above, the fun has just begun.  To the left are two port-a-johns with signs that clearly state "out of service".  Nevertheless, people are crossing the caution tape and using.  We hear moans and cries of disgust.  It must be pretty bad; however, there is nowhere else to go.  There is no privacy up here.  You can use the port-a-john or go where everyone can see.

To the right, our climb awaits.  The chains that line the narrow outcrop are rusty and thick.  It is this tool that will help us get to the top.  A long line of people attempting to descend block our way, as a result, we patiently wait for 15 minutes.  Others are not as kind and shout at the downward hikers to get out of the way.  I am confused.  Are we on the streets of NY city here?

After a long time of dodging other hikers, and climbing up and over unstable rocks and gravel.  We ascent and the Valley is there before us.  It is clear as a bell today, and we can see all around.  We can see the buses and the people.  The trails meandering up distance cliffs are apparent.  It is such a great height that you feel avian as if you could spread your arms out and float.

Climb to View Kolob Arch

Most people visiting the national parks only ever see the surface.  Backcountry hiking allows for visitors to really see the wilderness, the inside of the park.  The hike to Kolob Arch via the La Verkin Creek trail is an example of a part of Zion that most people never see.  Other humans are scarce and the only sound you hear is the steady sound of the creek rushing next to you, guiding your way.

The turnoff to the arch takes you up a narrow, densely-vegetated canyon.  You must navigate creeks, fallen trees, and slippery rock.

Reaching the end of the trail reveals an impressive arch, high, high up above from where you stand.  It is untouchable and distant, forcing you to stop and appreciate it subtly.  You will not stand right beneath it, and you will not climb across its narrow bridge.  You will simply look at it, and that is your reward.

Our Story

The climb is steep down to La Verkin Creek.  We find our campsite tucked back from the creek in a clearing of the brush.  Pitching our tent is easy because of all the practice we have had.  We hang our food from a tree, careful to put it in such a way that no critter will be able to conquer it.

When all is ship shape, we prepare a day pack with the essentials: rain gear, maps, water filter and bottle, and some food.  Then we begin our hike out to see Kolob Arch.  We have no idea what it looks like for we enjoy the surprise of not knowing too much.

The trail continues away from the creek that has guided us for some time, and we are among the forest now and the feeling of being unattached from human society begins to sink in deep.  There is no one else out here.  Do you hear that silence?  It is deafening.

Up to the Arch

Before long, another larger creek appears.  We follow along with the sandy bank before turning off down a canyon for the awaited arch.  The trek is interesting.  We walk through water and up and down steep sides.  Climbing over dead trees, it is obvious that not many come this way.

At the terminus, a small sign marks a clearing in the trees.  It indicates the place to look for Kolob.  It is a large natural arch to be certain; however, from way down here, it appears smallish.  It is another example of the unique viewpoint of Zion National Park.  Here, you look up.

Upon our return, a rodent has chewed through our tent wall in an attempt to steal our food.  Finding none, he is long gone, and we are left using the tenacious tape to repair the damage.  Next time, we will leave our doors slightly open.

It rains all night.  The thunder rolls across the mountains.  We are grateful for our trek poles the next morning.  As we hike up and back to our car, our feet slip and slide in the thick, red mud, making balance a challenge.  Moreover, the creek is swollen now and crossing back out takes more effort than going in.

Driving back into civilization, we feel that change that each new experience leaves behind.  It is that feeling that you are never going to be quite the same as when you first walked down that path into the wild places of our land.

A short drive away another amazing adventure greets us at Bryce Canyon National Park click here.

Hike Tips:

For great road trip ideas, click here.

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