I was up at 5am this morning. Today was the start of the Trans-Zion Trek.
This website has a good description of the hike.
Zion Traverse Hike Description
Basically, looking at the map below, I followed the Yellow highlighted route starting from left to right.
You can see that the hike returns to the main canyon about ¾ of the way through and then continues on to the East Rim Trailhead. Due to logistics. I was only going to hike to the main canyon and retrieve my car there. Actually, the first day in Zion, when I hiked to Observation Point, I had actually hiked the majority of the last section, only skipping the last couple miles that go out to the road at the east end. The hike is roughly 50 miles in total.
Here is a great PDF that lists all the campsites along the way
Since I was alone, I hired Zion Rock Guides to pick me up at the visitor’s center at 6am and transport me up to Lee’s Pass at the West entrance. I was actually scrambling to get everything in order and still meet my ride. I ended just shoving everything in my pack, meeting the van in the dark and spent the 30 minute ride with my headlight on in the back repacking and taping up my feet to prevent blisters. A lot of good that did, as I will discuss.
I was dropped off at 6:30 and was off by 7am
I mentioned yesterday that I was at the Backcountry Office registering for hike but also trying to change campsites. When I reserved campsites online last month I was trying to just take whatever I could. The ones that were left were not ideal. They had me hiking roughly 8 miles the first day, 5 the second and then 20+ on the last day. You don’t need to analyze the PDF linked above with the campsites, but I had reserved HopValley and WildcatCanyon. I figured if I did not get a better stagger then I would just camp wherever and run risk of getting fined by a passing ranger for camping in different spot then indicated. The ranger at the Backcountry desk was able to get me a better setup where I would camp at Wildcat Canyon the first night and the West Rim the second night. This meant I would do 20+ the first night, 8 the second and roughly 5 the last day. Pretty much the opposite of my original route. I had figured that since I was starting at 7am I might as well do a long distance on day 1 because I am not one to get to a campsite at 2pm and hang out all day. Then the following days I could sleep in and get a later start, since the mileage for days 2 and 3 were much shorter. Of course, as the ranger pointed out when discouraging me from doing this, this would be 20+ miles with a 45lb pack on day 1. Logistics is tricky at Zion because water is so scarce. I won’t get into details here but this was really the only way I could do it in 3 days I felt, and still get campsites with decent locations.
I should also mentioned that based on discussions with a ranger yesterday on the trail, I had dropped about a gallon of water at the HopValley trailhead yesterday. I would be coming through there around 3pm at about mile 13. I am not one to carry excess weight, and since I personally do not need much water when hiking, I only carried 2 Nalgene bottle with me (1 Liter each). I would need water not only to drink but also to make my dehydrated meals I had brought for lunches, dinners and breakfasts. Hiking alone can be difficult because you have to carry the food and the tent. Normally with at least 2 people you can split the weight/space needed between the 2 of you. This is one reason I usually only bring a tarp instead of a complete tent when I hike alone.
Ok, now that we got that all out of the way let’s hit the trail.
If you want to stay with me as I reference things it would be good to keep open the image above with the yellow highlighted line for the Zion Traverse.
I started South along the La Verkin creek Trail. Pretty flat going
As shown on the Wilderness map there are a number of campsites along this first section and most people make a short day in the beginning and stop here for the night, but I was not gunna stop at 9am!, which was when I rolled through. I followed the creek due west for a few miles and then at mile 7 I turned South onto Hop Valley Trail and started a hill climb. Leaving Verkin creek would be the last time I had fresh water until I got to my water drop at mile 13. I had only drunk a little bit, so I did not worry too much about it. There is water along HopValley as you will see from the pictures but it is considered contaminated by horses and livestock and too disgusting to even consider treating unless you are really in a jam.
This shot is about halfway up a ridge looking back
In the below B/W you can see HopValley up ahead in the distance as I dropped down into it
I hiked for a couple miles in HopValley, a beautifully wide area surrounded by steep cliffs on each side
There are 2 campsites here. I was originally booked to crash here on night 1, but with no water I did not want end here, even though it was a peaceful spot.
I opened a gate and entered into private land for the next few miles
I stopped here and used about 500ml of water to heat up some lunch. I also drank another 500ml to wash it down. This left me about 500ml to make the last 4 miles to my resupply.
Ran across some people on horseback here on what seemed to be a tour
At the end of the valley I had to climb out as you see a change in topography
The last 3 miles were flat, but seemed to take forever. I actually ran out of water but was not too concerned as the heat was mild and I knew there was no danger between me and my water source. I was thinking that if the ranger had not told me to drop water I would have been screwed as I would have had no water until about mile 21 when I knew there was a spring at my camp area in WildcatCanyon. Then I ran into these jugs of free water
People were kind enough to place these here, looking out for hikers. Left me with a warm feeling for the hope of humanity!
I made the trailhead at HopValley, used my water to fill my 2 bottles and drank down what was left in my gallon jug. A lady in an SUV brought me a sandwich! So kind. I asked her what she was waiting here for. She said she was waiting for a group of runners to come through and resupply them. Runners? She explained that her friends started the trek at the east entrance and were running the entire trail that day. Wait, what!? That is 50 miles! It is like running more than 2 marathons with all the elevation changes and rock hopping. Crazy!
I pushed on and crossed passed with the runners in the next hour as they were still going strong. Most impressive. I thought I was in good shape but these guys were older than me and doing things I could never dream of accomplishing.
I was now heading due East on the Connector Trail looking to meet up with the WildcatCanyon trail that heads to the Northwest towards Lava Point. The plan was to camp just short of Lava at a spring mentioned on the map.
I was back up on top of a plateau at this point looking back towards Hop
Below was a major decision point for me as I reached the Connector/Wildcat Trail confluence.
I have a notorious problem with blisters on my feet. As I mentioned earlier I covered my feet with athletic tape as a preemptive strike. It did not work. By this point my feet were crushed. Yes, it is hard to avoid blisters doing 20+ miles with a full pack and heavy duty boots but this was different. I went to buy new shoes for work about 3 months ago and was surprised to find out my foot size actually went from a 11.5 to a 13! Well, I failed to update my hiking boots. At this point blisters were reeking havoc as both big toe nails were turning black from getting jammed into the toe, and the heels were not much better. Also my shoulders were screaming from the weight. The straps on the pack were padded but those can only do so much. I was also out of water again.
The situation; I could camp here with no water, which meant no food except Clif bars or push on for 5 miles to the spring on the map. I sat on log and thought about for about 10 minutes looking down the trail on the picture above.In the end I decided to push on because that was part of the reason I was out here, to see what I was capable of in these difficult situations.
I had to stop every mile or less to regroup mentally and set a new goal. I passed someone on the trail that told me that the spring was about 1 hour ahead. I hiked and kept looking at my watch. It’s funny how my shoulders ache just recounting these events, the mind is an amazing piece of machinery. I kept thinking about the people that told me it was an hour. I went over what they said, how they were dressed, what they looked like, all in order to try to determine the validity of their claim. I was walking along a ridge, slowly descending. I thought to myself, “there cannot be any kind of river here in the middle of a canyon wall.” It must be at the bottom and I did not think I could make it that far.
At about the point I did not think I could go anymore I saw a sign telling hikers to treat spring water before drinking. Below is a picture of the mighty spring
It was just a space between some rocks with a trickle flowing through. You had to cram your water bottle into the gap and wait for it to fill up. It wasn’t much but it would work. I was on a downward slope into WildcatCanyon. There was nowhere to camp but there was no way in hell I was going to drop down to the bottom. I was gunna stay right by this water source. So I dropped my pack as you see below and camped right there on the rocks.
After I got my shelter set up and heated up some food I went to work on my feet, peeling off the tape and cutting up some gauze to try and buffer them for tomorrow’s hike.
People began coming up the trail from below to fill up on water. I guess there was a flat section about 15 minutes down, but that was too far for me. Nice people, part of a retiree gang from Oregon who had been hiking the Southwest for many years. They shared some potential hikes for future trips. They did not have a campsite for tomorrow and I offered to let them share my upcoming spot along the West Rim Trail at campsite #5. Since I only had about 8 miles tomorrow I was gunna try and sleep till about 10am before getting going.
I fell asleep right away that night and surprisingly was able to sleep right through until 9am with brief periods of consciousness as hikers came by and filled up at the spring.
My view into the canyon from my “campsite”
I technically was in my allotted campsite because the WildcatCanyon is a region without an actual campground. You just have to make sure you are in a specific boundary, which I was.
After dropping down into the canyon and climbing back out the other side I was blessed with relatively flat going
I passed by the trail that headed to Lava Point and turned south along the West Rim Trail.
I ran across 3 siblings hiking a section of the trail. We talked and hiked a bit together. As I have said in the past, it is amazing how much you crave conversation and contact with another human when you have been deprived it for an extended period of time. It was one of the themes at the end of the book “Into The Wild” that eventually drove the tragic hero to attempt to return to civilization form the wilderness.
Some beautiful views from the rim above. I eventually caught up with the group of 4 that I offered to share my site. They were taking their time but enjoying the afternoon. We were about 1 mile from my campsite and it looked like rain, so I scooted ahead and said I would scout the area.
Here are some pixs of my site
Since it was on an exposed rim with few trees to block the howling winds I had to build the above shelter.
That’s not true. It was there when I arrived and so glad for the work people did to construct it, cause with only tarp, I probably would have blown away.
The group eventually caught up to me. Seeing that the shelter was only big enough for one tent/tarp they decided to push onto West Rim Camp 4 because it was designated for 12 people and had more trees to block the wind. It was with mixed emotions I watched them go as I would have liked to talk more, but also appreciated the solitude of my shelter.
The rain came down as soon as I had the tarp up and I ate dinner from within. I sat out and watched sunset with a book once the storm passed and was asleep by 9pm.
I was up and on the trail by 7am
I was pushing to get done and out of Zion by late morning, making my way back towards Las Vegas with stops over the next couple of days at The Valley of Fire, Lake Mead and Red Rocks Conservation Area.
The morning sun danced over the peaks as I headed west along the rim into the main canyon.
I should mention that there was no water source yesterday so I only had what I had from the spring the previous morning. Actually the group of siblings I ran into topped off my bottles because they were pushing farther than me and would be able to refill along the way at the next spring. This meant that last night I had to ration a bit in order to make the 2 liters last for dinner and this morning’s breakfast (skipped lunch yesterday).
I was out of water when I scared away the below deer from the spring about 2 miles past my campsite from last night
Just like the previous spring this spring was a trickle. So small in fact that you actually had to position a rock, creating a ledge to allow the water to trickle into your bottle before treating with my SteriPen.
I continued on dropping down into another canyon before rising out onto the rim of the main canyon where the shuttle, visitor’s center and my car resided
It was a great feeling to have the sun shinning and know that I was almost done. It was all downhill from here, which was actually tougher for me as it meant more of the slamming of my toes into the front of the boot.
Outside of the “Narrows” hike, the most famous hike at Zion is “Angels Landing” It is a very dangerous trail that claims at least one life every year. It is a thin peninsula of land that extends out of the main canyon wall with thousand foot drops on either side of the narrow walkway (as slim as 4 ft across in some places).
I had hiked this last time I was here and in my current fatigued state it was not something I wanted to tackle. You need all your senses on high alert for this one. My trail completed where the trail for Angel’s Landing began. The picture below is a good shot of the peninsula sticking out where hikers are coming from the bottom right of the picture moving towards the top left corner (the landing).
Here is a close shot where I am actually on the trial to Angel’s Landing and some hikers are making their way back
Below is a brutal set of short switchbacks I headed down
Here is my favorite view in the entire park
And the final bridge to the road!
And back onto the shuttle where I can finally rest and toss these boots!
Changed clothes and jumped in the car. My feet were shredded. Hiking anymore today was out the window. I stopped at Valley of Fire only to claim an appearance
I continued onto Lake Mead where I crashed a group of immigrants having an Easter Sunday Picnic.
I had not showered for about a week and with body wash in hand I took the plunge.
The plan was to continue on and do some boulder scrambling the next 2 days at Red Rocks, but it was not gunna happen. I ended up booking a cheap hotel on the Vegas strip and just recovered in my room and by the hotel pool.
It was a depressing last couple of days but it did not dampen my appreciation for the trip overall, which I considered a success. The first thing I did when I got back home was to invest some decent money into a good, light pair of hiking shoes in my appropriate size!
Until Next Time,
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