Map Miles: Today: 18.3/ Total: 958.5
GPS Miles: Today: 17.7/ Total: 1,011.2
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The sun burst forth this morning in a blaze of red and orange and yellow amidst the purple clouds. The most dramatic one of the trip. I took it as a good omen for the day.
The morning went by in a similarly beautiful blaze. Leaving camp I continued along the slickrock ridge entering Zion as I headed around the massive fractured white and pink walls of Checkerboard Mesa and up the narrow Pass beside it.
As I wandered down the creekbed on the far side I was struck by all the beautiful stripes in the rock wondering how many thousands or millions of years each small strip represented.
A cross country mile later and I was passing through the tunnel under Highway 9 seeing cars drive by and hearing the chatter of people at Scenic overlooks. I hooked up with the East Rim Trail and shortly after ran into my first hiker of the day- Waker. I could instantly tell he was a thru hiker of some sort and sure enough as we got talking discovered that he had just finished the Arizona Trail and now was wandering and exploring his way around Utah up to Salt Lake City for the rest of the spring before heading to Washington to begin the PCT southbound in July. He’d been all around Zion over the last week or so and had some wonderful beta to share about good camps, good views, and good water. We ended up standing and chatting for about 45 minutes as the rest of the day’s backpackers began passing us group by group. It was a great conversation, and we exchanged info before he left just in case he needed a place to crash in Seattle.
Moving on, It was great to be back on real trail tread- I’m pretty sure permanently for the rest of the trip! The East Rim Trail gradually wound it’s way up to the Mesa top with ever better views back down canyon. I also kept running into small backpacking groups every few minutes. Trails and people- both signs I’m definitely back in a National Park. It was neat though today because everyone wanted to stop and chat and share information, which hasn’t really happened in any of the other national parks I’ve been in, even with the few folks I ran into in the backcountry.
I took my lunch at Stave Spring, which had good flowing piped water, but which I probably would have walked right by if it hadn’t been for the other couple sitting there eating their lunch too. While we ate we chatted and enjoyed watching a bird bathe in the spring.
A few pretty meadows along the Mesa top followed but sooner than I expected I was heading down the steep switchbacks of Echo Canyon towards Zion’s fabled main canyon. I’ve heard so many people rave about the main canyon here, about how it’s one of the most beautiful places they’ve ever been (except for a California couple I ran into this morning who said- “yeah, we thought we were in for a treat not realizing it’s just a lesser version of Yosemite”). I wanted my first views of the canyon to be from up high, so when I reached the junction for Observation Point I detoured off for the two mile climb to the top.
Immediately I hit the swarm of Zion tourists also climbing up to the Viewpoint and I chugged along right by them, heavy pack and all. I was a little impressed with myself. I felt just about the best I had all trip and kept what I felt was a flat ground pace all the way up to the top. It helped that nearly the entire trail to the top was literally paved!! I’ve never quite seen anything like that.
As I jetted along I could hear the comments of the people I was passing.
“You go! Great pace!”
“Man, he’s flying”
“Whoa, did you just smell him?”
I could have said the same about her though as heavily doused in perfume as she was.
Finally the switchbacks turned a corner and there it was- Zion valley stretching below me.
Another long traverse along the Mesa ridge brought me to the final high destination at Observation Point with stunning views stretching well down canyon.
I spent a long time up there, and could have spent much longer. What a stellar place. The large pink and white shear walls of the canyon towering above. The river meandering through its green Cottonwood and box elder lined banks well below. Angels Landing pushing its knife edge ridge out straight into the middle of the canyon- and the tiny people struggling their way to it’s top. Truly majestic. No worse- or better- than Yosemite. Incomparable.
I would have stayed much longer- but looked down at my watch and realized I had to go! It was already 3pm and I had told Laura to meet me at the bottom at 4!! I shot her a quick message on the InReach telling her I’d be a bit later and started to race back down. The switchbacks went super fast, and then I was walking through trail that was somehow blasted through the upper part of a slot canyon.
Down, down, and ever down. Strong feet and legs pushing forward I made up a bunch of time and suddenly there I was at 4:15, barely late at all with Laura walking towards me and waving with a huge hug. The “guidebook” part of the Hayduke suddenly and officially complete at The Weeping Wall. I was too preoccupied with seeing Laura that I didn’t even think to go and check the Wall out!
It’s so good to see such a great friend! Laura and I met nearly 3 years ago when she was doing her Lutheran Volunteer Corps year in Seattle. She joined the handbell choir that I’m in and we became live music buddies and went on a few hikes together and even one short amazing backpacking trip in The Goat Rocks. Last summer she hiked part of the John Muir Trail with her brother and sister-in-law. When I was trying to find someone to finish these last few days with who had the right temperament and could do the miles, she was one of the people at the top of my list and I was so excited when she said yes! We haven’t seen each other in almost two years but it instantly felt as if it had only been two weeks.
Laura had some sad news to share though. We had reservations to day hike through the Narrows – a 16 mile hike through the Virgin River and one of the most iconic things to do in the park. However the section of river was still closed because the water flow was too high- barely. It will most likely be open by next week, possibly even earlier. We were pretty bummed. She had also tried to extend our backpacking permits so we could really slow-roll the West Rim in 3.5 days, but alas nothing was available.
So we made a plan- a nice relaxing day in the valley tomorrow and a hike up Angels Landing, so that we could save a little time on our West rim start on Tuesday. The plan set, we were back off to Hurricaine where we had hotel reservations and tried to get dinner- except the only non-fast food restaurant open on Sundays is the expensive steakhouse 3 miles back down the road in La Verkin. Ah Utah.
I am so excited for this last week. The morning sunrise omen proved true. It’s not just going to be a great day. I can tell it will be a great week. A fantastic finish.