Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is about 2.5 hours from Las Vegas depending on how fast you like to drive.  Don't count on getting an early start as Las Vegas is not conducive to early starts. 

I had done some research about my hiking options at Zion, but most of the info was geared toward summer hiking.  The conditions in February were significantly different than I had expected.  I instantly put on every piece of clothing I had and wished I had more...  It was cold, foggy, raining a bit and snowing higher up.

I told the ranger (a cute girl outfitted in a Smokey the Bear hat = odd) that I wanted awesome scenery and a great workout.  She recommended the Angel's Landing Hike and mentioned that if I went fast I could fit in another shorter route before dark.

I drove to the trailhead, loaded my backpack and headed out.  The trail starts out mostly flat along the canyon floor.  The scenery is amazing from the moment you enter the park but to truly appreciate it you have to hike... in my opinion any view you have to work to get beats one you can see from inside the car.

The incline of the trail picks up significantly as you head toward a slot in the monolith above.  The steep portions of the trail are paved with a rough surface that is obviously designed for traction.  As I navigated the hairpins, of which there were dozens, I could definitely feel my heart rate jumping and I was working pretty hard.  I had intended for this to be a workout - at a slower pace I don't think it would be that challenging.  That's the great thing about a steep hike - you can chill out and relax or get an awesome workout without as much impact as running - it is pretty easy to crank it up if the trail is challenging enough.

After a couple of outstandingly beautiful miles, heading straight up, you reach Scout Lookout.  As it's name suggests, the lookout provides an amazing view of the canyon and the various rock formations.  You can also appreciate the vertical ascent because there are several cliffs that are about 1500ft high.  If you are afraid of heights this is NOT the hike for you.

Angel's Landing is only half-a-mile beyond Scout Lookout.  The trail takes a fairly massive jump in complexity as it climbs straight up over red rock formations in search of the summit.  I was relying heavily on the chains (installed to keep hikers from falling to their certain death.) 

The trail from Scout Lookout to Angel's Landing is absolutely incredible.  It could accurately be described as a "knife-edge", as the drop on one side is 1,500' and on the other 800', in between is a chain and about 18 inches of rock.  It's cool. 

Check out the video I shot:

1500 feet on one side and 800' on the other.

By this point it was snowing quite heavily and I was beginning to worry that I would become a headline in tomorrow's newspaper.  The snow was making the miniature rock steps very slippery and I still had to come back down which would be even more treacherous.  I was also getting pretty cold - the slower pace had me cooling down rapidly and my bare hands on the freezing chain were going numb.  I wasn't dressed properly for these conditions.  Since I had already gotten a pretty awesome adrenaline rush from the first two or three chain sections, I decided that "Discretion is the better part of valour."

I probably had a quarter of a mile to go - not far, but it was very slow going with the slippery surface and vertical nature of the trail.  I thought a lot about the decision to turn back...  this is definitely not Everest, and there is a 99.9% chance that nothing would have happened.  I could understand the motivation that pushes climbers to make the wrong decision.  To disregard the "return" portion of the journey in favour of the summit...  It just feels wrong not to summit.  However, it does feel particularly right to be alive and well back at my hotel.

The descent was uneventful apart from the temperature continuing to drop.  I had to blast the heat in the car until my face was burning - it was that cold.

The hike was kind of surreal at times.  The fog gently wafting between monolithic towers, snow flakes drifting and sometimes driving in my face, and only 1 other person on the trail.  I had looked forward to getting some thinking done...  instead I "worked" - I was concentrating on speed, cold, self-preservation and the amazing scenery.

I would LOVE to come back to Zion with more time and in the summer.  The Narrows is the signature hike but it is essentially wading in the river - not a good winter activity.

yes...  I had two cameras with me.  Yes, I know that's nerdy.

The trail was very steep in parts

...and even steeper in others.

This was as close as I got to a slot canyon.  I will definitely come back for the Narrows hike one day.

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Vincent said...

that looks like an awesome hike. I could only imagine with the sun shining what it would look like.

Ulyana said...

Wow, I am speachless. Amazing views. I'll go there one day, definitely.

Eric said...

The park looks amazing regardless of the weather MJ. So did you give some more thought to your plan of action???

holly said...

I have just decided I need to go here - it looks unbelievably beautiful and that looks like it would make a lovely run. I need another break from the winter in Calgary.

Glad to hear your trip to LAS was productive as well. Next time make sure you try to eat at some new places - or at least get some Mexican food :)

Missy said...

Amazing pictures and yes you ARE a nerd for having two cameras;) Of all the times I've been to Vegas, I've never been to Zion. Zion vs.'s a tough decision sometimes.

Jo Lynn said...

Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing. I know what you mean about "being in tomorrow's newspaper." yikes!

Linda Pendleton said...

Wow! How daring that was, especially considering the weather conditions. Beautiful photos. I was at Zion once many years ago, but only on level ground. LOL
Glad you had a good time.

matt mccluskey said...

Ugh! So jealous! I loved it when I went to Zion years ago. I didn't have a chance to stay long enough to do a hike.

Awesome pics.

iRuniFly said...

Wow, that looks absolutely amazing. I'd love to go there but just looking at the pics makes me terrified of falling. A view like that might make it worth it though.

Nicola Gildersleeve said...

I am so glad you decided to go to Zion. The weather was much nicer when I went but the hike you did was a good one. I remember it being very windy up near Angels landing. I can only imagine the chill you would have gotten considering it was snowing! The narrows hike is a must- totally go back- bring your fam!

Ryan Denner said...

those pics are incredible!!

I like the "Las Vegas is not conducive to early starts" comment too!