Zion Traverse Trip Report

6:30 AM Start

Early Morning Singletrack
Two personalities captured perfectly

The crashing sound of falling rocks echoed down the narrow slot canyon and the three of us just stood there staring, trying to see beyond the fallen trees and past the sheer walls that stretched up for what seemed like hundreds of feet letting a narrow path of sun and sky through. We knew this couldn't be the right trail, and we had probably known for about an hour as the trail became a stream, then a wash, then boulders and fallen trees covered in snow and then tracks of large cats. We turned at that point. We weren't lost, we knew exactly how to get back to a known point of reference a long 5.5 miles back and 6.5 miles into the Zion Traverse route, but we didn't really know where we were, and the threat of a rockslide in a narrow canyon seemed like as good a point as any to re-trace our steps to a familiar reference point. We had ran, hiked, and scrambled 3 hours and 11 miles off course, and as we made our way back to the 6.5 mile marker where the La Verkin Creek trail becomes the Hop Valley Trail. The sign was there, clear as day, "Hop Valley Trailhead" with an arrow pointing up the hill. We had all missed it in the excitement of the early part of the traverse. Earlier that morning, I had pointed out a sign that read "Park Boundary 4.5 miles," and that should have been our first clue, our first sign to slow down, take a long look at the map and assess the situation. It's hard to do that on a run, it's hard to admit a mistake and the deeper and more compounded the mistake, the harder it gets to admit that we were on the wrong path, that we needed to turn and re-trace the hard-won trail miles.
Off track in the slot canyon
Not a trail
My mood turned, and not for the last time that day. I was upset at myself for not seeing the sign, upset that we had wasted three hours, pissed that quality weather was slipping away and that the clouds were rolling in, and that the forecasted snow would soon be falling.

I was ready to bail, head back to the start and either hitch a ride back to the cabin or call my wife and ask her to pick me up. I went through all the excuses in my head, the fact that there was no way now that we would finish the traverse before the heavy snow and darkness fell, the fact that I had been sick with a serious bout of the flu and bronchitis the week before our Zion trip and wasn't feeling 100%, the fact that I didn't sleep much the night before as I tossed and turned and thought of thunderstorms, lightning and getting caught in a blizzard. These were the thoughts, but I couldn't say them out loud, I could only tell Chris and Jess that I would run to the Grotto, it wouldn't be the traverse route that we had planned on, but it would be 49 miles through Zion and that was good enough for me. The fact that we had already gone 17 made it a little over a 50K to the Grotto, and I could handle that.

Hop Valley (photo courtesy Jess)
We ran through the vast Hop Valley pasture with strong winds in our faces and soft sand at our feet. This was the low point for me. Conditions would worsen, the temperature would drop and my fingers would go numb, but that wind and the sand and such a seemingly long way to go was tough on my spirit. As I was feeling sorry for myself, I thought of all the trip reports I had read, the report from Dakota Jones (who had crossed in beautiful weather the previous weekend), Karl Meltzer, Matt Hart, Andrew Skurka...they all make it sound so easy. Seemingly the hardest thing Dakota had to deal with was slowing down enough to enjoy a 3 Musketeers bar. But they are elite, and I am not. Then we began to climb.


Haggard? I was trying really hard to smile here.


On the elevation profile, this climb looks gradual, and lasts for about 20 miles, and is between 6,000 and 7,500 feet. We climbed up layers of sandstone and slickrock until we reached the Wildcat Canyon Trail, a rolling singletrack trail that weaved through the snow covered trees. At this point, large, dry snowflakes began to fall and we could see the destination, the giant sheer red and black water stained walls of Zion canyon.






We ran and hiked, Chris running ahead, then waiting as Jess and I caught up, then running some more, through the now muddy trail as the snow started falling harder, covering what must have been amazing views into the canyon with a thick white snow-fog. I struggled with footing, sliding around if I tried to run and slipping backward when I hiked uphill. I put my head down and focused on moving forward, ignoring the snow, and slipping in my headphones. For about three hours I listened to podcasts (a mix of running from Ultra Runner Podcast and Endurance Planet, comedy from Mark Marron and both from the 3 Non Joggers). It helped pass the time and take my mind off the conditions of the trail. We stopped to fill water at a natural spring on the West Rim Trail and I took my gloves off, dipping my bottle and my fingers into the icy spring. It would be another hour before I could feel them again.



This is before the snow storm came and I stowed the camera
After a long snowy stretch of a pretty flat trail that was quickly disappearing under a blanket of snow, we hit the descent, a 5 mile twisty and steep downhill that hugged the canyon wall with drops of hundreds of feet and sheer cliffs across the canyon perfectly placed for an echo. I found my running legs and smelled my self-imposed finish line and pushed to the end, slowing around the hairpin turns and the switchbacks that led to Angel's Landing, and sacrificing my knees to the concrete path at the bottom of the canyon. We crossed the bridge and jumped on the tourist bus that ran along that bottom of the canyon. The parents on the bus averted their eyes and the kids stared at our mud-covered shoes and legs and our haggard faces as I downed packets of babyfood in the form of pureed sweet potatoes, apples and mangoes. It was just another difficult, beautiful, and memorable day on the trail.



Final descent
As far as logistical and useful information goes, this post is pretty useless. If you want some useful information, head to Andrew Skurka's Zion National Park Traverse page. He has maps, a water table, elevation profile, and much less complaining.

Thanks for reading.

Excellent conditions for snowball fights, not the greatest conditions for a 50 mile run.

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