|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|
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)|
|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|
Thanks for reading.
|Excellent conditions for snowball fights, not the greatest conditions for a 50 mile run.|