Zion National Park 16/20-May-2011

Zion National Park Utah

Air temperatures 20-30ºF below normal.  Wind.  Rain part of every day.  A sprinkling of snow.  Rivers running 6 times normal.  Waterfalls in ephemeral watercourses.  Oregon?  No, Zion National Parks last week!  The last time we were in Zion in May the air temperature was 108ºF. Who knew? But the weather turned out to be a blessing in that it kept the crowds – Zion gets 3 million visitors a year – to a minimum.  Here’s a brief summary of our adventures.

Angels Landing

One of the most iconic hikes in Zion and usually one of the most crowded but, thanks to the weather, it wasn’t. The trail starts on the valley floor, then climbs steeply up switchbacks,

Zion National Park Utah
Walter’s Wiggles

to a narrow ridge. This is looking back down the ridge we just came up,

Zion National Park Utah
The ridge going out to Angels Landing

and this is looking up the ridge toward the top of the landing.

Zion National Park Utah
The ridge gets narrower as it climbs

Fortunately, the Park Service provides chains as handrails for the really exposed sections,

Zion National Park Utah
The joy of handrails

which is good, because the exposure is really extreme along here.

Zion National Park Utah
A sheer drop awaits the unwary…

After some really fun scrambling along this ridge, we arrived at Angels Landing, a small platform with a view almost straight down 1,400 feet to the valley floor.

Zion National Park Utah
Angels Landing (arrow) from Observation Point

Despite the less than good weather, flowers were starting to emerge,

Zion National Park Utah

and even a few cacti were flowering.

Zion National Park Utah

East Rim Trail

A big rain storm sent us on a road trip to visit Pipe Spring National Monument for a day. It was clear (sorta) the next day, so we tried an out-and-back hike to Stave Spring on the east side of Zion. This let us visit the forested plateau that sits 2000+ feet above the valley floor.

Zion National Park Utah
The East Rim Trail follows a drainage up from the East Entrance

One feature of this hike is Jolly Creek, which has carved a narrow,

Zion National Park Utah
Jolly Creek Falls

and very deep,

Zion National Park Utah
Looking down Jolly Creek Falls

waterfall through the rimrock. We made it to Stave Spring and a little beyond despite long stretches of mud that managed to be very slippery and highly adhesive at the same time.

Zion National Park Utah
The view from near Stave Spring

Prying mud off our boots got to be too much, so we turned around at the spring. This got us back to the trailhead just as it started raining again – which it did for the rest of the day. Later that evening we took a short hike to see all of the ephemeral waterfalls in the main canyon – by morning they were gone.

Observation Point

An improving forecast encouraged us to do this other iconic hike in Zion – one that provides truly big views of the entire valley. The trail switchbacks steeply up to the narrow entrance of Echo Canyon,

Zion National Park Utah
Entering Echo Canyon

works its way through the narrows,

Zion National Park Utah
The narrows in Echo Canyon
Zion National Park Utah
Deep in Echo Canyon

then continues a steep climb to the rimrock. It’s amazing how much work must have gone into hewing this wide path into a near vertical cliff!

Zion National Park Utah
A steep ramp climbs to the top of the canyon

As we were going up, it wasn’t obvious how big the drop-off was on the outside of the trail. Once we got out to the Point, we could look back and see the trail etched in the cliff face,

Zion National Park Utah
The steep ramp (arrows) as seen from the top of the canyon

and we also got the big views of the river in the valley 2,000 feet below.

Zion National Park Utah
The Virgin River winds through Zion Canyon
Zion National Park Utah
Sheer cliffs form Zion Canyon

Although our escape to the desert didn’t turn out to be a particularly dry or warm one, we still managed four great hikes in five days, with minimal crowds. Except for the exposure at Angels Landing, none of these hikes are as hard as many hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. The one difference is that here they all start at around 4,000 feet and climb to 6,000 feet, so some acclimatization time is helpful. There are other, longer (14+ miles) hikes in the Zion backcountry which we may try next time we make it out here.


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