Zion Traverse (+Angels Landing)

May 11, 2013

Zion National Park, UT

The Zion Traverse is an off-road runner’s paradise.  As the first installment of the Zoom Loco Annual Field Trip, the run through Zion was equally beautiful and punishing.  The typical traverse route is approximately 48 miles, but tacking on Angel’s Landing made it closer to a 50 mile day.  Yes, those 2 extra miles count!

After throwing our sleeping bags on the ground, we camped the night before and the night after the run. As if the pre-run excitement wasn’t enough, the gale force winds that swept through our campsite on both nights made sleeping an extra challenge.  For the route, we followed Andrew Skurka’s logistics and information ( http://andrewskurka.com/adventures/zion-national-park-traverse/ ).   A few smooth rock sections made navigation a bit confusing, but overall the trails were in sight most of the time. Signs were posted throughout the route and it’s definitely important to keep an eye out for them.

Morning light in Zion. Beginning of the traverse and headed westbound.

Morning light in Zion. Beginning of the traverse and headed westbound.

With a pre-dawn start at the East Trailhead, we decided to head westbound to accomplish the “bigger” stuff earlier on and tackle the sandier sections on a gradual descent towards the end of the day.  When the sun cracked the horizon and illuminated the walls of rock surrounding us, it was a quick reminder why participating in nature can make one appreciate life and what we’re capable of doing.

While aided by the frequent cheers of our beloved Russian pal Konstantin, we continued towards our first break near the Grotto Trailhead. On the approach, part of the trail was paved which made for a quick descent.  To keep our heads in the game, break time had to be minimal. Angels Landing was not part of the original traverse route. However, after getting rained on the day before while attempting this landmark, we decided to include it on the day’s agenda.  A point to keep in mind: Angels Landing is not for those with a fear of heights. There are chain handrails but besides that you’re on your own. The views at the top completely make it worth the trip though.

Angels Landing

Angels Landing

View from the top of Angels Landing

View from the top of Angels Landing

After checking Angels Landing off the list, we continued over more smooth rock, trails, and pavement and onto the West Rim Trail.  We met a small pack of deer along the way and they helped guide us on our journey. The morning grew later, the temperature rose, and a section of the ascent out of the canyon (via a paved trail) was exposed to the sun.  However, once we reached higher elevation (7,000’+) the temperature cooled off and the clouds began to hide the sun.

Pain train coming through

Pain train coming through

The terrain began to change from rocks, rocks and more rocks to greener plant life! I still managed to take a minor stumble and put my hand into a cactus. Fortunately, April was there to assist me with pulling the needles out.  Luke and I arranged for an aid car to be parked at mile 28 of the original route. I highly recommend doing this.  The snacks revived our spirits and we were fueled up to tackle the remainder of the run. Leaving the station was a little tough, but the mileage in the late 20’s to early 30’s ticked by as we ran along a relieving single track through a meadow.

Self made aid station. A very smart and recommended idea!

Self made aid station. A very smart and recommended idea!

Dark clouds began to roll in.  The rain eventually hit and the air quickly cooled again.  Like any long day on the trails, it’s important to be ready for any weather situation. Packing a rain shell is recommended.  With very limited shelter in sight, I just hoped the thunderstorms would stay away. Fortunately, this was the case, but I knew I had to keep moving to stay warm.

The rain eventually subsided and the sun appeared as we hopped on the Hop Valley Trail and cruised towards my favorite section of the route: Hop Creek Valley. The trail was sandy but at least we were on a gradual descent or flat track most of the time. The beauty of Hop Creek Valley seemed unreal. With less than 10 miles until traverse completion, this was a great mental break.

Hop Creek Valley in the distance

Hop Creek Valley in the distance

Sexy time!

Sexy time!

The flies started swarming as we traversed through the woods towards La Verkin Creek.  Expecting to be waist deep in water for the La Verkin Creek crossing, it turned out that we would only be knee deep. The route ended in just 6.5 miles, but this turned out to be the longest 6.5 miles….ever.

La Verkin Creek

La Verkin Creek

As we listened to the frogs groan, we were also groaning when we had to cross Timber Creek 18 times before the final ascent to Lee Pass.  After crossing that damn creek so many times and not going up, I questioned if we were on the right trail.  Knowing there was no other way to go, I convinced myself we were on the right track…literally. After starting what seemed to be the final ascent, our spirits were quickly dampened as we started to descend AGAIN towards Timber Creek. FINALLY we saw the cars in the distance and hit the final climb to Lee Pass. It was here that we were greeted with the best rewards known to man….pizza and beer. The celebration continued with a belgian waffle that following morning!

Post traverse celebratory waffle

Post traverse celebratory waffle