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Nov. 26, 2013
Zion Traverse in One Day
Zion National Park is a geological wonder that's hard to run across in a day. And not just because of the physical challenges of such an adventure. 48.3 miles long with over 10,000’ feet of elevation gain, it’s the natural beauty of the park that makes you want to stop at every turn, snap a photo or two, marvel at its infinite beauty and contemplate your place in the universe. But there’s not a lot time for such things. Actually there was 14 hours to think and contemplate. But the challenge of each moment distracted us from too much philosophizing and too many stops would have made it impossible to accomplish our goal of a one-day crossing of the park on foot. Here is our story.

It’s 5:30am as we load up the back of Matt’s truck. He’s our guide/crew for the day. The truck’s thermometer reads 31 degrees but the stillness of the night makes it feel much warmer. It’s a relatively easy 45 minute drive from our hotel in Springdale, Utah to the Western edge of the park. About an hour later George, Tim, Chris and I set-out in the dark from the Lee Pass trailhead. Starting in the dark is ideal as it forced us to go out slowly. A daylight start would have only fueled our excitement and pushed us out too hard and too fast. There would be plenty of time for that later in the day.

As the sun came up and streamed bright light down the surrounding sandstone spires and rock faces, we could begin to see the orange and red colors of the rocks. The reddish hues were sometimes speckled with spots of green trees. Classic southern Utah desert vistas.

By this point in the morning we had descended into the Hop Valley-- a several mile long, ¼ mile wide canyon with thousand foot walls of sandstone on either side of us.

A creek wiggled its way down the center of the canyon. We spent the next hour or so navigating the canyon floor, making several creek crossings along the way. The trail was faint and easy to lose but our direction was clear. Eventually we neared the end of the canyon and proceeded up to a plateau for our first meet-up with Matt to re-fuel and ditch our outer layers.

We had traveled 13 miles and not seen a soul. There were certainly plenty of signs of life, animal tracks and footprints mostly. It was not until we arrived at this first road junction did we come across other travelers, some on horseback and others on foot.

As we parted ways with Matt again we started towards the highest elevations of the day, reaching close to 8,000 feet.

The altitude was squeezing my head like a vise, slowing us all down to a plod. This was also where we began to come across the wettest sections of trail. Up high we had to contend with snow, mud and slippery conditions. In addition, the wet clayish dirt of the trail clung to our shoes adding weight to our feet and slowing our already snail’s pace. Slipping and sliding came with almost every stride.

We traveled along the West Rim of Zion for what seemed like an eternity, enjoying the unobstructed views of the surrounding peaks and canyons. As we approached the half-way mark of the run we started to see other people (backpackers and day-hikers). One curious group asked George if we had come from Lava Point. The only response he could muster was, “ Noooo…fuuurther.”

The low point for the group came at about mile 37 when civilization tempted us with its comforts and conveniences. We arrived at The Grotto, the main canyon of Zion and the main tourist area of the park, with little energy and grumpy moods.

Buses streamed by on the main road teasing us. I envisioned the pool and hot tub at the hotel and half jokingly suggested we take the bus back. Our crew & guide Matt would not have it. He explained that the next 5 mile section of trail was the most spectacular and should not be missed. He would meet us at the next junction up high on the plateau and those needing to quit could do so from there.

So we filled up our water bottles, grabbed something to eat and off we went. We talked about jumping on a bus for the one mile section of road separating us from the next trail head. But we knew that would be silly and possibly even suicidal, making quitting an easy option. In hindsight we laugh at even having considered that option.

The next 5 miles were as beautiful as they were difficult. We ascended about 4,000’ in just 5 miles on the East Rim trail. It clung to the side of the rock and switched back and forth up the mountain. At one point the rock opened up just wide enough to allow us to pass through. This short section is what I had envisioned Zion to be -- running through narrow slivers in the rock with the sky barely visible high above us.

The sun had set and darkness was arriving as we reached our last and final meet-up with Matt. With only 6 miles to go, we threw on extra layers of clothing and our headlamps and made our final push to the eastern edge of the park.

What we thought would be a gradual descent to the finish turned into a bit of a stressful crawl through the dark. A fork in the trail had played havoc with our state of mind. Despite a large foldable map, we were unclear if we had gone the right way. Poor cell coverage left us unable to communicate with Matt. The further along we went the more we questioned our decision.

On the verge of turning around and heading back the 2 miles to the fork in question, we saw a light in the distance and heard Matt’s voice. We had indeed been right all along and the finish was near. Celebration erupted. We had made it.

Big props to Matt of CrewMyRun who made our day all the more enjoyable. Now that you’ve read this blog, you’ll probably want to plan your own adventure through Zion. Matt can help make it happen.
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Athlete Life, Running

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We like getting our heart rates up, taking a big breath of fresh air, savoring delicious food. But we also love telling stories and here's where we type 'em up. (BTW, it works both ways; leave a comment—please and thank you.)

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