I was planning an end-of-school-year trip to the National Parks of Utah with a friend of Rhone’s mother to take the boys hiking to the National Parks which I have been wanting to visit for a while. I already own most of the National Geographic Topo maps for Utah including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef, Canyon Lands, and Moab. While planning the trip with multiple stops, complex logistics, limited lodging, I came across a hike called the Zion Traverse. The Zion Traverse is a multi-day hiking trip crossing the entire park! Starting at the North West entrance at Lee Pass, and ending at the East Rim Trailhead, covering nearly 50 miles, and almost 8500 feet of gain, I thought this to be a perfect objective for a single push, through-hike, pushing the bounds of my physical abilities, logistical planning, and mental toughness.
Realizing that 50 miles was something that I should not probably do alone, given it would be an all-day, all-night affair in the wilderness and remote reaches of Zion, I reached out to a fellow PNW Peak Bagger, Saulius Braciulis, who I met online after learning we each completed the infamous North Bend Triple, https://hikingwithhadland.com/2021/04/25/north-bend-trifecta-04-24-2021/. Saul inquired as to my time which was 16 hours, he said his was 15 hours, and that I did pretty well, considering however he ran 50 miles to start his climb, so I felt he would be a good companion on my first ultra pedestrian event. Prior to departing for the trip, I learned that a good family friend Will Vipond had just completed the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim run, so I suggested he join to further extend his ultra running adventures. The team was set!
Given that the route crossed through 30 miles of very low trafficked area, and reading many trip reports about challenges with viable water sources, I reached out to the Park Rangers for current information on water sources. Our trip was unsupported, meaning we were self-sufficient for all supplies – food, water, gear, etc. which meant that we would need to filter water, and given the recent heatwaves, and lack of familiarity with the area, I was uncertain about water and wanted a bit of peace of mind. The rangers were great and provided current and detailed information, which was critical given the temperature of our start was 96 degrees and we learned that there was a 15-mile section without a water source!
Section 1 – Kolob Arch – This section was about 7 miles from Lee Pass to Kolob Arch – the 6th largest in the World – sadly the lighting at the end of the day did not present very good views, although we scrambled up a red rocky outcrop to get a better view. The path to the arch was fortunately shaded providing a bit of a respite from the blistering heat and followed a small stream which carved a beautiful tunnel out of the surrounding stone.
Section 2 – La Verkin Creek, Hop Valley, to Wildcat Springs. This section took us up out of the red rocky valley to a high plains canyon – through Hop Valley – a little-traveled area, which followed a 5-mile long canyon flanked by towering red cliffs. This was perhaps one of the most beautiful sections of the trail, in part due to the waning daylight, which provided wonderful lighting, illuminating the red cliffs, through private pasture land, dry arroyos, marshland, and high plateau cattle grazing lands. This was a truly magical part of the day, and we enjoyed the setting sun and shadows. We came across amazing vertical walls and rocks, hiked up the dry creek bed, navigated streams, and dodged and chase grazing cows.
Section 3 – Wildcat Creek to West Rim. This section began at the Hop Valley Trail Head, continued to Wildcat Trailhead and springs, and follows the high plateau of the West Rim. The sun had set and darkness engulfed us. We planned and timed this section of the trail perfectly as there was little cover from the sun, and the scenery was not that interesting (well who knew as it was dark – but we assumed as much). We made good time in the dark with the reduced temperatures which was critical as we were in the low water zone – Wildcat Spring would be our last change to filter for many miles. There was absolutely zero light pollution and we were treated to a beautiful night sky and Milky Way. We filtered water at Wildcat Spring, and when Will inquired where we were and I replied Wildcat, he thought I said “Wildcat” as in there was an actual Wildcat and screamed. I think he warded off any threats. Needless to say, we knew we were in remote country. It was late, we were in the thick of the traverse, closing in on the halfway point, tired, and he did come across a rattlesnake a few days previously in the Grand Canyon. I loaded up on 5 liters of water as a contingency against running out until our next viable source. Fortunately the temperature dropped and it became a bit chilly – Saul encouraged us to move faster to generate some body heat with the effort, and the extra water I carried facilitated this outcome quickly. The next several hours were a bit of a blur – we plodded on as fast as we could – Saul and Will are in excellent shape and my feet began to hurt from the continual pounding.
Section 4 was the descent into Zion Canyon and our finale at Angel’s Landing. The final section of the East Rim was closed due to trail damage. We dropped from the high plateau, descended some amazing rock cliffs just as the rising sun illuminated some amazing white rocks. I believe that the combination of daylight, amazing views, and knowing the finish was within our grasp helped us ignore our aching feet and toed bodies. For Will and I this was by far our longest and hardest activity. Great to share such an experience and accomplishment together!
We descended into the Zion Canyon and connected with the trail to Angel’s Landing – we were the only people entering from the north and after nearly 20 hours of running the traverse with no other people, it was a bit strange to see other people. We timed the sunrise perfectly – the light illuminating the canyon in the most spectacular fashion.
Angel’s Landing Finale!
Final Stats: 42.1 miles, Ascent: 7522 ft, Total Time: 19h 46m, Moving Time 16h 03m, Calories Burned 12,676
Our All Trails Recording: