Thursday, June 20, 2013

Grand Canyon and Zion: Day 3

Day 3:

I woke up at 8 or so on our third day of the trip, and decided to go down to the visitor’s center and figure out the weather situation. On the top of my “to-do” list for Zion was “hike the Narrows”. In the park, there are many narrow slot canyons that have been shaped by the Virgin River. When the river is low during the dry season, you can hike inside these canyons through the water and see some of the most beautiful and unusual sights in the park. However, the Narrows are very susceptible to flash flooding. Typically, you can’t enter at all until July hits. Because it has been such a dry spring out west (4th driest in recorded history) I had my hopes up about being able to do this hike in May. But – thunderstorms were predicted for the two days we were in Zion.

So I asked a ranger.

The rangers are very careful about not telling you what to do. It took me five minutes to get this ranger to say, “Well, if it were me? I wouldn't go.” So that settled it. I returned to our cabin disappointed, but ready #2 on the list: Angel’s landing.

Dan was awake when I got back, and we headed over to the Red Rock Dining Room for breakfast. We could order something off the menu, or go for the breakfast buffet for $11. Naturally Dan went for the buffet, but I decided to just have pancakes instead.

Dan: Why would you not get the buffet?
Me: I only want pancakes. They are $6… the buffet is $11, you should be thanking me.

Later on…
Me: will you get me some fruit?
Dan: Absolutely not. You did not pick the buffet, so you can’t have anything from the buffet. I don’t want to get kicked out of Zion.

After he got me some fruit…
Dan: Do you want my bacon?
Me: Aren't you afraid of getting booted?
Dan: These guys don’t scare me.

Spoiler alert: the bacon was so delicious; I got the buffet the next morning just so I could have an unlimited amount of it.

After breakfast we loaded up our Camelbaks (which technically, are hydration packs we don’t have the brand Camelbak) and prepared for the hike up Angel’s landing. I was delighted to find that carrying the water this way was much lighter than carrying a few big bottles in the side of my camera gear bag. Like 20 pounds lighter.

I had read about Angel’s Landing in a bunch of different places while I was working on the itinerary. It sounded like a great time and a fun challenge. “Sure, I can hike that” I thought to myself, “I’m not scared of heights.” But fear started creeping in when Tom Egan told me that 4 boy scouts had died hiking it a few years ago. 

“One lost his footing and took the other 3 down with him. It’s very dangerous, you have to be careful!”
If there is one thing I don’t trust, its other people. My mother-in-law did not really like the sound of Tommy’s tale, and issued similar caution warnings. I refused to let her know which day we would be hiking for fear that she wouldn't be able to eat or sleep until we got back down safely (which was 3 days after the conversation took place).

So as we rode the bus towards the start of the trail-head  I told Dan “make sure I finish.” When he asked what I meant by that I said, “If I get scared and don’t want to go all the way to the top, make me.” He sighed and groaned and asked (once again) why I always make us do these terrible things on our vacations. My responsible was pretty simple.

“Because it’s there and because we can.”

As we began our ascent we decided to let a pack of boy scouts run up ahead of us and tucker themselves out early on… we definitely did not want to be anywhere near them as we approached the tricky part of the trails between Scout’s landing and the Summit.

For about 2 miles the trail is like any other steep mountain trail; plenty of switchbacks keep you breathing hard, but the comfort of a wider trail will keep you moving forward. Additionally, the higher you get, the better the view gets, so the incentive to continue is there. We pressed onward and upward resting every now and then in the shade, eventually passing the boy scouts. I was somewhat concerned when we passed parents hiking with toddlers on their backs, but I am pretty certain they did not intend to climb to the summit (at least I don’t think they ever did, because I didn't pass them again coming down).

my photo of the wiggles
someone named "Tanya"'s wiggle photo

When we got to Walter’s Wiggles, I explained to Dan (in between labored breaths) that the CCC created the infamous switchbacks in the 1930’s. Dan said he hated Walter, he hated the CCC and he hated switchbacks. I took this opportunity to make fun of him for being so out of shape. The truth was, when we stopped for his lungs, I was grateful to rest my legs.

Once we completed the wiggles, we stopped at Scout’s Landing to gain our thoughts before the truly perilous part of the trail would demand our undivided attention.  My watch was telling us that we had only been about 1.75 miles, which I figured was wrong because we had lost the satellite so many times – Scout’s Landing was at 2 miles.

see the people climbing? The pine above the green shirts is Scout's Landing

Looks like the top ahead, but it's only Scout's Landing

awesome trail, no?
At this point the trail turned into a rock-climbing adventure more than a hike, with chains serving the dual purpose of trail marker and life saver. Step by step, gripping the chain we continued our trek to a point that we were pretty sure was “the top”.

Only, once you got to “the top” you realized it wasn't, and that thiswas the real Scout’s landing precisely as described at the 2 mile mark. And this is where I panicked.

Dan = calm... Me = PANIC!!!
This is what you see at Scout's Landing... this is why I panicked.
Under the shade of a single pine, I began to hyperventilate at the thought of continuing up the sheer spine with nothing to separate me and the valley 1,200 feet below but a narrow trail no bigger than a foot wide in some places, surrounded by other people trying to get up and down – my fate resting in their hands.
No, I’m not scared of heights; I have no problem being up high on steady footing. What I am scared of is falling to my death off the side of a mountain because my foot slipped, or the person in front of me slipped. Even scarier at this point, was the thought of seeing someone else fall off the trail to theirdeath.  I felt my eyes begin to water as Dan asked “are you alright?”

Let’s face it, Dan and I can be tough on each other. The term “hard-ass” comes to mind, but I got the vibe that if he knew that I was flipping out, he wouldn't have pushed me to finish. So I took a deep breath (literally) and forced myself to calm down so we could keep going.

my scary pictures

Joe Braun's scary photo 1
Joe Braun's scary photo 2

I moved really slowly, placing every foot carefully down and confirming its steady grip before I lifted my other foot off the mountain. People behind me were probably pissed. In fact, one kid tried to pass me, but Dan wouldn’t stand for it, he told him that no one passes anyone else from this point on.  At some points on the trail, the rocks were so much higher than your footing, you had to pull yourself up the chains to get to the next step. In many spots, we had to stop and wait for other people to come down before we could go up. It was busy for such a treacherous hike, but nothing compared to some of the other places in Zion. For the most part, people were courteous and cautious – letting people come down before trying to go up, allowing enough space between each other, and waiting patiently as some of us moved slower than others. The only person pushing my pace was Dan, who wanted to get to the top before anyone else tried to pass me.

Finally, we made it.

The view was unparalleled, and the air was thick with the sense of accomplishment. People ate lunch 1,500 feet above the river and valley below, and willingly snapped photos for others.  The wind helped cool us after nerves and hard work attributed to a good deal of perspiration.  

Dan did not want to stay at the top for lunch, he was very adamant about resting only in the shade. So just as soon as we got up, we started back down.

At first, I was very nervous about going down because I could see the depths below. At least on the hike up, you kept looking onward and upward. Surprisingly though, the hike down was relatively easy. We rested a few times, but I found that my legs weren't shaking from fear (and exhaustion) so we continued down quickly. Back down at Walter’s Wiggles I tried to stop and rest, but Dan encouraged me to get down quickly so that we might still have time to at least see the Narrows (since it hadn't rained). But wouldn't you know it? As soon as we got back on the bus, the clouds rolled in.

As we rode back to the cabins, Dan asked how much water I had left.

“A ton! This stupid thing is broken or something, it’s impossible to drink out of!” I answered. At which point he showed me that I was using it completely wrong. I got a few laughs out of the couple behind us when I said, “wish I had known that 5 miles ago!”

Back at the room, Dan suggested we pursue other hikes, perhaps the one I wanted to do tomorrow. Oh Dan, what a desperate cry for a more relaxing vacation. So I indulged him and we hiked the 3 Emerald Pools, which were pretty dried up and hardly worth the hike. Especially because we ended up behind a bunch of really slow-moving hikers, one in particular was so awful that I had to take his picture.

slowest hiker ever.
lower Emerald "pool"

feet in the Virgin River (it was COLD)

cairns in Zion

Upper Emerald Pool

Me on a giant rock

Dan on an even bigger rock

Dan getting some perspective

Middle Emerald Trickle... excuse me, "pool"
Beautiful Zion
Virgin River
more of gorgeous Zion
Virgin River
Simply amazing

By the time we returned to our cabin, we were starving. Fortunately I had arranged for a 6:00 dinner at the Red Rock, wondering if maybe that was too early… not even close.

I ordered twin petite filets (3 oz each) with mashed potatoes and a salad. When the salad came, I asked Dan if he thought I would eat my entire dinner. He said he would be “absolutely shocked” if I ate half of it. Our entrees were delivered when he had run to the bathroom, as he returned I was eating my last bite of filet. Call him “absolutely shocked” as I announced the impressive Sanborn declaration that I was in the “clean-plate club”.

Dinner was delicious – another far cry from the meals we had on our Grand Tetons and Yellowstone trip. But again, we paid top dollar in Zion, where alternatives didn't exist. The three meals we had at the Red Rock (2 days of breakfast, 1 dinner) cost us nearly $115.

The night ended with us both on our laptops, Dan doing homework and me uploading the photos from our hike to Facebook.

Zion Lodge

Our cabin