Monday, December 27, 2010

Zion NP: A Winter Tale

Lil JD has a rare break from work, so to take advantage, we are down in Zion National Park for a couple days. The plan was to explore the park as much as possible by running many of the classic trails. Sunday, we drove down from SLC, checked into the Desert Pearl Inn (which gets a solid A), and went for a short run along the Virgin River and up the canyon to the Emerald Pools. In many sections, the trail ended abruptly as the bank was washed out from recent floods. Up high, the peaks were snow capped and shrouded in clouds. It was a stunning change from typical splitter desert weather. Unfortunately, the rain kept me from bringing along the camera.

Today we wanted to do something big. We thought about an out and back of the West Rim Trail (28+miles), lapping Angel's Landing for a 10,000 ft day (without skis), or doing a loop from the Weeping Rock Trailhead, along the East Rim Trail, to the East Entrance, and back on the road (24ish miles). The East Rim option won out since the west side ends around 7,900 feet and was more likely to be impassable because of snow and the Angel's Landing option sounded boring.

Zion Canyon on a crisp winter morning:

After gaining a thousand feet from the parking lot, the trail emptied into the river.

JD didn't care. A river of December snow melt didn't bother her:

Too much:

We took the out and back toward Observation Point with spectacular views along the way.

Once rejoining the East Rim Trail, we took off toward the east entrance of the park, 8 miles away through high plateaus, side canyons, and relatively unfrequented winter desert (at least this time of year).

Shortly after committing to the loop, Jessie slid on some ice and suffered what initially appeared to be a serious knee injury. After flashing through my options - spint her leg, make a crutch, carry her out - she declared she wanted to continue on. That would have been nearly 8 miles over moderately rough terrain, alone, in winter. And, once reaching the east entrance, we'd have around 14 miles on the road to make it back to the car.

I was relieved she could walk unassisted and squashed her plans to complete the loop, turning the East Rim loop into more of an 8 mile East Rim foray.

Things could have turned out much differently today. We were on our own, without a map, extra clothes, phone, ability to make a fire, or first aid kit. We did have two bottles of water, two packets of GU, a package of Cliff Bloks, two long sleeve shirts, and one pair of pants. I'd say we were fortunate that JD's fall didn't happen farther back, and that it wasn't more severe. I haven't often felt vulnerable in the backcountry.

Moral of the story?

Don't underestimate the desert in winter and don't underestimate little JD.

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