Monday, May 23, 2011

Trans Zion Run

WD getting started on West Rim Trail
With the chaotic, continually unsettled spring weather, I began looking for a desert adventure once it became clear that my Teton dreams were going to go unrealized this year.  Not having done any real climbing since October, the Zion "Free and Clean" book looked daunting. I've been hearing reports about the Trans Zion Run and managed to get psyched on the idea and talk brother JD and Warren D into coming along.   So, what follows is a LONG report of the LONG (for us), 48 mile classic "adventure run" across Zion National Park.   

Untitled from andy dorais on Vimeo.

The excuses/disclaimers:

We have skied a lot this year and probably don't have any right to complain about not having a good aerobic base even though things have tapered off drastically over the last 6 weeks.  But, the transition to summer hasn't quite taken place and I think we could count on two hands the number of runs we've been on in that time between the three of us (think sloppy soft legs).  

First of 12 bars

And, my longest run ever was a disastrous 50K.  Jason and Warren have both struggled to finish slow marathons for which they were unprepared.  I don't know why it seemed like a good idea to go so many miles longer than we'd ever been before but we didn't really question the possibility.  Adding to the foolishness was our disregard for the logistical planning that should take place on a big run like this.  

We glanced at a couple maps at REI but were too cheap to buy them, read a couple TRs online, and somehow figured we could make it the last 37 miles with only two liters of water.  We were wrong.   

Looking down at Angel's Landing from the Weeping Rock descent 9 miles in
Getting tight 1/5 of the way
JD, AC (a sweet girl that Jason has tricked into liking him), and I pulled into Kolob Canyon around midnight and slept on the side of the road.  WD, who dropped everything last minute to come, pulled in at 5:00 AM and managed 30 minutes of sleep before we pulled him out of his bag.  We left Warren's car at the Lee Pass TH, and headed over to the East Entrance of Zion, en route picking up breakfast burritos to fill up for the impending starvation.  

After last minute bathroom stops, changing, and packing our small packs, we were finally off, just after 8:00 AM.  The West Rim Trail is about 10 miles long and mostly descends as it makes it's way toward Zion Canyon.  We made ourselves run conservatively through this section and tried to drink as much as possible since we'd be able to fill up at the Grotto 11 miles in.

At the Grotto, we were met by AC, who joined us for a hike to the shoulder of Angel's Landing.  From there we were off into unknown territory with now less than two liters of water each and about 34 miles to go.

Looking back at the Cerberus Gendarme, Weeping Rock, and Big Bend

Wild formations kept us distracted from thinking about how terrible things would soon become
The trail ends up going along the edge of this cliff

I can name the formations from the canyon but from this side it was all a mystery
16 miles in, WD began to lag a bit.  He recognized that in order to finish the day he was going to have to go his own pace and ignore any jeering from me and Jason.  The struggle was on...
WD on the West Rim Trail
High on the West Rim, the conditions were great with cool weather and mostly dry trails.  Throughout the low lying and treed sections, conditions were abysmal with standing water and mud everywhere.  Leery of wet feet so early we did our best to walk around/through/and over those sections without falling in.  
Me and Warren somewhere along the West Rim

More West Rim scenery

There were still abundant wild flowers, although most were just past their prime.  

At some point, we reached the Wildcat Trail intersection and realized we were about 6 miles farther than we had thought which was pretty encouraging.  Discouragingly, Warren was now out of water with 23 miles to go.  Encouragingly, Warren is a G and tapped into his deep reserves, and began running faster and more steadily from here out.  

A look down Wildcat Canyon
Once on the Connector Trail, we figured it was in the bag.  Only 17 more to go (It might not have been such a given as it took us a few tries to do that math)...
Along a high plateau on the Connector Trail 
At this point we were resigned to the fact that we'd be drinking from the feces infested streams in Hop Valley and along the La Verkin Trail.  But, we thought we'd try and barter with backpackers, hoping they'd trade some of Warren's nasty Cliff Bars for some water purification tablets.  We felt like thirsty pioneers.  Warren's prayers must have been answered because 1/2 a mile from the Hop Valley TH, a couple guys told us they had stashed a gallon of water that they didn't need any more.  Salvation.  
13 to go with water logged bellies
The Hop Valley trail was stunningly beautiful once we descended into the narrow stream lined section.  It was incredibly green, providing lush contrast to all the red.  While completely runnable, the sandy trail was interrupted countless times by the punky little stream leading to multiple slow crossing and a couple wet feet.
JD looking for Kolob

WD pioneering

6.5 to go.   JD looks like he might have a stroke and I don't believe WD's "thumbs up"
As we were descending toward the La Verkin river, a couple hikers told us to cross upstream from the trail where the water was calmer.  We made a few false starts before Jason found a passable section.
Ole fashion swimming hole

Our money was that he was going in...  Luckily he didn't

The next 6 miles were a falling apart of sorts as each of us had our unique set of body parts that was beginning to ail us.  Ignoring the discomfort, we shuffled along, making dozens more stream crossings, before the wheels came off.  A mile or two from the end we looked back and Warren was gone.  Too bad.  It was every man for himself.  Then, with the road (finish) in site, JD decided to pick up the pace to try and sneak in under 12 hours.  I followed suit, trailing behind by a minute or two, before finally stumbling out to the Lee's Pass TH after 11 hours and 58 minutes.  

Kolob Canyon on fire
Warren went through his own mind games before deciding he didn't want to spend the night in the woods and ran it in a few minutes later.  
Three lucky idiots

The goal at the outset was to have an adventure, which to me often means starting out with an uncertain ending.  By finishing, we all felt pretty good about the day.  Even if we hadn't stopped to eat, take pictures, and laugh at each other, our time was mediocre at best but I think we learned a few things.  Next time, we'll arrange for more water via stashes or support.  We'll train (more specifically) for the distance, and we'll bring more palatable food (WD only had bars).  To take off a few hours seems completely reasonable and this fall we'll be back to try again.

 That was a loooong post for a long day.  

48+ miles
~10,000 vertical
5 GUs
2 Probars
2 Twix Bars
Electrolyte tabs/nasty Nuun drink


  1. sick post!! great job documenting. you say it's long but still a much abbreviated post to capture everything that went down. thanks for dragging me along. thanks for not leaving me at mile 17 when said you could - the first time. i'll just leave it at that rather than make a tremendously long comment. the video turned out pretty nice too. when adventure calls (read "the dorais boys") - answer!

  2. Excellent post and nice work on getting it done. The photos look great! I can't wait to do it.

  3. I just threw up a little bit in mouth.