Zion Memorial day adventure
On Memorial Day weekend Machelle and I braved the tourist hordes in Zion National Park to get into the back country and see some wilderness. Doing some vague planning ahead we booked a back country pass for Telephone canyon on Sunday, and decided to wing it for the rest of the weekend.
We drove to Las Vegas Friday night, and found a hotel in North Las Vegas near the speedway. From there it was a short drive of 2 hours Saturday morning to Zion. We planned on camping, but expected the campsites in the park to be full, so we kept our eyes open. One of the primitive campsites outside the park where I have camped previously was closed, and every piece of open land seemed to have tents on it. We noticed, however, that some of the motels in Springdale had vacancies, so we figured we would head quickly into the park to check out camping and get our back country pass the come back to find a place to stay. When we got in to the visitor centre, however, we lucked into a perfect parking spot and were to excited to leave it so we decided to head on into the park for a hike and check out acomm0dations later. We headed in and hiked up to hidden canyon, which was not so hidden on this day. Compared to past hikes it was a complete zoo with people of all kinds wandering around in the canyon. Despite this we had a lovely hike, and a perfect warmup for the major day we had lined up for Sunday. After catching the shuttle we headed back to our car and drove out of the park to find some place to sleep. On the off chance we could find a room we checked out the hotels in town, and were disappointed time after time. We went to the last place we found before going to look for some place to park the car and sleep in the back, and at the Best Western, after talking Machelle into running inside to check, we got the last room they had. After a nice dinner out we went to bed early since we planned on catching the 6:00 am shuttle into the park on Sunday.
We rose before the sun on Sunday and headed in to the park. This canyon has ab0ut 2800 feet of elevation gain, and 9.8 miles of hiking, plus some tricky route finding so we wanted to make sure we had plenty of sunlight. At 6:40 we finally hit the trail and started up. The beginning of this hike is the same as the Angel’s Landing hike so we were happy to be avoiding the hordes which would be heading up later in the day. Once past the turn off for Angel’s landing we headed up the west rim trail which we had more or less to ourselves. We took our time and eventually reached the top of the west rim. This trail up is absolutely gorgeous and I highly recommend it even if you are not doing any canyons.
At the top of the trail we split off onto Telephone Canyon trail, and started up it keeping an eye out off trail to our right looking for the head of the canyon. After about .4 miles I spotted the canyon head and we headed off trail to our first rappel. This canyon has a few longish free hanging rappels, and we were a little nervous, not knowing what to expect. The first rap took us only 30 feet down to a ledge, where we anchored for our 160 foot rap. Looking over the edge we couldn’t relly see the bottom, and it looked more like 300 feet then 100 , but trusting the trail guide we leaned back and rapped down. Since it was free hanging we hung our packs off our harnesses rather then having them pull us over backward while we rappeled, so, with the rope bags and the pack hanging off my harness I was festooned with gear as I lowered off. It was spectacular. I easily avoided the pothole at the bottom and headed down until I found the next anchor. Machelle followed suit, then we pulled our rope and were fully committed to heading down. There are many lovely rappels in this canyon, plus one particularly awkward angled squeeze section, and it took us some time to navigate but a few hours later we finally emerged from the bottom of the canyon, tired but happy.
The next section of the hike involved finding our way from the canyon back to the west rim trail, and the guide book and web page we had pretty much glossed over this, but it was definitely more challenging than we were led to believe. The guide book speaks of a “faint use trail” to the right, without mentioning that it is on a loose sandy hill which is about a 50 degree slope, over a cliff. There was no trail that we could see so we gingerly picked our way up and around the steep slope until we finally found the flatter slickrock and headed toward the west rim trail. There was one last challenge before we gained the trail, there was a small canyon with steep but short cliffs between us and the trail. Heading downstream we eventually found a weakness in the cliff where a stream emerged and climbed up the stream to emerge at the trail. Now there was just another 4 miles of down hill trekking to be done and we were finished.
The late afternoon light made the canyons and domes of Zion glow as we picked our way downhill and off into the sunset.
(remember to click through the above link to see the full gallery, its worth your time)