Imagine you are trying to get a car full of people ready for a 3 day trip. Don’t forget we are backpacking ,which means we have to carry everything in our packs. Okay now lets double that to 2 cars with 9 people. Yeah, it took us a while to get moving this morning. Especially because most of us were enjoying the hot tub and pool while the rest did laundry at our hotel. Our plan was to get to Zion by 4pm and be on the trail soon after to hike roughly 4 miles before making camp somewhere in the “open camping” area of the park. This time we were going to be smart about distributing our weight and making sure we didn’t have 9 liters of sunscreen and a dozen rolls of toilet paper. With our fearless leader divvying up the gear we managed to distribute the weight better than before with most bags weighing 30-50 lbs.
After a few hours in the car we started to see hints of Zion in all its glory. Beautiful red and white domes scattered with evergreens shrouded the horizon. We drove past tantalizing canyons and magnificent monuments to nature’s power. Entering the park from the west we soon came to a tunnel; a vast stretch of blackness with but a few windows into the park. The excitement was brewing with each passing second making some almost as giddy as teens fawning over the latest fad, when all of the sudden before us lay the grandeur of Zion!
Luckily for us photographers we were following a minivan with camera’s out both windows that enjoyed slamming the brakes sporadically and then tailgating the Volkswagen hitched to an RV ahead of it. More than one Asian photographer or Asian driver crack was made as we too took advantage of the photo ops while traversing the switchbacks. We eventually made it to Springdale. The Gateway of Zion proved to be a quaint little town with wonderful restaurants, gear rentals and plenty of neighborly advice. We stopped at the delicious Whiptail Grill for a late lunch and sent one car to pick up our back-country permits. After some regrouping and a great meal we realized traffic (among other delays) brought us here a few hours behind schedule and we still needed to meet Hank, the curator for True North, our post-hike retreat.
Leaving these magnificent backdrops we took to our vehicles one last time and met Hank in a deserted, dusty parking lot. Some were quite excited while others texted their famlies a farewell warning and brief description of our whereabouts, just in case. Everything was in order and we were a mere 15 miles from the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead and the beginning of our last adventure. We left Hank, most with immense anticipation while a few harbored fears about our waning sunlight.
The landscape changed from desert plains to red mountains and back with interspersed dusty fields of green. Flying through hills and valleys, up and up we went in our mechanical steeds, striving to set out as quickly as possible. We were already down to 2 maybe 3 hours of sunlight when our road trip came to an abrupt halt. We quickly donned our packs and set off through the mountainous prairie. Each step sent grasshoppers hopping in every direction. The views up here were not as splendid as what we had just driven through which left our focus to avoiding giant ant hills and the occasional rattler.
We kept up a speed reminiscent of the grueling pace on Oregon Trail (click to play!). Rounding the next bend I could see the first of many canyons, a sun too low in the sky and the moon getting ready for its cameo. Pausing to hold my hand up to the horizon and count the “hands of sunlight” remaining I heard a distinct cry from behind. Someone was shouting for us to stop and bring the duct tape. Luckily our fearless leader reminded me to wrap duct tape around my water bottle rather than have 4 rolls with us. Our pack malfunction only cost us a matter of minutes. We raced the shadows through our first canyon hoping for a feasible site.
As we set down a narrow, rocky path we saw it curving ahead of us toward the canyon rim. Hopeful that at the top there would be enough space for our 4 tents, we hastened the pace yet again. As we breached the hill there was a wide expanse of tall grasses. The largest grassland we had seen and a trail full of grasshoppers, flying beetles and their carapaces. We paused at the first sign of a campsite and took a pack break to discuss. There was a clearing barely large enough for our tents but on a slight incline. Someone mentioned that the grassland was plenty flat but a quick reminder of the deadly rattlesnakes and we knew that we had to continue. Setting out again with minimal sunlight was risky but as we climbed the next hill we were soon rewarded for our patience. With the canyon behind us, we had reached the top of the next ridge as it opened into a plateau! We quickly set up camp and began boiling water for dinner. Over a hearty meal of quinoa, salsa, beans & fajita mix we took bets on how far we had come. Most guessed over 4 miles, meeting our goal while others fathomed as much as 5. Thanks to modern technology we had some camp tunes and an app to help tell us about the magnificent constellations in the heavens above.