Day 4: Zion National Park Backpacking Trip

Today was Saturday on our Zion National Park backpacking trip, and predictions of Sunday afternoon thunderstorms were weighing heavily on my mind. I decided to stage our last night of camping as close to the exit route as possible; if the rains came in early, at least we could make it off the river and onto higher ground before a flash flood could hit. My plan would be to hike a few miles downstream from last nights camp, drop our packs at the nearest suitable campsite, and spend the rest of the day unloaded – exploring Poverty Wash, downstream to the logjam that had me “dreaming of dynamite” earlier this summer, and if we were really lucky, even further to the infamous Powell Plaque and Zion border.

We made great time and found a bench less than 50 yards from our exit canyon. It couldn’t get any easier than this! Hummus and tuna and my last snack pack pudding pie for lunch hit the spot (I’d even included miniature graham cracker pie crusts, how’s that for 5 star backcountry cuisine?). We set off downstream, camera’s in hand and happy to be free of our heavy packs.

Amie and Bobby took SPOT (my newest and coolest piece of techie gear – our friends and family were tracking us via Google Maps the entire trip – and set off at break-neck pace to see how far they could get while Fritz, Kathleen, and I decided to hang back and give Fritz the opportunity to work his magic with his camera.

It was around 2:30 when I noticed the sun disappear and saw the dark cover of clouds start to roll over. I kept my eye on them for a little while until I could no longer ignore the fact that it was going to rain, and it was going to rain hard. The question was, how long did I have?

Sensing my hair begin to stand on edge, Fritz and Kathleen turned around to head back upstream and I set off to find Amie and Bobby, hoping that they had not gone beyond a point of no return. Their turn around time was 4:30, but the sky was getting darker. I felt a few sprinkles. I began to run. Running a river isn’t easy; but it is fun. If you know what you’re crazy, anyway.

I caught up with Amie and Bobby at the infamous log jam and I was delighted to see that it’s growth had been stunted since last year. (Nobody took dynamite to it though…very disappointing. What about a fire? That would do the trick!). Despite the oncoming storm, I had to take a moment to pay proper homage to this obstacle that I’ve watched terrorize people for the last 9 years. It gets to everyone, whether it’s a fear of heights, a swim in the deep pool behind, or in my case last year, climbing up a virtual waterfall of what looks like linkin logs (you youngins might have to hit Wikipedia for that one).

Things got interesting on our way back to camp. I was determined to keep my cool and spoke in my calmest tone, but the breathless pace with which I was marching Amie and Bobby back upstream had to give away my concern for our safety. The smell of rain hung heavy in the air, and as we walked around a bend a howling wind nearly blew the hats off our heads. I felt sprinkles once again. I’m sure Amie and Bobby did not know that they were capable of such a pace, but they were fantastic river partners. Not only could they have outpaced me if they’d wanted to, but on their faces I saw the thrill-seeking smiles I’ve seen on many a crazy friend’s face when things get exciting. Inner-city kid and ballerina turned adventure seekers that day, and I wish their friends could see those smiles on the Google Map.

I suppose the proper ending to this day would be a freight-train wall of water crashing toward us as we nimbly leapt aside and watched. But it didn’t happen. And neither did the rain, it turned out. Which was too bad, after all, considering the outstanding rain shelters we built. (“You won’t need a rainfly,” I’d told Fritz the night before we left). Amie’s dancing prowess and expertise in knots combined with Bobby’s sheer strength and balance to rig a bombproof shelter for the three of us to sleep under. Meanwhile, next door Fritz and Kathleen had made a cozy cottage out of tent and tarp.

Click for more details of Sol’s Redrock Backpacker: Southwestern, Utah trip.

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