Day 1: Zion National Park Backpacking Trip

You all saw my prize rattlesnake in an earlier post, but the reconnaisance for this trip wasn’t all fun and games. Here’s the real story of the pre-Redrock Backpacker: Zion Outskirts, Utah scouting trip.

It began around 7 am, when Lindy and I hit the road and left Orem to make the 5 hour drive to Kanab, Utah. We got to Kanab ahead of schedule so we found a church pavilion that offered some shade from the 100 degree heat. There we ate cornish hens, licked our fingers, and laid down on the shady benches to take a quick nap. It would be the most peaceful rest I’d have for over a week.

We showed up at the doorstep of Cathy Church, both the beauty and the brains behind Roads End Scenic Jeep Tours, and sat down to look at our maps. Four hours, countless backroad miles, and a rattlesnake tail later, we pulled up at last to the so-called “parking lot” on the Elephant Gap road, a sandy clearing in the junipers that looked down into a deep and nameless side canyon of the East Fork of the Virgin River.

Lindy and I had two hours to find our way down the steep scree and slickrock slope that entered the narrow, 1/2 mile, poison-ivy-lined offshoot that led to the mainstem. Two hours to find my exit route and climb back out to make it to the Jeep before dark. No, we didn’t have headlamps. Or flashlights. So we did what any responsible hiking guide with deadlines, hired and borrowed help would do: we bolted.

We made our way into the canyon without incident. Lindy got her first peak at the canyon as the sun went down over the high cliffs, casting fantastical colors of orange on the already shadowed canyon overhangs. It was a short look, though, because as soon as I marked the trailhead we were on our way back up, racing the clock to find hand and footholds before it was too late, making our way across unmarked slickrock before the last glimmer of dusk was gone and we found ourselves stranded in the dark.

Turns out the threat of dark makes for good motivation when two women are in the desert alone. The return trip, just under two miles, and 1,000 vertical feet, took us 45 minutes to complete. Good time. One week later, this time early in the morning, in the pouring rain with four clients under my care, it would take 4 hours…

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