Menu Close

Diarist A02 Day 22

12 May, 2023 


We’re up early—6:30 am. Today is not an everyday day. We (my wife, B and I) are in Springdale, Utah, in a hotel near the entrance to Zion National Park. We’re on a hiking vacation, visiting Zion Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and the Grand Canyon. Today’s our final full day at Zion and we’re planning our most ambitious hike of the trip. I’ve got a bit of a headache, the product of several beers last night, which isn’t ideal. It’s also not ideal that we have had to modify our original hiking plan. We had hoped to hire a shuttle service to drop us off at Lava Point, a trailhead in the northern part of the park. From there we were to hike across a plateau and work our way down into the canyon and to our car, descending about 4,000 feet in the process. But there is still a pile of snow in higher elevations due to massive—13 feet!—accumulation over the winter. We tried driving up to our starting point two days ago but the road was closed and still covered with deep snow. Instead we aim to do an out-and-back hike from the other end of the trail. That’s a less attractive proposition since we will have to trek up to the plateau and then come back down. It’ll be at least a dozen miles round trip, more if we get ambitious, and several thousand feet of climbing. And we’re getting a bit old for such things. And my head hurts. To top it off, B is a bit scared of heights, which may matter on some cliff-hugging parts of the trail. I’m nervous about overdoing it, more for her sake than mine (although it’s also a tall task for me).  

Our plan is to grab the hotel’s breakfast as soon as it’s open (at 7) and then check out of the hotel so we can get into the park early. Foiled!  We come out of our unit and head to the breakfast building only to see a tour bus parked outside and a stream of senior citizens heading in to the dining area. They’re all getting their food before the bus departs at 7:30. We join the long line for eggs and waffles and grumble a bit—”so much for an early start,” I say. The person ahead of us turns around and apologizes, which is a little embarrassing for us. “Oh no, it’s fine,” we say. “Just didn’t expect this.” We shift to the oatmeal line, which is shorter. I go back for waffles and eggs when that line shortens because I want to fill up for a long day. We eat fast. The waffles are bad.  

Since hiking does not lend itself to writing, I’m planning to record voice notes and take pictures. I record a few notes as I walk back to our room after breakfast. We’ll see how this method works.  

We grab our suitcases (we packed last night), and head into the park at around 7:30 (just edging ahead of the tour bus onto the small road into the park. We’re early enough to avoid the lines at the park entrance. We have reservations at the park lodge that night so we are able to drive up the canyon and park there (without lodge reservations you have to take a shuttle bus). It’s a beautiful, clear, cool morning and the scenery is spectacular. We’ve been hiking in other, less crowded parts of the park over the last couple days but our early start will help us beat the eventual flood of people coming into the canyon. We park at the lodge after validating our hang tag at the front desk. We park, put on boots, sunscreen and load up our backpacks with bottled water and snack foods. With caffeine, food, and ibuprofen—along with the views—my headache has faded. I’m feeling excited, my earlier unease diminished. At 8:05, we head down a path surrounded by sunlit cliffs:      

8:05 AM
8:13 AM

After about a half mile, we cross the river and start working our way up. And I mean up. The first part of the trails looks like this (after you climb it):   

9 AM

B found the trails along the side of the slope tight and unnerving—she hugged the wall side when they had sharp drop offs, like this:  

9:15 AM


I generally don’t mind heights, but there are a few spots when my knees seize up when I look down. Then, after about a cool, flat half mile through a canyon, we climbed this: 

9:20 AM

 That’s not the best picture. It’s taken looking almost straight down. This bit of the trail is called Walter’s Wiggles (no idea who Walter is, but he must have been a sick bastard). It’s 21 switchbacks up the side of a wall. Here is a better picture.  

After that, we hit a flat spot called Scout’s Lookout and we pause. Phew. My trail app tells me we’ve gone three miles and climbed 1,400 feet in 90 minutes.  

Side note:  On our climb, we see people wearing down jackets as they ascend—a few even have scarves stylishly looped around their necks. Meanwhile I’m sweating through my t-shirt and hiking shorts. I peg them as Europeans, the only people capable of dressing like this and not drowning in perspiration under these circumstances. (Insert comment about bathing frequency across cultures.) 

Another side note: I don’t think voice notes is going to work for this diary. My recordings mostly sound like the heavy breathing of a creepy prank call. Instead, I’ll take photos and use them as prompts for my recollections of the day.  

We take a rest and enjoy the views at Scout’s Lookout. There’s a pretty big crowd there and we chat with a few people, admire a pair of circling falcons, and gaze around the Canyon. We skip climbing up Angel’s Landing, an iconic spot but one that requires hanging on to chain as you ascend a narrow path with steep drop offs. We’re too old for that (and you need to have a permit, which we did not). Before leaving, we take a sentimental picture of the climb because it’s a favorite of a friend who passed away earlier this year. We’ll send it to his wife later. 

                                      Angel’s Landing, 9:36 AM 

 Just before ten we start climbing again. Soon we’re on a flat stretch of slickrock with 360-degree views. It’s awesome. Most people go to Angels Landing and then head back down, so we’re pretty much alone here:  

10:25 AM

Then we start down into this valley: 


10:38 AM

Doing a descent instead climbing feels good but it’s bad news: we’re coming back and when we do we will have to climb back up. We see an occasional hiker. Now backcountry trail etiquette kicks in: you say hello to almost everyone and chat a little: “Nice day!” “Enjoy your hike!” “Almost there!” The last one is usually not true. If you pass these same people on the street, or even on the busier parts of the trail, you don’t even make eye contact. But out here, where people are scarce, being human is enough and we connect readily, even if we don’t break stride as we pass each other.  

By 11 AM we’re climbing again. It’s not terribly steep but the climb is long, much of it on trails carved out of the side of a hillside, like this: 

11:38 AM


We even hit a 30-foot snow patch and have to scramble bit to get over it. It’s soft enough that we are confident we can make it back down later without slipping. Soon, B gets a little nervous and we consider turning around. I tell B we can head back if she’s uncomfortable but she agrees to soldier on. (“We’re almost there,” I tell her. I say this in good faith but it’s not true.) Onward and upward we go, taking our time, pausing for rest and water frequently. Several people pass us on their way up. We exchange quick, friendly greetings. We don’t talk much otherwise. 

Just past noon we finally arrive at West Rim Spring, our first target destination. It took us about four hours to get here. We sit on a down on a fallen log and rest, eat a little, and gulp some bottled water. It’s shady and cool. We gaze down on the zig-zag trail we’d just climbed (Left; 12:10 PM). 










At this point we’re up high enough to have cell service and a voicemail pops up from my department chair. It seems odd since he knows I’m away. Turns out it was a misdial, and he leaves a friendly message wishing us an enjoyable trip. Pathetically, I check email. Nothing important. 

We debate going further. I point up a short(ish) climb up a switchback that gets fully on to the park’s West Rim, where there are supposed to be great views. B is skeptical at first but after a little rest, we decide to go.  

That turns out to be a good choice. There are some stunning vistas after a few minutes climb: 


                           12:50 PM                                                                                       12:56 PM 


We linger for a bit and snap a couple of selfies. Finally, B says she’s done and sits down in the shade under a tree. I go a little further, getting around the next bend to catch a few more views: 

1:05 PM


After this we head back. We get back to West Rim Spring and there are a few people resting there. We encourage one couple to go up where we’d been. “It’s right around the corner,” I say. It is, this time, pretty much. Then we head back down the cliffside trails. It feels good to be going down, but that starts to get old as your feet keep jamming into the front of you books and your knees and thighs start to ache. And it’s getting warmer. But at least we’re not out of breath. We cross paths with two overnight backpackers, who are on the way down from the rim. They report on the muddy, messy conditions beyond our turnaround point. Guess we went just about as far as we should have.  

We pause regularly to take a drink and soak in the view as we descend. At one stop, we gaze back up at the top point of the hike (2:50 PM): 

Around 3 we get to the climb out of the valley we had descended into during the morning. There’s not much shade so it’s hot. We pass a few people heading the other way and I wonder how far they plan to go before turning around, given that it’s getting later in the day. But most people are faster than we are, so they will return quickly. At the top of the climb we run into a young guy looking for his buddy. They had gotten separated. We tell him we haven’t passed anyone who matches that description. How do you lose someone up here? 

We get back to Scout’s Landing around 3:45 pm, where we find a pretty large crowd. We stop briefly to use the bathroom and then head down to the bottom on the now-busy trail. This is the part with a lot of drop-offs that B doesn’t like. She goes slowly here; I tend to get ahead and then stop as she catches up. I’m not taking as many pictures because I’m too tired and just want to get to the bottom. B is quiet now, clearly not enjoying this part of the process.  

One slightly disappointing thing of the hike is we haven’t seen much in the way of wildlife, except the condors. The only other exception is these tiny lizard-like things, which have been all over the place all day (On right; 4:19 PM). 












We finally get down to the river around 4:45. I check my app and it reports we’ve gone 14.01 miles, climbed over 5,000 feet, and walked for 7 hours and 15 minutes (not counting an hour-plus of resting time). That’s the longest and hardest hike we’ve done in years. My feet are very sore at this point. We make our way to the lodge and go by the beer garden but we’re too tired (and too smelly) to stop before we shower. We have to check into the lodge officially, which takes a few minutes, after which we unload our luggage from the car and find our second-floor room.  

After showering and putting our aching feet up for a few minutes we head over the beer garden. But it closed at 6, so we decide to just go to the restaurant, get a drink and order some food at the counter. (There’s no table service, apparently because the park has had trouble hiring and keeping enough staff.)  We sit out on the lodge deck and enjoy the beautiful canyon views, with the sun now hitting everything from the other side. Our drinks come quickly; so does the food—we both ordered the trout—and it is delicious. We’re hungry enough that a dirty hiking boot would taste good, but this is truly tasty and we both eat quickly.  

I am most of the way through the meal when I gaze out of the lodge’s front lawn, and notice a tour bus unloading. I flash back to breakfast and point out to B that if we want another drink, we better order it now, since there is only one service point. I hustle over to the ordering desk and get in line behind three older women, evidently from the bus. It’s the right call, as the line suddenly expands, snaking through the room and down the stairs into the lobby. I chat with a few people as the women in front of us struggle to decide what to have—fish, chicken, or pasta? This is not efficient.  The tour leader is perched at the ordering desk. He’s agreed to buy everyone in the group a drink. The women at the front of the line don’t drink alcohol so they barter with him, trading a glass of wine for piece of raspberry-drizzled cheesecake. I ask if I can get in on the free drinks but no go. I’m slightly too young, it seems. So the day wraps up as it began: standing in line with retirees on a bus tour waiting to get food and drink.  

After dinner we head to our room, take some ibuprofen, and lay down. I watch part of a Lakers-Warriors NBA playoff game. With the time change, I even catch the end before falling asleep. We discuss going outside to look at the night sky—it’s supposed to be beautiful here with so little human-generated light. But our legs and feet are too sore to do that. Besides, I think it’s clouding up.  

I lay in bed and my legs and hips throb. Happily, sleep comes quickly and easily.