Friday, 17 April 2015

I am not an Iron Lion in Zion

Location: Zion National Park, Utah, USA
We left Kanab early as we wanted to give ourselves the best chance against the probable wind, plus we'd heard Zion was very busy and we wanted to make sure we got a campsite.  If we'd been driving we could have taken the Mount Carmel-Zion Tunnel making the journey to the campsite about 40 miles.  But on a bike you're not allowed through this tunnel so we had to take the long way round, about 60 miles, including an 8 mile stretch on the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Backcountry Road, a dirt track that cut the corner on our 'long way round', saving us 24 miles.  I was a bit apprehensive of this stretch of road as I am not at all confident on anything less solid than a tarmacked road, but I figured saving 24 miles of cycling warranted a go and it seemed like well packed dirt with a light sprinkling of sand on top.

After only about a mile we stopped to eat some lunch.  We were surrounded by dusty farmland, occasionally the wind gusts would stir up dust clouds or motor along a little tumbleweed, but it wasn't much to write home about.  There were a handful of 4x4s passing us by and one stopped to talk to us while we were finishing up our lunch of crisp sandwiches.  He asked if we'd passed a campsite, which we hadn't, and asked where we were planning to sleep.  We told him of our plan to camp at Zion and he said that they'd been there this morning and been turned away as it was full (not great news) and said that the dirt road was pretty good for most of it, but there was a section of about a mile that was very rough.

We cycled on, turned a corner and crested a small hill and WOW!  No more dusty farmland but the most epic, beautiful scenery of craggy mountains and pine forested hillsides.  It was really incredible and despite feeling pretty nervous about the terrain I was really pleased we'd come this way.  Tom said this was his favourite day of riding of the trip so far.  We hit the very rough bit of road; steep downhill with big exposed boulders and no smooth bits to aim for.  Tom managed to ride a lot of it, but it was way beyond my comfort zone and I got off and walked my bike down.  I was happy to do this as it gave me more time to look at the beautiful scenery.

We got back on to what the Americans call 'Pavement' (tarmacked road) and were soon at the gates of Zion.  We asked if they had hiker/biker sites at the campgrounds, they did not (oh no!) but the lady on the gate said she'd ring the campground and see if there was anything they could do.  Luckily there was one group site that had not been booked and as long as we were willing to share with 16 other people we could pitch up on this site.  Happy to share we headed to the campground and got set up.

Five of the 16 people were a group of Canadians on a holiday from uni and they invited us to join in on their BBQ.  We headed to the shop to buy some meat and beer and spent the evening chatting with Jordan, Clarissa, Max, Mikko and Caitlyn.  They suggested some good hikes for us the next day, which tied in with that the park ranger had recommended.

We got an early start, rode the shuttle bus to the Temple of Sinawava and set off down the river to head into The Narrows.  You walk along the path by the river and when the path ends you can continue up the river as the canyon narrows.  Most people doing this get kitted out with wetsuits or dry-gear, but our Canadian buddies had braved it in bare legs and trainers so we went for it with Crocs and Sealskinz.  Our feet were toasty-warm until we went through a deep spot where the water level went over the top of the socks and our toes were flooded with frigid river water.

We didn't make it all that far into The Narrows, but it was fun and after we reached a small waterfall we decided to turn back.  Emerging from the river with many more people at the end of the riverside walk we got a lot of funny looks because of our footwear.  After a few minutes sitting in the sun drying off, our feet were thawed out and we boarded the bus to our next destination the trailhead for the hike up to Angels Landing.  While most of the trail up to Angels Landing is on well maintained paths and its one of the most popular hikes in Zion, the last half a mile is up a 'narrow sandstone ridge' with anchored chains to hang on to as you climb up with drops of 1200ft on one side and 800ft on the other.

Signs on the way up inform you that 6 people have died falling from Angels Landing, its a sobering thought, but then you see people bounding their way up and down, including kids and older people.  Tom really wanted to do this hike and I didn't want to let him down so we left the broad platform of Scouts Lookout to start the climb up the last half a mile.  After only maybe 30 feet or so I realised I was not comfortable attempting this in Crocs and socks.  The wind was gusting and I did not feel confident at all.  I urged Tom to go on and offered to wait with the bags where I had decided to give up.  As it was only half a mile to the end of the trail I guessed Tom wouldn't be long and perched uncomfortably, gripping the 2 bags and trying not to get in the way of the braver souls who passed me by on their way up and down.  Time went by, more time than I had expected and I got colder as I was blasted by the wind gusts.  Where was Tom?  Was he ok?


  1. Oh God! A cliff hanger (literally?) though I see you have posted since. Phew!