Zion Traverse 

Let me preface this post by saying Zion is an absolutely magical place and well worth the visit. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you may have noticed I tend to put a positive spin on most places but this time I really mean it. The Zion Traverse aka the Trans Zion trail is roughly 48 Miles that many people run in one shot but Queen B and I decided to enjoy it as a multi day backpacking trip. With good planning it is very runable. I highly recommend this hike. 

Day 1     10/31/17     5 Miles

This morning, after climbing out of Goldstrike Canyon, QB and I started driving towards Utah. We stopped in Boulder City to eat fish tacos at the famous ‘Coffee Cup’ then proceeded to Zion NP, about 2–3 hours away. Pulling off the highway at the visitors center we got permits for a couple nights in the backcountry then drove up to the Lees Pass trailhead. The traverse is a 48 Mile tour through the park that many people run in one shot. Running it sounds fun but this time the plan is to backpack it over the course of 2+ Days. From Lees Pass we walked about 5 miles along the La Verken Creek Trail and got to campsite #6 right at sunset. From the beginning the scenery has been spectacular. The soft dirt path we walked on was nice and easy and well graded and there were views of huge red mountains all over the place. Tonight is clear, cool, and calm so we decided to cowboy camp. Hopefully being Halloween and everything this canyon isn’t haunted. If you ever do this hike make sure to check out the swimming hole at campsite #6 and get here early enough in the day to swim. 

Day 2     11/1     25 Miles 

Cowboy camping in the canyon was pretty cozy although the cool air woke me up a couple times. I’d rather sleep through the night but each time I woke up I was rewarded with a sky full of stars and some awesome shooters. The light of day didn’t reach us until close to 8am so I ended up sleeping in a little by default. From our campsite we walked about a mile until we reached a side trail to Kolob Arch. This added another mile plus to our day but the natural arch was worth checking out. Once back on trail we climbed a little then dropped into Hop Valley. This place was awesome! We followed a creek as it serpentined through a red rock canyon with cottonwood trees wearing yellow foliage. From Hop Valley we took the Connector trail that had some great views of distant rock formations then walked along Wildcat Canyon. I still have yet to see a big cat in the wild. Eventually we climbed up onto a plateau and followed the West Rim trail to our home for the night; campsite #5. It got breezy and chilly on the plateau so once we got to our site we bundled up and from a cliff watched the sunset over a landscape unlike anything that I’ve ever seen before. 

Day 3     11/2     19 Miles 

Right away this morning we enjoyed an impressive sunrise from the plateau then began our descent along the West Rim trail and into Zion Canyon. The fall colors of the park combined with the colors of the canyon were so cool. Early November is a great time to be hiking here; the crowds are thinner, the air is cool and good for hiking, and the foliage is worth seeing. The West Rim Trail passes right by the notorious Angel’s Landing Trail so QB and I decided to take a little detour. Angel’s Landing is an extremely narrow trail to a rocky outcropping in the middle of Zion Canyon. There are chains built in to the ground to make it safer but it’s still pretty gnarly, plus there’s lots of people getting in the way and stuff because it’s so popular. I mean it was scary and everything but it didn’t stand a chance of derailing us and was a great little side trip. From Angel’s Landing we walked down about a million switchbacks to the Grotto in the canyon floor. There was a mile of road to our next trailhead and since there was no trail along the road, we took the shuttle up to Weeping Rock TH. From here we power walked up a ton of switchbacks to get out of the canyon. It was about ten more scenic miles along canyons to the east entrance of the park where we ended our hike. So many tourists just go to the attractions in Zion Valley, while those are cool, there is so much more to see in this park and the Traverse is a great way to experience it. According to the ranger who gave us our permits, the east side of the park is the “Bitchinest!” We got to the East Entrance just before 5pm and got 3 quick hitches back to our car an hour and a half away in Kolob Canyon(1 from a kid who grew up in the town next to me in Mass). It was hitchhiking as it should be, it wouldn’t have worked out better if we had booked a shuttle ahead of time. 

 

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East Glacier Park, MT

Day 124     8/31     32 miles

After getting into town yesterday the rest of the afternoon proved to be very productive.  First of all we had to estimate our mileage for the rest of the trail then QB was able to get all our backcountry permits squared away for Glacier NP next week. The staff she dealt with on the phone at Glacier were super helpful. Next we had to take care of some logistics pertaining to a little adventure we have planned for after the CDT. We resupplied, cleaned up, did laundry, then wolfed down racks of ribs for supper. No doubt impressed with our appetites, a few forest service workers at the table next to us gave us a huge bag of buffalo jerky and some candy for the trail. 

This morning we tried to get out early but it took a little while to get a hitch. After about 20 minutes 2 cars pulled over at once. The first was Dave, who stopped to pick us up, the second car was his wife who stopped to give him his cell phone that he forgot and also a piece of her mind. She was not happy about him forgetting his cell phone and she was not happy about him picking up hitchhikers either. It got a little awkward, but only for a second until we got away from her. Dave was really nice and drove us the 6 miles back to where we got off the reroute yesterday. The kicker was, he was on his way to pickup his Mother-in-law(Her Mother!), and drive her to an appointment, the ultimate hitchhiker. After Dave dropped us off we walked along a series of dirt roads and then 3 or 4 different trails for about 25 miles before we got back to the CDT north of the Alice Creek Fire. Luckily Queen B is a solid navigator and we had no problems finding our way along the reroute. It was actually quite pleasant, the trails were smooth, there wasn’t much smoke, and we came across Heart Lake, a great place to swim and eat lunch this afternoon. Once back on the official CDT we walked high on a ridge and it got super windy and smoky again. Supposedly there’s a lot of grizzlies up this way so we’re trying to use good bear country habits; we ate about an hour before we stopped to camp and then hung our food a good distance from where we’re sleeping. Hopefully the grizz don’t bother us. We’ve got a 180+ mile section until our next town and Glacier NP, so today was definitely a solid start. Walking out of Lincolnswam in beautiful Heart Lake skies are clear for awhile back on trail then smoky again see? 

Day 125     9/1     34 miles

I woke up in the middle of the night last night to what I thought was a bear outside my tent. In my half sleep I thought I heard sticks breaking and the sounds of a bear snorting and walking around. For about 10 minutes I was terrified but in reality it was probably a dream so I put in my earplugs and went back to sleep. Starting this morning we just crushed miles all day. The trail went up over a pass then followed a creek for most of the day. We went through a burn with very little shade so laying down in the icy cold creek this afternoon was very refreshing. Eventually we got to a trailhead and started taking a side trail to Benchmark Ranch where we had sent a resupply box a couple weeks ago. A couple picked us up and drove us a few miles to the ranch feeding us cold delicious watermelon during the ride(best food ever). At Benchmark we ran into Mac, Appa, and JPEG and those guys gave us the bad news of a brand new fire causing a trail closure up ahead. We hiked out with them this evening and we’ll try to figure out a way to get around the fire, hopefully it’s manageable and doesn’t involve a lot of road walking or add tons of extra miles. Around sunset we found a spot to camp just  north of the West Fork of the Sun River(500 feet north of the river if you’re a ranger reading this). 

Day 126     9/2     31 miles

First thing this morning I saw a bald eagle soaring over the river, I took this for a good sign. The five of us turned right off the CDT and got onto a trail along the North Fork of the Sun River hoping to skirt the fire to the east. It was a hot one out there, luckily I was able to jump in the river a few times because the trail was almost always exposed. After almost a full day of hiking we got to an intersection with a sign posted from a ranger directing us west back onto the CDT then south to Spotted Bear Pass and an alternate off of that. A couple miles later we stopped at a ranger station and got the word from them. Things aren’t looking good. There’s about 5 fires north of us, they’re spreading and the CDT is closed. There might be a slim chance of a reroute but that would bring us way west before going north and rejoining the CDT, if somehow all those trails stay open. The plan right now is to head south on the CDT back to Benchmark Ranch to re-evaluate, essentially doing a big loop through the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I don’t want to walk through a fire, or a closed trail, or get into some kind of situation where I’d need to get rescued and put somebody else’s life at risk. If over the course of the next day we get some good news that a new route has been developed to get through the wilderness we can continue north. As of right now we’ll probably have to hitch to East Glacier in a couple days and miss about 75 miles of trail. It’s a bummer but it’s not heartbreaking, a similar situation happened to me in ’15 on the PCT so I guess I’m used to it. Anyway after talking to the rangers we walked about five more miles before finding a nice campsite by Baldy Bear Creek. Saw an eagle flying over this and a beaver swimming in itNorth Fork of the SunAppa examining a swimming holeMac keeping his feet dry QB and Mac walking towards the firethe infrastructure in the BMW is impeccable 

Day 127      9/3     33 miles

Today was quite the day. First of all this morning we were all sitting around eating breakfast and Queen B saw something in the woods not too far from us that she thought was a small grizzly. I looked over and I saw something too, just real quickly that I thought was a big cat because of the way it moved (this is based on nothing though since I’ve never seen a big cat). We started hiking south at a relaxed pace because there was really no hurry to go back to Benchmark. We passed the Spotted Bear alternate and there was a map posted with a rat’s nest of closed trails but nothing about a reroute through the fires so we continued South back towards Benchmark. About a mile and a half later we ran into Griggs who was hiking north with a map, a plan, and some good info about a reroute from the forest service. This was some unexpected and really good news. Since nobody had service he air dropped us all pictures of the maps and the details of the ‘Schaefer Reroute.’ I turned around along with QB, JPEG, Mac and Appa and we all went north back up to the Spotted Bear trail and 10 miles down that way. At Pentagon Creek we talked to a forest service worker, who confirmed our route was safe from the fires, and we took a left heading west from there. We walked about 10 more miles to the base of Gunsight Peak and decided to put as much distance between us and the fires as we could. From there we night hiked for a couple hours to a saddle near the peak. It was a hot night and a steep climb. Once we got up top it was super windy and smoky and we were walking through an old burn with an almost full blood moon. I felt like I was on another planet. I’m glad I wasn’t camping alone because it was definitely spooky up there. Ran into Griggs and got some awesome news, figuring out the reroute north trying to walk out of the smoke

Day 128     9/4     29 miles

The light of day this morning put a whole new paint job on the apocalyptic world I went to sleep in last night. The burn we walked through was really crazy looking and we also got a good look at Gunsight Rock. We all stopped at a lake up there and took a nice long break, it was a relaxing morning since we walked so late last night. From the lake we carried on for about 10 miles to a river with a good swimming hole then walked a little further to the Schaefer work station and talked to the kids working in there. We carried on from there walking about 10 miles on a nice manicured trail through a lodge pole pine forest. At one point, while walking with Mac, I saw a big black bear that was safely way down in a ravine. QB and I usually always walk together but for some reason she never sees any bears. I’m not keeping score or anything but if I was it would be 11-2(not counting yesterday morning). We carried on to a road then walked about 3 more miles to the locked Challenge Cabin and camped in front of it.Gunsight RockGunsight Lake 

Day 129     9/5     8 miles

Woke up to a super cold morning and frozen shoes! No big deal, warmed up quickly and walked 8 miles to Marias Pass. Along with QB, I got a hitch to East Glacier Village in a Glacier NP tour bus. It was a sweet ride! I’ve been spending the day relaxing and eating in town. QB and I are planning on getting back to the Pass tonight, camping there, and then we’ll hike 15 miles of trail back to East Glacier tomorrow. Our National Park backcountry permits don’t start until September 7th so 2 short days will be very nice.thanks for the ride Ron!