Monday, December 27, 2010

If I've made a pilgrimage to Zion, does that make a me a Zionist?

Here's your promised tale of adventure from On Distant Shores™, the official blog of Ned Funnell. With the parade in the dust, it was time to move on to bigger and better things. We had a new intern join us for a short one-month stay this fall, John Clark: 

John is an outdoorsman and is on a mission to visit and hike/camp/explore every National Park... IN THE WORLD. (Maybe not. But he goes to a lot of them.) John invited me to go visit Zion National Park with him, which is a golden opportunity.We backpacked, meaning we carried everything we'd need for the two-night trip in backpacks. I'd never been backpacking before, just close-to-the-car camping. Having to carry all your stuff miles and miles makes packing a different story! We hiked into Kolob Canyon the first day. (Mormons believe their god came from a planet called Kolob, hence the name)

As everyone who's backpacked knows, proper footwear is the most important element to a successful backpacking trip. That's why I selected some random shoes I'd bought for six bucks at a thrift store. Although I thought this plan was failsafe, it turned out to be flawed. I got enormo-huge blisters on both my feet after the first few miles, which made the next dozen all the more exciting. As everyone knows, the best thing for blisters is swimming in frigid water.

I was amused in this picture, but I was less amused a few minutes later when some people came around the bend in the river doing a study on the aquaculture. My swimwear would not have been approved by 9 out of 10 dentists. The one-way hike was only 6.5 miles or so in and we made camp with plenty of time to spare, much to the enjoyment of the local mosquitoes.  The next morning we woke up and were greeted by some wild turkeys:

After a backpacking-friendly breakfast (Goober PBJ on a tortilla with extra peanuts inside) we hiked another 1.5 miles to see Kolob Arch, which is pretty neat. We wanted to get a good picture of one of us with the arch, but unfortunately the best/only view of the arch is up through some trees:

The natural solution to the problem was to throw a loop of rope over the branch of a tree and pull it tight so that it couldn't be gotten down again without an hour and a half of devising and attempting rescue. It worked great! John was able to walk up the tree with the rope, but the branch was on the wrong side to get into the frame with the Arch:

He did get into the frame with a different rope trick, though:

Then there was the ordeal of getting the rope out of the tree- whoops! We threw one end of the rope over the tree branch, then tied a loop in it and put the other end through and pulled it tight. Immediately after, we thought something like "Gee, how are we going to get that down?" An hour and a half of failed experimenting later, we succeeded with John standing on my shoulders with a long branch with an improvised hook lashed to the end. In the meantime, we met two guys that had made it a day hike out to the arch. One of the guys was an engineer from Detroit working at a Tier II manufacturer. Neat. They took a video of us getting the rope out of the tree- they said they'd email it to us, but no such luck at this time.

Our original plan was to hike around that day and stay the night again at the same site, then hike out the next day and spent the morning seeing some stuff down at the main part of the park before we headed back. However, we'd seen the main attraction in the northwest part of the park. We could hike more on the trail, but we'd really just hike as far as we felt like walking back and then turn around. Not very exciting. In contrast, there was a lot to see down in the southern part of the park. We hiked out. Hey look, a tarantula!

John snapped a pic of me coming up the trail:

I don't remember where this picture was taken, but it's not as impressive as one you'll see later:

We drove from the north part of the park to the south and brainstormed about where to stay that night. John had been to Zion NP before and had some ideas. We also took the opportunity to have some hot food at a Jack in the Box. We started with driving the park road, which includes a neat tunnel carved through the rock in the 1930s. We also rode the shuttle up and down the park road and looked at all the neat sights. Most of the features of Zion are along one main road and we were able to get a lazy-man's tour of the place on the shuttle. Our morning had been spent getting out from our campsite neat Kolob and we'd driven an hour, plus an hour or so on the shuttle... not much time before sunset.

John knew of a free campground not far out from the park's borders that we might be able to get a spot at that night. We found it to be quite busy, even though it is entirely unadvertised and unmarked from the road. It's true that they say- word of mouth is the best advertising. We walked around and tried to meet some other people but most were not so amenable to the idea. We did wander over and join a group of young people who were coming to climb the rock faces of Zion. They were slack-lining, which is an like tightrope walking, only you use a ratchetstrap or some webbing and you sling it two feet over the ground between two trees. It's a skill. I tried it and almost biffed it both times so I called that my college try and let the Serious People have their go. I struck up a conversation with a fellow who was all about natural remedies and solutions, who seemed to use a tincture of basil for everything from deodorant and disinfectant. How 'bout that. One of my goals in life is to be able to talk intelligently about any topic, so I took the opportunity to educate myself a bit more on natural medicine. 

We slept well enough and set out the next morning back to Zion. We had only this morning remaining on our trip and wanted to make the most of it. Since John had been here before, I relied on his expertise when we chose what to do. We decided on Angel's Landing, which is a short hike (around five miles round trip) but with a lot of elevation change. It ends up on the tippety top of a big rock. Sweet. I've got to say, for a short hike, this one exhausted me. The blisters didn't help either. We took a bunch of water and I drank like a sieve. The hike is pretty standard, up the side of the mountain, for the first half or so. Then you hit the back of a big rock and climb several hundred vertical feet in short, steep switchbacks. When you hit the top of that rock, you walk along a narrow ridge with an 800-foot drop on one side and 1000-foot on another. For a short section, it's only three feet wide. Sweet action. Don't look down: 

I met one lady on the trail who was conquering her fear of heights. I'd say this would be a good test! The last section is along a ridge and is moderately treacherous. Although I saw all sorts of people at the top, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a hike for general consumption. There have been nine fatal falls from the trail since 1987. If you're in decent health, though, don't let my warning stop you- there are chains anchored into the rock at all the tricky points for you to hold onto. Just don't do anything stupid. We made it to the top:

John's on the highest point of Angel's Landing there. Note the astonished hiker below. He's wearing pants. If you go in the warm months, don't wear pants. (Wear shorts) I wore my double-layer canvas pants, which are thick and heavy and made for chainsawing in. Don't do that either. And bring lots of water. Better to arrive back at the base station with water to spare and have carried a little extra weight than to run out or have to ration your water and dehydrate yourself. 

The trip back down, predictably, was much easier than the trip up. Once we made it back down into the valley, John and I elected to dip our heads in the cool river water, which was excellent and comes highly recommended to others returning from that trip. After that hike, I was exhausted and not sure that my feet could take much more. Angel's landing is the greatest view in the park which is available to tourists who are not specifically prepared for an expedition. We could have gone on several lesser hikes, but we opted to let that be a suitable 'finish with a bang' to our trip and headed home. 

It's always a bonus to end blog posts with a bang, so here's Shane looking funny:

Image credit for all photos except Shane goes to John Clark.

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