Bradley's View

Bradley's View

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Zion Traverse

      It all started with a simple text message: "Jon, you still want to do a long run?  How about Zion Traverse first thing next week?"  No way I could swing it, I responded.  About 5 minutes later I decided there was no reason I shouldn't try to make it work, and a plan was born.

      I called Mike shortly thereafter and, despite only three days notice, he was able to hop on board as well.  Monday morning I scooped Mike up from Frisco and we began the nine hour drive to Zion, arriving a little after sundown.  Carolyn and Rob had scouted out the startpoint and the checkpoints from which Caro would distribute aid and develop her own perspectives on the park.

      The 5:00 alarm didn't come a second too soon, we were ready to get moving.  After some breakfast and coffee we drove to the park's east entrance, donned our headlamps, and hopped on the East Rim Trail.  The start time was 6:35.

       After about 30 minutes of slogging through the sandy trails, the sun set to work on the canyon walls, painting the top a brilliant red that would slowly drip down over the coming hours bringing a vibrant orange to the walls that would follow us down as we began our descent.

A less than novel photo, but the sunrise is monumental.

At the crack of dawn. Photo: M. Ambrose

      The trail rolled at modest grades during the opening miles- we laughed and sang as deer bounded every which way, equally enjoying each undulation of the trail, it seemed.  The trail began to hug the rim closely, offering awesome views to which the camera does no justice, then over the edge it went.  The trail down was a fun ride as the trail then turned to a series of cairns guiding us across the slickrock deeper and deeper into the Zion Canyon.

Mike, enjoying some of the first strides below the rim.
So small in comparison. Photo by M. Ambrose

Photo by M. Ambrose

Mike and Rob having a stinkin' good time.

A tunnel blasted for a convenient sidewalk

This wall is far bigger and more overhanging than it appears.  The colors are stunning, too.

Mike peeing peering into the Zion Canyon around mile 11

Rob was stoked, to say the least.

       We descended the paved trail down to the Park's scenic drive. After a mile of road we arrived to our first checkpoint (mile 13), where we refilled water before beginning the day's biggest climb up to Angel's Landing and, ultimately, back up to the canyon's West Rim.

Beginning the ascent towards Angel's Landing

      We saw a handful (maybe 10 or 12) of people on and around Angel's Landing, which was almost all of the people we saw.

Trail up to Angel's Landing

Photo by M. Ambrose

A little mid-climb Tai Chi?

My dudes, on the last incline below the walls of Zion Canyon.

Almost out.
      Once we reached the lip of the canyon we opened the map to figure how long we had left before we'd get to refill and refuel at the next checkpoint.  The map revealed that, though we thought we had 4 or 5 miles left, we actually had 10 miles left.  Oops, we severely misjudged, which meant that none of us had carried along a sufficient supply of food or water to keep our energy high through this stretch.  This was probably the low point of the day for us, we ended up walking a bit and pausing a couple of times in the shade to stave off the sun's beating.

Riding the rim.

       Mile 29 rolled around and we met up with Carolyn for the second time.  Her zest for the journey was welcomed and helped us regained a little pep in our step after enjoying the snacks she had graciously hiked in to us (due to road closure).  We made like Santa Claus and left her presence and headed out on a steady descent of singletrack along the ridge of Lava Point.  We cruised really well through the woods and meadows, awestruck by the diversity of landscapes found in the park.  

Open spaces

"Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world"
-J. Muir

Incredible rock

This is how I imagined Zion before this adventure.  Wow.

      We met Caro again before getting on the Hop Valley Trail to begin the descent into the Kolob Canyon.  When we got to the aid station wagon we felt great and felt even better upon leaving.  Unfortunately, the first couple of miles of the section was soft, deepish sand, which really sapped a lot of energy every time a push forward was made.
      After crossing the expanse of the meadow we began our descent into the Kolob Canyon. The green carpet of grass that was the canyon floor had been rolled out before us, the immensity of the canyon was yet to be seen.  We followed the river, getting our feet wet several times when crossing, running through the sand in the footprints of cows and horses who, too, had been granted some sort of fulfillment from the river we chased.

A balancing act

Class acts

Just before descending to the bottom of Kolob Canyon

Singletrack on the canyon floor

Photo by M. Ambrose

     Running beside the river on the floor of the canyon was fantastic, one of my favorite sections of the route.  We ran really well all day, but I was especially impressed in these late miles (40 to 48) by our ability to crank out a 7:30 pace in our race against the sun.

       But, as it often does, the sun set and the burst of red returned, glowing on the canyon walls. The sun's salutation was impressive, but the full moon stole the show, appearing perfectly on cue in it's dance with the sun creating a halo that bloomed out of the summit of one of the nearby peaks.  We carried on climbing in the darkness another couple of miles out of the canyon to Lee's Pass where we were welcomed once more by the lovely Carolyn and hung up our hats for the day.
The sun's setting

Mike, Rob, and me after a good day's run

     We spent 11 hours and 35 minutes moving through the park (48 miles, ~10,000 ft of vert), it made for a long day, but the pace made the experience extremely enjoyable.  I didn't have a concrete expectation for Zion prior to this adventure, but running from the East Entrance to the West Entrance proved that it was far more than could be photographed or described.  I'll definitely do this again sometime.

      Over the course of the next couple of hours we ate a ton of salt and vinegar chips, ate burritos and tacos, said farewell to Rob and Caro, and took off in the car.  After about 2.5 hours of driving(~midnight), we were too physically and mentally fatigued to continue and napped on the side of the road.  A couple of hours later we were off again.  Mike reached Frisco just in time for work, and I made my way back up to Leadville.

      As I sit here a couple of days removed from the outing, I feel no soreness or fatigue, which is completely unknown territory for me after a run of this magnitude- I like it.

      I tip my cup to National Park Service and all it does to make the beauty and wonder of this world known and accessible to people who may not otherwise seek it's solace.  Now, I just hope that cup is filled with some Hop Notch IPA from the Uinta Brewery of SLC, Utah that I had the pleasure of enjoying on this excursion.


  1. Jon,

    We haven't met but Rob is a good friend so I feel like I know you a bit. Thanks for putting the effort into posting this detailed, elegant description of your Zion run. Getting Rob to be this specific is a challenge and as long as I have known him I have wondered what these long runs are like. Reading your post gives me a far better sense of why you two love doing this so much.

    I was in Zion 21 years ago and thought it had an ethereal beauty like almost no other place. Relatively few people get to see it the way you did. I think you are quite lucky. I would suggest a visit to Canyon De Chelly. I think it might excite you.

    Hopefully we will meet face to face one day.

    1. Steven, I think Rob lucky to have a friend like you. Canyon De Chelly, you say? I'll keep it in mind! Thanks for your support!

  2. Jon thanks for letting us share another adventure with you into yet another awesome beauty of our God's creation. I feel like I am reading and seeing a story book. I am proud to call you my SIL and God has certainly given you much strength and desire to enjoy your runs. He has also given you a Gift of writing and the way you allow all of us to experience your adventures with you. Thank you Jon and May God continue to Bless you........Love you lots.MIL

  3. Hi Jon!

    I am hoping you can offer me some advice. I recently planned a road
    trip and altered it to include Zion. For some years now I've been
    dreaming of doing the Zion Traverse. Now that I'm definitely going, I
    am starting to wonder if it could be a possibility.

    I have run four marathons thus far (and two halves), with my most
    recent being Boston roughly two weeks ago, but am unexperienced in
    ultrarunning. I trained for Boston for four months but have not run
    since race day. I'm wondering if you think it would be at all possible
    to complete the traverse in early June (probably the 8th). If so, how
    would you recommend going about training as others are telling me I
    still need time to recover from the marathon.

    I would be running solo, but have people who could meet up with me at any of the road intersections or the short trails, so seemingly at
    13.5, 17.4, 22.1, 36.3, and the end (if I make it...) to resupply me
    with water and food. Thanks so much for any input you can offer!