Thursday, November 10, 2011

Recovery in Zion

My earliest memories of the outdoors — well, beyond a kiddie pool in the grass and Texas fire ants — take place in Zion National Park. There is something about evening light on towering cliffs in the Court of the Patriarchs that inspires a bewildered and lasting kind of awe, even in a six-year-old. I love this place. I sought it out frequently as a teenager and once crossed the entire park from north to south as a twenty-year-old backpacker. I still get back as often as I can, preferably in the late fall, after the crowds have gone and the canyon has erupted in a palette of primary colors — red rocks, yellow leaves and blue sky.

Bill had never visited Zion before, so I convinced him to take a couple of days after the 25 hours of Frog Hollow to explore the park. "Call it active recovery," I said with a wry grin. The three of us hadn't slept at all on Saturday night, I rode a mountain bike 169 miles and Bill cranked out an unfathomable 260. Really, what we should have done was found the nearest bed and collapsed for three days, but we convinced ourselves that five hours of leisurely hiking would work just as well.

Our first active recovery adventure was the Angel's Landing trail, where a blaze of fall colors lined the cliffs. Bill brought his big DSLR camera and the hikes involved a stop every three minutes or so to capture the moment. As evidenced by this blog post, I was pretty camera happy myself. And if you've ever been on a hike with three camera-crazed people, you'll understand how slow, stop-and-go hiking can sometimes be even more exhausting than running. But the scenery was incredible.

Angel's Landing is an impressive example of extreme trail engineering. These are the "switchbacks" that allow people to amble up what used to be a cliff.

Then come the chains that aid people across a narrow sandstone fin and actual cliffs. Bill and I were both struggling quite a bit on this section — blame sore quads, numb fingers and weakened legs. At one point I got down in a squat and wasn't sure I could lift myself back up. Bill also wasn't a huge fan of the exposure. But wow, what a view.

There was a dusting of new snow in the higher elevations. That and the diminishing clouds made for a dramatic skyline.

Gazing over the 1,500-foot sheer drop to the valley below, while feeling proud of ourselves for managing a 1,500-foot climb one day after a 25-hour race.

Bill learns how Angel's Landing earned its name.

Bill, Mo and I gather for a group portrait at the top.

Somebody built a snowman with the last of the melting snow at the top. His face seems to convey a kind of existential crisis.

Working our way back down the chains. Again, the sore quads were not happy.

We arrived at the bottom of the canyon and started up the Emerald Pools trail. I haven't even been there since I was a child (if you've ever visited Zion's during the peak tourism months, you'll understand why.) But it was a treat to go in the fall.

Surprising how difficult four miles with about 400 feet of climbing can feel. But wow, worth it.

We spent the night at the national park campground, trying to use our still-somewhat-wet Frog Hollow gear to stay warm. We built a fire and sipped chili-pepper-laced hot chocolate, then retreated to our tents as overnight temperatures dropped into the low 20s. I woke up several times in the night thanks to restless leg syndrome, and went for moonlight walks to calm down my twitching muscles as I sipped water to quell a ragged cough.

The silver moonlight on the cliffs was stunning. But by 7 a.m. I felt fully spent rather than rested, and still had to make my way through the morning as Bill and Mo got a slow start. Keeping yourself warm can be surprisingly strenuous if you don't have much energy to begin with. I walked and packed up and ate breakfast and walked some more as my core temperature just continued to dip lower and lower. In its own way, my shivering morning at the campground felt like as much of an endurance test as Frog Hollow itself.

But most of that was forgotten as the bluebird day revealed itself. We vehicle-toured the eastern side of the park and managed one hike on the Canyon Overlook Trail — two miles round trip with a short nap on the ledge. Still wrapped in my down coat, wool socks and mittens at 50 degrees, I pulled my hat over my face and basked in the sun as the chill finally started to melt away from my core.

It was a beautiful, if not perfect, way to recover from Frog Hollow.


  1. Wow...I really have to get out more (and Zion is on my gigantic list). AWESOME pics! You do a great job w/ your point-n-shoot! Your idea of 'recovery' cracks me're a superhero for sure!

    Rode a new trail here in the San Jose area today: Priest Rock/Kennedy Trail out of Las Gatos. It's part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail network. Turns out the Priest Rock section is about the hardest couple of miles I can recall. Climbs up from Lexington reservoir and is either up or down (and by UP, I mean LOTS of pitches I'm guessing around 20% grade). I only went back 6 miles and was TOTALLY wasted. There's a big new network of trails in that area for me to explore on future trips in the area.

  2. what incredible pictures! Poor old England can't compete with that...

  3. Great post and pictures to match. I could feel your tiredness.

  4. Love Angel's landing. Terrified the whole time I was there but your photos make me want to visit it again. can't wait to see pics and hear your story of Nepal

    Mary from NC

  5. Beautiful pictures Jill. Brings back memories of my visit to Zion a few years ago.

  6. Awesome. Beautiful. Wish I was hiking there right now!

  7. Jill, these pictures are simply amazing!! I am envious of your continued adventures!

    -Karen Travels

  8. Wow, awesome adventure!


  9. Considering that my birthday is in late October, I think its time I 'treated' myself to a Zion birthday present! Sounds like it would be the best timing...

  10. Thanks for the Zion visit and memories. Zion is my favorite.

  11. Oh, my. I've gotta put Zion in my Fall plans for next year. It's been too long since I've been there.

    Thanks, Jill.

    MikeS in Juneau

  12. I love Zion! The U.S. has so many amazing national parks but that one is definitely among my top three favorites. It's a combination of the light and the rocks, I think.

  13. Helen made me aware of your blog. It is written in an entertaining, easy to read style and the photographs are outstanding. Your mention of personal journaling struck a familiar chord. I thoroughly enjoyed this post on Zion NP. It has always been a pass through for me. One day I will set a mission to hike the Park. Best wishes on your Nepal trip. Stay safe.

  14. Wow, I've added both Zion and the 25 hours of Frog Hollow to my ever growing to-do list! Although I think I'm going to set out for the 24 hours of light first : )

  15. Zion is so beautiful - definitely somewhere to add to my bucket list of places to visit!


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