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.