48.3 miles, 10K feet gain, 12 hours 59 minutes
Since initially running the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim together in 2003, Eric and I have slowly been ticking off our list of “adventures”. The latest one consisted of running a point to point across Zion National Park, from the East Entrance to Lee Pass in a one-day mega-tour of the entire park. Last year we considered it, but injuries and weather had different plans. It’s always a victory when we just make it to the trailhead together. This year, the stars aligned.
6:30am Thursday morning at the Morrison park ‘n ride we were loading up my truck and pointing west towards Zion. We only stopped for gas and bathroom breaks while catching up on each other’s lives and laughing about previous adventures and the unclear definitions of “soaking”. Around 3pm we pulled into Cedar City, UT to pick up a rental car (one of our better ideas), then drove it 30 minutes to Lee Pass to leave it there with a note on the windshield until the following evening. The town of Springdale was hopping with tourists, this is a real popular time for the southern Utah National Parks since the temperatures are bearable and it’s free National Park entry week. The campgrounds were full so we putzed around the visitor center and took the shuttle up to the lodge to stretch our legs. We ate dinner at a picnic table so it wouldn’t be too obvious that we were sleeping in the truck at the trailhead. 9pm found us at the East Entrance doing some final packing and crawling into our sleeping bags for the planned 5am start.
4:30am Friday morning the alarm went off and we quickly did our final prep by light of the full moon (that was an unplanned surprise!). At 5am with sand in our shoes already we started north on the East Rim trail. It was just chilly enough for a light long sleeve shirt. The jogging kept us warm and the footing was variable. We gained a bit of elevation and continued through the Colorado-esque forest. We didn’t stop for water at 5.6 mile Stave Spring, but we did growl at the tents as we jogged by. Only one very minor detour reminded us to stay on track. Up some slickrock and a great sunrise along the East Rim before dropping elevation along the Echo Canyon trail. It’s amazing that a trail was built along here as it cuts along the cliffs, through rock bands, and just above slot canyons. Down down down the trail eventually spit us out at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop in Zion Canyon at mile 10.4. We jogged 1.2 miles down the road to The Grotto arriving in 2hrs 45mins enjoying the sun rays on the surrounding rock walls and towers. At the spigot we refilled our bladders and bottles knowing the heat and climbs ahead.
Across the river and up the Angel’s Landing trail had us on paved switchbacks passing the early-bird tourists. Truly a trail-building masterpiece! Still enjoying the shadows of Refrigerator Canyon and then more tight switchbacks up Walter’s Wiggles before turning left instead of continuing up Angel’s Landing. Slickrock brought us higher and eventually into the sun with a cool breeze. The trail cut right along the canyon walls again and we saw our first sign of lingering snow. Back into the trees and we came to West Rim Spring at mile 16.3 and 4hrs 20mins into our journey. It was essentially a mud and algae hole with a slight trickle of fresh and clear water coming out of the dirt. A dead larvae was just elow our water filter. After 20mins of pumping water, eating, and applying sunscreen we continued on.
We climbed a bit more through some burn area then the views opened up to the surrounding mesas capped with trees and grass, just like what we were on. Awesome stuff. There were miles of joggable trail as we passed several backcountry campsites, glad that the sun was at our backs and that there was a breeze. As usual, we jogged the flats /ownhills while walking the uphills and joking about coming across “Buddies Ranch” instead of the Bunny Ranch. It was surprising to occasionally be in such dense forests followed by grasslands. Potato Hollow Springs at mile 20 was dry and my legs were starting to let me know that it’s been a long day already. We stopped at the Sawmill Spring sign (miles 24.8) considering whether to do the side trip or not, and fortunately came across a runner who said there was a good water source in 4 more miles. We checked our supplies and continued on. Past the Lava Point trailhead and into Wildcat canyon. Now it was starting to get hot.
At mile 28.6 (7hrs and 15mins into the day) we stopped at the clear flowing Blue Creek to eat, chug water, and refill. Up and going again 20 minutes later, Lava Point trail was rocky and seemed to drag on. More forest running on soft trails losing elevation past Pine Valley Peak and wide open views, then the hell started…. Sand. Miles and miles of soft soul-sucking sand in a shadeless hot breeze. Ugh, it was awful. Eric was feeling really good at this point and kept jogging. It took a lot of effort for me to keep up and I knew that a bonk was eminent. At least the views were nice. We crossed a road and dragged through more sinister sand, the only saving grace was know that we only had about a ½ marathon distance to go. Finally onto some slickrock and toe-bruising trails and down into Hop Valley. Now Hop Valley was really cool! Red rock canyon walls on both side with a shallow and meandering river running down the middle. Of course there was more sand. It was surreal that there were three horses galloping down the river. Rocky switchback took us down to La Verkin Creek and the barn was in sight, mile 43.7 and 11hrs deep.
We pumped the hazy water and I really enjoyed cooling down. Another runner joined us and we shared stories. We thought we had just 4.5 miles left, but actually it was 6.5 miles… what a kick in the teeth. Occasional jogging for a couple miles along the river, then a right turn to follow Timber Creek and crossing it many times. I tried several times to jog, but a wicked side-stitch quickly put an end to that. Eric was still feeling good and the only replies I could muster was the occasional “yeah” or “yep” to his questions. It was robot-mode, one foot in front of the other. The red rock towers to the east were spectacular, but I really didn’t give a crap. Finally we could see the road in the distance to the west and we climbed until the cars were no longer specks. Eric glanced at his watch and said we could beat 13hrs, then started jogging. Fortunately the Lee Pass trailhead was just 100yds away and I didn’t even have to jog to finish in 12hrs and 59minutes. Thank goodness that was over!We waited 15mins for the other runner to give him a ride to town. We made the “I’m still alive” calls to our wives in Springdale and picked up two runners that we saw along the trail that had to bail, and gave them a ride to the East Entrance, where we were going. Change of clothes, wash cloth bath, burgers, beer, laughs, bed. Saturday was a quick pack-up, drop off the rental, and cruise home with gas/food stops watching the sand-nado’s glad that we had run the day before.