Sunday, July 22, 2012

Zion National Park...Part 1

(The West Temple is the highest point in Zion National Park, rising 4000' above the valley and measuring in at 7,810 ft in elevation. It is the high wooded flat top on the left.)

"I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands." Psalm 63:2-4

As Sarah and I hopped on our first shuttle towards our first hike, a prerecorded history of Zion came on the PA system informing us about the canyon we were about to explore. The first lesson was how this magnificent place was named. Like most parts of Utah, Zion was named by early Mormon settlers. When they arrived, they took a look around and called this place Zion...an ancient Hebrew word meaning "sanctuary" or "place of refuge." You could easily see why...
(Great White Throne 6,744 ft and rises 2,350 ft above the floor)

In the above Psalm, David cries out for God. He praised God's love and promised to worship Him...David desired nothing more than God!!! What you don't know, is that David is hiding from his enemies in the barren wilderness of Judah. He was all by himself...completely lonely...no food...no water...surviving  with nothing more but his trust in God. Most people's "sanctuary" or "refuge" in this case would have been to find allies, family, or a Golden Corral. But David...his sanctuary...his refuge...his "Zion" is God. David never surrendered his hope, because his refuge is found in God. He understood God's character and promise to never leave him...so even in David's worst times, he still lifted up his hands to the One who can only satisfy our deepest longings!

Funny enough, I was being taught a personal lesson as well...I often go to places like Zion to find...well, "Zion." To find refuge from this world. These outdoor adventures of mine serve as mini sanctuaries in themselves...offering me a time to reflect on God without interruption. But really, this is not what God desires for me. He wants me to be more like David. To find God's refuge in my everyday wilderness called life. The wilderness of being a husband, a father, a friend...the wilderness of personal finance, work, and church. The wilderness of what many of us call "real life." When I go out on adventures into the wilderness ...truth is, I'm just taking a break from the real "wilderness" God has called me to be in. It's time I lift up my hands, praise Him, because I know His love is better than life...because I too have seen His sanctuary!!!!
Sarah and I drove 17+ hours overnight on 7/13 through 7/14 to Zion from our home in DFW. It wasn't too bad though...in Amarillo, I bought a coffee, 5 hour, and a bag of skittles and it wired me through to Albuquerque without a problem.Sarah took over for a couple of hours and I powered us through the rest of the way...Sarah slept off and on throughout the night...occasionally checking in on me. One of the coolest landmarks on the way to Zion is the Glen Canyon dam and bridge...which when crossed, offers you great views on what has to be one of the most beautiful lakes in America...Lake Powell!
Lake Powell is a reservoir on the Colorado River that straddles the Arizona and Utah border. We spent an hour in the observation center and taking many pictures of this lake. Lake Powell is also a part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area...which we only saw the Western portion of. My understanding of this area is the further East you go...the more spectacular and dramatic the panoramic gets.
We entered Zion National Park's East entrance...which is the Zion's Mt. Carmel tunnel. This engineering wonder is a 1.1 mile tunnel that will keep you asking, "How in the world?" Sorry I do not have any pics...but really, it's just dark in there...outside of a few carved out lookout points. When you get through the other side...it is jaw dropping, awe inspiring beauty.
This is your first view of the canyon when you exit the tunnel. Make no mistake...the entrance to the canyon is absolutely spectacular. Keep in mind...the previous 6-8 hours before, Sarah and I drove by the San Francisco Peaks of Flagstaff, could see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the distance, drove over Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, drove right next to the Grand Staircase Escalante, and through the East Rim entrance of Zion. We had been amazed all morning long...but then, we were floored! I mean it was just wow! That's all Sarah and I kept saying..."Wow!" As we drove the switchbacks down the canyon...the views got better and better.
What: Angel's Landing (5,785')
Who: Sarah (the trooper) and Ugly (me)
When: 7/14/12 (Day we arrived after driving overnight...I slept an hour)
Length: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1488 ft
Time: 3 Hours 17 minutes roundtrip
Technical: Class 1 until the cables. Then it's Class 3 protected by the Cables. So does that downgrade the climb? I dunno. Either way, I grade it Class Awesome hike!
The shuttles take you to every TH in the park...Angel's Landing is located at the Grotto Picnic area. From the Grotto Picnic area, cross the Zion Canyon Road. Head toward the footbridge that passes over the North Fork of the Virgin River. On the other side of the bridge, take the north (right) fork to the West Rim Trail.The first mile of this hike is on this nicely paved trail you see above. You do gain half of the elevation on this first section...as you can see, there are several switchbacks up this steep grade slope. This part of the trail is easy going...the biggest problem you will have are dodging toads and chipmunks. I've never seen fatter squirrels and chipmunks anywhere...
As you near the top of the trail you see in the previous picture above, you come to this point (picture above)...the park carved away an overhanging walkway ledge that give you the first views of the Canyon looking South.
After hiking a mile up the first section, you arrive at Refrigerator Canyon. The trail makes its way between Angel's Landing and Cathedral Mountain, which looms above you the entire hike up. There is a cool breeze that constantly blows through this gap...hence, the name. I would imagine this would be a place to catch your breath or cool off on a typical hot Zion day. Fortunately for us, we didn't need it. The temps never rose above 86 our entire stay in Zion and the Sun stayed hidden for all of this day.
Then you arrive to the infamous Squiggle the Wiggles...21 sharp switchbacks up to Scout lookout. There are better aerial views online...unfortunately, I could not capture the daunting portion of this trail from my viewpoint. However, my glutes and hammies could feel all...my body hated me. Sarah didn't seem to be bothered too much by this...she just went up this part without much problem. Good for her though...because her time was coming soon.
After the Wiggles, you arrive at Scout Lookout, a saddle connecting Angle's Landing the West Rim Trail. You get a view of the North Side of Angel's Landing and a fork of the Virgin River. You also get your first views of the of the Angel's Landing narrow isthmus (I call it a "fin"). My first thoughts were..."man...I just hiked all the way up here...now I have to go up that! Well, at least it's not as narrow as it looks in the pictures..." But then I see hikers up on the fin and I realize..."Holy Crap...it's freakin narrow!
 So here we go...the next 1/2 mile up is going up the fin on these chains or cables. They are placed solidly and they really do give you a sense of security. However, it's a false sense...because these drop offs are long and a sure way to meet your maker in a hurry. Sarah struggled at first on the cables...she was not very comfortable with the exposure. After making her way through the first set of cables, she slowly warmed up and began to build more confidence. 

 After going up 1/4 of a mile on the first set of cables...you get a better view of the remaining route and North facing walls of Angel's Landing. The route gets steeper, and yes...the route becomes a bit more uncomfortable...
 (Picture above is the connecting saddle of Angel's Landing and West Rim Trail. The Canyon below to the left is Refrigerator Canyon (trail is much lower and cannot be seen from this point).
Exposure: Empty space below a climber or hiker, usually referring to a great distance above the deck through which the climber could fall. If there is still question to what the definition of Exposure is...refer to picture above. The narrow ridge up to Angel's Landing is a 1200' drop off on one side...and an 800' drop off to the other side. If you have any issues with heights or exposure...this trail is not for you. If you can hold on to your wits...this trail is one of the most exhilaration hikes in the world!
This is a wider shelf on the trail...though there is still much exposure...you do feel a bit more safe since the sandstone beneath you is solid and the trail is not sloping away...these portions of the trail were much welcomed.
A great view looking North into the Canyon...this area is considered the Big Bend area...since the Virgin River bends around Angel's landing.
This is the final approach to the summit. After you make your way up the narrow ridge, you come up over the top to a face to face with the Great White Throne. It's an impressive rock face...
Summit! These are the views from the top. You get to see all the way South down the canyon. Sarah and I spent about 15-20 minutes up top...enjoying a snack...our accomplishment...and each other. Then we realized, we have to do the same all over again...but going down instead. On the cables...going down is harder than going up. It's easier to pull yourself up the cables...you can't do this going down...after hiking a little over 3 hours...we finally made it down to the Grotto picnic area. We were exhausted...not just from the hike...but from the last 24 hours. We were ready to go back to our lodging. Since we were on vacation...I didn't hold out on any luxuries for my wife. So I went out of my way and I booked us a great room with great views inside the canyon...
We checked into our 5 star room at the Hotel Prius...ate our gourmet Ramen soup...and slept on Egyptian cotton climbing crashpads! First day of vacation completed! Tomorrow...the Narrows!!!!!



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