Zion Rim to Rim - Take 1
We set off as the sun was creeping over the horizon, stomachs fluttering with excitement and legs fresh. Here at 7,500 feet the spring air was cool and aspen leaves were just beginning to unfurl. As the suns warming rays flooded the forest with light we fell into a steady rhythm, slow but purposeful, cognizant of the long day ahead and wanting to have full immersion in our surroundings.
Our goal was to run from the west rim to the east rim of Utah’s Zion National Park, a total distance of 27 miles, essentially traversing Zion Canyon, one of the most spectacular landscapes in the U.S., if not the world. Many miles had passed beneath our feet to bring us to this point, training in the cold and snowy months of a Colorado winter, dreaming of this beautiful and warm red rock country. Like a golden carrot dangling before us this run was greatly anticipated by Holly, Janis and myself.
Finally we were here! The skies were blue, the sun was shining and we were running across this incredible place! Or hobbling in my case. Unfortunately the weekend prior, on my last training run, I turned my ankle, suffering a Grade II sprain. It was likely against all medical advice I embarked upon this run. I say likely as I did not seek medical advice, for I knew what I would have been told and I did not want to hear it. So I strapped on an ankle brace, inhaled ibuprofen, and went anyway.
As the sun rose higher in the sky we ran up and down rolling hills, through forests and open meadows, and after seveal miles reached the western rim proper. Here we could look far down into the depths of the side canyons that eventually lead to the biggest one of all - Zion Canyon. At this elevation of around 7,000 feet the first flowers of the year were opening. The trail was decorated with vermillion paintbrush, pink and white plox and the showy yellow Arrow Balsamroot. Every which way we looked the scenery was spectacular. In fact it was hard to focus on the trail as I rubbernecked my way along and stopping frequently to take photos. Once we left the rim and began our descent it was no less dramatic as the trail followed a cut in the side of the canyon wall.
As we dropped lower the canyon walls turned from white to red.
Down, down and down we went. Every turn and twist in this trail revealed another superlative view and more flowers for us to exclaim over. In one location we found three different colored penstemons within a couple of feet. If this was not peak wildflower season then it was darn close. In short, they were off the hook.
As we got closer to Zion Canyon proper we began to see more people. At this time in the morning - about 9 a.m. - they were all runners, who had started at the East Rim and were headed west to complete the Zion Traverse, a 48 mile link up of trails in the park. Our plans for a paltry 27 miles made us (or me at least) feel a little weak. Speaking of which, my ankle was doing fine but my achilles tendon was complaining on the uphills - no doubt having to work harder to make up for the weakness in the rest of my ankle.
After about 12 miles or so we came up to Angels Landing - a narrow fin of rock which projects into Zion Canyon. To reach the top involves a 3/4 mile scrambling traverse of the fin with 1,500 foot drops on either side. This exposure and the views make it a unique, and popular, hike.
We decided we couldn't pass it up, even though two of the three of us had done it before. So we headed up.
On the summit the views were mind blowing. We butt-scooted to the edge and dangled our feet off.
On the return trip, as we negotiated the crowds of hikers, scrambling and slidding down the slick rock, Janis turned her ankle. Oh no! It's catching. :(
After resting up for a few minutes we carried on and began the descent on the paved but steep trail that would take us to the canyon floor.
We crossed the Virgin River and arrived at the Grottos trailhead, 15 miles into our run. Here we could fill up with water before embarking on the final 12 miles and 3,000 foot climb that would take us to the East Rim trailhead. It was the climb that was worrying me. With my achilles complaining on any hills I really did not want to aggrevate it further - this one had a history of problems. So I made the difficult decision, but the right one, to call this the end of my run for the day. Janis, who when taking off her sock, saw her swollen ankle, wisely decided to join me. This left Holly the sole finisher of the Zion Rim to Rim and she slayed it in appropriate fashion (by the time we had driven over to the East Rim to pick her up, she had been waiting for us for half an hour).
For me and Janis it was to be Rim to River. But as we soaked our swollen ankles in the beautiful waters we decided that we would be back. There will be a Zion Rim to Rim - Take 2, and hopefully that will be a wrap. As in complete, done, finished. Not an ankle wrap.