Echo Canyon, Zion National Park, photo by Eric Lee

Boulderite Spring Desert Adventure Trip!

(click on any photo for a larger image)

I have been taking trips to the Colorado Plateau for 40 years. Way back when, as soon as school let out for summer, my family would pack up our old Dodge van and cruise from our home in Boulder, CO, out to the canyon country of Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. At the time, the uranium boom was bust and Moab was almost a ghost town -- houses were literally free for the taking. As we became more familiar with the area, my parents bought a International Scout, and we ventured deeper into the backcountry. From the very beginning, I was enchanted by this huge, improbable, unforgiving landscape.

In the depth of this last winter winter, someone suggested running the Trans-Zion, a 48-mile route across Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. The whole thing snowballed, until 17 people had committed to the run, with numerous others coming along for the fun. It's a long drive from Boulder, so many of us elected to take some extra time and do some other adventures along the way out and back.

It occurs to me that this was sort of a typical Boulderite endurance adventure trip. For people from most of the rest of everywhere, this would be something like a trip of a lifetime, but for us it was a normal "long-weekend" kind of deal. Here we go!

Steph and I drove out on Thursday morning and met a few friends in the San Rafael Swell for a quick little canyoneering adventure that afternoon. We selected a route called Zero Gravity because it was pretty short and near to I-70. The route took about 3 hours car-to-car, and was a ton of fun!

Zero Gravity, San Rafael Reef
Stephanie surveys Zero G Zero G slot Jonas swims keeper pothole

We camped nearby, and the next morning Steph and I rendevoused with another group of friends to do a short jaunt into Upper Straight Wash, in the central part of the Swell. We had a bunch of fun scrambling down into some very nice narrows in the wash.

Upper Straight Wash, San Rafael Swell
Steph & Tressa Upper Straight Wash climbing back out Chris hero shot

Friday evening we finished the drive down to Zion, meeting with the whole huge group at a group campsite that early arrivers had snatched in the Park. I think we had 8 vehicles and too many tents to count! It was quite a scene, but Steph & I slept well in our camper.

Logistics for the Trans-Zion are a little tricky since it is a point-to-point run, so a car shuttle is necessary. Fortunately, we had various non-runners along who were willing to take us to the start. Also, while most of us started at Lee Pass, at the western end of the route, a group of three started at the eastern end, so that cars could be exchanged for the return drive. So, on Saturday morning various groups got started early or late, depending on their projected running time. Steph went with a large, early group, starting at Lee Pass well before sunrise, while I waited an hour for the daylight and ran with Dan & Jonas. This is a terrific route! It is incredibly scenic, mostly very runnable, and in springtime there is a lot of ambient water available. We had great weather for running, highs probably in the 60's, mostly overcast, but very little rain. Super-backpacker turned champion ultrarunner Andy Skurka took a leisurely 7:45 a.m. start at the East Entrance TH, and ran the route in a record time of 9h27m (since superceded). My time was about an hour longer (10h29m), and I had just a great day out, finishing just in time for a shower and a nice dinner. Steph, Kari and Chris spent around 16 hours on the trail, enjoying the day and taking a couple of significant side trips to Kolob Arch and Angel's Landing.

Trans-Zion Run, May 2, 2009
coming off the East Rim, photo by Andy Skurka Tressa in Hop Valley, photo by Eric Lee Phantom Valley, photo by Eric Lee Eric Lee & Paul Grimm, photo by Eric Lee Echo Canyon, photo by Eric Lee

Ever the trip planner, Skurka has detailed information about Trans-Zion route on his website, including a map set and databook. He also posted a nice YouTube video & spectacular photos from the trip on his site.

On Sunday everyone was tired, of course, and the group was slow to get moving. Most went out for a big breakfast and then checked out the major sites in the canyon. Jonas, Tressa and I felt a little more motivated, so skipped the restaurant breakfast and took off for a canyoneering route called Birch Hollow. The route started with an unpleasant hike in in a muddy, slippery, narrow and overgrown wash, but then entered a spectacular canyon with a number of amazing rappels through in fluted chutes, and also some downclimbing. There was a little water running in the canyon, and so we emerged covered with mud. We took it easy, and it took about 5 hours to complete the route. Nice way to spend the day.

Birch Hollow
annoying entrance downclimb Snow! fluted sandstone more flutes That was fun!  Tressa & Jonas

On Monday I was feeling pretty whacked, but really wanted to take advantage of my time in Zion to do some more canyons. Steph went off with a large group to run in Bryce Canyon National Park, while Jonas & I met up with a couple of his canyoneering buddies to do the Fat Man's Misery entrance to Parunuweap Canyon (East Fork of the Virgin River). This was another terrific route! In fact, I think overall one of the nicest canyoneering routes I have done. The hike in was fairly long, but very scenic. We dropped into Mysery (West Fork) by a lovely set of potholes that was hosting a frog singing convention. The canyon slotted up pretty quick, and from there it was a series of fun little slot sections with plenty of downclimbing, wading and short raps. The final slot section is really amazing -- you drop into a large chamber with two small natural bridges! Surreal. We popped out into the Parunuweap, which was running fairly strong (around 45 cfs). We waded upstream a little, and then downstream through the "Barracks" section about 3/4 mile to Labyrinth Falls. It was somewhat difficult hiking due to the flow, but again super scenic in very nice narrows. Finally, the climb out was mercifully cool due to clouds. We made it just under 2 hours from the river to the cars, just over 9 hours total for the day. Fantastic!

Misery Canyon
frog ponds Jonas in the thick of it Marty in the narrows The Grotto

Parunuweap Canyon
Jonas cools off The Barracks