The morning arrived in gray. Gray sky, gray filtered light slipping almost unnoticed inbetween the canyon walls. The glorious burnt red illuminated in sunlight the night before was replaced by a washed out gray-red. I packed and left camp quickly. If it was to rain, I wanted to be through the narrows and out of the Barracks and their flash flood sculpted banks before it did. Immediately I was wading the river, though I would fairly say it was more of a robust creek, swift but rarely deeper than just over the ankle. The canyon was beautiful, even in the gray light. I walk for about five miles down the river, crossing it or just walking in it, along the way navigating a few obstacles. The most prominent obstacle was a waterfall over a large boulder pinned between a constriction in the walls. It was so simple though, just a walk down an adjacent boulder ramp into a thigh deep pool. At one point I encountered a trio of ducklings flitting about in the eddies. I scared them a bit and they took off downstream, unfortunately for them because they became my traveling companions for well over a mile. Whenever they felt I was too close, they would pump their little legs hard and actually run on the water, moving incredibly fast.
My time in the Barracks came to an end at a route called Fat Man’s Misery, a steep rocky chute the climbed straight up away from the river. I enjoyed the climb, the physicality of it, the use of handholds and small footholds to scale the rocks. But the bottom of the chute was thick with poison ivy and I’m not sure I managed to completely avoid it. Contact felt almost inevitable because the route up was so steep there was really only one option at any given time, and for a while that option seemed to consistently overlap with vigorous poison ivy growth. I labored to the top and then used some mineral oil wipes I picked up in Escalante after the last poison ivy scare. I now can only hope for the best, but in case it comes to blisters, at least I only have two days left.
I had a nice long climb then, following a ridge line of slick rock. The views opened up and I could see the tall sandstone mesas characteristic of Zion rising skyward. Though it mostly stayed overcast, no rain ever showed. It was a very nice hiking day, temperate. Eventually I crested a saddle and descended a canyon next to Checkerboard Mesa towards Highway 9 which runs from the east entrance of the Park to Springdale and the center. I needed to get to the Visitor Center near Springdale to pick up my permit for the two overnights I have planned in Zion, so I decided to hitch down the road. I stuck my thumb out and instantly I was picked up (the second car) by a dad, a college-aged son, and two college-aged friends. It was a fine ride, remarkable only in this exchange: Me–‘thanks for picking me up’. Dad–‘well, we stop for girls. At least I think you’re a girl. You look like a girl, but you smell like a guy. Guys smell like ass.’
They dropped me at the visitor center, a place so teeming with humanity it was overwhelming. I had though Bryce was the most visited park I’ve been to, but this far exceeded the numbers at Bryce. I was quick: I got my permits, I bought a map and a new bandana after I used the last to wipe off the poison ivy mineral oil, washed my socks in the bathroom, dumped my trash, called Dan, and then I was back hitching. Though there was traffic, it seemed like hitching out of the visitor center would be hard. There are too many places to go from there in every direction. The ambiguity of it makes people less likely to stop. But I had only had my thumb out for a few cars when a guy rode by on a bicycle and asked where I was hitching to. When I explained I needed to get out by the east entrance, he paused a minute. Then he said he would take me. He’s staying at the South Campground right next to the Visitor Center and we loaded up in his car. By the time he dropped me off, I had only spent a couple hours on the permit diversion, a very efficient use of the afternoon. I walked the park road for just a bit and then turned up East Rim Trail.
This corner of Zion, the southeast corner, is very lovely. I climbed a thousand feet up among junipers and ponderosa on a gently graded trail, eventually getting above the tall Mesa walls. I saw an Arrowleaf Balsamroot, one of my beloved plant species that I typically associate with Eastern Washington. The low clouds even half burned off, and I managed to cast a shadow for a good portion of the afternoon. I reached the top of a large Mesa and then started descending an incredible trail chipped into the rocky side of the mesa. I’m camped now half way through a long descent down into Zion’s main canyon, which I’ll cross tomorrow before heading up the West Rim Trail. Though the Hayduke Trail western terminus is the Weeping Wall, which I’ll get to early tomorrow morning, for my own personal journey the western terminus is Kolob Canyon, an edge of the geophysical Colorado Plateau, the great desert shield that I’ve been undone and undone by in the last two months. I’ll spend two extra days crossing the park to get there, to close up this unparalleled hike.