I keep waiting for the day I won’t have cause to wake up early and go but every day beckons with some need to allow ample time. Today it was the 20 miles I had to go at least, the five more I hoped to go, and the 2500 foot climb. I took off nice and fast from camp around 6:15 and quickly descended the last three miles into the main canyon of Zion, dropping through the majestic Navajo Sandstone buttes with their surprising conical surfaces dotted with tenacious junipers. I made a stop at Weeping Wall, the official end of the Hayduke, and listened to a harmonica recording a dear friend made for me when he was visiting Weeping Wall a couple months ago. It was an end of sorts, or the first of many ends of the last couple days. I said goodbye to the wall and to the official Hayduke Trail and headed down the park road for about a mile to the Grotto. It was pleasant and quiet since Zion closes the road to public vehicles through the summer. Only a shuttle bus passed, a ranger, and two wild turkeys.
I arrived at the Grotto just as one of the shuttle buses dropped off an astonishing volume of people. They filtered into the restrooms as I washed my socks and underwear at an outdoor tap, and most had started up the trail towards Angel’s Landing by the time I was done washing, drinking, and refilling bottles. Still, I caught and passed most of them on the 1000 foot climb from the Grotto up to Angel’s Landing, which was already swarming with people even though it was still fairly early. I was reminded of Harvester Ants moving so thick across the surface of their nest-mound, industrious and myopic. And I was about to join right in. Angel’s Landing is a side trip from the West Rim trail I was taking back up to the mesa tops, but it’s a classic hike. I dropped my pack, stashed behind a bush and buttoned up tight, so I could join the steady stream of people going up and down the route. It takes about a half mile along a knife edge ridge, along a trail so precariously balanced on the edge of a sheer 1400 foot cliff face (or two, in the brief instance where it falls away on both sides of the trail) that chains have been added to help keep people from falling. I found the trail to be a marvel of engineering and of faith on the part of the park service that it’s worth having such a trail in the world. It was exhilarating and frightening, and I watched a lot of people terrified, sweaty-palms gripping the chain so hard that natural movement was hindered. There were so many people going both up and down that traffic jams were commonplace, and negotiating where and how to manage passage were interesting. Usually those less fearful would let go of the chain and find a place to step aside. Because of the heavy traffic on the route, it took me almost and hour to go up, take a picture at the top into the opened views of the main canyon, and come back to my backpack. I found a party of squirrels and ravens had managed to open a zippered pouch on my hipbelt and eat my bag of trail mix for the day as well as a granola bar (I had a meat bar they didn’t touch though). Not my food! I’m running a tight ship this section and need all I’ve got. I could just imagine the interspecies orgy around the bag of nuts, the fat squirrels rolling right in the bag. I would have to eat light today.
From the base of the Angels Landing side trip, I had another 1500 feet to climb up to the top of the West Rim. Zion is beautiful and unique among the places I’ve been on this hike, so I had good company in red and white rocks as I climbed. Once I topped out, the trail contoured for a while along the rim with incredible views west over Zion Wilderness. I saw many people today on the trail, though not nearly the numbers at Angel’s Landing. Some I stopped to chat with, some I simply passed with a nod. It’s been a bit strange to encounter so many hikers in the farther reaches of the park, but the traverse across Zion marks the end of my solitude. I once sat a ten day silent mediation retreat, and on the very last day the silence is lifted and the meditators are permitted to speak with one another, mostly so that they are allowed some transition from internal life to external before being thrown back into the world.
Around 2pm the weather finally caught me. The forecast for the last couple days has been for scattered showers and mostly the weather has been fine. But today a massive cloud built up to the south and came at me from behind. I’ve been up near 7000 feet since topping out on the West Rim, so when the cloud let loose, it was such a fierce hail and sleet storm. I plodded on in my rainsuit, my umbrella up, and slipped repeatedly in the treacherous slick clay of the trail. I stopped only briefly to fill up water at a spring, because it was far too cold to linger. By 5:40 I was at the last place my permit allowed me to camp, leaving 17 miles for tomorrow to the Lee Pass Trailhead. The rain stopped just as I was arriving, losing me to set up the tent and cook dinner in a brief dry spell. I managed to check the weather today when I had cell service up high, and tomorrow and tomorrow night are supposed to be very rainy. What a funny way to end this desert trail, in the clutch of rain.