Don’t Sleep in the Subway, Darlin’

Zion has three extremely popular, highly sought out hikes in the park.   The Trifecta includes The Narrows, wading up the Virgin River between 1,000 ft walls, Angel’s Landing, climbing a sliver of a 1,500 ft high backbone, and The Subway.   Of these three, only the Subway requires a permit from the Zion Wilderness Center to enter.    They only allow 80 hikers into this area on any given day, sometimes requiring a lottery to manage the demand.  This hike is, according to NPS, “a strenuous 9-mile round-trip that requires route finding, creek crossing, and scrambling over boulders.”  No joke.

This challenging hike comes up in conversation off and on since we first convened in Zion National Park at the beginning of November.  Some are intrigued, while others pass without further consideration.   We all have our reasons for hesitation.  For some, it is distance.  For others, it is the inevitable warning of “You WILL get your feet wet on this hike!”   For me, it is once again my fear of holding the group back.  But after being a “strap hanger” for 10 years, my sole means of daily commute in Manhattan, how could I not attempt a hike called “The Subway??”

As soon as I pull into the trail head, I get my first clue that I am unprepared.  Although the forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 66 degrees, the first thing I notice as I whirl into the parking lot is that Mark, Bobbie, and John III are all wearing gloves, knit hats, wool headbands, fleece jackets, something I have not seen in my 3 weeks hiking with these guys.   I am in my usual shorts and a tee shirt.  Or as Mark says, “dressed for Florida.”  ;-)

Next, I would like to attempt to set the record straight on other blogger reports where my tardiness was grossly exaggerated.  ;-)   I was a mere seven minutes late, and I have the voice mail stamp to prove it.   Still, as the last one to arrive, the monkey is now on my back should we have to “sleep in the subway!”    No pressure, as Mark reminds us going down the steep 400 ft drop to reach the river that those of us newbies might have thought to bring a flashlight.   A flashlight??  But the sun doesn’t start going down for another eight hours!   No way I plan to still be in this canyon in another eight hours!IMG_2949 IMG_2943 IMG_2869

Once we reach the cold, dark, shady canyon, it is f-f-f-frigid.  I have brought along a spare change of clothes rolled up in my backpack in case I get wet.   I pull them out and put them on over my shorts!!  The double layer is a welcome comfort, not only from the cold, but for the time I am about to spend on my butt, sliding down boulders the size of my Winnie!

I foolishly start out with the dumb idea to count the creek crossings.  I lose count after only three crossings, all in the first ten minutes.   Determined not to be the first one who gets wet, it takes every ounce of concentration when crossing to avoid pitfalls such as loose sand on the boots, wobbly, unsecure rocks, logs that roll, and even in some areas, a thin, well disguised coating of ice!   My silly counting game quickly turns to one to rival a Survivor Immunity Challenge!IMG_2875

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The terrain is rugged.  Soon, there is no visible trail, and we are picking our way back and forth across the stream, up over giant downed trees, and scrambling across massive boulders, trying to find the path of least resistance while making our way 600ft of gradual elevation upstream.

At one point, I stop and ask, “Do we have to go so damned FAST?”   It seems to me that we have never gone this fast before, and I am not going to be able to sustain this pace on such a strenuous hike.  I am not sure if the pace is so much faster because there are only four of us now?  And of the four, I am now hiking with the three fastest hikers from the Red Rocks Gang? But no, it soon occurs to me that a new element has been introduced into this hike that I have not seen before.  A watch.  Bobbie is continuously cognizant of what time it is and how far along we are on the trail.  Another clue that they are not joking about sleeping in the subway!IMG_2884

Note ice coating on the rocks in center of photo.

Note ice coating on the rocks in center of photo.

Just as the New York subway involves numerous flights of stairs, so does access to the Zion Subway, only they come in the form of multi-tiered waterfalls.   Mark says the waterfalls are an indicator that we are getting close.   Up until this point, I have tried memorizing landmarks to find my way out in case I have to turn around early, but it is at this moment that I actually start to believe I might make it to the end!

Anything for the postcards!

Anything for the postcards!

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We have miraculously made it this far without getting our feet wet, but now must cross the shallow stream at the top of the waterfall where there are no stepping stones.   Bobbie instructs, “Step flat footed, not toe-first, to help keep the water out of your shoes.”IMG_2897IMG_2908

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Finally, the oval tube shape appears up ahead.  It is a fascinating rock formation, the likes I have never seen before.  The seeping water running down the sides of the tube really does resemble the New York subway!    Between the visual beauty and trickling water sound effects, it is one of the most evocative spots I have seen in the park…and so vastly different than any of the scenery we have seen yet!  By now, the sun is overhead in the canyon, reflecting light into the tube from the outer red rock walls.  This casts a shimmering golden light into the grotto.   As we walk further in, we come upon beautiful emerald pools of water on the subway floor.  By now, I have given up all hope of keeping my feet dry, as the desire to see more of the formation outweighs the desire for dry feet.  As I decide to just go for it, Mark says “May as well….this is what you came for.” IMG_2913

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Bobbie tells us it is now 1:00pm, and it is inconceivable to me that we have been walking up the canyon for 4 ½ hours!   She also advises that the goal was to be here by 12:30pm, so we are half an hour behind schedule.   Mark says, “Get your photos and grab a bite to eat, as we need to head back soon.  Time is not urgent, but it is critical!”   I realize if it takes us the same amount of time to exit the canyon as it did to enter, we will be looking for the exit after dark!   So I know I must pick up the pace on the way back.  I start to look forward to the stream crossings, because it is the only time we slow down.  This gives me a few seconds to catch up and rest while others navigate the crossing, then I follow in their footsteps.

Grabbing a quick snack before we have to turn back.

Grabbing a quick snack before we have to turn back.

Canyoneers coming from the top down, which requires rappelling.

Canyoneers coming from the top down, which requires rappelling.

IMG_2930The dinosaur tracks are the mid-point, so I am relieved to learn we are making good enough time that we can actually stop for a short break.  In the end, we make it out of the canyon in an hour less time than it took to get in.   We are back to the parking lot by 4:30pm, eight hours total. There are “high fives” all around.  I am elated to have made it, and we are all relieved to have done nine miles of “injury-free bouldering!”IMG_0698

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Just like the New York Subway, if you have the energy, courage and tenacity to navigate the obstacles, the destination can offer rich rewards!IMG_2939

“Don’t sleep in the subway, darlin’, don’t stand in the pouring rain
Don’t sleep in the subway, darlin’, the night is long
Forget your foolish pride, nothing’s wrong
Now you’re beside me again”
~Petula Clark

I’ve Been Through the Canyon on a Trail With No Name

Zion National Park is “the gift that keeps on giving.”  Although there are so many notorious destination hikes, such as the Narrows and Angel’s Landing, it seems as if one could drop down into any canyon in the park and find equally stunning scenery.  Maybe not the adrenalin rush of guide rails of chains or special water boots required, but no less of a feast for the eyes.IMG_0696 IMG_2527 IMG_2530 IMG_2539IMG_2796

Occasionally, the daily email circulates for recommendations for hikes when the gang appears to have “hikers block,” where no specific destination comes to mind.  Whenever that happens, the default always seems to be, “Or we can just drive back through the tunnel to the East side, and hike the canyons up there again.”   We did this hike at least three times that I was along, and I never grew tired of it.  IMG_2544 IMG_2557 IMG_2561

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The first time we explored this area of the park, the intention was to find “Many Pools,” an unofficial  trail that has no trail markings, just a write-up on a couple of non-NPS websites.  The site compares the area to “root canals,” with several drainage areas extending off as the “roots” of a tooth.   After we hiked the first “canal,” we discovered the second which had even more pools.  We began referring to it as “Many Many Pools.”  Finally, it just became known as “The canyon area east of the tunnel,” because there appeared to be no end to the “canal” areas for exploration.IMG_2570

Mark:  "Pick a landmark, and give it a name.  That way you'll recognize it on your way back.  Like this?  A whale's back."

Mark: “Pick a landmark, and give it a name. That way you’ll recognize it on your way back. Like this? A whale’s back.”

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I have always tended to stick to the designated trails, so this was a new experience for me just hiking “wherever.”    No cairns, no trail markers, no maps, just vast slickrock sandstone in all directions, with a plethora of topographical points of interest.  Hoo doos that looked like ancient forts.  Outcroppings resembling the bow of the Titanic.  Reflective pools, some coated with clear ice formations that cast shimmering outlines of shadows on the bottom.   And just enough twisted, weathered pines to punctuate the landscape.   Wander in any direction, and beauty abounds, like an endless playground for grown-ups.

Bobbie "Holding down the Fort."

Bobbie “Holding down the Fort.”

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Ellen:  "Just resting."  ;-)

Ellen: “Just resting.” ;-)

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock

When I look back on the photos of this area, I always laugh when I see what has been referred to as “donkey-like hiking.”    I look at the photos where we are all following in lock step as if there were some invisible trail with signs indicating “Stay on the Trail!”   I ask myself, “With all that wide open area, why are we all following in single file?”   But the fact is, hiking with this group is more than hiking.  It is an entertainment venue, and I always want a ring side seat.  ;-) IMG_2547 IMG_2580 IMG_2533IMG_2793
IMG_2805 IMG_2818 IMG_2827After two days in the desert sun
My skin began to turn red
After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me sad to think it was dead

You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
La, la, la, la-lah la la la…  
~America

Real Time Bytes

I am typically running behind on blog posts. I find it challenging to be a “real time blogger.” Like many areas of my life, I tend to procrastinate. Just like one of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs, “I’m always running behind the time…just like this train.  Shakin’ into town with the brakes complaining.” 

It’s even tougher to stay current when hiking with the Red Rocks Gang.    Although I often “journal” a post in a timely manner, it takes me several days to do the photo downloading and selection.   So when in a place like Zion where every single day offers a hike worthy of its own blog post, it’s really easy to fall behind in a hurry.

But not this blog post.  It is coming to you “real time” Continue reading

Seniors Love to Play the Slots

I will endure a lot to get to play in a slot canyon.   Slots have to be my “lighthouses” of the Southwest, as I feel drawn to visit every one on the map.   So when the email comes with the promise of a slot canyon, it is an exciting day!  Plus we would be taking a road trip down toward Kanab, Utah to visit the Peek-a-Boo slot canyon.  I love to ride in the car when someone else is driving!   As long as that car stays reasonably level with all four wheels on the ground, that is.  Continue reading

Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Without a doubt, the most iconic hike in Zion National Park is Angel’s Landing.   It has been on my “must do” list for quite some time now.   In fact, I had originally planned to do this hike on my 60th birthday back in early October.   I always like to do something memorable each year, like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, or taking a rock climbing course to remind myself that “Age is just a number.”    IMG_0683IMG_0662

But this year, life on the road altered my course, as I had to make my way from Montana to Utah via Texas to get a new engine for the Tracker.   Although I am grateful to my loving family who treated me to a divine Indian buffet to celebrate my 60th, (not to mention a replacement engine for my Tracker!) my mind kept going back to “Not exactly where I thought I would be on this significant milestone day.”  (So if age is truly just a number, I must ask myself “Why was it significant?”;-)
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So now that I have finally made it to Zion, “The Landing” seems ever looming.   Considered to be one of the most challenging hikes in the park, the five mile trail climbs 1,500 ft up the spine of a fin rock formation, with sheer drop-offs on either side.   It is considered a strenuous hike where the NPS description warns, “Long drop-offs.  Not for young children or anyone fearful of heights.”

View of Angel's Landing approach from Scout Lookout.

View of Angel’s Landing approach from Scout Lookout.

View of Angel's Landing ascent from West Rim Trail

View of Angel’s Landing ascent from West Rim Trail

Angel’s Landing is omnipresent.  It towers overhead, protruding out of the canyon on every drive or bike ride through the park.  There are conversations about it;  who has made it to the top, who turned around at mid-point, and who didn’t feel the need to try.  And it seems to be the first question asked when you strike up a conversation with other hikers on the trail.  One guy I met along the East Rim trail said “I’ve roped up for less!” referring to harness and climbing gear.

So I am feeling a bit psyched out by a place so steep it serves as a landing strip on the way to Heaven!  When the email titled “Tomorrow’s Hike” comes through, I am not ready.  “Let’s head on up Walter’s Wiggles to Scout Lookout, where some can conquer Angel’s Landing, while others push on to the West Rim….one of the best hikes in Zion, really.”   But the great news is, this will give me a closer look!   I will do the West Rim hike, stopping at Scout Lookout only long enough to do a bit of reconnaissance!IMG_0680

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The hike up is two miles of nonstop “up.”   The trail is a series of long, paved, switchbacks that were it not for the elevated views, would kill you from boredom alone.   It is a tedious climb, until finally, the trail breaks out on a level stretch through the cold, colorful “Refrigerator Canyon.”  Just about the time I cool off, there are more switchbacks ahead.

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When I think I can’t go any further, I look up to see Mark standing overhead, where he announces, “Welcome to Walter’s Wiggles!”   Well, I can’t stop now!   This is the famous stretch of 21 tight zig-zagging curves that look like a Slinky stretched out before me!   Walter’s Wiggles were named for the first park Superintendent, Walter Roesch, who first began trail construction to reach Angel’s Landing back in the 1920’s.  This is one of the most famous landmarks in Zion, so I find inspiration to continue the steep march upward.

Looking down on Walter's Wiggles, 21 switchbacks.

Looking down on Walter’s Wiggles, 21 switchbacks.

Finally, we reach Scout Lookout, where we stop for a bite of lunch and wait while a few of the gang tests out the first stretch of the ascent.   It looks deceptively easy from this point, but once we continue on around the West Rim trail and look back at the towering fin, it is possible to get a true sense of the length of the climb, the narrow slip of the “isthmus,” and the sheer, daunting steepness of the final push to the top.

View of the West Rim from West Rim Trail

View of the West Rim from West Rim Trail

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A lot of West Rim Trail has been paved, but not all...

A lot of West Rim Trail has been paved, but not all…

We continue along the West Rim trail, and Mark is right, it offers some of the best scenery I have seen yet.  Most of Zion National Park is spent looking up, because the main scenic drive runs right through the bottom of the canyon.  So to be able to get up high and look out across the vistas over the canyon below is just breathtaking.IMG_2440

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The West Rim Trail is the first trail I have hiked with the gang where there appears to be no end.  Eventually, it traverses several canyons, up and down, until exiting along the West Rim at Lava Point, 13 miles away.  One by one, members of the gang decide to turn around at their own comfortable distance, until it is only me, Bobbie, and Mark.   They show no signs of slowing up, so I decide to turn at the next downhill grade, so I don’t have to climb anymore.   Off they go in the distance, like a couple of wild hares let free from the reins of a tortoise.IMG_2456

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As I race back down the trail, now downhill all the way, I pause once again at Scout Lookout and observe the climbers overhead.   As I walk on down the trail, I convince myself “I don’t need that,” all the while knowing it is going to haunt me every remaining day that I am in Zion.  ;-)

Profile of Angel's Landing from West Rim Trail

Profile of Angel’s Landing from West Rim Trail

Giving Thanks for Places Like Heaven and Hell

This has been my home for the past two weeks. I am surrounded by some of the most beautiful views of bluffs, mesas, striated rock of all the colors in an artist palette that change hourly with the angle of the sun. I have only visited places like this in the past while on vacation, usually paying $100 per night for the privilege of “A Room with a View.” So to be able to call a place such as this “home” for the past two weeks has just been a little slice of heaven. I have much to be thankful for on this day! Continue reading

A Precarious Position

As much as I enjoy hiking solo, you would also think I would enjoy being out front during some of the group hikes.  After all, how does the saying go?  “Unless you are the lead dog, the scenery never changes?”   But instead, I always gravitate toward the rear.  This has not only to do with still struggling to reach the same fitness level as my fellow hikers, but I often times feel leery to step out front and lead because of my lack of confidence in my navigation skills. I have reason enough to doubt myself… Continue reading

A Narrow Fit

Imagine if you will the high anxiety that surrounds hiking Zion’s Narrows Canyon.  It is one of the most highly sought after hikes in the park, second only to the steeper, higher Angel’s Landing.    One must brave wading through a flowing, 46 degree river of varying depths, maintain balance across bowling-ball-shaped rocks, all while protecting precious cargo like cameras and vital organs. Continue reading

Exploring Many Pools….and Beyond

I have been wondering lately, what is the driving force behind the impulse to explore? Curiosity? Restlessness? Risk Taking? What is behind that urge to leave the creature comforts of a warm rig and comfortable lounge chair to go to such remote places for the sake of exploration? And why do some feel the call, and not others? What prompts that primal urge to push beyond the boundaries for the sake of seeing what is there? Why is finding the end of an unmarked trail as challenging yet satisfying for some as getting the last bit of peanut butter out of the bottom of the jar is for others? Continue reading