Over the last few years the Zion Traverse has become a coveted destination run for ultra runners. This would be my third attempt at the traverse, having successfully completed it in 2012 with Craig Lloyd during his double crossing. On May 16th just after 6:00 AM two groups started running from opposite ends of the park. Matt Williams and I started at Lee’s Pass in Kolob, just inside the west entrance, while our good friends Craig, Zac, Jeremy and Leslie were starting at the east end of the park.
The first 6 miles on the La Verkin Creek trail were magical. The temperature was mild and Matt and I were the only souls anywhere in site as we winded our way down the trail. We took our time stopping frequently to gaze up at the magnificent red rock pinnacles that towered above us. The contrast between the lush green foliage and the red rock was stark and beautiful. This is one of the most amazing places I have ever seen and we had it all to ourselves. Incredible. It was one of the best stretches of running I’ve ever experienced.
|Matt taking in the views in Kolob|
We took our time climbing the switchbacks out of the canyon on our way to Hop Valley, stopping a few more times to drink in the incredible vistas. This might be the most stunning section of the park and we just enjoyed the nice casual pace.
We finally had our first human encounter of the day on the trail as we made our way through Hop Valley. We had to cross the creek several times and both enjoyed splashing our way through the water and back up onto sandy beaches over and over again. We were like little kids, laughing, splashing and smiling.
|We ran through several miles of beach sand|
Beach sand. There are countless miles in the park and on the traverse you get to tackle your fair share in Hop Valley. It was a bit annoying, but neither of us minded. The climb up and out of the valley didn’t seem so bad and for the first time of the day the sun hit us and gave us a taste of what was to come later in the day.
At the Hop Valley trailhead (mile 13) we stopped to take in some calories and use the bathroom and then hiked up the road as we finished our food. The connector trail was fantastic. We settled into an easy pace and again found ourselves taking in the sweet views frequently.
It started to get hot when we hit the Wildcat trail and both of us were looking forward to the cool spring water that was just ahead. I started the run with about 85 ounces and I had about 25 ounces of warm water left in my bladder. We had heard that the spring was running and we were both downright giddy when we arrived and found the cold water dripping from the side of the mountain. I used my bandana to filter out the dirty particles and drank two bottles on the spot. We both replenished our water and took our time eating, stretching and swatting blood-thirsty flies.
|All smiles on the West Rim|
We hit the West Rim trail (about mile 22) with new energy and the miles just started clicking by. We wondered how long it would be before we passed the other group and kept thinking we might catch a glimpse of them around every bend and turn. We were both grateful for a slight breeze and some much needed cloud cover. There were a few tough climbs that we quietly grinded out, but the pinnacles and peaks around Zion Canyon came into view and both of us found our energy again. We both started to worry when we didn’t see the other group, but eventually our paths crossed on the West Rim trail. They looked good and seeing our friends was certainly a lift. We stopped for some pictures and a few quick stories then both continued our separate ways in opposite directions.
|Crossing paths on the West Rim|
After we completed our traverse at the east entrance we would drive back around to the west entrance to pick up the other group. It was clear that we would beat them by several hours, so we slowed our pace and took our time soaking in every view.
|Matt taking in the stunning views|
We stopped at Cabin Springs for some water and some very cool dudes from Washington filtered our water for us and we spent a few minutes chatting with them and hearing about their tales of adventure. We also met another couple from Connecticut that we talked with for several minutes. It was nice not having any time constraints and we thoroughly enjoyed the run out of Telephone Canyon and back down to the Grotto. The scenery for the next 15 miles might be the most spectacular that I have ever witnessed. You can stop and stare and try to take it in, but the majesty is almost incomprehensible. Jaw dropping. Stunning. Incredible. Awesome. They don’t do it justice. The only downside was the sun was out and it was hot, but we both felt very good coming into the Grotto at mile 37.
At the Grotto we took a long break, drinking cold water and eating. I ate my frozen burrito that was now warm and mushy after riding next to my back in my hydration vest and I totally grossed out a tourist that could not believe I would eat that. So good! Matt gulped down a bit too much water and paid for it, but we were not in a hurry and left after almost an hour re-hydrated and feeling great.
As incredible as the scenery was, the long climb up to the East Rim was a total slog. We were both getting tired and the massive climb was tough, but it is hard to have any bad vibes in a place like this. After the long climb we both felt really good coming into a cool shady slot canyon that might be one of my favorite parts of the traverse. We took our time enjoying the view and stood in awe while soaking up the mind blowing views.
|Climbing up to the East Rim|
More climbing and a bit of a grind brought us to Stave Spring. It was dry, but more importantly we knew that most of the climbing was now behind us. After getting our legs going again we got into a nice steady run for the next 3 miles. I love running on tired legs and I’m always amazed at what the body can do after many tough miles. Our thoughts turned to food and cold drinks and after a few more hard miles grinding away we heard cars and started seeing a few tourists not really dressed for the trails, so we knew we were close. Around another bend and we shuffled to the gate and touched the sign. Another ultra adventure in the books and time to chug the sodas we had on ice in the car. Days on the trail just don’t get any better than this. Stunning views, a good friend, a lot of laughs, great conversation, nearly 50 miles of runnable trails and we almost had the place to ourselves. It was truly one of the best days I have ever had on the trails.