- Day 1: BRUTAL TRAFFIC ON THE I-15
- Day 2: TUBING IN THE SUBWAY
- Day 3: UP TO WHERE THE ANGELS TOUCH THE EARTH
Day 1: BRUTAL TRAFFIC ON THE I-15
It was Friday morning and I had to take another one of my forced vacations due to the new Sick Leave policy at work, which cut my maximum vacation hours. But that was ok in this case since I intended to hike the Subway in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park.
But Julie first had to get her pupils dilated so we drove all the way to Torrance to get that done before we headed back out to Springdale, Utah.
It was finally about 10am when Julie and I got out of the Los Angeles area, but we were already met with traffic as we headed north on the I-15. This was not a good sign.
Julie had her sunglasses on and the bright day really irritated her treated eyes. She was literally blind.
Anyhow, the pocket of slowing started to dissipate as we entered the Victorville area. But there was still a heavy volume of traffic throughout the drive at least out to Barstow.
When we headed deep into the Mojave Desert, we got to a point where the traffic was at a standstill. I swore it must have lasted about 30 minutes where no one moved. I even stopped to get out of the car and everyone around us stopped their engines.
I always hated driving on the I-15 because we had to deal with Vegas traffic. All this sluggish driving and now this parking lot situation near Baker was just ridiculous.
When Julie and I started seeing some vehicles off the freeway driving further north, it gave me the idea to perhaps follow suit. After all, I remembered there was some road that went parallel with the I-15 that eventually led towards Barstow. Perhaps this was the road I should take.
So with that, we started the car, crossed the center divider and headed south on the I-15 towards the next exit. Then, we proceeded onto that road that paralleled the I-15 north, but we were met with an ominous sign that stated, “Unmaintained Road. San Bernardino County is not responsible for any damage to your vehicle.”
With hordes of cars following me, I couldn’t stop them so I had no choice but to move forward.
Soon, we went through a wash and it was there that I heard and felt the underside of the car scrape the ground.
There were a few more washes to negotiate, and each time was worrisome. To make matters worse, the traffic on the I-15 started moving again.
Talk about Murphy’s Law!
After what seemed like an eternity, we saw the source of the huge traffic jam. There was a car that was on fire. Anyways, we finally got to the next freeway on ramp as we were following the high clearance truck in front of us. And with that, this bit of drama ended and we were back on the I-15 north. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of damage I did to the car.
The traffic remained sluggish even as we crossed the State Line and got closer to Vegas. It wasn’t until we got past Las Vegas that the traffic finally start to let up. By then, it was about 6pm!
Now, we were going at a pretty good clip. I still had to watch out for cops, but at least we finally started making good time even though the day started to get dimmer as the sun was setting.
Finally at about 8pm, Julie and I arrived at the Watchman Campground and pitched our tent. We booked an electric site, which had a weather-shielded plug in case we wanted to charge our camera batteries or use some other electrical item. How convenient! It was too bad we didn’t make that much use of it though since we really didn’t need it on this trip.
And with that, the day mercifully ended. By now, Julie’s eyes were pretty much back to normal and at least we slept pretty well under the clear starry night sky.
Day 2: TUBING IN THE SUBWAY
Julie and I awoke to a clear blue-sky day at around 6am. After boiling water and having some Cup-o-Noodles, we drove over to the backcountry office waiting for the window to open. We needed to secure permits for the Subway hike we were about to do and they only issued about 10 per day for this canyon – despite the fact we weren’t canyoneering.
We made a brief stop at the Zion Adventure Company to buy Julie some neoprene socks.
And with that, we headed west to the town of Virgin. When we got to Virgin, we took the Kolob Reservoir Road out to the Kolob Terrace section of the park. By now, we had left the boundaries of the park and were about to re-enter through a different part.
Finally at 9:15am, we made it to the Left Fork trailhead.
Before the trip, dad got me some waterproof pants for fishing since he no longer used it. So thinking this might help me when we got to the subway, I proceeded to wear it and use it.
Julie was all set and ready to go. I was decked out in dad’s fishing gear with neoprene socks. It was already getting hot in this outfit. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to wear these things.
Anyways, with the Tabernacle Dome watching over us, we proceeded on the nearly 8-mile strenuous hike.
The trail initially was flat and we nearly got lost when we followed a wash instead of the trail. But we noticed footprints were missing so that was our cue to turn back.
We eventually made it to a point where the trail started to disappear into the Lava Cliffs. It was then that we had to start the steep descent.
There were some sections in the descent that even required the use of our hands as well as our feet. Still, we took our time and we eventually made it down to the base of the canyon. We could hear the rushing waters of the Left Fork.
It was 10:30am when we started to follow the confusing series of trails along the Left Fork. Sometimes the trail crossed the creek and sometimes it didn’t. It didn’t take long for us to lose the trail and start scrambling our way upstream hoping we’d find the trail again.
It was utterly confusing and frustrating with the slow progress we were making. But we knew if we kept going upstream, we’d eventually get to the Subway.
So after another hour of nearly aimless wandering along the seemingly-nonexistent trail, we finally saw some dinosaur tracks at 11:30am. That was a neat little diversion from the featureless hiking we had done so far under the blue cloudless sky. But we didn’t tarry much longer as we knew we had to keep going.
Finally at noon, we were a series of cascades called the Archangel Cascades. These sheets of water flowed thinly on the red creekbed. Often times we had to hike directly in the cascade as we couldn’t find another way to go.
Generally, the cascades had a pretty flat slope, but the last cascade seemed to be a little more vertical and required a little bit of route finding to find a way up. Fortunately, the wet sandstone wasn’t as slippery as I had anticipated in many spots though there were some spots where persistent algae kept the surface slippery.
Eventually, we made it up to the top of the cascades where the hiking continued on the hard red creek bed. Although we were encouraged by the sight and sound of the cascades, we were really wondering if we were getting close to the Subway.
While we were on the flat creekbed above the cascades, we noticed that some parts of the bed already had cracks filled with rushing water in its grooves. It was kind of like the birth of a slot canyon in a way, except it wasn’t flash floods that was causing the water-filled cracks in this instance. Indeed, it was quite interesting, to say the least.
At 1pm, Julie had gone ahead of me. As we rounded a bend in the creek, I heard Julie exclaim, “Honey! Look!”
Quickly I hastened my pace and caught up to her. And there it was…
In front of us was this tubular entrance. Like the name indicated, the flash flood carved entrance really did resemble an urban subway tunnel. So without further hesitation, we walked into its shadowy entrance and continued going up minor inclines of small cascades and pools. The footing here was definitely slippery and it was hard to keep our balance even with hiking sticks serving as the third and fourth legs.
As Julie and I made our way up the slippery wet hardened sandstone floor, we were immediately met by a series of deep pools that conspired to turn us around like so many others who went up the Subway backwards. But knowing about this obstacle in advance, I came prepared with an inflatable rafting tube and now was the time to start blowing on it so we can see what lies beyond.
It took a while to blow up the inflatable tube. Finally I just plugged up the hole and accepted the semi-inflated state of the tube. I told Julie about the depth of these pools exceeding the heights of people so she dared not go any further since she couldn’t swim. I thought I could get her to tube across these pools, but she didn’t want to do that either.
So I gave Julie all my electronic equipment (so I don’t risk killing them in the water) and got in the tube and splashed into the dark deep pool. At first, I thought I had to start paddling because the floatation device didn’t seem to do anything. But eventually, the tube kept my upper torso afloat and I proceeded to traverse the three pools before us.
At the end of the third pool, the creek turned to the left. Before me was a waterfall. I really wished I had my camera with me at the time to take a photo of it, but I didn’t. It seemed apparent to me that I couldn’t proceed any further even though I had read accounts of people able to climb up past the falls.
So with that, I tubed back to Julie. I had realized at this point that the fishing pants dad got me also ripped around by butt. So all that ice cold water came rushing down my legs and weighed down the pants.
When I got out of the water, Julie and I took a few more photos as well as talked with another couple who caught up to us. But as the afternoon was wearing on and the shadows crept further up the canyon, I was starting to shiver and chatter.
So Julie and I wasted no time getting back out of the Subway and back out into the sun.
By now, me knees really started hurting because of the excess weight from all that water accumulated in the fishing pants. It also didn’t help that I had played basketball earlier in the week, which always inflamed by knees.
Finally I got to a point where I just took off the fishing pants and packed it away. From that point on, I was able to hike a little more freely, but I had to endure a few painful steps with the inflamed knee.
We had gone down the Archangel Cascades at 3pm and we eventually returned to the Lava Cliffs area at 5pm. It’s funny how the trail seemed to be much easier to follow on the way out than on the way in. Anyways, the climb back up the cliffs was brutal on my knees as I kept feeling pain when I put pressure on my left leg when it was bent.
Eventually, Julie and I returned to the car park at 6pm. While we were up there, a backcountry ranger pulled up to us and asked if we had permits. We gladly showed them to him and he was on his way.
As I started the car, I had trouble shifting gears (it was a manual transmission). It was almost as if I had to force the stick even though the clutch was all the way down. Apparently, that little detour we took to avoid the traffic jam on the I-15 did damage the vehicle. Anyways, we eventually got back to our campground where we promptly got our clothes and headed back to Springdale to shower.
Julie and I ended up having some backpacker food we had bought from REI, which she wanted to try out. And I had to say the food didn’t taste bad at all. Then again, probably anything tastes good after going through a long day of difficult hiking.
We also had bought some firewood earlier in the day and we were anxious to use it. So we did, but we didn’t have marshmallows, graham crackers, nor chocolates so we couldn’t do Smores. Doh! So the fire was just for show pretty much.
Day 3: UP TO WHERE THE ANGELS TOUCH THE EARTH
Julie and I got up at around 6am and broke camp. While I was busy packing our stuff into stuff sacks, Julie was preparing another hot breakfast utilizing the packaged camp food from REI.
After the breakfast, we proceeded to load up the car, check out from our camp, and move the car to the public car park. From there, Julie and I caught the mandatory shuttle bus en route to Angels Landing deep in Zion Canyon, the goal of today’s hike.
So after taking a few shots from the bus of the Court of the Patriarchs, it wasn’t long before the shuttle made its stop at the Grotto Trailhead at 7:15am.
Julie and I promptly disembarked and used the restrooms in the picnic area nearby knowing there weren’t any facilities along the popular trail.
And with that both of us were off.
Right off the bat, we could see the imposing Angels Landing monolith from the trailhead. It didn’t look far from where we were at, but on this hike, distance wasn’t the issue. We knew that it would be the dropoff exposure on the way to its top. From the pre-trip research, it was that part that made me nervous.
The trail immediately headed towards the cliffs of the canyon. After an initial stretch along the Virgin River yielding views of the tall monolith before us, the trail wasted no time starting to climb up the cliffs through a series of several switchbacks.
When we got close to Refrigerator Canyon (a hanging canyon way up above the floor of the main canyon) at around 8am, we could look down at the switchbacks we had just climbed. Still, we knew there was more climbing to go so we continued along the cliff-hugging trail.
When we entered the shady confines of Refrigerator Canyon, we could see the striations on the adjacent canyon walls that were really reminiscent of Hidden Canyon on the other side of the valley. Obviously, this section here is prone of flash floods and I certainly wouldn’t want to be in here in a thunderstorm.
At 8:10am, the paved trail started to switchback onto itself and face a series of switchbacks held up by red retaining walls. I knew this was the famous Walter’s Wiggles and it marked the final ascent to at least the Scout’s Lookout, which itself was about a 1/4-mile from the summit of Angels Landing.
We made it to the top of the wiggles at 8:30am and before us was the infamous Scout’s Lookout. This view of Angels Landing showed us the final 1/4-mile of the trail. Many people turn back at this point unwilling to move forward with the cliff exposure on both sides of the trail. However, Julie and I weren’t to be denied and we kept on going.
There were chain bolts and footholds throughout most of the final scramble to the summit of the knife-like ridge of Angels Landing. Clearly I could envision Angels landing on that monolith, but the last thing Julie and I wanted to do would be to join the angels…
Still, we weren’t really aware of the drop offs around us as we focused on the steps and paths ahead of us. Since we were climbing, our attention was always focused on looking up and not down so that helped us mentally. But even then, some of the cliff exposed parts were unavoidable and they were certainly unnerving. I recalled there was even one pretty narrow section where the dropoff exposure were on BOTH sides of us!
This trail received lots of bi-directional traffic so we patiently allowed people to pass in the particularly difficult or narrow stretches.
But finally at 9am, Julie and I had made it to the top of Angels Landing!
I was concerned going into this trip that Julie might have problems with this trail, but she made it through with flying colors. Of course, there was still that issue of going back down as we would face the cliff exposure all the way down, but we were basking in the glory of our accomplishment.
I had intended this hike to be one of several hikes to train for the upcoming Half Dome hike in Yosemite this June. And this hike, which was short and quite easy to follow, was supposed to be the one that would get us over our fear of heights and cliff exposure. Check!
And so we took our time enjoying the 360 degree panorama. Towards the head of the canyon, we could see the vertical cliffs closing in where the Narrows was supposed to be. Towards the mouth of the canyon, we could see the great expanse of Zion Canyon. As we faced directly across the canyon, we could see the Great Throne looming large at nearly eye level with us. Heck, we could even make out the switchbacks on the opposite side of the canyon leading up to Hidden Canyon as well as Observation Point.
By 10:15am, Julie and I started making our way back down the knife-ridge. As anticipated, it was a bit scary to constantly stare down at the dual drop-offs while hanging on to the bolted chains. Whenever there was a point where we didn’t have the confidence to stand upright and descend, we just took a seat and scooted our way down. That tactic was quite effective and it practically neutralized the unsure footing factor.
Julie was making such good progress that she was way out in front of me. She had already made it down Walter’s Wiggles when I just started that part of the trail. Just then, some elderly guy stopped to talk to me as he noticed I was limping.
I was limping because of my inflamed knee, which was acting up again. The elderly guy told me, “Son, I had a brother who couldn’t walk anymore because he wouldn’t get his legs checked out.”
And with that, we engaged in conversation. I worried about leaving Julie alone further down the trail, but I didn’t want to be rude to this guy so I entertained his need to talk about stuff and pretty much hiked down together with him.
The topics ranged from the Southern Utah scenery to some political things. Funny how I can’t ever seem to avoid political talk no matter which stranger I run into.
Anyways, I we finally made it back to the trailhead and shuttle stop at noon. When I finally broke free from the pleasant but a tad bit excessive chatter with the elderly guy, I saw Julie sitting on the picnic table. She got up and proceeded to ask me, “What took you so long?”
When I explained to her the conversation I had with the elderly guy and how I couldn’t be rude to him, she laughed. Anyways, within a few minutes, the shuttle arrived and we were back at the Watchman Campground Visitor Center by 1pm.
Julie and I weren’t about to head home yet and face the horrendous traffic jam we knew would occur after Las Vegas. So we decided to spend the rest of this afternoon in the park – starting with this waterfall I had read about in Pine Creek.
So we left the Watchman Campground Visitor Center and made a left onto State Highway 9. Within minutes, we found the large pullout before the bridge over Pine Creek at the first switchback and parked the car there.
Next, we proceeded to put on Chacos as we knew we would get our feet wet. Then, we followed the trail and before long, we had to cross Pine Creek as we had expected.
After a few minutes of pretty simple hiking, we met an obstacle. In the way was this large standing pool that looked way too deep to traverse without swimming. Julie and I searched around and weren’t exactly sure which way to go.
Fortunately, there was a mother and a pair of kids sitting at the top of a dropoff and they pointed to us which way we should go. So taking their advice, we hugged a cliff wall and climbed up a rock with a tree for support. Eventually, we would be above the deep pool though the sloping surface would dump us into the pool if we fell. So we were careful to stay as balanced as possible.
After thanking the lady for her kindness, we proceeded further up the canyon. The trail continued to cross the creek again. We had to be careful where cacti were lying on the ground since our bare feet were exposed in our Chacos.
Eventually, we followed a sheltered shelf with dropoffs into standing pools of water below us before we finally went around a large boulder and beheld the Pine Creek Waterfall before us.
The falls were half in shadow as the afternoon sun wanted to sink deeper behind the towering sandstone cliffs of Zion Canyon. That made taking decent photos a bit difficult. Nonetheless, the waterfall was a lovely 30ft one and Julie and I spent some time here taking a few photographs and pondering upon the peaceful scene before us. We were the only ones here.
By 3pm, we left the waterfall and headed back to the car. My nose started to bleed given the dry desert air and perhaps lack of sufficient water, but eventually it plugged up and clotted and I was good to go.
We next drove into Springdale and had a relaxing dinner at Flannigans. We saw it was Zagat Rated so we figured it ought to be decent. Of course, the joint didn’t look cheap, but Julie and I wanted to celebrate our relaxing weekend, which was drawing to a close. Besides, the weather had been perfect this weekend and this was the way to end off our time in Zion.
The food was pretty good and we eventually left at around 5pm.
The drive home was exhausting, but we at least made it through to Victorville without much traffic. There were still lots of cars on the road though and that was to be expected.
However, what wasn’t expected was the traffic we saw at 11pm in Victorville. This was ridiculous! And with the clutch still stubbornly out-of-whack from our off-road driving experience on Friday, this was a nightmare for me as I had to keep forcing the stick to shift as we constantly changed speeds in the sluggishness.
Well eventually, we made it back to our apartment in West LA past midnight. We quickly dumped our clothes into the laundry basket before showering, brushing, and ultimately crashing in our comfortable bed.
It was nearly 2am when we finally slept, but both of us had to get to work when daylight broke. Needless to say, I would be a zombie when I had to get up at 5am for my 6:30am start back in the rat race.
But oh it was so worth it!
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