Two weekends ago Mindy and I had a few dreamy days in Zion National Park. The weather was perfect for running and the forecast was more of the same through the following weekend. So, on a whim I decided to get off my lazy butt and run the Trans Zion Traverse (TZT). With just a few emails I had two good friends, Jay Aldous and Christian Johnson, sign up for the journey. Christian’s experience of Zion thus far had been the standard tourist trails and sites so I was excited to show him this incredible run. Plus, he’s running the HURT 100 in January so this would make for a great training run for him.
After stuffing ourselves with a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner Mindy and I hopped in the car and drove down to Cedar City where we quietly snuck into the hotel room that Christian and Jay were staying in. At 6AM we woke to some fine gas-station coffee compliments of Jay, quickly packed our stuff, and headed out, bound for the Kolob entrance of Zion National Park. Just after 7:00 AM we left Lee’s Pass down the La Verkin Creek Trail. We reached the Kolob Arch trail intersection in about an hour and started the small climb up into Hop Valley. We were moving quite well and enjoying good conversation. Jay shared some stories of his past endurance activities, which really are amazing. For example, back when I was in diapers, Jay was into REALLY long distance cycling. He tackled a circumnavigation of the lower 48 United States, and then moved on to set the record (which stood for 18 years!) for circumnavigating…. the entire globe! Something like 13,000 miles in 100 days. Jay is an amazing guy. And, at 48 years old, this year he pulled off a 22:03 at the Wasatch 100 after taking a 26 year hiatus from the race.
Christian and I have done several small runs together in the past few years and is the kind of guy that I knew I’d enjoy being with on a longer adventure. He is one of the nicest guys I’ve met and is an incredibly talented runner. In just a few years of trail running he has climbed to the top! Like Jay, he also has a background in road riding, but fell in love with the simplicity of trail running. I’m excited to watch Christian crush it at the up-coming H.U.R.T. 100 in January, where I predict Christian to go sub-24 at this brutally hard course.
So, needless to say I was in great company. I was incredibly excited for this run, but was honestly quite ill-prepared given how little and how inconsistently I had been running in the past few months. So, I’d have to “BS” this one. 🙂
As we settled into the northern end of Hop Valley, the temperature dropped to somewhere in the high 20s (guess). The river was frozen and the sand frosted on-top. This really is a nice and peaceful section of the run, very flat with beautiful view all around. We made good time down the river valley and then made quick work of the climb up and out of it, finally seeing the sun for the first time of the day. We hit the Hop Valley TH and then shifted to the Connector Trail. The Connector Trail was in far better condition that when I did this run about a year and a half ago. We followed it perfectly this time.
Partway up the climb, where it angles towards Pine Valley Peak, we ran into Mindy who was coming down the trail. She informed us that she couldn’t get into the West Rim TH due to the road being closed so she went to the Wildcat TH instead. This meant that we’d get an extra 1.8 mile out-n-back to the car and would have to take extra food with us to make it 31.7 miles to the end. No big deal, but it did cost us about 15 minutes. After fueling up we took off, bound for Wildcat Canyon.
The climb to Wildcat Canyon is low-angled and actually quite enjoyable for several miles. It was at this point that we saw an incredible heard of roughly 50 Elk. We startled them and they took off making the ground shake as they ran up the hillside. We watched in amazement and part of me wished that they’d let me join them, but no such luck. We pressed on to the traverse down to a dry Wildcat Canyon river and then the small climb up to the West Rim TH. Christian and I had pulled ahead of Jay a bit in the last mile or two and we knew something wasn’t right. We waited and he caught up with us and explained that he just wasn’t feeling on today and that we should go ahead with out him. Sometimes you got it and sometimes you don’t. So, Christian and I pressed on heading south-bound on the West Rim Trail.
We did the 5 miles to Potato Hollow in about 45 minutes, moving at a nice clip on the easy rolling hills. The view starts to get really tasty at this point. Whenever I look west from this vantage point I feel as if I’m at an ice-cream parlor and I want a bit of everything. Left and Right forks of North Creek, Ivins Mountain, Inclined Temple…. they all look so good.
As we continued on I pointed out the start of Heaps Canyon, the backsides the Patriarchs, Behunin Canyon, and thought back to the many great adventures I’ve had here in the past few years. The descent from here is awesome and the view just continue to get better and better. Eventually Telephone Canyon comes into view on the left, a canyon that my uncle Ron descended just one week ago. Next, the Imlay Sneak route leaves the West Rim Trail to my left, another great adventure comes to mind. Nearly every step of this trail has fond memories tied to it for me.
It is at this point that one thing changes very quickly…. the number of people! As we crested the next hill, Angel’s Landing comes into view, perhaps one of the coolest trails in the world so I can’t fault the droves of people trying to hike it. We encounter hundreds and hundreds of people and 2 guys immediately jump on our tail as they’re curious why we’re running downhill so fast. We explain that we’ve already logged quite a few miles today and that our objective is to run across the entire National Park in record time. They tell us that they’re marathon runners and are pretty amazed at what we’re doing. It was fun to chat with them for a bit, but both Christian and I were running on empty (dehydrated) and it quickly became too much conversation. So we put the throttle down a bit and left them behind. I had poorly judged the time to run the W. Rim Trail section and had consequently run out of water and I could feel it. So, when I got to the Grotto Aid Station (i.e. spigot) I had to go through the usual routine to “come back”.
After some salt, water, and calories we were on our way running the road up to Weeping Rock where we dropped a gear or two for the climb. Christian pulled on the climb up the many switchbacks while my body re-equilibrated again. At a low-point physically we ran into Mindy who was running the East Rim Trail into the park, which lifted my spirits greatly. One gel and one Mindy encounter and I felt great again! We grinded up to the top of the plateau and then onto Stave Springs. Just a few hundred yards after the Spring and I stopped dead in my tracks as there was a beautiful Bighorn Sheep just 50′ ahead, staring us down. We watched in amazement of this great animal. He came towards us a bit and then decided to leave the trail we were on. wow!
Eventually we reached the high-point where we put it in high gear and ran to the end. 9:08 was our official time, good for a new FKT (Fastest Known time), but one that won’t last long. What a great adventure. We jumped in the car (which Mindy had left for us) and drove into Springdale where we had pizza and beer with Jay and Mindy.
Life is sweet. Another stellar adventure in Zion.