Friday, April 10, 2015

Trans-Zion Trek Report

Saturday, April 4:

We left home at 4:30 AM to try and obtain wilderness/camping permits to complete the Trans-Zion Trek. We arrived at the Kolob Canyon Visitor’s Center at 7:45 AM and were able to be first in line at 8 AM. We were able to obtain the permits for the following day.

Since we couldn't start our trip till the following day, we drove to St. George and had breakfast at Denny’s. Afterwards, I took the kids to see the St. George Temple and spent some time in the visitor’s center. I told them about the construction of the temple and a little about its history.

We then went to DI to get some warm clothe—I realized we were missing. I also bought the kids some Easter candy at Walmart, since it was going to be Easter on Sunday.

We then went to Snow Canyon State Park and enjoyed some short walks around the park. I took them to Tuachan (the outdoor theater) since it was close to the park. For lunch we went to Dell Taco.

Since we were up early, we checked into the hotel and rested. For dinner we went to Pizza Hut, enjoyed an ice-cream from K-mart, and went back to the hotel to go through our packs one last time. We went to bed early to be ready for our big adventure the following day.

Total miles with a side hike to Bear Trap Canyon Waterfall would be about 52 miles total.

Day 1 (Sunday, April 5):

  • Laverkin Creek Trail (6.9 miles)
  • Bear Trap Canyon Waterfall (5 miles extra)
We hit the trail about 10:15 AM, after filling up on water and making sure we had everything we needed to start our long trek across Zion. There were so many small blessings and answers to prayers that helped us complete our adventure. About 2 miles into the Laverkin Creek Trail, Reid started complaining about his pants and I realized that he hadn’t brought a belt. For another half mile, I tried to figure out what we could use to hold his pants up (later we called them shants—pants that zip off into shorts).

I had an image come to my mind of an extra strap I had on my pack. I removed the strap and wrapped it around his waist, it fit perfectly—problem solved! The first of many blessings!

The Laverkin Creek trail is mostly downhill. Around 1 PM we reached the Laverkin Creek and stopped to soak our feet and eat lunch. The kids enjoyed playing in the water. We arrived at our campsite (#9) around 3 PM. The wind had started to pick up, so we decided to setup our tent. At about 4 PM, I convinced the kids that we should hike to Bear Trap Canyon Waterfall, about 2.5 miles farther up the canyon.

We headed out, but had to cross the river about 16 times to get to campsite #13, the mouth of the canyon. On the second crossing I lost my footing and fell in the water. Lynlee fell in about a mile from the canyon. Once at campsite #13, it was about another 15 minutes trekking up a small creek in the canyon to reach the waterfall. It was beautiful, but we didn’t have much time to enjoy it because it was already 5:30 PM and starting to get dark.

We arrived back at camp around 7 PM, I realized that I had underestimated the trek to Bear Trap Canyon falls! When we got back to the river crossing before our campsite we noticed that there were about 6 or 7 additional tents in our site. I asked if they had the site reserved and we both pulled out our permits. It turns out they were supposed to be in campsite #8, but I found out they were a scout troop from California. Since site #8 was on the other side of the river, I said we’d be happy to have them share the site with us as long as they weren’t too loud after 9 PM (we were very tired).

They were very well behaved and mannered boys. The leader offered to boil water for our dinners (we ended the trip with just enough fuel), which turned out to be another blessing.

I had purchased a bucket of Mountain House freeze dried meals and the kids said they wanted to try the beef stew. The meals don’t look like much, but taste decent—especially if you are hungry. I handed Lynlee and Reid a bowl of stew in the tent. They wolfed it down, but I heard Lynlee say, “I wonder what it looks like?” They found a head lamp and turned it on, I heard them both say “eww, it looks gross!” But they both finished their meals.

I cleaned up, washed our muddy socks and clothes in the creek, hung them on a tree to dry, and joined Lynlee and Reid for a hard earned night of sleep in the tent. It was a windy night, but we all stayed warm.

Day 2 (Monday, April 6):

  • Hop Valley (6.6 miles)
  • Connector Trail (3.9 miles)
  • Wildcat Canyon Trail (3 miles)
Morning came early. I woke up at around 7 AM, and decided to start filtering the water from Laverkin Creek we would need for our long day of hiking. Day 2 was supposed to be 16 miles! It turned out to be about 14, as the terrain proved tougher than expected.

I woke the kids up around 8 AM and made them hot oatmeal for breakfast. We packed up camp, wished the scouts well (they were hiking Bear Trap Canyon and going to Kolob Arch), and headed on our way.

The Hop Valley Trail proved to be pretty challenging. It was a steep climb to get into the valley. Once we made it to the valley it was a lot of sand and creek crossings. It proved to be very slow going as we had to work as a team to throw sticks and logs in the creek to make each crossing. Lynlee and Reid worked together well. Reid, who was better at crossing the creek would cross and throw his hiking pole to Lynlee so she could use two poles to cross. It was an awesome experience to see them work together and help each other.

The trail was small and hard to follow at times, so we just followed the creek. At the end of the valley was another steep and sandy climb to get to the parking lot. We rested at the bathrooms near the parking lot, at which time I made the unfortunate discovery that my hydration reservoir had been leaking. We only had one bottle of water for all of us for the remaining 9.4 miles we were supposed to go to make it to our campsite. However, it was already 3 PM and I realized we would probably not make it to the campsite or even the spring today.

We decided to say a prayer. Soon after a young couple asked us if we needed water. They had heard us talking and were also making the trek across Zion. They were experienced backpackers and said they had more water than they needed. They allowed us to fill a couple of our water bottles with theirs. What a blessing!

The Connector Trail seemed long, but wasn’t as punishing as the Hop Valley Trail had been. We arrived to the Wildcat Canyon Trail around 6 PM. However, I could feel my back was on the verge of going into spasm from the weight of my pack. I was carrying most of the gear and food. We stopped and said another prayer for my back and that we would know what to do for the night.

I remembered bringing some ibuprofen and took a couple tablets to help with the pain and swelling. Lynlee and Reid offered to carry more weight, so I gave them each some of the food and gear I was carrying. We then headed up Wildcat Canyon Trail. Around 8 PM we saw a meadow and I felt it may be a good place to stop. We were low on water and wouldn’t be able to have dinner, but we were all beat!

Lynlee then yelled, “I see a tent!” It was our friends, who had given us water at the Hop Valley parking lot. I asked if we could share their meadow for the night and we quickly setup our tent before the last remaining light left us. I told the kids we’d have to just eat beef jerky or trail mix as we needed to save our water until we reached the spring.

A few minutes later the couple came over with another bottle of water. He had hiked the 3/4 miles to the spring and filtered more water. He asked if we needed any for dinner. Another blessing and prayer answered! We thanked them profusely, made dinner (chicken noodles), and got ready for bed. We all felt that we had been truly blessed and that our prayers had been heard and answered. It was a humbling and spiritual experience to feel the Lord’s hand help us on our journey.

Day 3 (Tuesday, April 7):

  • Wildcat Canyon Trail (1.7 miles)
  • West Rim Trail (9 miles)
We woke up around 7 AM and started packing up. Lynlee learned how to use a backpacking trowel—she was now a real mountain woman! We broke camp around 9:15 AM and headed to find the spring up the trail. About 3/4 of a mile up the trail was the spring, we had to use our cooking pot to catch the small drizzle from the spring and then filter that into our hydration packs and bottles. It took nearly an hour to filter the water we would need, as we were told there was no more water until we reached the main canyon. We then cleaned the filter, and headed on our way.

It was mostly uphill until we reached the Lava Point connector trail. Then the trail flattened out for a long distance. Eventually we reached the campsite we were supposed to stay in (#9 at Sawmill Spring) and chuckled to ourselves that we would have never made that in one day. Many of the springs in the park were dry due to the lack of snow we had this year. Sawmill was also not flowing.

We reached Potato Hollow Spring, which was also dry and started climbing up the trail. The trail was a bit up and down from this point and gave us a pretty good workout. My feet were really starting to hurt, but we knew we were getting close to our campsite.

We reached our campsite around 5:30 PM, #3 on the West Rim Trail. It was extremely windy, so we had to decide if we should setup our tent on the top of the hill where it was flat or in a small valley where it was a bit slopped. I usually avoid sleeping on any kind of slope, but in this instance it seemed like the wiser option. Reid helped me prepare dinner (beef stroganoff), and we decided to retire early as it was getting very cold and windy outside and we were tired.

We soon realized sleeping in our tent would be a challenge on the incline. We were all sliding to the bottom of the tent. It was almost funny. About 1 AM Lynlee work me up and said, “I think it is raining!” I ran outside and put our gear under the tent’s rainfly. It turned out to be a mix of snow and hail, which was hitting the tent quite violently due to the 40+ mile an hour winds.

I felt blessed that we had setup our tent in the valley, even though we were sliding around. We later ran into a few other backpackers that had a much more difficult time that night.

Day 4 (Wednesday, April 8):

  • West Rim Trail (5.2 miles)
  • Grotto to Weeping Rock on Road (1.2 miles)
  • East Rim Trail (4.3 miles)
When morning finally arrived, I was grateful we had had snow and hail but not rain. There is nothing worse than getting wet and then having to deal with the wind. It was another blessing. We also thought it was a lot deeper than it was actually. The snow and hail had fallen off and around the tent making it look worse than it actually was. Another blessing!

We had the Mountain House granola, which only required one cup of cold water to make and we were able to make and eat it in the tent. We got everything packed up and headed back on the trail about 9:15 AM to start what many claim to be the hardest day of the trek.

The views coming down the canyon were absolutely spectacular! We followed the West Rim trail down until we finally arrived at the trail head for Angel’s Landing. We started seeing a lot of people at this point, which was a big change from the rest of the hike. It soon became apparent that it was indeed spring break in Zion’s.

The hike to the bottom of the canyon was pretty punishing. I was grateful I had brought a couple hiking poles for the trek and I relied on them heavily coming down. There were a lot of people on the trail and a lot wanted to know where we had come from. I was more than happy to talk about our adventure so far, but the kids started teasing me for talking to strangers about what we were doing. I guess I was just a proud father!

I felt like I had a pretty big blister on the bottom of my left big toe. I figured I’d deal with it once we reached the bottom. When I finally took my shoe off, I realized it was actually a pine needle that had broken off in my toe when I brought the gear under the tent during the storm the night before. I was able to remove it with a safety pin, and was relieved it wasn't as bad as it felt.

We reached the Grotto (bottom of the canyon) about 1:30 PM. Since I knew there would be no remaining water to the East Entrance and that we would be going straight uphill for the next 4 plus miles, I suggested we rest, make our last Mountain House entre (lasagna), fill our water, and then head out. We enjoyed sitting at the picnic table and cooking lunch. Afterwards, we tried to call Rochelle to let her know how we were doing and when she could pick us up. We had to take the shuttle to the lodge to make the call. We were all happy to talk to her!

We took the shuttle back to the Grotto, as not to cheat on the mileage, and walked the 1.2 miles to the Weeping Rock Trail Head. This proved to be the toughest part of the journey for me. It was straight back up the canyon. We were trying to make it to Stave Spring, which you can camp near. But the climb became so steep and long, I wasn't sure if I could make it. I felt like I hit the wall and it took everything to make it up to the camp site. The kids cheered me on and prayed for me. I told them we would have to setup camp when we reached the top and that we didn't have enough water to make the oatmeal I promised them for dinner.

We finally arrived at a large pine tree that looked like an inviting and flat spot to spend the night. We looked around and saw a sign, we had reached a junction in the trail just about 50 yards from our spot. Reid decided to investigate and found two gallon jugs of water that had been left by someone. On the jugs they had written, “Help Yourself!” Reid came back with one of the containers and said, “Our prayers have been answered again! Now we can make dinner!” Another blessing!

We setup camp, cooked oatmeal, and got in the tent as the temperature was really dropping at our elevation. We called home and talked to Rochelle and the kids. It felt so good to only be about 6 miles from finishing our adventure. I felt so tired, so cold, so sick, and so humbled to be able to be on this journey with my two oldest children. I felt the Lord’s presence watching over us and helping us.

Day 5 (Thursday, April 9):

  • East Rim Trail to East Entrance (5.5 miles)
Although it was clear, it was our coldest night on the trip. I was pretty cold, although the kids said they were OK. There was a heavy frost on the tent and our remaining water was frozen solid. A tourist at the bottom said it reached 19 degrees where they were and we were at a much higher elevation.

We left about 9:15 AM on the trail and soon found Stave Spring, which was also not flowing. It was an uphill climb and although I was feeling pretty beat, I knew we were at the finish line. From the initial climb the trail was mostly downhill. The trail was pretty good, although sandy in sections.

I tried to enjoy the last moments of our 5 day adventure. I couldn’t believe we were almost done. It seemed to go by so quickly! We stopped under a shady pine and enjoyed the last moments of being on the trail and in nature. Around 12:30 PM we arrived at the East Entrance and finished our journey. I had told Rochelle to pick us up between 2 and 3 PM, but forgot to warn her about the spring break traffic at the gate. She arrived a little before 3 PM and we were ecstatic to see everyone!

I felt pretty emotional about the whole experience. I was tired, happy, humbled, but most of all felt blessed. We drove to Lee Pass to pick up my car. I realized I had dropped my keys, probably waiting at the East Entrance. Oh well, a small price to pay!

We caravanned to Cedar City and had dinner at CafĂ© Rio. I ordered a chicken salad and soon found out my stomach could only contain about half a chicken salad. Reid and Lynlee couldn’t eat much either. But the food I was able to eat tasted great!

We arrived home just after 9 PM. I was wondering who was going to get to shower first, but as soon as we parked, Reid ran into the house and jumped in the shower. That is how you win an argument! You avoid it all together!

My Thoughts

While driving home from St. George to Lehi, I had time to reflect on our backpacking adventure and realized that in many ways it symbolizes our journey here on earth.

We are here on earth to be tested. We have a destination to get to, but the road isn’t going to be easy. The trail is going to be rocky in sections, easy in sections, and seem almost too steep to climb in sections. In addition, as part of our test we will have to carry different burdens (like our packs). These burdens will feel heavy at times and there may be moments in our life when we can’t bear them alone. Lynlee and Reid shared my burden on day 2, when my back started to give out. They offered to carry some of my load and we all made it to the campsite together.

Alma in the Book of Mormon said in Mosiah 18:8-9, in speaking to the people who desired to join the fold of God by being baptized:

“And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life”

The Lord also didn’t send us to earth alone. He put us in families. When we had to cross the river in Hop valley so many times we worked together to build bridges, we held hands, we held out sticks or poles to each other to make sure everyone made it safely. It took teamwork to get everyone across safe and dry. When one of us would get discouraged, we would give encouraging words or try to lift the spirits of each other.

There were also times along the trail when we didn’t know what to do or how we would make it. The Lord sent us inspiration, other people to help, or literally gave us gifts (like the water on our last night).

My prayer was that my kids could experience a small 5 day journey like this, so that it can help them in their life journey. They need to learn they can accomplish hard things with the Lord’s help! On this trip we learned not to take things for granted like shelter, food, clean water, or each other. We learned to call upon the Lord for help and rely on Him, rather than just going through the routine of prayer.

When we started on the trail, none of us were sure if we would make it. I believed we would, and we did everything we could to prepare for the journey, but we had to take it one step, one climb, one mile, and one day at a time. This is similar to life, we must endure to the end and not give up!

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