Friday, August 27, 2021

Zion Downhill FKT

I've been thinking about the Zion Downhill FKT since last year when we were in this area.  Off-trail nav through a beautiful and stunning National Park, at a distance John could agree to, plus it seemed like mostly downhill.  What more do we want?

Well, I suppose tackling this at a cooler time of year would make more sense.  But let's not make "perfect" the enemy of "good enough".  We're here, let's see if we can make it happen.

Our biggest challenge, at least initially, was finding a shuttle to the top.  We'd previously done our own bike-up-the-road self shuttle for the Subway canyon, but this was quite a bit longer.  A couple tour companies in Springdale run this shuttle all the time, except on this particular day (or time of year or the fact that it was Tuesday) they were getting zero interest from other people and didn't want to take just 2 of us.  Maybe everyone else realized how hot it was too.

Big shout-out to Mark from Zion Adventure Company for agreeing to drive us up to Lava Point on his day off!  We had a fun conversation on the way up, and he snapped a nice photo of us at the overlook (which would have come out better if I wasn't carrying my old "adventure camera" with the scratch on the lens):

Thank you Mark, much appreciated!

Sunrise over Zion:

We found the FKT starting point at the Lava Point parking lot.  Nothing else to do but get going:

There is a short trail almost to the campground, then a steep little descent to the road below.

Easiest part of the day, on the way to the West Rim trailhead:

Briefly on the West Rim Trail:

Watch out for lightning?

On the Wildcat trail, looking back at the Lava Point basalt columns, and also some old equipment that's still here:

The trail was nice, but it's time to get to the actual point of this route.  Jumping off into the shrubbery:

John's around here somewhere... at least it wasn't a total mess of a bushwhack getting down to the creek, in fact it was easier than it looked.

The first part of Wildcat Canyon was rather slow, and we alternated creek walking with finding game trails (mostly on the right side).  Eventually it opened up and we were moving more easily.

While poking around the web for info, I happened across Joe Braun's "Right Fork of North Creek" canyoneering route description.  Wait, is this a canyoneering route?  Ah, no, Jared and Buzz set it up with plenty of scrambling and clambering, but no rappels.  The very first part of Joe Braun's write-up describes two rappels into Little Blue Creek.  The FKT tracks easily bypass those, and any time we came upon a straight-down drop there was always a way around.

We'd loaded the 3 GPS tracks from Buzz/Jared, Sean, and Jason onto our phones.  More (by far) than any other FKT I've run, this was supremely helpful.  We're decently proficient with maps and always had a good idea where we needed to get to, but the specifics of exactly which little gully would "go" (i.e. not cliff us out), which side of the giant rocks to head around, and what things the previous guys had tried that worked (or didn't) were what we really needed to know.  So - thank you all!

It was fun saying things like "Jason stayed more right in this section while Sean was still in the creek here."  And then John would do his thing where he finds animal tracks or ways through the brush that I might never discover, and between all of that we continued to work our way down the drainage.

The only difficulty was that Google Maps decided it didn't want to hold onto the saved tracks while in Airplane mode.  D'oh!  I should have loaded up John's Gaia app with the tracks, like I did on my phone.  My phone battery is on the later end of its lifetime (I should probably do something about that), so we had to be more conservative with it.  At least John was carrying an external battery pack in case we needed to add some juice to it.

John noticed these little pebbles, possibly embedded in the sandstone and slowly getting exposed as the rock around them erodes - at least that's our geological guess:

Enjoying our morning stroll, coming down to the spot where a side drainage comes in from the left (just before the note "leave drainage here" on Joe's map):

Joe's map and description were helpful for the first part, giving us more to work with.  We popped out of the creek earlier than the others, based on Joe's map, and that worked out well.  Sure, there were some bushes, but we moved reasonably quickly enough through them.

Loving the scenery all around and above us:

More waist-high vegetation, plenty of manzanita, sometimes with animal trails through it (thank you, deer!), and sometimes not... time to wade:

On our way down to the Left Fork drainage crossing, wondering whether these rocks are volcanic or just full of a dark mineral:

We were pretty sure we wanted to follow the prior FKT guys and not the canyoneer's route through this next part.  Joe describes waist-deep pools or a rappel option.  Let's see what Jared and Buzz came up with.  Actually, Sean and Jason took the more direct line, so we also scrambled down, around a large rock, OK maybe not that slot.  If I remember right, we did a short climb/traverse/drop and then a steep claw up the other side.

This is probably where we first took out the belay/simulclimb rope John was carrying.  My mountain goat husband is great at this stuff, and he's also great about being patient and figuring out how to help me try things while being on rope so we can do some moves I would not attempt otherwise.  Thank you John!

Somewhere in here we started a "high five" celebration each time we made it through another mini-challenge.  We passed the Left Fork, yay!  Back to higher ground:

On our way up toward the Left/Right Forks pass (as described on Joe's map) we found various game trails to make things easy.  We were still moving fairly well, still thinking my initial time estimates were good.  I won't embarrass myself by telling you what those were.

We climbed up to the pass and found the spot where all the tracks converged.  Starting down the other side, checking out the steep drop into a drainage:

Here's where the canyoneering route diverges, as it goes up to a bench on the right side.  We don't want that - it's important to eventually get to the left and avoid the right fork.

On the other hand, dropping down into the creek too early isn't great either.  Here we are, having a lovely stroll in a nice wash, oblivious to what we're about to find...

I didn't take a picture, but we turned a corner to find a slot with pools of water, and we just weren't into getting our feet wet if it wasn't required.  Our next mistake was trying to get up above the creek to the left, totally didn't help.  So we fought our way back down, complete with a long log for John to walk on and for me to waste time avoiding.  Back to the main creek.

Finally we "met" the previous tracks that came down further south, and all was good again.  High five!

Just don't follow our track through that part.

Another nice wash walk ensued.  John noticed that the guys were starting to jump up to the left, that sounds like a good idea.  We found some shade and took a short break while contemplating the squiggles on the tracks ahead of us.

A lovely place to sit for a minute and admire at the scenery:

Looking south and trying to figure out where we'll be going amid all the features:

But first, one of many side drainage crossings we were about to encounter.  Oh my goodness, this looked on the map like maybe some down/up work (multiple times, possibly a PITA), but we couldn't have guessed just how steep some of those are.  Wow, that took quite a bit of unexpected time and effort.

The good thing was that we knew other people had done this before.  Each steep descent eventually made it through the brush and to the bottom.  From there we'd look up and go, well, I guess we need to climb straight up that!  And somehow it would work out, but not without a fair bit of bushwhacking and thrashing.  Can't say we weren't warned about that!

Side note - thank you to Jason for suggesting that pants could be helpful.  Yes, I strongly concur.  I also had long sleeves and appreciated those.

Contemplating the next side drainage problem, with a dinosaur rock looking on:

Some of these downclimbs and upclimbs actually weren't too bad.  Some had tracks and even perhaps a sort of a trail.  Some were just bushes to hang onto while pulling yourself up...

A reprieve in between bursts of high-intensity work - to admire Zion's cathedrals and stunning sights:

Across the long traverse there's at least one defined trail, a nice surprise.  Being able to move more quickly for a few minutes at a time was a relief.  I tried not to focus too much on how long this section was taking.

A starship rock, moving at less than warp speed (like us!):

Oh joy, another steep drainage to cross.  Suck it up and get to work.

Eventually I could start counting down, drainage minus 4, 3, 2, and the last couple were nothing to blog about.

Finally we were at the head of the canyon!  It took some maneuvering to figure out the best way through/around a bunch of vegetation groves, plus a climb to the little ridge, but we got there.

High five and a couple celebratory photos, first in one direction:

Then the other  :)

We started up the ridge going southwest and immediately ran into thick bushes.  John hopped over to the right and discovered a game trail going over the tops of the drainages.  That worked so well (and matched the paper map) that we didn't even notice we had diverged from the FKT tracks.

When we eventually checked, just to verify that we were aiming for the correct pass, we found we were quite far from the other guys.  Well, it hadn't slowed us down, and the traverse back to their direction worked well:

So I'd say either way works.  Anyone wanting to go try both of these methods and report back, I'd be interested in what you find.

Back "on track", we climbed alongside the Inclined Temple toward the next pass.  Along the way I asked John, hey what's the name of this FKT again?  He was like, "what?" so I tried again, isn't this the Zion ... something?  Still no recognition.  OK, more direct this time.  Are we doing the Zion UPHILL or what?

I guess I was getting tired of climbing!  John wondered if my legs were feeling the effects of the 24-hour rogaine from 9-10 days prior.  Yes, that is probably what it is!

At the pass we took a break, and somewhere in here we took stock of our water and food.  We had brought extra and we were still doing fine, but this was going to take longer than anticipated.  Might need to stretch it out somewhat.

Over the pass - more great scenery:

There's always so much eye candy to gawk at around here:

Trying to figure out exactly where we're aiming - and finding ourselves a couple contour lines higher than the tracks (we had been following an easy game trail).  Looking back, I wonder what it would be like to stay at this level, traverse to the next saddle, and then around to the next hill.  Might work, might not.  Someone go explore and let me know.

Instead, we descended a slightly steep open rock to get back to the tracks.  Over at the next hill, John spotted a nice bench that contoured around, so we did that.  Only to now find ourselves too low.  I did not enjoy the steep climb up from there.  Sucking wind and wishing to be off of the big rock dome.

I would not recommend the zigzag we took.  Both times we did what we thought would be easier and ended up making things harder for ourselves.

Phew, another nice saddle.  And another steep, but at least short, drop.  Another good time to put me on the rope so I could walk down it without worrying about falling.  Thanks John!

I had pictured the next long, gentle drainage as an easy saunter down lovely bare rock.  Nope!  It wasn't easy, there was no sauntering, and I don't consider it lovely at all.  Back to bushwhacking, this time with little bugs to keep us company.  It wasn't all bad.  Sometimes we could jog through open woods and sometimes there was wind and open areas to keep the bugs away.

We even did a little detour to the right to find fast travel down the bare rock I had envisioned, however briefly.

Then it was back to whacking through bushes and thrashing down the creek.

We did one little climb up to the right that seemed to be going too high, so John tried to get back into the creek bottom.  A short skid put him on top of a small tree, which bent slowly to deposit him on the ground.  1. "Are you OK??"  Yes, he was fine.  2.  "I'm not going that way!"

I found a way down that didn't involve a tree bounce.

We counted side drainages and cut across where Jason had gone, declining to go "check out" the giant drop into the bowl ahead of us.  I assume that if Jared, Buzz, and Sean all decided that it was too steep for them, it was definitely too steep for me.

The next little bit was quite interesting, and I wish I'd taken a couple photos.  I was too focused on "what the heck are we about to do?" instead of enjoying what we were looking at.  We needed to do a short traverse and then climb up to a plateau, going through a bunch of fun rock features and little canyons along the way.

Thank goodness for the tracks on the phone!  We following along very closely through here, even though (or especially because) it wasn't obvious that this was the best way to go.  One drop in particular was a bit much for me, so we got on rope and John did a "for real" belay to help get me down into a small side drainage.

Then what?  We almost went too far right, and in fact John climbed up something steep while I figured out that everyone else had pushed their way through some bushes up something easier (well, except for the bushes).

I would not want to be in a huge hurry on this route.

More climbing... come on legs, you can do it.  There's a big downhill coming.

The top plateau was a nice change.  We started on more of a direct line but came to see that the willows were the reason everyone else veered right.  Once over there it was a gentle walk down a pleasant wash.  Even the loose sand didn't bother me at all.  Easiest walking we had done in quite some hours.

Plus more colorful features, and I was back in the mood for taking pictures:

Eventually it was time to pay attention again.  Sooner or later this creek was going to drop off a big edge.  I had been wondering about this descent ever since I first looked at the map of the route.

One short helpful pause while we studied the terrain and the GPS tracks.  Buzz and Jared went a little way toward the drop-off, then climbed up to the ridge on the left.  Sean and Jason had inspected where the creek went over the edge, then climbed up and over the ridge to join Buzz and Jared.

Our one shining moment was to veer left earlier, stay on the north side of the ridge, and then descend a small gully to the bench below.  This is the one place I can recommend following us.

We worked our way down steep stuff to a couple benches and then to the saddle.  Hey, barbed wire, looks like someone else was up here once (our first sign of people since we left the Wildcat trail).  Also, it was getting later in the day, so at least we were about to be in the shade instead of descending to the hot desert in the middle of the afternoon.

After a short break, it was time to get down this thing.  Hey, there's a little trail!  Also a beautiful view of other parts of Zion:

The trail was nice while it lasted, which wasn't long.  Actually, I think we just missed where it turned somewhere, and John started down the gully instead.  I wasn't particularly keen on this path, as it got steeper and slower and harder for me.  There was some coaxing and attempts to help and one big "nope!"

So instead, John found a way over to the right, which was much better.  He even found the trail again somewhere over there, and we also converged with the Jared/Buzz track (go red team!).

That made the descent completely manageable for me, and after a while the slope reduced to NBD (no big deal) and it was more about finding ways through vegetation and rocks.  We crossed a couple side drainages, also not a problem especially compared to what we'd done earlier in the day.

We celebrated that accomplishment, also having water left in our Camelbaks until right before we got to the bottom at the Coalpits Wash.  And... then we were out.  Good thing there's a spring not far away (verified to be running via an email to the park service - thank you park people!).

Jason had done a nice little cut-over to the main wash that we followed, and then there was an actual trail.  Yay trail!  Well, it wasn't an official trail, and it weaved a bit while cutting off corners, and one time started leading us the wrong way up a side wash, but it was much faster than we'd been moving.

We found the sign for Campground 5 and headed toward the spot where the spring should be.  We could hear it from up above, needing to work our way back north, down through some river plants, and over to the water spouting out from under the cliff.  Yay water!

Using our filter bottle for guzzling a bunch and our treatment tablets for filling the Camelbak bladders, we were soon good on water again.  A nice relief.

Ideally we would have continued down the Coalpits Wash to the highway crossing to finish this out.  However, we didn't have transportation staged there and we weren't keen on road running (it's not a great road for that).  Originally we thought we could (easily!) make it out the end of the Chinle trail, which is the exit route that Jared and Buzz had used, in time to catch the last Springdale shuttle from Majestic View Lodge.  That would have gotten us close to the South Campground and this seemed like a good idea at the time.

Well, we weren't making that shuttle.  Not even close!  The one upside was that it wasn't a matter of running, rushing, pushing to make it.  It was physically not possible, so let's continue at our normal pace and not kill ourselves over it.  We'll deal with walking through town.

So we cut up to the Chinle trail and started our trek home.  It got dark.  My backup plan of carrying a flashlight turned out to be a good one.  John's phone still had plenty of battery, so he used it as a light.  We stopped to clean out a bunch of crap from our shoes, and our feet felt better.  Bonus - we were walking across the desert at night and it was much cooler than it would have been.  Plus, stars and eventually a glowing moon.

The idea was to follow the red team track that cut off some trail distance by crossing Scoggins Wash.  We found the trail turn-off easily enough, but lost the trail almost immediately.  So we took an east bearing, which led us to climb a hill and find a large drop on both sides with big boulders everywhere.  What is going on?  Nothing looked good, and we were SO over the scrambling after spending so much off-trail effort.  John suggested that this was a daylight detour and we should just go back to the trail.  I didn't take much convincing.

So we went a ways further out of the way.  It was a nice night for a walk.  

Then the trail turned into a wash and confused us for a bit.  Not sure what happened there.  Eventually we found the trail again.  I thought this choice was supposed to be the easier one.

Circling around and back, campsite #2, campsite #1, back with the Buzz/Jared track.  I called out, "virtual high 5!" and John replied that his arms were tired so we changed to "virtual low 5!"

One more break to eat the last of our food.

The trail was nice, gentle downhill over to Huber Wash.  Then the wash crossing got us again - this time we went up-wash a short way before figuring it out.  Geez, we can't even follow a trail at this point.

Back up to the desert, moonlight walking, seeing lights from houses for the first time, wilderness boundary, national park boundary, more and more footprints.  Just a little nav at the end to stay on the trail across a couple roads, and finally we went down some short switchbacks to the trailhead.

We are SO done!

Well, except we have to get back to the house.  Walking through Springdale at midnight was a nice, quiet experience.  Partway back we figured out that we should have at least asked Mark (our shuttle driver) if we could have worked with him to leave our truck at Coalpits Wash on the way to Lava Point - duh!  Well at least we hadn't been dwelling on that all day long.

Trudging through town, we noticed lights on at the Terrible's convenience store.  There was a woman sitting outside, so John called over to ask if they were open?  Yes, until 2.  Woo hoo!  We beelined it to the cold drinks section, added some snacks, and sat outside to refuel for the final couple miles.

It was a late night, but it was totally worth it.

Bonus - John finished the GVRAT sometime this evening - way to go, John!

Thank you's!  To Buzz and Jared for setting this up, what an experience.  Do not underestimate it.  To Sean and Jason for adding to the FKT history and demonstrating incredible speed.  To Mother Nature for this beautiful and amazing place.  And of course to John, for being my trekking and FKT and adventure buddy.
'til next time!

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Colorado to California

And into July!  Now for a whirlwind journey across four states and two months...

Starting in Montrose, where we did some walks and runs around town (we enjoyed exploring Montrose in more depth for the first time), and John did a run down the river in our inflatable kayak.  I got a head start in the truck and trekked upstream to catch him coming down toward the water park:

Emptying some water from the boat:

And waiting for other water park users also having fun in the waves:

John's turn:

Woo hoo!

We had the chance to stay at the property Heath and Alyssa (from the RV Entrepreneur podcast) bought where they will be building a new campground just south of town - nice place!

A view of the San Juan mountains to the south:

The old schoolhouse that will be park HQ - we look forward to returning another time to see how everything is coming along!

And then we were on the road again, across Utah to Nevada.  We don't usually just drive across Utah without stopping to see interesting rocks and things, but we had places to be.

Our overnight was at a small campground near Great Basin NP, called Sacramento Pass.  We were happy to get a spot because it's a pleasant place with a nice trail system to explore.

Checking out the geology book at the campground - I wish I'd taken a couple pictures of these pages because there was an excellent explanation of Nevada's ridges and valleys.

A view from the trail, including Wheeler Peak "peeking" out over the top of the horizon:

From there we continued west on highway 50.  This was surprisingly enjoyable, climbing up pass after little pass and then rolling through valley after valley.  You just never knew what you'd see over the next hill.

We stopped briefly in Austin... no Toto, we aren't in Texas any more...

Alpacas, take 2!  If we got nothing else out of Harvest Hosts (and we have gotten a lot else out of all our HH stops), the ability to sleep at an alpaca farm makes it all worth while.

This farm near Fallon has the perfect setup.  Easy pull-through RV sites, a little store with alpaca wares, and friendly hosts who enjoy giving tours and introducing us to their adorable animals.

Hello y'all!

This one's specialty is posing for pictures with guests - thank you!

We had breakfast with friends in Reno the next day, and then began the drive across state #4.  California time!  We did a lovely little hike at Donner Pass, seen here before Dixie Fire smoke started settling in a few weeks later:

And over to San Jose to visit with Kip, Jane, and the real owners of the house, Nutmeg and Lugosi.  Seen here surveying their domain from on high:

We got to play cat-sitter for a few days, which was completely entertaining.  These two are mostly-grown kittens, and they are still figuring things out.  Like a cereal box that is (for some reason?) on the floor.  I would check inside it too:

Trying to determine how this thing works:

Are you SURE there's nothing inside?

Lugo is fascinated with spots of light on the wall, which in turn is like catnip for John who is using his phone to project a beam so she can chase it back and forth:

And of course, shopping for sustenance!  The Bay Area's newest location - perfect!

Phew, I'm rather tired just remembering all of that.  At least I've moved this blog along to July and California.  Thanks for following in our tracks!