Saturday, August 8, 2009

Zion - A Dream Come True - Day 1 and the Journey

(This listing is a continuation of Zion - A Kick Start To My Dream Loc. Please read it here before you start this one...)

We started from Carlsbad on 2nd of July evening at about 5:30 in the evening to make my dream trip on a brand new 4 wheel drive Toyota Rav4. Even though we had to spend our first 45 minutes in a heavy traffic, since Karthik enjoyed my PJ’s or should I say? “Not Complained”, we spent our 4 hrs of drive to Las Vegas like few minutes. After having a light Subway dinner, as I had agreed to Karthik, we went for a short Las Vegas drive thru. Since traffic wasn’t so smooth in Vegas and with the help of traffic signals, we spent almost another 45 minutes in Vegas streets. Thus we did our kick start to the journey to deserts of Utah. We drove another 3 hrs to reach Travelodge at Hurricane, Utah which was our base camp for the trip. Even though it was 20 miles away from Zion, the place was beautiful, crowded and with some sort of life :). We reached finally at our base camp at 3 in the morning. I was shocked seeing an Indian (owner of that Travelodge) coming out of office with whole lot of anger on his face for waking him up 3AM in the morning. Then I realized Indians are every where...even in that small town out of no where in southern Utah deserts. :).

We had to rush to sleep as our main journey starts the next day early in the morning. We got up very early in the morning at 9:00 AM :) after a sequence of 10 to 15 alarm snooze. We rushed to Zion after our nature call activities(hope you know what nature call means). As I was reaching Zion, I was feeling more and more happy to really see that place in person :). As usual we were caught by a big queue at the entrance to get the park entrance pass. Thankfully the park pass was valid for 7 consecutive days; otherwise your whole trip budget will be spent on park passes :). After another 30 minutes of search for parking, we finally parked our vehicle at a 2 hr parking area ;) we dint have any other option. We then rushed into the visitor center to get information and idea about where to start. Even thought we were thru multiple travelogues multiple times, we weren’t sure about where to start. Visitor center representatives also didn’t feed us that much… We had to make our choice fast and we got into the Zion shuttle bus (there is no other means of transportation inside the park). There was a big park map with main visiting spots on the roof from inside the bus and there was a beautiful narration of Zion's history and points to visit. We decided that our first visit will be to Weeping rock, then hidden canyon, and then to Observation point. We decided all this soo quickly without even understanding what we are actually going to do.

We got down from shuttle at Weeping rock stop around 10:50. From there the Weeping rock was just around 1/2 mile with probably the elevation of 1 or 2 degrees. The weeping rock had an alcove structure where the walls were covered with small hanging gardens and the floor with slippery moss and water. Weeping rock as the name says, it was weeping.. there was no sign of where the water is coming from. The water is supposed to be from echo canyon on the top of weeping rock on the way to observation point. You can see in the photo where the water is emerging from a rock there were few hanging gardens. I would like to say; after all the hike, this was the only coolest (in terms of temperature) visiting point in whole of Zion. This point was accessible by wheel chair too. This is one of the most popular trails in Zion as this is easily accessible by family. Even after its accessibility feature it took us almost 45 minutes round trip to reach where we started.

We had our hike warm up in weeping rock, now we were ready for a longer one. We thought to go incremental. Hidden Canyon is just 2.2 miles and might take 3 hrs as per the travelogue, lets do it next. We started the trail and we saw this warning. We did not give any importance, we thought its just to scare the families :). We continued our journey. Each step we took the climb was getting more and more tiresome. The degree of elevation was going up faster than out hiking speed. We started taking rests more often. We had 2 gallon of water bags on our small shoulders and couple of apples and few energy bars. We both were looking at each other and saying in mind: was this ever written on the travelogue? May be... Now we came across a board which had two arrows one towards right which goes to hidden canyon, and one towards left which goes to Observation point. We still had not lost our enthusiasm and energy, lets continue to hidden canyon. One thing we noticed was we just climbed 0.2 miles 2 more miles to go.

Now it was the 800 feet steep climb which was written
on the travelogues, ohhh we thought its already over... The climb was scenic with a zig zag trail and natural tree shades to take rest. Every time we see a plain land we think yes we have finally reached the hidden canyon, but we dint know we have just reached another hidden climb. Even though this climb was never ending it was scenic. We saw a place where once side we had thick chains running across the wall and other side very steep and deep darkness. We never thought miles could be this far. The hike was never ending...Finally we reached a place where it was written "Mouth of Hidden Canyon" and "End of Maintained Trail". Yes you could say we saw end of maintained trail... We walked through the mouth of Hidden Canyon towards nowhere. Some places inside the canyon we really needed to climb big rocks and fallen trees...We were notified on the bus that once you hike you are on your own. Also there were warnings at many places for watch our for mountain lions. Some travelogue I saw it was written "If you see a mountain lion, don't try to run away fight it back.." I hate to add a bit more ".. till death". We were walking calm but fast to not to attract any such lions. Both sides of the trail were covered with scary canyons of 100s of feet high. We were walking on without knowing where the trail ends...Karthik was walking few feet ahead of me and suddenly I heard a very big noise and it sounded like a small blast followed by sliding noises of trees. The canyons were so big that I couldn't see anything above. I tried to run as it was coming towards me...I was running and looking above at the same time and I fell hitting a rock. Something that looked like "crushed" rock fell just couple of feet away. Looked like the rocks missed my head. That gave me the first blood spot inside Zion !!!

After walking for another few minutes, we
saw a natural arch. It looked like the arch emerged from sand and went into sand. There should be a very big rock underneath the river bed holding that arch. We took few photos near arch as souvenirs for the hidden canyon trail. We continued the trail for another 30-40 minutes and we headed back to the trail junction where it had arrows to different trails. Walking down was easier and we reached starting point at 2:15 PM. By that time we were hungry and thirsty. We had two apples, one energy bar and few cups of water. We had to reach the bottom of the mountain by 7:00PM as the last shuttle bus is at 7:30PM. We had another 5 hrs to climb and reach back we thought we can make it and started for one of the toughest and semi-technical hikes in Zion. That was the hike to Observation Point.

The hike was supposed to be 8miles round trip with 5hrs average hiking time. The observation point was 6508 feet above from where we were at. We started with 1 gallon of water with me, 4 8oz-bottle of water with Karthik, 2 apples and 2 energy bar. We were extremely confident about completing this hike and to be back at bottom within 4-5 hrs. The hike started with high sun exposure. The trail was also gaining elevation very quickly. Within 40 minutes of hike we were fully discharged and thirsty. We were so eager to see a shade to take rest and there wasn't any for at least another few minutes. Very soon we reached Echo Canyon with deep and narrow canyons filled with water on one side of the trail and other side with huge walls of canyon naturally carved like sun shades with paved trail. We were so happy and satisfied to see this place after a long time in sun. After resting for about 5 minutes we continued..The shades were now gone with sun more powerful than ever.

Every step we took, we understood that we
have underestimated the hike. The elevation was too much and we were almost out of our water supply. We started taking drops of water instead of a mouthful. We felt like trail is never gonna end and thought of getting some advice from someone. We saw a real techie hiker with all equipments. We asked him, "how much more to go and how many hours do you think it would take?". He said "mmmm, let me check..." he looked at his watch. We thought "ohh he is gonna tell the time!". We were wrong, he was looking at a hiking GPS which was on his watch which tells him at what altitude he is currently at. He then asked us a map of trail, and he showed where we are at... and we were shocked. We were below half of the whole trail. He also said it might take another 2 hrs and it was already 3:30PM...He also gave us a very valid advice after asking us how much supply we have got. When we said we have below one gallon of water for both of us, his first reply was "Better walk down now and reach bottom before your supply is over". We stopped for a second there and the other guy continued his climb down. We looked at each other and after a couple of seconds we both agreed that lets continue as far we can go as we came all the way till here. After 1 or 2 turns in the trail we saw a meaningful board which showed how many miles more to go... Now we knew we were exactly at half way up...only difference was board was saying how many miles to climb down to weeping rock...

We continued for another 1:30 minutes and saw no one on trail. There were few intere
sting natural sand stone formations on the trail... After some more time of hike we saw a person who when we inquired said that he saw only around 12 people on trail and they are all on their way back and no one else is in the observation point as they need to reach down before the last shuttle leaves. He also mentioned that we might need to go for another 40 minutes up to the observation point. We were happy that we have only 40 more minutes to go but at the same time we had a fear of whether we would be able to reach back before shuttle leaves and also we were so much tired. We walked for another 20 minutes till we were fully exhausted. We took a break and I am very sad to say we were no more willing to go up for another 20-30 minutes. We were just 20 minutes away from the real observation point but we had a very nice view very similar to observation point where we took our photos and started climbing down. All the way down we both were sad and happy at the same time. Sad because we missed observation point after climbing for so much and happy because we were climbing down...:). Climbing down was easier for us and we reached down in another 1 hr, just few minutes before the last shuttle. We were extremely happy when we got on to shuttle bus. Karthik had a small nap and I was looking outside watching giant walls of Zion and rewinding my memories of the days hikes....

We took our 30 minute break at the Zion
lodge...and headed back to our base camp at Travelodge... Reached base camp at 8:30 in the night had 3 slices of veg pizza and one can of Monster Java and got on to bed after a cold water bath. My skin was burning due to heavy sun burns. Couldn't sleep for another 1 hr due to the skin burn even though I was so much tiered. Slept at around 11:30PM.... 2 more days to go but no more under estimations...I need to get up early morning and plan for the day.... Good night...

(To be continued... as part of Day 2 - The Angels Landing)

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