April 28, 2011

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We woke up on our second day exhausted after tossing and turning through the night while trying to stay warm in our sleeping bags.  The temperature dropped well below freezing but luckily it wasn’t windy, snowy or rainy.  We were headed on a 10 mile hike to Deer Trap Mountain, a view point that would give us a spectacular first view of Zion Canyon.  We had already packed our bags the night before, so we were able to hit the trail before the sun hit our tent.  The muddy trail was frozen which made it easy to traverse but we knew the hike back would be difficult.

The first part of the trail was 1.7 miles climbing 500 feet to about 6,800 feet.  At this point the sun was over head and the mud was beginning to thaw.  As we were walking down the trail we looked down and saw paw prints.  There was also some shoe prints so we assumed it was a dog, but then thought, dogs weren’t allowed on the trail.  Then we started to think if it was a dog it would have claws but these prints didn’t have claw points at the end.  Then we realized it must be a mountain lion.

Mountain Lion Tracks- Walking

Honestly the prints were smaller than I expected (only about 2 inches across), so it probably was a young cat.  But when you’re miles from any other human, mountain lion tracks of any size are not a friendly sight.  We knew mountain lions might be in the area, but sightings are very rare. Still, we were uneasy as we hiked to Deer “Trap” Mountain.

The trail took us through many different habitats we hiked up muddy creeks, through pine groves, across sand, snow, and between burned out trees.  When hiking through the burned out forest we came across what I believe to be termite mounds.

Thought to be Termite Mounds

We also saw mud trails in the shape of branches which I believe are digested deadwood from the termites.  Of course these are just guesses and stories we made up while we walked but could be true.  We also passed a deer leg… yes just the leg and it still had some flesh on it.  We also came up with some creative stories about its demise, mainly involving the mountain lion.

Soon we could see the edge of Zion Canyon and we knew we were almost there.

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As we got closer to the canyon rim, the mountain lion tracks changed from a walk to a run.  We could tell the tracks were fresh since the fine sand would have buried them with a slight breeze.

Mountain Lion Tracks- Running

At one point the tracks went one way and the trail went the other way, and that was the last we saw of the tracks or any sign of the cat.

Although we didn’t forget about the possibility of encountering the animal, we were distracted by the incredible view.  We were standing over 2,000 feet above the canyon floor looking across at massive rust colored sandstone walls.  Most people’s first view of the park is from the canyon floor looking up from a car window.  Instead, since we approached the canyon from the backside, our first view was hard-earned and unobstructed, allowing us to see the entire expanse at once.

Stitched Panorama from Katharine’s Olympus ISO 64, 7.57mm, f/4.3, 1/500 sec

Along with the amazing views were treacherous trails that came within a couple feet of the shear cliff.  We hiked a long the rim for a half mile to a final point and sat on the rocks looking toward The Great White Throne and Angels Landing.  We had lunch and looked at the map trying to identify different rock formations.

To Our Left: The Virgin River Exiting the Canyon

To Our Right: Angels Landing which we would hike 2 days later

Angels Landing is a rock formation in the middle of the canyon that doesn’t quite rise to the top rim but we’ll talk more about that on day 4.  After lunch we headed back to camp.

Burned Forest

Waiting for the Water to Boil

Freeze Dried Meals! Yum

It’s actually amazing how good they taste although hiking 10 miles does help ones appetite.

After dinner we watched the sunset and I tried to capture the glowing sage brush in the valley near our tent.

Canon 40D, ISO 100, 28-135 mm, f/5.6, 1/80 seconds

We then prepared for another night below freezing but were excited to hike down to the canyon floor on day 3.

Trip Stats (Running Total, 2 days): 15.5 miles, 2,200 feet of elevation, 217 photos

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