I'm still uploading photos & adding text, so give me some time!
I went to Zion National Park with my brother Rich and his son Devin for a ~5 day trip. We did a mix of day and overnight trips. Although Zion is a beautiful canyon, it isn't really a backpacker sort of place. We spent the first 2 days exploring the town of Springdale, the main canyon, and the east side of the park. It was spring break in Utah so there were lots of young families out hiking. The Spring season had started so the shuttle system was running, which were very convenient and stopped every 5-6 minutes.
I had been to the park in February, when it was virtually empty. http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=43303&skip_to_post=374070#374070
We walked along the Virgin River at the northern end of the park by the Temple of Sinawava. Previous hikers had created a cairn city from the multi-color river rock. The river was running high due to melting snow along the rim.
We hiked up to Angels Landing. I was impressed with the number of elementary age kids that were going up the switchbacks. There were sooo many German and Asian tourists.
Rich opted not to continue past Scouts Lookout, so Devin & I headed out.
We headed back down to the valley among increasing foot traffic. Not sure how people handle this in the summer during peak tourist season. Tourists are like hypocrites...we all hate them, we have all been one, but no one (me included) admits to being one.
After talking with the ranger, we decided not to do the West Rim Trail, so we drove over to the east side of the park to scout our the area. I had not been through the tunnels on my last trip, so I was blown away by the landscape on that side. This area is just on the other side of the tunnel ,but it has a very different look. There are still high mountains, but everything is closer in and there are more interesting shapes and colors.
The Checkerboard Mesa is the main landmark on the east side, but there are many other cool spots.
The dropoff option wasn't going to work so we decided to start a in-and-out hike the next afternoon. We parked at the East Rim trailhead that is behind the east park entrance. We transferred the backcounrty reservation we had and found out that there were no specific campsites as long as we were a certain distance from the rim. We saw two guys finishing a run and talked to another guy halfway to our campsite. Definitely a big change from the busy Zion Valley.
The trail is a sandy old road that is easy to follow. It starts out in Clear Creek Canyon with some nice views along the way. We had GREAT hiking temps, with a nice breeze and no bugs.
We got some nice views back along Clear Creek.
img src="/backpackinglight/user_uploads/1306097127_43544.jpg" alt="Checkerboard Mesa (on left) and White Cliffs" width="550" height="413">
We ended up camping at the canyon north of the mesa just to the right of Checkerboard Mesa. They looked pretty similar, so got confused originally. Regardless, it was a great view.
The trail proceeded uphill around Jolley Gulch, with nice views down into the Gulch. We worked up the right side of the gulch, crossed over the creek/waterfall, and around the leftside.
The trail was nice & sandy with no snow or mud. Other than the runners, we only one other person that was hiking out. He had also noticed the cougar pawprint, and thought it was a "small" cat.
We got into patches of snow on the northern exposures when we got to ~6500'. I stopped to pack some snow to cool the "Ang-a-Rita mix I had brought (margarita recipe courtesy of fellow BPLer Angelo Pisano from Arizona). As I previously mentioned, we found a nice spot about 3.5 miles in at the head of a canyon looking down towards Checkerboard Mesa's twin.
He had previously puchased a Refuge from Six Moons Design, but had used it so Devin borrowed it, and has been using it for his climbing trips. I hadn't realized that these guys had gone lightweight.
I walked around a bit to explore. There were some good sized trees and lots of deer droppings...I think I understand why there is a cougar around here.
The Ponderosa Resort was just off in the distance, and offers rides to trailheads since there aren't so many loops. Unfortunately, when we stopped there the day before, they told us that the roads were too muddy to get through, but I have to say that I was very happy with the hie we ended up with.
I decided to just use my Oware bivy and Jacks R Better quilt, which kept me warm during the ~38F night.
We packed up the next morning, with Rich heading back to the car and Devin & I heading west toward the canyon on the East Rim Trail (4.8 miles). We quickly got away from the pretty views and got into muddier trails and some old forest fires on the plateau. Stave Spring is in a slight depression, where the water drains down toward Zion Canyon. It's always amazing to me how mundane a creek can look prior to plummeting over a precipice and through colorful, carved sandstone.