Posted by: Alex MacGregor | December 9, 2017

A Winter Wonderland: Zion NP

Among East Coasters, Zion has a lower profile than national parks like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Lots of people aren’t really sure of what it’s all about; I’ve talked to some people who have said they’ve never heard of it! I admit my knowledge of the place was shaky at best until my sister passed through on a road trip a few years prior. She said it was amazing–among the best places she’s been–and it would be a cool place to meet up between her home in Seattle and mine in Atlanta.

In January 2016, we finally had a chance to meet up. Maybe not ideal timing from a weather perspective, but whatever: we’ll make it work.

Plane1

Flying over the mountains into Las Vegas, things definitely started to look more wintry than I was expecting.

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Using a combination of the flight tracker and Google Earth over plane wifi, I was able to scout Zion from the sky! And wintry it was. The big reason winter is low season is the cold temperatures and rain; snow actually isn’t super common in Zion, or so I read, except at the highest elevations. My cold weather wardrobe, after years of atrophy and attrition from living in Atlanta and traveling mainly in the tropics, was going to be pushed to its limit.

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We pulled into Springdale, Utah, after the 2-plus hour drive in from Vegas. At least there’s one big perk of off-season travel: we stayed right in the middle of town! The town sits right at the gate of the park, and is easily the preferred spot for visiting the park. Price soar in the summer, but in the winter we had the pick of the town for a reasonable price. In summer, we’d definitely have been forced to stay 45 minutes out of the park.

Springdale1

After asking around town just a bit, we learned we should visit an outfitters shop before trying to hike. Zion was blanketed in a couple feet of snow and ice–the park rangers warned us against doing much of anything. Well, sorry, but I’ve done plenty of possibly inadvisable things before; tackling a snowbound Zion was going to become another one.

Crampons

We did get crampons, which are well worth the minor hassle of putting on and the rental cost. These things were lifesavers.

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As we made our way into the park the first morning, snow dominated the scene, and we were beginning to get pretty concerned that this might not be the best idea.

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But we figured, hell, you only live once, and we set off on the trail to Angel’s Landing–Zion’s famously queasy mountaintop trek.

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An hour or so into the hike, I wanted to hug the person who invented crampons. Some people didn’t have them–those people were reduced to tottering helplessly on the side of the mountain. Best money I ever spent.

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Starting to get some elevation under our belts!

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As we reached the crest of the mountain–and the spot where the path down the spine of rock leading to Angel’s Landing begins–the sky even started to clear!

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Not the most encouraging sign I’ve ever seen. Not pictured is a Park Ranger standing next to the sign whose sole goal is to convince people not to push on.

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So what did we do? Well, stopped for one last sibling photo-op before we disregarded this advice and continued on to our possible deaths.

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Okay, honestly, this was more of a “wait and see” approach to Angel’s Landing. We soon realized it was going to be pretty uncomfortable to climb. Repeated warnings have their effects, even for me. Others were pushing forth, but more were turning back, and we opted to be part of the latter crowd.

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And besides that, there’s conveniently a gorgeous trail along the plateau, presumably built as a consolation for people who chicken out on Angel’s Landing (I’ll maintain to my death it was the snow, and not the trail that made us turn back!).

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The trail was far from a disappointment. Some of the most gorgeous hiking I’ve ever done in my life: a fresh blanket of snow, sweeping views, and enough sun that I eventually just hiked in my t-shirt.

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By the way, this is about to just be a roll of photos from this hike, so if you read this blog for the lighthearted commentary rather than for the pretty pictures, feel free to scroll through this. (Thanks for allowing me to indulge the notion that people read this blog for anything but the pictures!)

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As if the deal needed to get any sweeter, fauna!

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Adorable.

This was serious winter wonderland territory. By the end of the hike, we realized we pretty much just won the weather lottery by visiting Zion this day. After getting this lucky, surely I was in for months of terrible travel weather, if not years. That’s how it works, right?

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Responses

  1. Alex thank you so much for that post!

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


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