Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Zion National Park's Obervation Point Trail / East Rim Trail

The Observation Point / East Rim Trail (7 miles round-trip) is one of Zion's most spectacular (and strenuous) hikes. Built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this trail is literally carved out of the rock walls of the canyon. It climbs steeply from the canyon floor up through the enchanting Echo Canyon before joining the East Rim Trail up high on the desert rim. The route offers hikers outstanding views back down Zion Canyon from Observation Point, a vista you won't soon forget. Though similar in length, Observation Point is higher than Angel's Landing, and is far less busy.

The trail is easily accessible via the park service shuttle bus service running through the park. If you're camping at South or Watchman Campgrounds near the park entrance, just hop on the bus and ride it up canyon to the Weeping Rock stop. That's where the real work (and fun) begins. Expect to get some serious exercise in the first three miles, as the trail gains about 2,000 vertical feet. The paved track winds through wildly striated sandstone formations carved by the erosive power of water and wind. You'll see sagebrush lizards, Indian Paintbrush wildflowers, and short, dramatic slot canyons on your way to the top. After three miles of climbing the trail joins the East Rim trail for a half mile to Observation Point. This flat rim-edge section offers stellar views down into the Zion Canyon. Enjoy the vistas and rest your knees for the jarring descent back to the canyon floor.

Bring plenty of water and food for this day hike. It can be hot this time of year, and cold if there are thundershowers. You'll also be happy if you take a camera with you, in my opinion there isn't a better spot to capture Zion Canyon in the park. Expect to spend at least five hours on the trail, if not more.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lone Peak Cirque: A Perfect 10

I was lucky enough to spend the past two days backpacking and rock climbing up high in the Wasatch Mountains at Lone Peak Cirque. The place is spectacular! And getting there will kick your butt. There's no way around it, you pay the price to reach Lone Peak, but once you're there, it's worth it.
My friend Kelley Paasch (above on the approach hiking through the first Hammongog) and I climbed two different routes on the gray alpine granite walls that rise around the cirque. First, we climbed the Lowe Route (5.8) on the Question Mark Wall and then the next day tackled the Middle Route (5.9) on Tom's Thumb, a 500 foot tower that climbs up the very heart of the Lone Peak's South Summit. The climbing was stellar and the views from on top of the walls were almost equally impressive. Can't say I've climbed better routes...anywhere.

The camping was awesome as well. This is one camp spot that earns a perfect 10 for scenery in my eyes. A soft green meadow surrounded by stark, soaring walls rimmed with lingering snowfields. Little yellow wildflowers added a touch of color to the lush meadow floor and pikas squeaked from beneath the car-sized boulders.

This is one of those spots I'd rather not write-up for fear that too many people knowing about it might wreck its solitary, isolated character. But as Kelley and I decided after our second climb, the place is just too hard to get to ever get really crowded. There are three different trails to reach Lone Peak Cirque and they're all brutal. We took the route up from Alpine, which is a climber's trail if I've ever seen one. Straight up for about 5,000 vertical feet. Lone Peak Cirque's elevation is 10,412 feet and the parking area in the town of Alpine is about 4,951 feet. So be ready to get a workout.

There's lots more info about the cirque in Stuart and Bret Ruckman's Rock Climbing the Wasatch Range. You can also find details about Lone Peak, climbing routes, approach info, etc online at Mountain Project.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Utah is going Bear Crazy!

Another bear was killed in Utah on Wednesday when a Garfield County resident perceived the animal as a threat. That's the sixth bear that's been illegally killed without a permit in Utah this year. Here's the complete story in the Salt Lake Tribune. Its understandable that people are nervous around bears after the incident two summers ago in American Fork Canyon. On June 18th, 2007 a boy who was camping with his family was dragged from his tent and then mauled to death by a black bear. It was the first fatal bear attack in Utah's history. While the incident has everyone on edge, people need to understand that it's not okay to kill bears when they encounter them in the wild. Biologists are not certain what Utah's bear population is, but they estimate it's between 3,000 and 4,000 animals. That's a small bear population, especially for a state with so much wild land.

What should be done then if you encounter a bear? First off, consider yourself lucky! It's rare to see a bear in Utah, and you should be excited to see one in it's natural environment. Second, give the bear plenty of room. Bears are wild animals and their actions are difficult to predict. Black bears are not typically aggressive, so your first reaction shouldn't necessarily be fear. If the bear feels threatened, or feels it needs to protect its cubs, it may react aggressively, but usually black bears are very mellow, calm animals. Bears should be naturally afraid of humans. When they lose this natural fear is when problems occur. Finally report the bear to the local authority, especially if its hanging around an area close to humans. Leave it to the experts. It's not your place to take care of the problem.

If you're camping, be aware that your actions as a camper can have both a positive or negative effect on bears. Camping in bear country carries with it a responsibility. Leaving food and garbage out in camp can attract bears. Bears have a keen sense of smell and can smell food from miles away. Use bear boxes if they're provided and don't leave any food out around camp. Never eat or store food in your tent. Absolutely never feed bears. When bears gain access to human food, it hurts the bears and creates a potentially dangerous situation. Human food is far more nutritious than bear's natural diet. Once bears start eating human food, they'll go to great lengths to continue. Because relocation efforts are largely unsuccessful, bears that start eating human food usually end up being killed. As the old adage goes, "A fed bear is a dead bear." In developed campgrounds use provided bearproof lockers and in the backcountry carry bear canisters or effectively hang your food.