Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chinle Trail - Zion National Park, Utah - Backpacking

Hunter, Col, and I spent Presidents' Day weekend in Southern Utah searching for some early springtime weather. We decided to head down to Snow Canyon State Park, just outside St. George, on Thursday night to position us for two full days of backpacking in Zion National Park.

Snow Canyon is a great place to camp during the winter because it almost never snows there and the temperatures are milder than the rest of the state. The campground has some great tent spots if you avoid the RV section on the south end. We had a nice spot surrounded by trees and beautiful red rock.

Col and Hunter at our camping spot in Snow Canyon

We arrived late so we planned to make a nice campfire and enjoy some beers before bed. Unfortunately, we had fireproof wood that refused to burn, so we settled for a few brief paper fires and a couple of beers before calling it a night. My zero degree sleeping bag was perfect, but Hunter and Col had a chilly first night.

The next morning we did a few quick hikes around Snow Canyon to see some of the highlights. The color contrasts are great with red rock, white rock, and black lava rock. A few pockets of water made for some great photos.

Me in Snow Canyon - one of my favorite places in Utah

Hunter explains the complex geology of Snow Canyon

Snow Canyon

Petrified sand dunes in Snow Canyon

Snow Canyon

We headed to Zion National Park to pick up our backcountry permit on Friday morning and headed into the backcountry on a sunny, beautiful day for hiking. We decided to do the Chinle Trail in the Southwest Desert section of Zion because it is at the lowest elevation and would be the warmest area of the park. Most of Zion backcountry involves water hikes or trails on the canyon rim - far too cold and snowy this time of year. The Chinle Trail crossed through open fields, along beautiful washes, and over areas of petrified wood. It was also very, very muddy.

Southwest desert section of Zion

Petrified wood along the Chinle Trail

It's officially a death march!

Col and Hunter

Me on the Chinle Trail

We arrived at our backcountry site near Scoggins Wash around sunset and quickly set up our tents and made some dinner. The views were amazing.

The view from our backcountry camping spot

Col and Hunter setting up their tent

My tent

This was my first winter backcountry camping experience. I have done lots of winter camping, but always in developed campgrounds where we could have fires. The nights are long on cold with no campfire, but we huddled in Col and Hunter's tent and played some Phase 10 before it was time to call it a night. Col claimed he would "never know warm again" and decided the scorching heat of July backpacking is more pleasant than frigid winter backpacking.

Keeping warm

Hunter is a sore Phase 10 loser

Col loving some winter camping

My favorite part of the trip was waking up on Saturday morning to clear blue skies, warm sunshine, and the sounds of ice melting and dripping off my tent. It was very peaceful and the views of the red and white rock cliffs we amazing from my tent. Eventually I crawled out of my sleeping bag and sunned myself on a rock, enjoying the quiet solitude and stunning scenery. We had planned to camp two nights at this spot, but we decided the hike would be too long on the way out for Sunday and it would be better to spend the last night in the campground in Zion National Park .. with a campfire and beer. We spent the morning enjoying the backcountry views before packing up and heading back out to the main Zion Canyon. Upon our arrival in Springdale, Col had many, many margaritas at a tasty Mexican restaurant and finally knew warmth again. We had a lot of fun camping the last night - finally a great fire and lots of beer.

We spent Sunday morning enjoying the main canyon of Zion National Park before heading to St. George to meet some of Hunter's friends for more delicious Mexican food. Late winter is a great time to visit Zion - very few tourists and none of that theme-park feeling.

Spring has sprung in Zion

Thermal pools

Main Zion Canyon

Zion Canyon