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I woke up very early and got going without breakfast. Arriving at the entrance to Zion very early, before anyone was even working at the entrance gate. It was still open so I drove through and cooked up some oatmeal in the empty visitor parking lot. After breakfast I checked again to see if the gate was open and I could pay for my day pass, but it wasn't. So I headed over to the trailhead for Observation Peak. The parking lot was under construction though, so I had to go back about a quarter mile and park at a pull out. I started walking just before dawn.
The initial part of the trail is a series of switchbacks. This is the view out towards Angels Landing from the top of it. You can see one of the switchbacks in the bottom left corner.
Then the trail goes into a canyon. This is looking back through the narrower section.
And starts heading up again. Taking switchbacks and traversing slopes were it needs to. It eventually does another series of switchbacks, before finally traversing around the edge of the canyon to Observation Point.
Observation Point is a beautiful lookout along the canyons rim. To the right you can see Angels Landing.
Requisite gram photo.
Off the trail you can find other little viewpoints, this one gives a great view to the northwest up towards the narrows.
I stayed at the viewpoint for maybe a full hour. Watching the sun come slowly into the canyon. Eventually I felt I had to head down, and start my second hike of the day: Angels Landing. I walked back along the road to my car then tried to find a spot in the parking lot for Angels Landing. It was full (as I had mostly expected), so I went back to the last proper pull out before it. After changing into my approach shoes I headed down to the trail head from there, and then started up the trail.
View of Angels Landing to the left and Observation Point to the right. The trail switchbacks up to the left of Angels Landing, then goes through the Refrigerator Canyon.
After passing through the Refrigerator Canyon it then turns around back south, and goes up Walter's Wiggles. Which is a series of short switchbacks that have been man made up this rock face.
Once up that I was at Scout Lookout, and had to start out on the exposed portion of the route. I wolfed down some chocolate for sugar induced bravery, and off I went. I was nervous because I'd seen some pictures/videos of the exposure while researching this trip. As usual, they'd made it all look much harder than it was though. In reality once I'd calmed down, it was quite easy.
There were enough people around, I could occasionally get someone to take a photo of me.
The final section to the summit looked horribly steep, but was also easy in reality. The trail taking a path of least resistance including some switchbacks where it made sense in the terrain. The narrow section with the step like rocks I always saw in photos/videos is in-between where I am and the final climb. But even then the exposure isn't too bad, and there is usually the chain to help you.
A tree growing on the route.
Another photo opportunity. There were quite a few people around, but there were actually a lot of spots to let people pass you so it wasn't difficult to manage. I wouldn't have wanted it to be super crowded like I'd seen pictures, though.
The final section.
To get here after climbing up the final section, there was quite a bit of a traverse of the summit block to the viewpoint. Pictured is the view south down the valley from the summit.
View north down the valley from the summit.
Gram shot again.
View down the valley from the top of the first switchbacks. I got down quite fast, and then drove to the end of the road to check it out. I saw some rock climbers on the way back.
Then I headed over to the semi-famous bridge at the start of the road, to watch the sunset on the Watchtower. Take photographs, and hanging out with the actual photographers.
Initially the light painted the mountain red. A lot of people got out of cars and stopped to take a photo at this point, then leaving right away. Since I had nothing to do but eat dinner and go back to my camping "spot" (which of course I didn't leave anything at) in the Dixie National Forest, I stayed around with the few actual photographers waiting for sunset.
And here is my not so good sunset photo. You need a proper tripod, a fancier camera, and knowledge of using long exposures etc, to get the photos you see all the time on instagram / the internet. However it was still nice to talk to people again.
Eventually I left and headed out of the park. The gate was not staffed again, so I still couldn't pay. I'd stopped at the visitor center before the gate, but it was closed as well. I dropped off some recycling in the bin at the parking lot. Its rare to find those on a road trip so I had to use the opportunity I got. Then I decided to go out for food again, and headed over to the Zion Brew Pub for dinner. Which was great. Sorry Zion National Park, but if you don't have staff at the entrance gate except for the shortest period of time in off season, then the brew pub gets my $30 instead. I would have paid if I could. I wasn't trying to cheap out. I do believe in park fees to pay for roads, parking lots, washrooms, trails, and staff. However they just didn't let me pay within my schedule. Which I had carefully planned out to get the most out of the park I could, on my one day there.
After dinner I drove back to the forest, and got into bed. Thinking that the first three of four times I'd set up my "home" in the back of the SUV; including the blanket to block myself from the front window, and all the Reflectix / black fabric window covers, unpacking the sleeping bag again (which I hide during the day under other stuff because its expensive), it was fun. Sort of like building a fort in your car. Or rather, really like building a fort since it does include blankets strung up between chairs: the chairs being the front seats of the SUV. But after a while, it had grown into more of a tedious chore for sore arms at the end of a long day. How I long for a van. However it was still fun in a way, and of course still completely worth it.
Day 8 - December 1 (Friday)
I woke up at 6:30am and started off without making breakfast. Thinking that I would stop and brew coffee after the sun came up, and it was a bit warmer. I eventually ended up just buying one when I got gas two hours later. Eating apple sauce and cheese sticks for breakfast. I continued driving through the horrors of Salt Lake Cit and its endlessness. Taking a break part way through and going to the REI. Looking around at a bunch of guidebooks, but I didn't buy anything. I continued onto Idaho and turned off the I-15 to get onto the 93, passing Borah Peak. The highest peak in Idaho. I have to go back here and climb it when its dry. While there are a lot of mountains that look super easy in the area to climb in the current conditions, Borah Peak would need to be dry for me to attempt it.
Not a photo of Borah Peak, but just some mountains along the side of the road. It was quite the lovely area.
Eventually I got to my destination of the day: Challis Hot Springs. Though commercial; the water is completely natural, and continually cycling through the rocks at the bottom of the pools. So its super clean and clear. There are two pools: a large warm pool and a hotter smaller pool. They both have fences around them. Which isn't just for privacy but also to block the wind, I would think. It was extremely uncrowded. I sat around in the large pool talking to one other couple for about an hour, and we were the only people in the pool. Just before they left a man and his son joined us, but they also left soon afterwards and I had the entire place to myself for over an hour. The smaller pool I had to myself everytime I went over there. The owner is the nicest woman ever. I hadn't planned to stay; meaning to drive into the forest and free camp there, but ended up doing so. I cannot recommend this place enough. It doesn't have that typical feel commercial pools do of cement, uncleanliness, and overcrowding. It was really quite lovely.
This is the larger pool. It has a bit of view of the surrounding hills.
Eventually I had to get out and make dinner, I parked near the washrooms and went to bed very soon after dinner.
I woke up around 4am again, cold. A humidity problem once again, for sure. This time I just burrowed further into my sleeping bag and tried to sit it out. I could have put on some more layers, but wasn't cold enough to overcome my laziness. It basically worked and I got some more sleep before finally getting up after sunrise.
I ate my breakfast and drove up to find Goldbug Hot Springs. A super popular natural hot springs. And for good reason. The views from the pools are amazing, and the various different sized pools make the springs very interesting to begin with. It is a short hike to get in (starting across private land) of 5.8km and 300m.
When I arrived at the parking lot it was crazy full. Which made me wonder if I shouldn't bother, and instead should try to go somewhere else. A group of two couples walked by and we talked a bit, during which they convinced me it was still worth it. I'm very glad they did. I probably would have gone anyway, but I felt better about it after I talked to them. And they were right. Just as we got to the springs a large group was leaving, and there was plenty of room for everyone left in the pools. Most people only stayed less than an hour, so though a lot of people came and went there wasn't any overcrowding.
The hike in was easy and you get this interesting view of where you are going for some of it. It was short and the trail was easy to follow.
Here is the photo your supposed to take in the springs. As you can see, the view down the valley is great. There are various pools on different levels, of different temperatures. Some have little waterfalls as well. Most pools are a bit shallow, but otherwise the only problem is the amount of people that come here.
I spent some time in the large cooler pool, but eventually moved up to this smaller hotter pool. Hot water came in around one corner and cold water another, letting you sort of move around and pick another temperature if you got too hot or cold. You couldn't feel the water circulating though so it wasn't distracting.
I also took quite a few photos of course. I can't help it now. I took this one because, as a peakbagger and a scrambler, that ridge is so much more interesting to look at than the rounded hill to the left. Even if the view down the valley isn't as good from this spot.
Eventually it became obvious that there would be no sunset, only a slow fading of the light into the ever increasing cloud cover. I also didn't really want to hike out in the dark. Preferring to have time to find another spring, or find the brew pub in Salmon an older couple recommended to everyone, with the last of the daylight instead. I couldn't find the motivation to leave though, until it became obvious that a whole new set of people were coming up and there was quite a lot of them. The evening crowd. I got out, changed, and headed down. Sure enough even more people were coming up, it was about to get crowded. I had picked a good time to leave.
Photo of part of the river on the drive between Elk Bend and Salmon, which I found really pretty. It would have been a better photo if I could have been bothered to get down to the river level and get those rocks in it properly. But I was getting hungry.
I found the brew pub; Bertrams Brewery, and got a sampler of their beers and a burger, which was great. Then I headed over to Sharkey Hot Springs. It was dark by then, so I did not take any photos. You'll have to follow the link to see the hot springs. They are two cement soaking tubs with continually cycling water (which is actually quite loud), washrooms, heated change rooms, and a fire pit. It was pretty busy with people coming and going. I stayed there quite a while, and the same two couples from Goldbug showed up at one point, and we talked some more. It was nice to be able to drink beer right in the tub (and even go back to the car for more when you ran out), so I stayed quite a while planning on sleeping extremely close by. The two couples left, and eventually I left as well about half an hour later.
I was pretty tired at that point, and I'd already drank a bit (but wasn't actually drunk), so I only drove back the ~100 meters to the last intersection on the gravel road, and headed up the other way. Less than ~200 meters down that, at the very first pull out spot I parked and set everything up. Halfway through I realized you could see this spot from the road to Sharkey, because there was no intervening hills or trees. I figured it would still be fine, mostly because I was too tired to have the motivation to go elsewhere, and went to bed.
Day 10 - December 3 (Sunday)
I woke up at ~1:30am to lights and voices. I was on my side but fully stretched out at this point, which meant my feet where against the trunk. I felt the distinct feeling that someone was trying to open the trunk using the handle. When it didn't open, they walked away and I could see more lights flashing from the small opening around the edge of the blanket. Which was coming from the front window I always left uncovered. Then nothing.
Slightly scared; not knowing if I was hallucinating or if that had been real, I slowly got up. Pulled down the blanket and crawled into the front seat, without unlocking any of the doors. Then without pulling anything more than the drivers seat side window cover off, I started the car and drove away. Finding no other vehicles in the pull out, or on the road. I drove straight back to the secondary highway, where I had calmed down and pulled off the remaining window covers. Then drove down that road for about 12 minutes, until I got to an official campground just off the highway. Feeling that the criminals of opportunity shouldn't be in this area, or might be scared off by the road being so nearby, I decided it was good enough. I pulled in and though it was clearly a pay campground in the summer, there was no one around so it was free in off season. I parked near the washrooms, re-set up, and went back to sleep.
Waking up in the morning, I was more sure it was true than I had been at first. Instead of the incident coming out of my post-drinking grogginess imagination. My mistake: parking too close to something popular, but far enough away from civilization. If I'd driven farther down that road into the public land, I would have most likely been fine. Just like I'd been fine every other time I'd slept in my car on this trip. Thankfully they weren't the type of criminals to actually smash windows. I don't think they knew I was in the car. Obviously they couldn't see me. Most of my Reflectix window covers where glued quite well to the black fabric, meaning you cant see anything but black looking at them. A few are a bit sloppy and have obvious glue lines, which you can see. Either way there was no way they could see me from any point around the perimeter of the car. Only a blanket would be visible from the front and a lot of junk. They were probably thinking it was an unoccupied parked car from someone hunting or camping elsewhere. They were clearly hoping it was unlocked, so they could easily steal some shit. I'm not sure what they would have done had it opened and they'd seen me. But it did make me think that I should have a knife near me just in case.
I would like to point out though, that in no way does this incident make me feel like I shouldn't have been using this sleeping arrangement. Only that I shouldn't make poor choices on where to park. I'd known when I could see the road to Sharkey from the pullout it wasn't a spot I'd pick if I'd had a choice. I'd just let myself get into a state that I didn't really have a choice. Driving under the influence being something you should never do (the 300 meters along abandoned dirt road to get to the pull out being a necessary tiny bit of evil to get away from the constant Sharkey traffic in and out of the pool). Had I been able to, I would definitely have chosen a spot this would not have happened at.
Here is my best photo of my setup. The window covers only have the black fabric on the outside, while the Reflectix goes on the inside. It probably increases the heat of the car by 0.001 degree Celcius, because your supposed to have an air buffer between the material and the outside surface your protecting yourself from. But the Reflectix makes a fantastic window material for another reason beyond its improperly used ability to reflect heat: it is just the right rigidity for the purpose. It is just rigid enough to stay in the window and keep its form, but not too rigid you cannot shove it around in the window edges and bend its edges to fit parts that are cut slightly too big. Really its quite perfect, I'm so glad I found this stuff when I searched 'how to cover your car windows' on google. A lot of people used spray paint, but that's just lazy in my opinion. The fabric will last longer and won't make a mess as it wears out.
I woke up in sort of the eye of a snowstorm, but didn't realize it at the time. Dark clouds to the south and west, but none to the north. I decided to take the "back way" to get to the I-15 as it would save many kilometers of travel and time. So I went north up the 29 until it became the 324 east, which took me to the highway. It was a bit rough going but the snow wasn't too deep so I didn't really think I'd get stuck.
On the I-15 I made great progress for only a short bit, then hit the snowstorm I'd though was only west of me. From about Dillion to Butte I was driving through a full on storm and conditions were terrible. I passed a jack-knifed semi-truck and a little car in the ditch. I feared that if it was like that for too long, and I could only go 60 to 80km/h, I'd never make it back to Calgary that day. Instead I'd be forced to continue driving overnight, have to take a nap, and only make it back to Calgary in time for work.
However after Butte it cleared up slowly, until after the interesting canyon like section I could finally get back to proper speed. The border was uneventful, the officer letting me through with my collection of beers you cannot buy in Canada. Then it was just the long drive back to Calgary. Somewhere around Nanton I realized I'd only eaten chips and cashew butter on crackers all day. It was far too late to fix that, so I continued on. It was surprisingly good to see Calgary again.
In total I drove 5387km on this trip (I have two odometers I can reset to track the whole trip on one, and short distances to find things on the other). I know 4 days of driving to 6 days of hiking is a poor ratio, but that was the best I could do with my allowed time off. It felt like I was gone a lot longer, something which didn't happen quite as much on previous road trips. Perhaps because I was alone, or because of the bum lifestyle, but it felt like I'd been gone two or even three weeks not 10 days. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and will definitely be doing more trips like this! To everyone who said it was a bad idea, it was not. To everyone who said it was a great idea (two adventurous badass women of course), thanks for the support!