My final trip of 2014 was Zion National Park in Utah. It's hard to believe this region of stunning landscapes is only a meager six hour drive from Los Angeles. This time around my entire core group of friends managed to make the trip, something that's quite rare and hadn't happened since our trip up San Gorgonio in 2013. With memories of Big Sur still fresh in our minds, Jeff Zach and I were joined by our friends Dominic and James in what we all hoped would be an equally amazing trip. The vast majority of people visit Zion during the summer where crowds and heat can detract from the experience. In winter, the park has far fewer visitors and crowds are virtually non existent. While summer's greenery has been replaced with dead and leafless foliage, the snow dusted mountain tops and moody cloud cover more than make up for it. One disappointment was the low water level that resulted in less than spectacular waterfalls and reflecting pools. We had originally planned a day of short hikes then a backpacking trip up the west rim trail but unforeseen events cut the trip short. We still managed to get two days of incredible hiding in and an abundance of memorable moments.
We arrived in Zion at night so we went directly to the campground and pitched our tents. December nights are a bit nippy, but we were all, and probably for the first time ever, more or less prepared. Firewood was bought and we quickly had a fire going to keep the chill at bay. After we had a fine freeze dried dinner we got some sleep ready for what tomorrow would bring. I woke before dawn, something that almost never happens and managed to get some great shots of the fog and clouds rolling over freshly dusted mountain tops. A short while later we headed out for a full day of hiking. Our first stop was the entrance to the narrows. I had previously tried to convince the group to rent cold water gear and hike the narrows, it was not a popular suggestion. We hiked along the river bank as far as we could without having to enter the icy waters, taking note of the sheer cliffs rising up on all sides and the unearthly turquoise hue of the river. We took our first group photograph here and we look like a pretty awesome boy band. Our next stop was Hidden Canyon where we got to see a baby free standing arch and enjoy a little rock scrambling as we made our way deeper into the canyon. By the time we had made it back to the car sunset was drawing close so we quickly made our way to the emerald pools. This is one attraction that is pretty lackluster in winter. The pools were nearly empty and everything was a little blah looking. A tad disappointed, we headed back to scrounge up some dinner. Zion National Park actually has it's own "giant screen" movie theater and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies just happened to be playing at the time, giving us the perfect way to spend the rest of our evening.
The next morning, we woke up early, broke down camp and made our way over to Angels Landing before the sun had risen. Walters wiggles live on in infamy to this day but with a little sweat and toil we climbed our way up the switchbacks. At the end of the switch backs, before the chains, we mistakingly thought we had reached the end of our journey. Standing there, the narrow strip of rock that is Angels landing perfectly blended into the background cliffs, giving us the elusion of completion. After a moment or two of taking in the sights, we realized our folly and continued atop the narrow precipice. The following section is about as sketchy as it gets. There are multiple points where there is enough room for your feet and then everything abruptly drops more than a thousand feet. The reward for scampering along the razors edge is a view that makes the near death moment you had just moments ago melt away. It being winter and early in the morning, we had it all to ourselves and were able to fully enjoy the beauty and solitude of this desert temple to natures splendor. Zion maybe be close by but it might as well be another world. The bold landscape is riddled with sheer cliffs and gorgeous colors. Take a long weekend and make the drive, you won't be disappointed.