The Zion traverse is a 48 mile run across Zion National Park and it has become a popular destination in the last few years for ultra runners that want to test their skills in some of the most scenic and difficult terrain in Utah. Last year our crew attempted the traverse, but we were forced to bail out after about 20 miles due to heavy rain and snow. This year we got our revenge and there was a twist- Craig would be doing the first ever double traverse. There are several things that make this run challenging. There is significant elevation gain and the climbs are steep and tough. Of the 48 miles I would say at least half of them are on technical trails. Some are rocky and rugged and there is several miles of beach sand that is almost impossible to run in. There are also several rivers and streams to cross as well.
We spent the night in Cedar City in a quaint little place with character... ok really it was a dive, but we weren't there for 5 star amenities we were there to tackle the traverse and a positive- I got to share a bed with MattVH. I enjoyed it. I actually slept better than I thought I would, but I still only got about 5 hours of sleep and since I had been traveling for work all week I didn't have a lot of sleep in the bank, but that didn't matter, once the alarm went off my adrenaline kicked in and I knew I would be fine.
Craig, MattW and Josh started at the Kolob (west) entrance at just after 6:00 am on Friday. MattVH and I would drive the car around to the Hop Valley trailhead where we would meet them at mile 13. After getting gas and a bite to eat we were at the trailhead about 25 minutes before Jun showed up. We ran down the trail a few hundred yards to see if we could see them and soon Craig approached looking strong. I took his camera to snap a few pictures and while trying to run, turnaround and get a good picture at the same time I tripped into a pile of soft sand and also a cactus. I got sand in the camera and it was out of commission for the rest of the trip. Craig filled his bottles and ate some food and after about 15 minutes there was no sign of the others, so he asked Matt to gear up and run with him and after a few minutes Matt was ready and they took off. I waited and waited and after almost an hour after Craig arrived MattW showed up looking trashed. He has been dealing with the flu all week and he just didn't have any energy. He was shocked that Josh hadn't arrived and he said that he had been behind both guys, so we started thinking that he probably missed the Hop Valley turn and after talking with a few other groups that had been on the trail we confirmed that.
We talked with a park ranger about an hour later and he gave us the number to call for dispatch in case we needed to call out SAR. We were pretty confident that Josh would be ok, but we had no idea where he was. About two hours after Craig had left some horsewomen showed up with a horse trailer and we talked to them and they told us they would look for Josh and we gave them my cell number. At 11:30 I was all geared up to run in to look for Josh and Matt was going to leave and go meet the other guys at the Grotto as they would be expecting us there around 1:00 with supplies. Just as I was about to leave one of the horse ladies called me to let us know they had come across Josh and he should be there soon. I decided to run out and meet him and run him in. He indeed had missed the Hop Valley trail and spent a few hours trying to find the right trail. He ended up with 26 miles and he was pretty sure he was done. We were relieved to have him back.
We went to the Grotto to meet the guys and I kept my running clothes on and prepared to go in case something happened to MattVH. When Craig arrived he looked terrible. He was dehydrated and it was about as bad as I have seen him look. He laid down and we went to work getting him food, water and taking care of a small blister on his foot. After a long rest he limped into the bathroom with his head down and looking pretty bad. About 5 minutes later he appeared with a smile and a new bounce in his step. He was back. Matt VH arrived about 10 minutes after Craig and he was feeling good, so I wouldn't have to start running until the east entrance at mile 48.
After the guys left we made our way over to the east entrance where the trail was closed and there was a sign that said: Trail closed for prescribed burn. WTH? We were trying to figure out what to do and a ranger showed up to remove the sign and told us that they were postponing it indefinitely because of dry conditions- Whew! We then waited for well over an hour for the guys to show up. They both looked pretty good. Matt was done and Craig took a few minutes to eat, drink and rest and then we started together on his second traverse.
Just after starting up the Angels Landing trail we ran into MattVH who had just gone up to the summit and was now on his way down. He's an animal! Most people would be crashed out in the back of the van after running 35 miles, but not Matt. He can't pass up the chance to tag a cool summit. I love it. Craig pushed a hard fast pace all the way up and he looked really strong. It seemed like we were moving up as fast as we did last year and Craig had an additional 48 miles on his legs. Awesome. The next several miles of the trail are mostly uphill and the climbs are relentless. We pushed a really good pace for several miles, but eventually Craig started having some tummy issues and that was the only thing that could slow him down. At one point he laid down on the trail and I told him to take a couple of minutes to rest. I knew he was feeling like shite because I have never seen him lay down during a run. I knew he needed it. After a few minutes he got up and both of us agreed that he would just take it easy, but as long as he was moving forward it would be better than laying down. After about 10 minutes he was able to shake it off and he was back. About that same time I started to feel quite sick. I could easily have puked, but I tried really hard to keep it in because I new I would need the calories later in the night. At mile 17 for me and 65 for Jun we stopped at a spring to fill up our water and I put in 60 ounces. I thought for sure that would be enough because it was now pretty cool and we wouldn't see the sun for several hours.
Just after the spring stop I told Craig I needed to stop, so I sat down on a log and tried not to puke. I was sitting there shivering and feeling like total crap and I was thinking this is hell. Finally I decided that I just needed to get up and get moving, so we walked for a few minutes and then I started to run. I figured I would be feeling crappy whether I was running or walking, so I might as well be running. Luckily after about 5-10 minutes my stomach came around and I felt great the rest of the night. We think that eating the big dinner and then pushing all of the hills just didn't sit well with either of our stomachs.
The next 10 miles on the West Rim trail seemed to go on forever. We would run all of the flats and downhills and then hike up the steep stuff. We were both moving well and we chatted away most of the time. It was a real grind though and the miles weren't easy. At one point we came around and we could see the lights from St. George way in the distance. It was cool and reminded me of our remote condition. Speaking of remote other than seeing a few people at the Grotto and two groups on the Angel's Landing trail we hadn't seen another soul on the trail. How incredible is that?
We got on the connector trail and Craig did an excellent job of keeping us on it. He was still moving very well and I was amazed at how good he looked with so many miles on his legs. We didn't talk much on this section. I think we were both so ready for a break and it was a total grind the last two miles. This section is tough. We had to go 23 miles between crew stops and I was now out of water and gels and feeling like I needed both. After what seemed like an eternity we came onto the road and it was a short run to the trailhead where the guys (minus MattVH) were waitng for us to take care of us. We both sat down and MattW and Josh took care of everything for us. They got our packs ready and got us food and drinks and took care of us. They were great. MattVH had left several hours earlier with his remaining 13 miles for the traverse. He thought we would catch up to him and he thought we would make it in a lot sooner.
After a pretty long stop we put on our warmest clothes and took off on the final 13 miles to complete our traverse. The first few miles of the Hop Valley trail are tough. It is basically like trying to run in soft beach sand. It fills your shoes and makes it almost impossible to run. I had to stop and dump sand out of my shoes countless times during the traverse, but it is particularly bad on this section. Eventually we came out into one of the prettiest meadows I have ever seen. We had to cross the creek several times and there was no way to keep from getting your feet wet. After a few crossings we noticed someone a few hundred yards ahead in the meadow wandering around. I thought it was another runner coming from the west entrance because I could see the hydration vest. As we got closer I noticed that it was MattVH. WT?? He had become lost in the middle of the night, got confused and thought he was on the wrong trail. He had been wandering around for hours and was very happy to see us. He looked really tired. I was starting to wonder what else could go wrong before we completed this thing. Matt was happy to join us and we continued on making a few more creek crossings and eventually making our way to the trail junction.
We had to cross the stream here and then we were on the final stretch of trail that would take us up to Lee's Pass and the finish. We stayed together for a few miles, but as soon as the trail turned north Craig put it into a gear that we couldn't match and I watched as he moved ahead and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I tried to stay with him, but I just didn't have the legs. Wow. I also dropped Matt about the same time. The next three miles were just hell. HELL! The worst part was me thinking I was closer to the pass than I really was, so around every bend I kept thinking I would see the cars. I wanted to be done and it seemed like the last few miles went on forever. The last one was particularly bad, probably the longest most cruel mile of my life. I was starving and kept thinking about burgers, fries, pizza and donuts. Oh man! I wanted so much to be DONE. I finally heard the boys yelling at me and it gave me a bit of a boost and I kicked it into the finish. What an amazing run. The views along the entire trail are some of the best I have ever seen. The pictures just don't do it justice. Congrats to Craig for finishing a double, he is in amazing shape right now and he should have an excellent Wasatch 100.