Zion National Park is one of the busiest National Parks. The main canyon is so popular that personal vehicles are not permitted during the peak season because there are so goddamn many people. The main canyon is spectacular. See the Narrows, Angel's Landing, the Sentenal, The Great White Throne, ya know. The stuff everyone talks about. They talk about it for a reason. However, after a day of being packed on a bus with other tourists and sharing the trails with my 200 new BFFs, I was ready for some solitude. I don't want to see the same thing everyone else does. I want to go beyond that and see the world that few other people have the privilege of experiencing.
I had done some reading on climbing mountains in Zion. Because, at the end of the day, hikes are great and all, but climbing mountains is my favorite. I found a shorter hike to "Nippletop" off of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway on the much more secluded east side of the park. Because of the name (hehehe, I am mature) and proximity and attainability, I convinced everyone that a day making our own way in the backcountry was a must. I actually forwent hiking Angel's Landing for this hike. While I still want to hike Angel's Landing, I would take the secluded experience we had over a busy hike any day.
First, before you go running off on your own in the backcountry, here are some tips on how to not be an asshole.
- Practice leave no trace ethics. I shit you not, we found trash in several places. Beer cans, candy wrappers, all sorts of shit, in our beautiful wilderness. We even found a half decomposed watermelon. WTF. Don't be that person.
- Day trips in the backcountry do not require a permit unless you are canyoneering. Anything overnight requires a permit.
- Stay on rocks as much as possible. Do not disturb the black growth on the soils. This cryptobiotic soil is extremely fragile and takes years to grow. Don't be an asshole, avoid killing this stuff.
Ok, with that out of the way, on to our adventure. We started our day at the Watchman camp ground. I rallied the troops around my brilliant idea to escape the crowds. My team was game. We set off down the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, up the switchbacks, through the tunnel, and finally to a small pullout that fit maybe 6 cars. This hike is near the famous Checkerboard Mesa, an impressively carved mountain that numerous tourists photograph.... from the road. Maybe people just don't want to put in the effort of hiking around it. Maybe they don't know that they can. Regardless, we loaded our packs and scurried down into the dry wash and into the wilderness.
As the instigator of our adventure, I re-stated what my nifty guide to climbing Nippletop had said. "Yes, just go down the wash for a ways, then go up!" Yeah, right, like it is that easy. Like our Snow Canyon adventure, we ended up making our own adventure to unknown destinations. I was unable to identity which mountain was Nippletop from the road and no maps had it marked. Thus I was unable to set an appropriate course. We followed the dry wash for a while before finding an area where the walls were gentle enough for us to climb out and up. We climbed up slickrock mountainsides, over various high points, through a field of random moqui marbles, and essentially circumnavigated what we finally concluded was Nippletop. I don't necessarily recommend just wandering with no idea where you are. Our group happened to be pretty skilled at route finding and confident that we could at least make it back the way we came.
My favorite adventure shoes, Salomon Speedcross 3s, did not let me down traction-wise. Luckily, the slickrock was dry and not so slick, making steeper routes up feasible. As we picked our way over the rock mountains and into valleys, every bend and corner revealed new spectacular scenery, unknown to the majority of Zion visitors. Terrain varied from silckrock to brushy to the fragile cryptobiotic soil, which we avoided at all costs. Along the way, we stumbled upon more than one pile of trash. We couldn't believe it. Trash, in this rarely visited wilderness. We picked it up and packed it out.
We spent a few hours wandering around this wilderness. We had it to ourselves. We did not see another party out the entire day. We had a quiet lunch, what seemed like a world away from everything. The sounds of modern life were gone. No hustle and bustle except for the wind. Rock mountains and solitude stretched out for miles against the canvas of the sky.
The afternoon brought winds and the promise of rain. Not wanting to risk a lightning strike or flash flood in the dry wash that was our route back, we headed back towards the car and the rest of the world. We went a slightly different route back, which left us with a tough descent into the drywash. With no ropes to lower ourselves down, we ungracefully lowered ourselves using a downed tree. No humans or environment were hurt in this route finding misadventure.
We beat the rain back to the car, content with our remote adventure in one of America's busiest national parks.