After a balmy November that zipped by like a chetah in hot pursuit of gazelles, The Subway was to be our final hike in Zion. Co-Campers Maikel and Susan were "all in," even after our disclaimer that this hike can test ones mettle, and it's not as easy as the length in miles might suggest. If you are looking for an all day adventure into Zion's backcountry, the rewards along the way and at the end of the Subway hike are well worth the effort.
Bobbie and I have hiked to the lower Subway only once, six (or was it seven) years ago... back when we were in better "condition." Those were the days, my friends... two long distance runners of mountain trails at altitudes that now make our heads swim. I had a healthy spine with all discs in proper alignment, and full use of both legs. No aches, no pains... no problem. If it's true that one is as young as they feel, I was 29.
That said, my ass was dragging by the end of our first hike. The coup de grace was at the end... getting up and out of the access canyon on one of the steepest trails this side of the Rockies. To say I had reservations about a second attempt in my new, less-abled body would be an understatement. Someday I will have to sit this one out, but not yet, not today.
Recall last year when Bobbie and I attempted to reprise the Subway trek, only to be ticketed and turned back by Mr Ranger for lack of proper permit. Look, I "get" and appreciate the logic behind permits during peak season; it keeps numbers down and makes for a more enjoyable and natural experience. But Arrrgggg, we were the only hikers in the canyon on that late November day. Where is the common sense in a rigid one way, blanket policy like that? It reminds me of the Soup Nazi episode in Seinfeld, "No Pepsi... COKE!"
I relived the lividity of that experience as Susan and I made our way up a most colorful bouldered creek, where crystal clear water fell and pooled behind an unending series of natural dams. Speckled green trout darted for cover at first sight. The aroma of a spent Autumn hung heavy in the air; decaying, damp leaves. Evidently, my "policy" rant was "polluting" Susan's "atmosphere." She finally interrupted and said, "Mark, it's time to let it gooo... get over it!" She was right, of course. Is it any wonder women live longer than men; they don't sweat the small stuff... especially women who've had cancer. It kinda resets priorities.
Maikel and I were nursing sore legs left over from a Flying Monkey Mesa mountain bike ride the previous day and a precipitous climb to worship at the altar of the East Temple the day before that. Hey, we were trying to squeeze as much Zen from Zion as possible before departing Her Majesty's magic. To be honest, I wasn't ready to return to Colorado yet. A long-lived high pressure weather system had a stranglehold on southwest Utah; temperatures were still mild and we had the company of wonderful RV "playmates" in Susan and Maikel (sniff).
Look at 'em, who couldn't love these guy? :))
From the parking lot, a pleasant trail gradually meandered downhill through rocky terrain, gullies, and a dense stand of aromatic pinion and cedar. After a half mile or so, a seemingly bottomless and endless red canyon slowly unveiled before us, curving to and fro like a lazy snake, fading into the hinterlands. The distance and depth alone was enough to give pause. But Zion's canyons are compelling. We tightened laces and resolve, for the "meander" was about to get serious.
Subway's friendly trail had an abrupt personality change, it turned angry and daunting, dropping like a rock in free fall. At times it almost felt like we were hiking down a waterfall, without the water. This portion of the trail gets "rode hard and put up wet" due to use and weather. It must be a nightmare to maintain, and I use the word "maintain" loosely. Hikers with long legs and strong quads will fare better, as some of the "steps" are in three foot increments. Fear not. Proceed with caution. If you forgot to bring a hiking pole, scrounge up a stick. You are going to need a third leg in order to stay upright... many, many times.
A mile and a half later and nearly a thousand feet lower, we were hiking creekside through a maze of boulders... every shape, size and color imaginable. Breathtaking! It felt like we were hiking through some sort of natural art gallery. From here on there was no trail. Right off the bat we had to pick our way... criss-crossing North Creek... hopping rock to boulder to rock. The water at our feet ran clear, deep and cold. Speckled Trout, some fifteen inches or more, scurried for cover, trying to hide from four jolly giants interloping through their wilderness.
Even though North Creek's gradient is mild, hiking it's bouldered and rock-strewn bottom was moderately difficult. Every step had to be measured and calculated... Is that rock going to be loose or slippery? Can I trust wet soles to hold my scramble up and over that boulder? How deep is the water should I lose balance? Is there a better way around this obstacle. Needless to say, it is slow going.
At one dicy crossing Susan chose what she thought was a better route around a deep pool of water. Suddenly, there was this "yelp" followed by laughter. I turned around to find her wading out of a waist deep hole, soaked to the bone. The only "fatality" was the camera on her waist-belt that got submerged in the ordeal. Fortunately she had a pair of dry socks in her pack; hiking in wet shoes over such uneven terrain is a gilded invitation to blisters. Everything else wet she was stuck with. Sorry Susan, no fires in wilderness areas to dry you out and possibly save your life!!! (I know, I need to "let it go").
Susan did some internet research before our hike and learned that somewhere in the maze of North Creek were dinosaur tracks. She was hellbent on finding them. I figured that finding those dino tracks would be like looking for the proverbial "needle in a haystack," a long-shot at best in the chaos of boulders and fallen leaves. About the halfway mark, Bobbie and Susan stopped and waited for Maikel and I to catch up. Susan, being the group's eternal optimist and having been successful at Finding Alphonzo, stopped a lone hiker coming out to ask him if he knew the whereabouts of dinosaur tracks. Insert Twilight Zone music here!
Two things: One, this lone hiker guy in jeans and tee shirt just happens to be the Zion National Park Paleontologist! Two, It turns out that Susan and Bobbie were leaning on THE very rock that held the tracks! So Paleo-Man smiles and says, "Yeah, they're right behind you." Whadaya know, some three-toed T Rex type was tromping around Zion a mere one hundred million years ago... give or take a day.
|There were quite a few tracks in this goo-turned-rock!|
The walls of our heretofore broad canyon began to close in around us; dark clouds built overhead. Why does the weather always get sketchy when we are hiking narrows? I looked up through tree branches. Some fifteen feet overhead were the tangled remnants of previous flash floods. I tried to imagine the sight and sound of it... deafening thunder... devastating force... a torrent of water ripping trees from the ground like they were twigs, and repositioning boulders as big as a house.
Finally, walls squeezing down around us, we reached The Subway's stepped entry... series after series of wide, shallow, and extremely slippery ripples that must be negotiated for a quarter mile in order to reach the "grand prize." No step could be trusted. We relied heavily on our hiking poles to stay upright.
The canyon began to curve overhead, closing in and forming a tube with only a slot of light at the top. Tired and slipping, we gingerly waded the final bend standing between us and our long sought, hard earned destination... submerged in The Subway... swallowed up like Jonah in the belly of a great whale.
To be continued...
Due to photo load, stay tuned for part two of The Last Hurrah In Zion, and pictures of The Subway. Please Share on Facebook or by link... and help spread the BCB adventures.
Thanks, have a great weekend...
Back home in Lovely Ouray for Christmas. :) :(