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My 5 year old granddaughter Amelia (AKA “Punky”) cracks me up. When she comes over, it starts with the typical grandparent greetings…
Me: (getting big hugs) “Hey, Punky, how are you?!? Whatcha been up to?”
That sort of thing.
But Amelia doesn’t stop with the obligatory “fine,” or “good,” or “nothing much,” as it usually goes in the way of canned greeting responses. Oh no. This girl has a list for me. I think she secretly composes it riding in her purple princess carseat on the drive over.
The list goes something like this:
- Eli touched my carseat.
- Dad made me wear these socks and they’re itchy.
- Mariah said I’m not her best friend anymore.
- Mom took my new make-up kit from Aunt Kenzie away, I only put a LITTLE lipstick on the dog.
James and I refer to it as “Amelia’s List of Woes.” We always look forward to hearing what the latest list will be. I’m telling you all this because, well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Keep this in mind as you read on.
Stef’s List of Winter Hiking Wonders (and Woes)
James and I just got back from a winter camping adventure. “Lance,” our RV, proved to be a stellar winter basecamp and overall we had a blast. We actually hiked or snowshoe’d every day for 8 days straight, in temps ranging from 10 to 35 degrees.
It might sound cold, but we weren’t at all. With the right gear, the cold doesn’t touch us. But as usual, it wasn’t all flying puppy dogs and chocolate fountains out there. Here’s how our hikes REALLY went.
Zion National Park and the Ice Skating Trail
When we arrived at Zion, we decided we’d start by warming up on the EASIEST-TRAIL-AT-ZION, called the Riverside Walk. I wanted to do that one because it ends where the famous trail “The Narrows” starts. I wanted to get a look at conditions on The Narrows, since we were thinking about renting dry suits and swimming our way through The Narrows later that week. So, we hit the easy breezy Riverside Walk. But first, let’s park. Or maybe not:
The parking area was completely filled up at the Riverside Trailhead. We drove about a mile down the road, found a pullout, and then schlepped our way back.
I’ll admit it, we can get a little cocky. We’re fit, we’re quite competent on hiking trails, and we like a good challenge. So, when James said, “should we take the Yaktrax?” My reaction was, “pshaw, for the Riverside?!” And we both got a good laugh. The Yaktrax, our beloved traction devices that slip over hiking boots, stayed with Lance.
But once we hit the trail, we weren’t laughing anymore.
James fell once, we slid by a dad with his daughter crying who probably broke her leg, and we realized how stupid we were leaving the Yaktrax behind. Eventually, we did make it to the end, and were able to see the start of The Narrows:
To hike The Narrows, you get in the water, and follow it through that narrow canyon you see in the picture. We ended up not doing the Narrows this time, I’m sad to report. It’s my biggest regret of the trip. We’ll be back next winter, Narrows. And next time I’ll even bring my Yaktrax.
Snow Canyon State Park Which is Mis-Named
It should be called “Sand Canyon.” We had our friend and fellow Travato owner, Sam, along for this hiking adventure, and it started out great.
No crowds, sunny weather in the mid-30’s, and great scenery, we felt like we hit the jackpot, especially after the crowds we’d been hiking with at Zion the past few days. We did a bunch of trails without incident, and then decided to finish with the 3 Ponds Trail. The 3 Ponds Trail is a dried-up sandy river bed. But not like normal sand, like the type along the ocean. And not like the “nice” sand you see in the picture above, where we stayed on top of it. This stuff was much finer, and we’d sink much deeper, making our slog through the sand rather grueling. As our enthusiasm waned, I tried keeping Sam and James motivated with suggestions, “Swing your arms! It helps!” James got oppositional and glued his arms to his sides to prove arm-swinging in fact does not help in sand that thick whatsoever. Eventually, we made it to the 3 Ponds, an out-and-back trail.
We did some scrambling past the 3 ponds, and climbed the narrow canyon to this lookout point. I had packed us some peanut butter sandwiches and grapes, so it was a perfect lunch spot. Now if only we could call a helicopter to come and lift us back out instead of having to face the not-nice sand again…
Bryce Canyon National Park is a Winter Wonderland
Even Amelia would have a hard time finding things to gripe about when visiting Bryce in the winter. Speaking of Amelia; look what I found written in the snow along a Bryce trail!
James spotted it; I had breezed right past it. I had James snap that photo and then I sent it to Tyler and Anna so they could show Amelia. She doesn’t have her own cell phone yet, but these days, it seems like kids get them about the time they start walking…
The crowds at Bryce were a mere fraction of what they are in the summer, and the snow on the canyon walls was a feast for the eyes. What an amazing way to spend New Year’s Eve day…
The only requirement for hiking Bryce in the winter is you’ll need some sort of traction device to slip over your hiking shoes. We weren’t pulling another moment of stupidity like Zion. We were prepared with our Yaktrax this time.
Can you believe I snapped all these on my cellphone? You don’t need to be a great photographer when you’ve got Bryce as your subject.
Okay, fine, I’ll stop with all the Bryce pictures. I’ve got nothing to bitch about and you’re probably getting bored with all the shiny happy we-had-a-great-time-and-you-didn’t stuff. Trust me, we suffered on the next hikes. Read on.
Kodachrome and the Trail of Stef’s Tears
This was the hike to end all hikes for me…and I’m sure my war stories about it will get bigger and bigger over time. I’m just happy I’m alive to tell you about it.
After our two days in Bryce Canyon, we said farewell to our friend Sam and headed to the nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park. We were thrilled when we realized that besides us, there was only one other family in the park. We had the whole place to ourselves!!!
The first night of hiking, a day before the epic Trail of Stef’s Tears, we got lost. It was stupid, but then stupidity seems to follow us.
We decided to do a sunset hike, up to a lookout point to enjoy the sunset.
It was actually pretty cool, sitting up there all alone, hearing nothing but the slight breeze. Serenity at its finest. And as the sun was setting, it turned the rocks an insane reddish color, we were enthralled:
But then it got dark quickly, and we were still dawdling up on the ledge. It was a loop trail, so we quickly continued on. And here’s where winter hiking can get dicey. So few people come through places like Kodachrome in the winter, it’s easy for jokesters to switch around trail signs. The rangers aren’t walking the trails as frequently, or perhaps less are on duty in the winter, so things like screwed up trail signs can get overlooked. And when we’re hiking across solid rock, we depend on the signs. That’s how the “lost” thing happened; the arrow signs were turned in wonky directions. We were smart enough to have our headlamps with us, so I wasn’t in full-on panic mode. But if you’ve ever been in that position of being even just a little lost, it’s a pretty freaky feeling. We eventually gave up and picked our way back the way we came, but as dark as it was getting, it was nerve-racking. My inner Mildred was showing, and I fretted we wouldn’t be able to spot the way we came either. But alas, we made it out. I was VERY happy to see Lance’s gorgeous yellowness glowing in the sunset and welcoming us back to safety.
And that wasn’t even the worst of it! The NEXT day after getting lost was my most terrifying hiking experience ever. Even worse than the buffalo attack at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
And here we are at The Epic Trail of Stef’s Tears. See? I told you the tale would grow over time. It’s already grown to “epic.”
Take a look at this picture:
Notice anything wrong with it? I didn’t either, as I happily and ignorantly was snapping pictures of James up ahead of me. LOOK AGAIN, GUYS. Notice anything missing? Like, the trail itself? Look about 50 feet in front of James. The trail was washed out. And remained so for a good 30 feet or so.
The freaky thing is, it didn’t even dawn on me until I was actually traversing the washed-out part of the trail. I was completely consumed with taking pictures, with the scenery around me, that I had started across the cliffside unaware that my feet weren’t on a trail. I snapped back to reality as I started sliding with the loose soil that now resides where the trail once was. James, who was a spider in a past life, was already across and didn’t think anything of it.
Some of you already know this, but I have a horrible fear of heights. I’ve written about this many times, and I know it’s an irrational fear, but it rears its ugly head every now and then. Finding myself standing on a cliffside with only loose dirt under my feet turned out to be one of those moments.
Step one: Freeze and scream for James.
Step two: Don’t die.
Step three: Cry and panic loudly.
Step four: Take James’ hand. My God I love this man.
Step five: Yell at him because he’s way too far out and about to fall off the face of the cliff.
Step six: Keep screaming and crying and yelling at James as he leads you to safety.
I’m happy to report we both survived and neither of us fell off the cliff. Even though we were safe, I was pretty much ruined for the rest of the hike. My heights fear stayed in the “on” position, and James had to continue to hold my hand, endure more tears and wimpering, and had to listen to my fretfulness, “what if the trail signs are all screwed up again and we have to go back the way we came?!?! I won’t! I won’t!”
It wasn’t my finest moment.
Here’s another view of the washed out trail, looking back at it after the whole terrifying ordeal. The washed out part is actually in the shadow and harder to spot from this angle. And what you can’t see is how long of a way down the slide off this cliff was.
So, yeah, Amelia would be proud of my list of woes from Kodachrome Basin State Park.
But we weren’t done with our winter camping trip yet. It was time for the hardcore stuff. Snowshoeing time.
Fishlake National Forest and Umm Honey Should We Be Snowshoeing Across This Lake?
Fish Lake is a high alpine lake at an elevation of around 9,000 feet located in south central Utah. There are campgrounds open in the summer, but everything’s closed down in the winter. It’s a snowshoer’s paradise. There’s nothing like the experience of being the first one through the snow, and that’s what you get everywhere at Fish Lake. The only other prints around belong to the wildlife.
That is, until you get near the lake.
Many ice-fisher-people set up shop on the north end of the lake, near the highway. There’s James, who snowshoe’d over, and was talking to a few. He wanted to ask them how safe the rest of the lake was. Hmmm. Umm, maybe you’d want to find that out before snowshoeing across the unused part of the lake to ask that question?
But apparently the random strangers reassured James that the lake was safe everywhere to hike, so off we went. As we trudged along, inner Mildred fretted about falling through the ice, and whether or not it was wise to take the word of random strangers who were sitting around a hole in the ice eating Spam and drinking beer at 9am, but I pushed all that down. I tucked Mildred away, took a look around, saw James up ahead and thought, wow. Even though this past week I skated through Zion, trudged through grueling sand dunes, got lost, shed tears, and almost fell to my death, I realized how amazing the whole experience actually was. No trip is going to go perfectly, I learned this long ago. It’s the imperfections that make us smarter, stronger, and more resilient.
I think this was one of my all-time favorite trips.
And someday, when Amelia’s much, much older, she’ll read this and smile. Because she’ll totally get it.