On the sixth day we saw aliens! Well maybe not, but we were great at breaking camp by now and enjoyed a spectacular display in last night’s sky, complete with satellites dancing across the black expanse speckled with stellar constellations. After a water count we were off, knowing that we would need to refill at the nearest spring. We quickly came to a fork which confirmed that we covered an impressive 5 miles the night before in about 2 hours. We took the West Rim Trail and saw on the map that there was a spring in the next few miles. What we didn’t know is that the spring was a 30 minute downhill detour.
Our gravity filter and microbial pump resolved most worries about giardia or other pollutants. A few opted to iodize after we filtered anyway, noting that they couldn’t afford the week or 2 that giardia takes you out of commission. After topping off camelbacks and water bottles we were off to see the beautiful scenery along the forested rim.
Along the trail you can find all sorts of flora, but most spectacular were all the cacti in bloom. With the majority of wildlife being butterflies, bees and other pollinating critters it was easy to see how these beautiful wildflowers came to enhance the splendor of the trail.
The trail began to slope steeply down as we entered the first of many valleys for the day, promising a strenuous climb on the way back up. We stopped frequently for water and pack breaks, passing but a scant few others on the trail. The forest turned into a lush grassland with waist-high stalks and back again. The occasional burnt tree was there to remind us of the destructive forces in this secluded world. A few of us paused to enjoy the sun and take in the serenity of nature with some yoga.
We climbed the next peak and all of the sudden to the left was Telephone Canyon, a magnificent view similar to the forests we were hiking through. As amazed as we were the beauty to the right left us awestruck. Magnificent red and white domes crowned by evergreens and plateaus of floating paradise formed vast wooded canyons. These stunning views lingered for miles as we went up peaks and down the switchbacks through each valley.
In the distance a white peak with a red base drew our attention; every turn finding a more spectacular angle. Surely a solitary sentinel so spectacular has a name; perhaps the red Tabernacle Dome that we saw on our drive to the Wildcat Trailhead had in fact gone grey with age? From here we could only speculate.
The profound peak turned out to be the South Guardian Angel watching over many canyons. Evidence of life and death were everywhere in this harsh green haven. Beside a dying tree you could find all sorts of insects giving rich nutrients back to the soil. You might come across a dried up shrub, now a sullen grey-brown in the sun after weeks without water, or perchance the charred remains of a tree split by lightning.
Leaving the famed dome behind us, mother nature continued to astound around every turn. Down was easy, even fun at times but each step down promised its twin to raise us back up. Although the climbs were steep they were mostly straight up the mountains. We were happy to leave the switchbacks behind us as we trudged forward dreaming of lunch and perhaps a nap at the top of the next ridge. Until then we were content with the contrasting green valleys protected by white rims on either side. These lush lowlands were a tantalizing preview of the famed Zion Main Canyon. Anything to take our minds off of the heat and sweat as we took another pack break and quenched our thirst with the west’s most valuable resource. When we reached that next peak, the sun beat high in the sky, we broke for lunch and for some, a well earned nap.
We lucked out after our nap having come to the top of our final ridge. The rest of our journey was flat along this spectacular mountain desert. We enjoyed the afternoon breeze cooling us as it came up the treacherous slopes to either side of the trail. The path opened up as the rim grew wider and we came upon campsite #6. We knew that campsite #4, where we were staying, was not far off and picked a sunset perch before picking up the pace. We quickly arrived at our campsite and began setting up for the evening. It dawned on us that we were direly short on water and sent half the group in search of the next spring. Leaving the rest to set up camp and relax in the shade I set out with 4 others, 18 empty liters and 2 filters in my pack. Just before our campsite we had spotted a large mule deer and new that water couldn’t be too far off. Could it?
Our treasure turned out to be nearly 2 miles down the path, a scenic journey that we would cover again tomorrow. We set up shop at the spring’s solitary pool with water flowing out of the mountain; a fountain of life for all the creatures of this forest. After filling most of the water we set out for the arduous uphill journey now with 18 full liters. By the time we got back to our site the sun was low in the sky and all the tents were up; dinner was simply awaiting water to boil. A quick meal of beef and vegetarian soup enhanced by some hearty pasta and we were ready for yet another spectacular sunset.