West Rim Trail

SW: Zion, USA

William Mackesy’s account of this walk

Starting near Lava Point in the far north of the park, off the beautiful Kolob Terrace Road, the trail follows a flat ridge-plateau (Horse Pasture Plateau) for 4 miles or so before dropping to the first campsites at Potato Hollow. Around you are far views of the highlands, but little sign of the extraordinary drama below. The area is somewhat blighted by tree-burn, and was leafless-grey in early November when Walkopedia walked the trail, but it is fine walking with stacks of interest, at times through stands of ponderosa pines, at times on open ground.

We eat a leisurely first snack sitting on a tree-trunk, enjoying the long eastward views.

Potato Hollow is somewhat peculiar, an attractive grassy valley dotted with pines and thick groups of white-trunked aspen. Serena has got ahead, and is basking on a great fallen tree. I snooze briefly in the sun while she fills her water bottle.

A steady climb for some 20 minutes gets you back to the western edge of the wide high ridge, and the first stunning views of the improbable Wildcat Canyon, a huge bowl of endless and often bare sandstone cliffs and pavements above a deep gorge, with flat, forested peaks high above. It is harshly, superbly beautiful. We pass the left turn down Telephone Canyon, a bit shorter but less dramatic, and continue along the rim, enjoying the visual fireworks. Another snack-break admiring the view.

The trail swings east, and you view the even more remarkable broken spires and vast cliffs behind Zion’s western flanks. Fantastic.

We begin to sense that time is slipping, and speed up our pace, making fewer view admiration stops.

A steady descent through attractive open forest gets us to the bottom of Telephone Canyon. A couple of mule deer bounce across the trail ahead of us, then stand and watch is, their huge ears silhouetted against a bright bank.

The thrills really start now: we are soon on a good path which winds down the huge, smooth cliffs and slickrock above Zion’s upper reaches. It has clearly been dynamited out of the cliffs, and is superbly engineered. Round a corner, we enter another world, the top of a new canyon below enormous pink sandstone cliffs; we feel very small.

At a shoulder, we enter woodland, and drop steadily and delightfully to a peculiar upper bowl, all bare rock and lonely pines making an improbable living. We wind round the hillside below the enormous cliffs of the Cathedral Mountain formation, climbing to a low col and a new vista, south down peculiar red sandstone-and-pine slopes, above tremendous drop-off on both sides, to the impossible spine of famous Angel’s Landing, with the depths of Zion to our left.

Another delicious walk gets us to Scout Lookout, where the clamber to Angel’s Landing takes off. It is 5pm, and fully dark at 6. We aren’t going to be able to make the detour up the Landing, as coming back down in the dark could be lethal, and the long descent to the canyon floor no fun. We do, though, head off up the chains to the first ridge-top mini-peak for a closer inspection of this weird feature, so high and narrow that access seems impossible to all but technical climbers. After a dip, the impossible-looking very narrow ridge rises sheer in the gloaming, it is hard to see any way up. Our return clamber is fine, but I am anxious at the increasing darkness and the prospect of the descent to the canyon floor.

The trail down to the Zion canyon floor is superbly constructed, first the tightly-wound 20 or so small switchbacks of Walter’s Wiggles filling an absurdly steep cleft tucked into a corner of the cliff-face. A few minutes’ walk along the bottom of the dark, narrow and vast-cliffed Refrigerator Canyon, so-called because it is always cool as always sunless, gets us out to the top of another impossible-looking cliff. Our trail zig-zags down below us, following faults and winding down embanked stretches, but we can’t see it from our perch at the top.

A perhaps 30 minute uncomfortably fast hurry as a result of the thickening darkness, on sore feet and tired joints, gets us to the Grotto bus stop just as the last vestige of light has expired.

Amazing.

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