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Utah Travel Headlines Blog

Monday, January 12, 2009

Canyoneer Zion In Winter

Daytime temperatures in Zion Park often push into the mid-50s during winter, making it very pleasant to hike the dry, lower elevation trails.

But writer Kristin Harrison wasn't satisfied with mild and dry. In this Washington Post article she describes a winter adventure trip that included canyoneering water-filled slots. Below are excerpts.

Last year the park received more than 2.6 million guests, with most folks arriving June through September. From December 2007 through February 2008, attendance was only 63,000 per month. Some of the park's higher elevations in the northwest become difficult to access in the colder months, but the main attractions in Zion Canyon stay open year-round.

"In the winter," said Ron Terry, the park's chief of interpretation and visitor services, "you can avoid the crowds. You're likely to hike a trail and not see anyone else." The wildlife, though, will be out and about, including bald eagles (which appear only in winter, during their migration), desert bighorn sheep and mule deer.

After five hours navigating our way up a steep, narrow trail, scrambling over boulders and rappelling four rock faces, I started to feel confident; just call me Indiana Jane. So, when we arrived at the final drop-off, my early-morning anxiety was gone. Until Unger said, "Getting down this cliff will require all the skills you've learned today, as well as the experiences you brought with you." That sounded like psychoanalysis.

I climbed halfway down the face and did not encounter anything scary or tricky. I started to think Unger had been joking. "What's the big deal?" I wondered. Then I found out: I had to navigate a slot just a few feet wide. My knuckles touched one wall and my backpack scraped the other. I started to panic, envisioning myself permanently sandwiched between two cold slabs of rock. With no other way to go, I squeezed my way down, hoping the space wouldn't slim any further. I'd never been so happy to drop, once again, into cold water.

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