Hiking ‘The Subway’ at Zion National Park

With a few unproductive days behind me, a city that felt overwhelming and no job prospects on the horizon, as well as some research into winter weather for the area, I decided to make the Subway hike my last day in St George.

The Subway is another hike that requires a permit that you can either apply for online via lottery or hope you’re lucky and try to get a permit the day before from one of the ranger stations/visitor centers.

I was up fairly early and took the dogs out, packed a sandwich and filled my Nalgene bottles. The trail head was fairly close to camp so it only took 20 minutes to drive to. I let the dogs out briefly before the trail head as they would be chilling in the bed of my truck while I hiked (with shade and water of course) and I wanted to make sure they weren’t crossing their legs for long towards the latter part of the morning. The brochure suggests allowing 5-9 hours for the hike…I was hoping I could get 6.5 miles done in the lesser amount of time.

I filled the dogs’ water bowl, donned my pack, used the facilities and headed down the trail at 8:45 am. A nice flat first 1/2 mile was misleading as the trail quickly descended 600ft, steeply, into the Left Fork Canyon. I was wondering if I would be regretting not bringing hiking poles on my way out (I don’t usually use them when day hiking).

20171004_111503

The trail reached the creek fairly quickly and I took note of the surrounding area and the sign where I would need to make sure to head up later in the day (apparently people have missed it before, enough to make it a note in one of the guides I read).

20171004_105125

Initially the trail was moderate, sandy (ugh) and slightly rocky and I covered some good ground. There were a lot of “social trails” that were often misleading and I’m sure I ended up on some of them because I couldn’t find the official trail. Thankfully, being beside a creek, most of the trail was easy to figure out. There were many, many creek crossings, constantly back and forth from bank to bank, around rocky outcroppings or steep cliffs. The guide says you WILL get wet but I suspect this is mostly in reference to spring run-off as I found it easy to boulder hop and cross with dry feet at every time.

DSC00434

I passed a few small groups of people, mostly in pairs, as I hiked. With such a small window of time I knew I had to cover ground fast if I wanted to make it to the end and see the Subway and waterfalls.

Sometimes the trail followed sand, sometimes it was rocky and other times it involved some serious bouldering and clambering. It often involved some intuitive trail finding and keeping a sharp eye out for cairns. Remembering what the place you crossed looked like would also prove to be helpful on the return trip.

DSC00440

I kept an eye on my watch, definitely aware of how much time I was leaving the dogs and put a cut-off time limit to turn around at 11am. By 10:30 I was flagging in energy and really hadn’t seen much sign of waterfalls or subways…I was pretty concerned that I wouldn’t make it. I paused for a sandwich to boost my energy and re-read the guide I had downloaded to my phone. The instructions made it sound like I didn’t have too much further to hike so I determined that I might be okay.

20171004_111151

The trail got rockier and more climbing was involved but I finally reached the first of two 15ft waterfalls the guide mentioned. Finally I was getting close. Not far around the bend I found the second waterfall below a sheer, under-cut cliff that echoed loudly. The easiest way to get above the waterfalls is by climbing them around the sides. There were definitely some slippery spots but you can avoid them easily.

DSC00452

Walls of sandstone towered overhead and I finally got my first view of the Subway, a semi-subterranean water channel that has under-cut the sandstone cliffs above it…and this is the only area my feet got a little wet (could have been avoided). Inviting-looking pools dotted the floor of the tunnel although the water was cold and not actually that appealing. It was a stunning piece of natural architecture and I can see why it is so popular…I have never seen anything like it.

20171004_110651

As always I took some pictures, appreciated the beauty for a while, and then headed back out. Sadly, being on a time constraint, I had less time than I would have liked to appreciate the canyon. But there was little more that I could do anyway other than stand and stare at the walls and the pools and the thin strip of blue sky above. If I had been brave, or had a wetsuit, I might have headed in further to see the waterfall but it required a lot more wading than I was prepared to do.

20171004_110838

I enjoyed my 15 minutes in the Subway but with my dogs’ needs in the back of my mind I started my hike back, avoided getting wet on the way out, and headed down the trail. I ran into the people I had passed, almost all of whom asked me how much further it was…10 minutes turned into an hour by the time it was 12:15, but of course I had hiked fast (somewhat to my detriment when I fell and got some cactus spines in my hand and cut my arm on a sharp branch).

DSC00432

At one point I got slightly disoriented when I didn’t recognize part of the trail. I was watching for the black outcropping that marked the point where the trail climbed back up. I ended up passing a black cliff, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to go beneath it so I back-tracked a ways before being sure I hadn’t missed the upward trail. I continued on and was soon seeing familiar things again, confirming that the black outcropping was not actually the one I was looking for. This is where looking back and recognizing creek crossings was a huge help.

DSC00465

Finally I found the well-signed turn-off to the upward climb…I wouldn’t have missed it even with one eye closed. The climb back up was a little brutal and I was chugging water. What started off as a cool hike in the shade of the canyon cliffs in the morning turned into a harsh climb in the midday sun going back up…I can’t imagine doing this in the heat of summer.

Back at the top, finally, I ran into a park ranger checking vehicles and permits. I handed him mine and he asked how long it had taken me to do the hike and if I made it to the end. I told him how long it had taken me…4 hrs and 45 minutes; 8:45-1:30 (including a stop for lunch and 15 minutes at the Subway). He was impressed and surprised by how fast I had done the hike as it is pretty unusual to do it so quickly. I pointed to the dogs and explained how small of a window I had to do the hike in but that it had been worth it.

Tired, hot and slightly dehydrated I grabbed a cold soda and headed down the road, back to camp. I was grateful to be able to relax for a while with a cold beer and let the dogs play outside before getting things packed away for the morning departure.

20171004_110847

If you are interested in hiking The Subway here is much of the information you need:

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/the-subway-trail

While I managed the hike in such a short period of time I wouldn’t recommend it. Allow 6-7 hours to do the trail at a more relaxed pace and enjoy it. Not a trail recommended for anyone not able-bodied and fit as there is a LOT of rock-clambering and trail negotiation, not to mention all the creek crossings that require some pretty good balance and some jumping. However, it is definitely worth doing if you can.

Advertisements

St George, UT and Red Cliffs Canyon

It is rarely good to try and find a free boondocking site on a Friday, or a weekend generally.

Of course that didn’t stop me and the first place I looked, listed on freecampsites.net, was completely full…and not a particularly fun road to drive with all the washboards. Camp sites were right on the road and not that appealing so I moved on.

BLM land was listed on the eastern side of La Verkin and Hurricane, south of the road as you head into Zion. It looked promising. I took the first road and quickly found a nice large, flat spot to park and unhook. For some reason there was also a tiny house parked just before me which seemed to be a rental as the cars parked outside were never the same. I can’t find any information on this though to confirm.

DSC00425

With camp set up I headed into town to locate the Ford dealership. While they were booked out two weeks ahead for newer vehicles, having a 7.3l diesel has its benefits and a simple repair was all that was needed…and they could get me in Monday.

With the truck issue taken care of I went to explore Camping World (an RV “super-store” much like Walmart) as I had heard many things about it but never been in one. It was interesting to wander round and I saw a couple of things of interest, but nothing I needed (still looking for a retractable clothes line). I also visited the mall…just because…but it was nothing special and my favorite stores weren’t even open yet.

I took a back road around St George and discovered the cheapest place to buy diesel in the area. I kept it in mind for Monday. With little to occupy me in the city I headed back to camp, stopped briefly at Walmart and a gas station for some cold brews and sodas.

The weekend was fairly relaxed and we didn’t do much except a couple of short drives around the area and fill out some job applications.

Monday I headed back into St George where my truck was finally fixed (not inexpensively either), and I felt even more broke. These fixes have seriously been eating into my savings and I was starting to get a little concerned about my financial situation. While taking my truck to Ford wasn’t the cheapest alternative it was also a positive as they also replaced a sensor that had been on recall, and thus was done free of charge. With my two other sensors replaced (coolant temperature sensor and exhaust back-pressure sensor for the turbo) I headed back to camp…I immediately noticed an improvement in the power of the truck due to the replaced exhaust sensor which was great.

20171003_092439

A friend posted some southern Utah hiking recommendations and I read through them…three were in my area…and Tuesday morning I headed out to do the Red Cliffs hike with the dogs…a short mile-long hike to a red cliffs canyon (no surprise there!).

20171003_092250

20171003_092412

It was perfect weather and it was nice to hike with the dogs again and while I kept Kye on leash for a change I let Cody have some freedom. We had to turn around at a narrow gap as the dogs couldn’t climb the rock and it was too far to carry them, not to mention dangerous. It was an area there would have been a waterfall if there had been any water flowing. I climbed up where the dogs couldn’t go…where ropes had been anchored to the wall for safety…and took a few pictures. It would have been amazing to go further but with my best friends with me I could go no further…they were already looking a little forlorn that they couldn’t follow me up the water-fall cliff.

20171003_092653

20171003_092513

20171003_091901

Someone had left a plastic water bottle full of water to the side of the canyon which I went to pick up. Upon closer inspection I noticed it had two tadpoles in it…someone had scooped them up in the bottle, sealed it and left them to die there. I dumped the bottle in the pools where there were other tadpoles and stuffed the bottle in my pack…some people are disgusting human beings.

20171003_093004

Back at the truck I dumped the trash in the trash can and headed back to camp for the afternoon. I highly recommend this hike; it is not particularly challenging but I assume it could be tougher once you get further into the canyon.

20171003_093737

During the evening, waiting until it was late in the day, I headed up to Zion’s Kolob Canyons Visitor Center to see if I could get a permit for the Subway hike. I didn’t think it was likely but it never hurts to ask. I arrived 5 minutes before they closed and they were able to issue me a permit…another moment to be thankful for being a solo hiker/traveler. I took a quick drive through the park, past the canyons and the massive walls burning red in the dying sunlight. It was pretty impressive.

DSC00413

Gear Review: Enlightened Equipment Convert

20170916_161032

Specs: 10F Reg width/Reg length 850FP down quilt with the optional DownTek water-repellent down at no extra cost

Enlightened Equipment is a small cottage manufacturer located in Winona, Minnesota that specializes in down and synthetic quilts, underquilts and other down accessories for sleeping.

After researching for weeks for a new sleeping bag that was lighter than my 7lb Cabela’s mummy bag from years ago I tried a synthetic bag from Thermarest. It was a nice bag, warm and comfortable but still too heavy at over 3lbs, and I wanted something lighter. I would have to invest in a down bag that I hoped would last me a long time.

The more I read the more I narrowed down choices. Western Mountaineering bags were at the top of my list, but were just too expensive at the time for what I wanted, and the Kelty Cosmic 20 down bag at the lower end of the spectrum just didn’t have constant good reviews. That’s when I started reading more and more about people using quilts. I was intrigued.

P1000036

Reading forums, hiker blogs and reviews from all over the internet three or four companies kept cropping up with high recommendations: ZPacks, Katabatic, Jacks ‘R’ Better and Englightened Equipment.

Knowing that I wanted a lower-rated sleeping bag/quilt due to the fact that I am a cold sleeper at the beginning of the night, and the areas I generally camp and backpack in, I wanted a quilt that could be used as a sleeping bag in colder temperatures (quilts don’t do great below freezing, according to reports I have read). Both ZPacks and EE offered a zip-up quilt option; ZPacks as an addition to any of their quilts, and Enlightened Equipment as a separate model called the Convert.

20170916_161053

Several things swayed my choice when it came to choosing between the two companies. What it finally came down to was options: Enlightened Equipment gave me the options to fully customize my quilt the way I wanted it, from down fill-power (800 to 950), inside and outside colors, length and width (which ZPacks also does, although they only offer two colors) and the type of down used. I loved that I could choose the colors of my quilt, and there are over a dozen colors (for the exterior) to choose from. I also preferred EE’s baffle construction and orientation since horizontal baffles across the sleeper could allow the down to slide to the sides during the night, especially if you move around a lot. (This has now been done by ZPacks also).

After ordering, and knowing that all quilts are made to order, I waited. Within a day or two I felt like I’d made a mistake in the sizing and emailed Enlightened Equipment. They adjusted my order and sent me a new receipt with the updated information. A few weeks later I was looking at the website I noticed they had updated their color choices…they had PURPLE. I immediately emailed the company and asked if they could possibly change my order. And they did.

Less than two weeks later my quilt arrived in a cotton storage bag and large box, nicely packaged. I couldn’t believe how light it felt, although at 27oz not quite the lightest on the market but the 850FP down stands up to humidity better than 950FP and I don’t always plan on camping in the dry air of the western US. And I absolutely LOVED the colors…they were true to the colors on the website and I liked that my sleeping bag was unique to me and my personality.

IMG_2095

The material is thin and definitely translucent enough to see the down inside, but it felt like good quality and the construction and stitching were faultless. The zipper works smoothly although I have found that it does catch the light shell material very easily if you are not careful; I always run my fingers along the inside of the zipper as I am closing it up which seems to avoid the issue…keeping the zipper and material taught helps too.

My first outing with the Convert was on my Tongue River Canyon hike. It was only an overnight, and quite warm during the day. During the first use I kept it zipped up in the hoodless sleeping bag mode. I stayed plenty warm and toasty during the night, with heavy winds and some rain.

The second trip was to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Again I kept it in sleeping bag mode and was plenty warm the first night. The second night, having camped right next to a creek, everything got damp, including the Convert. Having my face next to cold, wet fabric chilled me to the point of having to put my down coat on underneath the quilt. I don’t believe this to be a fault with the bag that I got cold, but one of my own making.

The third and fourth trips (Little Horn Canyon and Walker Prairie) I finally used the Convert in quilt mode due to the warm temperatures. I found this set-up to be very versatile and I slept well in both places, staying plenty warm without the need to zip up the bag or even pull it around me. Of course a 10F bag is overkill when the overnight lows are in the 50s.

Taking the Convert on the Solitude Trail for a week was the longest test and it performed superbly. I mostly used it as a quilt with the top snap closed and adjusted as necessary as I slept. I was cold only one night, when it dropped below freezing, and I realized that I probably should have stuck with the original width I had ordered (slim vs regular)…there was just too much space in the bag for me to warm successfully in sub-freezing temperatures. Part of me being cold was that it was also a damp night. Even with too much space, an added layer made all the difference. Most of the reason I was getting cold was the ingress of too much air at the shoulder area and only a thin layer of fleece shirt to block it.

I like the vertical baffles on EE’s bags; they keep the down where you want it and I don’t find that it moves much after I’ve given the bag a good shake after it comes out of its stuff sack and allow it to loft.

The elastic draw string at the neck of the bag is sufficient for what it does but it is probably my least-liked element of the bag. It is very narrow, non-stretchy cord and I don’t like the tightening location. I’d like to see the cord replaced with a flat, elastic version that doesn’t feel quite so much like a garroting wire when tightened. It is especially difficult if you want to reach a hand out of the sleeping bag to scratch your ear, put on chapstick, grab your flashlight…or pick your nose!!! An elastic cord would alleviate some of this and make the bag more versatile, and placing the tightening location by the zipper with two toggles instead of one would also be an improvement. Of course, these are just my opinions on one aspect of the Convert that didn’t work for me. A neck baffle (as found as an option on Loco Libre Gear’s quilts would really be a plus).

Overall, the Convert (and other EE quilts) are great quality and provide a warm, light sleeping bag/quilt at an affordable price. Their customer service was impeccable and I really appreciated their efforts to make sure I got the bag I wanted, despite all the changes. I don’t think you can go wrong with Enlightened Equipment.


Caveat and Update: July 2018

I ended up selling this Convert as I upraded to a Western Mountaineering Versalite, or at least I thought it was a upgraded. I found the length of the Convert way too much and my feet were getting cold. In the end, and after only one 5 day trip I sold the WM bag as I found it too restricting; it was too small and confining (although plenty warm) and I missed my quilt. I sold the Versalite and re-ordered a Convert in the short length this time but still regular width, and using the same colors with 2oz of overstuff and I am very happy with my choice.

 

 

 

Moab to St. George, Utah

Leaving Moab

On my way home from riding I noticed my engine temperature gauge wasn’t registering. I was a little concerned but after having one of the guys check it out with his computer I determined it wasn’t the thermostat and was most likely just a sensor. It was still something I would have to spend more money on to fix.

This morning saw the jack I had previous paid to have fixed at Stalkups RV in Casper quit retracting again. I halted the motor, lifted the manual legs and left both jacks as they were. I was PISSED OFF to put it mildly.

With everything loaded I headed out of the campsite, pausing to say goodbye to a couple of the people in the Class A campsite and hit the road. My temperature gauge still wasn’t working and with the non-working jack an issue again I was feeling pretty stressed and emotional.

I called Stalkups RV and spoke to Dan in the service department who said they would stand by their work but would need me to take it into a repair shop. If the repair shop determined that Stalkups was at fault they would need to call them and inform them before Stalkups RV would cover the bill, but that they WOULD stand behind their work if they were found to be at fault.

I paused in Green River to chat with a mechanic and he informed me of a Ford dealership in Richfield, 120 miles away, who would be better able to diagnose the issue regarding my temperature gauge. I had to cross 3 mountain passes on my way there and I was certainly nervous…I don’t like not knowing what is going on with my engine, especially when hauling a heavy load. Using the AllStays app I was also able to locate an RV repair shop which happened to be right next to the Ford dealership.

I stopped in at Jorgensen’s RV and they were able to get me in immediately (unusual but appreciated). The repair technician pulled apart my jack and determined that Stalkups had indeed used the wrong part (a roll pin vs a shear pin) for the jack. A call was made by one of Jorgensen’s office staff to Stalkups RV informing them of the fault but was apparently rudely informed that they would not cover the work, despite what they had told me earlier.

The repair technician made another discovery in that the repair that should have been done initially was NOT in fact a shear pin issue but a gearing issue. I had paid Stalkups RV a decent chunk of change to fix the jack, which they had not in fact done (I had not been shown the broken part either), and was now having to fork out a lot more money to have it done right.

With my jack finally fixed, and feeling a lot more broke, I wasn’t in the mood to go much further and once again used AllStays to locate a place to camp nearby. South of my location was Mystic Hot Springs, a small RV/tent camping park attached to some hot springs. The reviews called the place funky and the website showed old cabins and buses to stay in. I don’t usually do RV parks but the $30 price per night included full hook-ups and passes to the hot springs. I was in need of a break and since Ford hadn’t charged me for diagnoses of my gauge issue (two sensors needed replaced) I put that money towards two nights at Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe. The place certainly was quirky, and certainly not for those interested in a fancy RV park, but it was my kind of place and I quickly found a suitable pull-through site and set-up, opposite some buses that people either live in or stay in. It definitely recommend it.

20170927_170304

It was nice to have electricity for a change and to use my TV and free-standing lamps as well as start charging some of my AC electronics without having to cart them to the truck.

A large group of tent and truck campers was growing slowly behind me and on my way back from a short walk around the hot springs I asked one of the older guys if it was a bachelor party (no women). I was informed it was a group of para-gliders and hang-gliders in town for a week-long meet-up/event. I was invited to come say hi, which I did.

I spent a couple of hours with the group, meeting a few and getting first names and where people were from…Idaho, Utah, Alaska and more. I enjoyed a roaring fire they got going before excusing myself to go enjoy the hot springs I had, in essence, paid for.

The hot springs themselves were very rustic-looking and included two pools, one large warm pool and a smaller hot pool. Above the pools, after climbing some rough rock steps, there are bathtubs with spring water flowing into and out of them constantly. When checking in the owners inform you about the hot springs rules: no alcohol, no nudity and no pets permitted in or around the hot springs (although all but the nudity are permitted in the RV park).

Two others were in the pools when I arrived but it was dark and didn’t say hi, nor did they acknowledge me. I disrobed and climbed into the larger of the two pools which had a small waterfall pouring into it. I floated for a while and enjoyed the warmth, remaining near the waterfall where it was slightly warmer. The two ladies left soon after and I was alone. It was relaxing and much needed after a rough day.

With the rain starting to fall lightly I moved to the hotter pool and enjoyed the heat for a while before it became too much. Being a little too hot now getting out into the cool night air wasn’t too bad and I wrapped myself in my towel, grabbed my clothes and headed back to the camper. I was glad I had remembered a flashlight as none of the pathways were lit.

I re-dressed quickly and headed back out to the bonfire where things were getting a little raucous. It was fun and interesting to listen to the guys talking about paragliding although I didn’t understand some of it. Paragliding has been on my bucket list for a while and meeting these guys reminded me of that and not to forget about it…they were definitely enthusiastic.

Warmed by the hot springs and then the fire I was getting drowsy, bid the group farewell and went to bed. I’m not sure how long they were up for as I was quickly asleep.

I had two nights booked at Mystic Hot Springs so I enjoyed the day in between doing very little. I made a quick trip into Richfield to get some groceries and fill up with fuel but I spent most of the day enjoying having an electrical hook-up, listened to Pandora,  watched a DVD and wrote. The evening progressed much the same as the night before; hanging around the camp fire, drinking a beer or three, talking with the paragliders, enjoying the hot springs and then the fire again before hitting the hay at 10pm.

I was up before the sun and it was another chilly morning. My heater had done a good job of keeping the inside of the camper perfect (it got a little hot in the middle of the night so I had to turn it down). I let the dogs run one last time and packed up camp before saying good bye to the guys I could see.

I was on the road by 9 am and heading for St George. I chose to stay off the interstate and instead took the scenic route to the east. It was generally a pleasant drive and we stopped on the way up the pass going west to make a sandwich. Coming down the other side was beautiful but a lot less fun and I allowed the pressure of traffic behind me into making a mistake…I tried pulling off too fast, on too steep of a grade with too much momentum and almost lost my brakes. Thankfully I was pulling off against the mountain and the only thing I would have hit was a pole, but it was still not a good moment. I let my brakes cool for a while before heading down…and I waited for a large gap in the traffic before pulling out. Anyone behind me from here on out was just going to have to be patient as I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.

The view at the top of the pass before making an error in judgement:

DSC00409

A brief pause in Cedar City at the bottom of the pass gave my truck and me a break before continuing south. I used one of several apps to find a good and free boondocking location but the first place I looked was full. A little frustrated I did another search and found a place above La Verkin on BLM land, above the Virgin River and the dam (although not visible from my location as I didn’t want to drag the camper too far on rough dirt roads).

20170929_190902