Day One on the Zion Traverse: Lee Pass to Hop Valley
Late last year, Jeff approached me with the idea of a Zion trip during his “spring break”. It happened to coincide with my birthday–a day that I believe shouldn’t be spent working if possible. Zion was a place I’d never been, so naturally I was all in. We tossed around the idea of the Zion Traverse (also known as the Trans Zion Trek) along with the Narrows and the Subway. As the dates came closer, the Narrows closed due to snowmelt, leaving us with drier options.
We flew into Vegas on Friday, March 17. Our plan was to cross our fingers and nab a walk up permit. All Friday spots were booked, so we opted to begin on Saturday. Our path? Lee Pass Trailhead to Campsite B to Campsite 7 on the West Rim to the East Rim camping area to the East Rim Trailhead for a long four days of backpacking. We dropped my car off at the East Rim Trailhead for our exit before driving out to find a place to crash for the night.
Prior to leaving for Utah, an old friend of mine warned me of water conditions on the trail. He’d done the exact same trek in August a few years ago and said that there was little to no potable water: springs were dry or just barely dripping and Hop Creek was contaminated by cow poop. Because of this, we ended up carrying about 5+L of water almost every day. It was very unnecessary.
Our permit also stated that there were winter conditions on the West Rim and East Rim. A ranger at the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center mentioned that Wildcat Canyon was snowy and we should proceed with caution. We weren’t sure what to think as neither of us came prepared for winter travel. There hadn’t been any new snowfall in the recent weeks and the campsites were all full for weeks prior. There were no recent trip reports and all the photos on Instagram within the last month were fairly vague about conditions. We decided to continue with the trek and figure it out as we hiked—if there was any figuring out to do.
Day one, we woke up with the sun. We’d camped on some BLM land a short drive from the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center. We checked in at the visitor center and drove off to Lee Pass. We parked our car at a pullout on the side of the road since all the parking spots were full. (Upon return, there was a nice yellow sticker on our car window, so maybe don’t do that.) Lee Pass is a very primitive trailhead. Don’t expect to fill up on water here, but you can throw away your trash and recycling.
The La Verkin Creek trail from Lee Pass descends to La Verkin Creek, crossing Timber Creek several times. Timber Creek was flowing and without debris. La Verkin Creek was silty and not a source I would recommend filtering from unless you felt like backwashing your pump. The La Verkin Creek trail also crosses a small spring by La Verkin Campsite 7, where we refilled our bottles, emptied sand out of our shoes, and rinsed our feet. After that, the trail splits off to Kolob Arch, one mile away. After this junction, the Hop Valley trail meets up with the La Verkin Creek trail. We took a right turn and began the climb up to the rim of Hop Valley.
The cows hadn’t been in yet for the season so Hop Valley–otherwise known as Plop Valley–was still relatively free of cow pies. Hop Creek was clear and not poopy looking throughout the entirety of the valley. We dropped into the sandy bottom and made our way to Hop Valley Campsite B, nestled in the trees. We spent some time studying the map. Camping here meant that we were in for a long, 20 mile day tomorrow. Outside of the park was some BLM land that appeared promising. When we had inquired at the visitor center, the ranger had given us some vague non-response. Rather than hoofing it for 20 miles the next day, we made the decision to continue on and find an inconspicuous place to rest our heads for the night.
This turned out to be the right decision as Hop Valley was a long slog through sand with multiple muddy creek crossings and nary a cow in sight. There was no keeping our feet dry—a recurring theme throughout the trip. There is no water at the Hop Valley trailhead so we filtered from Hop Creek before exiting the valley. We also added Aquamira drops to our water to be extra safe from cow dung. The climb out of the valley was hot and seemingly endless. The last mile and a half from the border of private property to the trailhead was the longest mile and a half I’ve hiked. This was not something that I would have fancied attempting in the morning. We cooked food outside of the trailhead pit toilets (which were surprisingly clean and breezy) and then hiked out of the park to camp for the night.
Next up: Day 2 on the Zion Traverse.
Personal Gear: Arc’teryx Kea 45 Pack (similar), Western Mountaineering Summerlite Sleeping Bag, Therm-a-Rest Women’s NeoAir XLite, Arc’teryx Sabria Pants, Pivotte Touring Tank, Arêt Basewear Toura Top, Patagonia Performance Better Sweater Hoody, Outdoor Research Filament Down Jacket, Merrell Agility Peak Flex Trail Runners, Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Poles