An Amateur Dirtbag’s Guide to Zion in the Winter

Winter in Zion

By Emily Pennington

“I feel bad about Ben,” J.C. muttered as we tip-toed down the razor’s edge of Angels Landing. “He would have loved this.” I nodded, squinting as I peered off into the brittle, orange canyon, 1500 feet below. At that exact moment, a pair of bouncy, brunette pigtails inched over the top of the trail where the chains meet their steep demise, carried by Emma, who looked nervous, wild, and full of vertigo. Ben’s curly head of hair followed shortly behind, smiling. I laughed out loud, grinning like a maniac. Emma had faced her fears and hoisted herself up nearly a thousand feet of wet sandstone to share this moment with us, suspended in the clouds as the sun began to wash itself over the striped walls of Zion National Park. Welcome to Utah.

Zion in Winter 4

In an epic bid to stretch the possibilities of weekend roadtrips away from Los Angeles this winter, I recently found myself planning my first trek to Utah and its fabled Zion. I’d been hearing about the place for the better part of a decade, clumped, red sandstone hoodoos littered with Pinyon Pine trees forming bright, panoramic canyons of enormous scale.

When you look up “best national parks to visit in the wintertime” online, Zion pops up high on every list, and it’s easy to understand why. The snow-capped rock formations create an all but subtle juxtaposition of copper and white that spans for miles in every direction, plus, the possibilities for off-trail peak bagging are huge. Despite snow melt causing unsafe sandstone conditions for many of our climbing objectives, we still had a gorgeous and varied January tumble through the park, and I hope these tips and highlights can serve to illuminate your own journey!

Zion in Winter 5

First of all, Zion National Park has winter weather that varies greatly. A friend of mine climbed Angels Landing in the snow over New Years, but upon our arrival at the trailhead 2 weeks later, we encountered merely wet, slippery sandstone. Temperatures can vary between 20 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which means you’re either dodging ice and snow or watching were you put your hands when you rock scramble so that stable-looking holds don’t crumble in your palms. There are also several chunks of the park, much like Yosemite, that are higher elevation, and therefore hold more snow and lower temperatures than the main canyon where the road traverses though.

Zion in Winter 6

We jumped on a ton of trails during our brief time in the park, and I sincerely feel that Angels Landing is the absolute best. You trudge up switchback after switchback cut into the edge of Zion’s main canyon before ascending an incredibly exposed class 3 route up the neck of a massive sandstone behemoth. There are signs everywhere informing you that 6 people have fallen from these cliffs in the last 10 years, so you feel like a complete badass when you push onward, death in your rearview, and begin to ascend the chains.

Honestly, it reminded me quite a lot of the Half Dome trail in Yosemite, an infamous and equally sketchy climb up the steep back of a massive dome. And, much like Half Dome, the crowds make the trail much scarier than it needs to be. Wear boots with good tread, take your time, and screw your head on straight when you need to pass people on the chains.

Zion in Winter 2

If you happen to make it to Zion when it’s below freezing or dry and without snow, there are a multitude of easy, off-trail class 3-4 scrambles to spice things up and satiate your danger bug. Cave Knoll and Firepit Knoll in the Kolob Terrace section of the park are bubbling over with alien landscapes, stacked, round hoodoos sitting like rust-colored teardrops in every direction. The ten mile drive to reach this sparsely populated section of the park will truly make you feel as though you’ve time-traveled into the wild west, with valley homesteads and ranches dotting the horizon.

Checkerboard Mesa was also high on our list of class 3 rock climbing in Zion, but after post-holing up to my thigh as we tried to navigate the drainage around to the back of the rock mass, we decided to call it and take awestruck pictures of the completely unreal texture on the wall’s front end. If you find yourself on the less popular east side of the park, I implore you to jump out of your car and hike off trail a bit near Checkerboard Mesa. The solitude and bizarre rock shapes are noting short of inspiring.

Zion in Winter 7
I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t take a minute to say it plainly – it is absolutely imperative to remember that, no matter how awesome or easy a route looks, climbing on wet sandstone is never a good idea! I can’t tell you how many times a member of my group grabbed a jug on a canyon wall to hoist themselves up, only to have it break off in their hand. We had at least 5 or 6 climbing objectives that we had to scrap last minute due to the quality of the rock that week in the park. If this does happen to you, do not despair! Angels Landing, The Watchman, parts of East Rim Trail, and the West Rim Trail were all jaw-droppingly beautiful and ready to be hiked.

If you only want a quick excursion or are with family or a less athletic group, the one trail I would implore you to check out is the Canyon Overlook Trail. We sped over to watch the clouds disperse just as the sun was setting, and the way the light trails meander through the Triassic canyon is pure magic.

Zion in Winter 8

With all my weekend warrior road-trips, I try to keep costs down as much as possible. One thing I adored about Utah that I haven’t found quite as close to the national parks in Cali was the abundance of cheap, clean motels that offer a free breakfast. For a thrifty $40-50 per night, you can get a double bed room in Hurricane, UT and drive a mere 20 minutes into Zion each day. I’m a backpacker dirtbag at heart, and we were blessed with weather that would have made camping within the park’s boundaries possible, but there’s something emboldening about knowing I’m going home to a warm bed that makes me push harder and longer in the snow, unafraid of wet gear.

Zion in the Winter 1

I used to get cranky living in Los Angeles in the wintertime. I felt stifled by the fact that all my favorite trails were covered with snow while I was held captive in a smog-ridden constellation of concrete that the sun beat down upon as though time’s essence held no weight. Then, one day I realized that we live in an absolute mecca for road trips, and my quest to become a weekend warrior, in earnest, begun. Winter shouldn’t keep anyone from exploring some of our nation’s greatest treasures. It’s often the most magical time to visit the national parks, and you’re sure to see things that summer simply cannot provide. So go on, declare a snow day. I dare you.

For more information about climbing in Zion National Park and off-trail rock scrambling, check out SummitPost.org

http://www.summitpost.org/

The cheap hotel I stayed at in Hurricane, UT (and would totally recommend for late night hot-tubbing) can be found here.

https://www.wyndhamhotels.com/days-inn/hurricane-utah/days-inn-hurricane-zion-national-park-area/overview

What you must have in your First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit 1

By Oceana Setaysha

A first aid kit is a must-carry for any hiker or camper who understands and respects the wild environment they are exploring. Regardless of the length of your trip, how far you will be traveling, or whether you’ll be going alone or with companions, you should have a personal first aid kit at the very least.

Why Build Your Own First Aid Kit

While you can certainly buy first aid kits in most pharmacies, outdoor equipment stores and online, there are a number of benefits associated with putting your own first aid kit together. The most obvious benefit is that you can tailor it to suit your specific needs, where you’re traveling to, what you’re concerned about and so on. However the second benefit is that you’re familiar with every part of the kit, having put it together yourself. You’ll know exactly what you have, and you’ll be prepared to use it if the opportunity presents itself.

There are some ‘basics’ that we like to include in our hiking and camping field kits, which we feel should be present in most well-stocked kits.  Purchasing a well stocked kit to begin with is always a good idea.  It is more economical that starting from scratch.  You can then build specific items from there to match your intended location.


Of course there will always be compromises; not everything can be carried. You may also choose to include additional items depending on your specific trip.

Here is a list of some of the essentials that should be in your own first aid kit:

Gloves

Packing gloves in your first aid kit, in a bag of their own so they don’t get tangled in any zips, is always a good idea if you think you might be treating someone else. However if you’re packing a kit just for yourself, they’re probably not required.

Drugs/Meds

If you take any kind of medication on a regular basis, carrying a backup in your first aid kit is a smart idea. Also present, at a bare minimum, should be painkillers, anti-inflammatories and anti-histamines.

Antiseptic Wipes + Betadine

You should always have some kind of antiseptic in your kit. Personally we choose to have both wipes, for cleaning up, wiping blood off tools etc.  We also have Betadine, which is an iodine solution to prevent infections.

Blisters And Minor Wound Kit

While we do carry other plasters and dressings, a specific blister and minor wound ‘baggie’ within your kit is handy.  It is something you can reach for easily. In ours we have wound closure strips for large lacerations, sterile gauze swabs, various sized plasters, padded gel plasters (for blisters).

Bandages and Dressings

In terms of the dressings and bandages we have, it will ultimately depend on how much you want to carry. If you have space we’d suggest an absorbent field dressing (military grade is best), a crepe bandage, a pressure bandage (for immobilizing or snake bites), and a small bandage that can be cut up. A sticky medical tape like leucoplast is also a smart idea.

Syringe + Blunt Needle

You won’t be giving anyone any shots, but a syringe is a useful tool for cleaning up a wound with water. While you can probably get away with just the syringe, the blunt needle increases the pressure to clean the wound out.

Tweezers

For removing splinters and thorns as well as for dealing with infected ingrown hairs on rub areas when you hike a pair of sharp tweezers are definitely worth taking.

Safety Pin

Safety pins are also handy for removing splinters, and offer a way to keep a sharp point in your kit without too big a chance it will stick you. These can also be used to make a sling tidy, and many other things on the trail.

Shears/Scissors/Swiss Army Knife

A pair of shears (with a blunt edge for quickly removing clothing) or a pair of scissors, are a necessity in a first aid kit. Of course if you’re trying to cut down on what you’re bringing a Swiss Army Knife or similar multi-tool will probably be suitable.

Whistle

If you’re injured and cannot seek help, yelling out for hours is exhausting, dehydrating, and not always loud enough to attract the attention of rescuers. A whistle on the other hand can be blown with minimal effort and create a far-reaching sound.

Lighter

A spare lighter is good to have in a kit for disinfecting tweezers or pins when removing splinters and thorns. Also, if you’re treating someone a fire should be your next priority after taking care of their immediate injuries. On a less serious note, some heat applied to a plaster can help it stick better.

CPR Mask

If you’re travelling alone, this is unlikely to be necessary.  Although if you’re travelling in a group a CPR mask allows you to administer CPR on another individual safely.  That is, without worrying about blood, vomit or saliva getting on or in you.

Head Torch

You might carry a torch or head torch with you in your gear.  However if you’ve had an accident and you’re not able to reach that torch having one in your first aid kit is a really good idea. Make sure it’s stocked with batteries!

First Aid Training

While the equipment that you have is pretty important, you should also consider undertaking a first aid course. Most of the time these courses are done over a single weekend, and are relatively affordable.  They provide an individual with all the skills they need to treat a variety of injuries as a first responder. As a hiker and camper you are often quite a distance away from mainstream medical care.  Therefore knowing these first aid skills might save your life or the life of someone with you.

 

And finally…

A First Aid Guide

Camping First Aid GuideAmanda Parent has put together a first aid guide for dealing with all common first aid situations.

This inexpensive and potentially life-saving resource is available electronically from the Camping for Women website.

Whatever you plan to do in the great outdoors, always play it safe by having all the essential first aid equipment, resources and knowledge with you.  You never know when you will really need it.

 

Survival Preparation Tips for Wilderness Camping

Wilderness Camping 1

By Stephanie McHugh

Wilderness camping is the ultimate unplugged-in-nature experience. There is physical challenge involved because all of your needs are carried on your back. Being imbedded in nature is best enjoyed when you have essentials for survival. Many of the tips and tricks of a successful wilderness camping trip are learned by experience.

Preparation for wilderness camping

In addition to packing the right things for a wilderness camping hike, some steps in preparation are a bit more involved. The number one tip is to break in new hiking boots before you hit the trail; a minimum of 50 miles of walking beforehand provides good insurance against blisters. Other prep tips follow:

  • Wilderness Camping 2If you have a new tent, set it up a time or two before your trip, to avoid possibly having to struggle during setup in inclement weather.
  • Do some research on the types of dangerous wildlife you might encounter on your camping trip, and be prepared. For areas with a lot of bears, for example, wear bells on your backpack, to avoid surprising a mother with bear cubs. Also, be sure to carry some sort of campsite locker or bear bag so that at night you can lock up food and everything else that emits any type of scent, such as moisturizer, bug spray, and toothpaste.
  • There may not be access to GPS or any other electronics in the wilderness. Learn how to use a compass, and pack one for the journey, along with a map of the area.
  • A hydration system is another chief consideration, when wilderness hiking and camping. If there are plenty of water sources where you’ll be camping, you can depend on a purification system of some kind. A CamelBak system that helps you carry a few days’ worth of water may be needed, if you aren’t sure of encountering natural water supplies.

Essentials to pack for backcountry camping

The excitement of braving the wilderness can quickly lose its charm for a wide variety of reasons. Backpack space and weight is limited. Thanks to skilled campers, you can be sure of various items that are worth their weight. In addition to more obvious necessities, such as a sharp knife, you’ll want to find room in your pack for the following items:

  • Wilderness Camping 3A ground mat is very lightweight and serves a great purpose. You and your gear can usually avoid being soaked, even if the ground becomes wet as you sleep at night.
  • Pack extra plastic trash bags, which have many great uses. A trash bag can be used as a backpack cover, an emergency poncho, and a catchment system for rainwater.
  • Include some binder clips on your backpack, to make it easy to hang clothing to dry at night or during the day, when you’re hiking.
  • Wilderness Camping 4Bring a lighter and some dryer lint, for getting fires started. Lint is virtually weightless and yet serves as a great fire starter.
  • Duct tape can serve many helpful purposes, such as patching holes and removing objects from your socks, such as cheat grass spines. Bungee cords also have many uses on wilderness camping trips.
  • Bring along a whistle, which can be of help in many different circumstances. The noise can scare bears and help you find camping partners, if separated in the backcountry.

Be sure to share your secrets of enjoying wilderness camping. With the right kind of preparation, the experience can be positively – as opposed to negatively – unforgettable.

Wilderness Camping 5

Planning Your Hike while Backpacking

Planning your hike 1

By Janessa Tice Miller

Planning your hike should consider some key things before you head out on a backpacking trip.  Doing this correctly from the start will help ensure your hike goes smoothly and safely.

Planning Your Hike Route & Daily Mile Goal

Planning your hike 2Before you can do anything else on a backpacking trip, you need to plan the route that you will hike. It could take on the form of a long through-hike, a week on a trail, or just a night or two out in the wilderness. Whatever the case, you need to narrow down your route and prepare.

Once you decide where you are going, you should plan how many miles you would like to hike within each day. Be realistic! It’s important that you know your own physical limits, and realize how many miles you can or cannot hike. It’s a good idea to try out a few day hikes first, just to test out your own stamina.

You don’t have to hike the exact number of miles each day, but you will want to hit very close to your goal.

Get Familiar With Your Route Each Morning

Planning your hike 3Before you ever leave on your trip, you will want to be familiar with the layout of your full trip. But the intricacies of the day ahead must be looked at individually before you head off in the morning. Make sure you are not wasting your time by taking an ill move, and check on how far you need to walk each day, and where you aim to camp. You should always carry maps of your route with you to assist in this process.

It’s also important to be continually aware of and checking on water sources. Some days you may need to hike a bit further than normal. Or you may need to readjust your route slightly if water levels are down, for example. So always keep a larger goal in mind, but focus on the day ahead on each individual morning.

Take Consistent, Scheduled Breaks Throughout The Day

Planning your hike 5If you are planning your hike to go all day, experts say you should consistently stop to rest. With each rest stop plan to grab a protein-boosting snack, drink some water, and sit down to rest or take a quick nap.

The length of your rest will depend on your own body and the amount of miles you are hiking. Some people like to take 5-10 minute breaks every hour. Others take 15-30 minutes every two hours. Some people just sit down and grab a snack.  Others always take off their shoes and enjoy a 15 minute nap.

The point of these rest breaks is to give your body the boost it needs to stay healthy and energized. You can play with different systems to figure out what works best for your own health and hiking style.  Then ensure to be consistent in whatever you choose.

Make Sure Someone Knows Where You Are and When You Plan to Return

Before you leave, you need to make sure that someone knows where you’re going and when you should be back.  This is most important when planning your hike. It is a preventive safety measure that is always wise. If you go missing, someone will know where and when to look for you.  Camping for Women’s free P.I.N. (Planned Itinerary Notification) is something that is specifically designed for this purpose.

It is also important to make sure that you have obtained any permits or passes you might need for the area you are planning to hike. In many places, these permits are also an added safety measure.  This is because the authorities know when a person has not appeared that should have left a trail.

Planning your hike 6