"The Trans-Zion Trek (sometimes also called the "Zion Traverse") is a 48-mile route across Zion National Park in Southwestern Utah. It runs from Lee Pass in the Kolob Canyons section of the park, to the East Entrance Trailhead, though stunning and diverse high desert landscape. The route is typically done as a 5-day backpacking trip."
a brief history: fastest known times page: in may of 2008 i visited my buddy karl meltzer in salt lake city. he had just returned from running across the entire zion national park with jared campbell. they had revived this incredible route and had taken some sweet video. karl was pretty excited about the run (blog report on it w/video). i had never been to zion, but the seed was planted.
bo beck probably set the first standard of 14hrs 25mins. jared and karl's revival and video shoot set the new record at 10h27min. famous backpacker andrew skurka then took that down to 9h27mins before jared and buddy christian johnson took 18mins off skurka's time nov 27, 2009 running 9h 08mins (blog report). jared showed me the east entrance to cable mtn in january (blog w/videos). last week while snow storms hit salt lake i retreated to zion to scout the route a bit more. i had a blast and was blown away. but with pocatello 50 miler coming up i had a very small window to try and run it as fast as i could. i think this route is stunningly beautiful. in my opinion it's an ever better adventure run than the venerable double crossing of the grand canyon. the report: my lovely assistant linda barton flew into slc late wednesday night. i can't thank her enough for all the help. wouldn't have run that fast without her. we left slc at 2pm and had just enough time for me to show linda the finishline at lee pass and then the 50km / 31mile mark at wildcat trail where she'd be crewing me.
i didn't really sleep the night before as per my usual. i was just too excited. i was going to run the route east to west as skurka had. there are advantages to both directions. east to west is 400 feet more vertical climbing, as lee pass / la verkin trailhead is 400ft higher than the east entrance / east rim trailhead where i'd start. i weighed my options and decided for these reasons to run east to west:
as skurka points out on his report you get the massive climb out of zion canyon done earlier in the route.
logistically driving from salt lake, stopping at the lee pass finish and wildcat trail then camping and continuing east made more sense and saved time... less driving.
my run with jared had really soured me to the east rim trail. i wasn't fit (or ah, i wasn't as fit as jared), so i had trouble keeping up with him and i just didn't want to replay that by running west to east.
i started running from the east entrance at 8:15am. i felt pretty good that morning but still had some residual soreness in my right quad from a run up mt olympus in slc 2 days prior. probably should have taken it a bit easier on the way down. i told linda i'd be at the grotto somewhere around 1hr 30min - 1h50m. it's just 12 miles and drops you into zion canyon. there is a good hard semi-paved downhill from weeping rock. i popped off the trail at the bottom in 1hr 30m having to use the bathroom pretty bad. after doing some business i realized there was no tp. with my mhw shorts around my ankles i literally covered my package and shuffled from one bathroom to the other, as horrified tourists looked on. ha. i probably ran a 7/min mile to the grotto on the one mile of road on this whole route. another good reason to run east to west, get that damn pavement out of the way earlier!
i arrived at the grotto bridge to meet linda in 1hr 40m. for the first section i had run with a nathan elite pack and a 10oz water bottle. i met linda at the grotto bridge and took a full nathan #020 running pack with 70oz of nuun in it. it felt sooo heavy. but i had 21 miles until i would see her again and it was the biggest part of the run with the 3,000 - 4,000ft climb up to the west rim. i ran that about 2mins faster than my scouting run and was feeling pretty good. once on the west rim the hr dropped and the smile extended. stunningly beautiful scenary has a way of transporting me from the pain cave to a happier place.
i was running numbers in my head and repeating my mantra for this run ~ "concentrated power of will". i knew i'd be close to the 5 hour mark for the first 31 miles where the wildcat meets the connector trail. if i could make it there in 5hrs i figured i might be able to go sub 8 hours. linda had hiked out the .9miles and brought me banana and orange slices. she's awesome. when i saw linda the suunto t6c read 5h10m. 2mins later i was running out the connector trail. she met me for the last time just down the road at the hop valley trailhead. here is where i made a crucial planning mistake. i left there with one 24oz waterbottle and just 4 gels for the next 2 - 2.5hrs and 14 miles.
as i ran away i sort of freaked out. i knew i could probably, if all went well, run under 8hrs. but i had just set myself up for failure. i would absolutely run out of water... but i knew i could drink from the likely very very contaminated la verkin river. i had 4 gels, which wouldn't be enough for my planned visit to the pain cave up the last climb. but i didn't have any electrolytes.. no nuun in my bottle, no backup endurolytes. "i am screwed" i thought.
i ran hard across the hop valley, which is probably my favorite section of the entire traverse. losing the route here is easy and there is a lot of sand to make sure you are going slow enough to look around and behold the beauty. running east to west meant 400 extra feet of climbing compared to the the other direction. it also meant i had to finish with a 1,000ft climb in the last 3 miles to my finishline. i was dreading this last section. in the hop valley i started to have an ache in my soleus (lower calf). it was likely due to a bit of dehydration. i was running hard in the full blazing sun in the hottest part of the day. i knew i'd have to bury it, and well, bury myself to set the speed record under 8hrs.
the last 3 miles felt like 20. i pushed my pace even though i was out of water and fuel. my mouth was dry and i was cramping. the wheels had come off and i was dragging axles at this point. i pushed the last two steep sections hard and when i saw linda i just put my head down and ran the stairs (above photo), fully embracing the pain. i touched the sign and hit the stop on the suunto before quickly laying down and begging for nuun.
finish photo at la verkin trailhead, lee pass
i ran the 48 miles with 10,400ft of gain across zion national park in 7 hours 58 minutes 07 seconds. with jared and christian's previous record time of 9h 08mins i had managed to take 1h 10mins off the record. i'm happy with that.
I'm an ultra distance athlete who incessantly seeks out backcountry adventure. I'm an UltraRunner by trade, but I'm a multisport athlete at heart. Ski mountaineering in the winter, trail running and cycling in the summer. After 10 years in Seattle I moved to Salt Lake City because the Wasatch Mtns are simply amazing. I'm from New Hampshire originally, where I learned to "Live Free or Die". In December of 2005 I decided my desk job at Microsoft was in fact death... so i quit. I've been gettin' after it in the backcountry full time ever since. I coach, train and write the Ask the Coach column in TrailRunner Magazine