Maybe you've heard about it, maybe not, but Zion Adventure Company has been working tirelessly for the past two years to develop one of the, if not the, most unique canyoneering/adventure experiences in the greater Zion area. The Eye of the Needle (EOTN) canyon descent, finished off with the 400+ ft. via feratta ladder ascent, is an adventure like nothing else. This past April, myself and a group of other guides loaded up the Land Cruisers and headed up north of Zion to one of the company's cabins for a weekend of adventure; our goal was to complete some of the beautiful canyons found north of the park, including Eye of the Needle (our privately owned flowing water canyon) and to experience the newly completed ladder for the first time.
Upon arrival, we ditched all of our gear at the ZAC cabin, and headed immediately down the trail to the practice wall, a 50ft. high demo wall that allows you to experience the systems used and sensations felt while ascending the via feratta. BIll Westerhoff and Rich McIver, the chief engineers of the via feratta, gave us an active demo of how to set up our safety systems, including how the safety cable and gear worked together, and how best to set ourselves up for success on the ladder. While I've guided canyons for a number of years at ZAC, climbing 400ft+ up a via feratta was a completely new experience, so I was curious how it all worked. In the end, it's quite possibly one of the safest systems I've ever been attached to. Essentially, at no point are you not attached to either the safety cable or the ladder by less than two points of contact. You also have an "auto-locking" device that slides up the cable with you, and an extra tether on your harness that allows you to rest on the wall, or go hands free for a sweet picture of the amazing canyon unfolding below.
Once the demo was finished, we hiked a short distance to the head of Eye of the Needle, and began our descent. Eye of the Needle is one of the few flowing water canyons found in the desert southwest. Springs keep this canyon running year round, giving it a "Class-C" rating. The rating system lists canyons as either A (dry), B (stagnant water), or C (flowing). Flowing water presents its own unique challenges in canyoneering, as you are forced to adapt to your environment. Communication and rope management are imperative for a safe and successful day.
(Eye of the Needle may be on of the most demanding canyons that we offer. While the canyon itself is shorter than most, and drops precipitously from the start; the challenge of maneuvering through cold, flowing water, and traversing several sections of flash flood debris can be physically demanding for even the most seasoned canyoneer.)
We were likely the first people through EOTN this season, and so we found a bit of maintenance was in order. Checking bolts and replacing anchors is par for the course as a guide, with staff trips being no different. There's nothing quite like anchoring yourself to a bolt out over 120ft of exposure to replace an anchor. We crushed out the remainder of the canyon, including the dramatic and aptly named "Eye of the Needle" rappel, where you rappel through a beautifully eroded feature in the rock, giving the canyon its namesake (sorry, no photo spoilers!)
Upon completion of EOTN, the anticipation was building in the group to finally get on the via feratta. We as guides had heard so much about this project over the previous few years, but had yet to set eyes on it ourselves. Now was our chance. Trust me, it was worth the wait. I geared up quickly, took a deep breath, and clipped myself into the first rung. Let's see what all the fuss is about.
The first 30ft or so are almost completely vertical, so you find yourself really focusing on your hands and feet. This gives way to a more forgiving angle, which suddenly allows you to relax and realize you're already way off the deck! I really didn't know what to expect of the ladder. As my climbing background has mostly kept me a pitch or two off the ground, I've never had the opportunity to experience the elation and exposure offered by climbing one of the "big walls" in Zion. The via feratta gives you all of that and more. The ladder is not a straight shot from the canyon bottom to the top, but instead a series of traversing sections that move both vertically and horizontally up varying degrees. This not only gives you that "big wall" feeling, but forces you at times to look down for your footing, which in turn forces you to see 300ft straight down! Gulp! Amazing!
Soon enough I clipped my last rung and was over the edge. What an amazing job the crew has done with this project. The time and care put into crafting such a challenging, yet riveting route certainly reflects the dedication they have for presenting future visitors with a once in a lifetime experience. I feel like I speak for my fellow guides when I say that this sentiment is shared across the board.
The remainder of the weekend was full of canyon fun and frivolity, but was hard pressed to exceed our first ascent of the via feratta. There's been a lot of chatter and excitement out there on the interwebs about this project, and so we invite anyone curious about the adventure to contact us with any questions or inquiries about potential bookings. We've been beyond excited to finally share this project with the public, and as the leading innovative force in Zion for over 20 years in both Narrows outfitting and guided adventures, we will continue working hard to give you or your family some of the most unique, unforgettable experiences possible in this place that we call home.
Thanks again for reading. See you on the trails (or ladder?)!
A brief introduction
Touted as one of the top national parks of the United States of America, Zion National Park is a proverbial must-visit for the biggest adventure freaks out there. There is no dearth of adventurous activities that you can actually try out there. Do educate yourself about the same in a bid to be guided – more so if you’re actually planning a trip there.
1. Canyoneering: It refers to an outdoor activity which is actually a combination of various deeds including rappelling, route finding, swimming, and hiking. Now, Zion takes a leading role in the country when it comes to drawing crowds interested in exploring this particular activity. The Canyon Overlook Trail remains one of the busiest hiking routes whereby a 1-mile round trip takes hikers along the rim of one of these most popular technical canyons in the park, Pine Creek. If you are willing to take a technical canyoneering trip here, you will eventually require a permit through the park service. However, Ordervillle Canyon is considered a beginner canyoneering route, and to get the right skills to complete the route, you will need some training before hand. (Zion Adventure Company offers training specifically for the canyons you wish to adventure through.) The Orderville Canyon trip is designed for the more seasoned trippers. Trippers are advised to follow the park regulations primarily meant to protect over 124,400 acres of greenery.
2. Paved Biking: Ask the experts and they will tell you that if you’re opting for biking here, you will only be accessing the paved paths since the hiking trails are not really accessible for bikes. Notably, since most of the national parks are virtual wildernesses, you are not really allowed to bike there. However, Zion is one exception in that case. Those who already have taken a ride through Zion will vouch for the scenic beauty encompassing the place. There are 2 roads within Zion that bikers can experience, the Scenic Drive in the Main Canyon for a casual peddle , and the Kolob Terrace Road for those who are avid cyclists. You want to know what’s in store for you.
Here’s a look:
· Thousand feet vertical cliffs made of sandstone of myriad hues
· Exceptional features formed by rocks
· Treacherous terrains that will require you to keep your eyes firmly on the tracks even while you would want to enjoy the scenic beauty
3. Mountain Biking: Now, you have to remember that the Zion National Park does not really allow mountain biking on hiking trails. Travelers can definitely educate themselves about nearby trails like the JEM Trail area or the Gooseberry Mesa Trails in order to explore the mountain biking opportunities there.
4. Rock Climbing: What serves as a literal hotbed for paved biking, hiking and canyoneering activities also serve as a wonderful springboard for rock climbing. Let us tell you that if you are presently willing to find out about the opportunities made available there, you can be rest assured of the fact that there is no dearth of avenues in this case. It remains one of the leading destinations for rock climbing. Actually, there are over 100 different climbing routes to keep you sorted. You can even be advised by guides on how exactly to master the treacherous sandstones. These guides will not only offer you nuanced suggestions but the basic ones as well. For instance, if you want you can reach out to them in order to find out what would be best suited for you.
5. Caving: Utah itself is home to some of the fascinating caves that adventurers have access to. As a way to escape the heat, crowds and to get a taste of something with a bit different flavor, Bloomington Cave can offer that. It is an hour drive from the National Park, and can be one of the most physically demanding parts of your vacation. It will encompass obtaining a guide, scrambling, climbing, rappelling, and navigating, all while being in complete darkness with only the light on your helmet leading the way. With temperatures hovering around 65 fahrenheit, year-round conditions are dry and predictable. This is a true test of your durability.
Hiking: Let us tell you that Zion is practically brimming with a host of exciting hiking trails that will keep trippers hooked irrespective of what their age group is.
A few noteworthy names in this regards are:
¨ Emerald Pools Trail
¨ Angels Landing trail
¨ Weeping Rock Trail
¨ The Subway Trail Permit required from the National Park Service
¨ The Zion Narrows Riverside Walk and Narrows Bottom-Up
¨ Canyon Overlook Trail
¨ East Rim Trail to Observation Point
A well-rounded hiking experience in the Zion National Park can turn out be a part of your most rewarding memories.
Backpacking: Once again, this place is actually brimming with a wide array of unique backpacking opportunities. What else can you expect from a place with a whopping 37 designated backpacking sites? However, experts always prudently warn you against getting floored by the availability of so many opportunities. They opine that backpacking to Zion does require you to resort to thorough research. Make sure your plans are based on your interests, the time you are visiting and the overall ability of your group. For instance, you might as well be fascinated by the idea of rock climbing in the Zion National Park but do remember that you will not really be able to do that if you are visiting post monsoons because the rocks will be wet.
Scenic Drives: Do educate yourself about the stunning byway which takes around 1.5 hours to cover by car. The byway runs parallel to the Virgin River so you might as well be to imagine the kind of visual pleasure that’s actually in store for you.
So, you know that the much celebrated Zion National Park is actually a treasure trove of adventures for you. Please make sure that you are reading up more such posts in order to be guided further.
Written by Sarah Bennett. Sarah is a senior content curator in HolidayFactors.com, a leading holiday portal in Dubai, UAE
Believe it or not, the 2018 season is officially here. With snow receding from the Pine Valley peaks and desert wildflowers making their way up through the desert low lands, millions of visitors from around the world will soon begin their pilgrimage to one of the most beautiful places on Earth (...we're a little bias), Zion National Park.
With the beginning of a new season comes the opportunity for our staff to find new ways to learn, grow, explore, relate, and reconnect. These are the foundational principals of Zion Adventure Company, and have been since it's beginning in 1996.
Inspired by The Dirtbag Diaries yearly post "The Year of Big Ideas," we wanted to reach out to a few of our staff members to see what goals they have for the season ahead.
Jennifer Fitzwater, beginning her second season as a Guide/Outfitter, explores the theme of "trust" for her year ahead.
This year, however, the passing of 2017 gave way to a 2018 void of resolutions. I had no grand ideas or sweeping plans. But as 2018 has begun to amble along, a smaller, more subtle goal has crept into my mind. I would love to learn to trust myself more. I've been trying to track the origins of this idea and it seems that they are rooted in my recent experiences in the outdoors.
I am lucky enough to live in a place that affords me nearly unlimited options for adventuring. I moved to Southwest Utah from Ohio about a year ago and in that time I have started canyoneering, mountain biking, and climbing. All three of these sports require a degree of trust I have not encountered before. I have to trust that I can stay singly focused on the path ahead and the upcoming obstacles when I'm mountain biking. I need to trust my rope work in a canyon and my efficacy in teaching to get everyone safely through. I am learning to trust the strength of my mind and body while climbing as I slowly understand that I am capable of a lot more than I ever let myself believe before.
At times, this seems like an insignificant task. "Trust yourself more," I think, "Sure. Yea. Duh!" But then I start to remember all the self-limiting stories I have ever told myself. You're not strong enough to do that. You're gonna hurt yourself. You'll fall. You'll fail. So this year I am resolved to find that voice inside of me who tells those stories and lead her by the hand into adventures that scare me, that test me, that actively challenge those self-limiting beliefs until those stories are no longer the front page of my internal monologue. Maybe by this time next year, those stories will read as trust. You've got this. You're strong enough. Yea, you're gonna fall and that's okay."
Learning to trust is something we all go through in our lives, whether that be in our personal goals or professional careers. Looking forward to seeing Jen find her voice in 2018!
Next up we have Hayley Walker, a member of the ZAC Admin. staff entering her sixth season in Zion. Hayley muses with an idea that everyone in the outdoors has fought with at one point in time or another...commitment.
While the whole surgery thing and being stuck in a sling for 3 months likely prevents me from attempting this pursuit this spring, it is certainly something I can start working towards even-while recovering from surgery. During a recent, one armed speed hike up to Observation Point, I started to seriously consider the logistics and viability of this objective and found myself excited about having a goal to work towards. Injury, as many of you know, can be not only physically challenging but mentally difficult too. For someone whose identity and contentment with the world relies heavily on physical activity and getting out into the outdoors, this might just be the goal I need to keep me motivated while I continue on the path to full recovery.
The real question will be how committed I am once I do recover and no longer have the excuse of shoulder surgery to fall back on. Many excuses in the past when I’ve considered the Trans-Zion in a day range from: it’s too hot to train, I haven’t trained enough, it’s going to be miserably hard or the classic, what if I completely fail and can’t finish? I think I’m ok with failing and I don’t want the reason for why I don’t attempt it to be a fear of not finishing it. I’d rather go for it and see what happens, no pressure just a satisfaction in trying. The simple act of accepting possible failure this early on already makes it feel more attainable in that I’ve taken the pressure off of it.
My hope is that my excitement for a grueling day of running and speed hiking over challenging terrain for hours and hours on end doesn’t wane but instead grows as I continue to heal. The Trans-Zion in a day may simply be a product of my deep desire and need to get back out there adventuring and getting after it, but for now I’m going to roll with it. If it gets me inspired and motivated to focus on my healing then I will fully embrace it. If, when I am fully healed, I decide I’m crazy and wonder why I ever thought the Trans-Zion in a day was a remotely desirable idea, at least I’ll know the idea of it got me through a tough time of healing and recovering. Who knows, maybe a future post will be about all of the excuses I came up with for why not to do it, or maybe, just maybe, it will be about my epic first attempt at the Trans-Zion in a day."
Commitment in the moment is difficult, wether it be sticking the crux of that boulder problem that you just can't seem to piece together or sitting on your bike at the top of a double black-diamond second guessing yourself, you have a split second to make choices that decide if you fail or succeed. Commitment to goals long into the future on the other hand, is even more painstaking. Training, diet, patience. You need all of these for an extended period of time, and even then it may not be enough, but if you're willing to put in the work, it's always worth it in the end.
Here's to wishing Hayley a speedy recovery from shoulder surgery and a future post detailing her successful single day Trans-Zion hike!
In my time at ZAC, I've tried many new things. My second week here I let my fancy for a member of the opposite sex naively drag me into an R rated technical canyon, when I hadn't really ever been canyoneering before. I've been completely terrified while being drug up multi-pitch desert towers, and definitely looked like a Jerry my first time on skis. Being completely green at any outdoor activity tends to have a fun yet awkward beginning...at least for me.
I'm probably too much of a wimp to ever be a good climber, and while I enjoy Canyoneering, it's something you just can't go do whenever you want, especially alone. Ah, but there is one discipline that's easy to get into, I had a background in, and was just barely affordable: Mountain Biking. Two years ago I pinched my pennies and got myself my first real full-suspension mountain bike. Since that moment, I've spent countless hours peddling trails all around the western U.S.. This year though, I'm planning to take my infatuation a step further. Endurance racing.
In January, I forked over $120 of my hard earned dough and entered the True Grit Epic, a 100 mile endurance mountain bike race in St. George, Utah (...I'm only doing the 50. What? Did you think I was a masochist?). Training has been how training goes when you're young, poor, and really like pizza. I've never spent so much time on a bike, and while my hamstrings feel like jelly most mornings, I love it. While the race date is March 10th, I hope to use this as a springboard to more unknown bike related escapades throughout the year, such as bikepacking the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands and bikerafting in the San Rafael Swell. Here's to more future posts detailing the pure sufferfest known as long distance bike related activities!
We here at Zion Adventure Company hope that the 2018 season brings you a healthy year full of adventure and stoke. Wether you're learning to trust yourself in new ways or committing to that one outdoor goal that's avoided you, we'll be here to share with you some of the amazing adventures we find ourselves in.
Thanks for reading, feel free to comment below with some of your personal outdoor goals for the 2018 season, or if you're looking for suggestions!
Since 1996, Zion Adventure Company (ZAC) has been at the forefront of all things adventure in southwest Utah. From opening our doors as Zion's first Outfitter and revolutionizing the Narrows hiking experience, to being the first permitted Guided Canyoneering service in the area, we've continued to set the standard.
In launching this new site, we hope to continue giving you, the customer, the best experience possible when deciding the who, what, and where of your Zion experience. We're excited to not only share with you the knowledge and moments that have come to define who we are as a company, but also to bring you exciting, new adventures that can't be found anywhere else.
With launching the new site, we're dedicated to being a valuable resource to those exploring the Zion area. This blog will be a collection of ideas, experiences, lessons, and stories; all brought to you by the ZAC staff. We spend our days not only fostering relationships with the millions of visitors that come to explore our backyard, but also doing a little exploring ourselves. Our staff is a unique collective of canyoneers, climbers, mountain bikers, packrafters, stand up paddle boarders, dirt bikers, ping pongers and more. If it exists, someone here is probably doing it, and if it doesn't, they're working on it.
So sit back, check out the new site, and discover a new adventure for you or your family.