It was a fine decision to go to Zion National Park after the WSOP. Even though I’ve always loved camping, fishing, and hiking growing up, as a city girl I didn’t have much experience other than the occasional family outing and the basic Red Rock hikes I had only recently been introduced to in Vegas. There was also a courage-shriveling moment after a fall on a hiking/rock climbing trip with my volleyball team when I was 12. I was glad to have the online “Lucksacks,” Kevin MacPhee and Dylan Linde, and Nick and Michael Binger as my fellow wilderness explorers
Zion is just a two and a half hour drive from Las Vegas so it was a good choice for post-series detox. Kevin and Dylan had originally proposed to hike the “Narrows,” a river-submerged trail between the canyons that would have required aqua shoes and been practical for the desert heat, but as poker players, we had only concretely decided to go hours before take-off and were disappointed to find out in the morning that there was a flash flood warning for that hike. Unwilling to abandon our Zion decision we made the road-trip anyway, assuming there would be other fun picturesque trails at the park.
The guys were all seasoned outdoor veterans, so we prepared ourselves with tents, freeze-dried food, blister bandages, water purifiers, and plenty of sunblock. It was a smooth drive to the polygamy capital and the Zion Visitor’s centre was busy upon arrival and occupied mostly by families with school-aged children. Having active outdoorsy vacations is a very smart way to create lasting positive memories with your kids! The souvenir shop sold passports where children could collect stamps from all the National Parks they had visited. I would’ve thought that was so cool as a girl, though I suppose collecting real passport stamps is pretty neat too!
The park ranger highly recommended we hiked the West Rim, saying it was his favourite trail in the entire park. It was a beautiful but often strenuous 15 mile journey that we split up into two days. We drove up to the North West corner of Zion and parked at a peak to start our hike in the afternoon. We were fortunate enough to fade rain, and made our way towards our camping site at a leisurely pace through vast fields and tranquil forest. We did not encounter another human soul on day one, but did manage to spot a snake, some lizards, and soak in one of the most epic views I have ever seen. The soft sunlight a few hours before dusk landing on a valley of mountain ranges created a symmetrical pedestal-like centerpiece. It would have been a suitable setting for a Tomb-Raider or Indiana Jones movie, or perhaps a hidden valley where dinosaurs thought to be extinct would still thrive.
We soaked whatever heavenly energy we could before hurrying onto our camp site against the setting sun. This portion of the hike flew by as we decided to play the Last Letter game, where we took turns naming Game of Thrones characters and terms that started with the last letter of the previous word. Dylan (read each book more than twice) and Nick (read most of them more than twice, wikis GoT in his spare time) were the biggest nerds, followed by Michael (GoT fresh in his brain as he was currently reading the books), and Kevin (has only watched shows) and I (had only read book 3 just a year earlier) pretty close in last place. I am proud to say that I will be well-prepared for the next match since I am now almost done book four.
We were welcomed to the camping site by a vivid rainbow and colourful clouds over a clearing surrounded by light forest and backdrops of mountain peaks. Upon pitching our tents we were greeted by some curious deer who would proceed to circle our camp and stalk us for the rest of the night. I could not make this up! They often came within a few meters of us, and made sure to make their presence known with their bold and noisy behavior. We speculated that we may have stopped in the middle of their living room. We slept under a blanket of stars that night before moving onto day two.
The next morning we realized after cooking our freeze-dried huevos rancho that we were almost out of water. The mapped water source near our campsite was but a thick swamp, so we decided to hurry on to locate the nearest spring many miles away before the sun took its toll. I was prudent enough to apply preemptive blister bandages on my baby callouses, and was taught that the secret to comfortable feet was to change socks often – dampness amplifies friction. Unfortunately I had only packed two pairs, so I could only switch between them several times on the hike. Weathered skin may show character, but it certainly does not look attractive through cute summer wedges.
The trail immediately took us from the comfortable, steady path of day one to a treacherous steep uphill climb over and around countless mountain ranges for most of day two. There were often miles of road without any shade, which, combined with our near-empty water supply and the heavy packs on our backs, made for an intense experience. If I had been with any other group I would have been a whole lot more concerned! At times it was also impossible for me to physically and mentally keep up; my biggest barriers present themselves when there is uncertainty as to where the finish line is. It was the toughest work out of my life.
Finding water made things a lot easier. We took a sock-changing break by our oasis near a cliff overlooking a brand new landscape of gorges and terrain. In actuality the spring was just a puddle-sized well with tadpole-looking creatures swimming in it, but boy was the crisp-bleachy taste of that purified water incredible! We armed ourselves with full canisters for our next segment of the hike, which while often still upwards, took us on a beautiful path that ran along the edges of breathtaking stone mountains.
No pictures could do the experience justice. The depth and curvature of each range was more majestic than the last. We consensually agreed that while the hike so far had been pretty cool, this segment was why the park guide had named the trail to be his unequivocal favourite. It felt like being on a pilgrimage across an ancient land, and we often joked about orcs catching up to us when we didn’t keep pace.
I guess I failed to mention that I had a flight back to Toronto that evening. We had a strict deadline to finish the hike, grab a quick bite, take a shuttle to our car at the visitor’s centre, drive back up to the start of the trail where the second car was, then get me back to Vegas with time to pack. I had briefly accepted that I would likely miss my flight, given that we didnt even see our first fellow human until about 3 miles left in our adventure. By this time we were all beyond exhausted, but I think if we didn’t have the time restriction we would have gone a few more miles out of our way to hike “Angel’s Landing,” a dangerous and exhilarating highlight of Zion characterized by a narrow cliff trail guided by a metal chain. We were now on a steady downwards descent, and the end seemed near as we encountered more hikers and even whole school groups. How deceiving! There would be about two more hours of steep descension and switchbacks ahead. The journey down was brutally unkind on our feet and joints, and sharing the path with those who had only climbed the few miles up to Angels Landing would’ve made me feel like an outdoor elitist if I wasn’t being humbled by the sweltering heat of a sun at full mass.
My enthusiasm for the end rapidly turned into a stream of miniature stumbles until we were finally rewarded with the sanctity of the refreshing Virgin River. Our race against time was gladly ignored for a much-needed baptism back to civilization, and I was then able to declare that the West Rim in Zion was now one of my proudest triumphs! I passed out most of the way back to Vegas and was able to make my flight home that evening.
I will always remember the nature of my lusts as we weaved up and down those celestial valleys. No existential angst or worldly desire can compete with my appreciation for an ice-cold beverage and dry socks!