Trans Zion: How Not To Hydrate

Last weekend I went to Utah to do Trans-Zion, one of the classic trail runs in the country. Traversing Zion National Park from one end to the other, all on beautiful trails, and with it’s optimal season (March-May) coming before the classic mountain routes are snow-free, this 44 mile route is now run by dozens of people every spring, even though it was first run less than 10 years ago.

I’d run every trail in the Park, but had never done Trans-Zion. That’s because the required car shuttle is huge, and none of my girlfriends ever liked me enough to drive around and pick me up.

Then I met Jared Campbell, who does T-Z like it’s his normal weekend run, and since he’s such a nice guy, his girlfriend (now wife) Mindy readily volunteers to drive the car around.

I realized if I was a nicer person I could have done this route years ago. OK, Lesson learned. I would learn a few more before this day was over.

Our group was three: myself, Mindy, and her friend Sarah (aka Pippi Longstocking – see photos). Jared had done this route so much he was sick of it, so he was going to do some canyoneering with our friend Ryan, then drive the car around for us.

The three of us left Lee Pass Trailhead under perfect conditions – temp almost 50, bluebird skies, no wind. We motored along beautiful La Verkin Creek, under the Cottonwoods and next to the Junipers, then at the creek crossing 6 miles into it, came upon two female runners. They didn’t know how to get across the Creek. Since it was only shin deep, we weren’t sure what the problem was, but after first scanning for Alligators or Piranah’s, and not seeing any, we casually walked across. Jogging up the sandy trail above the creek, we hoped the best for the pair behind us, fearing a very long day was ahead of them.

The next section – Hop Valley and the Wildcat Cutoff – was dry, and the day was heating up. This is where hydration strategy gets interesting. Mindy was using the Wink, which for years has been the go-to pack for backcountry running. The Wink (or Wasp, which is the male version) is ubiquitous … if Ultimate Direction ever tried to discontinue it, an angry mob would form outside the door. I however, was using the Katoa, a two-bottle waist pack. That’s because I personally prefer bottles to bladders. The problem is there is no way one can carry enough water in bottles to do this route. The solution is to get water along the way. And bottles are easier to fill than bladders from springs and seeps.

Did that make sense? If not, see the following demonstration from Mindy, who carried 64oz in her reservoir, but also carried the Fastdraw handheld, which really helps at Wildcat Spring, the only reliable water for 30 miles:

"It's way back there, but dripping well"

 

 

"I can't see anything swimming around in there"

"Good to go!"

 

 

Fortunately, when the new Ultimate Direction Signature Series of packs comes out, runners will have excellent capacity with easy-to-fill bottles!

The three of us finally reached the high point on the route, just below Lava Point, and started down the long West Rim Trail that eventually leads to the Valley. Just as the trail drops over the rim, losing 2,500 feet in a few miles, Mindy puts the hammer down. She plans on stopping in the Valley while Sarah and I plan on continuing another 11 miles to the East Entrance – and yet, inexplicably, I pick up the pace too, trying to keep up with her.

Inexplicable because this was totally stupid, but I was having a great time, and couldn’t resist, even though Sarah could and did. We blazed down the bare rock path hewn out of the solid slickrock, with spectacular views down Behunin Canyon and across the valley, until on a minor climb out of Telegraph Canyon, the full sun hit us, reflecting off the bare rock … and we both suddenly caved in. We were so hot we got woozy … we slowed to a jog, hobbled past the hoards of people hiking up Angels Landing, and straggled down into the Valley, the one place on the route with official potable water, just as Sarah catches up, while looking much more rested than us.

Lesson #2: Don’t try to keep pace with someone who is stopping their run 11 miles before you.

It was time for a break to cool off. I seriously needed some electrolytes … the day was much hotter than anything so far in Colorado, so I wasn’t used to drinking so much … fortunately I had brought a little baggie of Cytomax … I eagerly poured it into both my topped off water bottles … actually, it was an unmarked baggie containing powder that I presumed was Cytomax … read on for Lesson #3, unless you are smarter than me and have already figured out where this is going.

Sarah and I tooled up the road, then started hiking up the Weeping Rock Trail, the final climb of the day. This trail is also hacked out of solid rock, and was now directly facing the afternoon sun. It was seriously hot. I took big hits from my bottles – aack! Tasted terrible! What the heck? I continued all the way up into Echo Canyon, feeling really un-great, when it suddenly dawned on me: that wasn’t electrolytes – I now remembered that little baggie was left over from a Wind River backpacking trip I guided last August – it was protein powder. Not a drink mix – pure protein. Drinking it was like pouring wet cement into my Kidneys.

I was done. I gave Sarah my best wishes and sad regards – she would finish very strong in her first T-Z – and I would straggle back down the trail, tail between my legs, and get on the tourist shuttle bus, thinking seriously of Lesson #3: Don’t be an idiot.

And of Lesson #4: Come back and do this again.

 

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6 thoughts on “Trans Zion: How Not To Hydrate

  1. Great piece. I need to do that run as well. Even the legends can and do still make mistakes. It seems no level of experience can shield you from that…

  2. Great pointers! Buzz, I’m going to attempt my 4th Zion R2R in October 2012 with Josh of Zion Outdoor and Eric Miller. Last time I did it was 5 or so years ago. On that trip I went solo without drops and self contained. I carried over 2.5 gallons of water and a couple quarts of Vitalyte. My goal was 14 hours and I missed it by 25 minutes. This time I’ll have drops. 1 at Hop Valley TH, 1 at West Rim TH and thats it. My concern…I had my second shoulder surgery (right rotator cuff) this past January, and I’m wondering how you feel about carrying water in holsters on the hands? I’m thinking of using a small belt pack with maybe 1-2 small sport bottles and maybe 1 bottle in my (good) hand. Your thoughts? I would also like to do a personal best of under 12 hours. Can you give insight as to how I might best accomplish <12 hours? Can I clip 2:45 off my self supported solo which was a power walk with 1- 10 minute stop at the halfway point. I know I'll have to run a bit, but how much? Thanks!
    Bo

  3. Glad you’re getting back on it Bo! Carrying all your water means you are both very strong, and a glutton for punishment … let’s make it a lot easier this October!
    1. Carry only what you need. Weight = Calories burned; a straightforward equation. The weather is totally stable, the trail non-technical, and you can’t get lost.
    2. Wildcat Spring is reliable as of course are the spigots in the valley. You can place a drop at Kolob Rd, which means you only have to carry enough water to go 11 miles at a time. Drop some food there and in the valley, and you’re good.
    3. Handhelds are inefficient, because you are expending arm energy – well-documented by treadmill testing. Everyone I know uses the Wasp pack, which is super comfortable, has pockets up front so you can eat while still moving, and the 2 quart reservoir will certainly get you 11 miles.
    4. A very strong hiker actually could hike the whole thing in 12 hours, but it would be easier to use multi-day technique: hike all the ups AND all the flats, and be ready to run all the downs. Do that right from the start. Get your quads used to running downhill in advance!
    Please let us know how it goes!

  4. Nice post. But you need to have your pals take pictures of you for the post, especially after a mouthful of protein powder. Very funny.

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