Backpacking the Trans-Zion Traverse Day 3: Wildcat Canyon to West Rim Trail

Backpacking the TZT_Day 3

Day 3: Wildcat Canyon to West Rim Site #8, 6 miles

It is windy all night along, and, between the roar of the wind through the trees and the sound of the pine needles dropping on our tent throughout the night, I don’t get as good a night of sleep as I had hoped for. Since we have a relatively easy day today, we all sleep in, and nobody is up and moving around camp until nearly 7 am. Team Texas treats us to some tunes as we break camp, and we are sorry we won’t be able to share a camp again with them tonight when we will be back in an individual reserved site.

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We hit the trail by 8:30 am and retrace our steps downhill to the spring where the Germans are breaking camp. As we wind our way around the canyon, we are on the lookout for camping sites where we could have stayed last night. We find two nice flat spots about 10-15 minutes past the spring. We would have preferred not to have backtracked yesterday, but we decide that the convivial atmosphere in camp both last night and this morning was definitely worth the extra mileage.

After 2-3 miles, we reach the junction of the West Rim Trail and Lava Point Trailhead. We turn to our right and head south toward Sawmill Spring. Here we notice some rusty old farm equipment along the trail that reminds us that Zion was occupied by Mormon settlers long before it became a national park.

After about a mile on the trail, a .3 mile side trail leads us past campsite #9 and down to a grassy field where a small spring bubbles out of the ground. We unload our bags to get our hydration bladders out and join the Silver Spring brothers (who camped near us last night) and Mark from Team San Diego, who are here filtering water, too. Before long, Team Texas shows up. We take turns pumping the water from the small, 2-inch deep pool and enjoy the respite and light chatter before loading our packs with an extra 2-liters of water apiece.

We are dry camping tonight, and this is our last water stop for the next 24 hours. We decide that we each need to carry 5 liters of water! It sounds a little insane, but this is the desert after all. We need enough water to finish today’s hike, make dinner tonight and breakfast in the morning, and then still have enough to hike several miles before coming to the next spring.

Our load is heavy, and we feel each and every step as we head back up the hill to rejoin the trail. Luckily, the trail is relatively flat for the next stretch, and we trudge along at a decent pace until arriving at our first good viewpoint of the day. We decide it looks like the perfect spot to grab some lunch and take a break. The colorful landscape lures Team Texas in, too, and we all gaze out at the surreal scenery, wanting to know what we are looking at. Finally, Matt breaks out the topo map we are carrying, hoping for some clarity. We all agree that the large red and white striped mesa formation we see straight ahead must be the North Guardian Angel. With no one else around to tell us we are wrong, we go with it.

After a pleasant rest, we pack up our things and head along the trail. Within a few minutes, we come across a horny toad resting in the shade just off the trail to our right. He is the first wild horny toad either of us has ever seen, and he graciously sits still while we whip out the camera for a few photos. Score!

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The next two miles into camp seem to last forever, especially after the trail dips down into Potato Hollow and causes us to lose sight of the canyon view we were enjoying earlier. We try not to get our hopes up by thinking that this means camp must be close. We are ready to be done. All the extra water weight bares down on my feet and shoulders, and there is no inviting shade anywhere to speak of. For some reason, the idea of taking our heavy packs off to take a rest seems even worse than keeping them on. We press on, willing our tired bodies to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Wasn’t this supposed to be the easy day? 

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When we finally see the trail sign to Campsite #8, we are overjoyed. We pass the very dry Potato Hollow spring and walk on and on to our very private campsite which is located on Horse Pasture Plateau. Throwing down the packs and busting our feet out of our boots feels sweet beyond belief. It’s a solid 20-30 minutes before we even begin to contemplate doing our camp chores.

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Our campsite is huge. It is in a flat, grassy area with a handful of large trees around the perimeter. There is tons of open space, and we have expansive views to the hills surrounding us. We decide to set up the tent in a patch of shade and leave the rainfly off so we can take a short nap without getting too warm. We climb into the tent just after 4 pm and totally sack out! We don’t wake up until nearly 3 hours later feeling totally disoriented from a deep sleep in the hot afternoon. Thankfully, it is much cooler now.

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After dinner and just as the sun is setting, we decide to explore the trail leading from our camp into a labyrinth of small green manzanita bushes that hem in the northern edge of the site. These distinctive bushes grow to about 2-3 feet off the ground and have waxy green leaves that grow vertically along smooth dark red branches. They can be seen all over Zion’s backcountry , and we find them quite pretty.

It’s a fun game working our way through this giant maze of manzanita, and the great surprise awaiting us at the maze’s end is a gorgeous hidden canyon with a 1000′ drop off! 

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Standing too close to the edge makes me feel a bit weak in the knees, but Matt is so excited to find this private canyon. He runs along the edge like a crazy person trying to take as many photos as he can before we lose the light completely. I stand cautiously more or less in one spot praying that he doesn’t trip and fall in. Later we consult our map to find out that our canyon has a name. It is Imlay Canyon, and those are the Wynopits Mountain that we can see off in the distance on the horizon.

On the way back to camp we scout out a few interesting-looking trees and set up a star shot. We hope the stars come out before too long since we have a long day tomorrow and need to get to sleep. Luckily the moon is waning down to just a thin sliver. The sky is absolutely clear, and, being far from the light of any cities, we are rewarded with a dark sky filled with tons of stars. We spend nearly an hour fumbling around with different settings on our camera in hopes of a few good shots of the magnificent night sky. 

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With the sun long gone, the heat of the day has vanished completely. We decide to call it a wrap and head back in the direction of our tent, hoping we will be able to find it again in the cool, dark desert night.

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