Zion National Park is not a ski resort, so most people don’t go there in the winter. We did because, frankly, we needed a vacation and all the flights to warm places were sold out. The idea that the park would not be teeming with people appealed to me, as well — personally I would rather hike through snow than sit in warm weather in a parade of overheating RVs searching for a parking spot.
A few of the trails were closed, but we found these warnings to be arbitrary. Some of the trails that were officially closed were easier to traverse than the trails that were officially open. Conditions probably change faster than the rangers are able to update their lists. And we were not the only visitors to hike past “TRAIL CLOSED” signs, although I’m sure the signs did dissuade the people who hadn’t dressed appropriately for the environment, e.g. anyone not covered forehead-to-toenails in brand-name synthetic-fiber “high-performance” clothing (Dacron, Thor-Lon, Thinsulate, Gore-Tex, etc.).
Our first hike in Zion was the Hidden Canyon Trail. This trail seems to me to be typical for the park, in that it is characterized by steep climbs, stunning views (see the panorama I posted earlier), crazy rock formations, and sheer cliffs. The language on the sign at the trailhead reads, “Trail is hardened much of the way, but is very steep, rising 850 feet in only a mile. Severe dropoffs make this trail unsuitable for anyone fearful of heights.” And then it shows a little stick-figure flailing his arms as the edge of the cliff crumbles to dust underfoot — an iconographic warning of certain doom should anyone fail to heed the warning and try to “hang ten” over the edge of the cliff. I’m not fearful of heights, but I kept my distance from the edges all the same.
The ascent was less difficult than we expected, considering the grade and altitude (~4000 feet). The so-called “hardened” trail was buried in snow, but the snow was still crunchy enough to provide adequate footholds.
A few sections of the trail cross rock outcroppings. Chains bolted to the rock provide a handrail of sorts. These passages were the most difficult in the park, because the footing ranges from “uncertain” to “treacherous.” My feet shot out from under me at one point, and the only thing preventing me from dropping 15 feet into a ice-crusted pool was my grip on the chain. My wife had a few near-spills as well.
On the descent, we ate frozen Clif Bars. That’s the other thing about winter hikes — we learned to store snacks inside our jackets.