Thursday, May 19, 2016

Checkerboard Arch - Zion National Park - 5/14/16

Checkerboard Arch

Behind Checkerboard Mesa - Arch Located at Top of Center Peak

View from the Saddle

Starting Up among the Pools
 Another Zion National Park wilderness hike is Checkerboard Arch. Twelve hikers drove east past the long and short tunnels and stopped just short of Checkerboard Mesa. There was just enough room for our three cars in a crowded pull-out and we crossed the road. The hike begins by dropping into the wash that is between Checkerboard Mesa and the sandstone mountain to its west. There are several pools in the sandstone on the approach. The day was cooler than the day before and there were a few clouds. ... Good.

Wash Pool - Trail goes Left of Pool
 The wash begins with a rather flat slope so the sandy bottom didn't faze us. We stayed in the wash as much as we could.

Wash along Checkerboard Mesa Wall
 The first time we had to exit the wash for an up and around trail to the left was to avoid a pool and non-negotiable dry fall.

Hikers Scramble Up at Right Turn

Pondering a No Go
 Back in the wash, we hiked comfortably until we came to a junction. It isn't obvious but the trail continues in the wash by turning to the right. There is a trail heading up the hill on the left. (You don't need to do this but you will get there that way as we learned later.) The wash hits another large dry fall of boulders. Circling around the left side of this does the trick. The next fun part also offers an up and around that is not needed. See the photo below for the solution!

Either Up and Around this Way or On a Trail Other Side
 Finally, we could see the necessary saddle in the distance through the trees. The wash connects with the sandy trail that climbs up to the high point on the right side.

Deer and Flies in Center of Wash
 Look for a few deer bones in the wash here. He had not been dead long when we waded through the flies.

Climbing Up to Saddle

Bruno Enjoys Saddle View
 The saddle climb is steep. Near the top, the sand gets so deep that for every step you make, you slide 1/2 step back! As we struggled, a group of four young men hiked up past us like we were standing still .... Well, we were standing still. Anyway, the view back at the top of the saddle is worth using as an excuse to rest. The saddle is narrow and extends from wall to wall. After our rest, we immediately began dropping down the other side on a trail that continued on around to the back side of Checkerboard Mesa. (With the exception of a few feet in the wash.)

Back in the Wash for a Minute
 We kept seeing these beautiful purple flowers throughout our hikes in Zion NP. We think they are bluebells but are not sure.

Bluebells ... or Not
 The trail left the shade of the narrow wash and we began following a few cairns along with the sandy trail. There are two parallel trails that lead to the same place back here.

Trail Circles Around Back of Checkerboard Mesa

Trail - Parunuweap Canyon in Distance
 In the distance to the south, we could see the rim of the Parunuweap Canyon. All of the few hikers that passed us were headed to a slot canyon that feeds into this larger canyon called Fat Man's Misery. The name speaks for itself.

As the trail circled around the large mesa, the peak that holds the arch came into view. It is located on the middle peak of the three peaks on the other side. You cannot see the sky through the arch until you are very near the wash on the other side of the mesa. Keep looking!

Checkerboard Mesa
 Interested in exploring a little further than the maiden hike of 2013, we dropped into that wash and turned to our left.

Hiking Up Wash
 This is an interesting wash with sandstone features in the rock. We followed the wash until we found ourselves next to the wall of the mesa.

Wash next to Checkerboard Mesa - Alcove in Background

Climbing Up to Alcove
Still exploring, we followed the wash as it became more narrow. Finally, the wash was taking a turn to the right. But, up above us on the left side, there was a very interesting looking alcove. A small scramble up and we found ourselves inside a dry fall inlet. Without technical equipment ... and skills ... we could only go up a short way before the steep sandstone stopped us.

Snack Break in Alcove
 A few of the hikers tried their hand (and feet and legs and skinned elbows) at climbing up to the next level but we were already in the shade where we were.

Exiting Alcove
 We enjoyed a snack break in the cool shade of the alcove then made our exit. There were several different methods used during the exit!

Last View back at the Arch

Following Cairns on Return
 On the return, we went back down through the wash and found the tiny cairn that we had noted when we dropped in. This is the trail out. Climbing up on the sandy rocks and through the sand, we followed cairns and retraced our steps. It was beginning to get a little warmer so we didn't waste much time getting back around to the shady wash between the sandstone mesas.

Trail back to Saddle
 We were tired when we began climbing along the trail that approached the saddle. There is more elevation gain here than we noticed on the way down.

Saddle Climb
 Finally, everyone made it up to the saddle celebrating the completion of the last ascent. Well, sort of.

Happy to be Up on Saddle Again

Sok Photographs Wayward Hikers
 On the way back, we mistakenly took the trail that comes down that long sandy rocky hill at the junction where we had turned earlier. In the photo to the left, Sok is standing in front of the correct route as we are coming down that hill. Other than that, it was a smooth return. Checkerboard Arch is a nice hike that will likely remain in our repertoire for Zion NP.

5.5 miles; 1100 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Don't Worry! There is an up and around for this one!

Returning Down by the Pools

Bighorns Spotted on Drive Back - Or, did they spot us?

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