Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT


Runtrails' Web Journal
Previous       2016 Journal Topics       Home       Next




Continued from the previous page.


Heading west and north, the net elevation gain in this 3+ mile section is about 1,356 feet, from 5,354 feet at Scout's Lookout to 6,710 feet at Cabin Spring, which is also called the West Rim Spring.

The trail drops down a bit after passing the head of Refrigerator Canyon, then continues mostly uphill until it reaches the forested area at the top of the west rim. The total elevation gain and loss going out and back in this section is almost 3,000 feet.

Going northbound (the "up" direction), the trail switchbacks down to
a little creek that flows into Refrigerator Canyon.

I really enjoyed this section in the backcountry because of the unique rock formations, the views up to the rim and down to the main canyon, the more natural, narrow trail over slick rock (bedrock) and sand, and the changes in the eco-system as I gained and lost elevation.

Even better, I liked the remote feeling with significantly fewer people on the trail than in the first section up to Angels Landing. In nearly seven miles up to Cabin Spring and back down to Scout's Lookout, I saw only a couple dozen people -- total -- and had interesting conversations with several of them..

Young American couple, taking a year off from their professions -- she's an architect,
he's a chemical engineer -- to travel around the world;  they spent the first six months 
in several other countries and now they're touring the USA. Good plan, you guys!

As you'll see from the photos of this section, most of it is exposed to the sun. Take plenty of fluids, even in the cooler months, and don't expect to get clean water at Cabin Spring unless you've got a really good filter. I'll show photos of the spring later.

Also be aware that there is a narrow, partly slanted section of trail chiseled out from the cliff right before you reach the top of the rim. It has steep drop-offs for at least a quarter mile -- and great views, too!

It might scare people who are afraid of heights. It could also be dangerous if the rocky path is wet or icy; it's not called "slick" rock for nothing.

Fine today, but hazardous when wet!! The drop-off is about 600 feet right there.

OK, now let's head up the West Rim Trail from Scout's Lookout, section by section.


I'll show views from both directions (uphill/forward and downhill/behind me) and try to keep them generally in order going north and west for the remainder of the West Rim Trail up to Cabin Spring.

This first section to the top of Refrigerator Canyon is about half a mile. There are especially good views toward Zion Canyon, the east rim, and back down to Angels Landing before the trail veers more to the west, away from the park's main canyon.

Above and below:  The trail is close to Zion Canyon here (to the right) but you'll have to
walk over closer to the edge of the cliff to see it. Be careful -- it's almost 2,000 feet down!


The upper part of Refrigerator Canyon is on the left as you're hiking north.

Looking back down the trail, with Refrigerator Canyon's walls on the right

About two miles of this section are over both smooth and rough bedrock, with
some steps in places; another mile is smoother sand from rock that has disintegrated.

Above and below: There are some very interesting formations and colors of rocks in this section of the 
West Rim Trail. You can see down to the Temple of Sinawava shuttle turnaround from this swirly rock.


Approaching the White Cliffs area

Soon you'll come to a large expanse of slick rock with the last close views down to Zion Canyon and better views of the interesting white sandstone cliffs to the west that you've been seeing while walking up this trail.

The next four photos are a panorama from left to right:

Note the very cool checkerboard pattern in the sandstone. The distinctive cross-hatching
is similar to Checkerboard Mesa along Hwy. 9 in the eastern part of Zion NP.




One of the last good places to look down into Zion Canyon

The first half mile of trail above Scout's Lookout has some great views back down to Angels Landing.

The large expanse of slick rock in the photos above is also the last place you can see the Landing going northbound on the West Rim Trail because the trail turns more to the west after this.


Angels Landing looks very different from different angles -- looking up at the tall fin-like rock wall from the river, seeing what doesn't look like that much of a vertical climb from the base at Scout's Lookout, looking down at it from Observation Point, seeing one side from the south, seeing the other side from the north.

And I'm sure the perspective is totally different if you're standing on top of it, where it's very apparent just how narrow it is. I've seen all the other angles mentioned above except that one.

Looking down at Angels Landing (red arrow) from Observation Point

The most graphic and intimidating profile showing the steep angle of the trail that takes hikers up to the top of Angels Landing is from the north. You have the opportunity to get really good views of that side as you climb up the West Rim Trail above Scout's Lookout.

This set of pictures starts near Scout's Lookout and ends about half a mile up at the large expanse of slick rock shown in the previous section.

I turned around a few times on the ascent to get some of the next series of photos; two are from my descent later in the day:




Arrow shows the trail up Angels Landing.

Angels Landing (under red dot) from slick rock area

Now let's continue the ascent past the large exposed area of slick rock and get up closer to the White Cliffs.


I really loved this section of the trail, which undulates over slick rock through interesting sandstone formations.

The White Cliffs are one of the "steps" in the Grand Staircase of rock formations in southern Utah and northern Arizona, beginning at the highest elevations with the Pink Cliffs in Bryce Canyon National Park and ending down in the Grand Canyon.

This simple diagram from an interpretive display at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon shows the "steps:"

The White Cliffs in Zion National Park began forming between 110-270 million years ago when the region was covered by massive lakes and sand dunes.

Subsequent upheavals and erosion created the colorful sedimentary rock cliffs in Zion and the other national parks and monuments in the Grand Staircase. According to the park's geology webpage, the bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon is the top layer at Zion, and the bottom layer at Zion is the top layer at the Grand Canyon.

There's an interesting diagram and explanation of all of Zion's rock layers here.

This section of the West Rim Trail between 5,400-6,700 feet elevation showcases mostly Navajo Sandstone in a variety of colors, not just white, because of the different minerals that were embedded in the ancient sand dunes that eventually solidified into sand stone that we see today.

There are also several obvious Temple Cap and Carmel formations at the top of some of the cliffs.

This series of photos continues west and north above the large area of slick rock I showed previously that is located about half a mile past Scout's Lookout:

Two good examples of Temple Caps and Carmel Formations

The trail gets close to several colorful "checkerboards," cross-hatching formed by horizontal rock layers that have been eroded vertically:




Note the vertical stripes in different colors, too; they look like dripping paint but are from minerals in water that have stained the rocks.

This is one close-up of the dripping-paint effect, and I'll show more of this "modern art" farther up the trail:

The concrete, rock, and sand path arcs around several checkerboard formations as it descends to a footbridge over a little seasonal creek (dry today) that flows into Refrigerator Canyon.

In this section you can begin to see into Telephone Canyon, with its distinctive white cone:


The red line that I drew shows the trail as it courses above
Telephone Canyon on the other side of the creek.

After crossing the creek the trail continues mostly uphill until it reaches the top of the colorful west rim, visible in the distance in the photo above. There are great views of Telephone Canyon under the rim.

Through here the trail is a rather rough path that is partly chiseled out of the rocky slope, sometimes crosses over smoother slick rock, and may have some sections of concrete. The surface is interesting with its variety of patterns, textures, and colors.



Swirly gray, tan, and gold pattern in the path


As the trail approaches the west rim it enters a more forested area nicknamed "Little Siberia" -- for good reason!

I'll show photos through that section and to the top of the rim as the CCC-chiseled trail literally  hugs_the_edge of those colorful vertical cliffs for at least a quarter mile.

Continued on the next page.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

Previous       Next

2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil