We go for our fourth try for Hepworth Wash Arch in Zions National Park. We know how difficult this hike is so we strip our day packs of anything that could save weight; i.e. ropes, flashlight, gloves, etc.
After staying overnight in Springdale, David and I get a good morning start hiking up Gifford Wash. We climb up the steep canyon to the top following a previously discovered trail. Descending into a bowl that drains into a side canyon of Hepworth Wash we find ourselves back where we stopped on attempt #3. This time we climb some short but tricky cliffs on the northeast side of the bowl which gives us access to a rock ramp bypassing the dry fall that stopped us last time. Nearly to the bottom of the drainage we are stopped by cliffs. By dropping into a rock crack we are able to descend past the cliffs and then use the rest of the rock ramp to reach the bottom. At this point we are exhausted but closer to Hepworth Wash than we have ever been. The day is getting shorter so we continue to descend this side canyon into Hepworth Wash. This requires about a hundred feet of ‘stemming’ hand over hand along the side of a leaning slot canyon before enjoying the relative flat walking through deep sand to the mouth of this side canyon and (finally!) into Hepworth Wash.
Here we find two sets of fresh mountain lion tracks. Cool! You gotta love any country where there are still mountain lions running around.
Now we need to decide whether we turn up canyon or down canyon to look for Hepworth Wash Arch and we are hurting for time. The map indicates that down canyon (east) has the more interesting cliffs so off we go through brush, deep sand and even some dried up swamp area. A mile later we turn a corner to finally see Hepworth Wash Arch hanging on a cliff.
Wow! It’s gigantic!
The thought of heading back the way we had come is more than we can handle. We decide to try another route we had considered near the end of the canyon. A half hour later we discover a dead end. Now we are REALLY going to have a hard time making it back before dark.
Back to the mouth of the side canyon, up the side canyon to the slanting slot canyon, up the rock ramp, the crack, then more ramp, down the short cliffs, then across and up the bowl to the top where we enjoy a brief rest to watch the sunset. We are dragging and stumbling now. We head down the steep slopes into Gifford Wash and are within a couple of hundred feet of the bottom when it becomes too dark to see. I take a best guess of where we might be able to get off the rock slope and onto the dry drainage. I dangle my feet off the end of the rock and am glad to feel the loose dirt of the sides of the drainage. Soon we are on reasonable flat ground and stumbling the last mile back to the parking lot. We even get a little help from the moon through the trees.
We use sticks to probe the ground in front of us and stumble onward, grateful to be off the steep slopes. All goes well though very slow until we reach the drop off across the wash from the parking area. Here there are several small cliffs that need to be climbed down. However, this side of the hill receives no moon light and we can’t tell where the trail is suppose to go. We stumble about blindly until we have made our way by chance down to the last cliff. Now there is either a shear drop off below us, or a steep rock face that is climbable when you can see the hand holds. To get to this point we tried lighting pages of a small notebook. That gives us about 3 seconds of blinding light to examine the route before leaving us night blind and with singed fingers. David even plays with using the flash on his digital camera to light the way. It was worth the try but it didn’t work very well.
Across the wash from us is the parking area and a rest room. Suddenly a vehicle turns into the parking lot and parks in front of the rest room. People start getting out and heading for the rest room. The vehicle is still running and using the headlights to light the rest room area. The entire far side of the was is lit up but our side is pitch black. David and I start yelling to the people in the vehicle but they can’t hear us because of the vehicle engine. As people begin to get back in the vehicle, one person leaves the vehicle and walks over to the edge of the parking lot closest to us. He can hear us yelling. They turn off the vehicle and we are able to hold a conversation across the wash. At first they thought we were pulling a joke on them — “You want us to drive over there?” Then we are able to make them understand that it would be helpful to us if they could turn their vehicle so that the light shines across the wash. The vehicle is turned and suddenly our entire hillside is lit up. We were sitting on the edge of the drop off that was the trail and with the light we could easily see to descend to the bottom and climb up the other side to the parking lot. We thanked them for saving us and collapsed in my SUV.
In spite of our best efforts, we slept in warm beds in Springdale that night.