Each year, I try to save my favorite hike of the year for the final post of the year. In 2013, this was the East Temple Loop in Zion National Park.
The section of road from the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel to the east entrance is in a narrow gorge between slickrock towers. There are very few designated hikes there, but there are some parking spots and an opportunity to climb the red Navajo sandstone into a unique landscape.
We parked near the tunnel entrance and followed the short Canyon Overlook Trail to the end. This spot is a viewpoint looking down toward the Virgin River Valley, the main area for visitors. Above stands the East Temple, the tallest mountain in this part of the park. There is no trail so we picked a route and started scrambling, looking for ledge systems to climb 1100 feet.
The goal is a high saddle just below the peak. All of the way is steep and all of it on red and white sandstone. We aimed for some hoodoos above. This is a steep and demanding section. After the saddle, the final section to the top of East Temple is a climb. Because I was ahead of the group I was with, I chose to go up to the highest point I could to look for any chimney routes up the vertical faces, then returned to the saddle to join the group. We looked down the backside toward Pine Creek. It looked too steep and unsafe, but we agreed to work out way down to see what challenges were to be faced. We found that by carefully selecting a winding route, we could follow ledges down the slickrock slopes. Wide-open views greeted us. We were pleased to find a sandy pothole full of water part way down and many prominent, colorful sandstone strata layers, ancient lithified sand dunes.
Two sheer drop-offs were skirted with the help of waypoints recorded in my GPS. We eventually dropped into the bottom of Pine Canyon, then walked along the sandy, dry wash to the highway, completing an exciting loop. This is a route I am looking forward to doing again, another good reason to return to Zion National Park.