Overview Trip Report: Bryce (Day 1)
- Date: January 27, 2020
- Activity: Winter Hiking; 3 separate day hikes
- Weather: 18ºF to 34ºF (maximum wind speed: 35 – 45 mph)
- Trail Name(s):
- The Rim Trail: Inspiration Point to Sunset Point (0.6 miles one way). I hiked it as an out-and-back (1.2 miles) just after dawn. Trail conditions: 8 – 12 inches light powder on top of packed powder; ~3 foot drifts in the margins. Traction: snowshoes recommended.
- Peek-a-boo Loop Trail from Bryce Point (5.5 miles total). I hiked from, and returned to, Bryce Point. Trail conditions: drifting snow, light powder, 4 – 12 inches of packed powder and occasion ice with Intermittent ice and mud at the lower elevations. Traction: microspikes and trekking poles.
- The Rim Trail: Sunrise Point to Sunset Point (0.5 miles one way). I hiked it as an out-and-back (1.0 miles) just before dusk. Trail conditions: black ice on pavement sections, unpaved sections were a mix of snow and ice (1 – 4 inches of powdery snow obscuring underlying ice). Traction: microspikes and trekking poles.
- Parking/Access: Before sunrise, roads in National Park hadn’t been plowed yet (4 to 6 inches of powder had fallen overnight). They plowed just after sunrise. Rainbow Gate remained closed throughout the day. I was the second car to enter the park for the day, and parking remained easy throughout my time at Bryce.
- Background about Bryce: For information about the history, geology, and terms used when discussing Bryce, see my previous post: What is Bryce Canyon? Hoodoo?
Sunrise at Inspiration Point
I got up well before dark with a plan. I wanted to watch the sunrise from The Rim at Bryce. In theory the 19-mile drive to Inspiration Point would go quickly, but 4 – 6 inches of fresh snow had fallen overnight, which made it slow going. Especially since the roads within the National Park hadn’t been plowed yet, and gusty wings were blowing the light powdery snow everywhere!
- The Rim at Bryce: the cliffs at the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt (“PAWN-suh-gant”) Plateau; elev. ~8000 – 9000 ft
Although it was a balmy 18℉ when I headed up to Inspiration Point for sunrise, a steady wind of 20 -25 mph was blowing and the wind chill made it feel much colder. As waited for sunrise, I didn’t have much company, just two other brave souls had made their way through the fresh snow up to Inspiration Point.
Low clouds on the Eastern Horizon slowed the sunrise by an extra 10 minutes, but when it finally broke through those clouds and the orange orb of the sun lit up the hoodoos (rock spires) of the ‘Silent City’ nestled within the the sparkling white snow… it was downright magical, and unlike anything I had ever seen!
Rim Trail: Inspiration Point to Sunset Point
I was so inspired by the view that I decided to do an impromptu hike along the snowy rim (The Rim Trail from Inspiration Point to Sunset Point; 0.6 each way, 1.2 miles total) to get a better view of the Bryce Amphitheater, and the hoodoos of ‘Silent City’.
I waded through drifts of snow along the rim as the fresh powdery snow of the night before blew around me. Sure, I was occasionally postholing up to my knees in snow, and it may have made sense to grab my snowshoes, but it was a short walk and I wasn’t ready to go back to my car to get them yet.
As I hiked, the only thing I could hear was the blowing snow, and I had the entire rim to myself as I hiked to Sunset Point and back again. The few people that had ventured to the rim for sunrise had already retreated to the warmth of their cars, and everyone else seems to have been waiting for the road to be plowed. It was gorgeous, peaceful, and just amazing and left me excited to continue exploring the park.
The view from Bryce Point was also incredible, but I was glad I’d chosen to watch sunrise from Inspiration Point because I felt like I was more of a part of the landscape at Inspiration Point.
Out at Bryce Point, the winds were really kicking up, with gusts up to 40 – 45 mph. I was glad to have all my layers, face-mask, and goggles as I walked directly into the wind, and down to the point, to survey the hoodoos below. The winds were so high, that even through there were half a dozen cars at the parking lot, just one group (of three people) made it out to the point to join me.
After looking at the weather, my maps, and talking with some folks that had hiked the day before, I decided to hike from Bryce Point down to the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail. Although the National Park Service considers the hike from Bryce Point to the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail (5.5 miles round-trip and 1555 feet of elevation gain) to be strenuous, I felt like I was up to the task ;) I loaded up my pack with food, water, and layers, put on my microspikes, and headed down the un-tracked trail.
Although I’d talked to folks that had hiked the trail the previous day, as I headed down to the bottom of the amphitheater, the new and drifting snow had completely erased all of the footprints of the previous day. During the 1.3 mile descent from Bryce Point (elev. 8309) to the base of the hoodoos (elev. 7600), I didn’t run into any other hikers.
For the most part, I felt comfortable with the weather and conditions on the Peek-A-Boo Connector Trail, but there were a couple of places (ok, three) that seemed a bit sketchy, and caused me to stop and evaluate whether or not it was safe for me to continue descending. My rule number one is #nodying, and I feel very strongly about it. So, the question I asked myself was, could I traverse the trail safely? If not, and I started sliding, where would I stop, and what kind of injuries might I be risking? #nodying
My conclusion in each of the three questionable locations was that with traction (e.g. microspikes) and trekking poles I could navigate the trail safely, but I proceeded cautiously. In one of the spots I thought longingly of my ice axe, which I’d left back home in Massachusetts. The frigid winds whipping snow around the cliffs added an extra level of excitement, which made me glad for the ski goggles and facemask that I’d brought with me.
Luckily, there were only a couple of sticky spots, and once I got down to the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail proper, the trail was easier, and I was out of the wind. Not only that, the scenery remained just as beautiful as ever! Besides, as soon as I headed down the trail towards the Fairy Castle I started encountering hikers that had descended from Sunset point via the Navajo Loop Trail, which meant I didn’t have to do all the work of breaking trail anymore :)
On the other side of the ‘Fairy Tower’ I started encountering more and more people entering the Peek-A-Boo Loop from the Navajo Trail, including folks slowly slipping and sliding up the trail in tennis shoes. However, as soon I turned the corner and headed up the trail towards ‘The Cathedral’, I had the trail to myself again and stopped for a spot of lunch.
After lunch I had the trail to myself as I weaved in, around, and through the hoodoos loving every minute of it of the hike from ‘The Cathedral’ to the ‘Wall of Windows’. As I hiked up to the wall, I noticed the tunnel through the stone. I’d been deeply in the shade as I climbed in the shadow of the enormous rock fin (100 – 200 feet tall?), and the tunnel was absolutely glowing. I’ll admit that I was cold and tired, but the optical illusion was so strong that I stopped and wondered what an electric spotlight was doing lighting up the tunnel… It took me a minute to realize that the light was a combination of the tall fin, the ice, the snow, and the snow. It was pretty impressive.
Once I got through the tunnel, it was one stunning view after another. Everything about the hike through the snow was spectacular. As I looked at the hoodoos, arches, and walls, they kept reminding me of my favorite sand castles to make as a child: drip castles. As a kid, my drip castles were never taller than a foot or two, here the drip castles were more like 100 or 200 feet tall, and I was hiking through the snow in the middle of it. Bryce truly felt like a magical place.
As I descended from the wall, I met a group of hikers visiting Bryce from Australia. I stopped and chatted with them for a while about hiking and some of the trails we’d visited around the country and around the world. It was nice to take a moment and appreciate the scenery with other enthusiastic hikers. We were all thoroughly impressed with both the trail and Bryce.
It was so beautiful hiking among the hoodoos, with their brilliant colors (pinks, oranges, reds, and yellows) set against a bluebird sky among the sparkling white snow that I didn’t want to leave. However, I had a lot of uphill climbing to do before returning to the warmth of my car, so I needed to get going.
I found myself making excuses to keep stopping to take more pictures because it was so beautiful and I didn’t want to leave. Unfortunately, however, the trail up the to Bryce Point was almost entirely in the shade, and the temperatures were already beginning to drop, so I needed to focus and keep hiking. The forecast suggested the temperatures would dip to around 3℉ overnight, so it behooved me to eat a snack, take one last photo, and get a move on!
After I made it back up to the rim, settled into the car, ate some more snacks, and blasted the heat on high, I headed towards the exit of the park, but I missed. ;) What can I say, the sun was still out and Bryce in the snow was stunningly beautiful ;)
Although I’d spent most of the day in solitude, it turns out there were tons of people at Bryce that day, and they all seemed to be at Sunrise Point. As I got out of the car, and carefully navigated the paved walkway (which was just a long sheet of black ice, surrounded by deep snow), I encountered busloads of people (three busloads and two 18-passenger vans, and a handful of other cars).
Although I was tired from a long day of winter hiking, Sunset Point was only 0.5 miles away from Sunrise Point, and it seemed easier to walk the Rim Trail than to navigate the roads. Besides, it was only going to add an extra mile of hiking to my day, and it got me away from the crowds… until I got to Sunset Point that is. Bundled up in my Orange Expedition jacket I was plenty warm, and I took my time as I slowly meandered to- and from- Sunset Point and finally finished my day at Bryce National Park.
Stayed Tuned for the Trip Report about Day 2 at Bryce!