Snowshoeing at Webster Flat and (Possibly) on the Virgin River Rim Trail. Or, You Wanted to See More Pictures of Aspen Trees, Right?
I chose Webster Flat for my next snowshoeing outing because well, it’s mostly flat, but still has some nice vistas down the Grand Staircase. As I learned on my second snowshoeing excursion, it takes quite a bit of energy to gain elevation while breaking trail – particularly at altitude – and so I thought Webster Flat would be a nice compromise between difficulty and views. In addition, I have been out this way numerous times to soak up the abundance of yellow aspen leaves in fall and so I was familiar enough with the topography which comes in handy since I usually venture off the beaten path.
I parked off Route 14, strapped on my snowshoes, and started down the unplowed FR 052. Though there were plenty of snowmobile tracks worn into the compacted snow there were none that were recent which made for easy walking as well as peace and quiet. As I trucked along down the gentle gradient I stopped multiple times to enjoy the view off the rim and take photos of the bare aspen trees which, as I mentioned, are abundant here. At the junction of 052 with 052A I turned right onto the latter, heading another mile or so towards the western rim of the plateau where I could overlook Cedar Canyon. I stopped short of the 1,000 foot descent down to Woods Ranch however and doubled back instead to the westernmost trailhead of the Virgin River Rim Trail.
Here I had a decision to make: I could either return the way I came or follow the trail back to where it meets FR 052 a half mile from where I parked. This would usually be a no-brainer but I hesitated because the 2 times I’ve been hiking on this section of the Virgin River Rim trail I lost the trail and so I didn’t know where the trailhead at the other end would be. There were also no tracks and the trail is very inconsistently blazed. Without snow on the ground it wouldn’t matter because I could navigate by landmarks and bushwack back to the road but I wasn’t confident I could find a snowshoe-friendly route if I lost the trail this time since there is a steep drop off from the ridge right before you get back to FR 052. My desire to enjoy the vistas from the trail won out pretty quickly though and I set off, crunching across the unmarked snow.
The trail follows the rim at first, providing wonderful views to the north through the fir and spruce trees before it descends gently into multiple hollows filled with aspen. As I began descending I lost sight of the blazes and was attempting to follow trail markings cut into the bark of some of the older aspen trees but I soon gave up on that too and just continued in the general direction I knew I needed to go in. The clouds moved on as I became surrounded by aspen and a glorious blue sky emerged above the canopy. I continued on as the terrain rose gently then fell again into another hollow and then climbed up to the last ridge before I was due to intersect the road. Then suddenly I could see all the way to Route 14. Unfortunately I could also see that I was going to have to navigate a very steep down – one that resulted in me alternately holding onto tree limbs to climb backwards over dead trees and sliding down on my butt. In addition to that I had to remove my snowshoes at a couple points when I was going to have to cross snow bridges that were ready to collapse. This sort of route finding on snowshoes was not the best idea and I will definitely avoid doing something like this again in the future, but it worked out. Plus the walk through the aspen was definitely worth it.