Thursday, May 1, 2014

Zion Day 5: The Narrows

According to the National Parks website a trip to the narrows is no small venture; the Virgin River has carved a spectacular gorge in the upper reaches of Zion Canyon: 16 miles long, up to 2,000-feet deep, and at times only 20 to 30-feet wide. The Narrows, with its soaring walls, sandstone grottos, natural springs, and hanging gardens can be an unforgettable wilderness experience. Hiking The Narrows means hiking in the Virgin River. At least 60 percent of the hike is spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming in the river. There is no maintained trail because the route is the river. The current is swift, the water is cold, and the rocks underfoot are slippery.

I first heard about the Narrows back in grade school. My step dad talked about how he and a friend had walked down the length of a river canyon in Utah, epic stories followed and I started researching, and so my dream to visit the Narrows was born.

I showed up to the shuttle with my things pretty much triple bagged and more clothes than I ever normally take because of the chilly start and my worry about being wet and cold in a dark canyon. The shuttle left nice and late and wound the hour and a half through the park to Chamberlain Ranch and the trail head. I met my mystery shuttle couple, a really nice college couple from Thunder Bay Ontario who I ended up spending almost the whole day with.

for you mom, see photos of me exist even if they are
ridiculously blurry
The first 3 miles are along a dirt road, private property easement kind of stuff. We see three other hikers at the trail head but quickly lose them as they take a wrong turn ahead of us into the scrub (stick to the road, no barbed wire to battle with).

old cabin as the trail leaves the road and hits the river

The day starts heating up and we criss-cross the river, barely even ankle deep.

We start to see canyon walls, for now only one sided but it only gets better.

We have a brochure of the Narrows as our quick reference map, it has a few highlights and not much else. We decide we are near the "Little Narrows" as canyon walls begin to rise on either side.

There's a waterfall but luckily a trail to the side makes negotiating it a non issue.

We reach our first real intersection where Deep Creek joins the Virgin River. Nine miles in we take a break and enjoy seeing the first of the 12 campsites in the canyon. Its cold when you stop moving and while we have technically walked only nine miles it feels like much more. The whole day has been spent picking our way through water avoiding holes and other large obstacles. Watching ankles as your footing changes and trying not to trip as you stare at the scenery.

The next few miles are a blur. It becomes greener on the shoreline and suddenly most of the rocks are covered in algae. Marshy spots and trees become the norm. My concentration is focused on not falling flat on my face and hoping to see a campsite because it means I am that much closer to mine. My feet are tired in their cramped canyoneering shoes. I usually wear comfy trail runners and these rigid things are making my feet feel trapped and heavy. The constant drag of the water is tiring and the day has been one long balancing act on rocks. I say goodbye to my new friends at campsite 9 and enjoy my new solitude. I am still tired though and each turns has me searching for campsite markers. Soon enough I am at site 11, my home for the night. I peel of my wet socks and shoes thankful for the break and lack of blisters after 11 miles of being to scared to check my feet. I inhale my dinner and curl up in my sleeping back before 6 in the evening grateful I voted for a short day. I could have done the whole thing but I would have been beyond tired and cranky by the end.

I'm enjoying my book when I'm interrupted by shouting. One of the guys I had seen at the trail head is looking for his friend, apparently he went ahead of them and somehow missed their campsite. The guy looks exhausted and in no mood to be hiking extra miles. Luckily a few minutes later and a whole lot of whistling brings the lost friend down the river. No clue how they walked past each other but glad no bad scenarios were in play.

Back to my book and my last night in Zion. staring at the sky trying to figure out what to do with life. Not a bad place for a little self reflection.

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