Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Narrowing it down
Look! Another vacation post! Maybe this small bites thing is working!
So another really cool hike that Dan and I did on vacation was the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park. This has to be one of the most unique hikes anywhere. Basically, the Virgin River IS the trail. You walk down this winding trail along the river's edge for maybe 3/4 of a mile and then the path bottoms out at the river and you just keep going up the river. You can hike as far as about 5 miles up the river and then turn around and come back. If you're more motivated than us (and if your very cute but sometimes absent-minded boyfriend didn't leave his backpack in, oh, say, Portland when you're supposed to be going on a hiking/camping/backpacking vacation), you can also do the hike as an overnight backpack from the top down (about 16 miles total). You hike a few miles down the Narrows, stop at a designated campsite for the night, and finish the hike the next day. We did the day hike version and I'd say we made it maybe 3.5 or 4 miles up the river and then turned around and came back.
We rented special equipment for the hike from The Zion Adventure Company, located right outside the park in Springdale. This included special "canyoneering" boots (which look like a cross between a cross-country ski boot and a hiking boot, but are much more flexible in the sole -- you can see me wearing them in the picture above). We also got neoprene socks to keep our toesies warm and heavy wooden staffs for balance.
Before we did the hike, we went back and forth about whether it was worth $18 each to rent this stuff. We certainly saw lots of folks doing the hike in tennis shoes and Teva-type sandals, but we ended up being glad we had the gear. It looked pretty miserable doing the hike without a walking stick, which helped with balance and also with feeling out what was coming ahead, as the water was the color of Earl Grey tea with milk, and totally opaque. This saved both of us from many unexpected steps into much deeper water. And since I'm always cold, I totally appreciated the neoprene booties. I was surprisingly uncold during the hike, even though the water temp was only about 65 degrees and the air wasn't much warmer when we started. And I was super-glad I didn't have open-toed sandals on -- it was impossible to not stub your toes on the extremely rocky river bottom.
So, as I said, most of the hike is actually IN the river. For the most part, the water came up to just under my knees or so. Occasionally it was thigh-deep, but my shorts, which stop a few inches above my knees, barely got wet. Basically, you wade up the river, using your walking stick to help you avoid obstacles and keep your balance against the current, which was strong at moments, but never really powerful.
The river winds through a towering sandstone canyon, which narrows to maybe 20 feet across in places. The picture above was taken in a part of the Narrows called Wall Street. It's a bit dark, but you can see Dan standing on the rocks on the right edge of the picture, which will give you some scale. It was really quite amazing.
Ultimately, Dan and I both thought that Bryce Canyon (more on that later) was more beautiful than Zion, but that this hike was spectacular. Even if you're a little nervous about it, I'd say The Narrows hike is a can't-miss if you're in Zion. We saw plenty of grandma-types doing it and they did just fine. (Though, confidential to the 40-something banker-type who let his 70-year-old mother flounder away without ever offering her a hand, even when she was clearly frustrated and in need of some physical AND emotional support -- you're a jackass).
If you go, definitely wear light-weight, quick-drying clothes, and stuff that will keep you warm even if it's wet (no cotton!) I wore polyester soccer shorts, which dry super-quick, a workout tank, a fleece, and a lightweight windbreaker. That felt about right -- mostly I kept all the layers on, though I did strip down to the workout tank a couple times when we were in the sun for extended periods. Also, spend the $ on the equipment rentals -- you'll have a much more pleasant experience. And be sure to look at the weather report -- this hike has a high flash-flood danger. Since you're in the river the whole time, and often between two soaring canyon walls, you don't want to get stuck in here during a flash flood!