October 24, 2014
For those following our blog, you may notice that this is the same day we hiked the Emerald Pools and Kayenta Trails. So much for our planned “easy” first day of hiking at Zion. We had our waterproof stuff with us but were not convinced we wanted to hike the Narrows this day… or maybe any day. But are we ever glad we did!
This was an AWESOME hike! The first mile is a stroll up the gradually narrowing canyon on a nicely paved trail. This paved portion is the Riverwalk Trail and it is very nice and suitable for just about everyone.
At the end of the Riverwalk, we arrived at a small patio area with benches where people were either putting on or taking off random clothing and shoes. We used this as a staging area to waterproof all our gear. We wore our regular hiking boots, wool socks and shorts but many people had rented gear from local outfitters. The rentals included any combination of canyoneering shoes, neoprene booties, dry pants, waterproof bib overalls, hiking sticks and miscellaneous accessories like water bladders and jackets. We did fine in what we wore (but we were a bit chilled and I think both of us were coveting those neoprene booties by the time we were done).
We estimate that we hiked around 2.5 miles up the narrows before turning around and retracing our steps. It took us over 4 hours, most of which was in the river. Since it is a linear hike with a return on the same path, hikers can go as far as they want then turn back. Even a short hike will give you an experience to cherish forever.
(Note – this can be a dangerous hike. Flash Floods, hypothermia and injuries can, and do occur. Always check with the rangers for current conditions before entering the canyon.)
This is my favorite “hike” to date. I would do it again and again if given the chance. I would get a back country permit and pay a local company to shuttle me to the top of the canyon so that I could hike the full 16 miles from Chamberlain’s Ranch to the trail’s end with an overnight camping in the Narrows. The full hike would require walking, wading and sometimes swimming in the river as you follow it down through the narrows. There are campsites in the canyon upstream from the day hike area that can be reserved. This is now on my bucket list. Until that day I can only imagine what it would be like to sleep cradled so deep in the earth in a narrow crevice with the river rushing along beside me… Solitude… Serenity… Peace.
Our hike started with us carefully crossing the river on rocks to a little sand bar on the other side, trying not to fill our boots so early in the hike. It wasn’t 50 feet up the canyon that we had to cross again… and the water was up to our knees. We laughed at ourselves for trying to stay dry and waded right in. WOOOOOO did those first steps feel cold! We found ourselves staggering through the water, laughing. We smiled and laughed a LOT on this hike. It was truly awesome.
Just a short way up the canyon we were tucked right in between narrow canyon walls… really tall, really gorgeous canyon walls. A small waterfall dropped from high on the cliff above us to join the river below and flow around us on its way down Zion Canyon. Drop by drop, the river sculpts the canyon into a wonderland of stone. And we got to hike right through it.
I’d like to comment on that word “hike”. In my mind, a hike means putting one foot in front of the other as you traverse an area along a trail. Not so for The Narrows. There is no trail. You “hike” in the Virgin River. There are a few small patches of dry land that you cross back and forth through the river to reach but there is very little of that one foot in front of the other method. The river has a decent current that tumbles and pushes along rocks of various sizes so you step, slosh, wade, twist, brace, and roll your foot on rocks, then step again.
Your hiking stick is your best friend and helps you keep your balance. Even when you hit a little sand bar above water level, it is covered with large and small stones that have tumbled through the canyon so you have to take care not to twist out an ankle as you toddle over them; then, within minutes, it is back into the river again. Maybe one step in 100 actually lands flat on a little piece of sand or smooth rock. The other steps have your foot pointed up, down or sideways. Flat ground always brought a smile. Ah, the simple pleasures in life that we take for granted. We both thought I would be cold and shivering but I was energized and invigorated and happy. It was a journey for the body and soul…
As I step through the river, making my way upstream, the water sheets over the rocks and pushes and rolls against my legs making an ever changing pattern of swirls and burbling white caps that chatter and laugh as they flow between the tall, silent rock walls. I become mesmerized by the flow as it parts briefly around me then merges back together to hurry past my legs on its journey to places far away. It will swirl and twirl past other hikers in the narrows then tickle and splash the children playing along the River Walk. The water is clear and turquoise and shimmering as it rushes down to play in the sun and the open canyon below.
The rhythm of the water enters my mind and soothes it and smooths it and I feel relaxed and happy and as free as the water flowing around me. I am no longer cold. I am part of the canyon and the river and push forward with an eagerness to see the new wonders that are hidden in the folds of the earth ahead of me.
I have an ever changing view. The tall, straight walls and wide sandbars fall behind as the canyon narrows. These rock walls have been sculpted by the river into smooth billowing curtains of stone that sway and fold around me and undulate over my head.
The walls seem to dance toward each other, almost touching, before they fold and flow back again like gossamer curtains blowing in the wind that are now frozen in time. We hike on and on as the canyon draws us “just around one more bend”.
We feel it is time to go back but the river beckons us on and we keep going around many more bends. We finally reach the dark, narrow section called Wall Street, where it is cool and quiet and serene. The sun cannot reach here. This is the realm of towering walls and tumbling river. There are no sand bars, no ledges, nothing but me and river and rocks. I am giddy with the beauty of it. I look around and feel the emotion bubbling up in me. I want to throw back my head and laugh and howl and cheer, letting my voice bounce and echo off the dark canyon walls before it falls back to join with the sound of the river and the wind. But I am restrained in respect for others nearby that hike in silence and awe. I smile, I turn, I laugh softly as I feel the water and stone that encompass me.
My eyes follow the contours of the walls and I tilt my head to gaze up, so very far up. I feel I could stretch out my arms and touch the cool, hard, undulating rock on either side and that the stone will revert once again to gossamer curtains that swirl around me as the water has done and my spirit will be carried like drifting smoke up to the clear blue sky far above.