zion narrows

Last night I might have been the most exhausted I’ve ever been in my entire life.

It all started on Wednesday evening. The drive to SF. I’ve done it so often I can almost make the drive in my sleep. In fact sometimes my mind sort of falls asleep and I make the drive on autopilot, without any mental activity in this empty brain of mine. I had packed my bags the night before, so after leaving work, I got home, tossed my bags in the car, then autopiloted my way to my parents house. I was planning to just say hi to my parents, but my mom wouldn’t let me leave without dinner.

Ah seaweed soup, the traditional birthday meal. Oh yea, my birthday’s coming up. Somehow it slipped my mind. But I guess a mom always remembers.

Afterwards I went to pickup my old high school buddies Warren and Tim. We went to the airport to pickup our rental car, getting lost multiple times trying to find the rental car pickup area, then started the long drive out to Vegas, a couple of hours behind schedule. We took turns driving, finally getting to Vegas a little after 6. We slept for a few hours, hit the buffet at Bellagio, hit up Walmart for some last minute supplies, then headed out to Zion National Park.

We arrived at Zion around sunset, found a campsite and setup camp. If you’ve ever done any backpacking before, you’d know that a three person backpacking tent doesn’t really fit three people, but we squeezed into my tent, staggered head to feet to head. It was really windy that night, and since there wasn’t much space, I slept with my head close to the tent wall, which kept flapping and hitting my head. So I didn’t sleep well.

The next morning we picked up our backcountry permit, rented our gear (drysuit pants, neoprene socks, and canyoneering shoes), then organized our shuttle ride to the start of our hike. It took almost 2 hours for the shuttle drive to the trail-head, the last 30 minutes of which were on badly maintained dirt roads. During that last 30 minutes it started to dawn on me how crazy we were. We were getting dropped off in the middle of nowhere, a 2 hour drive from the closest town. The only way back to civilization would be a 16 mile hike through the canyon. We would be hiking through the river for almost the entire time. If it rained upriver, there’s the possibility of flash floods. The shuttle driver wasn’t very reassuring. She said the normal flow during this time of year is about 50 cubic feet per second, but during flash floods the river almost instantaneously surges to 1500 CFS.

Lucky for us the probability of flash floods is really low in November, and rains weren’t forecast for at least the next couple of days. It was surprisingly warm for this time of year, so conditions were nearly perfect to attempt a through hike of the canyon.

We finally made it to our destination and were unceremoniously dropped off by the side of a dirt road a little after noon. The first three miles of our hike were on dirt roads. A good warmup for the exhausting hike ahead of us. At mile three we put on our drysuit pants and started our hike downriver.

This picture just about sums up our hike. Most of the time we were wading through knee high water with heavy packs on our backs. The scenery was beautiful, a mix of steep rock walls and steep forest terrain. About six or seven miles into the hike, we began hiking through a section called “The Upper Narrows.” Here the river narrowed to about the width of a car lane, walled in by rock hundreds of feet high. It’s pretty amazing- unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It truly makes you feel small, almost like a mouse scurrying through a maze of rock.

By now it was starting to get dark. The steep canyon walls meant that sunset was about an hour earlier in the canyon. We still had a couple of miles to go until our campsite. So we hurried through this section, trying to race to our campsite before the sun went down. Unfortunately there was some amazing scenery that I wasn’t able to photograph since we were short on time. At one point the river came to a dead end at a waterfall. It looks like your only option is to jump down 15 feet. Luckily I read the brochure ahead of time and knew that there was a small passageway cut into the rock to our left. I wondered how many people didn’t know about the passage and made the jump instead.

We finally made it to our campsite just before dark. We had barely enough time to peel off our drysuit, filter some cooking water, and setup the tent before it became pitch black. I went to bed right after dinner, it was only eight o’clock but I had no trouble going to sleep. I was completely exhausted, more exhausted than I had ever been in my entire life.

I woke up surprisingly well rested. We had less than 8 miles left in our hike, and since we were starting early, we could take our time and take pictures along the way.

As you could probably see from the pictures, the scenery was amazing and had so much variety for only an eight mile hike. The pictures really don’t do the area justice though, you seriously need to experience it first hand. I would recommend just doing a bottom up day hike though, instead of the top down through hike that we did. You can get about 80% of the scenery for about 40% of the effort this way, but I’m seriously glad that we did the entire canyon– otherwise I’d want to go back and try it.

We finished our journey at around 5:30. Including the shuttle ride to the start of the hike, it had taken us almost two full days to complete our hike. Originally I had planned to also hike Angel’s Landing, another famous hike in Zion National Park. Unfortunately by that point I was too tired, and my feet were blistered from wearing wet socks for two days. So I guess another Zion adventure awaits.

Afterwards we went to Bryce canyon. Since Bryce is a rim canyon, we were able to drive to the viewpoints and take pictures without much hiking. So it was a good rest after the previous couple of days and a great way to wind down before hitting the buffets in Vegas.

Here are the rest of the pictures from the trip:

Zion and Bryce on Picasa

3 thoughts on “zion narrows

  • November 10, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    wading through water…looks like fun.

  • November 12, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I’m living, living, living….vicariously through you Mike! Thanks for sharing the trip and pics. You’re living up to my perception of you being the most active person I know; very impressive


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