Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park

What can I say?  This trail was the most excruciating, most exhilarating, most exciting trail I have ever done.  Yes, it even beat the “monsoon trail” at Yosemite.  Scott had done some research before our hike and found that almost everyone who had hiked The Narrows recommended renting some equipment.  Seems that 60% of this hike is in the water.  Not BY the water on the bank, not OVER the water on a bridge, not ON the water in a boat, but actually IN the water.  So we checked out some websites, made a phone call, and made our reservation for what we would need… hiking boots made specifically for walking in the water to support your ankles; neoprene socks (kind of like a wetsuit for your feet), and a walking stick for navigating through and testing the water level.

Check out those stylish boots!
We arrived at the rental store to watch a quick “safety” video about The Narrows.  There were lots of warnings about what to do in the event of flash flooding in the canyon.  We learned about the warning signs of a flash flood and were told if we saw any signs, we were to find high ground at least six feet up.  Also, Scott’s postmaster buddy from the day before told him if it started raining while we were in The Narrows, to get out of there as fast as we could.  Comforting!  Fortunately, we had already checked the weather reports, and there was only a slight chance of an afternoon rain shower, so we were good.  So we grabbed our stylish rubber/mesh boots, lovely wetsuit socks, and went to try them on.  I got a small taste of what the girls felt like when they were trying to get their wetsuits on their bodies for their surfing lessons.  It was not an easy thing… and I only had to pull these up just past my ankle!  After outfitting our feet, we grabbed our walking sticks and a waterproof bag for the backpack (to keep our food/snacks and extra layer of clothing dry), and we headed towards the park. 

We grabbed a spot at the visitor center, jumped on the park shuttle to The Narrows trailhead, and set out on our all-day adventure.  The shuttle ride took about 30 minutes, so along the way I rearranged our supplies between the two dry packs that I had picked up at Wal Mart and the waterproof backpack insert we had rented from the outfitter store.  The backpack we were using to put the insert into happened to be the backpack that I had been using on this trip for my travel supplies such as my MP3 player, my knitting supplies (yes, I’m a granny!), my Kindle, etc.  As I was opening up all the zippers to rearrange things, I realized I had not taken out my Kindle.  Yikes!  We were going to be hiking in water, and I had no idea how waterproof the waterproof rental bag was.  I panicked!  I had packed two gallon ziploc baggies, so I double-bagged my Kindle, put it inside the waterproof rental bag, and prayed hard that it would survive being submerged.

Our shuttle arrived at the trailhead around 11:00, and we stopped off at the restroom before beginning – we were told that whatever you pack into The Narrows, you have to pack out, so we weren’t taking any chances!  After our pit stop we started out on the mile-long paved part of the trail.  We knew this was a very popular trail but had no idea how many other people would be hiking it today.  We found out that the canyon had been closed a two days earlier due to a flash flood and water levels being too high for the hike, so I guess people had rescheduled their hike for today.  The narrow trail was so crowded that it felt like we were in a single-file line on a fieldtrip for most of the paved section.

On the shuttle to The Narrows

The one-mile paved part of the trail

After about 20 minutes we made it to an area that opened up to a wide stream.  To go any further on this trail, you had to get wet.  So with big, goofy grins on our faces, we stepped into the water and crossed the stream to the other side.  Ankle deep… no problem! 

Ready or not...

Here we go!
Ankle deep... no problem

Made it to the other side
We trudged on up the bank a little ways and we were back into the water again.  This time we were knee deep in water.  Again… no problem!  This was one of the strangest things we had ever done, gone hiking in the water.  Just on this trip we have hiked on pavement, on dirt, on rocks, in the rain, in the clouds, in the snow, and now we were IN the water.

Knee deep... still no problem!
Wonder why my pictures are always from the back?

A little ways further up the “trail” we once again were on a rocky bank for a little ways before we were back in the water trudging upstream.  At this point we were glad we were going against the current.  Yep, there was a current, and it got pretty strong in several places.  But we knew if we were going against the current on the way up, then we would be going with the current on the way back, so that should make it easier.  Right?  Kind of like starting a trail going up hill and then finishing it going down hill when you’re already tired – it’s not as hard that way!  Anyway, we had a great pace going and were enjoying it and just laughing at the craziness of what we were doing.  As we kept going up The Narrows, the crowd had thinned out considerably, although there were still quite a few hikers.

The current was a bit stronger here

Then it happened!  We were trudging through the water, and we kept getting deeper and deeper.  Past our
ankles, past our knees, up to our thighs.  It was then that I realized the full impact of what we had gotten ourselves into.  And this had been my idea!  We kept going, and the next thing you know, Scott reaches for Emilee, she grabs onto his neck and hangs on for dear life.  I’m surprised the man could breathe with the death grip she had on his neck.  Speaking of necks, that is where the water ended up coming up to on me and Ashlee.  BRRRRRR – 60 degrees.  And the craziest part of it all… we were laughing!  Hiking in neck deep water!  Who does that?  Ashlee said, “I feel like Moses going through water holding a walking stick in the air except the water isn’t parting for us.”  Ha!

The waters just wouldn't part for us.
Is this called "hiking" or "swimming?"
Do you see the death grip Emilee has on Daddy's neck?

At about 1:00 we started getting hungry, so we found a spot to pull out our lunch.  It wasn’t until then that I realized that the two “dry” bags I got from Wal Mart didn’t work.  Fortunately, they only carried water bottles and the rain jackets in case someone needed to warm up.  Even more fortunate, the waterproof backpack insert we had gotten for our food/snack backpack worked beautifully.  Thank goodness because it also held dry tshirts, which we ended up needing for Ashlee, thanks to her adventurous spirit!  She was shivering just a bit at lunch time, but by the time we reached as far as we were willing to go on the trail (4 hours upstream), she was shivering uncontrollably (the first sign of hypothermia), so we pulled out a dry tshirt to work on getting her warmed up.  I think it’s because the girl has no meat on her bones!  Wonder what that says about me and the fact that I never got cold unless I was submerged in the water up to my neck.

After lunch we kept going upstream.  We finally got to a place on the trail called “Wall Street.”  Unbelievable view!  We were literally in a canyon with canyon walls reaching several hundred feet straight up into the sky.  This is the place where they tell you if it starts raining, get out of there quick!  There was no high ground here, no place that was six feet up.  In fact, if you wanted to get to high ground here, you better be a highly skilled rock climber.  Believe me, it was at this point in the trail that I really kept watching the sky for any signs of rain clouds.  It was a little disconcerting though to only be able to see about two feet of the sky above you as the canyon walls were so close together, so that made it a little bit dark down where we were since the sun couldn’t get down to us very easily.

Emilee was not letting go of Scott's hand.

We kept trekking upstream having a blast when we got to a point in the trail where we had to make a decision.  We were almost four hours from the beginning, and we hadn’t yet gotten to the waterfall we had wanted to see.  We didn’t know how far ahead it was, but we knew we had to have our rental gear back by 7:30.  Knowing it would be a bit quicker going back, mostly because I wouldn’t be stopping every two minutes to take a picture (by the way, my waterproof camera bag worked beautifully!) and also because we would be going with the current, we decided to go just a bit further ahead to see what was around the next bend.  Then we got to a place where we would all have to swim to get to where we could touch the ground again.  Much to Ashlee’s dismay, we decided to turn back, but we also decided we would have to come back some time in the future to do the entire Narrows hike.

So we turned around to head toward the beginning.  On our way upstream we had seen several people floating instead of hiking down the stream in the deeper sections on their way back to the beginning, so Scott and the girls decided that looked like too much fun to miss out on.  So the next deep part, Emilee clutched onto Scott’s neck, and Ashlee led their way floating down the stream.  Me… I decided to hug the edge of the canyon where it was a bit more shallow so I could take pictures!

Say Cheese!
Ashlee was content to float on down the stream.
Emilee was working to try to plant her feet on the bottom,
which was tougher than it looked.
The current was pretty swift here.

Ashlee found her footing first.

At one point on our trek back to the beginning Scott said, “There’s where we ate lunch.”  WHAT?  We had only gotten that far?  My rubber/mesh boots and neoprene socks felt like lead weights, and my legs weren’t cooperating like they had on the way up the stream.  It felt like I was trying to walk with my girls wrapped around my legs.  Walking in the water was taking its toll on me.  We were definitely going back down stream faster than we had gone up, but the current was much, much stronger too.  As soon as I would lift my foot off the rock, the current would take my leg down the stream before I could get it planted again.  Scott would grab onto Emilee’s arm to keep her from floating downstream.  Only once did she lose her footing with the current.  Lucky for her, Scott had a good grip because she went down, and her whole body was on top of the water heading downstream feet first.  Scott pulled her back up, and the look on her face was sheer terror!  My face was probably sheer terror too just watching it!

Ashlee’s volleyball workouts gave her quite an advantage.  She hardly had to fight against the current at all.  The only time I worried about her was at one of the places where the water was really rushing downstream pretty fast.  Scott and Emilee had already gotten across, and Ashlee was next to me.  The current grabbed us both, but so far we had stayed on our feet and were just walking with the current.  I yelled for Scott to grab Ashlee while I frantically tried to plant my walking stick to stay on my feet.  He started rushing out into the water toward me, and I couldn’t understand why he was coming for me and not Ashlee.  Well, he saw that she had actually planted herself and was fine, and I was the one still drifting with the current and probably had a frantic look on my face.  Scott and Ashlee both ended up grabbing me to keep me up.  All the while I was saying, “But I’m the mom, I’m supposed to do the saving, not be the one needing to be saved!”  They all thought that was hilarious!

We finally got to the paved part of the path and realized that we still had a mile left to walk to the shuttle stop.  I had to take a sitting break at this point.  I used Ashlee as my excuse!  After all, she was still cold, and I needed to stop, sit down, breathe, rest... oh, yeah, and get Ashlee a jacket (wink, wink).  One of the three jackets in the waterlogged “not-so-dry” dry bag was still mostly dry, so that helped her warm up some on the walk back to the shuttle.

Back to the shuttle!

We arrived back at the shuttle stop just in time to immediately get on a bus back to the visitor center.  We got on and collapsed into the seats!  Once we got back to the car, we decided to go ahead and take off our pretty water boots and wetsuit booties.  We got our shoes off, pulled and tugged to get our booties off, and then poured out the water that had collected in them.  Yuck!  We then took off to the outfitters store to return our gear before they closed.

Since we had gone straight to The Narrows when we had arrived at Zion earlier, we hadn’t had a chance to drive through to see any of the park (we couldn’t see much from the shuttle windows), so we decided to drive back in to at least check out the mile long tunnel.  We drove up the mountain a few miles, while snapping pictures constantly, and drove through the tunnel.  Even though it was a two-lane tunnel, they occasionally had to stop traffic going in one direction for larger vehicles (SUVs, trucks, etc.) to go through – since the tunnel sides are curved, the larger vehicles would have to drive down the middle of the tunnel taking up both lanes.  We got stopped in both directions, so it gave us more time to sit and take in the scenery.  We finished up at the mile long tunnel and decided to head on back to our hotel.  We grabbed dinner on the way back and crashed when as soon as we saw our beds!

While waiting to go through the tunnel, this was our view.

More of the view while waiting

On the way back to the hotel

As the sun was setting
Our itinerary for the next day had been to visit Arches National Park on our way to our next stop in Dillon, Colorado.  With the drive from Richfield, Utah to Arches being three hours and the drive from Arches to Dillon adding another four hours, this would have meant getting up really early to give us enough time to see the park in addition to the seven hours of driving time.  It didn’t happen.  We were just too wiped out!  We decided that when we came back in the future to do the whole Narrows hike, we would hit Arches then too.   

Have you ever wondered if your toes can be sore?  Since I’m writing this post a couple of days after our hike in The Narrows, I can tell you that, yes, they can.  My toes are sore from trying to grip onto the rocks through my rubber boots, the soles of my feet have calluses from slipping and sliding on the rocks in the stream, my hands have blisters from the death grip I had on my walking stick for most of the hike, the tiny arm muscles I actually do have are sore from trying to plant my walking stick in the rushing current of the stream, my neck is sore from carrying a backpack full of water bottles, my back is sore from every muscle being jerked and pulled as I tried to keep my balance in the water, and my thighs are in excruciating pain from trying to move my legs through the water.  Now do you wonder if it was worth it?  It was worth every single second from the beginning to the end.  We had a phenomenal experience on this hike and can’t wait to get to do it again!

Tomorrow’s agenda?  Whitewater rafting in Colorado!  I’m wondering if my arm muscles will be too sore to move the paddle through the water!  :-)

Here are some more pictures of our hike...

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