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John Guilford's Hikes

Zion Narrows, Zion NP, Utah on 2002-05-24/25

Date: 2002-05-24/25

Location: Zion Narrows, Zion NP, Utah

People: (including myself): Joe Tarantino

Start on road:		 8:30	0
Virgin River:		 9:35	2.5
Lunch:			11:30
Continue:		12:00
Zion Nat. Park:		12:40
Waterfall:		 1:05	7.3
Deep Creek Confluence:	 2:00	8.3
Left Bench Camp (#9):	 3:00
Go to bed (5/24):	 9:00
Get up (5/25):		 7:00
Leave camp:		 8:45
Big Spring:		 9:40	10.9
Begin narrows:		10:15
Lunch:			12:15
Continue:		12:30
Orderville Canyon:	12:40	12.9
River Walk:		 1:45	14.4
Temple of Sinawava:	 2:10	15.4
Hiking the Zion Narrows as a through hike requires getting a permit from the rangers.  They limit it to 12 parties per day as that is how many campsites they have established in the middle of the canyon.  Normally they don't open the canyon for hiking till mid-June.  However, this year was a drought year, and the river was lower than normal letting them open it early.  This was great for us who hadn't expected to be able to hike the Narrows.  At first we had planned to hike it at the beginning of our trip, but the weather forecast was somewhat iffy.  They forecast 30-50% chance of rain in the headwaters of the Virgin River.  We hadn't liked those odds (though odds were nothing would have happened) and decided to take a few days to hike the Paria.  Back at Zion, we got our permit (it seems we were one of the first few to get permits for that day as we pretty much had choice of campsites - Joe chose camp #9).  We spent the day before preparing for the hike.  Among other things, we checked out a store than rented "Canyoneering" boots.  [ PIXa ] I had seen a web page for this place by serendipity before I had come down to Utah.  I thought I'd check out the boots as I wasn't really pleased with my other choices of footwear.  I didn't want to get my good hiking boots soaked.  I had some lightweight water shoes, but I didn't really relish the thought of hiking 16 miles with a full pack with them.  The boots cost about $25 for two days.  They had the same rubber used in rock climbing shoes so they were pretty sticky.  They had way more support than my water shoes.  I hadn't really known that anyone made special shoes for canyoneering, but they did.  The rental also included some neoprene socks.  Joe and I decided to get them and let me tell you they were well worth it.  They were great.  It wasn't the very best when hiking on a sandy road, but they weren't bad for that.  In the water, however, they were great.  We just walked through the water almost as if it wasn't there.  Our feet stayed warm.  In fact, I didn't realize how cold the water was (supposedly 58F) until I stopped one time to wash some sand out of my socks.  Then I stood in the river in bare feet and said, "Gee! This water is COLD!" But with the neoprene socks and canyoneering shoes, it just wasn't a problem.  Along our hike we'd run into various other groups hiking with leather hiking boots.  They all listened to our description and said "That's what we should have done!" Joe and I really lucked out.  It was just by chance that I happened to come across the web site before leaving for the trip.  If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have known about it and wouldn't have checked it out.  But enough about the canyoneering shoes. 

The starting point for a Narrows hike is outside the park, on private land on the Chamberlain Ranch.  [ PIX1 ] They are gracious enough to let people use their property for hiking.  In case any Chamberlain reads this, here's a "thank you" from us to you.  One way to get to the trailhead is via a shuttle that runs there.  We had two cars, so we didn't need to use the shuttle - we just drove out there in one car.  It takes about an hour and a half to drive from Zion to the trailhead.  At the trailhead, there is no sign of the imposing walls that one would see later.  Instead one finds a bucolic stream running through a pasture. 

Crossing the stream, the "trail" follows the dirt road for the first three miles.  Along the way one passes Buouck's Cabin.  We also passed the slowly fading relic of an old Farmall tractor.  Soon the road ended and we started following the river.  For the first day's hiking, most of the time one hikes on the side of the river (on dry land).  [ PIX2 ]However, due to the river meanders, one had to cross the river often.  With the canyoneering boots, this was of no concern.  Other groups we saw, hiking in hiking boots, had to choose their crossings a bit more carefully. 

I noticed the size of the river and tried to reconcile what I saw with the Virgin river I saw in Zion.  What I currently saw was considerably smaller than the river in Zion Canyon.  The discrepancy was ameliorated later when we came upon the confluence with Deep Creek, which more than doubled the flow rate of the river.  Several other canyons and seeps (such as the Orderville Canyon) also join up further downstream adding to the water. 

I had had some concern about hiking on sandy soil with the canyoneering boots, though they proved to work okay.  The only real trouble I had was that the neoprene socks I had did not have a tight cuff, and I had some problem with sand being kicked into the sock.  Joe's socks were of a different design with a tighter cuff and a strap.  He had no problem at all. 

As we hiked down [ PIX3 ] canyon we tended to watch our footing and only occasionally note the rising canyon walls around us.  We wondered if there would be a sign indicating that we entered the National Park.  Sure enough, there was one.  Around noon we stopped on some sunny rocks to have some lunch.  Afterward we continued down stream.  After passing the Deep Creek confluence we knew we were getting close to our campsites as we started passing the earlier ones.  We didn't see anyone at the sites before ours, though we knew the group in front of us was staying at one.  They must have been exploring a side canyon when we went by. 

By and large, most of the camps looked pretty nice with sandy tent sites and all situated about 8 or more feet above the river level (to provide safety in case of flooding).  [ PIX4 ]The sites were spaced far enough apart that each one was effectively isolated from the others.  To anyone spending the night, it would be as if they were the only ones in the canyon.  About 3 o'clock we reached site 9 and stopped.  I thought our site was marvelous.  It had a nice level sandy spot that was more than big enough for our one tent.  It was situated among some trees and grass alongside a hollow in the canyon wall.  We got the afternoon sun (which unfortunately meant that we would not get the morning sun).  It was just about perfect.  I wondered if we'd get a cold wind down the canyon later on, but it never happened.  It stayed calm the whole time we were there. 

After dropping our packs, removing our canyoneering shoes, we put on dry socks and shoes (I brought my newly bought "water shoes" to wear as camp shoes.  They worked rather well in that regard.  Our first task was to wash out our canyoneering boots and socks and set them on a rock to dry.  We weren't in any hurry as we had quite a bit of time to kill for the rest of the day.  While wearing shoes that we didn't want to get wet, there wasn't too far we could go.  So we leisurely set about setting up the tent, filtering some water, and getting organized.  By that time it was about 5 or 6 and we decided to get dinner going.  After dinner Joe and I chatted and soon it became dark.  After reading for a while we went to bed.  In the course of the evening, two other groups passed our campsite. 

In the middle of the night, I decided I needed to answer the call of nature and got out of the tent.  It was light enough to basically see where I was going, but the fullish moon wasn't over the canyon wall so it wasn't that bright.  I went down to the river and saw the moon just rising over the canyon wall downstream.  Upstream, the canyon walls looked bright in the light of the almost full moon.  The whole thing was rather neat. 

In the morning, we got up somewhat early as we still had quite a ways to go, and they say that the lower half of the canyon is slower than the upper half.  This was balanced by our having gone more than half way (distance-wise) the first day.  We had breakfast (I was getting pretty tired of oatmeal by then), filtered some more water, broke camp, and left. 

After passing three more camp sites we passed Big Spring, an unmistakable water source on the west side of the canyon.  [ PIX5 ]Below Big Spring there are no flood safe spots and no camping is allowed.  The further down canyon we went, the more wading we had to do, though initially the water only was shin deep at worst.  Most of the deep holes (of which there were many) had paths around them, though we started hitting places that were thigh deep and we started getting our shorts wet.  For the first half of the second day, I vacillated between wearing my fleece vest over my shirt and not.  I started off wearing it, then got too warm and took it off.  Later we were in a stretch that was shaded and cool and the vest went back on. 

[ PIX6 ]The water was higher and one had to be a bit more picky about where to cross the stream.  The ski poles worked well.  Most people were using a single heavier wooden pole.  In some ways that works well because you can use both hands on the pole.  On the other hand, it was convenient to have the two poles so that you could be using one as you placed the next one.  If I were to do it again, I'd still take the two poles. 

As we continued downstream, not only did the canyon get higher and narrower, but we started seeing more and more people.  These people came up from the bottom for a day trip (which doesn't require any permits).  One of the first groups we met was a group going up to Big Spring and back (which would be quite a journey).  They had rented the same shoes we had (it was being led by a guy who'd done the Narrows several times).  It turns out that we met them just before we had to cross what turned out to be the deepest part of the river.  Observing them coming up we knew the next pool was waist deep.  This pool ran from the canyon wall to a large rock mid stream.  The water on the other side of the rock was even deeper.  After the group coming upstream got through, I slid in (just above my waist) and crossed the pool.  The bottom of my pack was in water, but I had everything inside a large plastic bag (a trash compactor bag, which is thicker than most and a convenient size) so I wasn't worried about things getting wet.  Joe, on the other hand, wasn't so keen about going into such deep water.  He looked at the situation and came up with an alternate plan.  He thought that if he could climb up on the rock, come down on the down stream side, then the river would only be thigh deep.  He took off his pack, tied a rope to it, climbed up onto the top of the rock, and tried pulling his pack up.  About half way up, the knot came undone and his back fell back down, tipping over with the top in the water.  I couldn't help myself from laughing.  Joe had to climb back down off the rock, get his pack back, tie the rope (securely this time) back on, climb back on the rock, and then succeed in pulling his pack up.  [ PIX7 ]There was a small ledge on the down stream side of the rock just above water.  I really didn't think Joe would be able to balance his pack on that, but he lowered it down to the ledge with the rope and it stayed there.  I kept waiting for it to tip over into the water, but it never did.  Joe then down climbed to the ledge, put the pack on, and crossed the (now thigh deep) water to rejoin me.  Unfortunately I couldn't take Joe's picture in water up to his waist (as he didn't go that way), and we didn't think to take my picture, and I didn't feel like re-wading that stretch just for a picture, so we didn't get a photo of the deepest stretch of the Zion Narrows.

[ PIX8 ]We kept going down stream, sometimes wading, and sometimes walking next to the river.  We kept meeting more and more people until there were literally hundreds around.  I was amazed how crowded it was in the lower stretches of the canyon, especially as compared to the isolation of the upper canyon.  I suppose it didn't help that it was the middle of the Memorial Day Weekend. 

[ PIX9 ]We stopped for lunch just above the Orderville Canyon.  We continued on.  I noted the Joe (and I'm sure myself) really stuck out from the crowd of people around us.  Most of them had tank tops or bathing suits or t-shirt and sneakers or sandals.  And here Joe was with a full pack.  I recall noting that he really stood out.  Soon we hit the River Walk where we left the river for the final time.  After a mile hike along a paved trail we hit the Temple of Sinawava the official end of the hike.  After some photos, and a change of shoes, we caught the shuttle bus back to the campsite. 

We wanted to chill out and have dinner in town (along with a shower) so we didn't have time to drive out to the trail head to pick up my car that evening.  We thought about leaving it there until we left the park on Monday, but we weren't real comfortable leaving it there that long.  The Chamberlains are nice in letting us park on their property for doing the hike, we didn't want to abuse their hospitality by leaving the car there too long.  So the next morning we drove out and got the car (a three hour round trip). 

On the whole, I'd say the Zion Narrows hike was the high point of my trip to Utah.  The hiking was pleasant, the scenery spectacular, the weather gorgeous (neither too warm nor too cold).  Almost twenty years after I'd first seen the Zion Narrows, I finally got to hike it. 


[ PIX1 ] Start of hike.  Chamberlain ranch pasture land with the Virgin River flowing through it. 

[ PIX2 ] Joe hiking early part of canyon.  He's holding my trekking poles - he normally didn't use four :-). 

[ PIX3 ] Higher canyon walls, first day.  Note people in river for scale. 

[ PIX4 ] Campsite and site #9. 

[ PIX5 ] Zion Narrows, Second day. 

[ PIX6 ] Zion Canyon. 

[ PIX7 ] Joe downclimbing rock to avoid wading waist deep. 

[ PIX8 ] More hikers in the Narrows. 

[ PIX9 ] John and Joe a bit below the Narrows. 

[ PIXa ] Canyoneering shoes we rented.  See

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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015