John Guilford's Hikes
Zion Narrows, Zion NP, Utah on 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
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
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. 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. 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). 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 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). 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. 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
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. 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.
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.
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
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
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.
Start of hike. Chamberlain ranch pasture land with the Virgin River
flowing through it.
Joe hiking early part of canyon. He's holding my trekking poles - he
normally didn't use four :-).
Higher canyon walls, first day. Note people in river for scale.
Campsite and site #9.
Zion Narrows, Second day.
Joe downclimbing rock to avoid wading waist deep.
More hikers in the Narrows.
John and Joe a bit below the Narrows.
Canyoneering shoes we rented. See
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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015