Posts in this series
- Zion Narrows - Day 1
- Zion Narrows - Day 2
11 Sept 2015
When dawn comes you can see the strip of sky above the canyon brighten, and eventually the far up trees & the tops of the sandstone cliffs begin to glow. But the river remains in shadow.
Our camp was back in its bags and on our backs by 07:30. We passed by the remainder of the campsites perched on the high ground. For most of the stretch before Big Springs we followed the easy path on the banks — only once did we have to make a thigh-deep crossing.
You can’t really miss Big Springs, it’s just that big. It bursts out of the west wall of the canyon, dramatically cascading down rocks before entering the river.
We got there at 09:00 and filled up on water and posed for a couple of photos. And you should take a break here, although maybe not amid the roaring river. Big Springs marks a change on the river and canyon. Upstream it’s a canyon hike (albeit longer and soggier). Downstream it’s canyoneering. You’ll put those fancy shoes and big walking stick to use (more of this below). Christy & Thad had caught up with us by now, so we finished the rest of the way along with them
The canyon shortly closes in and for the next two miles there’s no high ground. Often there aren’t even banks, just flowing river between the canyon walls. This is officially The Narrows. And it proved substantially more difficult than what we’d accomplished up to now. Today the water was deeper and stronger than before.
I’m not a trekking pole guy. Mainly because I’m a camera guy and I’m not coordinated to do both at once without consequence. But you gotta take a stick. I was skeptical all the way until the river started to push me over with a knee-deep flow. I shifted and placed a good part of my weight on the stick and righted myself. Which is why trekking poles would not work: there’re good for stabilizing nudges to keep on balance, too skinny for 185 pound leverage preventing a dunk.
And those rented canyoneering shoes come in handy right about now, too. In The Narrows it’s mostly rounded cobbles: just the kind that roll your ankle. Even when wet, the sticky bottoms of the shoes give a good grip on the rocks both in and out of the water.
It was still dim at the bottom, but as the canyon twisted and turned the sun would light up whole sides of the cliff wall, and the reflected light would brighten a stretch. Take another turn, however, and the river darkened.
Walking through the calf to thigh-deep sections is exhausting. Even though we were going with the current, we still had to fight with the water.
We passed the entrance of Orderville Canyon at 11:30. It comes in on the left but we kept straight, saving it for a bottom-up hike later in our lives.
After Big Spring, the river starts to populate. First it’s a trickle — one or two hardy early-starters from the Temple of Sinawava trailhead that you stop and talk with. Then it becomes a more steady stream of enthusiasts, too many to chat but you wave and keep walking. And finally after Orderville it’s a flood of ill-prepared idiots in flip-flops, yelling to hear their echoes, and dropping their cameras in the river.
But by then we were tired and not paying much attention to anything but the end of the trail and the shuttle bus that would take us to lunch.
Once we hit the paved Riverside Walk we were back in the part of Zion we’d visited before. I remember looking at the hikers with backpacks in amazement. And now we were the the ones being stared at. We got on that shuttle bus at Temple of Sinawava around 12:30, dropped our rentals off at Zion Adventure Co, and had a beer in hand awaiting lunch at Oscar’s Cafe by 13:30.
So was it worth it? Oh yes, it really is a special place and I’ve strained for adjectives to describe just how stunning and unique it is. And overnighting in The Narrows was profoundly wonderful. Was it difficult? Yes, but not crazy hard. If we would have gone a bit slower and rested more frequently it would have made it significantly easier. How high was the river? At the gage just north of the Watchman Campground the North Fork Virgin River had a flow of 35 ft3/s and a height of 7.14 ft during our trip.
- Time first day: 6:30
- Time second day: 5:00
- Time total: 11:30