THE NARROWS

 

 

Todayís trip report is brought to you by the color black.

 

 

Editorís Note:Censorship is alive and well on fungiandfungirls website.Since Fungirl is a part owner of this site, she gets some say in the content.Following are some of the proposed titles for this trip report that Fungirl rejected.Keep in mind that this is the same individual that once titled a trip report ďTwo naked men and a moose.Ē

 

Stuck where the sun donít shine

The Narrows of the Virgin

Entering the Virgin for the first time

The Frigid Virgin

 

And hereís a few that were rejected Ė violently:

 

Deep insideÖ.Woops, Fungirl just walked in.I better close this, just in case she reads it over my shoulder.Email me if you want to hear the restÖ

 

 

Wednesday brought the opportunity for a unique adventure.My plan was to hike up the Virgin River, into the narrows of Zion Canyon.From the end of the park road, a paved trail continues a mile before ending at the mouth of the narrows.From there, most of the hiking is in the river itself.This is quite demanding, as you might imagine.Cold, deep water, strong currents, and slippery rocks are some of the hazards a hiker will face in the narrows.†† However, the narrows are also beautiful.The river rushes between vertical cliff walls hundreds of feet high.In some places, the canyon is only 15 to 20 feet wide.

 

My biggest concern was the water temperature.As of the previous day, the river was a nippy 52 degrees.Thatís rather cold to be walking around in it all day.Being out in the sun would help, except I wouldnít be out in the sun.Sunlight hardly reaches the bottom of the deepest, narrowest parts of the canyon.Hypothermia was a very real concern.Fortunately, water levels were fairly low, and clear weather virtually ensured that the potential danger from flash flooding was minimal.

 

Getting ready for the hike required some unusual preparation.First, I put my clothes and gear inside ziplocks and trash bags before loading them into my packs.My camera was double-ziplocked, wrapped in a trash bag, and stashed in my pack.Then, I had to decide what to wear.My initial thought was to wear river sandals.However, I was concerned that they wouldnít be supportive enough for a hike of this magnitude.I hated to wear waterlogged leather boots all day, but ultimately thatís what I decided to do.Many people wear wet suits this late in the year.I didnít have one, so I went with a bathing suit (green), and multiple upper layers (mostly purple).I added a fleece hat (also purple) and gloves (black) to help keep warm.As you can imagine, I made quite a fashion statement on the bus to the trailhead.

 

The bus eventually reached the end of the road, and I got off in abundant sunshine.Oddly, I was cold.In fact, I had been cold all morning, and I hadnít even gotten into the river yet.This was not a good sign.

 

I hurried up the trail in an effort to generate some heat.Before long, the trail ended on the riverbank.This is where tourists are legally required to turn around.A handful of them were hanging around, watching various crazy people walk into the river.On purpose.I waded out into the river, heading towards a trail visible on a sandy bank on the far side.

 

It took a few steps before I reached water deep enough to fill my boots.It was cold, but Iíd been in worse.Of course, those occasions were all brief river crossings.Today, it would be an all-day affair.

 

I reached the far side, and followed a path across a sandbar hosting a few shrubs and small trees.The sandbar ended abruptly, but another appeared on the far side of the river.I headed back across.This may sound silly, but I wanted to avoid walking directly upriver as much as possible.Plus, the river is narrow enough that crossing it only takes a few steps.

 

After a few more crossings, the sandbars ended, and the only remaining option was to head upriver.The water was typically knee-deep, but a significant amount of zigzagging around was necessary to stay in the shallow water.A couple of minutes later, even that didnít help.I waded to the edge of a deep, black pool.The water was so dark, it was impossible to tell how deep it was.A sharp curve in the canyon ahead kept the next shallow area out of site.I waded forward until the water was thigh deep, and hesitated.

 

How good of an idea was this?Once I got completely soaked, it would be extremely difficult to warm up again.I had a pack full of clothes, but how much good would they do me once I got wet?On the other hand, I didnít feel cold any more.After a brief debate, I retreated to a pile of rocks were I could rest my pack.I didnít really want to go for a swim, but I wasnít ready to turn around yet, either.I had only been going for 10 minutes or so, and the canyon was just starting to get good.I decided to give it a shot.I took off all of my upper layers (except the fleece hat), and stashed them in the top of my pack.Then I returned to the edge of the pool.

 

I had heard that the shallowest water was on the left side.This was a key piece of information, because I certainly couldnít tell where the river was deepest.I stayed close to the left-hand wall, and eased forward.The icy water crept over my knees, and up my thighs.As it neared my waist, my testicles took shelter somewhere inside my abdomen.Elvis has left the building.

 

I took another cautious step forward.The water rose to my navel.The bottom of my pack sank into the water, and tried to rise up off my shoulders.Another tentative step brought the waterline to my lower chest.My pack felt like it wanted to float away.My trekking pole was virtually useless, as the water was too deep to properly plant it.If the water got any deeper, things would really get unpleasant.I still couldnít see any hint of shallower water ahead.The first whispers of panic began to flutter through me.

 

The next step wasnít any worse.The step after was - could it be - a little shallower?One more step brought the water level back down to my navel.After a few more steps, I turned a corner and was relieved to see rocks ahead.I hurried forward, and dressed quickly once I reached dry land.

 

I resumed the hike with more river walking.I passed a small waterfall cascading down one of the canyon walls.Another bend in the canyon revealed a huge sandbar scattered with trees.More importantly, the sandbar was basking in direct sunshine.I stopped there for a brief rest to thaw out in the sun.It would be the last time Iíd really see the sun until Thursday.

 

As I progressed farther upstream, the canyon walls continued to close in.The light faded to black.As the canyon grew narrower, the scenery became even more spectacular.I felt like I was walking into the very bowels of the Earth.The canyon walls soared straight up for hundreds of feet, with only a tiny glimpse of blue sky to indicate that the outside world still existed.The canyon walls themselves were beautiful.The rock, carved and worn smooth by years of rushing water, glowed orange and red in the mid-day light.At one point, I spotted the unmistakable likeness of the Virgin Mary, high up on one of the canyon walls.I took a photo of it, with the full intention of selling it on Ebay Mexico (http://www.mercadolibre.com.mx/home_visitor.html), but oddly, that picture didnít turn out.

 

I continued upriver, negotiating several crossings that were tricky due to fast water.I had been hiking for over 2 hours, when I reached the tightest stretch of the canyon.The sandbars farther downstream were only a memory here, as I fought my way upstream against the current.Suddenly, I spotted a side stream up ahead entering the river from the east.One final traverse at a particularly difficult spot led to a small sandy beach right at the mouth of Orderville Canyon.At this point, I had a great view upstream and down, as well as up the extremely narrow side canyon.Orderville is probably less than 10í wide where it joins the river, and its scenery rivals that of the main river.This was an exceptionally cool spot, and an ideal place for lunch.I sat in the sand and tore through my lunch.It may have been the exertion or the cold, but I hadnít realized how hungry I was.

 

Orderville canyon is a likely destination for many dayhikers exploring the canyon from the bottom.I had seen only a handful of other hikers on the way in, but now people began to appear from downstream.Several groups wandered by, continuing upstream.One couple was backpacking, and heading the other way.Another solo hiker stopped near my lunch spot, and we took photos of each other.

 

It didnít take long before I tired of the traffic.After lunch, I explored Orderville Canyon.This was enjoyable, especially since the stream was much smaller than the Virgin River.The walking was easier, warmer, and equally as scenic.I continued until I reached a boulder pile with a small pouroff that looked like it would be tricky to descend on the way back.I knew Iíd have to turn around at the base of small waterfall soon, and I didnít want to take any chances since I was by myself, so I headed back.

 

I returned to the river, but decided to explore farther upstream before heading out.I continued on, passing more stunning scenery.I spotted the floating rock Ė a giant boulder in the middle of the river.After a few more bends, I reached another deep, black pool.I knew from my pre-trip research that crossing this one would require swimming.Look at the time!It was already 3pm.As much as I wanted to swim that pool to see what was hiding around the next bend, it was time to head out.Perhaps next time.

 

The hike out went much faster.Going downstream was easier, since I didnít have to fight the current.Plus, I was much more confident in my footing.I hurried downriver, as the faint mid-day light was long gone, and it was getting cold again.At one point, I had a particularly chilling thought.What if I was stranded here after dark?Walking down that river was difficult enough without trying it in total darkness.

 

Before long, I was back at the first deep pool.Crossing this time wasnít nearly as bad, as I knew exactly what to expect.Before long, I was emerging from the canyon.In a sense, I felt like I was being reborn, this time by Mother Earth Herself.When I came out into the light, I was cold, dirty, wet, and a little disoriented.I think I may have cried a little.At some point, my testicles re-descended.All of that, and the baptism was already included.

 

I sloshed back to the bus, but stopped to put on some warm clothes for the long ride back to camp.The sun had already disappeared beyond the canyon wall by the time I returned.I took the insoles out of my soaked boots, and left them outside the tent.I could only hope they would dry in time for my flight home on Friday.





Continue reading about my trip in the Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park.

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