This week I will interrupt our coverage of the poker scenes in Casino Royale to talk about the Zion Narrows. The Narrows is a section of the Virgin River that runs through a deep canyon. Many times, the canyon is narrow and there is no choice but to hike in the water. The depth of the water can vary from inches to four feet or so. Most tourists who visit the Narrows enter at the south end, which is a short hike from the last shuttle stop. They walk up a little way, turn around, and go back. I have done this a few times, making it up to Big Springs, which is about six miles up.
It has been on my bucket list for years to hike the entire 15.5-mile distance of the Narrows. This entails getting a ride to the upper trailhead. There are outfitters out of Springdale that offer this service for about $50. The ride is about 90 minutes and most of it is on a dirt road. Most people do the entire trip over two days, backpacking it and camping somewhere in the middle. There are 12 campsites only and getting a permit for one is difficult and entails winning a lottery. I don’t know much about that, because my friend Patty won the lottery and invited me and five of her other friends. It can also be done as a day hike, but it would be a very long day. I would recommend that only in June or July when sun is out longer.
We did the trip October 30 and 31, when the days are short and temperatures low. There are various ways to protect yourself from the cold weather and water. Outfitters in Springdale are happy to rent out dry suits or waterproof coveralls, like the kind some fishermen wear. Personally, I purchased my own dry pants and booties from Amazon for less than the cost of rentals.
Getting my own gear may not have been my best idea ever. The dry pants worked out fine. Only about five times did the water get deeper than my waste, in which case I just had to get wet above the waist. While the booties did a good job of keeping my feet warm, the soles were flimsy and not appropriate for walking on slippery rocks for about half the trip. At some point, I sprained my left ankle. Fortunately, the pain didn’t set in until the day after I finished. If I do this again, I’ll wear Neoprene wading socks inside of my sturdiest pair of boots.
If you do the Narrow in warm weather, it is not as essential to protect your legs and upper body from the water, but proper footwear is important anytime. Even if you just go in a little way, whatever you wear on your feet will get completely soaked. Whatever you go with, it should keep your feet warm and have good support for walking on slippery rocks. Again, the outfitters in Springdale are happy to rent you what you need, but they are rather pricey.
Another necessity is a good walking stick. Preferably a nice thick wooden stick at least four feet long. You can do it with retractable hiking poles, but your pole/stick will often be the only thing keeping you from falling in the water, so I would go with something strong and dependable. Personally, I used a handle from a push broom.
Another concern we had is an algae bloom in the Virgin River. This got so bad the National Park closed the Narrows completely for a while recently. However, they got the problem mostly under control and now let people back in with the strong warning to not drink the water or submerge your head in it. There is more about that in the National Park Service article “Toxic Cyanobacteria Bloom in the Virgin River and the Streams of Zion National Park” .
That article says, “Visitors should not filter drinking water from any streams in the park until further notice.” When I hike, I don’t like to carry a lot of water. While some of those in my group carried enough clean water for two days, I prefer to reload as I go. There was a spring near our campsite, but by the time we got to the campsite it was getting dark and I was wet and tired. So, I used my Steripen . This uses ultraviolet light to kill any microorganisms in water. These are not good for purifying mirky water, but the water looked clear and clean to the naked eye. I never got sick using one, including this trip, but maybe I have been lucky so far.
I finished the trip just fine. As mentioned, I must have twisted my ankle along the way, but I didn’t realize it until I got home the next day. Two others in my group fell in the water and got their packs wet as well as stuff inside. I lifted their packs and the additional water seemed to increase the weight by about 15 pounds. My only regret is in my choice of footwear. The cheap side of me was proud to have not rented a thing.
That said, I’ll let these pictures do the talking of what the trip looked like.
This picture was taken near the upper trailhead, where the river is more of a creek that is only about six inches deep.
This picture was taken a little later as the canyon starts to take form.
At this point, I switched into my booties, but still wearing normal pants as the water was only up to about a foot deep. This was a rare time I cast a shadow. Sunscreen and sunglasses were items I took along I didn’t need.
This is a good example of how sometimes you can walk on dry land and sometimes you can’t.
Here I am napping as I wait for the group to catch up.
Here is our campsite (the furthest one south, number 12) as we pack up and get ready for day two of our adventure. You may wonder where the bathrooms are. There is a strict rule you must carry out your own waste. There are wag bags for this purpose.
This is Big Spring, a rare chance to resupply on water that isn’t contaminated with cyanobacteria.
Much of day two looked like this, sandwiched between two canyon walls. If there is a flash flood, then there is no high ground to save you. Hikers caught in flash floods in this section have died.
How do you get down this waterfall? There is a way to bypass it along the left side if heading south.
These are the kinds of rocks you step on all day long, some in the water and some out. For this reason, I recommended sturdy boots earlier.
You see streams enter the river all over the place, which is why the river gets wider and deeper as you go. Here I am at a waterfall along the way.
There are many spots you must hike around a waterfall or spot where the water is so deep you would have to swim to pass. This is an example.
It’s often a guessing game where the river is the least deep.
I really didn’t want to the stuff in my pack wet. When the river got more than waste deep, I carried my pack on my head. You might say I didn’t need to here, but it got deeper than where this picture was taken.
Another example of how narrow the Narrows gets.
The last half mile is along a well-maintained walkway, between the south entrance to the Narrows and the shuttle stop.
Next week we will get back to Casino Royale. Until then, may the odds be ever in your favor.