Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hiking in Zion

When my cousin Jami Quesenberry invited me to go hiking in Zion with her and her family I didn't think it'd work out. But when she said they were hiking The Narrows, I knew I had to make it work out. The Narrows isn't simply a hike I had wanted to do, it was the most glaring uncompleted item on my bucket list.

I have been to Zion regularly and hiked the Riverside Walk Trail numerous times. Unfortunately, I had never had the time or equipment to continue on into the Narrows. Each time I would reach the end of the paved section and gaze up the canyon into the Narrows and say to myself "Some day." Well, yesterday was "the day" and the hike was well worth the wait.

The plan was to drive to Zion on Friday and hike Angels Landing, then hike The Narrows on Saturday morning. So, around lunchtime on Friday I ended my workday early and headed to my uncle Glen's house in Pleasant Grove. He and I then drove to Jami's house in Salem where we were going to meet the rest of the group. Unfortunately, Jami was unable to go. However, there were still ten of us that went, including Jami's husband Steve, four of their children (Leigh, Grace, Daniel, and Timmy), their niece Jill, plus Jill's friend Chris and Daniel's friend Tyler.

With only a short stop in Nephi for lunch, we drove directly to Zion Nation Park and arrived before 5:00. We checked into our campground and then immediately got on the shuttle bus up Zion Canyon. Twenty minutes later, the bus dropped us off at the Angels Landing trailhead and our hiking was underway.

Angels Landing is a 1,200-foot high rocky peak that overlooks my second-favorite place on Earth: The Big Bend area of Zion Canyon. (My favorite place is Dead Horse Point.) This one spot features great views of the Great White Throne, Observation Point, the Organ, Cable Mountain, and the Virgin River.

As far as hikes go, Angels Landing is nowhere near the most strenuous or dangerous. However, when it comes to hikes that are sponsored by the National Park Service this one is easily the roughest I have ever seen. Most hikes that a park shuttle will take you to are flat, paved, and about a half a mile long...and they still tell you to "consult a physician" before going on the hike. For the Angels Landing hike, the tour guide doesn't mention anything about your physician. He just says "Fatalities have occurred."

The hike is five miles, round trip, and quite steep with a lot of switchbacks. The last half mile has chains for you to hold on to and notches carved in the rocks for you to get a toe-hold. I had hoped to get a bit of a workout on the hike...but I got a lot more than just a bit. I was breathing hard most of the way up.

Glen, Chris, and Jill ascend Angels Landing
This was the second or third time I'd done this hike, but the view from the top was every bit as breathtaking as the first hike. My photographs certainly don't do it justice, but I got a few good ones.

The view of Big Bend from Angels Landing
While on the top of Angels Landing I witnessed one of the grossest things I can remember. There are dozens of chipmunks scurrying around on the peak feasting on crumbs that have been left behind by hikers, and there was a lady there that accidentally stepped on one. She screamed as she realized she'd crushed its poor little skull. It started twitching and flopping around and making a big scene. Blood was gushing out of its head and soon everyone was grossed out. Things really got gross when it flopped all the way over to me and landed on my backpack. It was flipping blood all over my stuff. I tried to kick it out of the way, but it flopped so high that my foot went clean underneath it. I finally landed a glancing blow and knocked it down into the crack of some rocks and out of sight.

We spent a few minutes on top enjoying the view and taking pictures before heading back down. After a quick descent we took one of the last shuttles down the canyon. We got back to our campground as the sun was going down. We quickly pitched our tents and fixed dinner before it got totally dark. After dinner we relaxed for a minute before going to sleep early, anticipating a long day.

On Saturday morning we were awakened at 7:00 by Glen who had fixed us all a hot breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon. After breakfast we packed up and checked out of the campground. We then got on the shuttle bus and headed up the canyon again. This time we went all the way to the last stop at Temple of Sinawava. That is where the Riverside Walk Trail begins, which is an easy paved walk up the canyon for a mile. At that point the pavement ends and the section of the canyon known as the Narrows begins.

There isn't a trail in the Narrows. You mostly walk in the river itself, and any trails that might develop on the short areas of dry land get washed out by flash floods. The river is low this year, so most of the water was only ankle deep with the deep sections reaching up to my chest. The low water didn't make the hiking significantly easier for us because we still had to step and climb over rocks and boulders most of the way. When I learned that Steve and his kids only had time to hike up for an hour I was a bit disappointed. It didn't feel right to rush when I was checking an item off my bucket list. However, it was pointed out to me that they were all in a different vehicle from us and we could take as long as we wanted. We decided to hike up at least as high as the section called "Wall Street." This is the most narrow section of the canyon and the part that I'd most wanted to see.

So, for the first hour we had a large group and there was a lot of talking and stopping for pictures. Then after that there four of us--Glen, Jill, Chris, and I--and the hiking got more focused as we pushed toward our goal of reaching Wall Street. The canyon gets narrow very gradually and we found ourselves walking less and less on land and more and more in the water. We also were getting less sun and finding more of a breeze through the canyon. The result was that by the time we reached Wall Street it actually started getting cold despite the 104 degree temperatures elsewhere in the park.

Brent at "Wall Street"
The Wall Street section of the hike wasn't as narrow as I had envisioned it, but the canyon walls were every bit as high. The canyon winds back and forth and each new bend seemed to offer a new, more narrow view. I found myself repeatedly thinking to myself "this is the best part of the hike."

After a while we reached a point where there is a fork in the canyon. One of the forks led to a small canyon that was significantly more narrow. I think this is the canyon I was thinking of when I thought of Wall Street. It was narrow enough that I could nearly reach across and touch both sides at the same time.

Narrow side canyon
We ventured up the small canyon just far enough to get some good pictures, then returned to the main canyon. We pushed ahead for maybe another half mile and the canyon seemed to be widening. We concluded that we had probably passed the best parts of the canyon and decided to turn back.

I found the hiking was nearly as difficult going down as it was coming up. There wasn't really an elevation change or a strong current that had slowed us on the way up. However, we didn't stop on our way down to admire the scenery or take pictures, so we made good time going back out. We got back to the shuttle bus just over four hours after we had started hiking. I think it was my longest hike in about seven years.

The shuttle took us back to our car and we left right away. We had to take Chris to St. George, and then we drove the 250 miles to Salem without stopping. We dropped Jill off there and then we had to go to Glen's house to get my car. I didn't get home until 10:00pm, completely worn out.

It was a great weekend and I can't thank Glen, Steve, and family enough for their hospitality.


Scott and Beverly said...

Cool. Very cool.

Beverly said...

What a great hike and experience. Thanks for posting about it.

Barb said...

BRENT! I love bucket list items! It sounds like you had a great time! I am planning a 1/2 marathon hike this summer with some girlfriends! I just haven't worked out all the details! This inspired me to keep going with it! thanks!