Entering the narrowest section of the canyon, nicknamed 'Wall Street.'
I passed through Zion National Park last year, but due to a flash flood warning, I wasn’t able to hike it’s most famous trail, The Narrows. I hadn’t really intended on returning to Zion this year, but a stunning photo of the soaring canyon walls of The Narrows graced the cover of the road atlas by my side and I couldn’t very well look at it every day and not take that hike.
The Narrows rates #5 in National Geographic’s ranking of America’s Best 100 Adventures. A permit is required to hike the entire 16 mile stretch of The Narrows from top to bottom (or from bottom to top if you so chose), but anyone can hike a few miles up into the canyon without one. I hadn’t gotten a permit, and I didn’t have a proper dry bag, so my plan was to hike until the water was chest deep, then turn around.
There’s no established trail at The Narrows. Instead, you hop into the river and start wading upstream. As such, no two routes are ever the same. My path is different from your path. And, in a beautiful metaphor for life, we each follow the path
Orderville Slot Canyon
About 1.5 miles up from the mouth of The Narrows, the Orderville slot canyon shoots off to the right. It's even taller, darker, and possibly more enchanting than The Narrows and well-worth exploring. The canyon has less running water (that is even colder), but a lot more loose rocks and obstacles. Use your best judgement!
that makes sense for us. But no matter which route you follow, bringing a walking stick is highly recommended. Two, if you’re anything like me. Of course, if you’re anything like me, you’re wholly unprepared and haven’t brought any walking sticks at all.
Of all the people I saw hiking The Narrows that day, I was the only person without a walking stickto help negotiate the footing on the round, slippery basalt rocks that cover the river bed. Think about walking along greased bowling balls and you’ll have some idea of what it feels like to hike up The Narrows. Most people had rented a sturdy, wooden stick from an outfitter located at the park entrance.
The most prepared had brought along two lightweight, aluminum alloy
trekking poles with contoured hand grips, carbide tips, and an ultrasonic finish. These folks marched up the river with a determined pace and a no-nonsense look on their faces. It seemed as if they hadn’t come for the experience, but rather to check off a box on their To Do List. I could just imagine them telling their friends back home, “Oh, yes. I’ve done The Narrows.” On the opposite
end of the spectrum were people whose walking sticks doubled as selfie sticks (yes, this really happened).
I started the hike as early as I could – which, considering that I missed the first shuttle out to the trailhead by 30 seconds, was 30 minutes later than I had planned. There were more people on the shuttle than I expected. Last year, a shuttle leaving at the same time in the morning had a grand total of four people on it, including the driver. But, this shuttle was packed, with barely any room to stand; I got jabbed multiple times in the arms, ribs, and legs by people’s walking sticks. Most people had come to hike Angel’s Landing, another famous trail in Zion, and only a handful of us entered the canyon gorge at The Narrows.
I walked up the river at a snail’s pace. Not only because I had to use the canyon walls for stability, but because I thoroughly enjoyed marveling at the features of the canyon walls and wondering about the geological processes that had caused the erosion to be so rough and sharp-edged in places and smooth and rounded in others. Another feature of
Looking Up From the Canyon Floor
It's also highly recommended that you bring layers. The weather forecast for Zion may be 100 degrees but, until later in the afternoon, The Narrows are completely shaded and windy - and you're knee-deep in cold water for most of the time.
the canyon that I took my time to appreciate were the “hanging gardens” that are created when water seeps through the Navajo sandstone, making the perfect habitat for ferns, mosses, and wildflowers not usually found in desert climates.
I had gotten about four miles upriver to Big Springs before the depth of the water forced me to head back. For most of the morning, I had hiked alone, passing other hikers only every so often. But, as I turned around, people were everywhere on the river. The amount of people increased exponentially as I got closer to the canyon mouth. Finally, about a mile from the trailhead, I ran into a literal wall of people. I had to step into a crack in the cliff wall to let them pass. The patches of sand by the side of the river reeked of human waste and the water that had once been crystal-clear was now cloudy with silt.
I felt my judgment cap come out. But, before I could place it firmly on my head, I realized that I was no different than anyone else there. Well, perhaps I was a bit quieter and tread a little bit lighter,
Zion National Park Canyon
The view from the west park entrance.
but I too, was there because I was drawn by the natural beauty of the place. I did wonder, however, if it wouldn’t be more ecologically sound to regulate all hiking of The Narrows by permit, and not just the upper reaches.
It was 105°
when I got back to my car. I had left my chapstick inside and moved as quickly as I could to smear some on my parched lips. I didn’t stop to think that chapstick isn’t meant to survive temperatures that high. As I ripped the cap off, the scalding liquid poured out of the tube and all over my legs. Major fail. Maybe it was time to get out of the desert.
Tot: 2.5s; Tpl: 0.018s; cc: 16; qc: 74; dbt: 0.0341s; 2; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb