Southwest 2015 – Journey Into the Narrows of Zion

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Saturday, December 12th, 2015

When the alarm went off this morning, we wasted no time in getting breakfast, showering up, and gathering all our camera gear for today’s adventure. This was not the typical day of hiking or photo venturing, it was an epic voyage into the Narrows of Zion. Julia was excited and so was I. Once we had all our stuff together, we drove to the Zion Adventure Company to get a crash course on the Narrows including navigation and what to do in case the water level rises suddenly due to a flash flood. After watching the short video brief, we got all our rental gear and suited up.

The suits were very snug and getting into them was a bit of a contortion trick. Our store guide told us that we should visit the area of the Narrows called “Wall Street”, she said it’s one of the most popular sections of the Narrows, but it was a few miles worth of hiking to reach. Julia and I said it was not a problem as we are no stranger to long hikes, but we didn’t take into consideration just how much of a workout it would be to hike against the currents of the Virgin River as we later learned.

“Julia gets fitted for her suit, meanwhile I made sure our non waterproof items were sealed in zip lock bags we placed them in the night before.”

The ankles and wrists had some tight rubber gaskets that created the seal, but they had to be tight fitting to keep the ice cold water out. You have to be careful how you slip into and out of the ankles and wrists because you’ll have to pay for the damages if the gaskets rip. There were neoprene socks and then watertight boots to complete the suit. For me, the neck was practically strangling me and it was uncomfortable for the first hour, but I acclimated shortly thereafter. The final component to the rental gear was a trusty walking stick. They recommend selecting a stick that is shoulder height for the best experience.

The Narrows

GPS Coordinates: 37.3047196° N, 112.9581616° W
We reached the parking lot at the Temple of Sinawava and fortunately we were early enough to avoid a full parking lot. We finished suiting up, grabbed our camera gear, and started the one mile hike to the gateway of the Narrows. The water boots were not the most comfortable things to hike in and the suits designed for insulation against the cold were making us very warm, but it was only a mile, so we just had to suffer a tad longer to reach our destination. Julia was super excited and I was too when we got to the start of the Narrows. I mounted my GoPro Hero 4 to a head-strap and double checked the settings to record our new adventure. The night before, Julia and I traded camera packs, so I took her larger pack because I was taller and it would sit higher on my shoulders above the water and my smaller pack would sit better on her shoulders without drooping too close to the water level.

“Julia stands ready and able next to many abandoned shoes on a brick wall at the gateway to the Narrows.”

“I took Julia’s larger camera pack while she took my smaller camera pack to keep our gear further away from the water.”

“Yup, I was definitely on cloud nine with this new venture!”

Ready, Set, Go!

We started our journey as we marched right into the knee deep waters of the Virgin River. Even though we were insulated and mostly waterproof, the ice cold water made it’s presence known. The temperature we felt through the suits was equal to wading in a cool lake during a hot summer day, not too cold, but just right. It took us about 10 minutes to really start getting the hang of this new experience and once that happened, it became an awesome experience right from the start. We didn’t really stop to get any shots on the way into the Narrows because we wanted to experience it first, but we did shoot like crazy on the way back. As a result, some of the images are facing back.

“Mystery Falls, a run off of water originating from the Mountain of Mystery seated above and east of the Narrows.”

As we progressed, we learned to hike the parts of the river where rocks or sandbars were visible. The idea was to steer clear of the colorful aqua blue-green areas of the river as they were rather deep. We overheard one of the trekkers say that she stepped in a part of the river that caused her to sink chest deep. I imagine that she took a step into one of those aqua blue-green patches of water.

“This first passage was a knee deep hike and provided some great views.”

“After a while of treading through knee deep water, we encountered some dry land.”

“Seven minute super cut of all the GoPro footage we shot along the way, apologies for some of the shaky video.”

Hiking the Narrows

The Narrows is one of the most unusual hikes on the Colorado Plateau. Hiking is done largely in the river as, for a third of the route, the river runs canyon wall to canyon wall. The walls are vertical and sheer, and often red in color. Water levels change from season to season; most hikers will wade at least waist-deep and many will swim a few short sections. The Narrows can be hiked either as a through-hike from Chamberlain Ranch to the Temple of Sinawava or as an up-and-back hike from the Temple of Sinawava.

The through-hike can be done in a day or as a two-day backpack trip. Chamberlain’s Ranch is accessed by the dirt North Fork Road east of the Park, and is situated in a rolling forest of aspen and scrub oak. No sign of the spectacular gorge ahead can be seen from the ranch. The hiker proceeds down the river and into an ever-deepening gorge, eventually getting to The Narrows and ending at the Temple of Sinawava. The hike is 16 miles (26 km) long and is very tiring because it is in the river itself. Permits are required before hiking the Narrows from the top and can be obtained at the Zion National Park Wilderness Desk. Reservations should be made ahead of time as permits can be difficult to get during the summer months.

The Narrows can be explored from the bottom up with most people finding Orderville Canyon an adequate destination. Visitors keep to the flood plain to avoid trampling fragile vegetation on the benches above the river. The farther one goes upstream, the less crowded the canyon becomes. Hiking in the river is strenuous. The water is often murky and the bottom of the river is covered with rocks about the size of bowling balls. This makes proper footwear and bringing in trekking poles or a walking stick essential. The Narrows may be closed in the spring due to flooding while the snow melts off the upland areas to the north if the flow rate is higher than 120 cubic feet per second (3.4 m3/s). Thunderstorms can cause The Narrows to flash flood during the summer. Rain showers upriver can cause flash floods in the canyon without it raining over the canyon itself. Thus, hikers should exercise caution when hiking The Narrows during rainy periods as the winding canyon and sheer walls make approaching flash floods all the more sudden and difficult to evade.(Source: Wikipedia)

“The canyon walls appeared to be getting taller, much taller.”

“We had to navigate around some large boulders in the river while avoiding the deep spots where the water was very blue-green.”

“Facing about another mile of river trekking through the Narrows.”

Orderville Canyon Splitt Off

After 2.4 miles (3.8 km) of hiking against the current of the Virgin River, we felt it was time to have a seat and something to eat. We spotted a small patch of dry land just past the Orderville Canyon split off and that is where we took a break. It felt like a rather slow and casual hike to this point, but fighting the current was starting to take a subtle toll on our knees. Julia and I packed a lunch and relaxed on the rocks while enjoying lunch and the view of the massive canyons around us. We still had a fair amount of light, but the increasing height of the canyon walls were reducing the amount of light we had to work with. I’m glad that we brought the carbon fiber tripods even though they still made for extra weight. We checked out the Orderville Canyon path for less than 5 minutes before we decided to turn back and keep pushing on to Wall Street.

“This junction takes you to Orderville Canyon to the right or Wall Street and the rest of the Narrows to the left.”

“We could see that Wall Street was ahead, so we decided to take a short lunch break before heading onward.”

Geography of the Narrows

The Virgin River runs south through upland aspen forest from near Navajo Lake at 9200 feet (2800 m) elevation, 11 miles (18 km) to Chamberlain’s Ranch, 5900 feet (1800 m), where the through-hike of The Narrows starts. The river turns west and a gorge starts to form within 2 miles (3 km). By the time the North Fork enters Zion National Park, 5 miles (8 km) from Chamberlain’s Ranch, the gorge is 500 feet (150 m) deep. Three and a half miles (6 km) further, at the confluence with Deep Creek, the gorge is 1300 feet (400 m) deep, and the combined river turns south. The gorge from here is continuous and has vertical sandstone walls from 40 to 100 feet (10 to 30 m) apart, with pockets of forest on both sides. From Deep Creek to Big Spring is 2.7 miles (4 km).

At Big Spring, the canyon narrows again, and the true Narrows begin. For most of the next 3.6 mile (6 km) stretch to the Mouth of the Narrows, the river runs wall to wall, with vertical sandstone cliffs on both sides. A mile (2 km) south of the Mouth of the Narrows is the Temple of Sinawava, where the river enters main Zion Canyon, a flat-floored, quarter to half-mile (400 to 800 m) wide canyon with sandstone mountains on each side, their summits 2,400 feet (730 m) above. Eight miles (13 km) further south, where the canyon widens again, is the town of Springdale and the southern boundary of Zion National Park. (Source: Wikipedia)

“Around the bend and on to Wall Street.”

“Every stretch of the Narrows reveals a unique and beautiful scenery.”

Wall Street

We discovered that Wall Street was literally down the way from where we had lunch. As we got closer to it, the views became awe inspiring and worthy of the same admiration you would have at any fine art museum, only this was even better, this was nature at her finest! Wall Street is quite possibly the most photographed section of the Narrows and with good reason. The canyon walls here are the highest of the entire Narrows river system and it’s easy to get lost in the moment here. The scenes here were very alien looking, it was like hiking on another planet.

“Julia stands at the doorway to Wall Street.”

“The texture of the canyon walls are like something out of a science fiction novel.”

“Over three miles of hiking up a freezing river and she is all smiles, gotta love it!”

“I so badly wanted to keep exploring, but it was going to get dark soon.”

“It was hard to believe just how much rock has been carved over time.”

“End of the line!… for now.”

“Of course I couldn’t leave without a gratuitous group shot of the two exhausted photo venturers.”

Time to head back

We hiked to the end of Wall Street which put us at about 3.2 miles (5.1 km) in from our starting point at gateway to the Narrows. Our legs were pretty tired by this point, so we snapped a few pics and started our way back before it got too dark. The Wall Street section of the Narrows is home to some of the tallest of the surrounding canyon walls and significantly diminishes any available light. This can make it hard to spot the deep parts of the river, so getting out before it gets too dark is essential in avoiding an accidental dip in the deep end with a pack full of camera gear. Granted most of our stuff was in zip lock back including the cameras and lenses, but still. We were both pretty exhausted, so hiking with the flow of the Virgin river made it a lot easier getting back, although keeping balance was still paramount.

“After a short escape from Wall Street, the canyon walls opened up again to let in a bit more light.”

“We moved at a pretty good pace since we were going with the river, we even caught up to some other river trekkers.”

“This tree trunk must have fallen from far up above, although there are trees growing down here, they are not this big.”

“The setting sun’s light created a wonderful golden hour in the narrows!”

“This was the last stretch of the Narrows before starting the one mile hike back to the Starship.”

Our knees were killing us after we got to the parking lot, but man did it feel great to get the suits and boots off! The neoprene socks had a horrible odor to them so we threw them in the back and finished drying ourselves off. We drove out of the park and returned to the Zion Adventure Company to relinquish our rental gear and make sure that there was no damage to any of the gaskets on our suits. Once we were in the clear, I bought a couple of “Narrows” stickers for Julia and I as well as a new black cap for myself. We drove back to the hotel to get showered and cleaned up or our long awaited dinner. “Ahhh, feels great to get a hot shower on the sore muscles and get cleaned up after a long day of hiking.”

The Stagecoach Grill

GPS Coordinates: 37.2031003° N, 113.2749337° W
Julia and I had been chatting about finding a good place for a steak in town, but we learned that the best place for that was a little drive over to the next town. Ever since the rib eye at the Red Raven in Williams, Arizona, all we could think of was getting our rib eye fix again. I cannot even imagine the insane amount of calories that we burned in the Narrows today. Including the Riverside Trail, we did well over 8 miles total with 3 of those miles being a huge resistance workout as we navigated against the Virgin River. I suppose that having a delicious steak for dinner was justified after a day like today! I chatted up one of the lovely ladies working the front desk at our hotel and she recommended “The Stagecoach Grill” in La Verkin. The restaurant had excellent reviews online and with that, it was decided so off we went!

“A succulent 12oz rib eye steak for each of us!”

After dinner, Julia and I cruised back to the Hotel and pulled off the highway a couple of times to admire the stars. She was feeling a bit too tired to join me on the last stop, so she chilled in the Starship while I parked the rig just outside the west gate of Zion. I snagged my camera gear and stepped out to take a few shots of the stars. There was some nearby light pollution, but it was manageable. I couldn’t quite get the galactic arm because it wasn’t really out yet, but that didn’t stop me from have a good night of photography.

“The Watchman slumbers under the stars.”

“Goodnight Zion, we shall meet again in the morning.”

After I got my fill of the starry skies, I got into the Starship and headed back to our hotel. Tomorrow was supposed to be the snow storm that we had been waiting for, but the skies looked too clear for that. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Considering how epic this gigantic road trip had been so far, I would have to say that the hike through the Narrows today really set the bar to the highest level I can imagine. Julia had a blast and so did I, but we were both very sore and decided that tomorrow will be our lazy day to hang around the park. In fact, I think we will sleep in a bit and then step out to get some glamourous shots of the very photogenic mountain we saw on the way in to the park when we first arrived, The Watchman!

Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”



©Indigoverse Photography. All Rights Reserved.

2 Responses

  1. Julia Starr
    | Reply

    This was one of my favorite adventures! I would love to do it again and again! But only on days that it’s blue skies for miles, haha. It was cool though because we didn’t know what to expect and that’s what made it super exciting. But yet knowing what to expect the next time, we have a better idea of how to gauge it with the time of day so we don’t get stuck after dusk!

    • Indigo Hernandez
      | Reply

      I totally agree!, there were some other trails into the Narrows that involved a “Top -Down” hike. A place called the Subway is another location on my target list and I’d love to do that with you!😋📸

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