Monday, May 26, 2014

Utah Part 5: Canyoneering and the Narrows

I mentioned in my last post that we were originally supposed to do a canyoneering trip the day we hiked Angel's Landing. Because of the rain, the guiding company strongly suggested that we switch days. Fortunately, both we and their guides had the flexibility to reschedule. Paragon Adventure's (I didn't receive anything for this post - in fact, I paid them. I was just happy with the trip) guides picked us up from the Watchman Campground in Zion National Park early in the morning, and we were on our way to a small canyon called Birch Hollow. We started with a quick hike down to the first rappel. The anchors were already in place, which is the first time I've seen that (admittedly, I have limited experience with canyoneering). Not having to build anchors at each rappel did save quite a bit of time.
This was one of the longer rappels we did. If I recall, our guide said it was about 100 feet. Our friend is belaying Michael as he starts his descent. The walls on this one were almost perfectly smooth.
Michael took this picture of me on one of the last rappels. I lost count of how many we did.
After reaching the mouth of Birch Hollow, we hiked down Orderville Canyon to a small slot canyon . We hiked up it, scrambling over a few boulders and log jams along the way. Eventually, we reached a waterfall that we couldn't scramble up. We returned to our packs and had lunch before hiking up Orderville canyon to the truck. As a bonus, we got a four wheel drive adventure on the way out. The canyoneering trip was awesome and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend our guiding company.

The following day, we hiked the Narrows, which was another life list hike for me. As an added bonus, there is a bit of history there for me. Fifteen years ago, a friend and I drove up to southern Utah from Flagstaff, Arizona to explore some of the slot canyons in the newly designated Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. We had no idea what we were doing, but we managed to see quite a bit and not get ourselves killed. We visited Bryce Canyon National Park on the way back and had a conversation about how the next time we were up that way, we needed to go to Zion and hike the Narrows. It only took fifteen years for the two of us to get back there. When I was making plans for the trip, I let her know we'd be out there. She and her family drove up to Zion from Phoenix and we spent three days catching up (It had been six years since the last time we'd seen each other). And we hiked the Narrows, finally.

We took the shuttle bus to the end of the road in Zion Canyon and then hiked the mile to the start of the Narrows with what seemed like the entire population of Utah. The Narrows, at least if you hike it from the bottom, is definitely not the place to seek solitude. At the beach where the trail ended, we changed into neoprene socks and old tennis shoes, rolled up our pants, and marched into the water. It was cold, but I was expecting a lot worse. Once my feet warmed up the water in my socks, it got a lot better.
The hike is largely in the river. In a few places there were large sandbars with a trail, but most of the time, we were knee deep in the Virgin River.
As we hiked upstream, the walls rose around us. Michael is in the middle of this one for scale. It is somewhat unusual to be able to hike the Narrows this early in the season, but southern Utah received very little snow this past winter. That was good for us - the river was hike-able, but it will be bad for fire season there. Even with the low river levels, the current was not insignificant. Hiking poles made a huge difference. So did wearing closed-toe shoes instead of sandals.
After a couple of hours of hiking, we reached a sandbar that lent itself to being a good lunch spot. We shared it with about a million other people, but it was still pleasant. This raven was waiting for people to drop food.
 After lunch, we continued upstream. Many people, apparently, turned around at the sandbar, because the crowds thinned considerably. Michael and our two friends in one of the narrower sections.
 More awesome canyon walls.
Michael and one of our friends in a slow, sandy pool.
Just before we decided to turn around, we reached a deeper pool that we couldn't avoid. Up to that point, the water had been just a couple inches over my knees at the deepest. This pool was up to my hips. Fortunately, the current was really slow here. Michael is carrying my pack through the pool so it won't get wet. Soon after this point, we realized we needed to turn around to make sure we didn't miss the last shuttle back to the campground. It had taken us quite a while to hike as far as we did and we weren't sure that we would be any faster on the way back. It turns out, if you aren't taking pictures around every bend in the river, you can hike quite a bit faster! We made it out in about half the time that it took us to hike in. It was an awesome hike. Maybe one of these days, we'll do the full overnight backpacking trip from the top of the canyon, but the dayhike from the bottom was spectacular.
Aquilegia formosa (Western Columbine) growing on the canyon wall near the trailhead.
 We made it back to the shuttle stop with time to spare and this little hummingbird greeted us at our campsite.

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