When I was in high school We had to do a report on a National Park, and I picked Zion. That is where I first learned about the Narrows. The Narrows is a hike that can be completed in one of three ways:
· First you can start at the bottom and hike in a few miles and then turn around and hike out
· Second you can take a 90 min shuttle to the top and then do the 16 mile hike down over the period of two days. They have 12 designated campsites where you can stay overnight and continue your journey in the morning
· Third you can take the 90 min shuttle and do the complete hike in one day without stopping.
Originally I wanted to do the overnight version, but then the idea of backpacking in all my overnight gear, and carrying it for the full duration of the hike intimidated me. The majority of the hike is through water so the thought of needing everything to be waterproofed just seemed complicated… Anyways, to move this along, after nine long years and two babies all the stars aligned so I could go on my dream hike. I had it all planned for the end of August with my mom. As I said before we opted to do the one day version, which left us with 14 hours to complete the hike in order to catch the last shuttle at 9:30pm. Well, long story short the weather did not cooperate and once we arrived to Zion the rangers strongly discouraged us from going through with the hike due to the risk of flash floods. I was extremely disappointed so I rescheduled my trip for October when Morgan could come with me. There were a few disadvantages to October. First, the air temperatures were much cooler; second, the water was much colder; and third, the days were much shorter. The last shuttle in October leaves at 7:30pm so you only have 11 hours to complete the hike. They say that the most experienced hikers can usually complete the hike in 12-13 hours. If we missed the shuttle we would be stranded there 4 miles away from any electricity and cell phone reception. The ranger strongly advised us to reconsider doing the day hike in October because completing it in 11 hours is pretty intense, but of course we thought we could do it. This is where my adventure begins:
Morgan and I arrived to Zion Monday afternoon, and decided to squeeze in a hike to the top of Angels Landing before going to bed. Morgan had never done that hike before so we did not want to miss the opportunity.
Top of Angels Landing
Tuesday we woke up at 5:00 am to get ready and catch the bus. We then had a 90 minute bus ride to the top of the trail head. The high temperature in the canyon was 53 degrees for the day with a low in the high 20s. Our shuttle ended up getting us to the trail-head 30 minutes later than expected (because they waited 20 minutes for a late couple who had stopped to pick up some carry out food and coffee, another 15 minute delay came because our bus driver passed one of the stops on the way up and had to turn around to drop someone off). Once we finally arrived at the trail head we tried to walk the first three miles as fast as we could because you start on level path that leads you down to the water where the hike begins. Crossing the river the first hour was pretty intense. Even though we were wearing high quality canyoneering shoes and neoprene socks, your feet still burned from the cold. They hurt pretty bad but eventually our feet numbed out and the burning went away. This early part of the hike was my favorite. The leaves were changing for the fall, and were absolutely stunning. I honestly don’t think I have ever seen anything so beautiful. I was obsessed with the leaves, I just cannot get over how amazing they were. Anyways, we tried to move as fast as we could because we knew that time was not on our side. It was really hard to not stop and take pictures every five minutes because the views were stunning. We had a map with some land marks to help gauge our time and make sure we were keeping a reasonable pace. When we passed the first one we were 20 minutes ahead of schedule. When we reached the second, which was a waterfall, we had fallen 15 min behind. I wasn’t surprised because we had been stopping and taking lots of pictures with the leaves. That was the last time we would see the map because sometime after the waterfall the map fell out of our pocket never to be seen again. That was also the last time we would see any other people along the trail. This hike has a limited number of permits handed out each day so there are a limited number of hikers passing through. I guess this day there were not many out because every campsite was vacant. We kept hoping we would bump into somebody so we could take a picture of their map but, unfortunately, we saw no one.
We were walking as fast as we could at this point, only stopping if we had to take something out of our packs. I literally think the only time we sat down was to take off some of our layers when the weather warmed up. We ate our lunches while we walked along the river. After walking for 8 straight hours, we were completely exhausted. We kept trying to remember the details of the map, but neither of us had a clear memory of any of the landmarks. So we really had no idea how close we were to the end. We just kept pushing forward trying to walk as fast as we could in hopes that we would not be stranded in the narrows overnight. Morgan was trying to rush me along, but my body was hurting so bad I did not think I could move much faster. Both of our knees and ankles were just throbbing. Walking on river rocks for 16 miles really does a beating on your feet. It was starting to get dark and we had been walking for just under 11 hours. I felt like I was never going to get out of the water. I was so tired and exhausted and just wanted to give up. Finally we stopped to put on our head lamps because it was completely dark. Once we put on our headlamps we crossed the river one more time, and that is where Morgan saw some stairs. He climbed out of the water and yelled to tell me this was the end.
I told him to run ahead and try to catch the shuttle, as we were only ten minutes past the time of the last shuttle. Morgan limped ahead and once I climbed out I just lost it emotionally and started crying. I think I was really getting worried that we would be stranded in the water over night and that was making me very nervous. We both limped down this long asphalt path, and arrived to the shuttle stop at 8:00pm… thirty minutes after the last shuttle had gone. We sat on the bench and waited hoping there would be a ghost rider shuttle, or that a ranger would do a drive by and check to see if people were at the shuttle stop. While we waited we decided to eat, since we hadn’t taken the time to consume much food. As we sat on the bench I remember that my mom had forced me to bring two of her 99 cent emergency blankets. In the past I have always made fun of my mom’s obsession with these blankets. She uses them for everything, but in this moment we were desperate to be warm. So we laid on one of the blankets, and put the other one over us. We sat and waited on the bench of the shuttle stop for three hours. Eventually the wind got worse and the temperature continued to drop. We had the option to walk to the lodge about 4 miles away but we did not think our achy bodies could handle another four miles of walking, especially in the cold. Out of desperation we moved into the family bathroom. We laid an emergency blanket on the floor of the bathroom and laid on top of that and used the other one to cover ourselves. This was not my highest moment, but we were so grateful for a closed building. The low for the night was below 30 degrees, and we did not have a good assortment of warm clothes. We left a flashlight on the bench with hopes that somebody would drive by and know we were there.
Nobody ever drove by and at 7:00am we went out to wait for the morning shuttle. At that point a ranger came by and saw us sitting there. She asked if we had been there all night and we told her that we had. She apologized and said normally a ranger comes by and checks to see if there are any people waiting but for some reason the ranger must have got caught up doing something else and never made it. Just our luck….
I want to conclude my story by saying this was by far the most beautiful hike I have ever done. The scenery was unbelievable. The pictures hardly do it justice. Even if I had known the way the trip would end I would still do the whole thing over again. It was such an incredible experience. I feel so proud of myself for not quitting or giving up and the memories I made are priceless. It was such a cool one-of-a-kind hike. The views in the canyon walking along the Virgin River are just incredible. There is no other way to fully appreciate the beauty that is there other than to do the full hike, but it is defiantly not easy. Next to child labor I would say it is the hardest thing I have ever pushed my body to do. I will also say, for any of you considering this hike, you would have a much different experience if you opt to do the overnight version. I think if we had done that it would have eliminated all the stresses and pressures we felt throughout the hike. I definitely plan on doing this hike again but this time would like to camp in the middle, so that I can really soak in the amazingness this hike offers. This is a hike everyone should do in their lifetime but it is important to be prepared. It is definitely doable in one day, especially in the summer, but don’t plan on much time to stop. I strongly believe if we had the map and could have seen how close we were to the end, I think we could have pushed ourselves a little harder to catch the shuttle. Bottom line…everyone add the Narrows to your bucket lists!