For the Pure of Heart
One of the most beautiful hikes in the world is only nine hours away
By Elizabeth W. Hughes
We broke the journey in half and got a permit to camp at one of the 12 sites within the canyon. Even spread over two days, this canyon is tough stuff. Once you start, there’s no way out. Precautions must be taken for flash flooding, as the river below the campsites grows narrow and deep. An afternoon thunderstorm could turn the beauty of the Narrows to terror in a matter of minutes. Even on a sunny summer day, the lower canyon is shady and cool, and deep water forces hikers to swim a few sections to get to the end.
The towering canyon walls with waterfalls and trees reached toward the sky.
The water levels stayed low, and obstacles like a small waterfall were enjoyable puzzles to figure out (Over? Under? Around? Through?). The air and water have sanded away surfaces, leaving awe-inspiring sculptures. The only sound was the water flowing over the rocks, instilling the calm, peaceful air of a cathedral.
Sometimes it was hard to keep moving because I just wanted to sit there and take it all in. But there were 30 pounds on my back, miles of stream to wade through and only so much daylight. The slippery rocks demanded concentration and meticulously placed footfalls. Hiking in wet boots is tough and slow-going. With stops for pictures and snacks, our group could count on a steady pace of about one mile each hour.
As the day waned, the sun drifted from the left side of the canyon to the right. About the time we landed at the confluence of the Kolob and Virgin Rivers, the daylight bid us adieu, and the canyon walls grew taller still.
With the sun down and about eight miles of canyon hiking behind me, I was tired. These last few miles really felt like some sort of forced march. My feet were wet, and my back was sore. I was the last in our group, trudging slowly to the finish.
Once we arrived and stashed our packs on high ground, we were off to play in the stream. The rapids and boulders that had made the hiking so hard were now our friends. We dried our soggy feet, made dinner and set off to sleep, exhausted. I can’t imagine hiking all 16 miles in one day.
The fun of swimming through the Narrows is greatly diminished when you encounter it early in the morning, and it’s mandatory for forward progress. On the second day, the coffee was barely spreading through my veins when I had to take my pack off and swim.
When we saw day hikers heading up the river from the Temple of Sinawava, we knew we were home free. Even though it had only been a short time since we’d left the comforts of civilization, the tourists seemed like strange creatures. “They’re dry! They’re clean! They smell so good!”
The two miles of hike remaining were filled with splendid natural beauty.
To preserve this canyon and the Virgin River that flows through it, a permitting system allows only 80 people to hike the canyon each day. For full details on the backcountry permitting process, go to: bit.ly/ZionNarrows.
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Elizabeth W. Hughes can usually be found speeding away from Albuquerque with her dog, Dixie Belle, windows down, music up, in search of hot springs, cold beer or both.
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