I don’t really have a bucket list; I find it a little morbid. But if I DID have a list of things to do in my lifetime, hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park would have been near the top for the past decade or so.
Ever since I first spotted images of the soaring rock walls bracketing the rushing waters of the Virgin River, I was hooked.
My obsession only intensified after I started following hiking enthusiasts on Instagram. Every time I saw a photo of The Narrows’ radiant slot canyons, I would mutter “damn,” and wonder why I hadn’t yet made the six-hour trip to Zion National Park.
So, when I recently had a chance to join a group of friends for a long weekend in Hurricane, Utah – just miles from Zion – I was in. Finally, The Narrows hike was within reach.
And I must say, it didn’t disappoint. Even though we ended up heading out into the chilly water on an overcast day, I enjoyed every slippery, wobbly, precarious step along the riverbed.
At each bend in the river, I found myself gaping at the scenery: translucent, green-tinted water surging over smooth rocks; massive slate-and-copper-colored rock walls literally blocking out the sun. Even in late October, the trees were still mostly leafy-green, offering a vivid contrast to the grays and browns of the rock and water.
The cloudy day made for cooler-than-expected temperatures, but it came with one huge benefit: A fairly un-crowded hike. The day before, I had been shocked by the throngs of people hiking Zion’s other premier trail – Angel’s Landing. Whether it was the overcast skies or the word-of-mouth about the cold water, on this Sunday in late October, we were able to find a few sections of the river that were virtually people-free.
My group hiked to Orderville Canyon – a slot canyon that branches off of the Virgin River. Even narrower than The Narrows, the walls of the slot canyon give off an eerie, otherworldly light. We didn’t venture far into the slot, but what we saw was simply amazing.
Overall, The Narrows hike was a mind-blowing experience, and one worth waiting for. It helped that I had taken a few precautionary steps, on the advice of a friend who had hiked The Narrows several times before:
– Number 1 – Before the hike, I bought a waterproof case for my iPhone, so I didn’t have to worry about falling in the water and trashing my phone. Since the case was transparent, I was able to take photos without removing the phone. The case also had a handy neck strap that gave me easy access. The cost was $9.99 on Amazon – a bargain for the peace of mind it gave me.
– Number 2 – I rented neoprene socks from a shop along the route into Zion. While I am accustomed to hiking in Chacos sandals, I worried that exposing my toes to the river rock might not be the best idea. Instead, I bought a pair of soft water shoes, and wore them over the tight neoprene socks. The combination provided good protection from the rocks and the cold water, but still gave me enough flexibility and traction to navigate the river bottom.
– Number 3 – I rented a wooden walking stick along with the neoprene socks. Although it was a bit of a pain to carry on dry land, the stick came in handy in some of the deeper sections of the river where I couldn’t see the bottom. It gave me a good gauge of what I was getting myself into. Also, it gave me a little extra stability in the swift current. Between the two rentals, the cost was about $15 – well worth it for the comfort.
– Number 4 – We were careful to watch the weather forecasts before we headed out. The Narrows can be a treacherous place during rainstorms. Even though the sky was overcast on the day of our hike, there was no rain in the forecast, and a sign at the trailhead reported little risk of flash flooding. Despite my enthusiasm for the hike, we wouldn’t have ventured out without that assurance.
I still don’t like the idea of a bucket list much. Sure, I have an idea of trips I’d like to take. Let’s call it my “evolving must list.” But it’s kind of a nebulous thing – a mixture of adventures I long for, but wonder if I’ll ever achieve (Mongolia, Antarctica, the top of Kilimanjaro), and those that I have in my sights (the Scottish Highlands, Machu Picchu, Norway).
After finally visiting The Narrows, though, I think it might be useful to make my list more concrete. You know – write it down, and cross things off! With a “must list” starring me in the face, let’s hope it won’t take me another decade to take that train ride through Norway’s fjord country.
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