On the trail: Narrow vision
September 7, 2007
ZION NATIONAL PARK, Utah ” They call it a “wilderness experience,” and in terms of the solitude, the magnificence of the surroundings and the potential to get seriously hurt or stranded, the Narrows at Zion National Park in Utah lives up to the description.
A friend and I walked the Narrows of the Virgin River last week; him for the second time and me for the first. This 16-mile, two-day hike ” with camping overnight ” will keep me dreaming for months, even years, of doing it again.
Of course, civilization intrudes from the word “go!” You grab an hour-long shuttle ride to get to the trailhead; you’re in the company of a couple of dozen hikers at first, and the first 2 miles of the “trail” are actually a former ranch road bulldozed into four-lane width in preparation for some luxury dude ranch development or something.
But, almost magically, soon enough you are alone, on a stupendous trip into a fragile yet imposing ecosystem. Down in the canyon, with sandstone walls towering up to 500 feet on either side, water rules.
You walk in it, you listen to it trickle and roar, you fall into it if a loose rock skids out from under your foot. In a narrow defile smack in the middle of a desert, searing heat tops the canyon walls, but down in the slot you feel nothing but moist air currents and wet feet. Hanging gardens frame sandy beaches, and supreme peace of mind is yours for the asking.
Lawyer-inspired literature warns about flash floods that can send a sudden wall of water a dozen feet high thundering down the gorge. And guides will tell you how a cocky group of Marines went into the Narrows during monsoon season a few years back and got caught. Some died.
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But old Narrows hands will tell you that mostly, when the water rises, it’s slow enough for you to clamber six feet up somewhere and get to safety. The greatest danger of the trip, for me, was the nine-hour drive from Carbondale to Springdale, Utah.
The literature also warns that sandals are inadequate to the task, because of the toe-smashing, ankle-wrenching potential of the shifting rocks in the river ” another overstatement.
In wearing Tevas and neoprene socks, my toes suffered only slightly. And the minor discomfort served to remind me that we mortals need to be constantly aware of our tenuous hold on life, and of the great joys to be had in meeting the world on its own terms, even if only for two days.