About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I spend countless hours running in the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, TX. I call it "going to church". I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Zion: The Narrows

“Hiking The Narrows is like walking on slippery bowling balls.” That is how the National Park Service describes today’s hiking adventure. There will be no running today as we are hiking a narrow gorge in Zion National Park, Utah. There is no trail because the Virgin River is the route through this 30-60 foot wide canyon with walls as high as 2000 feet. 70% of our travel will include wading, walking, and swimming through the frigid river. Since we awoke to chilly temperatures this morning, we decide to begin our hike in late morning to let the canyon warm a bit.

We start our adventure at the Temple of Sinawava at the end of Zion Valley and walk the one mile river trail to the beginning of the narrow gorge. The only way through this canyon is by walking upstream through, at times, swift moving water with rapids. Our expedition party poses for a group picture and then begins the journey through the water. Our group consists of Raymond, Betsy, Scott, Michelle, Ricky, and Gustav. Cara is taking it easy today after her Angel’s Landing adventure yesterday. (Read Post) 

I’m wearing my trail running shoes and using a trekking pole to help keep my balance. The rapid moving water is hard to walk against which takes hiking to another level. My toes are numb from the cold, but the views are gorgeous.

Lush vegetation hangs from the steep, moist walls and small waterfalls trickle down the sandstone. I frequently lose my balance, but use my stick to keep myself upright. I’m glad that I’m wearing two polypro shirts, because the water is chilling me all the way through.

Everyone holds onto the canyon wall with one hand and their walking stick with the other. This helps us keep our balance until we have to ford the river to get to a more shallow section on the other side. Crossing in the rapid flowing water is quite a challenge and I see people fall frequently. How long before I'm all the way submerged in the drink? Numerous crossings are necessary because the water keeps getting deep sometimes as high as our waist and even chest.

Before long we are surrounded by towering cliffs on both sides of us. The only way out is back the way we came, or all the way forward through the other side. Climbing up and out is not an option. I’m feeling a little vulnerable right now and am remembering the warning signs of flash flood that the park posted at the beginning of the narrows. We are supposed to watch for rising water and water that suddenly becomes muddy. Listen for the roar of water upstream. Seriously? If I hear the sound of roaring water it’s too late to do anything. The going is very slow through this chasm and we could not get out in time.

After about two hours we reach a tributary from the right leading into the Virgin River known as Orderville Canyon. Our party has separated by the time we reach this spot and Betsy and Raymond turn back. The rest of us continue with Ricky and Gustav leading the way. Pretty soon I see Ricky trying to swim against the current. I also try to swim, but am not making any headway. I’m freezing and feel like a drowned rat. I give up and float back towards a shallow spot and then Scott discovers a trail on the other side of the river. This takes us over some land and then we are back in the water.

After some more wading Ricky and Gustav climb a boulder and then help the rest of us up. After resting for a few minutes, Ricky leads us off the boulder by taking the plunge into a deep pool. Everyone follows suit until it is my turn. I’m reluctant, but give into peer pressure. When I hit the water my breath is taken away by the shock of sudden coldness. I check the gear in my pack and discover that everything is soaked. Luckily my camera has been safely nestled away in my waterproof Pelican Case.

The constant wetness, cold feet, and shady canyon have given me quite a chill. The high today is supposed to reach 99, but here in the gorge I’m not feeling it. Some sun and warmth would be nice about now. After wading for another hour we finally reach a nice sunny rock to have some lunch and a rest. A deep pool is at the bottom of our spot which prompts the daredevils of our group to “Geronimo” off the boulder.

After Ricky jumps off, Michelle says, “OK boys, watch a real diver show you how it’s done.” She does a back flip into the water and then the competition begins. Everyone does their version of the “Lindy”. That is, everyone except me. I’m still trying to warm my bones and get the feeling back in my toes; not to mention that I'm a big "chicken".

Following lunch, Scott, Michelle, and I head back while Ricky and Gustav continue on to Big Spring. I’ve had enough water soaked fun for one day and still need to make my way back out of the canyon. I’m pretty exhausted from fighting the current for the last 4 hours. The trip back is a little easier since we are now traveling with the current. Occasionally we swim and let the flow carry us, but the coldness is almost unbearable. We still have frequent crossings through rapids, but I seem to be getting better at traveling on the slippery bowling balls.

Just when my confidence is high, I face plant all the way down into the water and rocks and jam my ring finger and scrape my shin. Oh well, just another day on the trail. Towards the end of our adventure I watch as Michelle repeats my blunder. We are all tired and ready to find our way back to dry, firm land. We are soaked to the bone, chilly and ready for some of that 99 degree heat in the Zion Valley. After six hours of river trekking we are back. What a spectacular day we all had in the narrows today. See you on the trail (or in the river).

A special thanks to Gustav for the use of his excellent photos.

Enjoying a rest after a hard day
Michelle's "Triple Lindy"

(Photos courtesy: Gustav Teng)

Ray and Betsy, thank you for a great Zion vacation!

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