Backpacking the Zion Narrows
Date: 30 Aug 2014
Duration: 2 days
Distance: 16 miles (Up –> Down the virgin river)
Difficulty: Moderate – Strenuous depending on the water level & flow conditions.
Trail/Trailhead: Trailhead from the Chamberlain's Ranch down to Temple of Sinawava along N.Fork of Virgin River and then the Virgin River. Camping around ~2hrs before Big Springs falls.
Fun parts of the trip: Down climbing the falls just before the campsites and long section of narrows after big springs.
Camping: Watchman’s campground
Recent News: Dangers (Hiker's body found after flash floods) -Sept 29th, 2014
Thanks to Ang for informing me about the plan and the requirements, I was able to acquire permits for 4 people all the way back in June. Before the Narrows backpacking trip, we had to grab the water boot rentals from Zion Adventures Company just outside the park in the town of Springdale. We also went up to Angel’s landing the previous day. Angel’s landing hike can be found here. To get to the trailhead at the ranch which is outside the Zion park boundaries, you will need make prior arrangements for transportation/shuttle. A 4x4 will be required if you plan to ask someone to drive you up to the trailhead. Since this is a one way hike, it means that you will need to make arrangements for the same. There is Zion free hop-on hop-off shuttle that commutes between Temple of Sinawava and Zion NP visitor center with couple of stops on the way. Ang had booked our shuttle with Zion Adventure Company – the same folks from whom we rented out the water shoes and neoprene socks. It was the same group as Angel's landing - Ang, Sridhar, Evan and I.
On Saturday, at 4:30am we were up packing our tents in Watchman’s campground. The time to assemble at Zion Adventures Company was 6am and we were there by then after a quick breakfast. The shuttle departed the south entrance of the park at 6:15am or so and we reached the trailhead about 45mins later. Since my mobile was turned off and packed inside the waterproof bag, I did not get to take any pictures. Almost all of the pictures here are thanks to Evan & his iPhone with lifeproof case. I quickly ran to use the toilet there (just one – non flushing). I assume we started our 2 mile hike along the river through farm land and private property by around 7:30am. We reached the point where the trail merges into the river. From here on, we were pretty much crossing the river and hiking along the bank whenever possible. It is so interesting to note that I was being so careful as to not have my backpack or myself wet in the beginning few miles and later on as the hike progressed, it was quite different and especially when tackling the waterfall.
The surrounding changed, the canyon walls narrowed and we were now almost all the time walking in the river itself. I’d say our pace was very good. Even with our 30+ pound backpack we were able to hike past the day hiker group. By noon, we just got into Zion NP boundaries. It was a nice place for lunch and so we stopped for a while. All I ate for lunch was the oatmeal raisin cookie and a trail bar. Of course some trail mix too. During our lunch the day hikers walked past us. After a while, we packed up all our stuff and started on the trail/river again. I walked slowly now and we started having to balance our way over logs climb up a log wall and down again to chug ahead. We slowly made progress towards our nice stay for the night – backpacking campsite number 9. A while later to my surprise I saw Ang and Sridhar stop and there were kind of trying to figure out what to do next. I finally caught up with them.
What I saw was quite surprising – a ~15 foot waterfall. I did not see another way down either. The others had already looked around. I peeked over and instantly what my eyes fell upon were 3 boulders nestled in perfect harmony with the branch of the tree and the waterfall. It seemed like humongous stairs going down the falls. I have no idea what I was actually thinking but I saw two people down at the falls capturing pictures of the falls. I thought they had gone down the falls and so I decided to down climb it. Turned my hat, ready to get all wet, climbed down the first boulder letting my hands feel the under side of the tree for holds. I was lucky and happy to find some good handholds. I felt as if it was meant to be – climbed down. As soon as I got down to the landing of the 2nd boulder, I was directly beneath the waterfalls and somewhat behind it. I was not able to figure out if I had to down climb further or just go for it and jump into the river. I had my backpack and hiking pole with me. (Don’t go without either!). So then finally I tried to gesture to the people down there asking how deep it was right under the falls and all I got was they didn’t know. I got myself ready for a swim with the backpack and took a plunge. What happened next – adrenaline and water to a little above my waist – that’s about it.
After that, everyone else threw their bags down and down climbed the falls. This is the most exciting part of the trip at least for me J. Once down, we started our hike and caught up with the day hikers again. We reached the point where we could see campsite signs – campsite 3,4 then 5 then 6 and so on. We hiked and hiked to reach our campsite – camp 9. It was a cozy place that could fit 6 people perched atop a 10-foot high flat bench overlooking the river but also hidden from plan sight amongst maples and Douglas furs. By 2:30 pm we were at camp 9 and so we set up our tents right away. Once that was out of the to-do list, we decided to rest. It was an early dinner that day. I was out to sleep by 8pm. Oh wait a minute, we also realized that there was a narrow path that avoided the waterfall – beat that! (but it was super fun having to go down the waterfall :D)
I was up only by 7:30am the next day giving me a whole nice 12hrs of sleep. Had breakfast, packed our tents and were out hiking again down the river by 9:30am. We crossed the other campsites followed by the big springs on our right and then made our way through the narrowest part of the narrows. It was indeed amazing! The gap between the canyon walls was so little that you could at points touch the walls with both hands extended to the sides. Going ahead we had fun time figuring out how much water there was at places. Closer to the Temple of Sinawava there were just tooo many people. To avoid them we started actually floating around with our backpacks and swimming out to the other side. We reached the temple at around 12:30pm. It ended an amazing backpacking trip through the narrows. I would totally do this one again!
Rentals that I took: Water shoes and Neoprene socks. (Need to also get/rent a wetsuit for cold temperatures).
Water flow: 47cft/sec
Level: Found pockets of chest deep water (~4.5-5ft)
Water Temperature: ~14 C