Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Conquering Zion one day at a time
Almost from the first moment we crossed into Utah, it was very clear to me why the Mormon pioneers that originally settled here, fell in love with this place. We left the purple mountains of Death Valley behind for a landscape of terracotta and burnt sienna. The combination of rust coloured sandy mountains, blue sky and the greens of the vegetation dotting the landscape, are so inviting, it is intoxicating.
Zion National Park is postage stamp sized compared to Death Valley. Yet there seemed to be an endless number of activities on Marc's list for the three days we had allotted for this park. Because Zion is so small and so popular, a shuttle system was instituted several years ago, dropping you at trail heads and sites throughout the Park. It is both convenient and instructional, as your ride around the park includes commentary about all of the areas you are visiting. We parked our car each day at the Visitor Centre and took full advantage of the shuttle system.
We managed to fill three days with a multitude of interesting walks, drives and hikes. Although everything we did was memorable, two of the experiences stand out as being truly amazing.
On our second morning we nervously set out to hike Angel's landing. We had been told it was one of the most difficult hikes in the park, and if you have fear of heights, to think carefully about attempting it. This short description will give you an idea of what we were getting ourselves into:
The Angels Landing Trail is one of the most famous and thrilling hikes in the national park system. Zion's pride and joy runs along a narrow rock fin with dizzying drop-offs on both sides. The trail culminates at a lofty perch, boasting magnificent views in every direction. Rarely is such an intimidating path so frequented by hikers. One would think that this narrow ridge with deep chasms on each of its flanks would allure only the most intrepid of hikers. Climbers scale its big wall; hikers pull themselves up by chains and sightseers stand in awe at its stunning nobility. The towering monolith is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Southwest.
Although quite nervous, we were both feeling confident about the first part of the hike. As far as the intimidating second part, we decided we would play it by ear. The switch backs are called Walters Wiggles and they were really steep, but definitely doable. after the switchbacks is the hard part — the scramble to the top of Angel's Landing. When we got to the start of the scramble, we took a look at all of the people ahead of us already scaling the side of the mountain, looked at each other and said "let's do it!"
The scramble to the top was both challenging and exhilarating. It took about an hour to do the deed, with the help of chains embedded into the rock and guide rails to hang on to. There were a large number of other like minded visitors (all sizes and shapes I might add) climbing with us, which made it a lot less scary!
The view from the top was worth every perilous step. We took a few minutes to take in the view, had a small lunch and prepared for the hike down. Round trip it was about five hours, and of course the way down was a piece of cake after the climb up. We felt really elated by our accomplishment and were ready to take on the world.
The next morning we had another adventure planned. Completely different, but just as challenging. The name of the hike was called the Narrows.
Hiking the Narrows can be done in several ways with varying degrees of difficulty. From the top down, from the bottom up and a third option (the easiest) which is from the bottom going as far as you feel you can and then turning around. This is what we decided to do. The Narrows by the way, is no ordinary hike — it is a hike through a river that is running between two narrowing walls of a canyon. The deeper you go into the canyon, the narrower the space between the walls.
I rented water shoes and socks and a walking stick. The shoes and socks to keep your feet warm and the walking stick to navigate the river which at it's deepest comes to your shoulders and is 55 degrees F! Marc had water sandals with him and he picked up a walking stick at the side of the river, so we were both geared up and set to go.
Are you still with me?
The mornings in Zion are cool and windy, and the Narrows is at the top of the park where temperatures are cooler than at lower elevations, so we decided to wait until 9:30 to begin the trip. The idea of being in freezing water up to our shoulders any earlier seemed a bit too much even for Marc!
What can I say? The whole thing was amazing! We got past the first dip to our shoulders in as little clothing as possible, and then put on our fleeces and carried on. There were a large group of people in the river when we arrived and as the day progressed, we saw many people ahead of us, many on their return trip, as well as many starting their trip behind us. Every step was thrilling and by the time we decided to turn around and retrace our steps four hours had passed! So eight hours later and enough memories for a lifetime, we concluded our third day in Zion National Park.
Zion is a small park, packed with activities for every level of fitness. We took advantage of everything the Park had to offer and were rewarded with a very memorable experience.
We left the park that evening, headed for Hurricane, Utah for the night, with a full day of activities the next day, which would land us in Bryce National Park by night fall.
But that my friends is a story for another day!