The sky is just lightening with a touch of pink as we dropped off at the top of The Narrows, one of the best hikes in the world. It is cold, in the upper thirties so I’m wearing a light base layer, fleece and waterproof shell over wetsuit. After walking a couple miles on road, past a dilapidated cabin. were started by bounced across the rocks across the Virgin River in a dance to keep our feet dry.
However, more and more of my foot began plunging into the water as the rocks sank deeper into the stream and became less prominent. Finally crossing the stream my foot was submerged under the water. The first step on dry land forced the liquid through my canyoneering boots. I was amazed at the human innovation that even in the upper 30s, my feet remained warm due to my neoprene socks and boots. Even as my beard developed icicles from my breath and my walking stick developed a coat of ice in places previously deluged under water.
An hour and a half from the van, the canyon starts to take form around you. Walls begin to raise to 1000 ft and close in to a 30’ft distance between them . The contrast of biological reds, yellows and greens from changing leaves against geological reds, oranges, tans and blacks produced a remarkable scene.
After about three miles of this, the bank cannot be consistently walked along and you begin crossing the stream constantly from left to right bank as the high ground shifts. At one point we stared down an easily bypassed 15 ft waterfall from a 10 ft sediment packed log jam-dam that would make any beaver proud.
With the flow of the Virgin River at 50 cfs (a little below medium speed for the narrows) the river only reaches up to high ankle or low shin for this whole beginning third before reaching the first canyon junction canyon turns south and the campsites start.
At this junction, a river joins from another stellar looking canyon on the right that doubles the volume of the Virgin River. However, the canyon widens a little so the depth doesn’t change too much for the stream crisscrossing. A short while after this the campsite section starts. Each established on a raised piece of flat ground with ample room for a cooking area, tent and fire.
In this campsite section, the elusive magic of sun touched my face for the first time in five hours (it is now just last noon) and I experienced warmth enough to keep my hands out of my pockets. A short while later a warm breeze hit me to provide enough heat to transition from three torso layers down to just my wet suit at lunch.
This warmth didn’t last long though, as the sun quickly left the canyon around 2pm. Just around the time when the crossings deepened to the mid-shin to knee range for the remainder of the campsite section.
At the start of The Narrows proper (Big Spring) I put a shirt back on and started the most technical section of the route. The river could become 4-6 ft in the deepest places and it took some mild scouting to avoid these pools. In one section, Sadie and I took a few inches wide, broken ledge just above the water to work our way around a particularly deep section. I didn’t realize just off the ledge was a several foot plunge of water and almost soaked to the torso as a foot sped down slick, steep, submerged rockwall in a sudden and irregular drop off. Irregular because the depth of the sand and stone bottomed river is typically gradual.
It was in this last section, near the end of The Narrows Proper where finally became submerged the deepest. Water reaching to my upper hip as I waded through the emerald water.
The whole time has felt like walking on an irregular stone bottomed river however for the narrows onward it is consistently bowling ball sized rocks which are coated with slippery algae. 1/4 mile before the Orderville canyon junction tourists begin appearing just as plentiful as the bowling ball rocks.
By Orderville canyon junction at 3:40pm The Narrows Proper is in full effect with often no dry ground as I slosh past abundant tourists in varying levels of preparedness. However, it would be another two hours from Orderville canyon until we were on the bus returning to the visitor center after 9.5 hours of constant hiking.
The Narrows Proper section of the canyon was definitely cool, but also more of the same without the unique feeling of exploring the canyon alone. By keeping a decent pace and taking a shuttle from Red Rock Shuttles (the second earliest morning shuttle) we kept ahead of all other top down narrows hopefulls the whole day. By the end, I had seen a lot of river canyon, walked through a lot of cold water and hobbled my way through uncountable, boulder fields submerged and obscured beneath fast moving water. I was ready to sit and be dry.
When I got information from rental outfits, the NPS website and my permit ranger I was told at least knee deep for the whole way, unrelentingly walking cross a river bottom consisting of bowling balls. Also that I would be hot, with my wet suit zipped down to my waist. In truth, bowling ball part was true only for 1/3 of route. I kept out of the water a lot and only 1/3 of the route got above the shin. Finally, I was cold most of the time. I don’t know if these are common scare tactics or what but clearly not everything is as advertised. Just as the narrows was a more enjoyable experience than I expected with varying views but not delivering on a narrow slot canyon experience anywhere. Totally worth doing for the unique experience of hiking down river all day through a thousand foot tall canyon, but not worth an overnight.