The Virgin River Narrows

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m not in the best shape. Probably in the best shape of my life but that shape is still a little round for my liking. That did not stop me from trying what is billed as one of the best hikes in America when I was out in Zion in November 2017. I did the famous Virgin River Narrows hike. For those of you who have not heard of the Virgin River Narrows hike, you are really missing out. It starts in the Temple of Sinawava at the end of the Zion National Park shuttle bus run. You then have a 1 mile hike over a well worn trail. Then you leave the trail and jump in the Virgin River. And you go upstream until you run out of time or energy. Then you come back down the river and do the 1 mile overland hike again.

Virgin River Narrows I
Virgin River Narrows I

This is the type of terrain you will be dealing with. Rocky boulders either covered by river or not depending on the area. Eventually you get to an area called Wall Street where you are in the river with no banks on either side, it is just rocky walls that go straight up for a thousand feet. In November, as you might imagine, the river is darn cold. So after a stop at a local outfitter I was all geared up with a dry suit and canyoneering shoes.

The day of the hike came and I put on my dry suit in my hotel room. Immediately I noticed something didn’t seem right. The rubber gaskets on my arms and legs meant to keep the water out were really tight. At that point I figured everything was as it should be and I kept going with my day. By they time I reached the river portion of the hike my hands were starting to swell and ache. I pushed on. I went up the river, very slowly. It was exhausting walking in the water. I pushed and pushed and finally made it to Wall Street, about 1 1/2 hours after I should have because of how slow I was taking it but I was spent. I wanted to push farther up and keep getting pictures but I knew I was in a little bit of trouble. My hands and feet were swollen, I was out of energy, and miles away from the Temple of Sinawava.

Virgin River Narrows VI
Virgin River Narrows VI

So defeated I turned around and trudged back out. I stopped to take pictures along the way so that was a good distraction. But the pain in my hands had become unbearable. My energy level was at zero and each step became hard. If I could have quit and had a ranger carry me out I think I would have, but that wasn’t an option of course. It actually got to the point where a few kind hikers on the way up the river asked if I was ok and asked if I needed anything. I must have looked as miserable as I felt. About six hours after I started the trek I made it back to dry land. I stripped off the dry suit and carried it back the last mile to the bus stop.

Did I have fun? Yes. Would I do it again, with the proper fitting dry suit? Yes. Was it one of the worst experiences of my life? Yes. Normally I don’t put myself into situations where quitting isn’t an option. I like to leave myself outs. That day I had to reach down deep inside of me and use every last ounce of resolve and energy to get out of this hike. Honestly I found out I was stronger then I thought I was. Also, I found out that I was wise enough to turn around before putting myself into too much danger. Had I continued up into Wall Street another hour I do not believe I would have made it back out of that canyon.

So two morals to the story. First, always listen to your body and don’t push harder then you can handle. I left photo opportunities on the table when I turned around in Wall Street but I had no choice. Second, try on your dry suit before the morning of your hike. There is such as thing as too tight of a gasket.

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