Thursday, May 10, 2012

"This is so much fun, it shouldn't even be called a hike!"

Yesterday, Austin and I hiked the Narrows in Zion National Park. Basically, the trip involves hiking through a river as it makes its way through massive towering cliffs. Pretty cool. There are several different ways to hike the Narrows, but since we don't like backtracking, we went with the 16 mile through hike, billed as a 12-hour-long day trip. It's a hike I've wanted to do ever since I worked in Northern Arizona back in college, and with the help of Austin's sister watching our kids, we finally made it happen.

Part 1: A fracas at the outfitter's shop

Other than finding someone to watch our two little angels, our problem with figuring out this hike has been that it's logistically tricky and expensive. (We don't like to pay for outdoor activities.) First you have to reserve a pass for the Narrows and drive to Southern Utah and spend the night there before your hike starts early in the morning. Once you get there, you need a shuttle to take you to the beginning of the one-way trail/top of the river. (If you don't pay for a shuttle, you have to drive 3 hours after your 12 hour hike to retrieve one of your two vehicles.) In early May, if you don't want to get hypothermia you have to buy or rent expensive gear. So we got to Southern Utah, got a campsite, got a pass, paid for our shuttle, then rented gear.

Now, in my experience, employees at outdoor shops are usually very laid back. Not so much at the place we went. One lady pulled out dry pants for Austin and I, and then another employee came by and told us that we would definitely want full dry suits. *See picture of Austin above. Now, this seemed like overkill to me. When I used to live near all the national parks down in Utah/Arizona, me and my buddies would just throw on a t-shirt and tennis shoes and bust out some grueling hikes, all the while laughing at the invariably German tourists with their expensive gear and two ski poles. I wanted to hike the Narrows in a swimsuit originally, so a whole suit to keep you from getting wet on a super hot day seemed a bit ridiculous. Plus it looked really nerdy. And hard to use the bathroom in.

The dueling started. I was clear and firm that I just wanted dry pants, I would be claustrophobic in a full suit, etc. The guy that told us we needed suits was obviously some alpha male that was taken aback that anyone would argue with him. He told me the river was 4 1/2 feet deep in a few spots and freezing cold. Well, I'm not a German tourist, buddy. I don't fear the river. I politely asked for a smaller size of dry pants and he informed me that I'd already been sized by an employee and I had the right size, and went on trying to get me to get the suit. I was getting pretty annoyed, especially since the pants I was given went up to my armpits. "Will you just get me the smaller pants?" He called for reenforcements and some pregnant employee came over and tried to get me to get a suit too.

When I remained firm, she told me they wouldn't be responsible for the consequences if I just went in pants, but she would give me some tips to keep me safe. "Cinch the waist tightly," she said, "Otherwise they could fill with water and drag you under the river and you could drown." Me: "And how many people has that happened to?" Her: "Uh..." I didn't appreciate that her "safety tips" involved threatening me with death if I wore pants on my hike. And really, I just don't like overly aggressive people. Each dramatic thing they said to me made me want my pants more and more. The suit was only 6 bucks more than the pants, so it wasn't a money thing, it was the way they didn't care about me, they cared about me doing what they told me to. Epilogue: I wore pants.

Part 2: The Mystery of the Missing Tent

What do you do when you get back to your campsite and your tent is missing? This is not a hypothetical question and will be blogged about shortly.

Part 3: We hike

Being confident in our skills, we figured we could do 16 miles in 8 or 9 hours no problem. We had to return our gear by 7:00 and we were driving 4 hours home that night, so time was of the essence. We got up at 5 to break camp, and got to the trailhead via shuttle at 7:30 a.m. After we passed the two Texans that beat us out of the shuttle, it started out all fun and games:

The part of the hike where we spar with walking sticks.

 The part of the hike where we make comments about how the hike is so much fun and makes us feel like little kids playing in the river.

The part of the hike where we play in the river--Austin flaunts his dry suit.

  The part of the hike where we realize that we'll be hiking in the river for 12 more miles and we're already kind of tired of it.
 (Last picture taken)

Takeaways: I don't think walking sticks are for nerds and Germans any more--they saved our lives in the river. Our rented neoprene socks and shoes were also great. Also, swallowing my pride here, I should have gotten a full drysuit. I know it was a river hike, (ergo, it's lame not to want to get wet) and Austin was roasting in his suit for a couple hours, but when it came down to it, I really didn't want to get that wet, especially since it was quite cool in the canyons. The only reason I never got wet past my dry pants was because Austin carried me and I hiked over boulders and small mountains to avoid long swims. It would have been less work just to stay in the water.

Also, I feel like we were misled by the words, "day hike." A day hike is frolicking through flower-filled meadows, clambering up a mountain or two, and feeling worn out but satisfied at the end of it all. The Narrows hike, on the other hand, is the only hike I've ever been on that I wanted to literally cry from hurting so bad.

The park's estimate of 12 hours for the hike was correct, and we were booking it most of the way, with a 10 minute stop for lunch being one of a handful and the longest of the day. Through some miracle, we managed to catch an employee locking up the gear shop an hour and a half after return time--we had no idea what we were going to do with our gear, since we were leaving town that night. We drove home and fell into bed around 2 a.m.

Part 3: Bragging rights vs. pain

I wanted to post a picture of my pale wrinkly feet with sausage toes and blisters, but I resisted. Let's just say that miles and miles of river rocks and boulders are really, really tough on your feet, no matter how great your footwear. We are both hobbling around like old people today, and I think that between us Austin and I will lose a few toenails. The scenery was amazing. The rushing river, the sheer cliffs blotting out the sun, the bright green clumps of forest and wildflowers, all amazing. We saw one other hiker in about 10 hours of hiking, so it was mostly just us and nature. (Although Austin did manage to end up in some Indian tourists' picture right at the end.) But the question is, did we really need 12 hours of amazing? We were hiking so fast and trying so hard not to drown or fall off a cliff that we stopped noticing the awesomeness after an hour or two. I think that next time we would do the bottom-up day hike, which is more of an "I feel satisfied and worn out" day hike than a "I feel like I've been dragged through hell" day hike. All-in-all, we have both agreed that the Narrows through hike was a cool hike but a once-in-a-lifetime deal.


Sara said...

That is an accomplishment! I'm a wuss. I probably wouldn't have attempted such a feat.

Quick side note: One thing about marriage that I look forward to is having a buddy to do stuff with me. (or at least I hope he will...)

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