Two days of hiking in Zion

We fancied doing a decent walk, and managing to have strategically positioned Lee’s phone the previous night we had got enough signal to look at some walks in the area. We wanted to do Angel’s Landing which is one of the most popular trails in the park, a 5.4 mile hike with over 500m of elevation gain.

We packed up and headed down into the park to find the start of the walk, it took us a while to figure out that Zion operates a shuttle bus system that takes you up the canyon to the majority of the walks. Realising we couldn’t drive, we parked up at the visitor centre and got a one of the buses that would take us to the start of the walk. It takes around half an hour for the bus to drive very, very slowly up the road the start of the walk, but at least they had some interesting facts about the park playing on the drive. All of this combined, and we were worried that we were starting the walk graded as ‘strenuous’ that was supposed to take around 4 hours, well after lunchtime. Still, we set off, initially on a gently climbing trail towards the base of the mountain.

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Soon things started to climb more steeply as we started going up a series of sharp hairpin bends, or switchbacks if you’re American. The views got better and better, and the path steeper and steeper. The trail heads up the front of the lower middle section in this photo, you can see the cutaways in the rock where the path leads.

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This didn’t appear to stop people though, and there was a great range of hikers. Some very small kids, some people wearing shoes that didn’t look very appropriate and some people kitted up like they were about to tackle Everest. They view was great, not even halfway up.

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This part has a nice clear path to follow, which makes the ascent a bit easier.

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After an hour of steep climbing we reached Scout’s Lookout, which still boasts an impressive view.

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What you don’t see from those photos however, is that it’s actually pretty busy up here. The trail of people you can see are heading up to the higher point, Angel’s Landing.

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This is a point where some people turn around as the final section up to Angel’s Landing is not only steep but has lots of narrows sections that require you to hold onto chains in order to climb up. It also mentions at the start of the walk that 10 people have died in the past 15 years on this section of the climb and that it should not be attempted in poor weather or poor health. Weather-wise, it wasn’t icy or windy so we were set to go, health wise maybe we weren’t as well equipped. Nevertheless, there’s only one way to get fitter, and so we set off.

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It is mentioned that you also should not attempt this if you are afraid of heights, due to the 1000ft drop offs on either side of the sometimes very narrow path. I wouldn’t classify myself as scared of heights, but in some situations they make me uneasy. There was certainly a few times where I instructed myself to hold onto the chains and not look down.

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The last section is only half a mile long, but it took us nearly another hour to reach the top. We just kept climbing, most of the way lined with chains.

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You get a peak of the view that you will get in full at the top.

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The views from the peak are incredible though, and definitely worse the few scary moments and extra cardio.

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We spent a little while at the top before making our way back down, aware that we didn’t know where we were going to park of the night and the afternoon was drawing to an end. The view as you descend from Scout’s Lookout.

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As expected, it took a lot less time to make our way back down, and the path was also a bit quieter at this point so it was easier to stop for some photos.

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The view from this point lets you see the path you took to get up here. Definitely a lot of hairpins! And look at the tiny people!

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Returning via the shuttle bus, we stopped for a quick look in the visitor centre and to check the weather forecast. Tomorrow we wanted to walk The Narrows, this is even further up the gorge where the walls close right in on the Virgin River, which cuts a path between them. As with any gorge walk, it’s definitely not recommended if rain is forecast due to the risk of flash flooding. In order to hike the narrows, you have to hire a dry suit or trousers and special shoes as the walk is in the river itself. The weather forecast looked like it would be ok, so we headed back to Ruby and began a drive out to a parking spot we had found around 20 minutes from the park. Happily, it turned out to be a really nice spot by the river where we could also let Aimee roam around free for a bit until it got dark. She was getting a tad crazy again after being in the van all day as we hadn’t fancied going rock climbing with a cat in tow.

After a nice peaceful night by the river, we awoke to a slightly miserable morning. It wasn’t actually raining, but it looking a bit ominous. Still, we got ready to head back into the park and by the time we left it was brightening up. We stopped off just before the gates in order to rent our dry trousers and shoes. First, we watched a short video about the walk itself that gave an overview of the route and also warned about how to spot hypothermia. The woman then recommended that we hired a full dry suit, but trying to save money we just went for the trousers. She warned us that at this time of year, the water is so cold that if we fell in with only trousers on we would have to turn around and come back. Still, we decided to risk it, not like either of us is clumsy or anything…

We had to try everything on in the shop to check it fitted, this including the trousers, two pairs of neoprene socks and the shoes. Needless to say, it took a while to put it all on, the Lee took it all off again as he didn’t reckon he could drive in the shoes. I left all my stuff on, definitely couldn’t be bothered to do it all again, and we set off to park. We had an earlier start this day, now we knew we had to get the bus, but it still took over an hour to actually get to the start of the walk. The park was fairly busy, so we couldn’t get on the first shuttle and then it’s around a 40 minute drive to the top of the road.

Finally arriving, we set off. The complete walk is just over 8 miles and it supposed to take 9 hours, which gives you an idea of the kind of speed that you can walk at. The first mile however, is down a straightforward paved path which we powered down, eager to get started.

The path comes to and end and here is where you get into the river.

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Judging by the fact that we were wearing wetsuit socks, I suspected that the shoes were not meant to keep your feet dry. As soon as I stepped into the water, this proved to be correct and the water was definitely chilly. The boots did a good job of providing some grip on the very slippery rocks at the bottom of the river, and with two pairs of socks on it wasn’t to cold. We had our hiking sticks too, in order to help us through the particularly deep bits.

The first section around knee height and we waded our way out of sight of the path. Very soon it gets much deeper and I had to tuck my jacket in my trousers and take everything out of the pockets as the water went up to my waist. It’s also quite hard work to push through this deep and fairly fast flowing river, as you can probably imagine.

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At around an hour we stopped for lunch, before continuing upstream. At this point it started to get prettier with big rocky overhangs and clear blue water.

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We tried to work out where we were on trail, but it was hard to know which rock ‘house rock’ is as marked on the map. We wanted to get past where the river forks, and into ‘wall street’ the narrowest and most scenic part of the route. We planned to do around 2-3 hours out, not expecting to complete the full trail.

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After a little while longer, Lee managed to fall in the river. Fortunately he wasn’t completely submerged, so we decided to keep going.

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The views were pretty incredible, with the crystal clear water running through the towering red rocks on either side.

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Around two hours in and we had got to the junction where the river splits. At least we now knew exactly where we were! It is very narrow at this point, and we took the left hand fork to continue on.

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We hiked for around another 30 minutes, before deciding we had had enough. It was pretty hard work, and we were again conscience of the light and the rain that was forecast for later on. As you can see from my photos, my camera was struggling with the light.

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Most other people had also turned back, and there was only us and one other couple left this far down.

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At least going upriver means that you do the tough bit first and then the walk back is much, much easier as you are not fighting 87 cubic feet per second of water, it’s actually helping move you along. As you can see from the water, it’s flowing pretty rapidly.

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The rock formations here were also interesting too, the way that the water had carved through stone leaving these shapes.

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The river now helping us meant we made much better time on our return route, which I was quite glad about, as I was pretty tired. This in turn led to me also falling in the water, but not quite as dramatically and I only got a soggy hand. Some of the rocks are covered in algae and very slippery. It’s also hard to see down the bottom in the fast flowing water and sometime as you go to put your foot down, the force of the water pushes you and you end up stepping somewhere completely different! A bit gutted that I could no longer take the piss out of Lee, I plodded on.

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It had now started to drizzle and we were quite happy when we saw the spot we had had lunch at earlier. We now knew we weren’t far from the end and in half an hours time, we were back on dry land.

Darkness fell on the shuttle bus back down, and we felt like we had timed it pretty well. Now that I wasn’t fighting a river, I was starting to get pretty chilly and back at the van we both got exceedingly cold as we fought to remove all our bulky wet things and get some nice warm dry clothes. Especially as it turns out that my trousers had a small hole and my trousers underneath were all wet too.

Once we had returned out gear, we went to a gift shop across the road and did some last minute Christmas shopping for each other. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and it would have seemed wrong not get each other something, even if it was just a small thing from a gift shop! Presents sorted, we drove back to our campsite from the previous evening and set about getting the heating on and trying to dry our soggy clothes. In the morning we would be heading to Las Vegas to meet my parents off their flight from England.

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