It was now the 22nd of December, and we would soon be seeing Willow’s parents for the first time in four months.
Despite the lack of a drive belt, we were both in good spirits. Ruby was still going strong and we were about to explore Zion National Park. One of the best national parks in the States.
Using our Nation Park pass, we’d worked out that we had easily saved ourselves over $100. Not bad for a pass that costs $80!
We parked up in the main car park of the visitor centre and investigated the map we were given on entry.
Fancying something a little more challenging, we decided that we would walk up to Angels Landing that day, and hire waterproofs to walk the river the following day.
Angels Landing is a 1448 foot trail, leading to views down the Zion valley, and was described as strenuous. Sounded perfect!
To get to the trails, you have to catch a shuttle bus. Considering that it was three days before Christmas, we were expecting the park to be deserted. Oh how wrong we were!
The park was heaving, with long queues to even get onto the shuttle. We were able to squeeze on fairly quickly, offering to stand.
A recording played out, informing us of facts about the park. How the park changed it’s name, where the names came from and how the Virgin River carved it’s way through the rock, creating the canyon there today.
Slowly, the crowded shuttle started to empty and before we knew it, it was time for us to get off ourselves.
The trail for the home started right from the main road, and started to climb fairly early on. As we walked round the winding path, we caught our first glimpse of the trail higher up. It definitely looked like they had got the description right with the term ‘strenuous’!
We hadn’t really faced many difficult hikes during our time in the States, which we both severely felt in the cardio department. But what our lungs lacked, our bone idle stubbornness compensated for, and we made good progress up the trail.
Soon we were rewarded for our efforts with our first view of the valley and we could see why this was rated as one of the most beautiful national parks in northern America… The view point also offered our screaming lungs the opportunity to take a short breather.
The incline soon became steeper, and our elevation increased dramatically, winding up many hairpin bends. Although the trail was tough on our lungs, the path was well maintained and so at least it was easy for us to drag our feet behind us.
We made it to the rest area ‘Scouts Lookout’ in fairly good time, managing it in just over an hour.
From here you had to choice to follow another trail that was less dangerous, you could take some pictures of the fairly impressive backdrop, or you could continue climbing higher, using chains to help provide you grid in some of the more difficult to manoeuvre places.
Up to that point, we had been following crowds of people walking up with us. Young and old, all staggering up for a glimpse of the valley. Scouts Lookout is where many of them turned back, not wanting to risk their safety to reach the peak.
At the start of the trail, we had read a sign informing us that ten people had lost their lives in the past fifteen years climbing to the peak. Not easily spooked, we decided that we were going to keep going right to the end.
The last part of the hike is not advisable for people with a fear of heights, and we overtook a few walkers who were literally clinging on to the chains as if their lives depended on it. If you looked over the narrow edge, down the 1000ft drop if you got it wrong, then I suppose they had a rational fear.
Willow looked over a few times, and looked a little less sure about her own opinions on heights.
The last part of the hike up to Angels Landing is only half a mile long, but it took us nearly as long as the first stretch to reach the summit. Shuffling a long, watching every footstep, waiting whilst careful climbers inched every closer to the top.
Passing an Asian girl, who was getting changed in a dress, still tagged, for what I am guessing was an Instagram picture, we finally made it to the top. Groups of tired but ecstatic walkers, taking the opportunity to marvel at the surrounding sights.
We were both hugely relieved to have made it in good time. And after a little rest took pictures of our rewards.
As we looked down from the heavens, we saw lines of people walking up and down the route we had just walked. It was as if we were staring at tiny ants, walking around their ant hill.
The walk back down was a ‘doddle’, Willow wasn’t even bothered by the perilous drops on the narrow parts of the trail.
We made it back down in one piece. We’d completed the walk thirty minutes quicker than the advised walk time. Clearly we hadn’t completely lost our mojo.
Exhausted, we waited for the shuttle, and rode it back to Ruby. Relieved to be able to get a seat, as I don’t think our legs could have handled more walking.
We took off and drove about twenty five minutes down the road, finding a spot a little closer than our previous night’s location. The spot was on BLM land, located next to the Virgin River. It was a perfect spot to rest our weary legs. The next day, we would have to face a different sort of challenge!
With the light gone, I took Aimee outside to have a quick explore. She was really enjoying being out in the open. In the morning, we would let her out, off her lead, to run around without restrictions.
We were now only a couple of ours away from Vegas. It looked like our little camper would actually make it all the way there without a belt. Quite remarkably!
Without any major roads or neighbours, I enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep. Helped by the tiring walk up Angels Landing.
Aimee was itching to get out, so I opened the door and watched as she dived head first into the surrounding bushes.
Our tea supply had run out, so I had to make do with a can of spritzer, whilst watching out of the window, occasionally seeing a browny ginger blur dart past. It was nice to know Aimee could enjoy this freedom, as she would be back on her lead in the morning once we hit Vegas.
On the drive back into Zion, we stopped off to hire some waterproof clothing. We would be walking ‘The Narrows’. Another strenuous hike, this time up the Virgin River.
In the shop, we were advised that due to the cold weather, the water would be freezing and that we should hire full waterproof clothing. Wanting the keep our costs down, we decided against that recommendation, opting for waterproof trousers and walking boots.
We were then played a short informative video before we were allowed to sign out the equipment. The video informed us that in the event of falling into the river, you would most likely develop hypothermia, and would have to turn around. Willow joked that I would most likely fall in, as I was a clumsy walker. I confidently scoffed at the suggestion.
With our waterproof trousers, boots and walking stick signed out, we headed back to the main car park. Considering that it was now the 23rd of December, the park was still heaving with visitors, and so we waited in line for an available shuttle. Once on one, we were driven down the valley towards our destination, once again listening to the same information we had heard twice before. At this point we were repeating the facts as they were spoken.
There was a small family sat by us, and the mother enquired whether we had been before. She asked what walk we were doing, and quickly dismissed it, to her sons disappointment. We have her our guide, which explained the routes and their difficulty.
Relieved to reach our stop (which was the end of the line), we gratefully sped off, away from the rowdy children who had surrounded us on the shuttle. Clearly my tolerance for noisy children had been left back in England!
To get to the starting point, we walked down a short path, which eventually ended at the Virgin River.
Uncertain, we slowly stepped into the flowing river, bracing ourselves for the feeling of freezing water surrounding our feet.
Our boots were not waterproof, but we had two layers of waterproof socks on to protect us. A job which they did admirably. Acquainted with the water, we made our way up stream, against the current.
This was not our first immersive river walk. In the South of France, we walked through a river. However, the two walks were polar opposites. The walk in France was in basking heat, and I walked in trainers, shorts and bare chested. There was not a chance I would be repeating that here.
Before long, we passed other walkers who were returning back to the start. Either they had started incredibly early, or they hadn’t made it the full eight hours to the end. As it was midday, we were aiming to get to the section where the river valley narrows to no more than a couple of feet. A route which probably would take us four or five hours from start to finish.
Navigating the river was tricky, and you regularly had to cross sides to find shallower water, with parts threatening to climb higher than what our protection guarded.
There were points where we were able to walk upon dry land, although they rarely last more than a couple of minutes.
About an hour in, we stopped for lunch. A subway sandwich that we had bought on the way to the park. It was at times like that one, where I yearned for a thermal flask to carry hot chocolate, topped with a splash of Jameson’s to keep is warm. At this rate, we probably would end up acquiring one before Canada!
Back in the water, we were heavily relying on our walking sticks to help keep us from falling into the icy water. We continued to wade through the water, digging our boots into anything that would give us traction.
The walk was definitely enjoyable, regardless of the constant threat of hypothermia. The colours of the rock faces were mesmerising, and you could see the scars the water had left as it had eaten away at the tough rock over millions of years. A process that left me in awe.
Starting to feel more confident, I attempted to cross further up from Willow, using rocks as stepping stones across a deeper part of the river.
That’s when I did something stupid…
Slipping, I lost my balance. Trying desperately to keep my balance, I felt my legs slide my beneath me, and the strong current took my feet away. In what felt like slow motion, I fell. Falling sideways into the clutches of the Virgin River.
What had Willow said back in the hire shop?
The water hit me like a jolt. Desperately, I tried to keep hold of my stick and scrambled out of the water as quick as I could.
It had soaked through a large part of my two layers. Fortunately my waterproof jacket had protected me from further damage.
It was cold. But anyone who knows me well enough will tell you that I am stubborn and there was no way I would be turning back early. I had endured many a cold wet Sunday morning, stood on the sidelines when I managed an under 9’s football team. I knew that experience would pay off one day!
Taking off my walking jackets, I rung them out as best I could, then repeated the action with my other layers.
I decided to continue in just a t-shirt and a flannel top, wearing one jacket over my head like a cape, whilst Willow did the same with the other one.
We joked about the informative video we had watched which shared tips on catching early signs of hypothermia. One being that the person would make irrational decisions. Willow would have no hope identifying that sign. I made irrational decisions on a daily basis!
Ploughing on ahead, I tried to distract myself from the additional cold I was feeling, by immersing myself in the beauty around me. A distraction I warmly welcomed.
The emerald colours of the water, highlighted the magnificent colouring revealed in the rocks. I made a mental note to one day paint a portrait of the walk, as it would make a fascinating picture.
We were unsure of how far we had made it up the river. The map gave specific points and timings, and we were unsure if we had made it to a place named ‘Home Rock’.
Eventually, the gorge started to narrow, and we had identified that we had reached a specific point on the map.
The rive spits at a junction, both with rewarding views. But with time slipping away, we decided to stay on the main river section and continue for a further thirty minutes before turning around.
Rain had been forecasted, and a very fine shower of snow had begun. Although light, it made walking up the river more difficult, with a slight difference in the currants strength. We would be grateful to have that helping us on our way back.
Deep in the gorge, there was virtually no light, with only small amounts lighting our way. Content with what we had seen, we decided to turn around, fearing walking in the river in the dark. All the other walkers, except one other couple had already turned around, and so we sensibly followed.
Walking back, we had the full 87 cubic feet of water per second helping to push us back. At times too enthusiastically.
As we were also stopping less to take pictures, we made good time heading back. Both of us starting to feel the toll of a couple of hours in icy water.
About an hour into heading back, it happened again…
This time it was Willow’s turn to take a quick swim. Fortunately for her, she didn’t fall in as dramatically as I did, and so she wasn’t soaked as badly, and so was able to amble on without too much discomfort.
Glad she was alright, I was not so silently smug about not being the only idiot to through themselves into the water. Maybe in reflection, we should have paid the extra $10 for full waterproof clothing. You win some, you lose some I suppose.
The light snow had now turned to drizzle, and small waterfalls which we no existent on the way up, had now started to pour down the valley, and so we were relieved when we spotted the spot where we had eaten lunch earlier. That meant that we’d under an hour till we were back at the start.
Before long, we were grateful when we could see people gathered next to the river taking photos. We had made it back, without too much incident.
Releived to be back, we walked back to the shuttle stop. Our tired feet finding some last bit of strength to rush past the small groups of people casually walking ahead of us.
After a short wait at the stop, we were aboard the shuttle, happy to here the facts about Zion for a forth time. Changing into warm dry clothes sounded very appealing at that point.
Back at Ruby, we hastily changed and returned the clothing back to the hire shop. And after a quick last minute Christmas shopping trip at a shop across the road, we drove back to last night’s spot, eager to turn the Wallas on.
Once warm, we reflected on an eventful walk. Not entire what either of us had expected, but it still exceeded expectations, If not a little chilly.
In the morning, we would make our final drive to Vegas. Where we would be reunited with Willow’s parents, and more importantly… A new belt for the engine!