After scratching the surface in Utah during my last trip, I had always thought of going back and covering depths of National Parks. Narrows and Angel’s landing were long pending hikes, so I chose to visit Zion and Bryce National Park during the Labor Day weekend. As my geeky friend Alok mentioned, it was DFS than BFS this time. We ventured into the Zion narrows walking in the Virgin river, braved heights to reach Angel’s landing, did mountain biking at 11,000 feet, experienced amazing hoodoos at Bryce and stayed at an awesome Airbnb house at Brain Head.
Unexpectedly, 9 people were ready for the trip and all the bookings were made comparatively late this time. I booked a 15 seater Van through Costco Travels which worked out to be extremely economical ($587 for 4 days with full insurance and 2 additional drivers). 6 of us flew from Bay Area and 3 from Seattle. We had an early morning flight to Las Vegas and it was 9:30 AM by the time we met everyone at a Las Vegas hotel. We spent some time shopping and having breakfast and hit the road to Zion National Park with 9 people in Ford Transit Van. I was scared at times driving the van since it wobbled at high speeds.
Day 1 – Crowded Zion National Park
We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant at SpringDale and entered Zion National park. It was very hot with temperatures rising upto 37 C. Vehicles were parked on the streets miles ahead of the visitor center and slowly we started to realize how crowded the park was. We found a paid parking spot and got onto the shuttle for Emerald pool hike. Due to the narrow canyon, popularity and high number of visitors, Zion NP mandates the usage of shuttles for getting to places in the park. I was quite impressed at the frequency and efficiency of the shuttles. We got down at our stop and started the hike to lower Emerald pools. The weather was quite pleasant in the canyon and it was a short walk to the pools. I didn’t find the place anything great but it was a decent start for the trip walking in the canyon. Somehow Zion didn’t feel quite as magical as last time – maybe due to the crowd and heat. We then went to Zion Adventure Co. to collect gears for Narrows hike. We had a short orientation, collected Neoprene socks, Canyoneering shoes and a walking stick. A guy there expected next day to be the busiest day of the year at the park. Narrows hike was my main agenda for the trip, so I had left no stone unturned to make that happen. Knowing the crowds, heat and the length of the hike, I had planned to leave very early for the hike. We packed for the morning breakfast and lunch and started with 1.5 hr drive to Airbnb place.
People were getting restless with the drive since it was far from the park. The AirBnb house was located at a ski-town named Brian Head which is at an elevation of 9800 ft. It was late night and at first we went to some other house and started entering the key at the door. My friend Karthik explains this better – “This place looked straight out of late 90’s horror movies. We walked through the creaking wooden platform towards the cob webbed building entrance. The lobby even had abandoned toys and dusty piano. The night was eerily silent. The fact that Akhil and I mentioned seeing a black shadow flying on the road on the way to this place still weighed heavily on our minds. And then we saw our room: a dark brown heavy wooden door with an omnious sign which read, “Garcia’s head out” written in Gypsy Curse font! Akhil and Nikhil took a couple of steps back while I confidentally went ahead and entered the access code! Nothing! The door did not open. Partly relived and partly worried, we headed out to the van, not knowing what to do now. And then it hit us! We were in the wrong building”. The actual Airbnb house was fantastic with 3 bed and 3 baths where 11 people could sleep. The house had all the essentials for living and most of the walls were adorned with various things. Akhil was very curious and started exploring the place. I really loved the feel of it and was glad that we chose to stay there. We retired for sleep soon since we had to get up early.
Day 2 – Zion Narrows hike
In the morning, Alok mistakenly had started eating my sub and I resorted to bread-jam. We packed the essentials – food, water, layers, gears for the hike and left the place at 5:30 AM. We reached Zion NP and we parked the van in oversized parking where only 1 spot was filled. There was already a huge line for the shuttles and it was around 8:45 AM by the time we reached the trailhead at Temple of Sinawava. Zion Narrows hike is a walk in the Virgin river which traverses in the canyon it cut through from millions of years. There are 2 approaches top-down which requires permit and bottom up which doesn’t require permit upto a certain distance. We were doing the most common bottom-up hike and I wanted to all of us to finish the Wall Street section atleast which was around 8 miles round trip. We started with the paved riverwalk first which was already quite crowded. Akhil was carrying a can of water by itself and although he was confident to carry during the hike, it fell and broke within 200 meters on the trail. Soon we reached the river and started walking in it. We instantly realized the importance of the waterproof socks and even though we were in the water with slippery stones, the socks and shoes gave enough support for the walk. Water was just knee level deep for most of the section and we enjoyed this unique experience. We encountered a waterfall, numerous bends, canyon walls on the side and many people. The weather was quite pleasant and we made good progress. I ensured we all took breaks and were appropriately nutritioned. I was enjoying the beauty all around and especially liked the combination of still huge canyon walls and flowing water. It was amazing to stand in the Virgin river with different shades of red all around.
Slowly the river got narrow and we were in the famous Wall Street section where the river was just 30 feet wide at some places. From there on I decided to split the group and I joined the fast walkers to make it to as far as possible. We reached a spot where the water was over 5 feet high and we carried our bags on shoulder to cross. Deepak didn’t know swimming and went into deeper section where he started to drown. He threw the bag in action which had camera but fortunately in a waterproof cover. Even my bag went into the water while saving him. We decided to leave our bags there and continued. We asked oncoming people about the route ahead and they told that it was quite an easy walk and no place had chest deep water. So I decided to turn back since there were no major adventures ahead. We came back to the deep section and I started swimming there. I was just happy with the fact that I was swimming the narrow Virgin river. Some of us explored the Orderville canyon for little distance. Return walk was much quicker than expected. The crowd started getting thicker and at places we could see only people and no natural beauty. It also was quite hot in the afternoon Sun. I quickly marched the rest of the walk falling at few places and decided to take a nap on the riverwalk until everyone had done. I got up and I thought I overslept but few had yet to complete. I then went to Natural Museum for a talk before heading to the van. We had taken 9 hours for 8 mile roundtrip walk in the virgin river. But we spent ample time for photos, breaks and fun. It started raining when we were in parking lot which brought down the temperatures. Everyone were quite tired and we drove to Brain Head for dinner. We watched a movie after the dinner and retired to sleep. People were happy that they didn’t have to get up early in the morning.
Day 3 – Mountain Biking, ATV and Bryce National Park
We slept to our content, spent quality morning time sipping coffee and left to explore outdoor activities. After roaming around multiple offices, we decided to split between ATV and Mountain Biking. MB was long pending and I was interested in it especially due to the availability of ski lift. Deepak and I chose mountain biking and I was ready with gloves, jeans and a jacket. I was quite sure that I would fall and wanted to minimize the bruises. We took the bikes, went on the ski lift which took us to 11k feet and started with the most easiest trail named Color Country. After an easy first few meters, there came a steep section and climb. I was quite fast and I was so imbalanced that I was deciding how to fall easily. But fortunately somehow I was still safe on the bike. The rest of the trail had little difficulties and I thoroughly enjoyed the adrenaline, speed, balance and jerks. The trail was quite rocky which made it little difficult. The last section was in the forest with steep turns which was fun too. Overall, I really enjoyed the biking and I was glad to be safe. But being me, I chose to try the difficult trail next. The ski lift was closed for few minutes due to lighting hazard. A fellow biker told us about the next difficult trail and we chose to do that. The trail was ok for some time and then it kept getting steeper and rockier. Deepak fell and injured himself quite a bit after which we were quite cautious. We walked the bike at very steep sections and avoided jumps. Not sure how, I fell sideways on a flat surface and lightly injured myself too. There was one last jump which I was hesitant given all the injuries but nonetheless made it. It was quite an adventure at the end of it.
My other friends said they loved their ATV experience. After Pizza lunch, we left for Bryce NP. We chose to do navajo loop trail which starts and ends at Sunset point. This short 1.3 miles hike was extremely beautiful which took us close to Orange hoodoos. Almost entire trail was surrounded with various formations and I enjoyed the entire journey. There was especially on spot close to Sunset point where the closer hoodoos and father hoodoos looked like they belonged two different screens in-front of me. The panoramic views kept getting better as we rose higher and the evening colors were in play. The Sun was behind the clouds, so it was not so bright. We left for Brain Head after dinner and retired for the day.
Day 4 – Angel’s Landing
My friends had understood the importance of starting early for the hike so this time they themselves were ready before me pushing for it. We checked out the place at around 5:15 AM and left for Zion NP. There weren’t much crowds this day since the long weekend was over. We took the shuttle and reached the trailhead for Angel’s Landing. Angel’s landing is rated as strenuous hike due to the elevation gain and exposed cliffs in the final section. We started with our hike and soon the group got dispersed. First 2 miles was paved but steep hike with decent views around. Actual fun started from the Scout’s lookout. There were chains from there on to help hikers traverse the narrow trail with 1000 ft drop on either sides. I should say that chains really helped and made the hike less terrifying.
There were many people and there were bottlenecks at places which delayed the ascent. I dropped my phone which cracked the screen. Instead of feeling bad, I concentrated on the unique exciting hike and the beauty all around. Slowly and steadily we made it to the summit and spent ample of time clicking photos. There was sheer drop at many of the places and the canyons, red mountains looked fantastic from the summit. We returned after spending around an hour. It had gotten very hot while we were returning. Alok and I washed ourselves in the river and relaxed our feet. After spending enough time at the park and finishing 2 of the most beautiful hikes, my love for Zion had returned. Somehow my watch acted weirdly on all the hikes and gave me wrong stats for the hike. So I wont be posting the activity overview for the hikes.
We left for Las Vegas and boarded our respective flights. I was supposed to reach Seattle by 12:30 AM but I experienced a delay again due to a stupid reason. Apparently, the airlines had over-fueled the flight and were waiting for someone to come and defuel. Even after 2 hours, no one came, so they switched the flights. I was ok this time since I was extremely sleepy and I just slept through the delay. Before landing, I had a dream where in the flight attendants were bracing us for impact by shouting “head, head”. I was surprised that I wasn’t following the orders but realized that it was a dream. Anyways, we landed safely and it was 4 AM by the time I reached home. I have had issues with 4 of my last 6 flights.
- Narrows hike is an endurance hike and very doable. Make sure that you have waterproof socks and right shoes.
- Start early for any hike in Zion during summer. The heat makes the hike double difficult.