A brief detour to: Zion N.P, Utah

The final recommendation from Jon and Annette was to check out ‘The Narrows’ of Utah, two rock formations “so close together you can almost run your hands on both sides at the same time, with a chest-deep river running between them”. This sounded like a good day hike as well as a chance to freshen up, so we set off north after hiking the Grand Canyon. After a 9 hour drive (the USA is so big!), passing through the iconic Monument Valley we arrived, but since summer the river had long since dried up! We entertained ourselves instead by trying to throw stones into the many small, circular holes that have been eroded into the sides of the rocks before flipping a coin to decide whether to head east or west for the night. West won, and we followed the setting sun until we hit Cedar City.

From Cedar City, having slept in a Walmart parking lot (don’t knock it!), it was an hour drive into Zion national park. We paid our $30 entry fee, despite trying to sneak in with our Grand Canyon pass, and caught a shuttle bus to the start of Angel’s Landing trailhead. The bus’s final destination was at The Narrows, and we looked at each other bleakly.

“You’re kidding me,” James said, “i don’t believe this.” There were two ‘The Narrows’ in southern Utah, and we had picked the wrong one the day before; hence the anti-climax. Brushing off the wasted 9 hours of driving and $40 of fuel, we got off the bus and started the hike up to Angel’s Landing. The first 1.5 miles are of a steady incline, paved and winding up towards the iconic orange rocks that make up Utah. It gets harder on the knees at Walter’s Wiggles, 22 steep switchbacks that enable hikers to gain thousands of feet elevation in a short distance. This zigzagging path threw us out at a viewing platform for Angel’s Landing, where we were again reminded of the 6 people who have lost their lives slipping on the hike.

The view from the platform before the chains begin.

From the viewing platform, hikers begin a treacherous ascent up a cliff face, holding onto a chain to steady themselves. At times, the chain network broke off, and we were left to our own devices to navigate over ridges that were only 28 inches wide, with a sheer drop of 800 metres either side. I’m not ashamed to say that this was the scariest moment of my life so far, being one misstep away from certain death; and I have never put so much trust in my Caterpillar boots and knee-straps as I did that day. After a hair-raising 1.5miles, with hikers trying to come down at the same time that we were climbing- somehow sharing the inches of rock- we arrived at the summit. The views were incredible, but I couldn’t let myself get too complacent, as the sheer drops back down to the river were never further than 3 feet away, and I knew we still had to get back down! I took it even slower for the descent, until we reached the viewing platform again and we could appreciate what we achieved. A genuine must-do for anyone visiting Utah (thanks to Jo of travelsuntitled.com for the recommendation!).

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As the trail narrows (28″ at its thinnest point), the incline increases dramatically to near-vertical. I’m not kidding when I say it was a straight drop down either side.
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The view from the top, as close to the edge as I dared with my dodgy knees!

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Afterwards, we caught the bus to The (actual) Narrows and laughed at how ridiculous we must have sounded when we claimed that we had hiked the Narrows but the river was dried up. Of course, the Virgin River was still flowing, gradually cutting its way through the rocks as it had done for the last few million years. As Jon had promised, we waded through deep water with the rock faces gradually getting closer and closer, ending up about 6 metres apart from each other before we turned back and drove back to Arizona. If we hadn’t have made the mixup between ‘Narrows’, we would have had the energy to hike the full length, but I was pleased we had the chance to honour both Jo and Jon’s recommendations.

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