Zion Narrows


By: Steve Smith


Our trip was split into two parts. Ron started the first two days with an overnight trip to the Kolob Arch from the Lava Point Road in northwestern Zion National Park. We obtained a Backcountry permit from the Visitor's Center and Wednesday morning Jon Inskeep, Tom Moumblow and Ron took a twelve mile round-trip backpack on the Hop Valley Trail to La Verkin Ck where we set up camp. That afternoon we went to look for nearby Kolob Arch. This Arch is one of the largest free standing arches in the world. Its span was conservatively measured at 290 to 310 feet in 1953 and in 1954 it was twice remeasured at 310 and 292 feet. Accurate measurement is difficult because the arch is 700 feet above the canyon floor. (Apparently, there is a claim that by some measurements the largest arch is in Arches NP, but this is subject to dispute.) We took the posted trail west from La Verkin Creek and when we arrived at the view point we spent more than 30 minutes climbing and looking for the arch. Due to a trick of late afternoon lighting it was nearly impossible to see. We returned the next day at mid day and the arch was well lit and easily visible. Thursday we also biked into Bear Trap Canyon with its high steep red rock narrows until our way was blocked by a 20 foot waterfall. It is virtually impassable from below (but easily rappelled from above on a hike which starts from the Willis Creek Trail).

Thursday on our return the skies clouded over and lightning flashed in the south and west. We could see rain in the distance as a small tropical disturbance was passing through.

On Friday morning, the remaining 10 trip participants rendezvoused at the Zion Park visitor center. This was to be the start of our three day backpack through the North Pork tributary of the Virgin river with a aide trip up the main Deep Creek channel. Unfortunately, the Park Service was not issuing overnight permits due to the storm danger - and we certainly did not want to be caught in The Narrows during a major storm.

Ten of the participants (Ron, Jon and Tom were joined by Leora, Pat and Dean Acheson, Betty Stirratt Dave Ogden and Maris and Anna Valkass) decided to do a day hike from the bottom upstream through The Narrows and as far beyond as time would allow. Three more of the group decided to do a day hike up to Angel's Landing and then wait until Saturday to ace if they could get a permit for the entire North Fork trip. The day hikes went well and everyone was successful on the round trip up through The Narrows and then repeating the adventure going down. Everyone reached the interesting big Springs site above where The Narrows begin, and some made it a ways farther. The entire North Fork/Narrows trip can be done down-canyon routinely in a 12-hour day and a fast biker can do the whole trip in a 6 or 7 hour day.

Upon returning to the Visitor Center that evening, we found that Steve, Debbie and Dave Ogden had gotten their overnight permit. At that point however, only the three who had not done the trip up through The Narrows were interested in doing the backpack. So they set up a car shuttle and made the 1.5 hour, 35 mile drive up to the Chamberlain Ranch trailhead for the North Pork route. (In the future you can avoid the car shuttle by making arrangements the day before for the Nat'l Park van service to take you to Chamberlain Ranch. You can then meet your cars at the end of The Narrows). Taking two days for the descent gave Steve's party plenty of time to leisurely follow the 16 miles of canyon to the Temple of Sinswava roadhead et the road's end which is about four miles north of the Zion Lodge.

The first couple of miles is along open country side and then the stream enters a narrowing canyon. The rest of the trip is a continual display of impressive rock formations, stream crossings, and narrow canyons. Much of the trip you are in water so the going is slow. Taking our time, we worked our way over two interesting waterfalls and through numerous pools of water before reaching the main channel of Deep Creek late in the afternoon. Deep Creek provides 60% of the river's water so there is a major water flow increase at that point. A short distance downstream near the Kolob Creek tributary, we made camp and enjoyed having time to relax and enjoy the spectacular scenery of the deep canyon. Sunday we had an enjoyable day exploring Goose Creek. A small water flow and lots of plant growth gave Goose Creek a much different appearance then the main channel which probably gets swept out by more frequent high water flows. We reached Big Springs above the main narrows by late morning where a huge water flow out of the canyon side provides en interesting feature. The Narrows below Big Spring is a fascinating trip where at several points it is narrow enough to almost touch both canyon walls. The water was not a deep this time, generally nothing more than waist deep whereas last time there were two points where we bad to swim short distances. While hiking the trail back to the roadhead, Dave spotted a porcupine high in a tree top adjacent to the trail.

In addition to the North Fork route, there are four other tributaries which can be followed to reach the Virgin River from the Kolob Plateau: Deep Creek, Kolob Creek, Goose Creek and Orderville Canyon. Gordon MacLeod considers Orderville Canyon one of the best canyon traverses. Near the Goose Creek Intersection, we met a backcountry ranger who had traveled each of the other routes. They all sounded interesting and gave us something to put on our list for possible future trips. He also told of his May trip down the canyon when they had to wear wet suits for warmth and the water flow was 142c.p.s. compared to our 34c.p.s. Even at 34c.p.e. some of the crossings against water current were not easy so making the trip with over 10 times the water flow would really add to the adventure.

We arrived at the roadhead at the Temple of Sinawava by early evening. It was early enough that even without a reservation, we were able to enjoy the Zion Lodge dinner special to celebrate another fun trip.

Dean & Pat Acheson, Ron & Leora ate at Flanagan's on the North side of the street in Springdale. It is a very good restaurant, nice atmosphere, excellent food with reasonable prices. Looking our more outing time, Debbie and Steve decided to climb Mt. Charleston on the way home. At the South Trail roadhead in Kyle Canyon, I was surprised at the changes. There was now a campground attendant and a parking fee to be paid. We decided to do a backpack, camp on the summit and return via the North Trail. He assured us there was water along the trail at Peak Spring which I did not remember seeing on my previous hikes on the South Trail. However, we took some water out of our pecks figuring no use carrying extra weight. The mountain cabin construction in upper Kyle Canyon was busy with many new ones under construction.

We never saw Peak Spring, never saw any sign for it, or any trail that would appear to lead to a spring. It shows on their handout map but it is not marked along the trail that we could find. It was early evening when we began seeing the plane debris south of the summit. This time there was time to look around and there is quite a bit of wreckage below the crest on the east side. I also found an old USFS sign on the ground asking people to help in collecting the debris so it could eventually be removed. It is my understanding this is the WWII Carol Lombard USO tour plane crash site. I have asked the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas for additional information and it turns out this is the site. It seems that a plaque should be considered since its coming up on the 50 year anniversary. To me the wreckage would also have historic value and I wonder how much, it any, should be removed.

After a few photos, it was on up to the summit where Debbie and Steve camped in the rock pit at the summit. We were lucky with the weather. It use clear, little wind and the temperature just got into the 30's. Register notations from others who had camped at the summit described a lot worse conditions, including nighttime temperatures down into the 20's in July. The nighttime lights were impressive. The lights of Las Vegas were clear and about half the town area is visible from the summit. There was the cluster of lights down in Kyle Canyon and a couple visible off the eastern end of Lee Canyon. The number and extent of the lights in Pahrump Valley was surprising.

Next morning, they had on enjoyable hike down the North Trail. A brief thunderstorm passed over but the rain quickly ended as the storm headed northward across Mt. Stirling. Steve decided to do a quick detour across the ridge and went up Hussy Mountain while Debbie headed on down the trail, by the time he reached the road, she had retrieved the car which expedited reaching the Mt. Charleston Lodge and something cold to drink, just before a tour of 150 Australians arrived for a western style barbecue.

Dean and Pat that day explored the Escalante Canyon area while Ron and Leora spent the day looking for Petroglyphs at the Valley of Fire State Park near Lake Mead. Maria and Anna day-hiked to Kolob Arch. Our next scheduled backpack is a repeat on April 4-5 of Ron's Martinez Canyon hike of last year. Also join Ron and Leora on their one-week Utah vacation exploring the Anasazi ruins in Crend Gulch on Nay 2-10.

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