The Narrows

Zion Canyon National Park, Utah

June 10 - 11, 2007

Jill, Jill's dad, Dave Svilar


Mark, Jill, Dave at Big Springs near our campsite.

-written by Jill

It was my Dad who “tricked” me into going on the Corkscrew Roller Coaster for the first time, playing it off like we were in line for the Ferris Wheel.  I panicked and started crying, but my Dad was at my side, and I knew I had to at least try.  The ride was thrilling, and we got right back in line and rode the Corkscrew another 2 times before rejoining my brothers and mom.  My Dad was also the one to steer me towards the black diamond ski runs, to drop a water ski and try slaloming, to walk through our “scary” basement in the dark, and to sell my house without a realtor.  Regardless of the adventure, I was in a panic about what might lurk beyond the next corner, but my Dad’s faith in my ability and playful encouragement always pushed me to try something outside of my comfort zone.  Without fail, I was left with the feeling of reaching a new plateau, in experience and confidence.  “Let’s do it AGAIN!”  Now it was time to return the favor.

 “Hmmm, so do we just, like, get up in the morning and start walking?”  I knew my Dad had read (or believed) too much Alpine Fever when that was his skeptical reaction when invited to enjoy his 60th Birthday/Father’s Day gift in a Zion Virgin Narrows hike with Dave and me.  My Dad is a dedicated worker, and getting him to commit time during the summer months when everyone is taking time off was a difficult task.  Luckily, my mom knew he would end up loving this and just booked his ticket anyway.  A natural athlete, Dad has not had to do too much upkeep to stay remarkably spry.  That being said, he only went on one 4 mile “training” walk in MN two days prior to our 17 mile adventure, the result of which slightly bruised one of his heels. He has also developed a bum knee in the last few years and feared an epic climb over boulders and tons of elevation change.  Not having backpacked since he was in the scouts, he was wary of the need for a dry-fit t-shirt, the concept of leaving no trace (i.e.: human waste bags), and what on earth we were going to eat.  However, obtaining handy-dandy heel cups, some ibuprofen, and assurances that we were not going to thrash his 60 yr old knees (at least not intentionally) was all he needed to tip the scales in our favor. 

Dave and I drove from Fort Collins and had a few slot canyon adventures in Escalante before meeting up with some friends in Las Vegas. We picked my Dad up at the airport late on Friday night, crashed with Aimee and Jared (THANK YOU!), and headed out early on Saturday morning for the 3 hour drive to Zion National Park.  We had intended on camping for two nights along the Virgin River in the Narrows, allowing for a rest day in between, but we didn’t know until we got there that Zion will only allow groups one night in the Narrows due to flash flood danger.  Not only that, but the Virgin Narrows is a “One Way River” at the top, which is inconvenient from a shuttle perspective, but most appreciated by hikers seeking solitude in the upper canyon.  We were too late to hire a shuttle to the top, so we decided to do a moderate hike on Saturday and enter the Narrows early on Sunday morning.  Therefore, our first adventure was a picnic in the Visitor’s Center parking lot.  Not wanting a repeat of last year’s food poisoning episode (that memory is still too painful and may never be posted publicly…hahaha), we decided to eat our tuna packets BEFORE they cooked up bacteria in the back of Dave’s black Toyota T.

 Bellies full and hydration achieved, we had intended on trying Angel’s Landing.  Our plans again changed when, tragically, a heat exhaustion death and subsequent recovery mission at the top of the exposed hike (one that is far too difficult for the masses it attracts) closed Angel’s Landing and left us with a more moderate trek through Hidden Canyon.  The route began at “Weeping Rock,” a beautiful hanging garden fed by a spring.  Dave could not resist drawing a parallel between the aptly named feature and my fairly consistent need to relieve my emotions…hey, it’s healthy to remove toxins, thank you very much =).  We made it up the steep switchbacks in the ever increasing afternoon heat and were relieved to enter the shady canyon at the top.

 I could tell that my Dad was excited about the hike because he kept disappearing.  Dave and I would have to stop and adjust our packs or grab some food, and Dad would be three turns ahead of us exploring the fairly narrow and beautiful canyon. “Jill, you could put that lone rock in Fairmont (Minnesota) and people would come from 200 miles around just to see it!”

 At 6:30pm we had completed our Hidden Canyon hike and decided to make the most of our time and take a second jaunt to the “Emerald Pools,” a series of pools formed by another of the plentiful springs in Zion.  We somehow lost Dave this time (he was waiting by the upper pool which we decided to bypass), and I could tell that my Dad was growing slightly weary from the day.  We made a slow descent and waited near the Zion Lodge for Dave to arrive. 

 It was now after 8pm, and we were trying to decide what instant meal to whip up at the BLM campground…beans and mashed potatoes, beans and couscous, mashed potatoes and couscous…when I saw a look of disgust (ever so slight) cross Dad’s face.  I casually mentioned, “Or, we could swing through town on our way there and grab a burger or something.”  I hadn’t even completed my sentence when Dad chirped, “Oh, that’d be great, I mean, since we have to pass through town anyway.”  He was grateful for the opportunity to scarf down a buffalo burger that night and delay his mashed potato/MLE Stroganoff/couscous/instant pudding buffet for one more day.  It was dark before we found a camp spot, and we just threw our sleeping bags down on the sand.  I think Dad fell asleep within 30 seconds, and he luckily snored through the dozen or so high schoolers shrieking and giggling all night long in a nearby site.

 We awoke an hour later than we’d hoped as Dave had to get us up to the trailhead and then back down to town to catch a shuttle to join us again back at the top.  Dave resisted the urge to honk his horn obnoxiously as we passed the pile of high schoolers from the night before, and we raced the hour drive to the Chamberlain Ranch in time to throw all of our stuff out like a yard sale (luckily, the only thing we forgot was the coffee) in time for Dave to peel out (comically) back down to catch his own shuttle.  Oh yeah, we were saving money by only paying for one person on the shuttle…hahaha.  Dad was a bit worried that his pits stunk (he really needs to get out in the woods more often) and did his best to wash out his stinky dry-fit shirt, the only shirt we allowed him to bring.  Dad and I took our time arranging the packs so that they were moderately even in weight (although his was the most awkward), and we were thankful to see Dave in the very next vehicle two hours later.

 The hike from Chamberlain Ranch through the cow pasture was annoying at best.  It was hot and took us nearly 3 hours to reach the oasis of the Virgin River within the canyon walls.  Again, we lost Dad several times when we stopped to make pack adjustments, drink water, and grab snacks.  Luckily, this was a “One Way River,” and we knew he’d have to stop at some point…usually to hide and throw a rock to try and startle us.  The weather was hot, but the water was pleasantly cool and it was preferable to simply stay in the river than continually cross to catch the trail.  The hike itself was entertainment enough, but we went above and beyond by seasoning our entire weekend with numerous “Wowowoowee,” and “Very Nice, I like” Borat references, and even more “Mark Jokes.”  Why are “Dumb and Dumber” quotes still so funny?

 Nearly 6 hours into our adventure, Dad’s lack of “training” seemed to catch up to him.  He was now in the back of our small group, taking extra care with each step, and wincing from time to time (but still cracking jokes).  Dave pulled me aside and expressed concern, so we treated some water with iodine and loaded Dad up with some ibuprofen.  Knowing our camp site was the farthest down the river, I silently prayed that I was not contributing to the destruction of his knees.  The ibuprofen kicked in just enough to make the rest of the day’s hike manageable.

 We arrived at “Camp 12” nearly two hours later.  I was still slightly worried about my Dad’s well being as he carelessly dove onto his ThermaRest in exhaustion.  However, my worry was for nothing (as it usually is), because, after pounding nearly two liters of water, the 60 year old mountain goat was back in full force, hanging all of our gear in the trees to prevent siege by varmints and taking the time to wash out his shirt again.  I wasn’t sure who he was trying to impress, but I pluck my eyebrows when I am hiking, so I am not one to judge.  We over stuffed ourselves at dinner that night, and I hope that he was impressed with my skills on the ultra-light stove (although I did burn off the hair on the back of my right hand).  At one point he put his arm around me and said, “A million thanks Jill. I so much appreciate that you and Dave thought of me and invited me to do this.  We should come back and do it every month!”

 On Monday morning, Dave prepared hot cocoa and oatmeal for all of us, and then we all took some time to manipulate the “poo bags” (I think Dad missed and had to improvise a little bit), but it all came out well in the end…pun entirely intended. Dave took off to take some pictures of “Big Springs” just a few yards down the canyon while Dad and I got ourselves together and bid adieu to “Camp 12.”  (By the way, if you ever make the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED trek through the Virgin Narrows, Camps 2, 4, 5, 7, or 8 seemed like they had the best views, but all of the sites seemed fantastic).  We caught up to Dave, and then had an absolutely marvelous morning traveling the remaining 7 miles through the scenic canyon.  We had navigated the “One Way River” section and started to run into day hikers coming up the river within two hours.  As we approached the end of the hike, it was hilarious to see people rolling up their shorts to avoid getting wet, walking barefoot, or treating us like celebrities with our big packs (I think Dad signed a few autographs).

 We made our way back to the “Yota”, and Dad treated us to showers in a nearby RV park.  We had just enough time to drive to St. George and grab lunch before Dad’s airport shuttle swept him off to Las Vegas.  As we were saying goodbye, I became overwhelmed by this wonderful experience, so thankful my Dad trusted us enough to make this trip…not so far outside of his comfort zone as it may have seemed.  We gave him big hugs, and I teared up as he climbed into the van.  Dave gave me a squeeze and walked back to the window of the shuttle to say something to my Dad.  As we waived goodbye one last time, I asked what Dave had said.  He grinned, “I pointed at you and said, ‘Weeping Rock.’”

 A million thanks to YOU Dad!  A million to Dave as well for making this happen!

Mark impresses the youngsters with his high-wire act 20 inches above the puddle.
Escaping the heat thanks to 300 - 700 foot vertical walls of the Virgin Narrows.
Jill appears to tower over her 6'2'' father (wearing sunglasses in the shady canyon).
Yawn.  More of the same old scenery along the 17 mile trek.
Jill stands shin deep in the lime green waters of the Virgin River.
Dynamic Duo.  Jill and Mark make a formidable father-daughter backpacking team.
Our camp, #12 located at this flowing spring aptly named "Big Springs."
Jill demonstrates the simple art of cooking cuscous on a miniature stove.
Still alive!  Although it may not be apparent here, Mark did emerge from his coffin bag to finish the last 4 hours of hiking.
Three and Dung!  Our team proudly holds our bags containing the morning bowel movement.  These warm, squishy sacks were placed next to our power bars in our backpacks and ultimately deposited in the park's garbage cans.  Our packs were NOT lighter on the way out.
Mark and Jill don't forget to look the other way.  Spectacular in every direction.

Some of the more spectacular scenery in the Narrows.

- June 2007

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