Day 21:

Climbing Mountains, Forging Rivers

I wanted to test my limits today. I always felt like I play it safe (although this road trip is not exactly the safest thing I’ve done). I wanted to do the 12 mile hikes, scale the steepest cliffs, forge rivers, build campfires, eat jerky and canned beans, and basically do all this in a 12-hour period.

I wanted to explore Zion National Park as much as I possibly could in the one day I’d be there. I drove out to the farthest hiking trail at the Temple of Sinawava and started there. The trail was called the Narrows. It started easily enough, running parallel to the river for about 1.5 miles. Then it cut off suddenly when the cliffs became narrower. At the end of the trail, there were just cliffs and the river running through the bottom.

What I didn’t know was that the river was the actual trail. People rented neoprene suits attached to waterproof boots and brought a walking stick to walk straight through the river, upstream. My hiking outfit was a hoodie and cutoff jean shorts, but I had to do this hike. I took off my shoes and socks, stuffed my socks in my pocket, and held my shoes in my hand above the water. I was also carrying a new $1500 camera. A group of hikers by the river’s edge were watching me awkwardly and clumsily walk through the river to get to the start of the “trail”, and when I got to the other side a bunch of them clapped and waved. I gave them a thumbs up and kept going. I started seeing the other hikers next to me in the appropriate gear, and they must have thought I was a little off. I kept walking slowly up the river for about a mile. There were little pockets of trees and greenery next to the bends in the canyon that hikers could rest in. I took pictures all along the way as I was treading the water. Whenever I thought I should stop, I talked myself into going further.

I finally stopped pushing my luck when it got to a point where the water was chest deep and getting deeper and I couldn’t find a way around it. Ironically, that was when I almost made a terrible mistake. I was getting cocky heading back, and going faster than before. A group of hikers started talking to me in the middle of the river, and I stopped paying attention, slipped on a rock, and fell into a deep part of the river. My jeans and my hoodie were completely soaked, but by some miracle I managed to keep the camera in my hand above water. I had just put my iphone into my camera bag before I fell, so that didn’t get wet either. The camera bag floated just above the water before I pulled myself up again. I tried to forget my stupidity and hiked back to the car in soaking wet clothes.

I almost quit, but after changing clothes I talked myself into another hike. Before I reached the trail I was caught in a downpour, but I managed to grab an umbrella from the car before getting completely soaked a second time. The other hikers weren’t so lucky.

I flipped a coin and went with Emerald Pools Trails. It was a 3 mile hike to three pools of water with small trickling waterfalls between each one. During the hike, it started raining again. It must not be very fun to get stuck in that 2 miles up a trail. Guess you just grin and bear it. I kept walking up the trail with my black umbrella. None of my clothes were very “outdoorsy,” and I must have looked like a New Yorker walking through downtown. I saw whole families huddled under trees, waiting it out, and felt kinda bad I was the one with the umbrella.

As soon as I finished the trail and came to the bottom of the valley, I saw another 4-mile trail called “Angel’s Landing”. It was about 5:30pm and was going to get dark soon, but I didn’t want to quit. I wanted to squeeze all I could out of the one-day Zion experience, so I started up Angel’s Landing. Halfway up, I saw some hikers coming down and asked them how long the trail would take. They were decked out in some legit hiker gear. They took a look at what I was wearing and said, “Man it’s pretty rough. A lot of steep climbs. It gets pretty crazy at the top.”

I said thanks and I’d give it a shot. They looked at me funny and said, “Ok man, good luck, you’ll need it!”


Bro hikers


Since it was getting dark, I basically speed-walked the whole trail. They were right, it was rough. There were lots of zig-zags and a steep incline, but I kept going until I got to the top, sweating profusely. There was a viewpoint called “Scout’s Landing.” Another sign read “Angel’s Landing, 0.5 miles,” and pointed to a steep, craggy ledge that wound up to a point hovering over the edge of the canyon. The only way to get there was by holding onto chains drilled into the rock. An experienced climber might not need them, but I wasn’t an experienced climber. They made sure to put up a sign next to the entrance that said, “Six people have died on this hike since 2003”. I said, “Fuck it” and gave it a shot.

I started climbing up the rock face, while hanging onto the chains. I was wearing Vans and my feet were slipping. I also wanted to take pictures as I was climbing, which was probably a stupid thing to do. At one point halfway through the hike, my foot slipped, I skidded down the side and I almost dropped the camera a mile down to the canyon floor. I thought, I’m going to hurt myself or my camera, so I headed back.

I felt like shit when I got back to Scout’s Landing. I kept looking back thinking, “No! I’m gonna try again!”

But it was getting dark, I was wearing terrible shoes, carrying an expensive camera, and was dead tired from the first two hikes. Maybe these are all excuses, maybe I was just afraid. I walked down the mountain feeling defeated, and so tired I was in a haze, but it felt good.

I walked back to the campground, lit a fire, ate beef jerky and beans, drank my cousin’s home-brewed beer, and listened to the river till I fell asleep.