After a relatively late night with James and his cohort, Kat and I headed into Springdale to explore the grocery store and pick up mail. While the grocery store had a surprisingly well-stocked selection, most notably a whole table filled with different types of sea salt, the post office did not have the letter I had come to collect. Dejected and disappointed with the postal service, we headed back into Zion. After another quick round of preparations, we hopped into the ever-growing line of hikers waiting for the Zion Canyon shuttle. Our late start put us smack dab in the middle of the weekend rush, which meant we waited in line for the better part of thirty minutes before clambering aboard the propane powered bus that would whisk us away towards the trailhead at Weeping Rock. The bus system, instituted in 2000, has dramatically cut back on congestion and vehicle impact within the canyon itself. Between each stop, local authorities on the park share tidbits about the history, geology, ecology, and noteworthy use of the canyon. Despite the lines, the system works well and makes for an informative journey through the canyon.
Today, Kat and I would climb above Angels Landing, shooting for the rocky promontory across the canyon known as Observation Point. Rising two thousand feet above the valley below, this viewpoint marks the upper limits of the Navajo sandstone that give Zion both its extraordinarily sheer walls and impressively diverse palette. Beginning near the Weeping Rock, the switchbacks of the Observation Point start almost immediately, ushering you up almost a thousand feet within the first mile. Luckily, our timing meant that the normally exposed face lay comfortably within the shadow of an adjacent cliff face. From the switchbacks, the trail burrowed into a deep canyon undoubtedly cut by season flash floods and snowmelt. Our cool, shady respite, however, did not last long. Once more, we climbed long, sweeping switchbacks higher up the side of the canyon. These zigzagging paths, carved directly into the sandstone, were entirely exposed to the strength of the midday sun.
Eventually, the path underfoot became a deep, rusty shade of red. This color most often appears near the top of the canyon. From that point forward, we skirted the lip of the canyon, traversing towards Observation Point. Our elevation gain had ended for the day. Minutes later, the trees cleared and we approached the dusty edge of Observation Point. All of Zion spread out below us. From the fragile spine of Angels Landing to the dark depths of the Narrows, the world shrank away beneath our feet. Definitely a worthy spot for lunch.
On our way back down, we opted to skip Hidden Canyon and explore the Narrows with the remaining daylight. Despite being wholly unprepared for the frigid waters of the Narrows, we decided to risk an attempt. Throughout our visit, we had seen countless families sporting full-body dry suits, canyoneering boots, and hefty walking sticks. At this point in the season, the Virgin River runs cold (about 42° F) and deep through the Narrows, making these measures a necessity for anyone venturing deep into the slot canyon. Knowing that I would return to the Narrows when the conditions were more optimal for exploration, I felt no need to shell out the big bucks to wander, freezing, up the canyon for a day. Instead, we simply kept our boots on and hiked through knee-deep water, crossing from side to side as approachable banks presented themselves. We probably only made it about a thousand feet up the river, but the canyon had already closed in around us. Beyond the next bend, we could see waders up to their chests in icy waters. Already unable to feel our feet, Kat and I reversed our trajectory relatively quickly.
With squelching footsteps, we wound our way back down to the bus stop. Back at the visitor’s center, we gorged on burritos and said our goodbyes to Zion Canyon. After dinner, we drove east with the setting sun vividly playing across the landscape in front of us. Next stop, Bryce Canyon!