Deep Impact: Canyoneering in Utah's Zion National Park - Page 2

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By the time we assembled in Springdale, Utah, just outside the main entrance to Zion, our canyoneering party had grown to seven. Mark had brought along a pair of canyon-savvy Utah pals, Milt and Cully, to help shepherd me, my sister Becky, and two friends, Tom and Allison. My crew of greenhorns were all fit, active, and 30- or 40-something, but entirely unschooled in the technical lore of canyoneering.

Mark decided to break us in easy the first day. We'd leave the ropes and packs behind and do a simple river walk up Zion Narrows, a 2,000-foot deep canyon carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River. A huge Park Service sign at the start of the Narrows warned of flash floods from sudden thunderstorms, and rated the likelihood of such floods that day as "high.” But the weather forecast had been good, and Mark assured us that thunderstorms were rare this time of year (early June).
For a lifelong hiker conditioned to keeping my boots dry at all costs, it was liberating indeed to splash headlong into the knee-deep water. Its temperature, to my great relief, was merely brisk, not numbing. With stout walking sticks for support, we clambered over slippery submerged stones ("greased bowling balls," Mark called them), crossed gurgling thigh-deep rapids and soon had left most of the other river-walkers behind. The canyon, wide as a city street at first, narrowed as it twisted and turned. By the time we reached Orderville, a side canyon three miles upstream, the walls had closed in to the width of an alleyway, and the sky had shriveled to an indigo sliver nearly a half mile above us.

Ears ever cocked for thunder, we turned up Orderville Canyon, whose labyrinthine walls at times blotted out the sky. Necks craned upwards and mouths agape like country bumpkins regarding the Empire State Building, we felt as much spelunkers as hikers in the semi-darkness of the narrow passageway. We trudged in wonderment about three miles up the canyon, where a huge boulder that had crashed down and wedged between the walls blocked further passage for walkers.

There we turned back, partly frustrated at missing whatever scenic marvels lay beyond, and partly exhilarated by the prospect of conquering such obstacles in the next few days as we learned the finer points of canyoneering.

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