Saturday, July 18, 2009

AMAZING

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I've always shied away from doing much exploring in Zion - way too crowded for my taste, and the whole back country permit thing is annoying. But, surprisingly, over the last few weeks I'd been quietly planning a trip down the Narrows. Orderville Gulch, a large tributary to the North Fork, has also been described as a "must-do" in Zion. So which hike was I to do? I decided to try and do both, and not only that, but both in one day. The Zion Narrows is typically done in two days with a camp midway through the canyon. Orderville Gulch is a bit shorter but still described as a long day hike. Can it be done? After a few hours of research I came up with my plan: Leave a Mtn. Bike at the top of Orderville Gulch in the evening, camp at the upper North Fork trailhead, start out down the North Fork Narrows at 5 am and hopefully get to the confluence with Orderville G. with enough daylight to hike up Orderville and to my bike and cruise back to my car at the N. Fork trailhead.

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Above: With my bike in place, a good night's rest, and plenty of energy to burn, I was off before sun-up as planned.

The first few miles give little indication of the huge chasm that you soon will be entering. Here, the North fork meanders through grass-covered meadows - perfect for grazing.
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Above: The old Bulloch cabin.

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Before you know it, sheer walls of Navajo Sandstone tower overhead and you're forced to walk right in the river.

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Above: the confluence with Deep Creek. Here, the flow of the river is doubled.

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I knew I had to move fast if I was going to complete the loop before dark. I was able to run on the more stable sand and gravel bars. But it was slow going when the river is wall-to-wall, covering slippery unseen boulders. A trekking pole is a must to maintain balance.

By 9:30 I had started to catch up to hikers that had started the day before - so far, so good - ahead of schedule.

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Above: refilling the Camelbak at Big Springs.

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Above: yellow and red Columbine line the canyon wall in one of the deepest parts of the Narrows.

Below: Even with stopping to take quite a few pics, I blew through the Narrows to the mouth of Orderville Gulch in about 7 hours - I was feeling pretty confident at this point. But very quickly, things began to fall apart.
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The first mile or so of Orderville is spectacular. Lots of wading and scrambling over small waterfalls, and even a couple of short swims. Unfortunately, my adventure came to a premature end when I got to a relatively short chokestone and water fall that I could not get past. I believe in the past this could be climbed, but recent floods had deeply scoured out the plunge pool (the water was well over my head) and I couldn't reach any hand holds, no boulders to chimney, no nothing - I was toast. There was no way I was going to backtrack against the current to my car, so I had to bail out back to the Narrows and down to Sinawava, catch a shuttle to the Visitor Center and call Sue (I hate having to get bailed out by my wife!) for a ride.

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