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Once penpal and I got back from viewing the sunset from high atop canyon walls, we flounced efficiently around our campsite: we made a huge fire, we got the air mattress blown up (I know, I know…glamptastic), and we made s’mores.
Actually, to be fair, penpal did all of the important stuff, while I perched by the fire offering moral support like “I just browned this marshmallow PERFECTLY!!” and “do you think tarantulas can unzip our tent?” and “you should let me braid your hair when we get back to civilizati–” “NO.” (He let me.)
However, I did fill our water bottles up. Quite important work.
Penpal and I were warming our toes by the fire, munching on peanut butter and banana sandwiches and s’mores, when I tried to think about the last time I had had real, campfire-toasted marshmallows. I had planned all of these adventures with the spirit of Oregon nativeness and a love for outdoors in mind…yet, the last time I could recall going camping was somewhere nearabouts the year of 2004.
It was at this point that I realized that for all of my “I’m going to go camping and hiking and bounce around outdoors like a happy little marmot” aspirations, I might need a few reminders on how to do camp.
Tomorrow, I thought. Then I had another s’more and comfortably retired to my air-mattressed, snugglified tent.
I may not have remembered how to set up a tent, and I may
have never ever made not have remembered how to make a fire, but those were all technical details. I was a pro at what we came here to do: EXPLORING.
We had received a guide upon entrance to the park that included easy, moderate, and strenuous hikes. Obviously, we didn’t even look at the easy ones–we went straight for strenuous. Obvi.
The first hike we did advised people with a fear of heights to “strongly consider” how comfortable they were being at a high altitude with a 500 foot drop on either side of the trail. I considered. I thought about how much I wanted to throw penpal off a crevice when he suggested rock climbing out of the canyon the day before. Then I considered how accomplished I felt actually climbing out of it.
We went for it.
We forged ahead right through the exponentially inclining switchbacks–or, at least, I forged along for about a mile whilst my heel became increasingly more and more raw. Pro tip: never wear shoes you haven’t worn in a while on two hour hikes. Oops.
However, searing pain with every step was worth it when we got to the top because ohhh my goodness the view.
The hike was called Angel’s Landing, because one of the original park explorers claimed that “only an angel could land on it.” And wow–we were on level with the tops of the canyons we had been gazing up at earlier, and it was exhilarating and terrifying and beautiful.
After we hobbled back down and a quick nap, we decided that to really do Zion, our final hike would be the Narrows, a “trail” between two canyon walls. Why those quotation marks, you ask?
Because there wasn’t really a specifically marked trail. The trail was the river. The hike was an eight mile wade down the Virgin River, in between narrow canyon walls.
I was sure I was about to get tired and soggy and swept away by the river, but we headed out on the trailhead anyway. Everyone looked…wet. I was trepidatious.
Then we got to the trail, aka river, and I realized I had overestimated the difficulty of the hike, but drastically underestimated the amount of fun this would be.
The river was moving fast, but it was only shin deep at the beginning. It was slow going for me at first as I found my footing across the slippery rocks at the bottom of the river, but penpal took to it at once. I would make it past the next bend and penpal would be rock-climbing the waterfall, see me, say hi, and then take off again.
We worked well together.
Pretty soon my ankles had gotten used to the unreliable terrain and I could actually keep up with the penpal. We had forsaken trying to stick to the river banks and instead speed skipped across every bend in the river, taking breaks to take pictures of foreign tourists with broken English but gracious smiles. The sunset highlighted the tops of the red canyon walls stretching up around us. We were rewarded by a waterfall or particularly climbable boulder every turn we took. We danced across the river on sandbars and finally decided to head back only when the sun was threatening to completey disappear behind the tall canyon walls. It was probably the best hike I’ve ever been on.
We splashed our way back, ate homemade peach pie from a diner, then headed back to the car. We left Zion under a brilliant sky and the second-most amount of stars I’ve ever seen.
Next stop? Grand Canyon at sunrise.