Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

"Who is a God like you, who pardons sins and forgives transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." Micah 7:18-19

All sand dunes around the world have their unique way they were formed. The Great Sand Dunes have their own history of volcanic activity, mountain uplift, rift separation, and sediment erosion. But winds...especially opposing winds...are the true architects of the large tall dunes here. These winds are strong! The winds here typically blow from the Southwest across the San Luis Valley and funnel from Northeast, over Medano and Music Pass of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains.

From the parking lot, the Dunes appear calm, quiet, and untouched. But as you make your way across the dried out creek and the first 1/2 mile of flats to the first small (relatively) dunes, you quickly see what you thought was serene...is in fact chaotic. There are several people around making their way towards the dunes...there are more hikers off in the distance climbing the dune ridges...boarders attempting to make their way down the sand slopes.

There were hoards of people enjoying the sand on this day. Which made my observation on the way back from this short hike even more wonderful...As we made our way to the first ridge going up, the winds began to pick up. We had been hiking about 20 minutes or so from the car, when the winds began blowing hard. I looked back across the flats and saw no one behind us. The sand was blowing so hard, it hurt...I could see the sand fiercely blowing off the crest of the dunes.

We started making our way back across the flats when I noticed that my footprints were gone. Just like that! Gone! The winds erased my tracks. Any blemish I made as a trace on this land was completely made clean by the winds. As I looked across the landscape, all previous signs of scarring on the land was too made anew!

I see every mistake, choice, or wrongdoing we make like my footprints in the sand that day. It's just one mistake after another...just a long trail of defeat...always reminding us of the previous places we have been every time we look back.

But God is like the mighty wind! He pardons and forgives...He is merciful! He cleanses and makes us new. That day on the sand, I gave thanks to Jesus for interceding for me! Because of him, God makes me clean! There is no trail of bad choices that I have certainly made...all the mistakes in the past have been erased...and all that is left for God to see when He sees me...is an unblemished, clean, and beautiful life! Thank you Jesus!

(A picture of the San Luis Valley to the Southwest...the San Juans off in the distance.)

The sunset over the dunes from our campsite. The dunes' size from the distance is misleading. Especially since you have larger 14,000' mountains that dwarf the dunes. But in reality, these dunes are tall!
Who: Sarah and I
When: 7/20/12
What: High Dune
Mileage: 2.5 miles roundtrip
Time: 2 hours
We woke up at 4:45 a.m., ate at PB sandwich, loaded up the Prius and drove over to the TH to start our ascent of the Dunes. We were told the previous day by a ranger that the easiest way to move along the dunes is by staying on the dune ridges. Our goal was to hike over to Star Dune...which is the tallest dune in North America (stands in at 750 feet tall) and watch the sun come over the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. To give you a better idea of scale...the picture above is taken of a hiker the previous day making his way up the lower dunes...High Dune is toward the upper left corner of this picture and I could not capture it on my camera. I needed a wider lens camera from my vantage point.

It took Sarah and I a little under an hour to make it up to  High Dune. Which is the 2nd largest dune here. It is 650 ft tall and a little over a mile trek to get to. Unfortunately, I could not take any pictures before we summited this dune due to it being dark. The picture above are the first dunes to see light. The picture was taken from High Dune.
This is the ridge line of High Dune. Which unfortunately we thought was Star Dune. Sarah and I didn't study the topography of the dunes...really, this trip was an audible call we made two days before. We originally wanted to backpack into Willow Lake and climb Kit Carson and Challenger, nearby 14ers. But due to logistical error a few days before, we decided it was best to come here instead. No regrets, but we really didn't know much about this place before we came. So when we made our way to High Dune...we thought we reached Star Dune. Reason being...there was no higher dune in sight. From where we stood this morning, we were on the highest dune in the park. There was not one dune higher in any direction. And though we were told the day before that it took an average of 2 hours to reach Star dune, I just thought Sarah and I were faster than the average hiker. I should have known...since there is no way we can cut the average hike time by half. What I learned later on, is that the Great Sand Dunes are located on a slope that goes up from West to East. Star Dune is located West of High Dune...so it appears that High Dune is taller because High Dune sits up higher on the slope that rises into the mountains. And as you can see in the picute above...the dunes do in fact gently slope up from left to right. But when you are there in person...on the dune...you can't tell. So Sarah and I missed out on hiking the Star Dune since we mistakenly thought we summited the tallest dune. Oh well...gives me another reason to come back.
Sarah and I were also fortunate to be hiking on a very calm morning. Unlike the day before...there was no wind. We were not looking forward to getting blasted by sand grains...but we avoided that hardship. One other thing that was different a complete surpise to us...how stinkin difficult it is to hike up a dune. For every step you take up, you slide down a few inches. It is hard! If I trained on these dunes all the time...I could go up any mountain and never tire! Well...you know what I mean!
The real reason I got up so early is to see the light and shadows of the dunes...I've seen them before in pictures and it always fascinates me. Seeing it in person was truly a blessing...
This is one is my favorite picture of the morning!
Can you spot Sarah in the picture above?
Sarah and I didn't even spend 24 hours here...we were ready to come home and see our girls. But there is much more to do in this park with several day hikes and a few backpacking trails that lead to alpine areas. We enjoyed our short time here and I am certain we will be back. This past week was very rewarding for Sarah and I...but we were both exhausted from all of our activites and we still had a 10 hour drive home on this same day. On my drive home...I reflected on the past week and all the places we visited. As we got closer to home...my focus began to shift ahead. I kthen started to think about my climb of Mt. Whitney...the mountaineer's route...It's on!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Telluride: Bouldering, Via Ferrata, Hiking

"In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid..." Psalm 56:4

Protection...the act of protecting, preserving from injury or harm....to also cover, as in coverage. In Telluride, Sarah and I traversed the "Krogerata", a via ferrata that traverses over hundreds of feet of vertical exposure at any time. To safely traverse the route, you need protection. Your helmet, harness, lanyards, and carabiners. You also need to use the protection that has been permanently fixed on the route. Which are the wire cables that have been installed and safely anchored throughout the route. And then of course the iron holds which are bolted and allow you to traverse across when you are on a complete vertical section of the route. All these pieces of "protection" are there for you...to minimize the risks of danger and to safely complete the route.

But here's the thing...all that protection does not matter...at all...if you do not trust your gear and the fixed protection on the wall. You have to trust that everything is under control with all the gear you have in place...so you can build just enough confidence to make it across. Without this confidence, there is no way we can focus on the route or task at hand. We would not have enough courage to move forward...and immediately recognize the danger and divert. The task would be too big, too dangerous, and quite frankly not smart.

Without God, I see life much the same way as I see this route. Life is big, dangerous, and I often make really really bad choices because I am not very smart on my own. Often times, I make decisions that leave me exposed...confused...and deflate all confidence because I moved forward without God. I feel that I can do things without Him, so I choose to "free solo" decisions...which leave me unprotected and on my own. And when I do (which I do often because I'm a fool), I ultimately find myself stuck...high above...looking around...with nothing but exposure. I'm done. Whatever I set out to do will not be completed...because I am no longer "protected" from the dangers of the route I've chosen...a route I  foolishly chose to leave my Protection behind. I no longer have the confidence that comes with, when I trust in God.

In John 17:11...Jesus says, "I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name..." God is my protection! Jesus is talking about us!  He is talking about me! I need to trust my spiritual gear on every route I take. He is in control of my route...because He is my gear and fixed protection. God is my helmet, my harness, my lanyards, and my carabiners. God is my wiring, my bolts, and my anchor! He is my Iron Holds! God is my everything...and because of this...I have full and complete confidence on any route I take...regardless of the exposure. Amen!
(Town of Telluride from Gondala station on the way to Mountain Village)
Who: Sarah and I
When: 7/16-7/18/12
What: Bouldering, "Krogerata", Hiking, Vacationing (that's an activity right?)

Sarah and I drove the 5 1/2 hour drive from Zion to Telluride on the morning of 7/16. We drove through the 4 corners region and I was tempted to drive to Monument Valley. We didn't...but we should have. We arrived to town and this was my first time in Telluride. This place is beautiful! It is my new favorite town in Colorado. The town is nestled in a tight box canyon...there are several unique shops, restaurants, and a great, great...maybe the greatest town park I've ever been to: Town Park. We camped at Town park the first night...cost $20 something bucks...Town Park is very clean, softball fields that had turf equivalent to major league ballparks, a skate park with ramps and a pool, trails, soccer fields, mountain bike trail, and it had a trail that lead to Bear Creek trail. Then of course, you had the backdrop of Ajax Mountain and the surrounding San Juan Peaks. We walked the town and had dinner at Smuggler's Joe Brewpub. I recommend the Jalapeno artichoke dip with their Rocky Mountain Rye microbrew.

(On of the softball fields at Town Park)
I am going to mention this only because it somehow is one of my more memorable moments of this entire trip. Sarah and I caught a few innings of what appeared to be a very competitive beer league. I loved it! These men were good...ultra competetive...and took the game very serious. But at the same time, they were having a blast, enjoyed each other's company, and were ribbing their opponents in good nature. It felt like these guys were just playing the game they loved...in the moment...and nothing else mattered. Kudos to you men...I really enjoyed watching you guys out there. Especially the team that wore slacks, button down dress shirt, and ties for uniforms. That is hilarious!
We got up, and it was in the mid 40's...it felt wonderful. Especially since we are from Texas and it's over a hundred everyday this time of year. We cooked up some oatmeal, packed up our Prius and made our way towards Ajax mountain and the mines to climb and traverse the via ferrata. I spent about an hour bouldering at the Mine Boulders before we got started on our day up the mountain. I've heard a lot about Telluride's conglomerate blocs...so I had to get a bouldering session or two in before I left. So I did...I really enjoyed the clmbing. The landings are relatively flat and the rock is mostly solid. Between bouldering, sport, trad, and big wall climbing in and around Telluride...you have a lifetime amount of climbing. There are several guidebooks.
The "Krogerata"
Distance: 4.25 miles roundtrip (can be shortened if take other trails down)
TH: start of the switchbacks...near the ponds you see in the google image above
Route: Counter-clockwise
time: 4 hours (however, we spent time taking pictures, visiting the falls, and 20 minutes lookinf for the initial trail)

The Krogerata is Telluride's via ferrata. The via ferrata translates to "Iron Way." Most via ferratas climb vertically with few to several traversing sections. The Krogerata is one long traverse under Ajax Mountain and the end of the box canyon on the East Side of Telluride.
So...Sarah and I started making our way up the loose gravel switchbacks from the valley floor. From the TH, you get to see stunning views of Bridal Veil Falls. The falls are the tallest free standing waterfalls in Colorado standing in at 365 ft tall. As you make your way up the switchbacks...you get better views...especially when you are parallel with the base of the falls. If you are trying to hike up the switchbacks...you will find a few options (new and old roads that go up) to lead you up. It doesn't matter which ones you take. They are both about the same distance and they will lead you to the same place.

After hiking a little over a mile and cutting back 5-6 times on the switchbacks...you finally arrive at the base of the falls. Unfortunately at this time, there are signs telling you to keep out and not enter the base area of the falls. But as you can see, you get to come this close to the falls...and really that's close enough. The falls are spectacular. If you are not hiking up to the via ferrata, this 2 mile roundtrip hike is worth the trip alone.

After you leave the falls, just continue straight up on the same road until the road swithches back up. At the end of this same road, you will see an old wooden bridge that was constructed over the creek. You want to cross this bridge and not continue up the switchbacks. Now, don't be like me...after crossing the bridge I continued moving forward...attempting to locate the TH to the Krogerata. ***There is no posted TH sign*** Don't look for one, you won't find it. I spent 20 minutes trying to find the trail...I couldn't find it. I knew where the route was above me...I could see it. From the bridge, you can see the small shelf (pictured above) and the remaining route. I tried to find different lines up to the shelf...even attempted to go up loose talus to no avail. I was a bit frustrated. Sarah was down below trying to find it as well. Finally, we gave up...and decided must not have been the right turnoff...though every piece of information told me you had to cross the bridge to find the TH. So we made our way back to the bridge, and lo and behold, there it was. The trail is literally just a few feet after crossing the bridge. It's a very faint trail that immediately goes up... and once you see it, you know it. Remember...right after the bridge, look to your right and look right up. After you ascend 40 to 50, you are on the shelf you see above. At this point, the Krogerata is very easy to follow.
***Warning*** I felt a bit convicted traversing this route...probably because I am a climber first, and a hiker second. The Krogerata traverses the mountainside several hundred feet above the ground...and unfortunately parallels the Pipeline wall above. The Pipeline wall is a very popular climbing crag in Telluride. There are multipitch and single pitch routes that are exposed to rock fall because of the traversers above. Unfortunately, a lot of the route on the Krogerata is loose and rotten. Rock fall is inevitable...we sent small rocks hurling down the mountainside on a few occasions. Sarah was great about yelling, "Rock!" And that's all you can do...but that doesn't make it any safer for technical climbers below. Please respect this sign...There are many climbers that suffer injury or death due to rockfall every year.
After getting on trail, it doesn't take long before you come up on the cables. It's pretty straightforward...get your gear on, make sure everything is on correctly, and start clipping. My gear must haves for this route are:
1) Helmet. Not just from imminent rockfall from above...but there are many sections on this route where you crouch down below and have to come back up. You will bump your head...and though it's not a hard hit...we all know that any slight bump on solid stone hurts. The helmet prevented pain more than anything else.
2) Harness.
3) Lanyards or webbing. Of course, there are specific via ferrata lanyards design specifically for this sport. And that's what you are suppose to use. Sarah and I used both dyneema and nylong slings as lanyards. We used a total of 4 120 cm slings each that we thread through our climbing loops on our harness and overhand knotted the clipping end for our carabiners. So we had two slings of the same length for the left side and 2 slings for the right side. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that's the right gear...but we felt that we were redundant with out protection and felt comfortable with our choice. If you choose to make your own Lanyard set like we did...make sure you use appropriate length and the slings are specific to climbing use, in other words UIAA certified. If you don't know what UIAA is, then you should buy the specific via ferrata sets...Also, there are several sections when you need slack, so make sure you have long enough slings to make those those moves.
4) Carabiners. Locking biners if you want to be redundant.
5) Camelbak or water resevoir of some sort. Both your hands will be occupied for the most part. So water bottle may not work...
6) Wits

Somthing else you should know about this route...It's not entirely protected with cables. There are many sections the trail narrows, the rock is loose and rotten, and the trail slopes away from the wall...as you can see above. I felt these sections of the wall were the most dangerous. Not when you are on the vertical exposed wall hundereds of feet off the ground...no. It was in these parts...where I took smaller steps and hugged the wall next to me.
Though the Korgerata mainly traverses the route...there are a few Class 3 moves that go up and are protected. Usually these moves were not sustained and you didn't go up more than 10 to 15 feet. It's not to say the drop off wasn't there...
This is what the first part of the route looks like fom the counter-clockwise start. It's essentially the shelf you see above...as you can tell, the trail slopes down and if you look on the lower right of the picture...the trail is loose...but still very doable.
This is a closeup of the shelf before the Krogerata bench...this is as wide as you will get. From this point on, you are either on a vertical wall or on a narrow shelf. Reality, pictures make things look worse...If you pay attention, stay close to the wall, stay calm, and not rush though...you will be fine. Anyone who does not have a fear of heights and is in ok shape, can do this route.
When you reach Kroger's bench, there is a plaque in memory of him. Chuck Kroger is the architect of this brilliant traverse. I can't imagine how much hard work he put into this love of his...I thank him.
So when you arrive at the Kroger's bench...there is literally a bench. With that plaque right above it. There is also a register to sign in and make your mark on this Via Ferrata's history. At this point, you are standing on rounded shelf that sticks out 10 ft across and it makes for a good place to take a rest, eat a snack, and build up your wits. Because the climbing gets real after this point. After the bench, say goodbye to that nice trail/shelf you were walking on...because it's time to get some air!
As soon as you step off of the Krogerata bench shelf...you step onto the irons. This section is sustained and depending on your pace, will last several minutes. You are anywhere between 400-500 ft off the ground and there is nothing under you but those footholds. It is pure exhilaration...
Don't let this picture fool you...it's posed. My wife hated it. She never felt comfortable and I know she hated me for it. What's funny is that Sarah enjoyed the entire route except for this part. I, on the other hand loved it. And like most of you that will climb this, will find this to be the best part of the route...but the unprotected loose shelf you guys saw above...Sarah did just fine. It was I that didn't particularly care for it. As long as I was clipped in, there was no worry...I felt great.
 I enjoyed this section of the route so much, I had to traverse it back and do it all over again. Excitement, thrill, and adrenaline ran through my veins...I loved it. I can see how big wall climbers love this style of climbing. There's no feeling like it...it's just you, the wall, the wind...and your composure. Greatness. Here's something to know about this section...the iron holds are solid and as far as holds go...you can't get any better. But in the case you do fall on this part, there are no holds to climb back up as you can see. You will hopefully dangle on the cable with your lanyards holding you in place. I imagine if you did fall, you would just need to pull yourself up on your webbing and "throw" for one of those irons. I'm sure there are other ways to get up...I just wouldn't want to be in this position.
Here's my favorite picture. The obligatory pic on the most exposed section with the falls in the background. I'm sure everyone that does this route will have a similar picture...but you just can't get tired of looking at it. I remember just looking down...thinking, "This is sooooo sweeet! This is what I came for."
After completing this last section, you clip off onto this ledge. It's narrow, loose, rotten and not protected. This is where Sarah sighed and was relieved to be off the wall...this is where I get nervous. Go figure...
This is what most of the remainding route looks like. On exposed walls with a small ledge, protected by the cables. If you do this route counter-clockwise, be prepared for more via ferrata after the big exposed wall. Most of the traverse on the wall occurs after the Krogerata Bench. We were on this route for another hour before we were completely off the cables. This route, though is not long in distance...does take some time to complete.
Towards the end of the cables from our direction, you come to what I considered the "crux" of the route. It's not too difficult at all if you have upper body strength, but you do have to know that this section is overhung and traversing requires some bouldery moves on great iron holds. As you can see above, the person in front of us used climbing techniques to get across. The exposure is not great as before...but it still does drop off quite a bit.
Sarah traversing the section mentioned above. She did great here...and traversed it with no problem. After this last section, you get back on trail, the cables end, and you make your way down to Marshal Creek drainage. You are still 1000 ft above the road you have to get down to, but it's class 1 hiking with no exposure all the way down. There are several old mining roads you can take down. There are no signs to help you choose...Looking at google earth images, you can see that all roads will lead down to the same place. As for us...we took the longest way down to the canyon floor. We completed our loop and made it back to the car in one piece! This is a memorable route!

Extra Credit:
We had one more day in Telluride...and Sarah and I took it relatively easy. We chose to hike the very easy Bear Creek Trail, a 4.5 mile round trip trail to the base of Bear Creek Falls. I recommend this short dayhike to anyone who's visiting Telluride. It's easygoing, lush, and very scenic. The picture above is of Sarah at the base of the waterfalls looking down the valley. The East end of Telluride is somewhere down below this valley.
(Columbine flower, Colorado's state flower)
(Bear Creek Falls)
After completing the 4.5 mile roundtrip hike from Bear Creek...Sarah and I hiked a quarter of a mile to the Telluride Gondala...a free gondala...that takes you up to Mountain Village. It's an 8 minute ride that takes you up almost 1800 ft up to the gondola station up above Telluride. We got off of the gondola and started making our way up on the See Forever Trail. We didn't have a destination in mind...but we did hike up 2.2 miles up and gained 1,400 ft in elevation before we called it quits.
On the way up, we could see the Wilson group...a group of 14ers (14,000 ft peaks) off to the Southwest. The three highest points here left to right are: Mount Wilson, El Diente, and Wilson Peak. The outcropping on the far left is not a 14er...it's Lizardhead...and it's known as one of the; if not the hardest climb in Colorado.
Here are some views from the See Forever Trail...
Here is my beautiful Sarah...enjoying the afternoon.
We hiked back down and went back to eat lunch and take a quick nap. Later in the afternoon, I then bouldered at the Ilium Valley boulders. I had to get in a second session of bouldering while in Telluride. The rock here is outstanding. There are guides and forum that say the rock is of granite...but I thought I was climbing on sandstone. I'm no geologist...but I do climb on different types of rock. Either way, who cares...I was climbing.
After a great bouldering session, we stopped by Society Drive and enjoyed a few drinks from Telluride Brewing Company. These guys are friendly and will be more than glad to our you a refreshment. You can even sample their high quality microbrew. Do you see the chalkboard...on the very bottom? That beer there...is the Double. An IPA with 8.5% alcohol by volume. They serve it in a 10 oz pour...I had two of those...and they were great! But I had to hand the keys to Sarah...yikes!
We went back to the Gondola and went up again...this time to catch the sunset over the mountains from 10,000 ft up...and it was brilliant!

Thank you Telluride!

Up next: The Great Sand Dunes!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Zion Part II: Narrows

...continuation of our Zion trip...
Zion National Park: Narrows
Who: Sarah and I
When: 7/15/12
Distance: Little over 8 miles round trip
Duration: 6:17 hrs
The Zion Narrows actually begins as the Riverside trail at the end of the Canyon's Northern end. The shuttle will drop you off at the Temple of Sinawava, a natural amphitheater that serves as the gateway for all of the dayhikers entering into the Narrows. Sarah and I got on the 2nd shuttle leaving the Watchman Campground/Visitor's Center...and it takes about 20 minutes or so to travel up the Canyon to our destination. The Shuttle makes several brief stops along the way...stopping at the Museum, Canyon Junction, Court of the Patriarch's overlook, The Zion Lodge/Emerald Pools Trailhead, The Grotto, Big Bend, Weeping Rock, and finally Temple of Sinawava. When Sarah and I got off the shuttle, we walked over to the trailhead and to our disappointment, we found a sign stating the Narrows were closed due to High Flash Flood Watch. This didn't necessarily mean you couldn't enter the Narrows...you could. Matter of fact, the Park Rangers and the Park are very straightforward about the risks you take in Zion. They remind you over and over again that..."your safety is your responsibility." Nonetheless, Sarah and I were not going to take the risk on High Flash Flood Watch. Though we were disappointed, we still decided to hike the 1 mile Riverside trail to see where the Narrows began.
 So this would be the end of the trail for us...Looking upstream, we both knew that this was the main reason we came to Zion. We wanted to hike/wade the Narrows. Earlier in February of this year, when we were planning our Zion trip, we tried to reserve backcountry permits to hike the entire length of the Narrows. Unfortunately for us, they were already booked. I couldn't believe it...we were 6 months out and all the backcountry sites on the river were booked. My first thought was, "who are all these crazies...seriously man!?" Yeah...didn't take me long to realize I am just like the rest of them...only difference is I am a late. So as Sarah and I let go of the dream and started making our way back down the trail, we saw a group of folks heading upstream with wading boots and poles. We stopped them and asked if something had changed with the flood watch...they said no. Surely, more and more people hiked past us in the opposite direction...we knew something had changed. As we approached the trailhead, we saw no sign...the Park had removed the sign and downgraded the High risk to Moderate Risk. Sarah and I just hiked 2 miles...but we both knew...we were on the same page...we turned around and started our way back towards the Narrows.
After hiking a little over an hour...we finally entered the water and started wading. The water is cold! It varies in height, flow, and clarity. But it constantly remains cold. In regards to the flash flooding...it's always a risk in these slot canyons. All you can do is minimize the risk you are taking...always be vigilant of the sights and sounds of the river...and pray to dear God that He spares you from the flood on this day. During a flash flood, the water rises within seconds or minutes because the water comes from everywhere...During heavy rains, the river water swells instantly from all the tributary streams and water runoff from up above that feed the Virgin River. Thunderstorms miles away from Zion can lead to flash flooding in the slot canyons...really, there are many ways the canyons can swell up. Flooding is not the only hazard either...rock fall is imminent. Sarah and I heard what we thought was thunder...but minutes later, we were informed by other hikers that there was rock-slide activity ahead and to be sure we were hugging the overhung walls when we could. Let's just say this...as I was hiking the Narrows, I always felt a heightened sense of awareness that I usually only reserve while climbing. I gave it more respect...especially since we were spending our time in Zion during the monsoon season of the Southwest. But be assured, I would do this hike again 100x over...it was a blast and I will recommend it to anyone. I will backpack the entire 16 mile top to bottom Narrows trail one day. And one day soon. I already know two people that are on board with me...
 After wading about 5 minutes from the end of the Virgin River trail, you come up on this water feature...Mystery Falls. It falls from 40 ft above you...maybe even higher up. It was a pretty cool site to see and only the beginning of things to come for us...however, immediately after passing Mystery Falls,
the water began to rise. Here, Sarah pauses and contemplates her next move. Within the next several steps, the water would rise to her chest. Cold, cold water...I could not take a picture of this section since it would risk damaging the camera. But I'm sure you can find pictures online of people swimming through...
So after the initial baptismal of the Narrows, the water levels drop off to shin and knee high water and go back and forth from hiking on rocky shores to wading in the water as you see above. The walls skyrocket above you but they do not enclose on you as they will the further you go along the trail.
Here, Sarah demonstrates the approach we took for most of the trail. We typically hugged the walls from rockslide/fall protection and it usually was the most shallow part of the river. I of course, for the sake of the picture...crossed the river and exposed myself to death for this great picture. Not really...it was perfectly safe. We hadn't heard any kind of thunder in half an hour or so...
As you can imagine...the Narrows are not very straight. They are like most rivers, typically bending and moving in the direction of least resistance. Over time, the Virgin River carved these magnificent walls in the same shape as itself. So as you continue up stream, you see these enormous walls bend left and right... changing in degree of steepness...and shadow and light moving along the walls. This place is special!
If you day hike this trail there are a few things you would like to know. For starters, if you do not have a permit, you can only go so far. I believe the farthest you can go is 2.5 miles up...to the Big Spring area. There is side canyon you can explore before reaching Big Spring. A mile past Mystery Falls, Orderville Canyon will be to your right. As the main trail...you can only go so far before needing a permit. Sarah and I chose not to explore this side canyon, since we really had no idea how long it would take us to go upstream. Also, the narrows are very popular. So be prepared to share this hike with many people. The good news is...after the first 1/4 mile of entering the trail...just slightly past Mystery Falls...people start turning back around. So the farther you go up, the less and less people you see. Sarah and I got to the point where it was just us for several minutes at a time. So if you are looking for solitude, just keep going farther.
 As you near mile #2, from the start of the Narrows hike (mile #3 from Virgin River TH)...you enter slot canyons. The entire hike up...the canyon walls are no wider than 50 yds or so. But at this point...the walls close in at anywhere from 10 to 20 yrds apart. The water color changes from brown to this pretty cloudy aquamarine...and more noticibly, the steady swift smooth river transforms to these small white water rapids. The slots we saw are amazing...but I understand the slots are even more narrow and dramatic some several miles upstream. If you have a permit to hike this trail from the top-down...the narrows in the first few miles are even more impressive. I can't imagine seeing slots more wonderful than the ones we saw...but they are there...further up. Just incredible! 
Here is an example of how quickly the water is moving within the slots...there was plenty of white water on this trail...
Here are a few recommendations for this hike:
1) Have sturdy closed toe boots. You step on plenty of slick rock and you need all the protection you can get. There are wading shoes you can rent from the park...but Sarah and I chose to wear our boots instead and felt fine. Do not wear sandals...you will stub your toe over and over again.
2) Poles! They are a must if you want to move at a decent pace. In the beginning of the trail, we saw many hikers without them...and sure enough, they moved a lot slower and did not get as far. The water current is very swift...very strong. I will admit, even with poles, I fell a few times and was completely immersed in the water. I couldn't imagine how many falls I would take without them.
3) Dry bags. You need to protect your camera and gear. Having your stuff in waterfproof sacks is essential if you care about having dry layers, dry equipment (i.e. camera), and not eating a soggy sandwich. You will get wet. There is no avoiding it...and you will remain wet the entire time you are on this trail. You never dry off...
Sarah and I continued upstream...we knew how long we had hiked that day...and knew it would take us the same amount of time to get back. We didn't have any idea how long we hiked...since I was not carrying a GPS. I was trying to do my best to calculate...but had no clue. It felt like we hiked for miles and miles...but reality is, we had only gone a little over 3 miles from the original TH. My usual hiking pace is 3 mph...today it was a little over 1 mph. Wading in water will slow you down...
We did not get much farther than the picture above. Matter of fact, I later learned that we were within a few hundred yards of Big Spring. It's a shame we didn't go that much farther, since there are waterfalls in Big Spring. But Sarah and I had no clue where we were. There are no signs or landmarks once you enter the slots to let you know how far you are going. You also lose sense of distance with all those turns. I felt like there were only so many bends when looking at a map. But when you are in the canyon, every little turn feels like a bend...and sure enough, my count was 2-3X more than what the map indicated. So we turned around...and enjoyed the canyon we came up on.

Side notes:
-We hiked the 1 mile roundtrip trail of the lower Emerald Pools on this day. There was no water flowing this day...so I did not take any pics.

-We also hiked the .5 mile roundtrip trail to hanging gardens of Weeping Rock. This area was lush and the water literally seeped out of the rock. Unfortunately, there was not one picture I took than could capture the beauty of this place. I failed you!

-The next morning, right before we left for Telluride, CO...we hiked the 1 mile roundtrip scenic overlook trail to see the higher peaks of the canyon. I completely recommend this trail. There is a hundered or so feet of elevation, so it's not too difficult. It's located up the canyon, back through Carmel Tunnel and to your left. When you reach the end of the trail...you get a panoramic view of the canyon big walls and their higher peaks. (which I posted in the previous post, but will do again here.)

Up next: Telluride, Colorado...Via Ferrata...and more!!!!