Map Miles: Today: 7.7/ Total: 966.2
GPS Miles: Today: 7.7/ Total: 1,018.9
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Things work out the way they’re supposed to. If The Narrows had been open, last night would have been a rush of trying to get everything done- food buying, pack reorganization, etc, and then very little sleep before we’d need to drive back to Springdale to catch an early early shuttle up to the head of the Narrows. Then a long 16 mile day hiking and wading back through the river before going through the same routine again tonight to get ready for the backpack.
Instead we had a nice relaxed morning putzing around Hurricaine, taking our time to do chores and breakfast. We didn’t get back to Zion until almost 10am. We spent a long time at the ranger station getting our permits and switching our campsites around a little bit so that we could have a longer day tomorrow and shorten up our day on Wednesday- a plan that the ranger didn’t like that much. She was convinced that 15 miles going uphill the way we were was far too much and not a good idea but ultimately relented and changed the permit.
From there our plan was to hit the shuttle and head down to The Grotto to hike up to the top of Angels Landing, one of the other iconic spots in the park. That would let us not need to do it tomorrow and also give us a little bit of a warmup on the steep switchbacks without our heavy packs. But first I needed to connect my footsteps, taking the shuttle just one stop further back to the Weeping Wall and walking back along the Virgin a River. I haven’t come this far to have a one mile gap!!It was about 11:30 by the time we started up the trail and we were in the thick of the full tourist rush hour caught in the middle of one of the biggest ant streams I’ve seen in a long time. Old and young, solo hikers and huge groups- it seemed as though everyone in the park was on their way to the top. I wouldn’t be surprised if thousands of people make this climb every day. There are 39 switchbacks in total up to the base of the summit ridge, and Laura and I tried to count them off but lost track somewhere in Wally’s Wiggles- a series of 21 short turns that take you up the final nearly vertical walls. From the base it’s only a half mile to the summit, however it follows a narrow knife edge ridge with 1,000 foot drops on either side. Chains are installed for something to hold on to, but there are also many bottlenecks where you need to wait for traffic from the other direction to pass. Sometimes it felt like a crossing guard with a whistle was needed to maintain good flow up and down stream. We took our turns and waited our time following the masses until finally topping out on the broad summit. From Observation Point yesterday the view really only went down canyon, but here, jutting out straight in the middle we could see in all directions. We plopped down first on the North side and then on the South side, absorbing the magnificence. Taking in the awe-inspiring view. Chasing away the very habituated chipmunks trying to get to our food. Even with the crowds, the climb up to Angel’s Landing was totally worth it. The steep switchbacks and rock scrambling made for a much more interesting climb than the trail up Observation Point. And even though we weren’t as high, the views on both sides added to the appeal at the top. I struggle sometimes with the masses of people in the parks all concentrated in one spot. But there tends to be a reason that those spots are popular and here you could definitely see why. Ready to head back down, we realized that the uphill had actually been the easier part. The rock was pretty slick from the years of wear incurred by rubber shoe soles and with our weight now shifted to our toes, our feet were a little more prone to slipping. Or at least mine were. Laura seemed fine. She even decided to hang out in the trees for a bit. Back to the bottom we extended our day a little bit longer by hiking along the River towards the Emerald Pools. Chatting along the way we’re passed by a couple when I suddenly hear “Jacob!?!” shouted from the guy. I instantly recognize the voice (the same way he recognized me). It was Matt! A friend and co-worker from the two years that I had lived at Holden Village! I haven’t seen him since I hiked out of the Village to start the PCT in 2011. How crazy is that!? You never know who you’re going to run into in the National Parks. I honestly hadn’t expected very much from the Emerald Pools and so I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the Upper Pool was. The still green pool isn’t very big, but is located in almost a small cirque surrounded by walls at least a few hundred feet high. Somehow someone had dropped a double length climbing rope down from the top above the pool, but it still wasn’t long enough to reach the bottom. The coolest part though was the music of the frogs. Sounding almost like the bleat of a goat, the tiny guys produced an enormous sound and were found all over the place. Hanging out on rocks, swimming in the pools, hopping on people’s packs. The pool was a sight and a sound to experience. The lower pool was equally nifty as the trail was cut through the wall in such a way that it passed under the waterfalls dripping from 100 feet above and forming some lush hanging gardens filled with huge yellow Columbine amongst the ferns and other flowers. Satisfied with our relaxed day we decided to call it there and grab some food and beer for dinner from the surprisingly good and reasonably priced grocery store in Springdale which we would eat at the campground we had reserved right outside the park. Again we weren’t expecting very much from the campground, so it was a great surprise to find that our campsite was right on the Virgin River!! We ate our dinner on the riverbank and Laura enjoyed cooling her feet off in the refreshing water. We also had a great time chatting with our neighbor campsite – a group of four college girls from Minnesota out for a long Utah road trip adventure. Back on Mountain time in Utah the sun is setting later and so the evening quickly passed away in conversation. It’s warm tonight, and only supposed to get hotter as the week goes on – possibly into the 90s. Our hope is to be up before dawn tomorrow and out of camp as early as possible to do the majority of the climb before the sun gets too high in the sky. For now though the rush of the river below is soothing and relaxing for the mind. The countdown to the finale officially begins.