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During my pre-trip planning to Zion National Park, I read and heard a lot of praise for a water hike in the Virgin River known as the Narrows hike.  The images I saw were very intriguing to me in terms of composition and lighting but I had a hard time getting past the idea I was going to be sharing the experience with hundreds of other people.  That is how most images I saw looked.

My wife Sharon knows it is the opposite of what I seek.  I would rather hike off on my own to find some unique creation than stand shoulder-to-shoulder with 50 other photographers from around the world in some iconic location……though I admit having to do it more than once.  (Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park comes to mind.)  That said, some scenes are so iconic, you may have to make sacrifices you would not normally make to capture the shot you have longed to achieve. Most of the time I can find my own way.  Typically, it happens through an abundance of research, discovering locations known only to locals or shooting at a time and place when most can’t or won’t.

Such was the case when I hiked the Narrows.  It was late fall, actually the week before Thanksgiving when I entered the water at 9am.  The temperature outside was 34 degrees.  Not a problem if you are hiking and shooting on dry land.  However, when you plan to hike 3-4 miles up a river and back until dark, you better get some help.

For me, it required renting a full wet suit from the Zion Adventure Company in Springdale.  I also rented dry bags, waterproof shoes, and a walking stick to probe the water depth.  (about $80 at the time). I wore various other layers of fleece vests and exterior Gortex because it was a damp cold.  I had a backpack with water, my camera gear in a dry bag and carried my tripod in one arm and the walking stick in the other which helped to balance me out.  I looked like a human pack mule.

Sounds like a real hassle but that wasn’t the hardest part.  The worst part was having to pack and unpack the gear every time I wanted to take a picture.  Sometimes, I only traveled 25 feet around a bend to another spectacular scene with 1000–1500 foot canyon walls, colorful stones and a beautiful shaft of light. Such was the case when I shot “Drawn to the Light” above.

There were other areas with vegetation attached to the canyon walls. There was the striping of desert varnish on other walls and fall colors still on the trees at various points when there was shoreline to support them.

As I hiked, I was so tempted to just leave the camera around my neck to avoid all the packing and unpacking.  Convenience is so important.  But I knew as soon as I did, I would slip and fall and that would be the end of my shooting.  I never did fall and the shoes I rented played a large role in helping me to maintain my balance on all the slippery cobble rocks.  I highly recommend the shoes and walking stick no matter the time of year.

As you embark on this hike, you criss cross back and forth in and out of the river on and off the shoreline.  Sometimes you must be in the water exclusively when there is no shoreline to walk on due to the narrow distance between walls of 20-25 feet.  Usually, there are patches of shoreline or mini-islands and you find yourself zig zagging your way up and down the river.  The water was generally ankle deep to chest deep and the walking stick along with the darker green colors of the water alerted me to the deeper areas.

Obviously, you never should enter the Narrows if it has rained or is threatening to rain even if it is miles away.  There have been deadly flash floods in the Zion area for years.

If you want to hike the Narrows and encounter the least amount of people, go late fall, winter or early Spring.  The other times won’t be the most advantageous photo ops but it’s still a great time.  With few people around when I hiked the Narrows, my experience was extraordinary.

I had planned to hike Angels Landing the next day but I enjoyed the Narrows so much, I cancelled Angels and hiked the Narrows a second day.  It remains one of the most unique and beautiful hikes I have ever done.  I can’t recommend it enough.