Zion National Park – Autumn – Hiking “The Narrows” Part III

This is the third and final of a series of posts that covers the “Narrows”, a hike whose only trail is the Virgin River itself. Some parts of the hike are relatively open, but other sections are narrow, between water-carved sandstone walls rising over a hundred feet on each side of the river.

In the summer you can hike in shorts, but in November, when we went, a wetsuit is best.

Water carved beautiful shapes in the canyon walls that rise up on both sides you for hundreds of feet.

If you are in or near the narrows in a flash flood, you will not survive as there is no reachable high ground.

Tip List

  1. Get up early. Be in the river at dawn. If you wait until later in the day there will be masses of people in every shot.
  2. Rent your gear the night before.
  3. Turn around. Look behind you every few minutes. Light in the canyon can change fast
  4. If you see a section of the canyon you like and it is not lit up with reflected light, try again a half hour or so later.
  5. Once you reach the section of the canyon of the feature image with nearby ferns on the wall, the best sections of the narrows are downstream. I recommend spending more time in the narrows than going further upstream.
  6. Be careful with vibrations. The water may move your tripod if the sand or rocks below it shift on long exposures.
  7. Consider taking one exposure for the canyon walls and another longer exposure to smooth the water.
  8. Reflected light is best. Avoid the sky and any direct light on the canyon walls.
  9. I only used two lenses in the narrows: a 16-35MM lens and a 24-105MM lens. Long heavy lenses are not useful and will weigh you down.
  10. Rent a half wetsuit rather than a full one. The latter is too hot and too cumbersome when you have to pee.

Feature Image Details

Additional Images

Reflected light is the key images in the Narrows in general. There is no sunlight on the water or the canyon walls. Rather the light hits one canyon wall and bounces off it providing a glow everywhere else.

I used a polarizer on this image as I did every image in the Narrows.

Moving Water

There is no tripod movement if you are braced on hard rock. But in the water, currents can vibrate the tripod resulting in an image that looks nice on the playback screen but is actually a little soft.

In this particular area, I ruined a lot of images and could not figure out why until much later.

If I am in the narrows again, I will take a much faster image of the walls at a higher ISO then a slower image to get the water the way I like.

Gear

We rented wetsuits, hiking poles, and shoes suitable for river hiking.

For an image of the rental gear you will need, please see link #9 below. There are numerous places just outside the park to rent equipment.

I only took two lenses with me: A  Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens and a Canon 24-105MM F4 L Lens.  Add a polarizer and a tripod (the latter is a necessity), and that is all you will need. If you are in the canyon and you think you need a flash, you are shooting in the wrong light.

I saw people carrying massive telephoto lenses and I was constantly wondering “What they hell do they need those lenses for?”

The hike is not strenuous if the water level is low. If the water level is high and fast, they close the hike. There is no elevation change but you are hiking in the river, against the current on the way in.

Relatively speaking, I found the upper Emerald Pools Trail more difficult than the Narrows, but we were fortunate to have easy conditions. The rental places and the park visitor center can assist if you have questions.

Other Zion National Park Images

  1. Zion National Park – Subway Trek Part Three – Inside the Subway
  2. Zion National Park – Subway Trek Part Two – The Crack
  3. Zion National Park – Subway Trek Part One – Archangel Falls
  4. Zion National Park Autumn – Great White Throne
  5. Zion National Park – Autumn – Lower Emerald Pools Part 1
  6. Zion National Park – Autumn – Lower Emerald Pools Part 2 (After a Rainfall)
  7. Zion National Park – Autumn – Middle and Upper Emerald Pools
  8. Zion National Park – The Watchman – Autumn
  9. Zion National Park – Autumn – Hiking “The Narrows” Part I
  10. Zion National Park – Autumn – Hiking “The Narrows” Part II

Equipment

Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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