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New rating system for hikes in Utah's Virgin River Narrows.

Snaking into the main canyon of Zion National Park, the Virgin River seems a languid thing. Yet after a rain, its upper gorge--the steep-walled Virgin River Narrows--can become a boiling torrent. Rangers tell of seeing watermarks 25 feet above normal on cliff walls.

Even so, the ocher cliffs and sculpted beauty of the narrows lure hikers. And you can see them safely on a day trip if you respect the potential dangers: plan ahead, take appropriate precautions, and bring proper gear. Children under age 12 are not advised to make the trip, and pets are not allowed.

From mid-June through September, water is lowest and hiking conditions usually best, except during periods of thunder-storms. But until last year, with any high water or hint of impending rain, rangers would close the narrows to all hikers.

Now trails are open more often, under a rating system based on weather variables, including rain in the high country. A posting of low danger means no weather hazard is predicted. Moderate danger indicates conditions are unstable. Under high-danger conditions (storms, very low water temperature), hikers are advised not to go, but are not prohibited; only physically tough, very experienced, and well-equipped hikers should go out under these circumstances.

Rangers close the narrows when extremely dangerous conditions exist. To check, call (801) 772,3256.

The main trailhead begins at the end of the paved path from the Temple of Sinawava; a sign indicates the day's hiking rating. Two short trips lead from here--take the 1/2-mile hike to the Mountain of Mystery Falls, or continue another mile to Orderville Canyon where canyon walls towering hundreds of feet above you appear to touch. You walk in water much of the way, wade up to the waist at times. Wear sturdy foot gear to protect against ankle sprains and provide good footing on slippery rocks; calf-high swamp boots or old hiking boots are best, tennis shoes not advisable. Water is chilly, about 60[deg.], and while summer park temperatures run 80[deg.] to 105[deg.], the narrows can be 10[deg.] to 20[deg.] cooler; some hikers making a long trek during cold water conditions have even used wetsuits.

Some tips to make your trip safer: bring a long walking stick; put camera gear in waterproof containers; carry things in a day pack so your hands are free; and cross at the top of riffles or rapids, where the river is shallower and current is slower.

Hiking is best in the morning, and it's wise to inquire first at the visitor center (open 8 to 9 daily) at the canyon mouth. Zion National Park is about a 3-hour drive from Las Vegas, or about a 6-hour drive south from Salt Lake City. It is 43 miles northeast of St. George; from Interstate 15, take State 9 east 33 miles. Day-use fee is $2 per car. Camping ($6 per night) is on a first-come basis.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1985
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