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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Parunuweap vs the Zion Narrows

Everyone has heard of the famous Narrows hike in Zion - it is one of the most popular destinations in the national park. But few people have ever heard of its twin, a canyon called Parunuweap, which is just as beautiful and enjoyable,

The North Fork of the Virgin River flows through The Narrows and Zion Canyon. The East Fork of the Virgin flows through Parunuweap.

Few people know about Parunuweap because it is located in some of the most rugged country on earth. You can ride the park shuttle to the bottom of The Narrows, or drive a private car to the top, and then jump into the water and start hiking. But you can't get anywhere close to Parunuweap by automobile. You've got to hike to see this stunning area.

(The section of Parunuweap inside Zion National Park is closed to hiking. However, you can hike several miles of canyon on the east edge of the park, on land controlled by the BLM.)

I chose to explore Parunuweap over Labor Day weekend, looking for a great canyon without crowds of people. While hundreds waded up the Narrows, we had Parunuweap all to ourselves. We never saw another person during our entire trip.

The hike is very much like The Narrows, as you can see from my photos. The river flows through a narrow canyon, sometimes covering the entire canyon floor. The river is your path - you just follow it up or downstream. But Parunuweap is better, in my opinion. When you hike The Narrows you're in the water about 60% of the time. In Parunuweap it is more like 70%. And Parunuweap has more obstacles - including a couple challenging waterfalls.

Parunuweap is deeper, darker, more beautiful and more challenging - and there aren't any other people around. It's my kind of canyon.

I've now been in Parunuweap three times and I can't wait to go back. I'd love to do a week-long trek there.

I know of three ways to get into the BLM part of the canyon:

1 - Hike downstream from the Mt Carmel Junction area, following the river or a tributary. If you want to see the best of Parunuweap, and you come in from this direction, plan on a multi-day backpack trip.

2 - Hike along the ridge above Misery Gulch, into the center of what I consider to be the best of Parunuweap. You can also follow a technical canyoneering route through Misery, if you are up to multiple rappels and strenuous obstacles. You need good route finding skills to come in from this direction - there are no trails.

3 - Come in from Elephant Butte, on the south side of the canyon. From this trailhead it is a steep, rocky one-mile hike into the canyon. However, getting to the trailhead requires a serious four-wheel-drive trip through deep sand. Just finding this trailhead is an adventure requiring good route finding skills.

I'm not going to give more details. If you are interested, you'll have to hunt down the specifics. Just beware! This is the kind of adventure where people die if they are not prepared. If you get into the wrong drainage it may be impossible to get out. If it rains while you are in Parunuweap, or any of its side canyons, you'll be in serious trouble. In many spots you won't be able to escape flash flooding.

In Parunuweap you are on your own. There are no rangers to rescue you. No other people around.

Parunuweap is a spectacular destination, if you are up to serious adventure.
- Dave Webb


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