During spring runoff, some kayakers run the Virgin River through the Narrows
in Zion Park
. Last week the area was closed because multiple groups encountered trouble making the run.
Now the National Park Service is reopening the gorge, but giving serious warnings about safety. Here's the Park Service news release:
April 30, 2009
For Immediate Release
During the weekend of April 24 and 25, five parties attempted to complete a whitewater kayaking trip through the Zion Narrows. Four of the groups had difficulties which caused them to spend the night. Two groups lost boats and required rescue. As a result of these incidents, the National Park Service temporarily closed the Narrows to kayaking. On Friday, May 1st, the area will re-open.
Several factors contributed to last weekend's incidents. Several groups underestimated the difficulty associated with the trip. The Narrows is a class V route and boaters should possess class V, or expert, whitewater paddling skills to attempt the trip. At some flows, the rapids may qualify for an easier classification, but the consequences of any issue including becoming separated from your boat are severe.
The river flow through the first third of the trip is minimal and the length of time required to reach the junction with Deep Creek can be another difficulty. Kayak parties are encouraged to bring the equipment to camp overnight in the Narrows, if necessary. To complete the trip in one day, parties should launch from Chamberlain's Ranch before 8 am.
The Zion Narrows is an incredibly remote area during any time of year. High water makes the canyon even more difficult to access. If a rescue is possible, it will not occur quickly. Kayakers should be prepared to survive without assistance for a minimum of 48 hours.
Zion National Park Superintendent Jock Whitworth stresses that all individuals choosing to enter Zion's backcountry are responsible for their own safety and kayakers must possess good preparedness, planning and skill sets to be able to safely enjoy the Zion Narrows.
If additional groups encounter significant difficulties, the Narrows will be closed for the remainder of the spring kayaking season and the park will re-consider how the activity is managed.