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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Mother and Daughter - Celebrating Milestone Birthdays Together

Taking free public transportation in Zion National Park, UT
This year marks a milestone birthday for both myself, and my daughter Danielle. In honor of this special occasion we made a pack that once a year we are going to go on random adventures to places we have never been before (just the two of us) to reconnect and create new memories together.

Neither of us was quite sure what that would look like, but in April we quickly found out. Instead of having a big birthday party, I thought it might be a good time to start our new annual adventure. My daughter's suggestion was to go climbing around in caves in the Sierra Mountains … I immediately had an anxiety attack at the thought. Did I really want to re-experience my birth by wiggling around in dark spaces on our tummies and knees crawling through tunnels, while gasping for air in the dark corners of Mother Earth's belly? I don't think so.

After I digested her enthusiastic suggestion and got clear that wasn't how I wanted to spend my birthday, I suggested Zion National Park. It had always been on my bucket list and I love to hike. In researching options in Zion, I realized there was far more than just your everyday hiking trails … there was something called The Narrows. How beautiful, hiking along a river … oops, that would be in the river. Okay, it sounded easy enough … maybe not. Springtime is actually a bit chilly there and the water temps land somewhere in the 40’s (degrees) this time of year.

When I shared my plans with friends about walking the Narrows, canyoneering and rappelling off cliffs – their responses were, oh I didn't know you were skilled in that type of adventuring? When I said, I'm not – their sense of fear (for our safety) slowly began to seep into my sense of doubt as to whether or not we’d survive the trip unscathed? lol

The good news is, Zion Adventure Company (the first outfitting group and educators in Springdale – founded in 1996), had lots of experience in teaching people important safety measures. They quite literally have you/us covered in all areas - offering gear to rent to keep adventure enthusiasts like ourselves comfortable and safe with dry pants, neoprene socks, hiking boots (designed for walking in water), backpacks, walking sticks and anything else we could have needed.

Zion Adventures showed us a 15-minute educational video on how to stay safe in the Narrows in different weather conditions such as flash floods, freezing temperatures and the importance of staying nourished, hydrated and warm. Another important aspect of the trip, and which they adamantly stress – leave no trace behind – you bring it in, you carry it out … including your pooh. RESPECT Nature!!

The efficiency and logistical operations of this group was mind-boggling – they have it down to a science, with a smile. All and all we ended up spending around $100 (for the two of us) for all of our gear for the day. They also offer guided tours for canyoneering, which we took on our second day … but for day one, we were ready, packed up (complete with my daughter’s pink Mohawk hat, which quickly inspired much humor for the day) and off we went to find the Narrows – Mother Nature’s land of Oz.

We took two forms of FREE transportation – first from the store to the Zion Park Visitor’s center (where your entrance fee supports youth education and park preservation), then another bus up to the end of the road where we hiked on a path like following the yellow brink road (for another 40 minutes) to find the official starting point, which briefly looked like rush hour on the 405 with families enjoying the beautiful water play at the mouth of the Narrows.

I have to admit, my legs were pretty tired just getting to the starting point with all the gear we were carrying … however, once we hit the water, our gear got much lighter and the next phase of our big adventure began.

We laughed so hard in the first half hour as we became accustomed to the rhythm of the river’s current pushing against our bodies. Learning how to stay in the present moment was essential for our very survival. Using our walking sticks, we quickly got the hang of zigzagging back and forth across the river floor, as we clumsily made our way over loose slippery rocks.

We hiked up the Narrows for about three hours (taking lots of breaks, and ‘risky’ pictures along the way) before turning around - just shy of what they call the junction. It was getting late and we were beginning to get tired. While I never would have thought that the trip out would be even more beautiful than the hike in, it was. I think mainly because we somewhat knew what the landscape looked like, our fear of flash floods had subsided, and we were feeling a little more confident in our abilities and willing to explore deeper areas of water, and the nooks and crannies along the river bank.

During one of the brief moments of actually being on land, I managed to trip and twist my knee and ankle. I didn’t go all the way down, but was unable to put pressure on it without extreme pain. For a brief moment I thought, OMG, how am I going to get out of here? I started to panic and began rubbing and massaging my knee. Suddenly I felt something slip back into place, which also thankfully adjusted my thinking, and I quickly declared, I’m walking out of here! I vigorously rubbed my knee and ankle for a few more minutes and then walked back into the river (up to my fanny), while continuing to reaffirm my gratitude for a strong healthy body that thrives in all physical activity. I stayed in the icy cold river repeating my mantra for the next 30 minutes, which thankfully supported reducing any inflammation, and miraculously all the swelling and pain completely disappeared. I was able to walk out of there without any trace of knee pain. One thing is for sure … I totally believe in the power of our thoughts, and in miracles. I definitely experienced one that day.

We found an abundance of heart rocks in the Narrows!
We felt so accomplished when we arrived back at Zion Adventures as we had survived our initiation of one of life’s most beautiful gifts of nature, with only a few little challenges along the way.  The experience was one that neither of us will ever forget, and will certainly cherish forever.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a local restaurant called the Flying Monkey and had what my daughter dubbed as the best wood-fire pizza she’d ever had (and she knows/loves pizza). I fancied their Caesar salad and we even split a half plate at $7, yum.

I also have to praise our great stay at the Driftwood Lodge, which was located on the edge of town in a quiet area by the river. The staff was amazing, even providing my daughter with supersized band-aids for her bruised heals from the days hike in the Narrows. They also offer a full complementary breakfast every morning from 7-9:30am for all of their guests – including cereal, yogurt, eggs, bacon/sausage/ham, toast assortments, apple/orange juices, tea and coffee. Once in Springdale, there is also a free shuttle bus that goes up to the park, which actually stopped right in front of the hotel.

Okay, so we made it up here ... now how do we get back down!
Huntress Canyon

On day two, we arrived at Zion Adventures at 7:30am where our playful (and hilarious) guides - Chad and Shannon - greeted us in the driveway with a handshake and smile … you must be the mother-daughter duo? They proceeded to give us two different options for the days adventure, rappelling into caves with chest high water holes, or over 75' cliffs amongst the variegated beautiful stone mountains. We choose the latter, a secluded canyon about an hour outside the park called Huntress Canyon.

We had to drive through a 1.1-mile long totally dark tunnel (no interior lights), which I would imagine was something like traveling through a birth canel? The only visible lights were from the taillights of the car in front of us, and three small windows that were made along the route to push the rock out as they built the tunnel. It was kind of freaky awesome.

Eventually we pulled off the paved road onto a dirt road where we took a few turns and kicked up some dust before sliding to a stop on a hill. This is it, everyone out. With our backpacks loaded up with helmets, harnesses, warm gear, water, lunch and lots of rope … the four of us set out on our days adventure.

Mom assesses the situation while Danielle is in denial!
It looked harmless enough as we hiked up a sandy road where we only had to stop a few times to catch our breath over the next hour. At the top of the ridge, Chad turned left and we were standing atop of a beautiful, rather steep, variegated rock mountain. I thought we were stopping to take in the sights, but no, this was the beginning of learning how to walk on rocks, navigate small crevices and climb down cliffs. 

Keep your feet flat against the rock was our instruction (and my personal mantra), or preferred action, that is, if you want to stay upright and safe. Danielle and I looked at each other like seriously, we’re walking on these steep rocks - straight down? Her first comment was, "Nope, this isn't going to happen!" Chad's response was, "Too late!" Danielle feels it's important to note here, that we were so inexperienced in what we were about to do, we were calling rappelling - rap-po-ling.

Bravely, we slowly began moving over the steep inclined terrain with nothing but the support of our guide’s momentary hand. Being afraid of heights my whole life, my legs continued to shake beneath me as I cautiously moved along the rocks. Present moment, present moment … mantra … I can do this … lol. We approached our first little decent where Chad then sat on a rock before sliding into a little crevice, rotating his hips and then down the first mini drop (8’), which seemed enormous at the time.  

Follow me, I've got this!
Over the course of the next 9 hours, Chad and Mother Nature successfully challenged every possible fear we may have had about heights, or our own emotional or physical endurance. We learned a lot about ourselves that day, as well as all the basic technical/safety skills needed to survive - like how to position our feet, check our harnesses, anchors and bolts; how to tether in, belay, hand positioning and how to move our bodies with shear focus – scrambling, stemming, chimneying through compromising and challenging situations.

For me this was about being totally present to the moment.
We climbed down 75-foot cliffs into tiny little crevices, over mucky waters – where we had to swing across the waterholes so as not to fall in, dropped from tree anchors that were smaller than Chad (that scared the bejeebers out of us) and ate lunch on a 10 x 10 foot perch hundreds of feet in the air near a hawks nest.

When we reached the bottom of Huntress canyon, we were so excited we had accomplished our goal that we neglected to realize we still had one last challenge ahead – climbing straight up one of the steepest mountains in sand – that was if we wanted to get back to the jeep. Since there was no other way out, we embraced the challenge (with lots of sweating and breaks) to claim one last victory of the day. 

Sharing this two day experience with my daughter was one of the most memorable adventures of my life. It was the perfect way for us to reconnect, explore nature and celebrate our milestone birthdays together!!!

For more information on Zion Adventures please visit:

To see more of our pictures click here. 


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