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Park officials have begun issuing permits to hike the Narrows of the North Fork of the Virgin River and all of its tributaries.

Zion Superintendent Donald A. Falvey said permits are issued only one day before hikers set out because the threat of flash floods is ever present. Such conditions will result in closure of the Narrows, with no permits being issued."Because of the light snowpack and low runoff, we are starting Narrows hikes almost six weeks earlier than last year," said Falvey. "Although there is less water in the Virgin River this year than last, the river temperature is still a cold 60 degrees," he said. While these conditions exist, rangers will issue permits but recommend hikers come prepared to deal with cold water in order to preclude the possibility of hypothermia.

With improved weather forecasting, the starting time for prospective hikers to apply for Narrows permits will be 3 p.m. In previous years, permits were not available until 5 p.m.

Hikers are reminded that Narrows permits must be obtained in person (no telephone reservations) and that because of weather factors, cannot be obtained more than one day in advance of the intended hike. When weather conditions permit, permits are given out on a "first-come, first-served" basis. Only limited numbers of permits are dispensed each day.

Falvey said all backcountry travel is accompanied by inherent risks. "Hikers must assume responsibility for their own well being and safety. Because of the park's remoteness and wilderness character, rescue is not a certainty. Rangers give out the latest information known to them, but conditions in the field can change so rapidly that hikers must be ready to adjust to changing circumstances and conditions to ensure they have a safe and rewarding experience."

For hiking and permit information, call (801) 772-3256 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.