Angels landing ranks as one of my top 10 ‘must do hikes’. It is a beautiful exhilarating hike that only takes a few hours to complete. The beauty is from the incredible view down into Zion Canyon and the exhilaration comes from the exposure and sheer drops along the summit portion of the climb.
On this hike Vickie and I were accompanied by my father (77 years old) and his wife (I’ll never tell), Wayne & Joni.
We arrived early at Zion National Park on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend on the national park’s 100th anniversary, one of the busiest weekends in the park. Because of the exceptionally large number of visitors, we were required to park in the lots by the Visitor Center next to the park entrance and board a shuttle bus to get into Zion Canyon. At 7:00 in the morning we had to wait about 15 minutes and the bus was completely full of energized tourists when it left. It took about 30 minutes to be dropped at the Grotto and the Angel’s Landing trailhead. We crossed the road and we were off on the paved trail.
Though it was still early in the day the trail was already busy. We decided to take it poli poli (that is Swahili for ‘slowly’) to save our energy for the crux of the hike, the last ½ mile. We saw many people young and old, big and small. We were passed by a young pretty gal and her boyfriend. We passed them back while she pulled out the selfie stick for a ‘photo op’ just after the trail started to climb. Afterwards, they passed us again. Again we caught up to them as she decided it was time for another selfie with her man. For the third time they passed us. When we came along again, I offered to take the picture for them. She giggled ‘no thanks’ and held up the selfie stick. This leap-frogging happened several more times each time she stopped to take a selfie. But now, she was the only subject in the pictures. Apparently her boyfriend was no longer necessary in the picture. Each time she was giving different looks; the big smile, the pensive stare, the pouty scrunch, and the nonchalant hair flip; and of course the Derek Zoolander blue steel stare.
In time we were in Refrigerator Canyon and starting the switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles. The ‘Wiggles’ are a paved and well constructed series of cut backs that allow for the easiest way to gain the needed altitude to get to Scout’s Landing. It is about 2.2 miles to get to this point. The view is impressive here and unquestionably worth the effort.
For those folks who are confident with their ability and comfortable with the exposure, the trail continues another half of a mile up the backbone to Angel’s Landing. Vickie, Wayne and I continued. This section of the hike is on a sandstone spine that leads to the summit. Steps are carved into the rock and ‘Oh Shit!’ chains installed to grab onto.
We finished the climb to the top and I was surprised to find that it opened up to a small plateau. On top there was between 50 & 70 people already sitting and enjoying the accomplishment of the climb and the valley views.
This is where I depart from my usual smart ass banter. This is a hike that shouldn’t be, but can be dangerous. It surely requires concentration, confidence, & effort to reach the top. It also needs to be approached with consideration, patience, & tolerance of others along the trail. In 2007 Vickie visited Zion with her sister and they hiked Angels Landing. On that hike they passed someone who did not adhere to these prudent principles, and that person needlessly fell to his death. Numerous deaths have occurred on this hike.
On this hike, Memorial Day weekend of 2016, we were witness to another reminder of the importance of safe hiking principles. A man hiking just in front of us was coming down from the summit with his family. He was busy talking, laughing, & looking around and not paying enough attention on areas that needed concentration. He was also walking off of the actual path, and a few feet from the safety chains. He accidentally tripped, fell, and rolled toward the 800 foot precipice. Thankfully, a couple fortunately located bushes prevented this guy from rolling or sliding over the edge and becoming another statistic.
That episode scared the hell out of me. I saw it play out in slow motion right before my eyes. I was too far away to be able reach out and help, but close enough to see the surprised look on his face as he tumbled. He, of course, jumped right back up and played it off as a minor ‘slip’, but he came very close to meeting his maker.
It is probably the risk and danger that make some of the hikes, climbs, or events we do so exhilarating and exciting. We exist ‘in the moment’ and hyper-concentrate on the ‘task at hand’. We can’t be distracted problems we left at work, worrying about family, concerned about who’s posted what on Facebook, or daydreaming about the post hike’s celebratory dinner (I have to concentrate not to think about this one). Whether hiking, scrambling, climbing, or balancing, we make sure to travel in a safe and controlled manner.
The potential fleeting nature of life is a prime reason Vickie and I decided to take this hiatus at this point in our lives instead of waiting until full retirement age. These scary moments prompt me to reflect and appreciate the journey so far. Life is good.
On top of Angels Landing we celebrated with an extra large snickerdoodle cookie. My dad confessed to me that ‘earning’ the cookie was his real incentive to complete the hike. See…..everyone has their own reasons to take on challenges. It should be clear to everyone now where my over exuberance for the post hike celebratory meal comes from. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Did I mention that I like Dutch apple pie?
https://youtu.be/uDnLlZhdn44 (see *Video Down)
Because the top ½ mile is so exposed, I was surprised so many people decided to attempt hiking the spine, and that most actually made it to the top. This hike is scary but not dangerous. It can be made so by crowded conditions or rude inattentive people. Plan to get there early and take you time to safely summit
On our way down, about 100 yards from the top, we came across ‘Selfie girl’ still coming up with her boyfriend. She was smiling and holding onto the safety chain. The selfie stick was tucked safely away in her daypack. She was going to make it safely to the top.