I just got back from a hiking trip out west. My greatest of friends made a gift of this trip to Angela and I in honor of our upcoming wedding. He had already been to Zion once and couldn’t find the time to hike to the summit of Angel’s Landing. That’s the rock up there, 1400 feet from riverbed to peak. Remember that shorter rock to the right, you’ll be seeing it later. Also, the pictures in this post are larger than usual for this blog, so click on the ones you like to blow them up.
The hike to the summit is really well composed. From the tram stop, you cross a bridge over the river. The first mile or so of the trail is flat enough, which allows you to look up at the summit in anticipation. During the first part of the hike, I kept wondering how we would ever make it up, since there appears to be a wall of solid rock between you and the back side of the peak.
Switchbacks are the answer, and the trail gets much steeper as you follow it up the face of the rock wall. Once you make it to the top of the ridge, you lose sight of the peak of Angel’s Landing. This is another great feature of the trail, climbing the middle third of the hike out of view of the peak heightens the sense of mystery.
Just when you think the switchbacks at the beginning of the trail were steep and difficult, you are confronted with Walter’s Wiggles. Named after an early curator of the park, the wiggles are where you make a huge chunk of the ascent in a short distance. My tactic was to keep my head down and do my best to enter a kind of walking trance, because I didn’t trust myself to start again if I stopped.
After the wiggles the trail opens up again on Scout Lookout, where you can again see the canyon rim. At this point you are reminded by some friendly signs that several hikers have fallen to their deaths in recent years, so this is your last opportunity to remind your loved ones what your favorite flowers are for your funeral. Here’s the view of the summit from Scout Lookout:
Psych. Turns out that after a few hundred feet of clinging desperately to chains and doing your level best not to slip to your doom, you still have quite a bit of canyon to tightrope across.
The real summit is over there, and the cliffs that you walk next to are as sheer as the one shown in the picture.
Remember that tallish rock next to Angel’s Landing in the first picture? Here it is again from above:
For some scale, there is a road at the left of the picture near the shadow of the ridge, and a pedestrian trail at the right above the tree branch. After white-knuckling some more chain, you’re finally at the summit, where you can take in the views of Zion Canyon.
At this point I’d like to tell you that I was an intrepid adventurer, chin raised to the wind, surveying all below me with relish, but that would be a total lie. I was a ball of anxiety during the entire climb from Scout Landing, and I didn’t find much joy up at the top of the mountain either, least of all from this little bastard:
“Oooh, look at me, just enjoying my snack at the top of a mountain, NBD, want some of my sunflower seed?” Shut up, chipmunk, nobody likes a show-off.
On the way up, most hikers offered encouragement, and some offered warnings that the hike down was much worse. I disagree.
Whereas each treacherous step towards the summit was another treacherous step I’d have to take again on the way back down, each step off the peak was one step closer to not being a pile of bones dashed on a rock someplace. The most rewarding part of the hike for me was the accomplishment and relief of reaching the relative safety of Scout Landing.
Why is it that outdoorsy-type activities lend themselves so easily to trite aphorisms and soul-searching? Here’s one of the former: it’s amazing what you can accomplish by putting one foot in front of the other and not looking down. And some of the latter: I’ve never been much of an adrenaline junkie. I love roller coasters and scary movies, but the act of making it to the top provokes nothing but anxiety where I should be feeling exhilaration. What is it about my psyche that lets me feel relief more keenly than accomplishment? Is that a weakness, or could I use that perspective as a strength? Like most tough questions, I’ll answer them later. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the walk back to the tram.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression: it was an awesome experience to hike that rock and I’m super glad I did it. If you make it out to Utah, try it for yourself and see if you’ve got the drive to make it to the top in spite of the fear. And if you have any other awesome hikes for me to try, fill me in.