Between March and October, visitors to the Zion Canyon section of Zion National Park are not permitted to drive into the Canyon. You can park at the visitor’s center, and get on one of several propane fueled shuttle buses that ferry visitors in the Canyon. This was implemented in the 1990s in an attempt to cut down on pollution and the effects of so many vehicles in this fragile ecosystem. The buses come along frequently, and were often standing room only. We took a bus out to the Grotto stop, which is where the Angels Landing hike begins.
I had read about Angels Landing before we left on the trip and wanted to challenge my fear of heights. It is one of the most strenuous hikes in the park, with a round trip length of 5.4 miles up a mountain on switchbacks to the top, where you are rewarded with an amazing view of the canyon below. We hiked up an unpaved trail, which then becomes paved as the trail gets steeper. Then we hiked through Refrigerator Canyon, which is a shady area which often has a nice cooling breeze. The breeze was lovely when we got there, after getting hot and sweaty in the sun on the way up.
Then we got to Walter’s Wiggles, which are a series of steep, paved switchbacks cut into the rock. Walter’s Wiggles are a series of 21 steep switchbacks that are named after the first superintendent of Zion National Park, who helped engineer the switchbacks. To be honest, I don’t remember there being 21 of them! After tackling Walter’s Wiggles, we made it to Scout Lookout, a beautiful area at the top of the rock.
Here, at Scout Lookout, you have to decide whether you are going to continue the last half mile out to Angels Landing. The last round trip mile of the hike, for those who are not faint of heart, is a part-hike, part-scramble up a slick rock slope, across a narrow ridge of rock, onto Angels Landing. There are chains embedded in the rock to help you out, but it is still a narrow, exposed section of rock with drops of 1400 feet. In case you weren’t already nervous, the Park Service has this sign posted…
And in case you were still gung-ho about doing it? They have this one posted, telling you how many brave visitors have fallen to their untimely deaths here lately…
So, why did I want to try it? A couple of bloggers had written about hiking Angels Landing, young women like me who are fit but not super athletes, and they had both said that the hike was less scary than they had been expecting. So maybe it wasn’t so bad. After all, there were lots of people up there making the attempt the afternoon that we were there. Thousands hike Angels Landing each year, and live to tell about it. Many love the experience!
We started out up the cliff, holding onto the ropes and putting our feet into the depressions of those who had gone before us. Based on the steps that have been worn into the sandstone over time, most of the adventurers were much taller than me, because there were some large spaces between steps. I got about 20 feet up the cliff, and then decided abruptly that this was not for me. I was getting really nervous, and this was just the beginning. I didn’t want to have a panic attack and find myself stuck on an exposed cliff. Not to mention, there would be lots of waiting in line to go up or down because of the numbers of people there that day.
My fear of heights was not going to be conquered; at least not that day. I scrambled down and Jon came with me. He later told me that he could see it clearly on my face at the exact moment that I decided I was not up for the challenge – a look of doubt had washed over me and he knew I was going to turn around. He didn’t give me a hard time about changing my mind, but I knew he was disappointed because he did want to go to the top.
After basking at Scout Lookout for a little while longer and talking to a woman – she had done the hike before and said that it just got worse from there – I felt better about my decision to not go. So, I didn’t succeed on this hike, but hey, sometimes that’s the way it is. Sometimes you find out what your limits are. Sometimes you find out that there are things that you just aren’t good at – things that just aren’t for you. And that’s ok. I can do lots of scary things – ride a bucking horse, speak in front of crowds, be brutally honest with a problem employee, but hiking Angels Landing is not one of them. That doesn’t mean that I will stop trying, stop testing my boundaries, stop challenging myself. And who knows, maybe one day I will hike Angels Landing.
After turning back from Angels Landing, we hiked back down to the bottom and then walked the 0.5 mile Grotto Trail to the historic Zion Lodge for a late lunch. It is an easy path that runs parallel to the road – and was a nice relaxing walk after our strenuous hike. Salads (with ham and chicken chunks on mine) a fruit cup and some beer made for a perfect afternoon break on the patio at the Lodge. Hey, maybe defeat isn’t looking so bad…
Have you ever hiked Angels Landing? Have you ever decided not to?