2010: Zion National Park

Angel's Landing


It was time to seriously test our hiking muscles. One of the most popular trails in all of the National Park system is Angel's Landing in Zion, not for its length or beauty or steepness, but for its sheer audacity. The last half-mile is pretty much straight up, and it's not even a path -- more a series of footholds in the rock, aided in some places by chains bolted into the stone. This part of the mountain is a narrow fin of land, in some places no more than three feet wide, with a sheer drop on both sides.

Now, this kind of thing is like catnip to me: not the climb, so much, but being very high up and looking down. I remember being disappointed to find that the top of the Empire State Building is fenced in way above my head. I'm the girl who sat on a rock at the edge of the Grand Canyon and dangled her legs over the edge. What's the opposite of acrophobia? I have it.

So my 64-year-old heart and legs might have a tough time making it up this mountain, but as for the terror factor? Bring it on.

At 8:30 a.m., the shuttle was nearly empty. We wanted an early start, because this hike would take nearly all day.

The first mile of the trail is pretty easy and fairly ordinary. The second mile enters a pleasant ravine known as Refrigerator Canyon because of its shade and cool breezes, which in the hot summer are a welcome break from the earlier full-sun exposure.

Today, though, I was wearing four layers and a ski cap.

Things get more interesting at a section called Walter's Wiggles, a series of twenty-one sharp switchbacks named after the first superintendent of Zion who helped engineer the steep zig-zagging section. I stopped often at the corners to let the young'uns pass me and zoom on up.

After we successfully 'squiggled the wiggles', we arrived at Scout's Landing. Many hikers choose to stop here and not tackle the difficult last half-mile. There's actually an outhouse up here at 1200 feet, albeit not the cleanest one around. I'll spare you the picture of all the barrels out back marked "human waste". Once again the P-mate was a lifesaver. Mike said I could sell them here for a profit.

The last vestige of civilization is the dire warning sign about falling off a cliff. Rather than chew my nails, I decide to chew on lunch instead. After some food and a short rest, it's time to make the final push to the top.

We made it! We joined the crowd of triumphant hikers on the rocky summit, chomping snacks and enjoying the view. It was a great feeling.

I know what you're thinking. The hard part is over now, right? Nuh-unh. It's one thing to shove, drag, heave and hoist my sinking center of gravity up a sandy, slippery, crumbly rock face. It's quite another for my ancient knees to keep from turning the descent into a ski jump. The other difficulty was the traffic; a lot of these chain-link pathways are definitely one-way, and sometimes the ascending masses just weren't going to yield.

The ants descend the long, long trail.

On the way down, we kept meeting up with two ladies who were stopping often to rest, as were we. One of them had on a jaunty red hat, and Mike noticed the lettering on her t-shirt. Betty is involved in racing, and she and her family hold some kind of land speed record at the Bonneville salt flats. Mike's father was involved in racing, so the two of them had a long and animated conversation.

Me, I just panted.

Near the bottom of the trail, we noticed that the cacti were suddenly in bloom, adding their colors to the other spectacular wildflowers.

The t-shirt at left pretty much sums up the experience of Angel's Landing. As does the photo at right. Got my bragging rights.