So I love surprises. But sometimes, that affinity comes at my own detriment. Because of this proclivity, I was hardly involved in the planning for our recent trip to Bryce and Zion, and I didn’t know anything about the Angels Landing hike.
I had no idea what I was about to experience.
We set out for a 5-mile hike. That’s fine. I can handle that, no problem. There would be some elevation gain. That’s fine, too; I’m used to such hikes from Colorado. There will be epic views. Awesome! Sign me up!
Somewhere in there, I either didn’t hear or forgot all mention of chains.
The First Mile
The Angels Landing trail starts gently enough. Meandering along a creek, the trail was level, and we were moving along at a decent pace (except when I’d stop for pictures, of course).
Then we started to climb.
That’s ok; I can handle it. Get the blood pumping, warm up a bit, strip a layer. The path at this point was paved, a walking road that switched back up the cliff face. The higher we got, the more beautiful the views of the valley below. Aaron had to take a few breaks. Knowing I’d stop for pictures anyway, I trudged along.
Then the path curved left (past an Asian gentleman filming a monologue for a vlog in a language I didn’t catch) into a narrow canyon. We lost the sun at this point, so we got chilly as the sweat cooled on our skin. Fortunately, we were still ascending, so we warmed right back up in no time.
Some more switchbacks to rise up the canyon wall.
I was really surprised to see so much moss in the canyon. Accustomed to the Colorado desert (to which Utah is quite similar), I didn’t expect to see evidence of so much moisture. The green of the moss stood out beautifullly against the red of the rocks.
I took more pictures.
I also noticed that as we progressed, the number of fellow hikers reduced. We never quite had the trail to ourselves, but it never felt crowded, either.
Then we came to the part of the trail that I likened to San Francisco. Actually named Walter’s Wiggles, this section zig zags the steep incline through 21 short switchbacks – nearly three times both the number of switchbacks and elevation gain of the famed Lombard Street. (Ditch another layer…)
Summitting this section brought us to Scout Lookout. Wow, those views!!
Exhausted, I was ready for our packed lunch and a rest to take in the mind-blowing scenery.
“We made it! Is this it?”
“Nope. We still have that ridge over there.”
Haha, very funny…. Wait… You’re not joking?
Did I mention I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into?
Next came the true adventure.
First, we skirted a saddle, holding onto the chains bolted into the rock. The trail took us along the ridge, and the sides quickly evaporated into death-defying drops.
Down into the saddle and across to the final ridge. And then we climbed.
The vertigo sets in when you’re gripping onto a chain and you know that’s the only thing keeping you from a two-thousand-foot plummet. If you’re afraid of heights, steer way clear of this section. I am not afraid of heights, and even I had a few brief paralyzing moments.
The trail (if you can still call it this at this point) winds its way precariously up the rock, and I had to lock my camera to my side where it wouldn’t move; I definitely needed both hands.
I can’t imagine doing this hike in the summertime. Not only would it be impossibly sweltering (we got too warm hiking it in the winter), but from the images I’ve seen since, the trail is simply packed. And these narrow sections along the chains would be ridiculously dangerous with a swarm of people attempting to navigate both up and down.
The Summit of Angels Landing
We finally crested the rise of Angels Landing and walked along the final hogsback to where the other hikers were resting and celebrating their accomplishment. Someone was flying their drone to capture the stunning scenery (don’t do this – they’re not allowed in national parks). A couple of backpackers eased their heavy loads down to the rock (I can’t fathom hoisting myself up those chains with an awkward heavy weight on my back; backpacking over rocks is hard!).
And then some clouds rolled in.
They were sparse enough that they beautifully diffused the sun, leaving a surreal scene below. I quickly had my camera out, and I was shooting like crazy while it lasted (which wasn’t long). I couldn’t get over the views, and I almost didn’t want to leave. Alas, we had a sunset to catch, so we needed to get back down. Besides, the wind had picked up, so it was beginning to feel a bit shaky on top of the unprotected rise.
Down was easier than up, mostly because we had gravity to assist. We practically ran down Walter’s Wiggles. We once more passed the vlogging gentleman (he hadn’t made it very far), and we emerged from the canyon into the late afternoon sun.
Tired and awed by the experience we had just had atop the renowned Angels Landing, it felt really good to sit down in the car. It was a lot of work, but this might be one of my new favorite places (I have many of those now in Utah). We later rewarded our achievement with a spectacular sunset behind the famous Watchman. What a day!
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