May 30, 2012

Looking down at Angels Landing

When we hiked in Zion back in 2008, it was March, and the trails were still packed with snow and ice, which made hiking fairly terrifying. We hiked one trail in particular, Angels Landing, that had steep drop-offs on BOTH SIDES and I can remember thinking that if I slipped on the ice, I would fall to my death. Actually, it wasn’t me I was worried about so much as my husband, who usually hikes in sneakers that have no traction whatsoever. I have this fear of watching someone fall to his death. I just know it wouldn’t be an experience I would enjoy.

In late May, the challenge was heat, not ice. Temperatures rose to 100 degrees our first afternoon in the park. I can overcome my fear of heights — in fact, I enjoy the extra adrenaline that surges through my veins when I hike along cliffs with breath-taking views — but I can’t change the way my body responds to heat, which is to wither and collapse. The only solution was to get up at dawn and hike in the cool of the morning, choosing trails that would be in the shade while we were climbing upwards. 

The trail to Observation Point rises more than 2,000 feet in four miles, with a series of switchbacks that seem endless. Luckily, we climbed it while most of the trail was still in the shade. Although less famous than Angels’ Landing, I thought it was more spectacular, with sheer drop-offs that gave us unobstructed views across the canyon. The trail took us through several microclimates, first a hidden canyon of smooth, curving rock and then a high-elevation meadow tucked in amongst the peaks.

The only other people on the trail at that early hour were a young couple who asked me to take their photo at the summit, an outcropping of red rock that is the highest point in the park, more than 6,000 feet above the canyon. “We’re finally out of the canyon, so I can put this on the internet,” the young man said to me, grinning, as he flourished his smartphone.

“Shouldn’t you wait until you make it down safely?” I asked. I’m superstitious about that kind of thing. It’s like bragging about winning before the game is over.

I stepped out as far as I dared and then sat down on the red rock to look over the canyon. Below me, I could see Angels Landing – that narrow ledge of rock we’d climbed four years ago. I felt surprised. That steep trail seemed terrifying when we hiked it, but without the snow and ice, and from this lofty distance, it seemed like just another trail.

Looking down on Angels Landing


Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

WOW! Gorgeous!! Super.

I have those same fears and superstitions!!!!

mommo4.5 said...

I've also gotta go with "WOW"! What a beautiful world we live in.

Ianqui said...

Angels Landing was one of the most terrifying things I've ever done. I did it way before I had a kid, and I really don't know if I'd do it again today. I like to think that I would--it was utterly exhilarating, despite (or maybe because of) the threat of my imminent death. But I just don't know.

But the view of it from another vantage point is just lovely :)

Anonymous said...

I hiked Angels Landing back in the 90s. It looks like the park hasn't changed much since I was there.


Phil said...

Gorgeous shot!

We did the Angel's Landing hike in 1977 or so. I remember well that isthmus you described. I got the whim-whams and just sat there for a while before I could bring myself to scurry across.

Last year, our son and his girlfriend, rock-climbers extraordinaire, climbed it from the canyon floor.