Hiking Angels Landing
Zion National Park, Utah
Hiking Angels Landing – I’ve stood on the edge of 1,000 cliffs, looking straight down. I’ve skied rocky couloirs that I probably had no business being in. I’ve mountain biked along sharp ridgelines at uncomfortable speeds. And I’ve jeeped features that simply don’t seem possible for a vehicle to be on. I might get anxious doing all those things, but I don’t get rattled too easily.
But there was something about the notorious last half mile of the Angel’s Landing hike that really intimidated me – I don’t think I’ve ever hiked with more trepidation and vigilance before. And I have absolutely no shame in admitting that either. The trail is continuously not only featured on “Top Hikes in the US” lists, but also various “Most Dangerous” hikes lists, while at least six lives have been lost in recent years.
Legend has it Angels Landing received it’s name when exploring Zion in 1916, Frederick Fisher proclaimed to his friends, “Only an angel could land on it!” Ten years later, Thomas Chalmers Vint and Walter Ruesch, both Park Service employees, planned and led construction of the Angels Landing Trail as an extension of the existing West Rim Trail. An remarkable feat of trail-building, the trail was listed on the National Register of Historic places in 1987.
Although steep for a lot of it, the first two miles of the hike to Scout’s Lookout (5343′) are real easy, predominantly on a paved path gradually bringing you up hairpin turns, through the narrow Refrigerator Canyon, and finally up the 21 short switchbacks nicknamed Walter’s Wiggles after Walter Ruesch, the first superintendent of Zion National Park. But again, it’s the last section beyond Scout’s Lookout that unnerved me, not to mention many others, including those that turned back. This last section consists of a narrow path, uneven steps, an off-camber slope, loose rocks, and worst of all, crowds. All while traversing a thin ridgeline with 1400′ cliffs on both sides with really nothing, but spread out sections of chains bolted in to the rock for people to hold on to. I had done narrow ridgelines and used support chains (and rope) before with less dismay, but nothing in that length and with that many people.
In the end, the traverse was absolutely worth it. We were surrounded with full 360° views of towering sandstone walls, juniper forests scattering the buttes and mesas, the aqua-colored Virgin River 1488′ below, and the distant, craggy peaks of the surrounding wilderness. It is an undeniably spectacular view.