When I reminisce about some of the craziest adventures in my life, the adrenaline-fueled days that immediately spring to mind are when I went swimming with sharks in the Bahamas, jumped out of a perfectly good airplane in Kauai, went scuba diving with lemon sharks in Mo’orea, and my childhood memories of cliff jumping at Lake Powell. I’m sure you’re not surprised to read that I’m always on the lookout for my next adventurous thrill, and after reading about Angel’s Landing — Zion National Park’s most popular hike — I knew that this exhilarating adventure needed to be on my Bucket List pronto.
At the time, I would have never guessed that a simple hike to the top of Angel’s Landing would soon skyrocket to the top of my “Craziest Things I’ve Ever Done” list.
Afterall, the Angel’s Landing trail is only five-miles (roundtrip), typically takes around four to five hours, and thousands of visitors complete this hike each year; so I figured it couldn’t be too bad. What I didn’t know at the time was that the trail was aptly named because park employees thought the peak was “so high only Angels could land there.” It is full of adventure, steep slopes, death-defying drops, and spine-tingling chills; not to mention some pretty epic photo op’s.
My brother, sister-in-law, and I left our campsite at Watchman Campground and rode the Shuttle to the sixth stop along the Zion line, known as The Grotto. The morning air was cool and as we crossed the bridge over the Virgin River we began to scale a series of switchbacks carved into the canyon wall. The paved trail has some seriously steep sections, and there are a few crazy-high drop-offs, but overall it’s a relatively safe hike up to Scout’s Lookout 1,100 feet above.
As we hiked the trail we overheard a disgruntled teenager in a passing group mumble, “Is it going to be uphill the whole way?!” (HAHAHA!) You guys! We literally LOL’d as we looked straight up towards the sky to see Angel’s Landing towering far above our current location.
After two-miles of hiking uphill, my knees felt wobbly, my muscles ached, and my lungs burned, but the views from Scout’s Lookout were impressive. Families were spread out along the sandy mesa relaxing under the spring-time sun, and as I sat down to rest my brother informed me that the technical part to reach Angel’s Landing was just starting.
I thought to myself: “So you’re telling me that now that I’m tired, worn out, and my muscles are exhausted, NOW we are going to hike the technical part… PERFECT.” 😉 (I may or may not have wanted to cry — or possibly throw up — when he shared the news…). 😉
To put it simply, the last half-mile of the Angel’s Landing hike is intense. The thrilling trail is small and filled with tiny ledges the width of balance beams. The sheer drop offs are always present in your mind as you scale boulders, balance on ledges, and use the steel chains — which are bolted into the rock — to hoist yourself up to the next ledge. The canyon floor looks incredibly ominous, so on the way to the top I did the most logical thing and just reminded myself to look up and focus on the next hand hold to distract myself from looking at the canyon floor 1,400 feet below.
“There’s no view more dramatic than what you see hanging onto a chain bolted into a cliff.” -Utah.com
As we reached the top of Angel’s Landing I felt a surge of excitement. The view down Zion Canyon is spectacular. It’s one of those places where bad photos don’t exist, and even while the landscape photos are great, they can’t compare to seeing the grandeur of this canyon in person.
And just as I thought that the worst of it was over, I was in for a surprise. During our descent, I realized that there was no way to avoid looking at the canyon floor. The whole way up I pushed the thought out of my mind, however, on the way down, you can’t help but look below. Vertigo seeped into my senses as I held tightly to the chain and hoped my legs would steady. My brother giggled as I squirmed and squealed with each step and there were quite a few moments where I wished I had a parachute to jump off the cliff instead of scramble down the sandstone trail. (FYI, base jumping is illegal, however, I found the thought of base jumping much less terrifying than the current situation). 🙂 Okay, mayyyyyybe I was being a little dramatic at times during the descent, but who would have thought I had a small thing about heights?!
My hike to Angel’s Landing was incredible. It had everything an adrenaline junkie wants — heights, danger, thrills, a challenge, incredible views, and at the end of it all, a sense of accomplishment — and while it was probably the craziest thing I’ve ever done, I am looking forward to the day where I can hike it all over again.