Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Angel’s Landing

Posted by Scot

(If you're just here for the pictures, this time I decided to put them all in a slideshow at the bottom of the post).

We left the craziness of Las Vegas behind with relief.  Maybe it would be a great vacation spot for a wild weekend sometime, but when we are travelling with the kids, that`s not how we roll.  Our next destination, Zion National Park, was more our speed.

As we drove through the desert, the traffic from Vegas gradually fell away.  By the time we entered the park gates, it was just us, and other families in mini-vans and RVs.  The day had been smoking hot, so it was nice to feel the air cool off a bit as the sun fell closer to the tops of the high, red canyon walls all around us.  The town of Springdale is a welcoming small, outdoorsy community, with lots of hiking stores and good restaurants.  It reminded us of home.

After a quick dinner at the local pizza joint, we weren't ready to head back to the hotel.  Instead, we hopped in the van and drove up the road, through the mile long tunnel blasted right through the mountain.  On the far side of the tunnel, we all piled out of the van and enjoyed the 45 minute hike to the canyon overlook.  The 2000 foot drop to the canyon floor was unnerving, despite the chain link fence holding us back.  Still, the views were incredible.  Little did we know, this was but a mild introduction to what was coming
Temperatures for the next day were forecast to crest 40 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit).  We got up early (for us) at 6:30 to try and avoid the worst heat of the day.  At breakfast in the hotel lobby, it was clear we weren`t the only ones with this idea.  Lots of people were awake, keen to get out in the relative cool of the morning.

We took the shuttle in to the park, and again, it was clear that pretty much everyone had the same idea.  The bus was full of hard core looking hikers.  We thought it was really great how Zion has instituted a mandatory shuttle bus to check out the upper reaches of the canyon.  This cuts down on vehicles and emissions, and helps to protect the national park.

When we got to the stop for the Angel`s Landing hike, about half of the shuttle emptied out.  We knew from reading the park brochure that this was one of the most popular hikes in the park, so we weren`t too surprised.  Most of the other hikers set off at a blistering pace, though, so after a quick bathroom and water stop, we were out of the thick of things.

Once we had everything ready, we started up the steep switchbacks that hugged the canyon walls.  Sara and I both come from hiking families, and we learned the same hiking style when we were kids.  Slow and steady.  It is remarkable how effective it is to just keep plodding along at a relaxed and gentle pace.  In the first 45 minutes, we were constantly being passed by people moving at mall-walking pace, puffing away and sweating hard.  As always happens, though, after about 45 minutes, we started to pass the same people, taking breaks in the shade and filling up on water.  Sara calls it her “all day pace”, meaning she can hike 10 hours that way, if she needs to.  It works really well with the kids, who never get tired, no matter how much climbing we do.

When we got to Scout’s Landing, we were glad that we had some strength left in our legs.  The last mile of the Angel’s Landing hike is famous for it’s intensity and exposure.  We were going to need a little strength, and a lot of courage to make it to the top.

Angel’s Landing was apparently named by early Mormon settlers, who figured that when and if angels ever came down to earth, this was the spot they would choose to land.  It is a pretty spectacular summit, and I can see why they might have thought that.  In order to get to the landing, though, you have to climb up over a mile of narrow trails that fall dramatically off to either side, over 2500 feet to the canyon floor.  The ground is all smooth rock, which looks like it could be extremely slippery, especially when it gets wet.  Up here, there are no chain link fences guarding the edges.  There are chains bolted to the rock to hang on to at the worst points, but other than that, it is entirely up to the hiker to make sure they don’t plummet to the valley floor.

We had heard it was an intimidating hike, and there were lots of signs warning that anyone scared of heights should not attempt it.  But given the number of tourists heading up, we figured we could make it.  And we were right.  We all got up the crazy pitches, even Katie.  But it was pretty intense, and a couple of us were none too happy with the exposure.  It boggled my mind that this was a National Park sanctioned trail.  In fact, it turns out there have actually been several deaths on the trail.  It’s not clear whether they were from falls or heart attacks from climbing the steep pitch in the heat.

We didn’t spend too long at the top.  We took just enough time to check out the view, then we turned around to head down.  None of us wanted to wait too long to make the trip back, since we weren’t sure if going down would be easier or harder than going up.  Fortunately, we managed to work our way back down the narrow trail to safety.  We were back at the hotel by the time the heat of the day really kicked in, and spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool and the A/C, as the outside world became a blast furnace.

If you’re ever in Zion, and heights don’t bother you, this is a hike you pretty much have to do.  The best time of year would probably be spring or fall, though, when temperatures are lower, and crowds are less.

Here is a short slideshow showing some of our hiking in Zion.  If you want to get the full effect, make it full screen, hop on your stair master and turn your heat up to about 37 degrees while you watch this.


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