Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hiking to Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Finding the ultimate hike in Zion National Park was not difficult, for it seemed that every ranger that we asked consistently recommended with much enthusiasm the hike to Angels Landing. We heard comments like “quintessential hike” and “if you only did one hike…..” However, they all had one question…..”Are you afraid of heights?” We’ve been on some high cliff-like hikes before, so we quickly shrugging off the question and decided this was the hike for us.

The trail begins across the road from the Grotto picnic area. The free shuttle buses are running now, so this is the only way to get to this area of the park. Crossing the bridge over the Virgin Creek, the paved trail goes right and follows the river for a short while. As soon as the trail starts heading towards the small side canyon, it becomes loose sand. This continues for a 1/2 or a mile or so until the trail switches back to being paved and becomes very steep as you start to ascend a series of many switchbacks. These switchbacks have been cut into the side of a sandstone wall. This first set of switchback offers great views looking out and down into Zion Canyon and in itself worth a visit even if you desire to go no further. We were surprised that this section of the trail was paved, but later concluded that’s only way the trail could have been made safe in such a steep area.

At the top of this section, the trail enters a narrow ravine where it levels off. Here the trail is still paved and built up along a small stream against the rock wall of the mountain. Due to the almost constant shade, this ravine supports large Douglas firm trees and many lush bushes and plants. It is truly a high altitude oasis and was an unexpected surprise.

The trail gradually climbs until it reaches the section known as Walter’s Wiggles. This is a series of 21 (yes, we actually counted them) steep paved switchbacks that was constructed to scale the rock wall up to Scout Lookout. Looking up at this section, one has to marvel at the amount of stone work and effort it took build (see photo). Once on top you are at Scout Lookout. This is the first area before the summit that offers a glimpse of Angels Landing and amazing views from on top looking down both sides of the canyon. Off to the left you can even see Weeping Rock at the bottom of the canyon. This is a popular spot for photos, as well as to have a bite to eat or to use the pit toilets before you make the 1/2 mile scramble up to Angels Landing.

Climbing this last 1/2 mile section is where the fun really begins! This section of the trail is an ascent of several hundred feet where you have to utilize sections of chains to pull yourself up rock faces, through narrow passages, and over razor narrow ridges that are no wider than 5 feet in some places. Passing through this section, we quickly understand the concerns over being afraid of heights - these razor ridges are straight down to the bottom on both sides.

Finally, passing through several false summits, we made it to the summit of Angels Landing. This is a breathtaking and awe inspiring experience to be at the very top of this bald rock platform with 360 degree views of the entire Zion Canyon. This hike exceeded our expectations and was one of the best and most uniquely interesting hikes that we have ever taken.

Hike Summary: We completed the hike in 4 hours with the last 1/2 mile section to the summit taking us 1 hour alone (mostly due to waiting for people to pass, taking our time on the ascent, and stopping to chat with people). The total elevation gain was 1488 to 1520 feet, depending on the source you read.

1. This is a very popular hike despite the level of difficulty, so leave really early if you want to avoid the crowds.
2. Use the pit toilets before the climb to the summit and bring your own toilet paper – there was no place to hide along the trail, and it will take you longer than you expect.
3. Dress in layers - it’s cold at the top.
4. Where sturdy-soled shoes that offer go support and traction over hard rock surfaces.
5. Leave your rings & watches at home. Lots of us were stopping to take off our wedding rings & watches as they were getting scratched when using the chains.
6. Beware of the aggressive (and apparently hungry) chipmunks at the top when you are eating. They drove Suzanne crazy, so we shortened our stay at the top.

Click here for more photos from Zion ~ enjoy!!

1 comment:

Jerry and Suzy said...

Gosh, we are exhausted just looking at your pictures! Then the commentary almost drove us back to bed, we got so tired! Must be good to still be young and vital!

Seriously, as always you've shown us a great adventure with splendid photos and story. This one from a place we'll never ever get to! We presume you would not call that accessible!

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