A couple weeks ago, I read a blog on The Adventures of a Day Hiker about attempting the 5 mile hike to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. The fear and excitement it caused me told me to go and handle the hike myself! So I did. I left LA around 11pm a couple Saturdays ago, driving through the night to get a primo parking spot and beat the crowds since Angel’s Landing is a fairly technical hike. With crowds on the trail, conditions can get dicey really quick.
Earlier in the week, I looked up weather conditions to make sure I wouldn’t need snow and/or ice gear. Sunny with highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s? I’m golden! Everything lined up perfectly, yet apprehension and fear still set in. But I persevered, knowing intuitively that the hike would be worth it.
With daylight savings time and the time zone change, I arrived right before 7am, when the first shuttle came. Dawn was upon the park, and all I could see were outlines of vast hillsides and rock formations with a backdrop of stars. Pretty amazing! The rangers weren’t manning the park entrance gate, so after verifying with another early hiker, I was relieved to find out I didn’t have to pay the entrance fee. Awesome!
I quickly changed into my gear and set off to the shuttle stop. As I got on the shuttle, I realized that I had left my trekking poles in the car. D’oh! Oh well, I would continue on. I got to my drop off spot, used the restroom and was on my way, following a group of about ten people.
The first two miles of the hike were pretty uneventful. The rocks were gorgeous, the trail was steep, but it was maintained enough to be considered a road. Who in their right mind would want to pave Walter’s Wiggles, the affectionately named switchbacks that lead up to the half-mile scramble to Angel’s Landing? Not me! But i digress. I’m one for single-track, rural trails that are remniscent of animal tracks, not hiking on smooth roads. Maybe that has something to do with me pushing myself so hard?
I passed a few people on the way up, trying to catch up to a group of women to strike up conversation and see if anything came of it. You never know, hearing about how many people meet their spouses on the trail 🙂 It was motivation to push on, nevertheless, and helped me set aside the fear of the scrambling I was about to do along exposed trail with 1,000 foot drop-offs on either side.
I had a few friendly exchanges with fellow hikers as I ascended, and once I reached the start of the treacherous scramble, I was elated by the view. How do formations like this come to be? I thanked God many times for the journey and the beauty surrounding me.
Before fear took over, I set off in tow with a couple people. I figured having people nearby would be helpful motivation. Within a few-hundred feet of starting the scramble to Angel’s Landing, one of the girls turned back. The exposure was hairy and the rock was slippery from the morning dew.
I slipped a couple times (thank God that a chain was present in most hairy parts) and scared myself a bit, but I pushed myself. I just drove 6 hours to get here. I’m NOT giving up that quick! So I continued, making conversation, taking and receiving help from the guy in my crew.
At one point, we were faced with a wall. The last push to the top! How the hell was I supposed to get up that? Upon inspection, we found some hand holds and worn down foot ledges that threw us into a rock climbing mode. My confidence grew, and we made that final push to find a decent group of people at the top. I did it! We did it! God gave me the strength to do it!
Everyone had a photo-op moment and we all got to know each other, taking it all in. Even a chipmunk made it to the top! The group of girls were from the bay area and had just done a half-marathon and an eight-mile hike the day before. They were nuts! But it was like a melding of the minds. A group of like-minded individuals living their passions and sharing them with others. I felt pretty damn accepted when I had an incident of flatulence in front of everyone. The girls were the first to say something along the lines of “We’re in nature. It happens!” How cool! I’ve found another subset of my tribe in the great outdoors.
The biggest surprise of the day was when the girls and guy I hiked up with asked me to lead the way down since I looked like I knew what I was doing. How cool and what an honor/ego-boost! One of the girls didn’t bring gloves, so I let her borrow my second pair (not the purest motives, but I was helpful nonetheless) and we began the downclimb.
The routefinding was more difficult coming down, but the team of us kept in communication about slippery spots, leaving no one behind. Thank God we got up when we did, because coming down, the crowds started roaring in. Some looked prepared, others were little kids. Some knew right of way procedures, others didn’t. While it upset me, and stalled our group in some dangerous spots, I can’t say that I’ve never broken right of way rules either. So forgive them and press on, right?
We made it down the scramble and continued talking all the way down the switchbacks, exchanging friendly hellos with passers-by. The girls told me I needed to check out the Observation Point trail next, which was eight miles round-trip. I had already done five miles for Angel’s Landing, but took the opportunity while I had the chance 🙂
We got back to the trailhead, exchanged goodbyes, and went on our separate ways. Kind of sad, but that’s how the hiking world works. I’ve found I have intense experiences of short duration with fellow adventurers on my solo hikes. We help form each other’s experience, making memories for years to come. I may never see these people again, but at least we had a moment. That’s it! A moment! I have to stay present, or I will lose out on all the experiences that life has to offer. Oftentimes I struggle with being present, but I am aware and working toward an ideal.
Next stop, Observation Point! This trail starts at Weeping Rock and almost immediately shot me up the cliffs into a slot canyon. The switchbacks were a steep, grueling, hard rock trail similar to the “road” up to Angel’s Landing. During my ascent of the canyon wall, I passed a few groups of people and there was a lady at the back of one of the groups who told me to tell the woman at the front to pick up the pace (in some derogatory manner). I was taken aback, but did it for the humor factor. They all lit up! The bonds were continuing and I embraced it.
Soon after, I stopped for water with a few guys who were huffing and puffing just like me. Camaraderie! We trudged together until the slot canyon as I wanted to push on, and they wanted to explore for a while. I wished them well, admired the views, and continued on my way. Coming out of the canyon was beautiful. Rock formations jutting up from the valley floor, exposed trail edges and views as far as the eye could see. The inspiration kept me pushing, even when the relentless climb got my spirits down.
With how cold it was in the morning, I was shocked at the warmth closer to midday. Eventually, I reached a plateau in the trail with minor dips here and there. The last half-mile to a mile was traversing a rim to the Observation Point. As I edged closer, I was surrounded my tall grass and views outside of the canyon. An interesting change of scenery for sure! Meandering a bit further, a crowd of people appeared. I made it! I immediately staked out an epic spot along the cliff as a group was leaving because I wanted lunch with a view! Not one of my best moments of politeness, but oh well.
I was sitting next to a group of people with their baby as I ate, and I tried making conversation. Being the somewhat awkward guy I am, the conversation didn’t flow too well. I made some pleasantries, a shameless plug for my blog and went on enjoying my lunch. Maybe they weren’t too keen on me sitting right next to their group. Or maybe I think too much! The truth is probably the latter 🙂
Wrapping things up to head down the mountain, I offered to take photos of the group and asked them to take a couple photos of me in return. Seeing that, I couldn’t have made that bad of an impression on them! Then, the guys I had the water break with showed up to the view point, and I got a photo with them, too. Once again, common pursuits and common struggles make for pleasant encounters! What a great lesson to learn.
As I headed back down the trail, I made encouraging remarks to those ascending, and picked up the pace to push myself. I had passed a couple earlier in the day, and as I turned a switchback, there they were again! They made a comment to the effect of “how’d you lap us again?” The truth is, I didn’t know. But I was stoked to be making great time!
The last few switchbacks down were painful without trekking poles. My feet and knees hurt, but after 13 miles of hiking, I wouldn’t expect much less. I got to the shuttle and back to the car around 3pm, making for an 8 hour trek including shuttle times and breaks. Not bad!
Seeing the canyon in daylight as I relaxed in the car to prepare for the drive home was amazing. Once again the rock formations left nothing to be desired and I felt that the trip was 100% worth it. I rode on that high for a while on the drive home, but soon, exhaustion set in. I made it to Las Vegas, had some dinner, and continued on through the desert toward home. No sooner did I leave Vegas did I find myself in heavy traffic. Great! I’m exhausted, trying to keep myself awake, and I’m stuck.
Traffic was backed up all the way to Cajon Pass and rain was found on the other side. I got home by an act of God around 11pm, completely wiped from my 24 hour journey and 38 hours of no sleep. In the end, I was safe, I conquered some fears, and got some excellent views.