Angel’s landing is probably neck-in-neck with the Narrows for being the most popular hike in Zion. It’s not a long hike (5.5 miles roundtrip) or steep (about 1000 ft/300 m ascent)… but what makes it a thrill is the final push along a narrow rock. And when I say narrow, I mean 3-ft (1-m) wide narrow, with steep drop-offs on both sides. Chains had been bolted in through this final half-mile section, steps had been carved out in the rock, and you better not look down because it is dizzying to see the canyon sprawl out below you. The section is so narrow that traffic can only go one way, so we set off early in order to avoid the noon-time rush.
Angel’s landing starts pleasantly enough, with a half-mile or so stroll along the Virgin river.
As the trail gets steeper, a series of switchbacks give you the first run for your money, but at the end of them you are already rewarded with a pretty decent view of the canyon below.
After that, the trail levels off as you enter Refrigerator Canyon – called that because it stays mostly in the shade and provides slightly cooler temps than the rest of the trail.
After leaving Refrigerator Canyon, it’s time to climb Walter’s Wiggles, a series of 21 steep switchbacks named after the first superintendent of Zion National Park, who engineered them.
Once a the top, you’re at Scout Lookout. This is where most people turn around, because before you is nothing but the thin rock that is actually Angel’s Landing. About half the elevation gain of the entire trail is in this section, and to be honest, I am not sure exactly how I managed to do this part. The chains do help, and I didn’t look down much because I knew I’d freak out, so my eyes were dead set on where my foot was going to step next, and my dorky hiking hat did a good job of shielding me from the harrowing views around me.
What is even more amazing is that Chris did this super-intense climb while carrying a 45-lb (20 kg) backpack filled with 2 lenses, a tripod, DSLR camera, a 3-L hydration pack, all of our food, and a bunch of other things it’s just common sense to have on you when hiking in extreme conditions. He encouraged me every step of the way even though this was definitely a trail he did mostly because I wanted to do it.
The last 20 feet or so are level at the top of the rock, and take you all the way to the edge of it, where you get a stunning view of the canyon below, and some of the taller rock formations around us. We sat there and ate our lunch and shook our head in disbelief we’d actually made it that far.
We probably took a tad bit longer up there than we should have, as we started to experience the traffic jams along the chains that we knew about once we started going back. The descent was easier for the most part except in the narrowest of spots, where it was hard not looking down.
Alas, we made it back down to Scout Lookout and kept on going down the switchbacks. By then, it was close to noon, the temperature was rising steadily, and we were wondering how half the people going up were going to make it even just to Scout Lookout. Some were in pretty much street clothes, some were not carrying any water whatsoever, and there was even a couple pushing a baby in a stroller at Refrigerator Canyon. I don’t mean to sound like a know-it-all or anything, but it seemed just plain irresponsible to be so unprepared in rugged terrain like this.
The pool and jacuzzi at our hotel was just what we needed after we got back from this strenuous hike. We were both so happy to have completed it! One of three crazy hikes in Zion, check!
We wanted to take it easy in the afternoon, so we took a stroll to the Emerald pools. These ponds are formed from run-off water that snakes its way down the cracks and crevices of some of the biggest rock formations in the park. There were three sets of pools, and while they were all pretty shallow because of the time of year, they were still pretty cool to see. To go back, we took a different route down the Kayenta trail, which ran along the Virgin River and spit is out at the same spot where the Angel’s Landing trail began. I said to Chris jokingly, “Wanna do Angel’s Landing again?”
Today was an amazing hiking day for us. Another bonus was all the wildlife we saw in this amazing canyon, A tarantula was enjoying its morning stroll in the very beginning of Angel’s landing. Deer can be seen up and down the main road, and so can be wild turkeys. We also ran across a couple of western fence lizards (they have reflective blue bellies) and a fox. This place is also teeming with hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. It is almost sad we can be so mesmerized by wildlife. It speaks volumes about how disconnected we are from nature.
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