Trudging through the ice-cold river, in the constant shade of The Narrows‘ slot canyon walls, my mind kept wandering to the sun-drenched peak of Angel’s Landing- the next day’s hike. On our recent trip to Utah, we started our outdoor adventures with one of the park’s most popular and unique trails, which also happened to be (in my opinion) the coldest. Equally as infamous, Angel’s Landing is the antithesis of The Narrows. The only similarity between the two is the moderate to difficult rating by the park services.
Like any hike on a late-fall day in Zion, the trail always starts COLD. Like the day before, I wore about four layers as we meandered along the path, wind whipping chilled air from the river. The moment we emerged from the mountainous shadows, though, it warmed up faster than I could say “crap, I wore too many layers.” Unlike the day before, I was stripping down to layer one by minute 30, which was exactly what I’d hoped would happen! This was how I envisioned our clear, crisp autumn days here in the park. Actively climbing, actually working up a bit of a sweat, while taking in vast panoramic views.
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For the first hour or so, the trail is a leisurely stroll on an extremely well-paved path. Fairly flat for about the first fifteen minutes, the walk gets incrementally steeper. We took our time, smelled the roses, took some macro shots….
After the hour steady climb, the path flattens again as you walk through a canyon. This is your recovery- before an even more steep walkway-climb up some switchbacks. I especially enjoyed this section on the way back down.
All of this is just a test of your endurance. The real challenge – in my mind, the real fun– was yet to come. Angel’s Landing is one of the best known trails in the park for a few reasons. It’s considered one of the best hikes in the world because of the sheer cliff walks and views. But it also has a dangerous reputation…. Honey, I told you about that Angel’s Landing. You have no business fraternizing with the likes of it.
Highway to the danger zone
Most hikers are drawn to Angel’s Landing for the final portion of the hike, which leads you along a roller coaster ridge climb. At times, there are chain-links to grasp, at other times, there aren’t. Climbers must scale rock-walls, and when there aren’t carved steps, find their own footholds (like a proper rock climber!) Admittedly, it’s largely about maneuvering and strategizing your next step. The drawbacks are that you don’t get to stop and take in the surrounding scenery as much, and it can be a bit of a cluster-f…. to get around schools of people trying to pass you on the narrow pathways or “stairs.” Strategy. Alan used to call me billy goat when we would hike in The Smokeys. I like to climb and focus on my future feet placements. It’s like chess, having to be several steps ahead in your mind (except I have no idea how to play chess).
Top of the world
Once on top, you still have to walk across an uneven scalloped smattering of rock layers to get to the “end.” Little mountain chipmunks scurry around, threatening to throw unsuspecting tourists over the cliff. Seriously, though, I saw about three women and one guy almost lose their balance as they squealed and ran away from the curious little critters. But you’re awarded with the most incredible 360-degree views… Taking it all in, we had our little daily peanut butter and jelly picnic while soaking in the sun and the pure, clean air. It was perfect.
The descent was fun. A sense of accomplishment and relief, the reward is also in passing those weary hikers, gasping for air, all asking “how much farther?” I love that- being the one on the way down. Done! Made it to the top, now it’s all downhill from here!
So many people stopped us as we progressed further down the mountain, “How much longer till we get to that really hard part?” We’d tell them, then reassure that it was worth the trouble…. I was frankly amazed at how many families with young kids were doing this treacherous hike. As much as I enjoyed it, I quite honestly can say I probably wouldn’t bring a kid under 16 with me. Too many chances for a whoopsie.
Exploring the valley
Once back at the bottom, Alan of course wanted to explore the valley and river bed. It was perfectly anticlimactic and relaxing; a good way to come off a physically and psychologically strenuous trek. The verdict? I don’t think Alan was as impressed as I was. The trail was exactly what I had imagined and hoped for. Alan, who is a bit more cautious than I am, didn’t enjoy it as much. Either way, it was so nice to hike such strikingly different trails back to back and get a great variety-taste of Zion.