Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Angel's Landing

As the prophets of old would go to high places to confer with their various gods, they would have done well to climb up to this place.  

Angels Landing.  

The name extends from a story of a minister that said that the outcropping at the end of a fin of rock high above the canyon floor was so inaccessible that “only angels could land there.”  

Fortunately for those of us who as yet are without wings and halos, the park service in Zion National Park found a path, and over years, built a path to get us - mere mortals - to this rocky outcrop.

We stopped for some early evening pictures at one of the lower outlooks of the trail not knowing if we would really have time to get to the top before the light faded.

We had been riding bikes all morning and into the afternoon, so we were somewhat tired, but didn’t want to waste a moment of time since we had only a finite number of days with which to enjoy the beauty of Zion.  

The guide books called the hike “strenuous”, and that it would take us 4-5 hours to complete.  We gauged that the sun would set around 7:30pm and that we would just have enough time to make the ascent before sunset.  

We could then watch sunset, but would have to make our way back across the treacherous fin and onto the relative safety of the switchbacks before it became too dark to see.  I threw a headlamp into my pack, just in case things went poorly and we didn’t make it down before it was pitch black.  
Normally, guide books are very conservative in their assessments of how difficult or how long a hike can take.  By a factor of 2 usually, but in this case they were right on.  The switchbacks were steep and a good hard effort, but certainly not complicated.  Nathan eschewed them and decided to climb straight up the retaining walls for the last 10 or so switchbacks.  It looked like fun, but to keep from smashing my camera, I declined to follow suit.  

Your Safety is Your Responsibility
At the top of the switchbacks we had gained about 1,000 feet of altitude and then the trail began to work its way out across the rocky fin.  Some sections were pretty wide, 30-40 feet, but in many areas we found ourselves on sand covered stone with drops on either side of hundreds of feet if not sheer cliff faces to the canyon floor.  

Falling from that height would give you a good 8-10 seconds of free-fall to think about things before impact.  In light of the chance to make that plunge, I am strangely pleased to note that there were not guard rails and fences everywhere.  There were only minimal chains mounted to the rock in some of the more exposed areas for you to hold onto if you needed.  

The bus ride out to the trail head featured one of the best lines I have ever heard in our overprotective, anti-self-reliance, and pathetically litigious society.  What amazed me was that it was coming from the government run park service.  The narrative stated that this hike was dangerous, fatalities had occurred on the hike, and that “Your Safety is Your Responsibility.”  

It was satisfying and shocking.

I was sure those words had been outlawed in the U.S.  
Finally, A place where it is encouraged that you make your own decision.  

For example: If the last part of a hike is too scary or you are un-fit, make your decision and don’t do it.  There is more than enough to enjoy at anyone's particular skill level.  Do what you can to enjoy the world, but be smart!  The park service didn’t do the normal pseudo-parental thing and shut down the activity, or put fencing , an escalator and elevator access to these high places.  

They gave good advice and let you, the visitor, make the right decision based on your ability.  By the way, I am in favor of the bus system since the tens of thousands of cars that used to jam the single out and back road in Zion would ruin the experience.  Now you can catch a bus every 7 minutes either direction and not have every moron’s stereo blaring, fight for parking and listen to engines revving during your exploration of the Park.
We reached the saddle of the fin before the final climb up to the landing and found a young lady sitting and enjoying the view.  

You can see the young lady that I referred to...just above Brenna...who is just to the right of my thinning hair. @^$%^;*(*&;^%$#!!!!!!!!

After talking for a moment or two, she said she was scared even where she was and had declined to follow her companions to the top.  She was content to enjoy the heights from right where she was and would wait for them to return.  

Ah, an example of good decisions not determined by lawyers.  
Up we went.  And up it was.  Over rocks and sand dusted stone where you had to really think about where to put your hands and feet.  It was one notch off of really needing to know how to climb.  What an experience!

Nathan ascending -- The blur is caused by moisture on the lens.  The temperature change was dramatic as the sun was setting.  Very cool effect on the shot.

Brenna working her way across the fin of rock.

Only a little exposure to her right.  I see her enjoying things like this...

I am so in love.

Looking back from where the switchbacks end and we started to make our way through the rocks on the fin out to Angel's Landing.

When we reached the top we were rewarded with a view that was fitting with the name of the place.  We stayed at the peak until the sandstone had turned from a red tinged tan to deep reds in the setting sun.  

The view as the sun set and the shadows crept up the eastern cliffs...the silence of the space...the wind gently blowing...nothing else.

Heaven simply heaven...

The Utah crew!


Finally the shadows on the canyon wall crept high enough to signal that we needed to get going lest we end up clambering down over the exposed sections of rock in the dark.  I didn’t mind the idea of coming down the established trail of switchbacks in the dark, but I had no intention of using our lamp to guide us down the more narrow sections.

We were completely gassed after the hike.  We made our way slowly down the switchbacks as the bug chasing bats flew disturbingly close to my headlamp, and subsequently my face, we drew up plans for the coming days.  

Next: I’ll figure out how much time I can allocate to video editing.  I may do the Goosebery Mesa story and video or a short post on climbing to the rim of Zion.  i.e. The never ending trail to observation point.

I know that this series of posts has taken forever and I hope you are enjoying the stories as much as I am enjoying writing about the memories of visiting these places.  There is more to my writing than Utah tourism for sure, and the 4th of July lake stories will be coming soon, but for now.  You guys are stuck in the desert with me.


Rick said...

Yeah, I can say for sure Jodi would NEVER do well in UT. Some of that stuff looks a little rough even for me...

Gilemahe said...

We were there a couple of weeks ago. We had kids and only a few hours so we rode the buses and did a ranger activity. Thanks for sharing your hike. Was this the hike with"the wiggles?"