The time has finally come, and after another spotty night’s sleep filled with nightmares of plummeting to my death, we got dressed and packed up the car in the cool and windy morning, setting out to hike Angel’s Landing. A steep and winding, but paved, trail twists up the canyon wall and disappears into a crack in its red rock face. Deep green trees line the dry and sandy riverbed, and the trail relaxes its climb in the shade of the notch. After you’ve had a bit of a rest, the trail folds back on itself for the beginning of the 15 switchbacks better known as “Walter’s Wiggles,” so named for their creator. Back and forth and back and forth you climb, up and up and up. You are deposited at the false top, the Scout’s Landing, where the less-sure-of-foot and the terrified-of-heights wait in the shade illegally feeding chipmunks, eagerly awaiting the return of their fearless companions.
You continue on, past the sign warning of sheer, 1000’ cliffs, the precarious clambering and climbing hand and foot over bare rock, and of the several deaths that have occurred here since 2004. (There have been 9). A chain, tethered to the slick rock face provided a hand hold, a safety line when the going gets extra scary, and time worn toe holds give you just enough confidence that many others have come this way before you.
Carefully, delicately, you step, hands to rock and chain, breathing in slow and steady breaths. Surely, but still slowly, you climb to the flat saddle about halfway up. From here, you get the almost comically ridiculous view of the final ½ mile climb to the top - a sheer, smooth, 1000’ red cliff face, a knife-edge trail tracing its way up the narrow fin. And it would definitely be funny if there weren't a line of people picking their way up, daring you not to follow. You stand there for a minute kind of half laughing to yourself and the people around you, asking “This is crazy, right?” But then, I mean, you’ve come all this way, you can’t honestly call this the top, you have to continue!
So up and up again you climb, the chain sometimes on the completely wrong side of the trail, I mean, shouldn’t it be on the 1000’ cliff side?! In all honesty, the climb is great and although a little hairy in places, all it takes is a calm and precise mind, the patience to go slowly, and the ability to keep your eyes above the horizon. The Angel’s Landing is spectacular, a strip of white rock thrust into the air above the bend in Zion Canyon. Below, you can see the Virgin River, turquoise blue, winding along the canyon floor, the ribbon of road following close behind. You can see shuttle buses slowly creeping by, dropping of the next load of excited hikers braving the same trail in the rising heat of the afternoon.
But honestly, it was the hike itself, the feeling of the sandy rock beneath my palms, that was my favorite part. The slow, methodical climbing, the precision of hands and feet, fingers and toes, the heightened awareness, the gathered senses and alert mind. Like a giant puzzle, a steady test.
Coming back down we began to feel the exhaustion of muscles and mind, our legs flopping about like putty, our stomachs growling. We stopped for a moment to rest after descending the Wiggles, and spotted the downy white fluff of a baby owl, perched in a pine tree, its mother feigning sleep on the branch below. We made it down just as the sun was beginning to bake the canyon floor, we hopped back on the shuttle, and out of the park. Off in search of another canyon.