Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Zion: Angel’s Landing Hike
“Warning! Falls from cliffs on this trail have resulted in death. Stay on the trail. [check] Stay back from cliff edges. [OK] Parents- watch your children!” Well Duh. Today’s adventure requires using our hands so we don’t fall off the mountain. Precipitous drops on both sides of the trail await us as we tackle Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah.
This beautiful canyon is located north of the grandest of all canyons and features the Virgin River which carved the land leaving sheer walls of Navajo sandstone. I’m hiking with Cara and her family this morning, so we start early to beat the heat and crowds.
After crossing the river via a footbridge we hike a series of long switchbacks. Spectacular views of the shark fin looking monolith come into sight and I can only think, “We are going up that?” It doesn’t look possible, but our shuttle driver assured us that it was one the best hikes in the park and only one person has fallen off so far this year. Well OK, let’s get going.
Everyone takes their own pace as we make our way up the mountain. Grandmother, Granddad and Cara take a leisurely tempo while Scott, Michelle and I take a more brisk speed. We take short breaks when we reach a shady spot or want to snap a few pictures. After a while we reach a narrow, shady canyon that greets us with cool air and a flat section of trail. I hear the song of the canyon wren in this chasm known as Refrigerator Canyon. I see a strange natural design on the sandstone wall as well as many indentations, niches, and “windows” that have been eroded by years of water flow.
I notice the others are not with me anymore and decide to pick up the pace to get a good workout. I’m now at the steepest part of the hike which takes me straight up the mountain. I begin a series of 21 short switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles. I step it out and zigzag back and forth until my heart feels like it’s coming out of my chest. Eventually I make it to Scouts Lookout, a nice resting spot where many hikers turn back instead of climbing the series of chains and handholds to the summit.
I enjoy some snacks while I wait for the others and am invaded by aggressive, hungry chipmunks. They are so tame that one of them runs across my leg while I eat. They are not afraid at all and I’m actually a little uneasy. This reminds me of an SNL episode where squirrels attack secret service agents on the White House lawn. Michelle and Scott arrive shortly and we rest while the others catch up. We look nervously at the rest of the route as we enjoy our snack.
When the others arrive, Scott and Michelle decide to get started up the Hog’s Back, the most precipitous and dangerous part of our climb. Cara’s Mom and Dad decide to wait at Scouts Landing while the rest of us make the climb up to the peak. Cara is nervous, but decides to give it her best effort. I’m excited more than scared and accept the fact that I’m taking a risk. People often ask, “Aren’t you afraid? You could fall and die.” I think to myself, what a grand way to go; doing something I love in a beautiful place. After all, this is an angel’s landing. I would rather go this way than on the freeway commuting to work which, by the way, is a far greater danger than climbing the Hog’s Back.
Once we are rested and hydrated, Cara and I bid farewell to our family and start to carefully negotiate the series of chains up the rock. We go slowly using our hands; making sure to keep a firm grip. The narrow route only allows for one person on the chains at a time and we must sometimes wait for climbers to descend before we can start up the next section. We arrive at a flat resting place and take in the view of the river below.
Pretty soon I see a makeshift sign that says, “Stay over to the right against the rocks.” When I move all the way over I must squeeze myself through a narrow crack. Is this the correct way? I have to lift my leg up on a ledge and pull myself up out of the crack. That is when Cara says, “OK, I’m done.” I can’t blame her for she has made it this far and, did I mention that she is over four months pregnant? But wait, I think there is another way up. I see the correct route which takes climbers over some rocks instead of through the crack. Cara reluctantly makes her way up the boulders. What a trooper!
After more climbing, we arrive at a less exposed section and wonder if this is the top. No, I see more chains and people higher up. We rest again and get spectacular views of the entire Zion Valley. We take this opportunity to take some pictures and a friendly couple offers to take our photo. We reciprocate the favor and move on up the chains. The next section has us going over a 3 ft wide trail with sharp drop offs on both sides. Don’t trip here whatever you do.
Before much longer we can go no higher for we have arrived. Scott and Michelle happily greet us and we congratulate each other on making the summit. After spending some time taking in the panoramic vista, we wonder how we get down from here. Most accidents happen on the descent, so we must stay focused. A large group of 20 kids scrambles down before us which makes the going painfully slow.
Eventually we are all stopped, lined up in a traffic jam, trying to get off the mountain. This is about as close as we will ever get to experiencing the bottle neck at the Hillary Step on Mt Everest. Thankfully, we are 23,000 feet lower and enjoying warm weather. After all the kids are down, Cara and I are able to make our way downward while another group prepares to ascend.
We finally make it back to Scouts Lookout and enjoy some more food and drink and then we descend the wiggles to the cool canyon below. After meeting up with our party we travel back to our campsite and reward ourselves with a nice dip in the cold Virgin River. Angel’s landing hike was well worth the effort and added a lot of excitement to our trip. Next week’s post will be about “The Narrows” hike also in Zion. See you on the trail.