Wings and Prayers: How to Hike Angel’s Landing
Wings and Prayers: How to Hike Angel’s Landing
Confession time: I am not an extreme hiker. I boulder hop but I don’t rock climb. I like to summit but I have no desire to be a Fourteener. Kilimanjaro sounds neat but Everest sounds nauseating. Probably literally. But I don’t mind a little bragging rights, even if I’m bragging about something thousands of people do every summer.
Oh Pintrest. You and your pretty pics coming at me from all angles, begging me to go there…do that… I had not heard of Angel’s Landing until a few months ago but when I saw those chains I knew I’d do it. Honestly I was more afraid of the elevation than the incline. And Lordy was I right about that!
As I said, I don’t do technical hikes. I love to jump boulders and this often involves a bit of canyoneering and rock, eh, crawling, but I don’t need to use ropes or carabineers or the things that you screw in and attach the ropes to. (See, not technical.) I do have some gloves so I keep my skin where it should be.
So though I’ve done some crazy (read: stupid) things out on the mountainside, Angel’s Landing is a sanctioned kind of crazy. Since I was already knocking the Narrows off my bucket list I figured I’d add the equally well-known Angel’s Landing. If the steepness didn’t kill me then I knew I could get through the last bit just fine.
And I did. And I liked it!
Using the Zion Shuttle system, disembark at the Grotto. I arrived around 8 AM and the sun was still spreading inside the canyon. It was beautiful. If you weren’t already aware, this area will show you why the place is called Zion.
There’s a restroom by the shuttle stop and although there is one up the mountain a bit, it isn’t one the park wants you using. Sort of a “it’s here so you don’t pee on the ground but please try to hold it” outhouse. The one at the Grotto has stalls and sinks. There’s also a lovely picnic area spread out around the valley but the river is on the other side of the road and that’s where the real beauty lies.
Cross the road and head for the footbridge. Take a moment here, especially if the sun is glinting because you will feel nature’s/God’s/your mom’s love. Or just shoot a couple of pics; there will be lots of photo-ops this day.
The Grotto is the head of a couple of hikes, namely Angel’s Landing and the Emerald Pools. Cross the bridge and you’ll see signs; one goes left to the pools (about a mile) and one goes right to the rim. Angel’s Landing is really two hikes in one: Scout’s Lookout (~2 miles) and the Landing (another 1/2 mile).
Scout’s offers much the same views but lower so a bit less panoramic. If you are afraid of heights, you can still get a lot out of this hike; just stop at the Lookout as many, many do. Just wait here for the less phobic people in your group to get back from Angel’s Landing so you don’t have to miss out on this view even if you don’t want to go way up there. There are places to sit and even a bit of shade if your lucky. This is also where they keep the toilets they don’t really want you using.
(I used one. It’s not that they don’t work, it’s just a seat over a hole, it’s that it’s really hard to clean them out from that area. Understandable. They might have to use a helicopter, I don’t know.)
It starts off slow and easy, following the river and showing you the sights. Then it begins. The switchbacks. The steepness. The sweat.
Okay, this isn’t a crazy hard hike. But if you’re a flatlander, let me tell you it works the lungs. And eventually the lungs stop allowing your blood to pump oxygen everywhere it needs to go. Lesson? Just take a quick break and enjoy the gorgeous views. Get your wind and then keep going. There’s an amazing payoff waiting up there.
Since I researched this hike a little I knew about an area called Walter’s Wriggles. These are switchbacks constructed (by the first Zion Park manager, it turns out) to make the hike “more accessible”. Not easier, more accessible. I think crawling up the side of the mountain would have been easier to be honest. Here’s the funny thing: not too far into the hike, you start doing some switchbacks and they aren’t too easy but nothing to whine home about. I got to about the tenth though and thought, nice spot for some photos, a drink, a take-five. It’s actually a GREAT spot, you can see the whole river valley spread out on one side and a verdant canyon yawning on the other. Many will be snapping pics here, FYI.
As I sat, I thought, cool, killed it on the Wriggles. Turns out, those were not the Wriggles, those were just normal switchbacks on the trail.
These are the Wriggles.
But first you get to go through a beautiful, shaded, green canyon that gives you a respite from the first set of switchbacks before the real Wriggles. Enjoy this area as it’s about to get real.
The Wriggles are 21 switchbacks and steep AF. Honestly I don’t know if I hated going up or down them more as both kinda sucked. (Up. I hated up.) But pretty much right after you finish the Wriggles you have arrived at the lookout.
From Scout’s it’s on to Angel’s Landing. You can see the spine stretching but can’t really tell how far you have to go until you get past the first set of chains. If you aren’t sure if you want to do the Landing, I recommend doing this first bit because it’s a good taste of what’s to come and there is another rest spot that has less people just past the chains. So if your buddies/SO/teenagers want to go on but you don’t, pop a squat by this tree and take a nap.
The spine ranges from 3-6 feet but it’s not spine all the way. Sometimes it’s a rocky staircase, sometimes it’s a chain screwed into the mountainside. Fun times!
About the chains: you don’t always need them but never forget they are there. There are moments when it is easier to use a knob in the rock but should you lose your balance, that knob is not going to help. Often though your shimmying through boulders and you can use those to guide you. But when it’s steep and the rock path is thin, the chains are fan-tiddily-astic. Pull yourself up or sort of rappel down. The latter seems weird if you’ve never done it but it only takes a few steps to realize it’s the better way.
Good news: it’s worth it. Views for days, anywhere you turn. While I was taking it all in, a dude crested behind me and let out an involuntarily “O my God”. Yep. No way a benevolent deity didn’t create this space for us humble humans. It makes you feel small but blessed. Fully. Alive.
The Landing is long and narrow, but not narrow like the spine. There’s a lot of room to spread out, a few trees to sit under, and even a big boulder to crawl up on for a view that’s five feet higher. If you want to queue up, that is. And if you really want some alone time you can climb down to one of these ledges and build a I-was-here cairn. (No thank you, I’m good.)
-First, let me talk to the short folk. I’m not so much short but I do have short legs. (Like a gymnast without the high-jumping abilities…) I learned pretty fast that a good ole butt-slide is nothing to be ashamed of. Not many used this technique but it was a heck of a lot easier than jumping off and risking my knee joints. Or using the chains, which took twice as long sometimes. Use the butt-slide. The butt-slide is your friend.
-Wear proper shoes. I wore my best hiking boots but strong hiking sandals or decent tennis shoes would be fine. Flip-flops? Why are you stupid? A couple of chicks went barefoot and though I never would, this might be all right. Toes are sort of like fingers and skin is somewhat slip resistant. Ballet slippers? Dear lord, woman.
I honestly don’t know why those people didn’t die. I’m glad, just surprised.
-Blessed be the children. But God has better things to do right now than make sure your child doesn’t drop off the side of the mountain. And it’s not just the technical difficulty of it; kids are short. Some drops are around four feet and they are not even four feet tall. That math is not hard.
Bring your kids on the first part, to Scout’s Lookout. That’s a great hike with almost the same payoff. Because of the nature of the rest of the hike, long lines form on either end of the chains. Those lines grow longer while we are waiting for you to help your kiddo down a boulder. And the poor kid gets all self-conscious about it. They might never hike again… Think about amusement parks and those height requirements for roller coasters, etc. Same thing applies here. Just wait until they’re older.
-If you are slower, let people pass. Feign like you need yet another pic, or a sip of water. It helps the lines at the chains if less people are waiting on each side. I was behind a couple who weren’t too much slower than me but behind me was a couple of teenagers. The boy kept talking about “making their move” and getting past us using his outside voice. To her credit, his sister kept shushing him, but the way he kept trying to make that move was as dangerous as much as it was rude.
(Whatever, teenagers right? Death doesn’t exist for them yet. Probably why they survived in flip-flops! If you don’t fear death then you cannot die, amirite?) Point is, be aware of your surroundings and just let them pass.
-Think you brought enough water? Go ahead and grab another bottle. Especially if you’re going to pant yourself dry like I did on those switchbacks.
-Early is definitely better. The queues, the temperature and even the views will be better earlier. On that, it took about an hour for me to do the two miles to Scout’s Lookout and about an hour and fifteen minutes to do the last half mile. (This includes my never-ending picture taking efforts.) But the way back down to Scout’s took longer because there were so many more people going up.
-A note on going down. It hurts. Toesies and kneesies. But instead of taking small, furtive steps, take big ones. There’s something in the balance of it that lessens impact and momentum. Also, a lot of people ran it. Not I, to be sure, but many. I remember thinking (on the way up, heaving and cursing) that they were show-offs but I may have been wrong on that. They may be smart. I thought about it but after I saw a lady bite it and bloody a knee, I thought, nah. Vicarious lesson-learning, that.
-Overall just be aware, be careful, and don’t wear flip-flops. You’ll be fine and glad you did it!
I know I am!