It’s 5:30 in the morning in Springdale Utah and nerves are high. We’re preparing to hike the notoriously adrenaline inducing Angel’s Landing trail in Zion National Park and it’s lightly raining. Not only is it raining, but it’s so cold outside that the rain is creating a thin layer of ice on the pavement. Not ideal when you’re about to hike a knife's-edge with 1000’ drops on either side of you. The conversation of “We might not be able to do this today” comes up, but we all agree that we’d at least hike Walter’s Wiggle and see what the rock looks like when we get to the top. My brother-in-law Dan had planned a jam packed 10-day hiking extravaganza around the Southwest for my 30th birthday and we only had one day in Zion. It was now or never.
We throw our packs on and start the mile walk to park. After hearing stories about how crowded the trail gets, we decided we need to be on the very first shuttle into the park at 7am. Success! We’re the first ones in line for the shuttle and the sun hasn’t even risen yet. As a few more groggy hikers start to file in, there’s not much chatter going on. With the majority of the other trails in the park closed due to trail conditions, it’s clear we’re all there for one purpose. As the shuttle pulls up, thankfully the rain stops and the clouds quickly start to disperse. Half an hour later we’re at the trailhead and, thankfully, the trail is almost completely dry.
The first portion of the hike is long winding switchbacks with the first truly breathtaking views of the park. Needless to say, my legs that had been skiing most of the winter were not prepared for the abrupt change in elevation. That being said, neither were my lungs. Note to self: more winter hikes next year, less Game of Thrones rewatching. There’s a small reprieve from the climbing at about a mile in that takes you into Refrigerator Canyon. The tall slick rock walls on either side gave us a clue as to what we’d be dealing with up above. We quickened the pace and reached the bottom of Walter’s Wiggle in no time. Walter’s Wiggle is twenty-one very tight, steep switchbacks to tackle before getting to the main event. The final test of endurance before you get to test your nerve. Summiting Walter’s Wiggle is an accomplishment for a lot of people and often where a lot decide the final half mile isn’t for them. It’s the first time you get to see the ridge line ahead and it’s daunting. The thought of “who thought this was a good idea” crossed my mind to which I had to remind myself “Oh right, that was me!”
I’ve never considered myself a thrill seeker by any means of the imagination. Sure, I’ve bungee jumped, hucked a cliff or two, and done some things on my mountain bike that would make my mother extremely unhappy, but in general, I like to keep my two feet on solid ground and stay away from steep ledges. The last half mile is less of a physical test and more of a test of your emotions and mental toughness. Out of all the things I’ve done in my short life, this was by far the most terrifying. “I don’t think I can do this” crossed my mind several times on the way up, but the desire to see the view from the top won out every time. The three things I was most grateful for during the final push were all of the chains screwed into the mountain for stability and security, my running gloves that kept my clammy hands from slipping on those chains, and my Salomon XT-Wings (the updated model is the Salomon XA Elevate) with tacky enough tread to keep my feet from slipping.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy that last half mile to the top. Bottom line: I was scared. I kept my head straight so that I wouldn’t get psyched out by the drops on either side. There was the running thought of “you’re going to need to come down this too you know” that made each step closer to the summit a little more difficult. Passing a few people in tears because of fear didn’t make things any easier. I looked at my brother-in-law Dan at one point and admitted that I’d 100% go bungee jumping again, but I’m not sure I’d ever do this again.
After all of that, getting to the top was extremely rewarding. The summit offered 360 degree views of Zion unlike any other outlook in the Park. The view was worth the hike, but the thought of going back down loomed on our minds. It was still early, but the longer we were at the top, meant the more people we’d have to maneuver around on the way down. After the weather not cooperating in the morning, Mother Nature decided to give us beautiful blue skies and an unimpeded view of the park. The shuttle we had been on only a couple hours before looked like a toy car from the top. I considered building a home up there so I wouldn’t have to go back down, but figured my Clif Bar probably wouldn’t sustain me for much longer, and we started back down.
The hike down for me was much more enjoyable. Dan and I leisurely chatted with some other hikers about the Grand Canyon and got some great tips, which was the next stop on our whirlwind trip. I’m not sure if it was knowing I’d already done it or actually being able to see the whole trail stretched out in front of me, but for the first time that day I was relaxed. The only challenge of going down are the people coming up. There’s one set of chains and it’s a bit of a dance to make sure everyone is safely passing. I was happy to be doing that going down and not going up.
The comradery of the hike was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Everyone on the trail has two goals in mind: to be as safe as possible and make the summit. There were wider spots here and there where you could safely pass or allow others to go around, but everyone for the most part was extremely patient and just wanted to have a good experience.
When we finally finished the trail and got back on the bus, it was with a sigh of relief and we all took our first truly relaxed breaths of the day. It was time to prepare for the next days adventure, the Grand Canyon.
Would I hike Angel’s Landing again? Probably not. Would I recommend it for others? ABSOLUTELY! Make sure you have good shoes. Something with good tacky sole is a must. Wear gloves. If you’re anything like me, your hands are going to be sweaty and I for one enjoyed the added security of a dry grip. Get there early! I may have told a very different story if we had to wait for thirty people to pass every time we removed our hands off the chains. And lastly, have fun! The whole thing won’t be a party, but I’m so glad I did it!
Until next time!
- Laura Gardner,
Click here to learn more about Laura.