Saturday, November 5, 2011

Zion National Park, Day Two

The second day at Zion was our big hike to Angel's Landing. Ashley, Laurie and I got up at 5:30 for an early breakfast with our hiking team and guide Charles. Everybody had met the night before, but I had retired early so I was new to everyone except Ashley and Laurie. We gathered our gear, retrieved our sandwiches and delicious snacks, and then took the shuttle to the park. 

When we first got out at the base of the trail, it was still dark, and rather cold. I had on a winter hat, and fleece gloves. We set out at a quick pace on fairly flat ground. Charles was an excellent guide, though, in my opinion, and moved along but stopped frequently enough for me. Pretty soon we started climbing a series of switchbacks. We got a good view of the valley below, as the sun began to rise. Awesome. 

The Angel's Landing trail is similar to the Observation trail, in that you end up after climbing a bit in a chasm or canyon, that's flat but cooler and rocky. At the Angel's trail, it's called Refrigerator Canyon. I'm sure in the summer it's a welcome reprieve. 

The next part of the trail involves climbing a series of short but steep switchbacks called the wiggles to Scout's Lookout. Before you get to Scout's Lookout, you have to 'squiggle the wiggles." Scout's Lookout is a large flat area at the base of Angel's Landing. We rested here and hung some of our packs and gear in the trees. We left our trusted hiking poles behind, because Angel's Landing is so steep they're useless. Also, you frequently have to use both feet and both hands to hold on. 

Our Team of Fearless Hikers
I was nervous but excited. The adrenaline was definitely pumping, which helped a lot to pay attention. You have to become somewhat Zen as you're climbing Angel's Landing, and watch every step carefully. I found it helpful to not look around as I was climbing. It's disorienting and scary, as the drop on both sides is thousands of feet. When there was the opportunity to rest at a landing, that's when you realized how high up you were. The views were simply spectacular.

It's a steep and long climb, but we took our time. Several times I thought we had made it to the top, only to discover in the distance another enormous jutting rock cliff waiting to be scaled. When you look at what you are about to climb, you can't believe you can do it.

High on Life
At the top we rested and ate. The air was so clean, the view so stunningly beautiful, and my body felt so good, I'm pretty sure I was high on being alive.

I was appropriately worried about the descent. Going down Angel's Landing can be more treacherous than going up. As my coach said: "Ascending is optional, descending is required." But it was easier than I expected, and seemed quick. When I got back to Scout's Lookout, I couldn't believe I had done it!

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