Utah: Zion National Park – Angels Landing (almost) 8.8km?

Today I planned to do THE Utah hike.

Angels Landing via West Rim Trail in Zion National Park is one of the most dangerous hikes in USA. People have died there coming off the mountain. Warnings everywhere.

Angels Landing itself stands roughly 1,500 feet above the canyon floor. The conquest of Angels Landing is not recommended for anyone with vertigo. However, the rewards are the most stunning viewpoints and vistas across Zion National Park. Or so they said…

I must admit that I was a little nervous about what I was about to face. The return trip takes about 3-4 hours depending on where you read, even though it is only 8.7km long. The trail climbs 453m but in a short distance. And some sections can only have 1 person walking at a time.

This is Angels Landing from the trail along the canyon.

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Now, as you may see on the map below, I didn’t hike to the top of Angels Landing. There were several reasons for that:

  • I am not a rock climber
  • My travel insurance would not cover any accidents that I may have there
  • My now “healed” broken arm may not take all the pulling and pushing of my bodyweight
  • Good Mrs did not want me to ruin her holidays. She noted that an overseas death needs 2 death certificates. One from country of death and one from country of residence. Also, transport of body would cost (yes, she did say this)

OK, I confess. I was shitscared.

There is a section, a narrow 1 meter wide section, with 1,000 feet drop-offs on either side. Rocky, with a chain bolted into the ground to pull yourself up as the steps are gigantic. I just couldn’t do it.

You may notice that the GPS had problems to do accurate readings so close to the rocks. There are spikes shooting off in all directions in the map above if you blow it up.

Let’s start from the beginning…

Good Mrs and I left Hurricane by 7.30am and were inside Zion National Park and on a shuttle bus by 8.15am.

The park has a great system to deal with its mass tourism. You park your car at the Visitor’s Center and then the shuttle bus takes you to any of 8 key points in the park. The frequency of bus arrivals is fantastic. There is normally another bus arriving anywhere you are within 5-10 minutes.

No fee for bus, the entry fee to the national park covers the cost for the service. Which this week is no cost at all as it is National Park Week across the U.S. and free entry to all the parks.

I got out at shuttle bus stop 6, The Grotto, from where the hike up to Angels Landing starts.

You first cross a bridge over Virgin River…

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…and then continue towards the rock face below.

Flat, or relatively flat, ground to begin with, but not flat there. You may see hikers making their way up.

 

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The elaborate compact switchbacks are known as Walter’s Wiggles and dates back to 1930s. Hard surface all the way along. Concrete, but no actual steps. Only sloping concrete. Solid grip though.

The views get better and better as you ascend (of course).

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I had to take this picture just to show how out of breath I was here. Hiking towards Angels Landing is serious business, not just the finish.

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The below trail section was typical for long parts of Walter’s Wiggles. A wide enough path for hikers to pass each other, but no fencing or protection. Not scary yet.

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Looking back down to where the climb started.

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Walter’s Wiggles has a “flat” part in the middle called Refrigerator Canyon. It is a deep hanging side canyon where temperatures always remain cool. And there is some shade as well. Looking one way…

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…and the other.

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After negotiating the 21 steep and narrow curves of Walter’s Wiggles, you arrive here. This is Scouts Overlook where the trail to Angels Landing departs from West Rim Trail which continues north. Scouts Overlook is also a place for picnics and the end destination for many hikers. Great views all around and a great atmosphere among the hikers.

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I didn’t stop at Scouts Overlook. I was still on a mission to “conquer” Angels Landing. The rock scrambling on the side of this next hill was no problem. I could do that and I did do that.

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But this is where I got stuck. The final destination for Angels Landing is there opposite. Up that last stretch of rock scrambling.

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I couldn’t go on. The drops on either side here are around 1,500 feet / 300 meters. Straight down.

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Just taking these photos scared me.

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A hiker in action doing what I couldn’t get myself to do. I did try to approach the narrow section twice, but I had to turn back.

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A bit further on the other side it didn’t look too bad. Rock scrambling but with lots of chains to hold on. But busy as the hike to Angels Landing is popular.

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And this is how a disappointed Hans The Hiker looked like when he realised the inevitable. The end of the line for him for today.

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Mind you, there were many others who stopped in their tracks at that same place. I would guess that perhaps 1 in 4 were unable to proceed. Some didn’t even try. They hiked up to Scouts Overlook which was their predetermined destination for the day. And that was where they turned back.

The views from Scouts Overlook… Not bad, hey?

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One online review described the chipmunks around Scouts Overlook as “aggressively friendly”. That was no exaggeration.

Before returning back down, I stopped for an apple and a bite there at Scouts Overlook. One chipmunk was almost inside my backpack and several were around my feet. Cute though, and smaller than the squirrels down in the canyon.

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Returning down on the Walter’s Wiggles switchbacks. In some ways, it was harder walking back down. As mentioned, the surface is hard concrete and your knees feel it.

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The views, the views…

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Here is an example of the surface. An optical illusion as the path is actually going down.

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The confirmation that the distances are not long back at the beginning of the trail up to Angels Landing,

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In summary, I felt disappointed that I couldn’t hike to the top of Angels Landing. On the other hand, it is better to be safe than sorry. And what I hiked gave me a fantastic workout and hike.

I have read that others like me who were not brave enough to go the full distance, return later for a second go at it and then they complete it. Maybe so, but who knows when I will be back in Zion National Park.

Dear Reader, if you are in Zion National Park, I do recommend that you give the hike to Angels Landing a try. It is a brilliant hike regardless of how far you end up walking.

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