Soaring 1,488 feet above the canyon floor, Angels Landing received its appropriate name when Frederick Fisher, who was exploring the canyon with 3 others back in 1916, gazed upon the formation and claimed "Only an angel could land on it." Back then, there wasn't a trail leading to the top. Ascending Angels Landing was an incredibly difficult task and required a lot of rock climbing, and the first recorded ascent was in 1923 by park ranger Harold Russell. Although this was the first recorded ascent, it doesn't mean this was the first time someone ever got to the top. If anyone had previously, their name is lost to history.
The refreshing break of Refrigerator Canyon ends all too soon. The trail quickly arrives at the bottom of the infamous Walter's Wiggles, a section of 21 tight and steep switchbacks. The photo above shows only 9 of the 21 switchbacks, just to give you an idea. Check out this link to see a photo of the entire section. Back and forth and back and forth you go, slowly gaining more and more elevation. This section of the trail is named after Walter Ruesch, who I mentioned a bit earlier. The creation of this section of trail allowed for hikers to reach Scout Lookout without having to climb the sandstone cliffside.
The Angels Landing Trail is infamous in the hiking world, and the photo above shows why. That's the trail on the left. And that's a 1,000-some foot drop, right next to the trail. There's little room for error on much of this last section, as sheer cliffsides are often only a few feet away. Add dozens of people going up and down, crowding the already narrow trail, and say hello to your adrenaline rush. The section of trail pictured above is the narrowest section in the hike. But just how narrow is it?
After 2 grueling hours and 1,488 feet in vertical elevation gain later, I stepped onto the summit of Angels Landing. It was one of the most rewarding feelings I've ever felt. Squirrels and chipmunks scampered around the exhausted hikers and stunted trees. Two Peregrine Falcons, which nest on the cliffsides, darted through the air. A lone California Condor soared by on a rising thermal.
Angels Landing is relatively far-up the wider portion of Zion Canyon. This is the view looking up the canyon. The Narrows, another incredibly famous hike, begins where the canyon walls pinch together near the center of the photo.
|Looking down toward The Organ from Angels Landing.|
Here are a few personal tips for those considering hiking Angels Landing someday:
- Take plenty of water, and DRINK it. I knew I was going to need a lot of water, and even then I still became stupidly dehydrated. By the time I got back to Scout Landing, and the adrenaline wore off, I realized I had pretty bad heat exhaustion. It got pretty serious before I got back to the shuttle bus. You need way more electrolytes and water than you think you do.
- I highly suggest using trekking poles for the paved portion of the trail. They really help take the strain off of your legs (especially your knees while heading back down). HOWEVER, if you do use trekking poles, make sure that you can safely store them on/in your pack while doing the chains sections of Angels Landing; you'll want both hands free for this part. Using trekking poles during the last half mile adds unnecessary risk.
- Use very small steps when hiking uphill to save energy. People tend to take large steps when going uphill, but this utilizes more energy as your muscles must perform more work. Big steps equal quicker exhaustion and soreness. Take it slow, and take it small.
- There is absolutely NO shame in turning around at ANY POINT during the trail. If you feel like you can't continue, turn around. Don't risk your life. More than 5 people have died on this trail in the past few decades. This isn't a trail to mess around on.