We woke up for our last day of backpacking full of excitement! Just a few miles on the West Rim Trail before we would reach Angel’s Landing, one of the main reasons we picked this route. After breakfast we took a water count, decided that we had enough to make it to Angel’s Landing and got moving. Retracing last night’s water run, we found the same splendor now with morning sun illuminating green valleys and floating forests. The magnificence of Zion continued with marvelous white rocks streaked with reds and greys. Trees littered the hills providing a spectacular green contrast to the sun-bleached rock.
Down the next hill we walked through a scattered forest of green pines. The shade it provided was much appreciated and we took a pack break at the fork. To the left lay the spring that saved us last night, to the right, new territory that drove us deeper into the canyon. We were all confident from the last 2 miles that we had enough water for the final leg. I shimmied up two trees for a better view and shortly after we were off. The path was full of steep switchbacks carved into the massive rock. The wooded valleys creating a beautiful panorama that grew closer with each step. We continued on, hoping that the path led through the forest rather than up the next mountain.
As we rounded the next switchback we passed our first sign that we weren’t alone, a trail runner charging up the mountain we had just come down. A few switchbacks later a group of boys with massive ropes, helmets and plenty of carabiners were slowly ascending. These mountaineers were climbing the path seeking the thrill of a much faster trip down. Perhaps on my next trek through Zion I’ll look into rappelling, for now I was content with backpacking. The resilience of nature was present at every bend with trees growing out of each crag. Anywhere greenery could get a foothold it took root and somehow flourished in this desert paradise. At the next switchback I found a perfect backdrop, but my models quickly lost interest as I took too long to get the lighting just right. Surfing our way down, we quickly came to the valley below with a stunning view of the cliff, which only moments earlier, we were gazing down from.
The trail flattened out in the valley as our prayers were answered, looping into the forest as we rounded the perilous mountain. We took a wrong turn, sure that we had to climb up the mountain and quickly lost the trail among the natural steps in this beautiful grey masterpiece. Calling ahead for the rest of our group to no avail, we turned around and retraced our steps until we could discern the trail. “Over here,” I heard a cry, our misadventure was but a small blip on this journey. Around the bend we found the rest of our group enjoying the shade of a looming conifer as the sun drew itself high in the sky. We joined them for a few moments and promptly continued to the other side of the giant bluff.
We were saved from one climb, but the next loomed ahead as the incline grew steeper. Up and up we went with each switchback; alternating red and white trails layered with evidence of the ancient erosion that carved the natural beauty out of solid rock. We paused momentarily to feel how smooth these red, white and now yellow rocks had become through eons of wind and rain. The trail grew higher still as we finally rounded the corner to the peak of our current endeavor. What a view, glancing around we were nearly as high as the stoic red and white guardians surrounding Zion Canyon. In the distance loomed our next mission, Angel’s Landing!
Stunned by the picturesque scene before us, we paused under the heat of midday to take in the beauty and some of the glorious water that remained. Our group once again strewn across the trail like leaves scattered in the wind. We could make out a few down the trail from us; looking more like squirrels in the forested backdrop than the friends we had recently made. Continuing down the trail Angel’s Landing inched closer. The realization of just how strenuous the climb would be soon hit us as the butterflies of vertigo swam back into my core. I could do it; I will persevere!
We quickly came upon Scout’s Lookout, a staging area for the final ascent and turnaround for small children, the elderly and others too weak to continue. We found part of our group resting in the shade. Had they decided to skip this spectacular climb? It turns out they were low on water and the group split up; half going ahead to find the next water source while the others waited for us with the gear. The comedy of errors that ensued began with us skipping this morning’s spring and split our group into 3 attempts at Angel’s Landing. The water caravan had gone down Walter’s Wiggles (a series of 21 steep switchbacks) to a river nearly 2 miles away. Part of the group found a spring and began to filter water while the others went to find a second source. They accidentally left the filter and carried “dirty” water back to be filtered later. I was oblivious to most of this since the first 2 liters came back with 2 winded hikers. Tired from their journey they insisted that 3 of us head to the top with fresh water while some rested and others went out to search for the missing crew. I obliged. 2 liters of water, 2 fabulous females, a camera and I began scaling this monstrosity.
We had little time to reflect back on our decision to leave everyone behind, as the route proved treacherous. A sign at the beginning informed us that six had taken a fatal fall over the past decade; you better believe we were going to use the reinforced chains along our climb. The journey turned out to be a series of small hikes along smooth steps cut into the rock with a sheer cliff on either side. In between these short hikes were difficult climbs up boulders and even steeper steps with the occasional level stretch for some respite. On occasion I peered over the edge to get a glimpse at the forested canyon a dizzying 1400 feet below.
Working our way up we passed many other travelers, often pressing our bodies flat against the rock to allow others to come down while we continued our ascent. The view around bend continued to amaze; each set of chains taking us higher and higher. In the distance we could see the summit but for now we took a water break. Putting the 1-liter bottle back in my pocket I resumed my climb, dodging trees and boulders as I tried to keep myself as close to the center as possible. One misstep and it could be a much quicker descent than planned. Briefly looking back on our path it was easy to see we had already reached a significant height above Scout’s Lookout. As I turned back around my water bottle brushed the rock and came loose, bouncing a few times before it rolled the final 10 feet towards the cliff and disappeared into the void.
I stood there a moment in disbelief, and quickly realized how glad I was that it was only a water bottle and not something more valuable. The trail grew narrower as it leveled off creating a thin rock bridge connecting us to the final peak. One massive chain along the bridge led us to a solitary tree, the next chain loomed just below and out of reach. A sloping, smooth rock between us. In the shade of that pine one of our companions decided she had enough and clung to the tree declaring herself a sentry for the rest of our group. Down to two of us, we continued across the bridge to the ultimate ascent.
The series of massive steps were accompanied by even more chains as the climb proved quite vertical. One after another we continued up, pausing only briefly to let someone journey downward. As we came to an especially steep switchback I paused to catch my breath and take in the scenery. “Don’t stop yet, you’re nearly there!” I heard a call from above and pushed myself onward. A stranger’s head popping out to voice encouragement was exactly what I needed as I took the final steps to witness the spectacular scene below. Zion Main Canyon, the picturesque landscape that drew us to this park was finally before me. We paused for a photo op, wind rushing up cooling us off when all of the sudden my legs began to shudder. I had to sit down and collect myself; my partner ushering me onward to explore the summit.
The height and the beauty had me stunned. My legs stopped shaking but I was content and opted to simply rest at the top rather than explore. Taking in the splendor of this natural wonder my eyes wandered over to a rustling bush where a squirrel had been entertaining other travelers. We enjoyed the serenity at the peak for a long while before deciding to begin our decent. The climb down seemed more perilous, but that likely was because our view was now focused on the greenery 1400 feet below. We soon came across another from our group who informed us that the rest had joined our previous companion at her tree and he continued upward solo. We wished him good luck and told him that the climb was absolutely worth it and continued on our downward path.
Carefully, we worked our way down the chains pausing less frequently, as the ascendants gave way so they could willingly take a break. We made good time and soon found a few of our own awaiting our return. The rest had gone on ahead to enjoy the visitors center at the bottom. I offered to wait for our friend to return from the top and sent the rest on their way. Before long he too returned and we made our way down Walter’s Wiggles and the last few miles of our journey. Even from below, Angel’s Landing was a mighty paramount in this oasis.
Our weeklong journey was nearing its end. We gathered into vehicles and finally found True North. The cabin just inside the park was a perfect retreat after covering over 50 miles on foot. New friendships had been forged and old ones rekindled on this life-changing journey. In our remaining few days we took day hikes in between some much needed R&R. With our trip coming to an end, we continued to enjoy the splendor that is Zion National Park, playing with the wildlife in a river and visiting the Emerald Pools. One last road trip remained to take us to Vegas before we flew our separate ways.
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