Since first visiting Zion National Park last April, I have been calling it one of my favorite National Parks and one of the best to visit with friends. No surprise, then, that I’ve spent the last year telling the girls, “We are going to Zion in 2015!” After seeing Grand Canyon last year, they didn’t need much convincing.
Nicole and Linda flew into Los Angeles on Friday, and we got on the road immediately, stopping only to replace forgotten pants and a lost water bottle. My goal was to get to Utah before the sun went down, and we just barely succeeded. After checking into our hotel, we walked to the nearby saloon for some good food. We were all exhausted and only made it up in time the next morning to return to the same restaurant for a special “late risers” breakfast.
I have been telling people about Angels Landing for a year. I had an amazing time hiking it and then proceeded to have nightmares about it for months, then began to remember it as fun until the girls and I started planning this trip, and then the nightmares returned. It truly is the craziest hike I have ever done, and it was one thing to do it alone, and another to lead my friends to it. I guess I don’t have the nickname Captain for nothing.
People say that the first part of hiking Angels Landing is the hardest, because it consists only of switchbacks, but I suspect that the rest is just as hard, but you’re distracted by the beauty and terror of being inches on both sides of a drop of thousands of feet. I will stop scaring you now. If you’re in Zion, I highly recommend Angels Landing, and I’ll do it every time I return. But, even the shuttle that drops you off at the trailhead warns that people do fall off the trail, and that’s not hard to imagine.
We made it to the top of the switchbacks and kept going. Everyone we encountered on the trail was not just kind, but over-the-top supportive. They kept saying, “You’re almost there!” and then the girls would look at me and I’d say, “We are not almost there.” Linda doesn’t have much experience hiking and was wearing shoes without great traction, but whenever she apologized for slowing anyone down, they’d say, “You’re doing great. Just take your time.” Even a small group of young boys cheered her on.
I watched as the same thing that happened to me the first time I hiked Angels Landing happened to everyone else: each time they thought they were at the top, they’d look up and see tiny people even higher. There is really no doing the trail justice in words or pictures. I love traveling and hiking alone, but it was very cool to share this experience with friends. When we reached the top, we were stalked by chipmunks, yelled with some Canadian strangers, and had our picture taken. Then we made it safely back down and rewarded ourselves with beer and burgers.
The next day we had planned to hike The Narrows. I wimped out of it last time, and was determined to do it this time, but we didn’t get an early start and wanted to see more of the park, so we opted for three shorter hikes instead. First we headed to the Emerald Pools. This trail was new to me. It’s a very short hike to the lowest and coolest pool, but we continued on from there, stopping when we saw a 360 rainbow around the sun, and then continuing on to the middle and upper pools.
Next we jumped back on the shuttle and headed to Weeping Rock, a trail not as sad as it sounds. It’s true that the rock weeps, and we sat under it and watched the water fall. Then we started on Hidden Canyon trail. It began with another series of switchbacks, and Linda was about to call it quits when we and some more kind strangers talked her into continuing on. Later we kept saying, “Can you imagine if Linda had missed this?!"
The next part of the trail was strange and seemingly unmaintained. Sandbags sat to the side and parts of the trail looked like it had nearly been wiped out by water. Finally we reached a long set of stairs, and at the top as we passed a couple, the man said, “There’s a hanging sidewalk ahead.” We didn’t know what that meant until we saw it for ourselves.
It looked almost like part of the canyon wall had melted to make it possible, with the help of a chain handrail, to walk along the edge of it. It’s a testament to the number of amazing hikes in Zion that this trail didn’t even get the thumbs up in my guidebook. Nicole and Linda had admitted to me by then that they kind of liked the dangerous trails, so we all had a great time. After navigating the edge of the canyon wall, we reached Hidden Canyon.
A set of stairs carved into the rock takes you into the canyon, which is flat except for a number of obstacles, which we navigated with the help of strangers. This time we had an opportunity to be encouraging to others. We made it as far as we could go with only one incident where we thought Linda might have reached her breaking point, but it turned out she was just stuck between two rocks and laughing at her own joke. Two other hikers told us that the trail used to be longer, but a rock slide had shortened it years earlier, which made me think that National Parks are places where you can always expect that things are changing and yet also count on them staying the same.
We had made it through so many miles thinking that our reward would be pretzels, cheese, and beer at Zion Lodge, but by the time we made it back there, they had closed. It had still made for good motivation, at least, and we stopped at the first place outside of the park.
That night we spent some time laughing by the pool, which is what we do best. We used to make a point of talking about our hopes and dreams on every trip, but now in our thirties, we have grown predictably more practical. After five years of traveling together, we now only see each other once a year, but we’re committed to making that happen. We’re thinking another National Park in 2016, but we haven’t decided which one.
On our drive home, we encountered another bit of nature—tumbleweeds crossing the freeway and thunder so loud that I ducked once when I thought it somehow struck us.