“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” – Albert Einstein
Zion National Park. The crown jewel of my trip. My expectations were high from the moment I started planning this trip. The beauty would not disappoint me, but unfortunately Mother Nature strikes at my heart once again.
The park visitor center opened at 8am. I was pulling in to the parking lot at 8:01am. You think I was a bit excited? There were two main things I wanted to do here: hike to the top of Angel’s Landing and prove that my discomfort of heights was all psychological and that I would not be bothered by heights anymore. And then I wanted to hike The Narrows. Considered to be one of the top 5 hike in the world, this was the driving factor for me taking this trip. I brought both sets of hiking gear (normal and water hiking) in case after checking with the rangers on the conditions, it would be better to go today, then I’d save Angel’s Landing for tomorrow.
I walked in to the Visitors Center / Ranger Station and looked on the board. It listed temperature hi/lo, some other information and then BAM, it hit me like a truck. The next line read: The Narrows trail is closed due to extraordinary snow melt runoff. At first I thought it wasn’t real. Someone was playing a joke on me. Maybe I didn’t read it correctly. I read it again. And again. My shock started to turn to rage and I felt like pulling a Clark W. Griswold. There was no one at the desk yet because I was there so early. I needed more information. I would rearrange my trip to do this in a heartbeat. When will it reopen? Just then, a ranger, who had to be pushing 70, stepped out from the back and asked if he could help me. I inquired about the closure and he explained that it was a very weird thing. The Narrows has NEVER been closed this late in the year but the record snowfall this winter and subsequent flooding is making it too dangerous. He went on to explain that their hydrologists are estimating end of June before it will reopen. My heart sunk. I attempted to play the pity card and explained that I’ve driven out here all the way from Delaware just to hike The Narrows. I even joked about signing my life away on some waiver if he’d let me go. He seemed genuinely sorry, but I was left with a lump in my stomach. I didn’t know what to do now. I got all confused as if I was lost and wasn’t sure what to do next. I actually had to walk back to the Jeep and sit down to recollect myself. I can handle bad weather or screaming, rabid children, but crush my dream and it’s over. Needing to quickly fill the void in my soul, I decided that I was going to tackle Angel’s Landing.
I board the shuttle bus (the park is huge and in an effort to reduce human impact, they don’t let you drive past certain points – pictured above) with a group of climbers. They are all very scruffy looking, extreme sports-types with their rope, and carabiners hanging off their packs. There are also several German tourists on board as well. In fact, throughout the day I meet more German hikers than Americans. Come to find out, there are 27 bus loads of German tourists in town. Apparently they thought David Hasselhoff was playing at Zion or something. Anyway, back to the story.
I start down the trail toward Angel’s Landing. It’s only 5.4 miles roundtrip but it’s ALL up hill on huge grades. Then it’s straight up climbing from there. There are signs warning you that you will die if you screw around.
The path slope begins to increase – rapidly. Before I know it I’m shedding outer layers of clothes like they’re on fire. You can see the nice, level path from the canyon floor below and then shit gets real. The switchbacks are just the beginning.
The path juts into the rock face and increases in slope. I’m sucking wind at this point but still steadily moving.
Then I reach the “wiggles”. A park manager named Walter decided that he wanted to make people earn the view at the top of Angel’s Landing (not really) so he (ingeniously) created a very steep, very draining series of switchbacks dubbed “Walter’s Wiggles”. It’s tough to get a perspective on these from a picture but I tried. Just take however intimidating you think they might be and double it. See how tiny that guy is at the bottom?
At the top of the wiggles, I’m feeling my age. After a short break I push on toward the hard stuff. I put my DSLR camera away for this climb because I needed to be balanced and I also needed to use both hands to pull myself up on things. You don’t get any pictures of me climbing up because I didn’t want to die. As I got higher and higher I never really had any issues with height. Even looking down and enjoying the view while waiting for others to pass by. In fact, I let go of the safety chain many times, standing on the very edge while others who were obviously having height issues passed grasping for their lives. I never really had a “fear” of heights, per se, sometime they make me uneasy. And this hike proved that it’s all in my head. I’ve always been pretty sure-footed, for the most part and once I got into my rhythm I was scampering up rocks like nothing.
Many, many people turned back after going 3/4 up because of the sheer intimidation factor. Only a select few pushed forward. I was determined to be one of them. Where I’m standing taking the picture below, is where most people stopped and said “screw this”. But this was a life goal, and I’ll be damned if I was going to turn back now. Climbing up the back of the beast was what I came here for. What this picture doesn’t convey is scale. The footpath was maybe about 3 feet wide at points with nothing but a 1,400 foot drop on both sides. Intimidating.
Pushing onward, my heart raced as I grew closer and closer to the top. The entire time I was thinking, man, I have to climb back down this same way, but that was only secondary to standing at the top of this thing. I was also starving and was looking forward to eating my lunch up top. Moments later I crested the last rock and what I saw before me was absolutely the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Neither my words nor my pictures can even come close to conveying what I’ve experienced climbing up here. The feeling of personal achievement and the reward of a sight that others can only see in photos is almost spiritual.
There were a few other people sitting at the top when I got there. It was dead silence. Each of us just taking it all in as if time suddenly stood still. One of them spoke up and said “Excuse me, could you take our picture?” – in German, of course.
And that’s how I found out about the 27 busses full of Germans.