The ‘true’ summit of Angels Landing. Photo courtesy Charles Young 2012.

Once again, we were up early, and headed away from the Grand Canyon, north towards Utah and Zion National Park. Shortly after leaving the forest road we had been camped on, we came across a marvelous sight: Buffalo. We stopped so I could film a brief bit, then returned to our drive.

As we drove, we debated about the legitimacy of paranormal experiences, more specifically, ghosts and UFO’s. I love a good debate, so I enjoyed our banter about this subject.

We stopped in Fredonia, Arizona to re-fuel and then headed north into Utah.

As soon as we drove into Kanab, a charming town just across the border, I got the strangest sensation. Looking around at the mesas and cliffs with modest homes sitting right at their bases, I immediately fell in love with the area. The further we drove into Utah, the more this emotion grew in my chest. This felt like home, and we weren’t even in the spectacular areas yet. I saw trailhead after trailhead off the highway, and I just knew, right then, that my family and I would be living here in the not-too-distant future. Charles also had the same feeling about the region, and we later laughed about the possibility of both of us living here.

We turned off Highway 89 onto Highway 9, heading west towards the park. Huge mesas rose dramatically above the sagebrush desert, and I started filming from the car. Then the cliffs took an even more dramatic turn and I could sense that we were now quite close to the park boundaries.

Once inside the park, my jaw, quite literally, dropped. Staggering sandstone mountains towered over us at every turn. The beauty was beyond description, beyond compare. It was love at first sight for me. I stuck my head out of the window and tried to take it all in. Incredible. As amazing as the Grand Canyon was, to me, Zion was even better. Despite the desert setting, these were mountains, real mountains, not just bluffs or mesas, but towers of graceful sweep and grandeur, peaks rising up to narrow summits. I could feel my heart swelling. Of course, once you get up high here, you realize that the view from the valley floor is a bit misleading. The true tops of most of these peaks, are, in fact, flat-topped mesas, but by the time I realized this, it didn’t matter on iota to me.

Pointy summits abound.

We drove to the South Campground and found a site, our base for the next three days and nights. Once we had settled in, it was time to go on an adventure, and for that day we had already picked out Angels Landing. This crag, while not one of the highest in the park, has a very adventurous path to its summit, adventurous enough that several people have died from falls there. Charles had been itching to climb it for many years, and while I hadn’t been dreaming of climbing this particular peak for as long as he had, I was nonetheless excited to get up there.

We took the bus to the Zion Lodge first and charged Charles’ videocamera for about fifteen minutes in order to have just a little bit of high-def footage (in addition to my GoPro), then headed to the trailhead for the hike/scramble.

Angels Landing from the trail.

Charles went ahead at his own pace while I took my time in order to film and take it all in. Besides, after our grueling march into and out of the Grand Canyon, I felt no need to hurry on such a short hike. It was going to be hot no matter what. Throngs of tourists came and went, but even at my more leisurely pace, I still passed numerous people. The trail meandered until it reached the steep face below a notch, and at that point, the switchbacks began. I would hike for a few minutes, then stop, take some pictures and shoot some film. It was pretty hot already, but compared to what we had experienced in the Canyon, it wasn’t bad at all.

View from the Angels Landing trail.

After the initial set of switchbacks, the trail enters a narrow canyon with towering walls, and it was nice to get out of the direct sun for a time. I loved the way the canyons looked here. Such incredible beauty, a unique place with so many colors – red, orange and white, with green trees and shrubs giving a dynamic counterpoint. I loved it.

In just a few minutes I had traversed through this narrow defile and began the infamous ‘Walter’s Wiggles’, a series of numerous switchbacks that lead to the spine of Angels Landing. I set my GoPro on time-lapse mode and recorded my ascent up this marvelous trail.

When I arrived at the upper saddle, where the ‘trail’ ends and the chain-protected scramble route begins, I found Charles waiting. The route ahead was visible and we hurried on, excited to be getting to the exposed, adventurous section.

Viewing the route ahead

We charged ahead and eagerly began scrambling up the sandstone. Chain handrails gave security to those unused to the exposure, but even then, many of the people we passed were clearly intimidated by the drop-offs, which, I must admit, were quite considerable. If you slipped in certain spots, you wouldn’t stop for over a thousand feet. I must also admit that the scrambling was much more involved than I had been imagining. I had an expectation of some chains here and there, but in fact the climbing goes on for hundreds of feet. It is a really enjoyable climb, too, with the spine of the ridge appallingly narrow in spots, with thousand foot-plus drops on either side and occasional steep sections to climb.  It took us about half an hour to scramble up to the broad summit area, where we enjoyed panoramic views and fended off an overly-aggressive squirrel who was obviously used to getting handouts from pilgrims.

On the way down, Charles pointed out a pair of large owls in a tree just off the trail, and we stopped to admire the large, calm birds.

An owl along the trail

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and resting. Tomorrow would bring another day, and even more adventures.

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