The trail up to Observation point is, in my opinion, one of the single greatest pure hikes around, period. Having done the Angels Landing hike/scramble the day before (which was recently listed as the single greatest day hike in the U.S.), I can honestly say that I think this one is better. For one, there are far fewer people. With nearly double the elevation gain of Angels Landing and more than twice the mileage, it weeds out the casual hiker or tourist after the first couple of miles. Another great thing about this hike is the astounding variety of scenery packed into it.
Starting from the Weeping Rock trailhead, the initial mile is quite strenuous, switchbacking up a rock face and gaining around 800 feet of elevation. I told Charles from the outset to just go ahead and go at his own pace and I would do the same, enabling me to film and take pictures at my leisure.
When I reached the top of the first major rise, the trail switched from climbing up a sandstone face to traversing through a gorgeous, narrow canyon, with a deep, dark slot canyon below the trail. I was in awe, absolute awe. The beauty and serene tranquility(especially after experiencing the throngs on Angels Landing) was wonderful, and the climber in me naturally wanted to rap down and explore the deeper recesses.
The trail follows these narrow canyons for several miles, until finally wrapping around a corner and opening up into a wide amphitheater-like area, a sort of backdoor section of Zion that is equally beautiful to the canyon itself. Here the heat started to really rise, the next forty-five minutes of hiking was like being in an oven.
I was essentially alone on this part of the trail. I had passed a couple of young ladies in the canyon section, but out here there was virtually no one. I made my way along endless switchbacks, feeling the heat try to wither me, but after the Grand Canyon I felt pretty impervious. We had actually allowed ourselves to sleep in that morning instead of waking up at our usual four or five a.m., and now we were paying the price.
As the trail headed into a fold in the mountain, the heat increased even more dramatically. Looking at the perfect wall opposite from the trail, I saw numerous rock-climbing routes that were begging to be climbed. Eventually the trail wrapped around the side of the mesa, and once more I saw the vista of Zion Canyon below, and I knew I was getting close to the top. It was much cooler on this side, too, bringing a welcome breeze and shade after cooking for the past forty-five minutes.
The trail at this point is a switchbacking series of ledges literally blasted out of a cliff face. You can actually see this portion of the trail from Zion Canyon. I took some footage of myself hiking up the ledges, and after about ten minutes, I had reached the top of the mesa. Now it was an undulating mile along the rim to reach Observation Point. Ten or fifteen people milled around on top, enjoying the stunning views. Angels Landing, our previous hike, could be seen about a thousand feet below us. Charles and I congratulated each other on another phenomenal hike. I took more pictures and film, and once again had to fend off an over-aggressive squirrel who was obviously used to handouts.
We spent fifteen minutes enjoying the stunning views before heading back down. When we got back to the begining of the narrow canyon, I opted to scramble down and see if I could make it through one of the narrow slot canyons I had seen on the ascent. It was so amazing in there, the walls that were only five feet across but one hundred feet high snaked below the trail. I finally got to a point where there was a pool of water, and if I hadn’t had the expensive cameras on me, I would have gone for a swim to reach the other side, but I thought better and went back to re-join the trail.
When we reached the junction with the Hidden Valley trail (on the initial rock face we had hiked from the Weeping Rock trailhead), we headed back up, but that is a subject for the next blog…