Driving into Zion from the East is a special thing. You crawl along a road with its tight twists, drops and climbs as it avoids boulders and traverses little valleys. It feels somewhat unreal with the red rocks and the small trees fighting for survival. There is a dark, forbidding, 1mile tunnel to drive through and at the end you are left with an impressive view as Zion Canyon is displayed in all it’s glory. If the Grand Canyon could be described as “Grand”, Zion is magnificent.
Angel Landing Trail – it’s pretty special
Sebastian, The Frenchman and I only had one day in Zion but we didn’t have such a long drive so took on a slightly great challenge of walking The Angel Landing Trail (Official info page here). This is a special trail. It would never exist in Europe and is possibly the craziest thing I’ve done on this trip even when compared to Volcano Boarding, Climbing a 1300m Volcano, Mountain Biking in Sorata or Huaraz, Scuba Diving…. I really can’t believe it exists in the USA and there is just a simple “Be Careful” sign at the beginning.
We rode the shuttle bus with it’s automated tour guide to the foot of the trail and started hiking. The first section is all concreted and it feels a bit commercialised. After a short while you you reach the first set of switch backs which climb a cliff face but again, it’s just a stroll. Old Japanese Grannies and unfit heffalumps were walking up (albeit slowly).
Just past the first set of switch-backs, there is a nice little slot canyon with a concreted path blasted into the right hand side. It’s lovely and cool but you’re still on concrete and it’s still just a stroll. There is no hiking to be done here.
Around the corner, another set of 21 tight switchbacks hug the cliff face. They are an impressive engineering feat – they allow you to climb the cliff which towers above you with a nice gentle stroll. A couple of minutes later, you’re at the top. The concreted trail ends.
Concrete isn’t that interesting!
Are you wondering what’s coming? Why the Angel Landing Trail is truly extraordinary? Why it’s the craziest thing I’ve done in the last 6 months? It’s because you walk along this:
Make a wrong step in many of the places and it’s certain death as you would slide to the edge and plummet the 1400ft to the bottom. The path is about 4” wide at places and you can only put one foot down. You are scrambling up rock faces and over obstacles that line the route. You are avoiding people coming the other way. You are trying to decide where the trail goes and which way is “safe”. There is no safety equipment, there is just a heavy chain at some points which when you start to slip and grab it for safety it comes with you and makes you panic more!
There is nothing else. No ropes. No poured concrete. No steps blasted into the rock. No authority figures to tell you off. The sign simply says “Be Careful” and notes the number of deaths in the last few years. It’s extraordinary and is truly exhilarating experience! Pictures don’t really do it justice and they certainly don’t relay the sense of impending doom that you feel whilst walking along.
Hiking along takes about thirty, hard, minutes and when you get there you end up sitting on a huge slab of rock staring out into distance. The Zion Canyon opens up in front of you, to the left white cliffs tower, to the right the trail we’ve just hiked along, behind the canyon snakes along getting narrower as it goes, below the river snakes along through trees, above the sky is a bright beautiful blue with clouds and birds fluttering by. The silence is only broken by the occasional engine noise from the shuttle bus and the curses as people chase the Chipmunks away.
Usually hikes are all about the journey rather than the destination (for example my first Volcano hike in Nicaragua) but the Angel Landing Trail is one of the few I’ve done where the Journey is just as important as the destination. We sat there for a long time before heading back.
We walked back on the concrete trail. It didn’t really compare.
Click here to load a map showing you the location of this post and images from the digitallery taken nearby.