carocali (carocali) wrote,

Angel's Landing, Part 1

Hi!  Two weeks ago today we were climbing a mountain!  I know I'm really behind, and I'm sorry.  Getting back to the real world has been a trip.

I'm still trying to figure this out, and I'm going to attempt to put pictures in here.  Hopefully it will work.  I have to do it in two parts because it was giving me a hard time.  Sorry about that!  I also do plan on finishing the journal, it's just that this was really the pinnacle of our trip, so I toiled over making it right.  There's still a lot I left out, but my favorite nephew informed me that my journal is like a text book (gotta love those college seniors!) so I tried to break it down a bit more.

Thanks again for all the encouragement and support through our trip.  We really enjoyed ourselves and were glad to take you along for the ride.  

Here's part 1

Caroline and Kathy



October 10, 2007


So the day has arrived – the day that I’ve been worried about for quite some time.  Let me start from the beginning (a very good place to start).


When Kathy first found the article in the National Geographic magazine about Route 89, she got excited.  We started talking about actually doing this; making this trip along this scenic byway of valleys, plains and mountains.  Books were purchased, days were spent looking up information online from leads we’d found along the way.  And Kathy wanted to hike – really hike.  That meant that I needed some reliable hiking boots and for that, we went to REI (don’t ask me what that stands for).   Anything you could possibly need to enjoy the world from nature’s point of view – coats, camping equipment, kayaks – it’s all there! This store is an outdoorsperson’s dream.


I am not that person.


It takes me about five minutes in the sun before I get burnt; I’m more about the shade.  I watch the waves roll onto the shore – not jump into them.  I love the beauty of nature, but I’m not one to really participate in it.  So, I knew we were in for some trouble once Kathy had her mind set on hiking.


Every employee in the store was a treasure and a nature enthusiast; really good, honest people.  They were thrilled to hear what we had planned. One gentlemen, upon hearing about the trip, insisted that we go to Angel’s Landing in Zion.  He went on and on that it was the most stunning view he’d ever seen in a national park and that while the hike up was a little difficult, we could do it no problem (he had also recommended the Narrows as well).  He painted a beautiful picture and spurred our interest in the area.


We started to do some research on Angel’s Landing, and I’d spoken to a few people who’d actually been there.  The reviews were mixed on the difficulty of the climb, but Kathy and I decided we were up for the challenge.  No day but today!


Having been in the park for a day, and having actually seen Angel’s Landing from the ground, I was starting to rethink my keenness (a little shoe humor) for the climb.  It was high – really high.  Over 5700 feet!  And I was supposed to climb this?  Me, the person whose idea of nature is looking outside her window and watching a bird fly by?  I was beginning to think I’d lost my mind.




The rocky monsters again blocked the sunlight from gathering in our room that morning, so I was able to sleep in a little.  Kathy was up and at ‘em really early and anxious to get to the climb.  Her first thought was to get up around 6ish (ha ha ha) and hit the mountain early, but after our visit to the Narrows and a chat with a young adventurer, she suggested a later start in the day would be more comfortable.  That was fine by me and we headed over to have a hearty last meal – I mean breakfast – before we strolled to the bus to take us to the drop-off point.


The sign for ‘The Grotto’ came quicker than anticipated and we stepped off the bus to our destination.  There was a ‘tour group’ that was gathering for the guided hike. Kathy and I enjoy the solitude of the adventures - not being rushed - so we let them go on ahead.


We crossed the bridge over the Virgin River and started the at-first gentle climb along the West Rim of the mountain on a sandy path.  Footprints of hiker’s past littered the trail and spurred us on our quest.  The incline steepened and we both found ourselves out of breath much too quickly.  The pictures we’d found online tried to give an idea of what we were climbing, but we didn’t have a map, and there certainly was not a sign that says ‘you are here’ anywhere in sight.  We had to rely on what we’d heard and seen, and deduct where we were. 


The best thing about having the digital camera was the excuse to stop and take a picture every minute.  “Oh wait, I have to get this” and “That’s so beautiful, I need a picture!”  With this strategy, I was able to snap legitimate pictures and catch my breath every few minutes (yes, minutes).  Luckily, Kathy was in no hurry and we both found ourselves a little worse for the wear as we made our way up the faux switchbacks, gasping for air early on in the game.


The tour group we saw at the beginning of our journey stopped, then passed us.  We passed them; they passed us.  This game of cat and mouse continued on for quite some time as we huffed up the mountainside.  They finally just blew us away, and Kathy and I were left making our way up the steadily increasing incline, feeling more of the strain of our underused muscles that were now begging us to halt our madness.


As we persisted, we found our first set of torturous switchbacks was not the famous “Walter’s Wiggles” we’d read about, so we knew we had a while to go before we hit that stretch of fun.  The problem was, this part was unending and really nothing compared to what we were to face ahead.  Kathy and I vowed to just take our time, and that’s exactly what we did.


The higher we climbed, we saw that some of the trails were actually semi-paved, which created a nice grip with our fantastic hiking boots.  Sand was a little scary as a base for footing up the slopes, and I didn’t need any more reasons to turn back.  My heart was already thumping on my eardrums sending an SOS to my head, but I ignored my inner voices and plowed forward. The addition of the pavement added a comfort level to this part of the hike that was not present before.


Up we went, trying to keep ourselves erect to get more oxygen to our struggling lungs (we’d overheard Steve, the tour guide, instructing his flock to do that).  The backpacks we carried added extra weight and it pulled from our reserves.  Kathy managed to take off her coat and her long-sleeved t-shirt in a matter of minutes, but I kept myself layered and trudged onward.


Finally, we reached the top of the first part of the trail – Act One if you will – and took solace in the fact that we’d made it that far.  We mentally patted ourselves on the back for getting through the first mile, turning the corner to see what was next on our plate.


Suddenly, the trail around us was void of direct light and we noted the drop in temperature.  This was the famed Refrigerator Canyon - the calm before the storm - where cool breezes dry your sweaty brow after the twists and turns of the previous path.  A quick reprieve from the harshness of the path up.  The lack of direct sun in your vision allows you to see the rewards for your efforts hidden on this part of the trail.  Steep drops border the wide corridor, but nothing scarier than we’d already passed.  


The rock was smooth in some areas, like it had been sanded pristinely, yet other parts showed scrapes and violence down and across their sides, creating jagged cuts of unfinished tic-tac-toe boards.  Lines of black scorch the sides, but only sporadically, leaving more questions than answers. Statuesque formations stood proud along the way as the foliage placed gifts at its feet in honor. 


Lush vegetation, pine trees, mossy plants.  This flora would never make it in the oven around the corner on the stone; they’d be fried up and sent to the table as an appetizer.  Here they were safe and they flourished.


The sand on the trail was acceptable at this point since there was no vertical incline at all.  Here, you catch your breath and take in the beauty of the cavelike atmosphere; forget the woes of Act One and enjoy the intermission of the canyon.  The confidence in our abilities grew during this half mile portion of the hike as we chipped away at the mileage.


Overall, it didn’t seem too bad!


Then you come face to face with the real Walter’s Wiggles; twenty-two switchbacks about 15-20 feet in length each with an incline of about 30-45%.  It doesn’t sound that bad, really, until you start heading up. 

(The best picture of this is really at this website; it's the 7th one.  'Tanya' has some great pictures.  She, apparently, wasn't scared out of her gourd as she traveled):

I’m calling this Act Two.


The idea of the switchbacks originally was to give the average hiker a fighting chance of making it up at least to Scout’s Lookout to see the grandeur of the area.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy by any means.  Every two twists up the steep mountainside, we had to stop and catch our breath, and mine was playing hide and seek.  There’s also the added concern of the higher altitude and thinning of the air, but if you’re out of shape (guilty!!), it doesn’t bode well for you on any level.


Regardless of the elephants sitting on our chests, we ferried on, step by step, inch by inch.  I stopped and took pictures so I would know where we were, and sipped my water occasionally.  The process was still slow climbing those twenty-two little ramps, even after the intermission at Refrigerator Canyon gave us our legs back. Along the way, we piggy-backed on the trail of a couple that debated whether they would go all the way to the top of Angel’s Landing.  Then they were out of our sight as well.  


Finally, we reached Scout’s Lookout – a flat surface (with port-o-potties!) where chipmunks reigned and people took their last hesitant glances towards the remaining ½ mile of trail.  This spot was still quite a ways up, and it’s quite a stunning view, but this was where the average hiker called it quits.  You’ve been through a somewhat grueling two miles, and you’ve earned your rest.  You still get a beautiful view and a great workout.  I would’ve been fine stopping right there, looking around, popping a squat and munching on my trail mix.  But I knew it would never happen.  We came to conquer this thing, and there was no way Kathy would let us go home without making it to the top.


Lots of people were mulling around.  We noticed some of the original tour group hanging around – not willing to take those final steps up the mountain.  They seemed perfectly content to bask in the glory of their victory.  And I was right there with them, seeing that we were already 5500 feet up.


From here, you get your first glimpse of the “mountain goats” making their way up the side of the rock, twisting and turning as they maneuvered the trail.  The chains protruded along the makeshift path and people were either hanging on for dear life or barely using them; there really wasn’t an in-between.  It was the first real chance for this to sink in; where you were and what you think you were about to do.

We took tentative steps toward the edge of the mountain, absorbing the magnificence of the land below.  The road that embraced the park trolley was clearly seen, and the occasional vehicle puttered by.  Views of the Virgin River danced in the sunlight as the water snaked its way through the countryside. 


As we pulled our glance skyward, the overview of the landmarks came into play.  Now we were just below eye level with the stars of the park – the Great White Throne, Big Bend, Zion Canyon.  And, of course, Angel’s Landing – straight ahead!  There was a fantastic view downward of The Organ; the “little” piece at the bottom of the Landing that reminded us of a pipe organ perched in a church that’s a million years old.


I stalled here for a spell, hoping that Kathy would be happy with the beauty of the area.  Some guy even offered to take our picture by this tree whose roots were protruding from the rock. It looked like it was about ready to fall into the abyss of the canyon.  Safe, really safe!  I plastered on a big smile as he snapped the picture, thinking that maybe my family and friends would have a nice shot to remember me by.  Then I turned the camera on myself and screamed.


Kathy gathered her snacks and put them into the backpack signaling it was time to move out.  I gave her a quick, pathetic glance, hoping she’d changed her mind but military nurse jumped into step.  Reluctantly, I put my backpack on and followed her towards the beginning of the last half mile of our trail.

Part two coming.  The pictures are difficult and I'm sure I'm doing something wrong.  Quick note:  if you can get to, my sign in is and the password is route89.  It might be easier to look at them there if you can get in.

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