We began the short descent to start the trail. (Here, my memory is a bit of a blur because I was overcome with terror). I had been warned that right before this part of the course, there is a ‘bridge’ you have to cross. This bridge is about four feet wide and has sheer drops on either side. I looked at Kathy and said, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Yes, you can. You’re doing great. I’m so proud of you!”
Oh, yeah, she knows all the buttons.
I took a deep breath, and then other for good measure, and started across the way, trying not to see the lack of scenery on either side of me. Kathy was already across, sending encouraging vibes to me the whole time. I have to admit, it’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, and it’s not even about the height. My prevalent issue is that I’m the world’s biggest klutz. I can walk into a wall standing still. Balance is most certainly not my friend and with the added weight of the backpack, I really wasn’t sure if I could hold myself together long enough to get across. Kathy’s soothing words of comfort and encouragement got me through as I tried with all my might to stop myself from looking down.
After what seemed like a lifetime (but in reality was probably about ten seconds) we were over the chasm. There was a slight tremble in my body and I could feel my eyes start to tear. That pounding in my ears was back, too. I must’ve looked either flushed or pale (my bet is on the latter) because Kathy asked me if I was alright. This became her mantra through our whole exchange to the top, checking to make sure I was still there, both physically and mentally.
We continued onward and upward. I don’t have any pictures of this particular part of the climb because I was too busy hanging on for my life. (Check Tanya's picutres in the other link. They're great for the trail!) Kathy took lead, finding the footholds and carving the way. The first several jogs up were alright, but as we got higher and higher, the struggle became more difficult. Both of us are rather short, and some of the holds were meant for people taller (smarter, faster, braver) than us. It became about ingenuity and how to maneuver the best grip on the rock while doing the splits; all while carrying the backpack.
Along the path were poles and chains meant to assist in the climb. As our first real steps were taken, our clambering was in a sideways motion and several people were attempting to come down from the landing. (Let me just add here, that when you’re already freaked out by the situation, it doesn’t help to have to stop your concentration to get out of the way for the ascending travelers. I cannot even imagine what this would be like during the “on” months where hundreds and hundreds of people flock to this trail daily.) There were just enough people that day to manipulate the flow and stay out of each other’s way, but if you needed assistance, someone was around to help.
The biggest concern I had at this point in the trail (minus the obvious) was that the chain was almost buried in the rock. There was very little give to it, and the scrapes along the sandstone were carved out from the use of the cable grinding back and forth. Trying to grasp it fully resulted in scraped knuckles and cracked fingernails. Then, if you take a gander behind you, you see the clear drop down to the canyon below. Why I kept looking, I’ll never know. Maybe because I didn’t fully understand what I was doing. It seemed more like a dream to be scaling a mountain.
We Spidermaned our way up the side of the wall and hit a small plateau of sorts. The nice thing about this trail was that it was well maintained. There were spaces to cram yourself in to without too much fear of falling off. Here, you can let people pass, or to just take a quick breath. The sojourn was brief before we headed along the path again, getting closer to our destination.
It became more challenging and vertical the further we went. “You alright?” I’d here every few minutes, nodding an answer I realized Kathy couldn’t hear. My attention was on finding the next foothold and avoiding the oncoming traffic. Some of the grips were ridiculously placed where even a giant couldn’t get to them, so we MacGyvered our way up to the next level, knowing that we would be there soon.
The next plateau was a faux landing of bright ivory rock. A spindly tree was the major landmark to signal our post. Several people were huddled around making their final decision of whether to stay or go onward to Angel’s Landing. The top looked so close from there, but it was a strenuous climb to get to the top. I gave my best puppy dog eyes to see if Kathy would back down, but I knew better.
It was a much more physical climb now, and the chains were losing their slack from overuse. In order to grab them, you had to lean down, throwing our balance off. Not to mention they moved if someone was grabbing them further up the trail. The shifting of the links was very stressful if you weren’t expecting it. However, seeing as these were the only means of support, you have to adjust to the environment. To make matters worse, the trail was littered with sand – the same slimy bastard we bitched about earlier on when we just started the trail. In the crevices of a mountain, it was not a fun thing. But here’s to the boys at REI who made us test our hiking boots. They were absolutely incredible and we did not lose our footing once! That doesn’t mean you don’t think about it though…
We reached a point where the chains were much higher than we were and it was our job to find our way up to the trail. The added burden of the backpacks was starting to weigh in, and Kathy gave serious thought to leaving hers behind to finish the climb. We’d seen several other people do it, so it seemed like it wasn’t a novel idea. The biggest concern was her camera. She’d lugged it all this way; what if something happened to it? We shook off the idea and continued to the next phase, knowing that the end result would be worth it.
We looked again at our next task and panic set in as I saw no way around this disaster. Kathy took the lead and scrambled to what seemed to be the correct way to attain the chain (hey, I rhymed again!). I watched her and felt I couldn’t follow, so I tried another way. Then, someone started down the trail. Grrr! Couldn’t they see we were having a stressful moment? I plastered myself to the side of the rock like wallpaper making them find their own way down. I had already seen what was below us and being impaled wasn’t on my list of things to do that day. Finally, the crisis passed and we headed up to the top…
It seemed to be some kind of sick game to make you think you’re there, then puncture your ego and push you even further. Climbers came into sight and in our pathetic voices we asked, “how much further?”
“Just up that last cliff. Honest. You’re almost there!” And they scurried off.
I could feel my muscles trembling from the strain they’d never known. Just up the cliff.
I am with you here…
I nodded – this time Kathy could see me.
Out of nowhere, we heard little voices; boys screaming and yelling, kicking up dust and grime. I knew we were done for. And we were so close. Kathy and I looked at each other and found safety among the rocks, bookending the trailhead for them to ascend.
“No, no, you guys go ahead,” we said, waving them onward, as we watched them scamper up the mountain like it was playground equipment. Their leader followed – a bandana-clad man in a black tank top with tattoos on each arm – and apologized for making us wait. He said he was their Boy Scout leader and this was their fieldtrip!!!
“How old are they?”
“Eleven and twelve.”
“Holy crap! We never did anything like that in Girl Scouts!”
He laughed and continued up. This was not good for our already panting egos, continuing to be bested by old and young alike! Still, we carried on.
Knees scraped, hands blistered, fingernails fell off (okay, not really, but it felt like it) and we finally, finally saw the marker tree for the landing.
“This is it, but the real landing is just over these rocks. You’re here,” another kind hiker encouraged, seeing our looks of confusion .
The whole apex of Angel’s Landing was covered with white, slatelike pieces of rock that looked as if they’d been dumped on top of each other, and glued down (you hope). The angles their position created were weird as we traipsed across the slanted path to the other end of the terrain. Both arms went parallel as we looked for added balance making our way to the other side.
Families were having lunch with each other, the Boy Scouts were running up and down, jumping off rocks. People stood and admired the beauty. All in all, there were about thirty or so people when we first arrived.
We plopped down near the ‘official’ edge of the Landing and I wasn’t moving. I was happy to be sitting, even though the slope of the rock was uncomfortable. There were several people hoarding the space, including one family from overseas whose little boy (probably around eight) was calmly sitting, reading a book!! We clambered for a spot and waited until they finally left to gain a better view.
Kathy marched around the top, snapping pictures of the breathtaking beauty (literally). I peeked out every once in a while to see what was below, but for the moment, I just needed to acclimate myself to the fact that I was over 5700 in the air.
We actually made it!
Things calmed down, the families left and I ventured a little closer to the edge, trying to get some of the awesomeness of this place on video. While it scared the absolute crap out of me to make this climb, the end result was well worth it. We accomplished something that neither of us could ever imagine – we climbed a mountain (cue Julie Andrews). It took us just under three hours with plenty of stops along the way.
Off to one side,
As we continued our endless gaze, the floor of the canyon was filled with a copse of trees that we’d never truly noticed when face to face with it. Different greens gathered like patches on a quilt as the map of the land was spread below us. The sky seemed to turn different shades of blues and purples the further we looked. The rainbow of colors was incredible, accented with the gentle haze that seemed to be ever-present. It was easy to get lost in this moment and it’s completely understandable why people climb this way to engage in this view.
A wall of orange faced the other direction as
Speaking of the trolley, we watched it bustle by, filled with tourists being dropped at various points. It looked almost Lilliputian from our view and reminded us just how far up we were.
We pulled out our snacks and were assaulted by the ridiculous chipmunks. These things have absolutely no shame at all, actually crawling into your backpack to raid your stuff. It doesn’t help that they were fed or teased the whole time we were there – especially by the Boy Scouts.
The air up top had a special feel and smell; it was cool and fresh, not to mention a little thin. The gentle breeze whistled through the canyon and rustled the bits of foliage around us. The sun beat down just a little harder as the rays touched our skin. The laughter and conversations of the people around us were confident and proud, if not brief. It was a world that many have touched, but many more will not.
And we were here to soak in every moment of it.
Kathy and I sat for a while and watched the people come and go from the Landing. A majority of them came for a quick glance, then headed back down the rocky terrain. These were people who didn’t seem to understand what it meant to make it up this mountain, or were in too much of a hurry to appreciate where they were.
We’d laughed along our journey about the tourists who stop to snap a picture for their scrapbook and head out to the next photoshoot. We really prided ourselves on not doing that; we took the time at each place we visited to absorb the elegance of nature. We joked that as we drove along Route 89 or any of our detours, we just couldn’t look anymore, because around every corner was something new that was amazing. The scenery continually halted our voyage. But this place was so much more than that. It was about accomplishment and fulfillment, and we were so grateful to be able to do this, and truly appreciate it, together.
All in all, I think we stayed about an hour. Neither of us was looking forward to the trip down (and I really didn’t want to face that bridge again), so we just kept stalling, taking in the artistry of the landscape, knowing we’d earned the right to be here.
It was finally time to let go of this wonder and start our own ascent down. We were pretty confident there wouldn’t be too many others coming up as the day was getting on. That was a good thing since we were already exhausted and scared to see everything we’d missed on the way up. We didn’t need additional distractions.
The first plunge was the straight shot down at the 90% angle we’d come up. Of course, this time we could see, head-on, how far up we truly were. Death drops surrounded us at each turn and I’m not afraid to say, I was afraid.
Our legs, arms, backs were already trembling from the strain of the trip up, now we had to rely on them to safely get us down. The pulls were completely different in reverse, and at times, it made more sense to actually go down backwards, feeling with your feet and trusting the step rather than the visual aids. I fully admit that a good portion of the down trip was me plopping down on my butt and just reaching with my feet. The backpack became even more cumbersome because it kept catching in the crevices, throwing the balance off and making us grab harder on the chains. The only good part (or bad, depending on how you look at it) was that you kind of remember what’s coming, so you can try and prepare for it.
But I was not looking forward to the bridge.
I started to get nervous all over again at the thought of having to cross that tiny walkway. Kathy kept telling me to keep looking at the rock, and I did just that. All the way down, I either saw the back of Kathy or the tops of my feet. I checked every footfall before I included my weight and the shoes held true. Before we knew it, we saw a gang of guys who were cheering on a buddy of theirs coming down the mountain.
I looked at Kathy, wondering how much further we had, but as we stepped nearer to the assembly, we realized we were almost at Scout’s Lookout. Neither of us even noticed the bridge; we were concentrating too hard to see what was actually around us. Woohoo! Score one for the good guys!
The rest of the trip down was a breeze (minus the constant aching in our, well, everything) even with Walter’s Wiggles. The stress on our knees was a tad much with the clunking motion of the boots taking the brunt of our weight, but all in all, we knew we were home free.
Stomp, stomp, stomp.
Finally we got the end of the trail, hitched a ride on the now Gulliver-sized trolley and made our way back to the Lodge to pass out from the day’s travels.
All in all, not such a bad way to spend a day!