I have often thought that I do not take enough chances with my life. I sit behind a desk when I am at work, and run in my spare time. What I really need to do is hike 1,500 feet up a mountain, cross treacherous terrain, and try not to die while doing it. Oh, and I should take my 12-year-old son with me.
Thank goodness Zion National Park has Angels Landing, which satisfied all these criteria. Yesterday, Miles showed an interest in hiking this trail. At first, we thought that Stephanie and I could hike it with him, but logistically it did not work out. So, I got to take him by myself.
Miles and I got up at 5:00 a.m. (with a little help from Stephanie) to catch the 5:30am Shuttle from in front of our motel. We stood at the Shuttle Stop with 3 other people. This shuttle ultimately picked up around 20 people for the first ride into the Park. Of that, about 10 of us got off to hike Angels Landing.
On our shuttle ride, I asked Miles what interested him in this hike. “It looked exciting, plus the fact you get to cross a ledge that has an 800 foot drop on one side, and a 1,200 foot drop on the other.” I just looked at him.
Even the bus ride was exciting. The driver nearly hit a deer who was walking across the road. As you can imagine, wildlife in National Parks are not afraid of humans, or shuttle buses. Then 100 feet further down the road, she had to stop for another deer. She even asked it, “Would you like to pass?”
Miles and I were the first two to hit the trail. Miles was excited that he and I would be the first two at the top of Angels Landing today. However, the first hiker passed us within five minutes, and ultimately, we were the last group to make it to the top.
We started our hike at 6:01am. It was chilly in the canyon! I was jealous of some of the other hikers who had the foresight to wear long sleeves. This was a great problem to have, because the expected high today is 103.
There is no vehicle traffic on this end of the canyon, except for the shuttle buses. It was so peaceful walking up the trail and hearing no sounds except for the river below, and the wind. We definitely took our time, and rested whenever we felt like it.
The first part of the trail is to a point called Scout Lookout. It was a 2 mile walk to Scout Lookout, and to my surprise, the trail was paved this entire way. That does not mean it was easy. Far from it. It seemed like it was straight up. And in some cases it was.
There was one part of the trail that contained 21 switchbacks and it had the suitable name of Walter’s Wiggles. This is one of the iconic images of Zion.
We made it to Scout Lookout in 1 hour. We stopped for a few minutes here to rest and have a snack, then we were ready to begin the ascent up to Angels Landing.
The description of the Angels Landing trail in the Park Newspaper says, “Long drop-offs. Not for anyone fearful of heights or young children. Last section is a steep, narrow ridge to the summit. Chains added.” Is there any question why this is one of the more popular hikes at Zion?
The ascent was not nearly as death-defying as it may sound, as long as you are careful. As a matter of fact, we asked the shuttle driver yesterday if a lot of people die on it, and he told us more people die on the hike to the Upper Pools each year than on Angels Landing. Of course, we took our 6 year old on the hike to the Upper Pools yesterday.
Climbing up the mountain, holding on to the chain, will definitely keep you focused on the task at hand. We completed the ½ mile ascent, which included several stops, in 45 minutes. When we arrived, all of the other hikers that we started the hike with were already there and were resting comfortably.
Miles and I spent about 10 minutes at the top, taking pictures, visiting with the other hikers, and resting. We also had to fend off a chipmunk and a squirrel. I would guess they get a lot of scraps from the hikers who make it to the top.
While taking pictures, a man showed up that had run the entire way to the top. Not only that, but he made it the entire 2.5 miles in 29 minutes! He only stuck around for a few minutes, and he hurried on his way back down the mountain.
By the time we began our descent down from Angels Landing, the traffic was starting to pick up. In many places, we had to wait to use the chain so that hikers coming up could pass. Miles and I were very happy with the decision to do the hike first thing.
When we made it to the bottom, we had a pep in our step. We were so pumped to tell the rest of the family about it. It turned out to be a 3 hour and 45 minute round trip for us.
We got off the shuttle bus across the street from our motel, and as we walked up, Stephanie was wrapping up the loading of the van. I love that woman. We pulled out around 11:00 and decided to make one last visit into the Park on our way out of town. We visited the Zion Lodge gift shop and Miles got himself a t-shirt that proclaimed his mastery of Angels Landing. He will look good in that – he definitely earned it!
One last note about Zion National Park. Their Visitor’s Center is fairly new, and has won several awards concerning its green construction. It has no mechanical heating or cooling systems in it. It uses cooling towers to provide cool air into the building, and uses well-placed windows to allow for maximum sunlight during the winter. The building was always comfortable when we were inside, and the temps got quite hot outside.
Our group’s commitment to flexibility came in handy today. We had originally planned to see the Cedar Breaks National Monument today, but in order to fit in our climb to Angels Landing, we have decided to skip it. We appreciate you, KK & PK!
This morning at breakfast, KK and PK were told by their waitress about a relatively unknown area to view petroglyphs right outside the Park. We followed her instructions and were pleased to find the petroglyphs after a limited search. The kids really enjoyed looking at the carvings of people, antelope, and other objects.
Our next stop was Bryce Canyon City, and it turned out to be a rather non-eventful 3 hour drive. The only real excitement came when both Mallory and Marissa rode for a while with KK and PK. We didn’t chew up much highway before a plea came from the other vehicle to stop at the next comfort station. Marissa was getting kicked out. It wasn’t all bad, though. Miles was able to take a quick nap while both girls were out of the van.
We checked into our motel about 4:00 and then made a beeline for the Bryce Canyon National Park. It was about 75 degrees and felt chilly, so everyone changed into long pants.
The first stop was the Visitor’s Center where we watched a short video about the park. This really ought to be our first stop every time, because you can get a lot of information quickly. We neglected to ever see the video at Zion National Park, and we’re kicking ourselves for that.
The most amazing thing to me in the video was that Bryce Canyon gets over 200 sub-freezing days a year. We were not that far from Zion, where it was routinely in the 100s for high temps.
We started our tour of Bryce Canyon by driving the 17 mile length of the park, and having a picnic dinner at the final scenic turnout. We managed to grab an empty table next to a sign warning visitors about black bears in the area. Eat fast, kids!
We visited a few of the scenic turnouts on the far end of the Park, and then came back to Bryce Canyon City for an astronomy talk. We accidentally timed our visit to Bryce Canyon National park to coincide with the 10th Annual Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival.
Steph and Marissa did some laundry at the motel while the rest of us heard a talk by Dr. Tyler Nordgren, an astronomer and author. He spent a 12 month sabbatical by observing the night sky at 12 different National Parks. He then wrote a book about his observations. It could have been a very dry topic, but we all enjoyed it.
At the conclusion of the talk, the speaker fielded questions, and our very own Mallory asked a question. This was not a surprise, especially considering we let Mallory pick our seats and we were therefore in the front row.
After the talk, there was a stargazing event in the overflow parking lot of the Visitor’s Center. There were probably 30 or more telescopes set up by volunteers, for any interested people to look at the sky. PK and Marissa stayed at the motel, and Stephanie came with us to this event. We got to see a Double Star, a Ringed Nebula, and a cluster of 500,000 stars. We could easily see the Milky Way and a sky full of stars. How long has it been since you’ve seen the Milky Way?
One of the interesting things that Dr. Nordgren spoke about tonight, is that it is expected that 50% of the people born in the world today will never see the Milky Way, due to light pollution.
We wrapped up our full day around 11:00 and went lights out in the room, as our own personal battle against light pollution.