What Angels Landing Is Really Like

Something you should know about me? I am an honest to God adrenaline junkie. I have been aware of this “predicament” since my early teens and have found wild, fun ways to live out my adrenaline addiction in a safe-ish environment.

What are some of these ways you might ask?

  • White water rafting
  • Horseback riding
  • Cliff jumping
  • Trekking some EXTREME hikes

Which brings us to March 2021, Angel’s Landing – Zion National Park.

This incredible trail had been on my To Do list for forever. So when my family and I were looking to pick another National Park to explore, it had to be Zion. The four of us—me, my sister T, and my cousins Ellie and Sarah (who are also sisters)—sat down a couple of months beforehand and did what we do best: plan an epic adventure.

While Ellie covered accommodations and transportation, T made up our packing and supply list. That left Sarah and I to researching the absolute must do’s of Zion National Park. While Zion has many attractions such as the Narrows and the Emerald Pools, Angels Landing was at the top of our list.

As March approached, the stoke began to build. But then, on March 5th, 2021, a horrific event occurred at Angels Landing that shook the hiking community to the core. A hiker had apparently fallen, over 1000 feet, from the trail to his death. Upon hearing this news, my heart immediately went out to the hikers’ family.

Also, the realization that we were intending to embark on one of the world’s most treacherous hikes began to sink in. Not only is Angels Landing incredibly strenuous, it’s also incredibly dangerous. We would all need to be brave and smart in order to get to the summit.

We read that thousands of people attempt to hike Angels Landing each day, so we decided to get up early so we could be on the first shuttle to enter the park. As we disembarked the shuttle, the entirety of the trek laid before us. And towering 1,488 feet above us was the summit, our end destination.

The first part of the trail consists of 21 switchbacks known as Walters Wiggles. We stopped about halfway up to enjoy a small breakfast and watch the sun’s rays enter the valley, lighting up the red sandstone walls all around.

With the baby blue sky above, the red sand beneath, and patches of snow and vegetation growth all around, it was difficult to watch your footing. So many colors and so much otherworldly beauty makes it hard to concentrate. At last, we reached Scouts Lookout. This is where most hikers decide to conclude their journey, able to see the very edge of Angels Landing summit without the trail becoming too strenuous.

It is also where the West Rim Trail meets up with Angels Landing, so some hikers are moving on to enjoy other sections of the park. Now the last section to the summit is a half mile chain section where parts of the trail are barely two feet in width with sheer drop-offs of over 1000 feet.

This was the part I came for.

The first section was a steep red boulder with almost no footholds and sandy patches that made the expedition slippery. I went first, doing my best to find spots to put my feet and hauling myself up with the chain when I couldn’t. Hearing my sister starting to panic behind me, I pulled off at a large flat rock where numerous other hikers had also stopped to take a breather. T was shaking, and both Ellie and Sarah were white as a sheet.

“I don’t think I can do this” Ellie said, gulping for air.

T and Sarah simultaneously nodded their heads in agreement. I was immediately flooded with disappointment. We had come all this way, and to not finish never seemed like an option. T could see all the emotions flitting on my face. “This is what we came to do,” she said. “If you want to finish, do it! We will wait for you.”

She didn’t need to tell me twice.

I stood up, brushed the sand off my laser blue jacket, and headed back to the trail. Going up was a slow process. I had joined a group of five hikers, and with a death grip on the chain, started to ascend. The trail wasn’t wide enough for people to come up and down concurrently, which meant that at wider sections of the trail, my group would pull off and let the hikers coming down get by.

I’m not gonna lie—at times I could only look at the ground three feet in front of me. I’m sure the view was stunning but no way was I looking up. I have what I call a circumstantial fear of heights. Sometimes I am completely fine with them, and sometimes I freeze up and have a panic attack.

And that was not the moment for a panic attack.

At one point, the trail turned into a bridge of sorts, barely two feet wide, and no chain. That was the only section of the trail I highly considered turning around. But I soldiered on and finally, FINALLY, made it to the summit. The view of the valley was phenomenal! I could see the river, much of the west rim and the teeny tiny enthusiastic hikers all the way down on the park’s floor, excited to make their way up to where I was now standing.

I wish I would have had more time to enjoy the view, but I had three patient women waiting on me (the last summit portion takes about an hour and half to complete up and back).

Venturing back down might have been scarier than the upward journey. Some areas were so slick from the rock sediment that I felt safer going down on my butt. Another unnerving fact is that the chain is mostly on the inside. So at times, the person coming down has to release the chain for a brief moment in order for the opposing trekker to pass. Like I mentioned before—this hike is not to be taken lightly.

At about 100 yards from the bottom, I saw my family, sitting on a boulder, waiting for me. They must have spotted me at the same time because, all at once, I heard hooting and hollering and my sister proudly claiming me as her sister to anyone that would listen. I was instantly moved.

They might not have been able to complete what we all set out to do, but they encouraged me to go with my gut and test my limits. And, they were ready to cheer me on with my success! I went to Zion to conquer Angels Landing. And I did!

So I guess the real question is: Will you?