My first impression of Zion is that it feels like a version of Yosemite - only copied in red sandstone instead of grey granite. The main area of Zion is a large canyon valley just like Yosemite, and it has the same kind of developed park system amenities.
The first day I take the shuttle up the scenic drive and stop at the popular destinations: Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Riverside Walk. During drier times of year, the end of the paved trail on Riverside walk continues into the stream for miles into what is called the Narrows. Unfortunately it’s closed this time of year because of the strength of the river. I’m disappointed because this was the one thing I knew about Zion before I got here. It’s a shame too because I really love walking in rivers.
From the first day’s shuttle tour I start hearing about this hike called Angel’s Landing. It’s a difficult hike and many people come to the park just to climb it. Then I start hearing the horror stories about how dangerous it is: You have to hold onto chains to climb up. The trail is 18” at some parts with steep drop-offs on either side. A man was hiking back down with his wife: one second she was there, the next moment he turned around and she was gone. Things like that get me kind of nervous, so I look up some pictures online. It is indeed scary - especially one picture where the photographer admittedly used a fish-eye lens to make the trail seem even more narrow.
I decided to hike up the trail to the point called Boy Scout’s Landing. After that point is where it starts to get scary - the final ½ mile ascent where the chains are needed. I’ll see what it looks like in person, and if it’s too scary, I’ll just turn around. On the shuttle ride to the trailhead one woman tells another, “That trail is for 20-somethings who don’t understand what ’death’ is. You slip one time and it’s certain death.” But I stick with my plan.
The hike up to the landing is very tiring, with 21 switchbacks and a constant elevation gain. I decide not to even look out at the view here and just keep going. The very first part is probably the most dangerous because the sandstone cliff is covered in slippery sand and the angle makes it difficult to stay balanced. But the chain is comforting.
I keep telling myself, “Just take your time. Keep focused and keep your weight balanced. Don’t look anywhere except for the path ahead.” And it works. There are a lot of people on the trail. Some of them surprisingly atypical for such a strenuous hike. And there are definitely those who don’t take it seriously: climbing up trees on the edges, not waiting for other hikers to descend before rounding a bend, basically showing off. But after numerous frightening moments, I make it to the top.
The hike is absolutely awesome. And I think, if you’re scared that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It’s the people with no fear who are in the most danger. You just have to know what your abilities are. Overall though, it is a safe hike for experienced hikers. And the view is worth the effort.