One can't spend much time hiking around Las Vegas before hearing about Angel's Landing in Zion National Park. The classic climb offers spectacular canyon views for hikers willing to negotiate an exciting, exposed ridge. Despite several deaths on the trail, the hike is extremely popular.
Details of the route can be found on Jim Boone's page, but I'll describe it in a nutshell. The hike follows a broad, sandy path along Virgin River before climbing up a series of paved switchbacks to Refrigerator Canyon. After following the long, level stretch of the canyon, the trail resumes climbing using a series of tight switchbacks called “Walter's Wiggles” that lead to Scout Overlook. Hikers comfortable with exposure can go on to climb the narrow ridge that leads to Angel's Landing.
It took Dinah and I three hours to drive from Las Vegas to Zion. On the day we went, the park was packed with visitors. I heard we could expect crowds anytime, but good weather coupled with an Easter Sunday may have brought out more.
The parking lot was already full at 10:30 am, but we were able to park on the roadside just a couple minutes walk to the visitor centre where we caught a shuttle bus. 23 minutes later we arrived at the Grotto Picnic Area, the trailhead for Angel's Landing. We started up the trail and soon reached the lower switchbacks. Unfortunately, painful blisters that had developed from recent hikes shortened Dinah's trip and she was forced to turn back before Refrigerator Canyon. I continued on to Scout Overlook.
Although the Overlook is a nice place to stop, intrepid hikers will want to climb higher. Sturdy chains and steps carved into sandstone rock have tamed the half-mile devilish route to Angel's Landing, making it a cakewalk for experienced scramblers and apparently relatively easy for even casual hikers. I saw a an eight-year-old girl with her father as well as a couple of hikers that appeared to be in their 70s.
Unlike the broad path to Scout Landing, though, the trail to Angel's Landing is so narrow in places that passing people is difficult if not impossible. At spots where only one person at a time can pass, bottlenecks formed. When I reached the saddle where it narrows to two feet across and drops hundreds of feet on either side, I had to stop to allow maybe 20 hikers to pass me as they came down. In other places it was possible to leave the safety of the chains and skirt around the hikers clinging to them, although it sometimes meant walking gingerly along an airy edge. But despite the congestion, there were no mishaps and people were good natured and accommodated others as best they could.
After threading up the narrow, crowded trail, I was relieved to find a spacious summit. There was no solitude here but there was room enough to look at the spectacular scenery without worrying about someone dogging my steps. And I could take photos without someone crossing in front of my camera. But I didn't stay long on Angel's Landing. I knew Dinah would be waiting for me at the trailhead.
As I made my way back down, I realized that despite the crowds I had really enjoyed Angel's Landing. I heard of people returning to do it again and again and again. And I could understand why.
The trail begins along the Virgin River
Even before the trail begins climbing there is great scenery
Although you can't see it here, the trail switchbacks up the rock in the middle
Looking back after we started climbing
Looking down at the switchbacks (click for a larger image)
After the switchbacks the trail goes through Refrigerator Canyon
This is a very long canyon
Looking down at the canyon after the trails ascends above it
These switchbacks, 21 in all, are called Walter's Wiggles (mouse over to look down them)
The path flattens and leads to Scout Overlook. Angel's Landing appears on the right.
The flat-looking rock in the centre is Scout Landing
The start to Angel's Landing bears a warning. The first set of chains are here (click for a larger image).
Close-up of the sign
Traversing the next section
After kneeling to take a photo I was surprised to see this lizard, apparently
unafraid, just two feet away
The trail drops to a saddle and then rises steeply (click for a larger image)
Ahead the trail reaches its narrowest point, about 2 feet wide.
The left side drops down 370 m while the right drops 250 m.
Looking down the left side from the narrow walkway
Looking north across the canyon (click for a larger image)
Looking back across the saddle
Onto the next section
No chains for this part
The trail ends in a long, flat ridge
Looking down at The Organ
South view of the canyon (click for a larger image)
After going back to Scout Overlook, I continued up the ridge on the other side and took this photo
(click for a larger image)
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