...... previous day next day ......
Zion National Park Zion National Park

7th July 2010

An Exhilarating Climb up Angels Landing and a Novel Shower

Angels Landing - 1,488' High
    Today I was going to tackle a serious hike, all the way to the top of Angels Landing via the West Rim Trail. The distance would only be about 5.5 miles, but it would involve a climb of 1488', in the heat! I decided some porridge to start off the day might be a good idea, then, having loaded up my backpack with water and trail mix, I got the shuttle bus to The Grotto.
    The peak looked extremely high from the canyon floor, and it wasn't obvious how to climb it, the sides looked all sheer from the valley, but the map showed access was from the rear.
    After crossing the Virgin River, the walk started easy and was paved. The inclination increased a little and I could see a huge vertical face coming to towards me, but couldn't yet see a way up. Then I spotted coloured dots moving on the cliff face; yes people were actually moving up the cliff on a trail I couldn't yet make out.
Refrigerator Alley
    Soon I was climbing a series of switchbacks, now quite steep, but fortunately still paved. It was half way up this series where I met Doug and his ten year old son Taylor. We got chatting and Doug asked me if I would like to join them for the climb up. "Why not", I replied and we carried on together.
    After a few more switchbacks we had climbed the first vertical face and now proceeded through a steep narrow valley between Angels Landing and the adjacent mountain. This would take us up to the rear of Angels Landing. The valley was in total shade, and with the breeze gently drifting through it, was aptly named Refrigerator Alley.
    Doug and Taylor hailed from Texas. They were doing a month long whistle-stop tour, and they seemed to be doing a reverse of my itinerary through the Grand Circle. Their plans for the final four days of their trip were ambitious, and they were aiming to cover off a number of parks. I commented that the long distances alone would have a limiting effect on their schedule, and suggested that a better strategy might be to head for Moab where they could cram in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and pop into Mesa Verde on their way back to Texas.
A Giddy Climb - No Room for Error
    Doug had been in the employ of the fire service until retirement, and now worked part time as an insurance consultant, inspecting all manner of places from a fire regulations point of view; an ideal way to use his acquired skill-set. Taylor was in his fifth year at school, loved Science, but was not keen on Maths. I gently advised that he might want to knuckle down on the Maths side since Science usually involved a lot of Maths. He seemed a bright lad, listened, and hopefully took it in. There was a strong bond between father and son.
    After a short distance up the valley, with sides climbing vertically as far as the eye could see, we encountered a series of 22 very steep switchbacks called Walters Wiggles, which took us to a saddle where the West Rim and Angels Landing Trails diverged. The paved trail now turned to a sandy path before becoming a trail over huge slabs of sloping sandstone. Doug seemed to be suffering from the heat and was perhaps a little out of condition. He also enjoyed stopping and chatting to all and sundry on the route. As a consequence Taylor and I were often way ahead and we had to take periodic breaks to wait for Doug to catch us up. This probably did me a favour, since my natural tendency was to set a fast pace and work against the clock.
Climb Closeup - Spot the Climbers Making Their Way Up or Down
    Once on the saddle we were exposed to the merciless sun ( I learnt later temperatures were 102 deg. F maximum through the day and 70 deg. minimum at night, about 20 deg. warmer than Bryce because of the lower elevation). It was also obvious that we were high up, and there were sheer drops on either side of us. Ahead lay a steep climb, and the word climb was no exaggeration, hands as well as feet were required, and indeed chains were also attached to the rock face regularly to provide extra hand grips and aid balance. I saw many white knuckles. We climbed the hill, gasping for breath.
    We discovered to our dismay at the top that we now needed to climb down to another saddle, traverse it and undertake an even giddier climb. Crossing this saddle was not for the faint-hearted, at times the trail was down to a two feet wide sideways sloping piece of sandstone with 1,300' vertical drops on either side. On seeing this particular traverse, and seeing the vertical climb following it, quite a few people were bottling out.
    The climb again proved deceptive, and there was yet another climb behind it before we finally reached the top. Wow, the panorama around us was truly spectacular. In one direction the Zion Canyon stretched down towards the visitor centre, and in the opposite direction it started to twist in a convoluted route up towards The Narrows. The lush valley floor was surrounded by high peaks, some as high as half a mile. I felt as though I was up with the Gods, or more aptly the angels. Once we had taken in the initial euphoria of the magnificent setting, we settled down to eat what provisions we had brought with us, in my case an apple and some trail mix. The others had a more varied diet, including beef jerky. Doug offered me some to try, it was basically thin strips of beef that had been through some curing process, and was chewy and very tasty. I made my mind up to buy some the next time I was in a store.
Doug, Me and Taylor on Top of the World
    We ate, drank, took a myriad of photos, and exchanged bonhomie with other brave souls who had made it to the top. Chipmunks scurried around the rock surfaces looking for crumbs dropped by climbers. About 20m below us a pair of peregrine falcons was circling hoping to catch the unwary chipmunk.
    The sun was now high, and we decided to make the long descent back down to the canyon floor. We passed others making their way up, and took pity on them since there was by now very little shade afforded by the cliffs with the sun so high in the sky. We were also down to the last drops in our water bottles.
    Taylor raced off ahead to soak his feet in the river, while Doug and I made our way over the last stretch talking about European and American politics, and how many Americans were not in favour of Obama's socialist policies. Doug also had his own views on religion, and we discussed terrorism in the name of religion, and he was keen to ascertain how the Irish peace initiatives were working. Families and travel were also covered before we all too soon reached the river as well, where we joined Taylor in having a refreshing paddle. Taylor, as young lads do, wanted to go the whole hog, and succeeded in convincing his dad that he be allowed to have a swim.
    We arranged to meet up again at in a short while at the Zion Lodge, where we had a snack. The hike had built up my appetite, and despite the provisions I had eaten on the top of the peak, I was now ready to eat my very first beef burger of my trip. For the last few days all I had eaten was porridge for breakfast and had no appetite for anything else for the day; today I was ravenous. Doug was exceedingly kind and hospitable and treated me to my snack.
    But the time had come to go our separate ways. Doug and Taylor were about to head across to Boulder, and I was returning to camp. We shook hands and I gave Doug my web address, and they were gone. I had enjoyed their company on the hike; it made all the difference hiking as a group. I hoped the rest of their trip went well.
A Long Way Down to Catch the Bus
    Once back at the campsite, I set about trying to get a shower. A ranger advised that there was just ONE public shower, and that was about three miles down the road in Springdale. I just couldn't understand how a nation, that seemed to be obsessed by hand cleanliness (many eating places even had hand antiseptic cream dispensers at their entrances, the sort found in UK hospitals) yet when it came to overall body cleanliness, showers were scarce and non-existent at most campsites. I got the address of the place, and asked the bus driver if he could drop me off near there. He laughed and told me that as far as he knew, there were now no public showers. I threw my hands up in despair, returned back to camp, and as I was walking by the river, I thought the next best thing would be a swim. In fact that was what most campers were reverting to. I donned my swimming trunks, walked down to the river, waded in and dived. It was absolutely wonderful, replacing the oppressive heat with the gently massaging flow of cool water was out of this world. This was bliss.
    I got chatting to a woman who had decided to do likewise, and she was in seventh heaven too. She hailed from Seattle, and had driven to Oregon to pick up her sister for an intended break in Idaho. However, as in most northern states, it too had suffered a recurrence of winter storms in spring, and many places were still not open, so they had decided to first visit the Grand Staircase and then come down to Zion instead. Her sister joined the happy throng and we all just chilled out in the water. Once I was sufficiently cooled down, I said my farewells and went off to get changed.
My Substitute Shower
    Later that evening I attended another ranger-led programme, this time a lecture on mountain lions, aka cougars, pumas, panthers etc. These creatures at one time occupied all the US contiguous states, southwest Canada and Mexico. By 1950, hunting had limited them to the twelve most western states. Since then, a ban on hunting has seen their numbers rise, and populations were starting to appear again in mid and eastern states. It was an interesting talk on an animal which, up until then, I knew very little about.
    I retired to the van, whacked from the days exertions but pleased I had got my fitness and appetite back. There was a 20% chance of rain tomorrow, but I might have welcomed rain; it would be rather novel.
...... previous day next day ......
Zion National Park Zion National Park

Uploaded from Pioneer Lodge Cafe, Springdale UT on 08/06/10 at 18:00

Last updated 19.7.2010