Angel’s Landing Hike, Zion National Park (UT)

You reach a point somewhere on Scouts Lookout when you have to decide if you’re going to finish the last one-quarter mile of the Angels Landing hike that ascends a narrow fin of rock over a saddle and hogsback. On either side, the trail drops off precipitously over a thousand feet to the Zion Valley floor, with only occasional chain railing to provide support, both physical and psychological. Scouts Lookout, an area at the top of the reddish rock area in the photo above, is prosaically known as “Chicken-Out Point.” It’s here where you confront your fear of extreme heights, not to be taken lightly since several have fallen to their deaths. This typifies the drama of Zion National Park, where towering Navajo sandstone cliffs dwarf your conventional sense of scale, where every hike leads to spectacular sights and provokes a profound sense of wonder. What natural forces led to the creation of this stupendous valley, scouring and removing thousands of feet of sand and silt deposits in the process?

First portion of the trail is a series of switchbacks

The hike is 2½ miles from the parking lot to the top. It begins with a grueling set of switchbacks that eventually leads into a beautiful slot canyon, called Refrigerator Canyon for its cool respite, before emerging into a tight series of switchbacks, known as Walter’s Wiggles, that quickly gains elevation.

Refrigerator Canyon
Refrigerator Canyon
Walter's Wiggles
Walter’s Wiggles

Chain supports appear periodically along the trail, especially during the final half-mile stretch along the steepest part of the sandstone fin that ends up at the overlook. When foot traffic is heavy, much cooperation and common courtesy are required among hikers going in opposite directions.

Chain supports
Chain supports provide “comfort” along the more challenging parts

The trail then levels out at Scouts Lookout where the “Decision” has to be made, a mere quarter-mile to go. Alas, we “chickened out” when a portion of ridge appeared to have no chain supports along the narrowest portion of the fin. We were content that the hike up to this point had already been one of the most awe-inspiring we’d ever taken. Purchasing the “I survived Angel’s Landing” t-shirt would have to wait for another time.

It’s a hike like this, with its not insignificant challenges and undeniable exhilaration, where you can appreciate the vast scale of the natural world just a short distance from a parking lot.


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