Last May I visited Zion National Park; the funny thing was that a disproportionately large number of my friends and acquaintances had also visited earlier in the year. Seems like it was “the” park of 2017!
As the trip approached, every conversation seemed to meander around to Angels Landing, one of Zion’s most famous hikes. The hike has a ton of buzz because, to get to the very end, there is a long stretch of extremely narrow rock formation—less than 2 feet across in places.
In our society which twistedly mocks those who die for “dumb” reasons, I have heard plenty of examples of “death by selfie.” I don’t exactly understand the schadenfreude of morbidly making those stories go viral, but they do serve as a warning: always be aware of your surroundings and do not do something needlessly dangerous just for an awesome photo. This hike has been included on “bucket list” and “must-do” hikes. I’m not one for telling people what they must do. Is it one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes in the park? Yes, but it is also not for everyone, and there should be no shame in wisely not completing it.
Note that the perilous narrow crossing is at the half-way point of the hike (since you’re going round-trip, you still have to get down). The total elevation gain is 2073 feet (631 meters) over a short distance (2 miles in, 2 miles back). If you remember your high school geometry, you’ll know that makes for a very steep hike before you even get to the “famous” part. The body’s energy is already depleted from the climb and muscles will be experiencing fatigue, possibly shakiness. Let’s add that due to the popularity of the hike, it gets heavily congested in summer including many people on the chains at once, going both ways, and rude people trying to pass those going at a slower pace.
Know your limits
It is important for hikers, especially casual ones, to know their personal limits. I for one acknowledge that I am an overweight person with a sedentary job. I walk every day and probably go on one to two hikes per month in my local region, and my endurance and ability is much better than it was two years ago. However, on a strenuous hike like this I still run the risk of overexerting myself or twisting a seldom-used muscle. Angels Landing is projected to take 3 hours, but I had to take multiple rest breaks and drink a lot of water, and I took closer to 5 hours up and down.
This is not a hike to show off, regardless of your skill level. There are people out there who try to literally run on trails like this and beat their personal level. Trail running is a legit hobby but needs to be approached wisely and not just because someone else did it on youtube.
Those switchbacks were no joke! I almost quit many times and even cried at frustration over my out-of-shape body and being passed up by those both much younger than me (fit tweens) and much older than me (wiry seniors). Although I opted out of the final stretch for my own safety and well-being, I still felt a strong sense of accomplishment for making it to Scout’s Lookout (called by some Widow’s Rest). The elevation gain almost got the best of me. So, no, I didn’t get the photo from the tip of Angels Landing but I did overpower what I thought I could do and pushed my body to its limits. And importantly, I didn’t let social media’s version of a perfect Zion National Park trip lead me into a situation I felt uncomfortable with.