Angel's Landing - Again

The very first group of hikers starts up the cable route

NOTE: This spring and summer were very busy, as well as very eventful for me. I got way behind with posting on the Dog Blog. I am going to try to catch up, and as I do I will post events in chronological order. Some of them were a while ago but I will write what I remember.

I was driving down to Consimword Expo, a wargaming convention in Tempe Arizona, and for a change I was taking my time instead of just getting wherever I was going as quickly as I could. I didn't need to be there until the middle of the day on Saturday when I had a game scheduled with my friend Ralph, who was flying in from Seattle that afternoon. Since there was no rush I was taking the opportunity to stop at places along the way. I had already spent a couple of hours visiting Hill Aerospace Museum in Ogden Utah. Now I figured I would stop somewhere for the night that would put me in position to do a hike in the morning before I continued on to Tempe.

Hikers on the saddle and final ridge

One possibility was to climb Humphreys Peak. At 12,637 feet it's the highest mountain in Arizona. I have driven past it a number of times, usually going to and from Consimworld Expo. It's really just a long, hard hike to reach the summit but I have always wanted to do it. I would need to get to Flagstaff to stay overnight to be in position for the next day. Then I would need a really early start in the morning to finish the climb and get to Phoenix by midafternoon. When I left the museum and checked on Google maps to see how long it would take me to get to Flagstaff, it looked like it wouldn't work. Getting up at four or five in the morning would be bad enough. I didn't want to try it after getting in late the night before. So I decided that Humphreys Peak was out, or rather that it would have to wait until another time. But that made my choice easy, because for the past few weeks I had been trying to decide between Humphreys Peak and another climb.

Because this past winter was very mild, Sandy and I had gone to Zion National Park over President's Day weekend. One hike we did while we were there was Angel's Landing. From the floor of Zion Canyon it looks impossible but it is actually just a hike/scramble to reach the summit. But there is some serious exposure, with cables installed by the park service along much of the upper part of the route to provide security. Sandy and I had made it to the summit years ago, and I have done it by myself several other times, at least twice and it might have been more. I actually don't remember for sure. But this past February there had been swarms of people there when we did the hike, and we didn't feel that it was safe on the summit ridge with so many people going up and down at the same time.

Looking up a steep section of the ridge

We turned back not far past Scout Lookout. It was well below the summit, but still a fantastic viewpoint and a worthwhile hike. But when we turned around I silently resolved to myself that I would come back and do it sometime later this year. Of course, resolving to come back another time and complete a climb when you turn back is like telling someone "we really should do lunch sometime". I've done it a lot and it almost never actually happens. It's just a way of making yourself feel better about giving up on an objective. But this time I had an opportunity to make good on my earlier resolution and decided to do it.

That meant spending the night in Cedar City. I have stayed there many times when visiting Zion National Park. The hotels there are fairly cheap and I knew all the pizza places in town. The only drawback was that I would be stopping before seven in the evening, quite early considering that I still had a long way to go to get to Phoenix. But it gave me a chance to have dinner and get to bed early. I needed a very early start the next morning. Since Sandy and I had turned back last time because of crowds, I wanted to catch the very first shuttle into the park. It left the Visitor Center at 6 am. And since I had to drive about an hour from Cedar City to reach the park, I wanted to be on the road about 4:30 am. I managed to leave my hotel only a few minutes behind schedule the next morning, although it was pitch dark and seemed like it was still the middle of the night. It was definitely an oh dark thirty start.

Looking back to Scout Lookout and the Narrows from the top

There were other benefits of such an early start. Usually I never visit Zion in the summer - it's way too hot. The forecast was for a high temperature of 104 degrees in Springdale, just outside the park. It would probably be hotter inside the canyon. I wanted to do the hike in the cool of the morning and be on the road well before it had a chance to really warm up. Plus I still had a long drive to Phoenix.

I made the drive to Zion, parked my car, got my boots and pack and was at the Visitor Center in plenty of time to catch the first shuttle. I was a little surprised at how many people had the same idea. The shuttle was a double bus that carried well over a hundred people and it was full. I realized that everyone else wanted to try to beat the heat that was forecast for later in the day and had decided to get the earliest possible start just like I did. But it was still way less than the number of people we had to deal with the previous time, so I figured that things would work out.

Group selfie on the summit

There aren't that many shuttle stops in the park, at least not that have trailheads, so more than half the people on the bus got off at my stop, the Grotto Trailhead. It's the starting point for hiking to the top of Angel's Landing, which is one of the most popular trips in the park. But I figured that since I am a slow hiker anyway, I would just take my time going up and let people get ahead of me.

The trail was in the shade all the way to Scout Lookout, so it was pleasantly cool - nice hiking. Since it was steady climbing I took my time to let people get ahead of me, but didn't go so slowly that other hikers might be catching up from behind. The next shuttle would be along in half an hour and I figured a few people might have missed the very first shuttle and would be coming on the second. When I reached Scout Lookout I continued right on to the cables. There were people along the route but the two miles and 1100 feet of elevation gain to get to Scout Lookout had caused them to spread out enough that I thought there wouldn't be a problem.

What goes up must go down

Although I had been up Angel's Landing before, I was anxious to do it again. In two weeks we would be leaving on a trip to Europe to hike in the Alps. Part of that time we would be on an organized trip in the Italian Dolomites. While I was there I wanted to do a via ferrata, or protected climbing path. They are scramble or climbing routes that have fixed protection, usually metal cables, to allow you to clip and protect yourself from falling. You don't need a climbing rope or partner the way you would on a normal climbing route. Via ferrata are very rare in North America, but Angel's Landing in Zion is one of the few famous hikes in the US that is similar to a very easy via ferrata (the cable route on Half Dome in Yosemite being the other). Since I haven't done any climbing for ten years, I wanted to do Angel's Landing for practice, a warmup for doing a via ferrata in the Dolomites. And it went pretty well. The temperature was nice for climbing. I felt good and soon I had reached the summit.

The view was incredible. The sky was bright blue and the sun was out, but the canyon was still completely in shadow. Angel's Landing is a detached part of the canyon wall in the middle of a bend of the canyon so all around are amazing views of Zion Canyon, one of my favorite places on earth to hike. It would have been nice to stay for a long time, but I took my pictures, enjoyed the view for a while, and then headed down. I still had a long way to go from the top of Angel's Landing to get to Consimworld Expo.

Almost down and looking back at the route

Getting down wasn't bad. Although there were people on the route, it really isn't a problem to pass one or two people at a time. There are lots of spots where there is space and enough security to get out of the way and let someone go by. Where problems occur is if there is a solid line of people going both directions. Then you are passing at some very insecure spots. But I didn't have that problem at all today.

I was feeling pretty good heading down from Scout Lookout. It was easy downhill hiking. The weather was great and so were the views. I had made it up and down the mountain with no problems and was looking forward to more challenge in the Dolomites in a few weeks. And I was feeling very superior to the crowds of people who were sweating as they were heading up, who hadn't been clever enough or ambitious enough to get up early while it was cool and uncrowded. I thought the full bus for the first shuttle meant that everyone left early. Now I learned that almost no one got up early. The summer crowds were there in force, even though the temperature would soon be well over a hundred degrees. It didn't sound like fun to me and I was glad to finish my hike and catch the shuttle back to my car well before the heat of the day set in. When I got off the shuttle I got a real shock. The crowd of people waiting to catch the shuttle into the park was so large, it was hard to get through them to get to the Visitor Center and my car. The line had to be several hundred yards long and several people abreast. From the back of the line you couldn't even see the buses. Well, as spectacular as the national parks are, the crowds can make them a real pain to visit. Unless you are willing to get up at 4 am. Believe me, it was worth it.

The line is so long you can't even see the bus

Of course, after a good hike and climb I had to stop at the gift shop and get a tshirt. They had a nice Zion National Park design which I got for myself. I knew that I didn't have to worry when I couldn't find any good tshirts at the Air Mueseum yesterday. I also found a nice tshirt for Sandy. She always tells me she doesn't need any more tshirts but I always get them for her anyway when I go on trips. I know what the words "I don't need any more tshirts" mean individually. They just don't make any sense to me when they are all put together into that sentence.

By ten oclock I was in my car, playing Rush CD's and on my way to Tempe. I had a great hike and climb under my belt and I had a full week of doing nothing but playing wargames to look forward to. Life was pretty good.