Presence is not about winning. It’s about approaching your biggest challenges without dread, executing them without anxiety, and leaving them without regret. – Amy Cuddy, TED superstar
Amy has thrown down the gauntlet.
We love us some Angel’s Landing hiking. In fact, it is our #1 all-time hike. Grabbing on to chains 1500’ above the Virgin River Valley floor last year, I had an Outward Bound experience that challenged my own limiting, self-defining behavior. Last year, I hiked to the 25’x25’ perch of Angel’s Landing hanging on for dear life, throttling the chains, and squeezing any joy out of the experience. Today we are back to see if I can enjoy this thrill ride.
Flying from Boston to Las Vegas in the last week of February, Hannah and I have six hours snuggled into our Jet Blue seats. Speaking of air travel, I will not use the airlines as my punching bag. People belly ache about the cramped seating, extra charges for bags, and the few chocolate chip cookies or pretzels they throw our way. True, true, and true.
But … today, we leave Maine at 530A for the Boston airport for our 10A Jet Blue flight. Six hours later we are in renting a car in Las Vegas for our three hour drive to Springdale, Utah.
Voila, we are at Zion National Park 16 hours after leaving home on Chases Pond Road. Where would we be if we were driving? Let me see, maybe western Pennsylvania? Maybe the Buckeye State? And still with three or four or five days of driving ahead! Thank you Jet Blue, Delta, and Southwest.
Preparing to hike to Angel’s Landing this morning, we wake early due to the two hour time change from Maine. After a little meditating to calm the soul for the challenge ahead, we walk the quiet predawn streets of Springdale bundled up against the 32F morning chill before our breakfast at Wildcat Willies.
By staying at the Bumbleberry Inn ($61 per night for a couple of seniors here in the off-season), we get a full breakfast at Wildcat Willies as part of the deal. It’s a triple egg omelet with home fries and sour dough bread for $9.95 each. With coffee and tea, our bill is $25+, all included in our $61 per night motel charge. We royally tip our upbeat and attentive waitress Anahi and then head down route 9 to Zion National Park not two miles away.
From November to March 15, private cars have access to all parts of the park, especially the popular Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which goes to the Zion Lodge and the trailheads of the major hikes. Other times of the year, visitors and hikers are shuttled to the various Zion venues. Being here in late February unimpeded, we cruise into the park but never talk about our hike ahead to Angel’s Landing.
In 1995, clueless as parents, we took our 8, 10, and 12 year old kids on this trail. In 2006, I got to the brink of the chains and turned back. Then in 2009, I didn’t even think about trying Angel’s Landing seemed so daunting.
But then last year (2015), I got the courage to try Angel’s Landing with Hannah. By the way, Hannah was always up for this hike. Last year I choked the chains with both hands as I leaned in at a 75 degree angle to the mountainside wondering what the hell I was doing, muttering to myself; gripped by fear, I never looked down and went hand over fist until…until I made it to the rocky top and felt like the king of the world. (See the categories on the left side of the blog, click on Utah to see about this triumph on Angel’s Landing last year.)
Today my goal is to enjoy, not just endure, the hike to Angel’s Landing; leave behind the fear, trepidation, and self-doubt of last year. Still with a kernel of wondering how I would do on this climb, neither of us bring up the subject as we ride into the park.
The trail to the summit of Angel’s Landing is paved with red stone quarried from the nearby hillsides. With few on the trail this Wednesday late in February before the season begins, we continue to sidestep the conversation about the chain-hanging part of the hike.
The trail climbs steadily and the switchbacks make the climb comfortably doable. Soon the switchbacks get steeper, and we take off our sweatshirts and long sleeve tee shirts to accommodate our rising body temperatures.
After two miles of hiking over 40 minutes we arrive at the staging area where all the hikers make the decision whether to go on or this is quite enough thank you. By a pine tree just off the trail, we stow most of our clothes and fanny packs to prepare for summiting of Angel’s Landing. Surprisingly, all I feel is excitement of the possibility that this will be a fantastic experience.
Rather than choking the chains with two hands, I grab with one hand and balance with the other. Of course, I never look to the canyon floor below, but there is a growing confidence that this is my day to release my quasi-fear of heights. If it was a debilitating fear, I would never have even started, and I empathize for those with such fear.
Here are 7 seconds more video of the trail
With Hannah in the lead, I follow closely. Stopping to take pictures and videos this time, I start to think this is so cool! It is really not the big deal that I made it out to be in the past and am cruising along. Last year, I didn’t want Hannah to even talk to me while we were holding on to the chains; I needed every ounce of attention to move forward.
Warned of ice on the trail, we see that it has been sanded and is between stones and easy to navigate. This time I can be the chivalrous one to allow others to pass back down the mountain as I wait, not worried about what’s ahead. To all the ones returning from Angel’s Landing, I congratulate them on a job well done. It could be that they just may have conquered a fear and this will be one of the highlights of their year. Nay, their life!
There are no chains over the last 200 yards as we walk easily on the wide sandstone ridge to the 25’x25’ rectangle of Angel’s Landing. Only five others are there to witness my personal triumph. Taking pictures from every angle, I shoot this video to commemorate the moment.
I can’t believe I am saying this, but the hike was a joy without end, amen. I’d do it again tomorrow! I have been able to take it in all the beauty of this spectacular aerie 1500’ above the canyon floor.
The half mile return to where our clothes and fanny packs are stowed is a celebration as we are now passing folks choking the chain themselves, with the same fear of heights I once had. To everyone we meet, I do not joke but congratulate them on their success so far. Nearly all say thank you for they may be in the challenge of their lives.
Hundreds make this hike every day. Why not me? Why not you? Hundreds more get to the staging area and say they just don’t want to go any further. As the trail sign says, Your safety is your responsibility. I have been on both sides on this mountain of fear and applaud everyone who steps up and congratulate all those who step back. Know thyself.
So with this victory, what lies ahead for me? The cables of Picacho Peak near Tucson, Arizona with its 1500′ of elevation gain over two miles that we will hike this coming Monday. It’s another mountain I’ve tried and stepped back from eight years ago.
Two for two?
And by the way, one month later our daughter Molly and her hubby Tip climbed Angel’s Landing.