Dan and Hannah Take Another Crack at Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park

Angel's Landing

Angel’s Landing – It looks daunting from below.

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.

Angel's chains above the valley floor

Angel’s chains above the valley floor

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.

Zion National Park in southern Utah

Zion National Park in southern Utah

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.

The red sandstone trail to the summit begins

The red sandstone trail to the summit begins

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.

A wily friend at Wildcat Willies

A wily friend 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.

The Angel's Landing perch itself

The Angel’s Landing perch itself

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.

The canyon to her left

The canyon to her left

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.)

The switchbacks leading to the staging area for the final half mile assault to Angel's Landing

The switchbacks leading to the staging area for the final half mile assault to Angel’s Landing

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.

Paved red sandstone path to the summit

Paved red sandstone path to the summit

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.

AL 2H H on sandstone steps of trail

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.

Hannah Banana with her costumed namesake on the trail

Hannah Banana with her costumed namesake on the trail

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.

The chains begin

The chains begin.  It’s a long way down.

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.

Seated in the same position on the trail but shot from a slightly different angle

Seated in the same position on the trail but shot from a slightly different angle

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!

Success!

Success!

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.

Descending

Descending

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.

AL 6 H against sandstone wall

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?

 

AL Molly and Tip

And by the way,  one month later our daughter Molly and her hubby Tip climbed Angel’s Landing.

 

Mother and Son

Twenty-four years ago our son Will and Hannah had a moment, among many moments they’ve had.  It was the summer of his ninth year when we as a family were in the midst of six week cross country camping and hiking trip to the American West.

Angel's Landing

Angel’s Landing

Arriving at the Visitor Center at Zion National Park looking for a family hiking recommendation, we talked to a young ranger who immediately suggested Angel’s Landing.  What did we know?  We certainly didn’t know that hikers held on to chains on a mountainside 1500’ above the Virgin River Valley.

While our daughter Robyn had enough of the hike, completing 80% of it, Hannah, and I naively continued on along the mountainside with Molly and Will.  Soon our daughter Molly and I were in the lead while Hannah held back with Will.  Angel’s Landing is a daunting climb at any age, and certainly for an eight year old.

AL 3A chains behind us

At that time and in those circumstances, Will was cautious, similar to what I imagine his nephew Owen might be like.  But Will pressed on with Hannah at his side.

Stung by a cactus needle, Will now added pain to his trepidation.  Still Hannah hung with him, fully planning to sacrifice reaching the 25’x25’ perch of Angel’s Landing herself to be with him.  But those of you who know Hannah know that it would be no sacrifice for Hannah to miss the summit.  Her focus was Will and any choices of hers were made in love.

Hannah and Will Ithaca College

Eventually, together Will and Hannah joined Molly and me on that Zion promontory.  But today thinking back to that mountaintop in Utah, I believe Will felt it then and feels it often Hannah’s unspoken commitment to him and faith in him born from many such moments.

Dan and Hannah Wonder About Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

Cliffside chains at Angel's Landing

Cliffside chains at Angel’s Landing

Are you crazy? Hannah and I didn’t think so at the time. You see, when Molly, Robyn, and Will were preteens in 1992 we took them on a ranger-recommended family hike to Angel’s Landing. Naïve to be sure, Hannah and I continued the “family hike” even though for the final half mile we were all grasping on to heavy metal chains 1500 feet above the canyon floor.  Angel’s Landing was named by a Methodist minister, Frederick Fisher, who said, Only an angel could land on it.  Attempting to summit the lofty perch of Angel’s Landing, we were not candidates for parents-of-the year.

AL2 Sign with AL in backgroundYears later, while Robyn was serving with the US Army in Afghanistan in 2006, Hannah and I took Molly and Will to Zion National Park again. When the discussion of hiking Angel’s Landing came up, I was in the “No way Jose” category.  Molly and Will wanted no part of it either. Only Hannah wanted to go, but she wasn’t going to do it alone.

AL1A AL imageIn 2010, Hannah and I returned to Zion National Park, hiked the two miles to where the chains begin, looked at them, and turned back.  In the summer of 2012 Hannah had surgery for a fractured tibia. Just three months ago, when we were planning this hiking trip, she said that she just didn’t want to risk the good health of her leg hiking Angel’s Landing.

But as our late February trip to Zion drew closer, something was changing. Not in me, but in Hannah; she began to find the idea of hiking Angel’s Landing a little more appealing. I was fine with her hiking it. We each make our choices. I just didn’t have the “want to” to hike Angel’s Landing.

AL  Wildcat Willies sculpture with HanPreparing to hike on a Friday morning, we breakfast at Wildcat Willie’s with a free breakfast voucher as part of our stay at the fabulous Bumbleberry Inn here in Springdale, UT. Hannah’s blockbuster scrambled eggs between biscuits covered in gravy with bacon on the side and my three egg to-die-for omelet, western home fries, and sourdough toast put us in an upbeat mood to consider hiking Angel’s Landing.

At this point, the Universe is talking and I am beginning to listen. Five events started turning the tide for me to at least consider the assault of Angel’s Landing.

The trail to Observation Point

The trail to Observation Point

First, the day before we had hiked the Observation Point Trail (OPT) here in Zion; I felt good climbing the trail despite its harrowing drop offs. Our daughter Molly (and her hubby Tip) having hiked this very trail the week before we arrived thought that if she had down the OPT before they approached the mountain chains, she might have tried Angel’s Landing. If Molly considered doing it, maybe I should.

Hannah's fractured tibia

Hannah’s fractured tibia

Second, Hannah was 60/40 that she would climb, but needed to get to the point of the chains to decide. Nearly three years since her fractured tibia surgery, she felt healed and finally strong. With Hannah on board, I really didn’t want to be left behind. I was getting to 50/50.

Third, a guide book said this is not a hike if you are extremely afraid of heights. Well I’m just afraid of heights, not extremely so; so maybe I could climb it. Hundreds of people do this hike every day.

AL AL decalFourth, I know this sounds shallow, but I saw an “Angel’s Landing” car decal and thought that would be really cool on my Hyundai Elantra back in Maine. How shallow can one be?

And fifth, what would a blog be, dear readers, if I just got to the start of the chains? I want some drama for the blog.

Hannah as the trail to Angel's Landing begins

Hannah as the trail to Angel’s Landing begins

With showers, rain, and snow forecasted for the weekend, we set out on this 34F Friday for the Grotto trailhead on the Zion Park Scenic Drive. I, in my jeans, long sleeve tee shirt, and sweatshirt, and Hannah similarly bundled up take to the mountainside switchbacks.

Looking down on the trail to Angel's Landing

Looking down on the trail to Angel’s Landing

With its 1500 feet of elevation gain, the Angel’s Landing Trail immediately grabs our attention with its steepness. Let the labored breathing begin. Within five minutes, I catch a hiking rhythm following Hannah; I am feeling the “want to” to climb the final half mile; but I have turned back before.

Entering Refrigerator Canyon

Entering Refrigerator Canyon

Hiking above the Virgin River Valley, we are on a red sandstone paved trail switching back and forth up the mountain. Hannah with her backpack of lunch and warm clothes and I with my fanny pack of lunch and gloves steadily climb with purpose and a growing commitment to hike to the perch of Angel’s Landing.

AL3 Walter's Wiggles

Walter’s Wiggles

A mile into the hike the trail heads inland through Refrigerator Canyon on a sandy red rock trail with 20-30 other hopeful hikers. Soon we are climbing Walter’s Wiggles, an architectural masterpiece of switchbacks, that take us to the staging area for the final half mile assault. I’ve erased all doubts at the ridgeline and will give the first stretch of chains a shot.

The last half mile begins

The last half mile begins

Leaving Hannah’s backpack and my fanny pack plus our extra clothes under a pine tree, we waste no time in attacking the first set of chains on the west facing wall of the mountain. My strategy is to take any fear of heights out of the equation.  How?  I will never look to the right or later to the left down to the canyon floor below.

The chains before us

The chains before us

When I first grab the one-quarter inch metal chains, I grab with a death grip. I lean into the mountain and just focus on the sandstone one foot ahead of me. I am gripping tightly and the tension courses through my entire body. But my grip is not so tight that I feel unsteady with my grip. Hannah climbs ahead at a faster pace, but still in sight, which is reassuring.

With catlike movements, Hannah scales the trail to Angel's Landing

With catlike movements, Hannah scales the trail to Angel’s Landing

There are chains for 60-70% of the half mile hike to the perch at Angel’s Landing. Behind us are a 12 year old Jocelyn and her mother Dixie. At the trailhead there is a sign that six people have died hiking this trail since 2004. I have heard these stories. That must mean 20,000 have made it. Doing the trail math boosts my confidence.

Looking back from where we've been

Looking back from where we’ve been

Over the first 200 yards of chain grabbing hand by hand, I swear to myself I will never do this again. I am tense and nervous, but…moving forward. With no thought of turning back now, we climb through rock slots on the wall and cling to chains on the mountainside. I never look to the canyon floor below. Never. When we reach a level area with no chains, I stay focused. I am not into conversation.  We nod and proceed.  My hands are shaking nervously as I snap a picture on my iPhone; but I am not so nervous that I feel frozen with fear.

There's plenty of company on the trail

There’s plenty of company on the trail

There are times where we rest waiting for others to pass; they have already been to the top and are now descending. There is no doubt that these chains could handle a 300 pound man. I don’t look upward to where Hannah is. I just look at the sandstone rocks before me and pull myself up by the chains.

The trail dips before one more ascent

The trail dips before one more ascent

With each pull of the chain, I gain more confidence. And then, before I realize it, there is just 100 yards more of careful rock walking to go. I do not relax nor lose my focus.

Atop Angel's Landing looking west down the Virgin River Valley

Atop Angel’s Landing looking west down the Virgin River Valley

And then Voila. There I am with twenty others on Angel’s Landing. Views up and down the Virgin River of 360 degrees are stunning. It’s an accomplishment that soothes and calms me.

After viewing this video, you’ll see why we have to return to Angel’s Landing.

Virgin River Valley from Angel's Landing

Virgin River Valley from Angel’s Landing

I never felt fearful on the chains. I was charged, energized, nervous, gripping with grimness. But not afraid I might fall. There is a celebratory feel to the summit. The twelve year old appears nonchalant; her mother most pleased. Of the hundred plus hikes Hannah and I have done throughout the United States and Canada together, Hannah says this is her favorite, “the prize.”

Hannah on her way back down the trail

Hannah on her way back down the trail

You might think well guys, you do have to go back. And we do, but it’s easier. I have conquered the initial fear. We can hold on to the chains and walk backwards down the sandstone cliffs when necessary. There is lightness to my grip and a growing confidence that this is a reasonable hike that thousands and thousands do each year.

Damn! We made it.

PS It snowed that night. Rain with thunder, and lightning overwhelms the area the next morning. We would not have been able to hike Angel’s Landing the next day. The universe unfolds in goodness and opened a door that we stepped through.

Dan Fills You in on 50 Things You Might Not Know About Hannah

She chooses to park in the distant reaches of parking lots to get more exercise.

She loves a glass of wine each night. Truth be told, her wine standards are quite low and she enjoys whatever is set in front of her.  Just no white Zinfandel.

As a kid she loved going with her dad on house calls.  It’s when her love for the elderly was born.

She is a homebody. She is also a damn good sport about my itch to travel.

On the Cabot Trail

On the Cabot Trail

She is done with long distance biking.  After 175 miles on the Confederation Trail in Prince Edward Island and 190 miles on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, she says no mas.  I have to agree.

Years ago she and I had friends for Christmas dinner at our house in Tempe, Arizona on a day that was 85 degrees!

On Sunday mornings before we had kids and the city woke up, she and I would run six miles on the canal paths in Phoenix, breakfast at Bill Johnson’s Big Apple, and go to the swap meet at the nearby Greyhound Park.

Max and Owen

Max and Owen

She wondered if she would be a good grandmother.  Let me tell you, she is an All-Star Omi to Owen and Max.

As a hairdresser, she sometimes does the hair of the recently deceased at Pelkey’s Funeral Home in Kittery, Maine.  She thinks of it as a sacred moment-shared.

She writes every morning.  Letters, postcards, emails.  She takes after her mother Elizabeth in that way.

When Owen or Max needs to have his diaper changed, she is the first to volunteer.

0722121648At the age of 63 she broke her left leg water skiing.  She taught water skiing as a teenager at a girls summer camp.

She took a full time job with health benefits as the activities director at the Homestead Nursing Home in Kittery so I could be a full time PhD student at the University of New Hampshire.

She is a past champion of our family Fantasy Football League.

She has a Masters in Health Education from Arizona State University.

Mrs. ClausShe dresses up as Mrs. Claus each Holiday season as part of troupe of actors who delight the residents at the Durgin Pines Nursing Home in Kittery.

At a party she swallowed a hard-boiled egg whole to win a team-eating contest .

With Los Ninos of Santa Barbara, CA, she and I went to the garbage dumps of Tijuana, Mexico to provide food and clothing to the families that live there.

She is the fifth of seven children of Elizabeth and John Kraai. (pronounced “cry”)

Of her six siblings, she was closest to her brother Doug, the fourth child.  His death in 2002 left a hole in her heart.

HS 2 Chick bfastHer favorite breakfast out is biscuits and gravy.

At home she has oatmeal every morning.

She has had spasmodic dysphonia for thirteen years.

She does not like cut flowers as a gift, unless they are from a funeral home.

She stopped chewing her nails when as a college girl she waitressed and thought customers would not want food served by a “nail biter.”

One of Hannah's never fail mouse traps

One of Hannah’s never-fail mouse traps

In our family she is the one who sets mouse traps and marks her nightly successes with a black mark on the side of the trap.

Her first year out of college she taught physical education at Thornell Road Elementary School in Pittsford, New York.

Her feet are always cold.  On all but five days per year, she wears double wool socks.

Hairdressers-in-training at the Portsmouth (NH) Beauty School are required to complete 1500 hours and as such graduate at random times throughout the year.  She wrote and read a poem for each of the 35 girls when they graduated.

She never needed or wanted a clothes dryer during the ten years we lived in Tempe, Arizona.  By the time we finished hanging the laundry on our backyard umbrella clothes line, the first clothes hung were dry.

Surprisingly, being a hairdresser, she never uses a blow dryer herself.

Allan JacksonShe likes her country music. Alan Jackson and Vince Gill are two of her favorites.

Her mother-in-law Jean called her a keeper when I first brought her home to Fair Lawn, NJ.   My mom added, Don’t be a fool and let her go.  Mama knows best.

When living in Tempe, Arizona, she would pick oranges and grapefruit off our backyard trees for breakfast.

She likes to solve problems (not the mathematical kind, but the practical, around-the-house kind).

She taught two sections of Intro to Health Education as a graduate assistant at ASU.

College of WoosterFreshman year at the College of Wooster, she and I were in the same French and Sociology classes.

When our son Will was a preschooler, she and he would sing along with the country music singers on the car radio.

She and I were all ready to move from Arizona to Montana in the late 1970s.  Then came Molly.

She plays Happy Birthday on the harmonica when birthdays come around.

For years she led a ten week training for people wanting to become hospice volunteers.  She is the former president of Hospice of York.

She once bought a banjo, left it at a repair shop in Tempe, AZ for 18 months, and needed her friend Ralph to rescue it.  And he did!

Southwest AirlinesOn our honeymoon in 1972 we drove from New York to Arizona in seven days so I could begin grad school at Arizona State. By Albuquerque I was ready to put her on a plane to Phoenix, and she was equally “thrilled” with me.

Twenty years later we had a second honeymoon at the Fun Club on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

She hopes Owen is left handed to join her in that family club.

She was a physical education major at the College of Wooster.

Similar to Hannah's 1970 Mustang

Similar to Hannah’s 1970 Mustang

Her first car was a dark green, two door 1967 Mustang.

She cries easily when she’s happy.

She drank tea one morning before the Nubble Light 10K here in York, Maine and ended up in the hospital due to dehydration. She was on pace for a sub-40 minute 10K.

She whistles. Who does that? Well, her Dad did.

One of her favorite movies is Love Actually.  Mine is The Graduate, but this isn’t about me.

She is a big fan of John Lennon, George Harrison, and David Kraai, our musical nephew.

Every Thursday you will find her cutting hair at the Durgin Pines Nursing Home.

She was a varsity tennis player at the College of Wooster, Ohio.  She dabbled at field hockey and gymnastics there.

Above the Virgin River on the way to Angel's Landing, Zion National Park

Above the Virgin River on the way to Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park

When our children and I wanted no part of clinging to mountainside chains 1500 feet above the canyon floor on the way to Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park, she was raring to go.

She is all she seems and more.