At Zion National Park, the trail to Angels Landing is famously known for the perilous climb with death defying drops on either side of the narrow path up the rock formation. It was named by the original climbers for being so remote that “only an angel could land on it.” The trail begins at the Grotto Trailhead where you approach the base of the rock as part of the West Rim Trail. Following the trail leads to Refrigerator Canyon on the side of the rock where temperatures are cooler being out of the sun. What follow is Walter’s Wiggles; a series of steep switchbacks alongside the canyon. After passing a plateau known as Scout Lookout, the rest of the climb to Angels Landing is a steep ridge with sheer cliff on either side of the path. Not everyone is brave enough to take on the “step of faith” and continue forward in the ascend but for those bold enough to face fear and vertigo, the view at 5,790 feet atop Angels Landing truly is inspiring.
Death’s at Angels Landing
I affectionately refer to Angels Landing as “Death Mountain”. Why you may ask? With such rave reviews of the view from the top? Well, there have been numerous deaths since the trail was carved in 1926. The National Park Service still lists the number of deaths on Angels Landing as 5 but this number is far from being accurate as the number was the same in 2007 and reports have shown at least 5 more deaths since then. I am not sure if they fail to update these numbers to keep tourism up or if it is to avoid scrutiny on the trail, but I imagine the death count is way above 10 since its inception 87 years ago. There are many signs indicating the dangers of the trail, yet thousands still climb Angels Landing each year. Angels Landing is comprised of slick rock which makes the trail even more dangerous because one can easily slip with the wrong shoes or a false step.
Beginning the Hike at Grotto Trailhead
The morning before we climbed Angels Landing, we had originally planned to hike The Subway but the park ranger strongly advised against it showing us recent video of the area being nearly flooded with rushing waters. It was April and the snow caps were still melting he said. The next hike we had planned was Angels Landing and although it was a little cloudy, we decided to go for it. I was a bit apprehensive having read the reports and warnings on this climb, but was determined to get through it.
After a quick stop back at camp to get our Camelbacks and put on our Five Ten Canyoneers, we headed to the trail. The hike started off pretty easy, just a clear walk to the base of the rock but then the steep ascend began and it became more strenuous. It was still a beautiful day and we pressed on at a good pace. The average time for completing the 2.5 mile vertical hike is about 3-6 hours. When we approached Refrigerator Canyon, it was a welcome shade from the sun exposure. The walk of Walter’s Wiggles was the worst part up until then. The brochure wasn’t kidding when it said those switchbacks were steep! Shortly after Walter’s Wiggles, we reached Scout Landing. It was a plateau just before where all the real fun began. We stopped for lunch and were attacked by squirrels looking for food! After the much needed break and a quick bathroom break (luckily it was open), we headed to the last half mile of our hike.
Take the “Step of Faith” and the fun begins
Just before you begin the strenuous upwards climb up the last .5 mile of Angels Landing, you are greeted with a sign reminding you that this is dangerous and you could die. But we pressed on and began our cliff side climb. Soon after you leave the comfort of Scout Landing, you are presented with the “step of faith”; a narrow platform with 1,500 ft sheer cliff on either side of the no more than 2 foot wide platform. This was the part I was more afraid of after seeing countless videos of the climb at home. Little did I know, that wouldn’t be the worst of it.
The climb truly is as perilous as it is described. At every point in time you are no more than a few feet and in some instances less than a foot away from a cliff drop. One false step and it will be fatal with no time for second chances. Luckily there weren’t a lot of other hikers that day but nevertheless, we went slow and used extreme precaution. We were doing well, and then it started to rain. At first it was only a few drops here and there but then it became more of a drizzle. That was where I panicked. The rock was slippery to begin with and with the rain, it became just that much more dangerous and we were already well up onto our climb to turn back. I had to stop for a moment because I began to have a panic attack. We sat for a bit and thankfully the rain began to subside. Even after my meltdown, I was determined to finish. I had already gotten that far into it with only one or two more vertical pushes to the summit.
View from the Top of Angels Landing
When we made it to the top, the view was amazing. Angels Landing did not disappoint. You could see far out into the canyon valley and although it was still cloudy, it was beautiful. The ground isn’t steady up there as it still has inclines towards the edges, so it’s best to still mind where you step. However, after having just climbed a perilous ridge, it was as safe as I would feel until we reached Scout Landing again. After enjoying the view and seeing the sky wasn’t letting up, we took some photos, has some homemade trail mix and started to make our way back down.
The way down didn’t feel nearly as bad as the way up, but I suppose it’s mostly due to going downwards and not needing the extra force to pull yourself up. It also felt faster although we took our time going down safely. When we made it Scout Landing, I was finally at ease and we trekked on making our way back down the canyon.
Angels Landing truly was an amazing experience. It was exhilarating and showed me I could push beyond any boundaries of fear if I set out to do so. Although not for the faint of heart, Angels Landing is a thrilling hike for those looking for a challenge. Given the accidents, I don’t think it will be open forever at Zion National Park, so if it’s on your bucket list, I suggest you make your way there soon. I am glad I did.
Check out our video below: