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Steve Hart

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Conquering Angel's Landing

Posted: 07/31/2012 7:00 am

I remember climbing to the Scout Lookout of Angel's Landing hike and thinking to myself, as a man with a quiet fear of heights, that I probably shouldn't continue to the top. Carrying on meant climbing a half mile on narrow paths and steep drop-offs while holding a line of chains for support.

I ignored my more responsible angels.

As I was climbing the switchbacks that paved the way to the Scout Lookout, I asked those making their way down if they reached the top. Many people, with glittering faces and big smiles, said it was utterly amazing and others, with looks more grim than satisfied, expressed their fear of heights and undesirability to attempt such a daunting climb. I kept reassuring myself, after each person's answer, that the climb would not be hard and all I'd have to do was prevent myself from looking down. But I didn't.

I grabbed hold of the first set of chains and completely froze. I looked down at the landscapes below and thought back to the facts I'd heard from the audio tour in the shuttle bus -- that woman's voice so eerily unfolding the number of fatalities that have occurred over the years and reminding anyone planning to conquer Angel's Landing with a fear of heights to proceed with caution.

How funny it must have been to be a spectator, watching my macho male 'I'm not afraid of anything' ego drop in an instant as a family of three, with a boy about the age of eight, ask if they could pass me. I climbed back to the Scout Lookout, happy to be on safe ground but devastated by my failure to overcome fear, and let them pass, watching as the courageous young boy lead the climb with his parents trailing behind.

I paced around Scout Lookout for a couple minutes before a group of five female rugby players, all recent graduates or students of Utah State University, noticed my worrisome face and thought it would be easier for me to climb if I were situated in-between them, with three girls behind me and two ahead. I was reluctant to accept their kind proposal, but was persuaded nonetheless and immediately, after gripping the warm chain with my sweaty palms, started blabbering absolute nonsense.

I was talking just to talk, not necessarily because I wanted to, but because it clouded my mind and overshadowed thoughts of falling with bizarre conversation. In any normal circumstance I would have been considered a nuisance, but the girls, enjoying my self-deprecation and comedic wit, were happy to engage in pointless discussions.

All five of my saviors were intermediate rock climbers and avid outdoorswomen, so conquering a feat like Angel's Landing was not so much a celebration for them, but a simple check off a list full of many more dangerous endeavors to come. But for a simple man from the suburbs of Novi, Michigan, newly acquainted by the rush and thrills of outdoor activities, I grabbed hold of those chains for dear life and never looked back, or down for that matter, until reaching the top.

Like an Olympian receiving the gold medal, I reveled in feelings of accomplishment, standing on the summit of Angel's Landing overlooking the steep red rock formations and water stretching across Zion Canyon. I had quieted my chatter to a mouth closed, silent look of awe and thought to myself there could be no better name for a hike that ends with such breathtaking views. Being at such heights, with the company of a few strangers, one could be overwhelmed by feelings of invincibility as I was, and believe, for a short moment in time and space, that nothing in the world matters. I felt this for a while, until I realized what comes up must come down, and like a rich man waiting for his limousine, I patiently waited for my five Utah chauffer's to escort me back down.

Ascending about 1,500 feet, Angel's Landing is one of the most rewarding and beautiful hikes Zion National Park has to offer. For those with a fear of heights, it is definitely doable, but proceed with caution. The views at the top are well worth it.

 
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