Kevin's 2011 Utah and Arizona trip
Thursday - Zion
previous: Wednesday
next: Friday

It was a nice drive back to Zion, with great views of forested canyons. The road kinda heads into a canyon, and then the trees give way, and you have red and white sandstone cliffs. Wow. Shortly, the road starts winding through slickrock and canyon areas.

It's kind of a weird, alien-looking landscape. The upper layer is the white sandstone, and it has diagonal cracks running through it in kind of a checkerboard or brickwork pattern. Below that is the red sandstone.

After a while, there's a short tunnel, and then a longer tunnel.

When you come out of the tunnel, you're in an offshoot of Zion Canyon, and you ride down some switchbacks (a long way down) to the canyon floor. A short drive later, and you're at the visitor's center, where you hop the shuttle.

Back in the 1990's, car and RV traffic was way too busy in the canyon, so they closed it to vehicles, except of the shuttle buses. I can't imagine the congestion of traffic there. The buses were so nice. One comes by about every ten minutes. You can get off, look around and catch the next one, or go for a hike, then ride back to another stop that has water, refill, and ride to another trailhead. Or ride to the lodge for lunch. The bus drivers can answer questions, and there's a narrated audio playing for most of the ride. The Shuttle system is so nice.

I caught the shuttle and rode up to Emerald Pools. The first part of the walk was easy, and populated largely with a busload of Italian tourists. There was a nice falls coming over a wide, curved canyon edge, with the trail running behind it.

Then you climb and stop at Middle Emerald Pool. I didn't find much there but a little pool or two near the cliff edge. You keep going up, and it's hotter and more exposed to the sun, and then you're in the shade among boulders at Upper Emerald Pool.

This is a big pond, fed by a high falls coming off the cliff. Beautiful, and cool.

There were a lot of people up there, but that's okay. People were wading and climbing. One guy left his pack unguarded, and a squirrel got into it. I can't really blame it. It was a very nice place to have lunch.

After that, I walked up-canyon to the Grotto trailhead. This is when I got sunburned. While most of the Emerald Pools trail were in the woods, this was was in the desert. Same canyon, only nothing but scrub and cacti. I thought I had brought my sunscreen, but I couldn't find it. I was already a little way down this trail, when I found it. I applied it, but forgot my ears. Whether the sunscreen was generally ineffective, or I just didn't use enough, I ended up with sunburn on my ears, cheeks, neck, arms and the backs of my calves (I was walking north). After a rest, I headed off towards Angel's Landing.

Angel's Landing is a difficult trail, but a challenge that pretty much everyone who goes there
feels he has to take. It's very steep, and on the edge of a thousand-foot drop.

Yes, we "hike" to the top of that rock.

I didn't plan on doing this hike, due to both the danger posed by the trail itself, and by the danger posed by crowded conditions. So I decided I'd walk up to Scout Lookout and see it. I could photograph it from there. Then I'd see about continuing up the East Rim trail.

This is the approach to Angel's Landing:

Pretty, huh? Yes, it's immense. Reach out and touch it! See? You can't! It's too big!
Okay, now let's take a walk up the hill.

When you leave the river, you walk along the canyon, steadily upward. You get closer to the base of the cliff, and then you're up into it (see the first picture). Right about that point, you look at the cliffs ahead of you, and if you know what you're looking for, you can pick out your trail.

Do you see the diagonal cut into the cliff at the middle of the picture?
It's in shadow towards the right. That's the trail.

Do you see the rest of it leading up to that part? How about the guy in the turquoise shirt (middle right)?

How about now? It looks kinda scary, I'll admit, but it really wasn't. Except for that part in shadow at the top. Okay, I didn't find that part scary either, but if you were up there, maybe you would have been scared. Here's the view from up there:

I know it looks really steep and scary, but it wasn't. Except for right where I'm standing. The switchbacks down below weren't scary at all. There were rocks right next to the trail. And the trail was wide and paved.

This is looking up the trail from that same point. Dropoff to the right. No railing. Watch your step, you'll be okay. Just around the corner, you start to head into a canyon.

Refrigerator Canyon, they call it, since it's always cool.

The trail was built in 1926. It's on the National Register of Historic Places. There are 21 switchbacks, in two sections. They were named Walter's Wiggles, in honor of one of the two designers. The lower section is seen in the first few pictures. This is the upper section, which is very steep and short (side to side). There's a middle section too, which climbs refrigerator canyon, to the bottom of these.

I think there are eleven switchbacks here - eleven left turns and eleven rights.

After climbing Walter's Wiggles up out of Refrigerator Canyon, the trail comes up to a flat area called Scout Lookout, with a couple of outhouses and a few trees. There are people resting there, either before or after their climb, or while waiting for others to return.

The walk up to that point was so strenuous (did I mention the elevation change between home, the day before, and Zion? How about the 21 switchbacks, some which were cut right into the cliff face?). I had to rest a while and eat. By the time I'd rested up, I decided that going on up the East Rim trail wasn't any less strenuous than going up to Angel's Landing, and the crowds weren't really that bad. The crowds were the key, from what I'd read. So I went on.

It was a little strenuous, but it was very... you really had to watch your step. I paid attention to every step and every handhold. The "trail" was very often a sandstone cliff face, with a dropoff on your right, and a chain on the sandstone on your left. You grab onto the chain as you walk. It's not a barrier, it's a handhold. Then you meet someone, and you have to decide who's going back to a place where they can let the other pass. So you're climbing down some steps (rocks, really), and you need to step away from the chain. But the chain is heavy. It's weight actually pulls you a little. So if you just let go, inertia might pull you in the other direction, because you're actually leaning away from it. And maybe you're wearing a backpack and have a camera dangling around your neck. You do not want to lose your balance here. As I said, you pay attention to every step and every handhold.

Part of the reason I was so careful, was that I was exhausted from coming up the trail to that point. Just about everyone I saw was in much better condition than I was. Seriously, almost nobody seemed more tired than I. I'm sure I looked better than I felt, but there were people who were just cruising along, chatting. The whole trail has an elevation change of about 1500 feet in 2.25 miles.

See the posts and chains? As I mentioned, these are not railings to stand behind, they are handholds. They're on the uphill side of the trail, and you keep a hand on them as you walk... when there are chains.

So in the picture, you're walking to the right of the chain. Yes, that's what I said.

After a short trip around the first promontory, you come to a flat area
where you get your first good view of Angel's Landing.

It can be intimidating.

Some of the pictures make me laugh out loud. It's just insane.

Yes, it's really that steep. Yes, that's the road below.

One of only two warning signs I saw on the trek. "Warning, dangerous edge.
Area closed. 1,200 foot drop to the canyon floor."

This is looking back at Scout Lookout. You can click on it for a big view. In the very middle of the picture, there is a sunny ridge. Just behind it and the trees is Scout Lookout, which is the flat area I mentioned, that's at the top of the switchbacks. You can see the two outhouses. The West Rim trail heads up the hill to the right. To the left is Refrigerator Canyon. So you come around that sunny promontory, and you end up on the flat area (it's bigger than it looks) with the spindly tree, where you get a good view of the mountain you're going to climb. Then you head down the knife edge, and up to where I'm standing. But this still isn't at the top.

I finally made it to the top. The summit of Angel's landing is a long, somewhat narrow place that command a 360° view of Zion Canyon. It's just awesome. There are plenty of other places there that have great views, but none have so much of it! There are still mountaintops higher, and there are tiny buses driving alongside the river below.

There are several trails in the park that take you up to cliff tops for great views, but Angel's landing is actually one of the most accessible. But of all those views, this is the only one that gives you more than a 180 degree view.

This is a full 360 degrees. The stitching isn't that great due to the varying light levels, but it gives you an idea of what it looks like. Yes, you can click it. The ends of the photo are looking southeast down the ridge along the top of Angel's Landing.

At the summit, I spoke with a guy who was originally from Germany, but living in Boston for the last ten years. He took this picture, but I didn't get his name. I sat and had a snack with him and another couple.

Click to embiggen. I left this big so you can see the upper end of Zion Canyon. The buses at the bottom are where the road ends and the shuttles turn around. There is a mile-long trail from there up the canyon. The trail is paved and only somewhat hilly. It ends where The Narrows starts. Just above the red sandstone is a relatively flat area in the gray stone. This is about a thousand feet above the canyon floor. The Narrows was closed due to high water, but where it started (and where the trail ended), the canyon was less than fifty feet wide. You see there are canyons that go farther back in. These canyons don't get much higher, in the bottom, but the cliffs get much higher around them. From the bottom of The Narrows to the tops of the higher peaks is about two thousand feet.

What goes up must come down. Though going up is so much more strenuous, I prefer it to going down. Going down is tricky and hard on the feet and knees. Man, were my feet in pain - jammed in the toes of my hiking shoes on the steep downhills. Ow.

Back near the trailhead, a mule deer stepped out in front of me. I looked at her, she looked at me. When I started this hike, I read a sign that talked about deer attacks. Two children have been seriously injured, and many adults have been attacked by deer wanting their food. I looked at her, she looked at me. I gripped my walking stick, wondering if she saw me as a potential food source. I decided to step back up the trail a bit. She started walking toward me, then turned off the trail when there was a place to do so. I was relieved, though not entirely surprised. She was just kinda trapped.

I rode the shuttle to the top of the canyon, and then back down, and left the park. I had a trout dinner in Springdale, then drove back to the motel.

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