I am terrified of heights. I love adventure and pushing myself but this is one fear I've never gotten past and it only seems to get worse the older I get. In my 20's I jumped off buildings in stunt shows and I hated it every time; in fact, half the time I would end up changing the dialogue to "Ya know what, I think YOU should check out the view from up here!" and make my stage partner switch mid-show! So I knew the Angels Landing hike was going to test me. I made the mistake of watching people's videos non-stop and reading stories of the people who died or almost fell. By the time I left for Zion I was a terrified mess! Zion National Park is a part of the Mighty 5 parks in Utah (Arches, Bryce, Zion, Canyonlands, and Capital Reef). Located about 3 hours from Las Vegas, we were able to get there, park, take the shuttle to the visitor center, and then shuttle to The Grotto (the start point for Angles Landing) by noon.
The hike begins by taking the pedestrian bridge over the Virgin River and a gradual ascent until reaching Walter's Wiggles; a set of 21 switchbacks. The trail turns into Refrigerator Canyon, a cool shaded canyon in between towering mountains. At 1.9 miles you'll reach Scout's Landing. This is where the trail splits for the West Rim Hike to one side or the daring final half mile ascent to the top of Angels Landing. This is also the spot where hikers have the option to turn around if they have a fear of heights or small children. At least 6 people have died from falling and while there are chains intermittently, people with vertigo will still have trouble with the steep drop-offs.
The last half mile starts with a gradual climb with the help of chains. I actually found this part of the hike the hardest as the rocks to step on are small and slippery and the chain is low and on an angle. By the time I got through this section I was shaking and near tears. At one point I pulled off in a wide section to let people go by and then had to slide on my butt toward the cliff edge to get back to the trail and chain. After the first half of the final ascent, there is another large flat overlook point. This is where you get your first view of the narrow trail neck and the steep drop-offs on either side. At this point, the hike becomes more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I sat here for an hour before deciding it was too scary, too crowded, and too windy to push on...
Then changed my mind! After my legs stopped shaking from the first chain section I decided to go get a photo of the first scary step out onto the two foot wide section of the trail. Standing on it, it suddenly didn't seem so bad. I decided, if I'm going to host an adventure show, I better start conquering these fears! My brother/cameraman decided to stay behind so I was on my own. I followed a wonderful older couple who'd completed the hike before and were super encouraging the entire way up. Finally, I stood atop the 5,790 foot summit of Angels Landing and what a view!!!
It was getting later in the day and the wind was picking up so after about 15 minutes of glory I accepted that I would have to take the terrifying descent. I waited for a mother and her kids and decided to go down with them. Two steps down and I see my brother, who'd also changed his mind, coming to the top! Guess us Ortega's are braver than we thought! Coming up to the narrow trail edge, I couldn't help but see the steep drop-offs and terror set in! To make it worse the family ahead of me was cut off at the bottom by a large group of about 30 people charging up. I had no choice but to hold on to the chain and stare at the rock until they'd passed. By then, it was silent. No one behind me, no one in front of me, I was on my own. My tired shaky legs got me across the final narrow stretch and I made it back to the large lookout.
From here, it was the same chain section back to Scout's Landing and then a practical sprint down to the bottom I had so much adrenaline pumping! The trail is 2.4 miles one way and takes about 4-6 hours to complete. I am incredibly proud to say I've done it but I'm not sure I could do it again (although I do say try everything twice...). Angels Landing in considered one of the 10 best hikes in America and is a once (or twice) in a lifetime hike that is worth the hype it gets.
WHAT TO KNOW:
- Location: Zion National Park, near Springdale, Utah
- Trailhead: Begins at The Grotto which can be reached by the park shuttle
- Distance: 2.4 miles one way
- Elevation: 5,790 feet
- Time: Hiking time on average 4-6 hours
- Difficulty: Strenuous and not recommended for people with a fear of heights.
- Best Time to Hike: March-October and early to beat the heat and crowds
- Popularity: Extremely high, especially in summer months.
- What to Bring: WATER! Lots of it, hiking shoes with good traction, and a camera!