Distance: 5.2 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 5793'
Elevation Gain: 1500'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.2
Round trip time: 2 hours 40 minutes
Recommended water: 40 oz.
Parking/Fees: $30 National Parks (per vehicle, one week pass)
Angels Landing is one of the iconic hikes in Utah's Zion National Park. It is famous for its knife edge ascent at the end protected by chains anchored to the rock. The summit juts into the middle of Zion Canyon for spectacular views, though many think the views from Observation Point are the best in the park. There is some serious exposure in a few places along the route, with thousand foot drops on both sides. Quick tip #1: don't bother reading the report at Medieval Hiker, it's incomplete. ;)
My wife and I got to the shuttle stop at 6 AM to catch the first shuttle into the canyon but there was already a line. We didn't make the first shuttle and had to wait for the second. We got off at The Grotto, and started up the trail with several parties ahead of us as the sun started to brighten the canyon through overcast skies. A sign at the beginning warned that seven people had died on the route since 2004. They don't mention that more people have died on the short Emerald Pools hike. As we walked along the edge of the river, a herd of deer crossed from the other side. Wildlife in the park is quite comfortable with people. The first set of switchbacks climbs steeply up to a saddle at the entrance to Refrigerator Canyon. A flat section cuts between giant red walls. Then the trail climbs the famous Walters Wiggles set of switchbacks, ending at Scouts Lookout at 5,367'. There are great views into the canyon from there.
Sidebar on crowds:
At peak season, don't believe the rangers when they tell you that the wait for a shuttle is never more than 15 minutes. Late morning and early afternoons, expect to wait 45 minutes to get in and at least 30 minutes to get out. People are overwhelming the system and it really detracts from the experience. I expect the NPS to implement a reservation system and/or lotteries in the future to handle the crowds.
From Scouts Lookout, the chain assisted section to Angels Landing starts. It gains another 426' in about half a mile. Roughly 3/4 of the route is chained, meaning about 1/4 of it is not. Quick tip #2: use rubber coated gloves for extra traction on the chains. I used the same gloves as on the Half Dome cables with great success. At least half a dozen people commented to me that they should have brought gloves for the chains. Leisa followed me up the first chained section, but was not comfortable continuing on the unchained sections. The holds were good, but there is serious exposure on both sides and if you haven't spent much time scrambling exposed routes, it can be unnerving. We wished each other well, and I continued past the first bump. There was a brief descent to the "Leap of Faith" where a short gap in the chains leaves you unprotected on the knife edge ridge. The hiker in front of me wanted me to take his picture there and he reciprocated. Finally, I approached the last couple of hundred feet of gain. There was a mix of class 2 and class 3 scrambling here, most protected with chains, but some not.
I think the NPS did a good job placing chains in the toughest areas. In addition, steps were cut into many sections of sandstone making the whole thing easier and safer. At the summit plateau, there is a short walk along the flat ridge to reach the end. The highest point is probably not at the end, but an 8' craggy rock that I scrambled over on the way back. I took some photos and video at the summit, accidentally catching someone proposing to his girlfriend, who accepted. He joked that he was glad he didn't drop the ring. A fun moment. The descent was clogged with a steady stream of hikers. I had to stop many times to let others pass. The crowding problem creates additional risk for everyone. Fortunately, there were no accidents this day. When Leisa and I got back to the trailhead, we decided to walk the extra half mile to the Zion Lodge. Along the way, we almost crashed into another deer, grazing from the trail. We also passed some wild turkeys. The wildlife went a long way to soothe my over exposure to humans in Zion Canyon. When we arrived back at the visitor center, the line to get a shuttle into the canyon was at least a 30 minute wait.
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Other Trip Reports:
Angels Landing - Hiking in SoCal
Angels Landing Winter Ascent - Adam Walker