Zion National Park in southern Utah… easily one of the most awe-inspiring places that I’ve ever been to! A well-organized park with a convenient shuttle service that will take you to any one of their many hiking trails. During my visit, however, I had only one trail in mind, the West Rim Trail. There I would set out to complete what many consider to be one of the most dangerous hikes in the United States… Angels Landing.
Said to be so high that only angels can land on it. Those who are brave enough to venture to the summit are met with some of the most breathtaking views that they’ll ever see. The first two miles of this hike are relatively pleasant. As hikers get to walk on a well-maintained and mostly paved path. However, this part is mostly a gradual incline with multiple switchbacks. Which I noticed led many hikers to have to stop and take breaks along the way.
After completing the first two miles, you come to what I refer to as a “staging area”. Here many hikers stop to catch their breath and ready their gear before attempting to reach the summit. There’s also porta-potties available if you need them. However, there are no potable water sources available. It’s in this area where I see many people rethink their decision to go to the top. They see what lies in front of them and suddenly become less excited than what they might have been at the start of their hike.
And rightfully so too. Because the last half-mile or so that it takes to make it to the top is not for the faint of heart. Hikers face steep inclines, rock scrambles, and ledges so narrow that chains are in place to hold on to. The path can also be deceptive, and once you think you might have made it to the top. You see another plateau in front of you that you have to reach.
So needless to say, this hike can be dangerous. Since the trail opened, this hike has claimed 15 lives. Despite this, however, the hike is still very doable. Though it’s not something that I suggest you do at the drop of a dime. As there are certain things that you should know and take into consideration before going to the summit. In this article, I list some of the things I did and learned on the trail that will help you complete the hike. So here are 7 tips for making it to the top of Angels Landing:
1. Arrive early
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of crowds, especially in areas of natural splendor. I think that too many people being in a place all at once kind of takes away the appeal. And Angel’s Landing is one of Zion’s most popular hikes, so it can definitely draw a crowd. But if you’re willing to get there early, and I mean early, then the place can seem a bit more exclusive. Not to mention that the many narrow ledges leading up to the summit can become congested “one-way streets” if there are a lot of people.
I arrived there around 6:45 am, and even then there were already quite a few cars. Though this was the same day as the recent eclipse we had, so I wonder if that was the main reason why. Even so, during the first two miles, the trail was relatively open, and I hardly ran into anyone. The staging area, on the other hand, had a bit more people there. But the last half mile was quite pleasant as far as crowds were concerned. There were many times when I was able to stop along the way and take in the scenery without impeding anyone’s way. I was also able to quickly scramble up rocks because no one was in front of me.
I made it back to the staging area from the summit around 10:15 am. And at that time there was definitely much more people than before. Also as I was making my way back through the West Rim Trail, the number of people making their way up increased dramatically. So if you wait too long to attempt a summit bid of Angels Landing. You could run into a lot of congestion, which can make the hike more difficult and less enjoyable.
2. Be patient
This coincides with the previous tip. If you find yourself going up to the summit when there is a fair amount of people, expect some backups. You may come to a narrow ledge and find a group of people going in the opposite direction as you. And you may have to wait until they’ve made it across first. You’re progress may also be halted by people who are moving slow or who become timid because they’re afraid of heights.
I would say that it is not a matter of ‘if’ you come across these situations. But it’s a matter of ‘when’ you come across these situations. So be patient when you do. Which is certainly easier said than done of course, as you’ll be eager to get up or down from where you are. But do wait for your turn. I’ve witnessed people do reckless things out of impatience. And they not only compromise their own safety but the safety of everyone else too.
3. Pack light, but with plenty of water
For this hike, I used a Camelbak Mil Tac M.U.L.E. pack, with a 3-liter hydration bladder and basic supplies (i.e. snacks, sunscreen, small first aid kit, etc.). This smaller pack allowed me to move much more efficiently when inching my way across narrow ledges or scrambling up rocks. And I felt that the 3-liter bladder held more than enough water for me to finish the hike. Definitely try to carry as little as possible, as too large of a backpack could affect your balance and maneuverability when going up to the summit.
4. Be fit and limber
Now you don’t have to be an elite athlete to go up to Angels Landing. However, I wouldn’t consider it to be an easy hike either. So there are certain things that you should work on beforehand. What I found to be my greatest physical assets for going to the top were my cardiovascular endurance and my flexibility. Both of which I’ve achieved through activities like running, ruck marching, and yoga.
My cardiovascular endurance helped with both the long walking and the increase in altitude. And my flexibility helped with the high steps that I had to take whenever I was scrambling up rocks.
5. Wear the right clothes
Going along with the previous tip, choose clothes that will not restrict your movement. And make sure they are light and breathable as southern Utah can get very hot. I would also suggest taking everything out of your pockets and putting them in your rucksack before going up.
For my trip, I wore a pair of shorts from Triple Aught Design and a shirt from Beyond Clothing. These garments were a bit more pricey, but they both worked like a dream! So I’d suggest checking these companies out.
6. Check the weather
When I went there it was cloudy with a slight chance of rain. I took the risk and was able to make it down from the summit before the rain came. Which I was glad that I was able to because I could imagine how many of the ledges and other stepping areas would’ve been much more slippery if they were wet. Even after the rain started there were still a lot of people going up to the summit. Though bear in mind that wet conditions will certainly lead to an increased risk. So keep a close eye on the weather so you can make a conscious decision as to whether or not you would deem it safe enough to go up.
7. Check your ego
This I probably the most important tip. Upon reaching the staging area, if you find that the sight of the climb in front of you just chills you to the bone, then don’t go. If it genuinely freaks you out, then don’t attempt it in order to please your friends or to show off to the girl you’re hiking with, or whatever. Or if you’re not feeling confident in your ability to make it to the top, then stay down. I also wouldn’t recommend this hike for anyone who is trying to conquer their fear of heights. I’ve never had a fear of heights, but I’d dare say that there were a few moments on the climb that made my stomach churn a little. So if you have that fear, work on it somewhere else.
Therefore I’d say, when in doubt, just opt-out. There’s no penalty for not going. You may have a bruised ego for a while. But that’s better than putting yourself or others at risk by attempting it when you feel that you shouldn’t.
To Sum Up
So is this hike dangerous? Yes, it can be. But is it still doable? Yes, very much so. And by utilizing the tips in this article, you can make it to the top more safely, and have a more pleasant experience. Not to mention that you’ll be rewarded with some of the most breathtaking scenery that you’ll ever see!