A lot of hemming and hawing went into this season’s Hike of the Week premier: Angels Landing.
For years we have resisted posting this hike because of its proven risks. In recent memory, at least six people have fallen to their deaths while attempting to ascend this lofty massif. It makes me queasy to imagine that the next person’s body could be found clutching a copy of our Hike of the Week.
But here’s the deal: Angels Landing already is the most popular hike in Zion National Park. People will go no matter what we print, and from what I saw, many of the hikers don’t really know what they’re getting into. Committed tourists were wobbling over the knife-edge spine wearing Crocs, flip flops, unlaced Keds, penny loafers and ballet flats. A couple of acrophobic hikers stalled out in panic, gripping the chain bolted to the rock while partners yelled at them to hurry up (not helpful, partners).
Every hike has risks. All we can do is try our best to help you understand the risks and rewards of a certain hike.
To that end, here are some clues that you probably SHOULDN’T attempt Angels Landing:
1. If you think it’s no big deal to wear slip-on shoes to hike Angels Landing, you probably should not hike Angels Landing. Get boots or hiking shoes.
2. If you feel uncomfortable with the heights on the first 1.75 miles (before the trail turns south), do not attempt the final narrow half-mile of scrambling.
3. If you can’t wait your turn, you should not hike Angels Landing. The scariest behavior I witnessed involved impatient people trying to pass each other on the narrowest parts of the spine. Wait at a broader spot for unyielding oncomers. This is not the place to get territorial.
4. If you feel ill, do not attempt Angels Landing. There really is no margin of error for dizziness.
5. If you look at the chain-assisted scramble and think you couldn’t climb it *without* the chain, you might want to reconsider hiking all the way to Angels Landing. Consider whether the chain is giving you a false sense of security. Realize that when other hikers grab the chain, it can spring around in your hands. I used the chain, but I also was able to establish stable footing on my own.
6. If you think you would be too embarrassed or prideful to turn back, you should not go to Angels Landing.*
7. If you don’t have a secure way to carry your camera equipment, you should not go to Angels Landing.
8. If you don’t have a secure way to carry at least a liter of water, you should not go to Angels Landing.
At least some of the people who died were experienced hikers. I don’t mean to suggest they made reckless mistakes or shouldn’t have been there. But the fact is, some people shouldn’t go — and they don’t realize that they shouldn’t go.
To give yourself an idea of the vertigo-inducing exposure, download our KML and open it in Google Earth. Click around the final leg of the hike. It probably will make you want to go, but you’ll also get some idea what a 1,000-foot fall looks like. For a good, diverse array of experiences and opinions about the safety of Angels Landing, read the comments on this National Parks Traveller post.
*THERE IS NO SHAME IN TURNING BACK.
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