Meet my new nemesis. It’s called Angel’s Landing and it sits incongruously in Zion National Park when it’s not taunting visitors like me with our inability to scale it. So yes, it got away from me, or rather, I got away from it, backing away down the trail like a big, fat coward.
And this is new to me. Not failure…of course not. But backing down from a goal I’ve set for myself? Pretty rare. Usually, I can shame myself into almost anything, at least when it comes to physical challenge.
Too bad no one was on-hand to double-dog-dare me.
The trail I was determined to complete goes straight up Angel’s Landing after climbing up from the canyon floor for two miles first. If you look closely at the photo, you might be able to tell that the path follows right along the spine of that narrow ‘land bridge’ to the peak. My guidebook describes the first two miles (really just a warm-up) as ‘a strenuous hike climbing 1,488 feet to a summit which offers spectacular views into Zion Canyon’. This part was not the problem. I wasn’t afraid of the hike up to Angel’s Landing. But Angel’s Landing itself? Which is just a piddly extra half-mile tagged onto the hike? It’s described as ‘following a narrow knife-edge trail along a steep ridge, where footing can be slippery and support chains have been set along parts of the trail’.
And I’ve got a few problems with that. Especially after seeing it for myself. Because that ‘trail’ they speak of? Not so much. More like jagged slabs of sandstone up which hikers are expected to climb (as in honest-to-goodness, hands on rock, scrambling on all fours, fingernails clinging to stone and grasping at dirt climb) not hike.
And that chain they’ve installed? Yeah…in the 1930s. I read about it in the visitor’s center. (And they think no one’s paying attention to the free video production shown on the hour, every hour. Ha!) And said chain is attached to eyelets drilled into the sandstone no less. The sandstone that the kids’ junior ranger guide told us is so crumbly and fragile it constantly breaks off and turns to dust.
But the ‘knife-edge’? They weren’t kidding about that. So I’ll give them some credit there. It was indeed as narrow as the edge of a knife. And add about 30 hikers at any given time, and it’s a pretty crowded edge of a knife. Imagine a bunch of ants crawling back and forth on a blade of grass, and then substitute ‘ants’ for ‘people’ and ‘blade of grass’ for ‘cliff-face with sheer drop-off’, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what I was dealing with here. Oh, and that chain you’re supposed to hang onto? It sways and wobbles and inexplicably ends in places forcing you to cling to bare sandstone and you have to share it with all the other ‘ants’.
But all this exposition? Just a list of my excuses, naturally. I’m sure you saw through that right away. I like to give people a little background info to go with my wimp-out moments. Because I did indeed wimp out. I hiked the steep (stairs in places) two miles up to the knife edge. And I even started up, hanging onto the chain and scrambling and slipping and praying to God that I’d get the chance to see my children grow up despite my folly. I got to within a quarter mile of the top, and just…couldn’t do it.
I got to where this group passed me, then followed them back down. Slowly. Like an old woman. Full disclosure: I was a bit stiff with fright. I couldn’t trust my feet to find the right footholds and my eyes not to wander down, down, down the 1,488 feet to the canyon below. I couldn’t trust my hands to let go of the chain as people came and went along the ‘trail’. And I was afraid I’d be a liability to the others who weren’t afraid. I was afraid I’d freeze with that chain in my fisted grip and no one would be there to talk me down…just push past me.
So I backed away from a challenge, and I have to say, it feels shitty. For a good while, I stood at the base of the knife’s edge and noted all the people either 1. much younger than me or 2. much older than me who did manage to do what I could not. And I tried to work out how they went up and down without wanting to pee their pants.
And felt shittier.
And then I tried very hard to breathe in the experience of being on that mountain-top, and be grateful I was able to be there at all, and soak in the amazing views and just appreciate the time and place I was in…
but that didn’t work.
I still felt shitty.