(You should know I have not proofread this.)
Monday morning, we woke up early and headed to breakfast at Café Soleil. That ended up being where we ate breakfast pretty much every morning. It was about a stone's throw from the house and it had really great food. We got geared up and caught a shuttle into the park. Pretty much all of our hikes started early in the morning because 1. we wanted to miss the main crowd of hikers. Even though it was off-season, Zion is still fairly popular. And 2. no clouds = SUN. It was chilly in the mornings and anytime you were in the shade, but as soon as you hit that sun...POOF! Instant tan.
I wanted to go ahead and get Angel's Landing over with because it was stressing me out. I mean, nobody was making me do it, so why be stressed, right? Because, I'm crazy. And I wanted to see if it was as scary as it appeared to be in the pictures. I think I already told y'all this, but in case I didn't...Angel's Landing got its name from a Methodist minister that visited the park back in the 1920's. He said the route was so impassible that only an angel could land there and that its peak was the place that angels gathered in the shadow of the Great White Throne, another peak nearby.
A few feet further and here's this sign. It's probably hard to read, but it says, "Since 2004, 6 people have died falling from the cliffs on this route." I think it's comforting that the number "6" font and age don't match the rest of the sign. Hmmm...fresh paint?
But onward we trod!
Look at me all happy and naive.
From the trailhead, it's a really pleasant walk through the canyon floor. You're surrounded by the red cliffs, Angel's Landing rising before you. Very easy and flat. The sign said strenuous. Ha, okay. Then, the trail starts heading directly toward these cliffs. Angel's Landing is off to the right. And I mean, it's just a huge wall. How in the world are we supposed to get from the valley to the top of that mountain at over 1400 feet? I'll show you how.
It's hard to tell here, but this is a HUGE canyon wall, straight up. And switchbacks are cut into the sandstone. If you look, you can see some manmade brick barriers separating you from an untimely death.
We climb the switchbacks...Angel's Landing still right there, mocking us.
See the trail below?
Those are the switchbacks we climbed.
Okay, so maybe a tad strenuous.
Those switchbacks lasted a millennia, but finally, they ended at the mouth of Refrigerator Canyon, a hanging canyon of Zion. A hanging canyon is where a stream or melted snow has slowly eroded the rim of a larger canyon, forming a canyon whose floor doesn't reach the bottom of the main canyon...in a sense, hanging on the edge. Anyways...it was a very nice respite in comparison to those stupid switchbacks. And it's like waaaaay cooler inside...hence the name.
Looking back toward Zion Canyon.
Then, we came to an ingenious feat of engineering...twenty-one steep switchbacks known as Walter's Wiggles. It was named after one of the first caretakers of the park. He designed them. And actually, we met his granddaughter at the Worthington Gallery (his original home) in Springdale when we bought some pottery on our last day.
It was pretty rough, but at least it wasn't hot. Here's a picture taken by a professional canyoneer-er from further back into Refrigerator Canyon.
Go back and look at the first picture I have of the Wiggles. See the guy on the far right? The guy beside him, in the plaid, was going up and asked as the other guy was coming down, "Hey, did you make it to the end?" You should have seen the other guy's face. He says, "When I have 10 signs telling me 'don't do this,' 'this is really dangerous,' 'you could fall at any second,' and when chains are the only thing up there to help me, you know I ain't going." I started getting extra nervous after that.
Soon after the Wiggles was Scout's Lookout. It's the last place to stop before the half-mile climb to the peak of Angel's Landing. And it's flat and sandy with lots of room to walk around. Some call it "Chicken Out Point." I learned to call it "Ruth's Safe Haven." Here's why...
Now, I didn't go all the way out to Arizona to not at least TRY to do the last half-mile. I knew I was scared of heights. I knew a gazillion people said if you're scared of heights, don't do it. But, I was going to try.
Here we go. See the people? That's one of the issues. It's probably the most popular hike in the park and this isn't the hike on which you want to encounter people. There are toe-holds and hand-holds about three inches wide and you can't pass someone coming down while you're going up. This first section had chains. And the trail was slick sandstone. Even in the driest of conditions, sandstone is still slippery.
I don't know how, but David and I made it up this part. And the chains weren't continuous. There were huge breaks in them. Not breaks in the chains themselves, but there'd be a string of chains. Then, you'd have to scramble over a section of rock to make it to the next set of chains. The technical term of scrambling means to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself alive on this dumb mountain.
After the first part with the chains, which took us higher and higher, we stopped for a second because I came to a break in the chains. But stopping on this hike doesn't mean coming to a flat part and just hanging out. You are literally clinging to the mountain. I searched over the red rock for where I was supposed to go next. Nothing. Nothing but a 65 degree angle of mountain, open air, and my insides that I had thrown up. Finally, I saw some chains...at an impossible distance. I laughed because I thought, "How am I ever supposed to get there? Like, I'll never make that." I honest to goodness don't see how thousands of people climb that each year. For the first time on the half-mile, I looked down. And that did it for me. I may or may not have peed in my pants.
With sweaty palms, I held on to my minuscule rock of hope, my cheek pressed so hard into the sandstone that my face was becoming one with nature. I could see my breath forming moisture on the wall. Oh, sweet rock. You are my home now. I shall live here forever, for I cannot move. I felt like I was there for an eternity. David said it was more like 20 seconds. He said, "Ruth, we can turn back whenever you want." THANK YOU, LORD JESUS. I replied, "Yes, I want to do what you just said." Sweet Hugs. Let me say that David could have made it to the end. He's not afraid of heights. He let me go first because he knew I'd be nervous behind someone. And he let me go at my own pace and he was so encouraging. And by "encouraging", I mean he didn't say a word because I asked him not to talk to me during this part. But he said just the right thing at the right time. I definitely wanted to turn back, but I hated David missing out. I turned back to him, my nose scraping the sandstone, and said, "Are you sure?" He smiled, "Ruth, a vacation is supposed to be fun. Not stressful. I don't think this is fun for you." IT WASN'T.
And now that I'm typing this...I don't know how I got back down in front of him going back down the mountain, but apparently I did because I know I went down first. I must have apparated or something. We start back down that section of chains and we get to a part that I didn't remember coming up. There was another huge break and I honestly could not see how to get down. And about 10 feet below my feet was nothing. I couldn't see any more rock past it except the canyon floor below. That was about at the 1100 feet point. I was holding on to one tiny baby link of chain and the next set was forever away. I was stuck. I almost had a little freak out, but you can ask David, I was pretty calm. David wanted to come down and help me by taking my hand and lowering me to the next chains, but I was on the verge of a panic attack and I didn't want anybody near me for a second. And then, I didn't want David to put himself in danger just because I'm a spaz. But a stranger....... I don't care as much about their life......which is why I waited. I waited until some more hikers came along. I knew some had to eventually. It was probably only about 7 or 8 minutes, but I just hugged my little space of mountain with all the love in my body, David and I waiting in complete silence.
Behold, some more hikers! Four of them. They were Australian. And adorable. This is the actual conversation that transpired...
Ruth: Hey, guys! (nervous laugh)
(Aussies look up)
Ruth: Guess what? We're about to become really good friends, because y'all are gonna have to get me down from here.
Aussies: Haha! Well, throw another shrimp on the barbie! Oh, you're serious?
Aussies: Sure, we'll help!
(The Aussies set themselves along the mountain in strategic helping positions.)
Ruth: Now listen...you can touch ANY part of my body you feel you need to to get me down. I don't care. I just want off the mountain.
Aussies: Okey dokey.
The first guy gets pretty close. Close enough that he can reach my leg and steady it as I find foot-holds and lower myself closer to him. I say "thank you" and scramble around him, grasping the chain to his left. Whew. Made it that far.
I reach the next guy who takes my hand and helps me further down. These folks are like plastered up against the mountain like David and I were. I'm surprised they helped me, but by golly, they did and I love them all for it. Then, I reach the first girl who reaches out her leg for me to use as leverage to lower myself down further while she holds onto the rocks. I scramble around her. Then, it's a really narrow ledge RIGHT on the edge of the cliff. And there is one chain anchored three feet above that path. The last Australian, another girl, offers me her hand. I say, "I'll go around you. You just hold on tight and I'm going to hug around you if that's okay." She says, "Crickey! That's totally fine!" And I did just that. I'm pretty sure I motorboated her. I can't remember. I just know that personal space barriers were breached that day, but nobody seemed to mind and we made it down the mountain and the Aussies made it to the peak, so everybody won. I yelled at them when we reached the safety of the sand, "Thank you guys!" They waved and smiled. Praise God for Australia.
But, Scout's Lookout was a nice place to calm my frantic heart. My legs were like Jell-o. My hands had swelled to epic proportions. But, I gotta tell you...I was SO HAPPY the rest of the day. You know they say that thrill seekers are always happy because of the adrenaline bursts their extreme way of living provides. I think that was the most terrified I have ever been in my life and then I made it back to dry land and I was just so happy. And now I know that Angel's Landing isn't for me. A few people milling around Scout's Lookout were like, "You should have gone further. The part you were at was the hardest." Well, they were big fat liars. Because a TON people said that was the most "strenuous" part of the climb, but by far the least terrifying because from then on, it's sheer drops on both sides. At that time, we just had a drop on one side. No more climbing. Just meandering about on a narrow ridge the rest of the way. The pictures really were as crazy as the hike and it wasn't worth it to me to finish it.
I sat with a smile on my face and we just bathed in the sun for a little bit.
Chipmunks were everywhere! One almost got up my shorts before I realized he was there.
Okay, so, you know I love to people watch. This group of Brits came up from Walter's Wiggles as we were resting and they were talking about some girl who was far behind the rest of the group. Then, a guy comes up and they're like, "Where's so and so?" And he's like, "She's almost here. She's super mad." And then so and so arrives and she IS mad. She sits down, puts her head in her hands and starts crying. The guy, who apparently was her boyfriend, comes to her and puts his hand on her shoulder. She looks at him with the glare of a thousand swords and says, "If you come near me, I SWEAR I WILL THROW YOU OFF THE MOUNTAIN!" Then he says, "Well, fine. Are you going to the peak with us?" She growls, "OF COURSE I'm going to the peak, but I'm not going with you because you obviously don't want to be with me." We're guessing she was a slow hiker and they all left her behind and she was mad. But, y'all...bless her...she was LIVID. It was hilarious. So, I took her picture. And the rest of the day, David and I spoke in British accents in honor of Angry Brit Gal.
Looking into Refrigerator Canyon.
This is where my knee issues of the week began and my probable stress fracture came from. I think it was because my legs were so wobbly from the ordeal earlier and the steepness of the trail. So very steep. It's just as hard going back down as it was going up.
Then I say I want to take his picture. So, of course, Mr. Daredevil goes and sits RIGHT on the edge.
He says he wants one of me sitting down. I back up, just feeling with my hands where the ledge is, and this is how I sit. Oh my gosh, I hate heights.
The lighting was so different going back down the trail. I think I have a million pictures of the same stuff. Sorry.
Okay, so I know the Angel's Landing ordeal was super traumatic (but exciting) for me. I will never have a desire to ever hike to the peak. I don't regret not doing it. I'm fine not going to the end. But, I will say, when we go back to Zion, I will definitely do the hike up to Scout's Lookout again. It was a strenuous hike, but it was BEAUTIFUL. And pretty different from any hike we've ever done. I really enjoyed it.
We had a lunch break then headed to go see the Emerald Pools. We were told they wouldn't be "stupendous" right now because there hadn't been rain in awhile. But, still...it was supposed to be a good trail and it didn't disappoint.
There are three Emerald Pools: Lower, Middle and Upper, each trail gaining elevation and difficulty. This is the Lower Pool. It was kind of set below a little alcove with rock overhang. You can see the streaks where the water flows after it's rained. The thing is, it has major waterfalls, but if the pools are at their most spectacular that means it's rained enough to make most of the hikes in the park inaccessible. So, I didn't mind that there wasn't a lot of water falling.
Going behind the waterfall.
Above the rock overhang. The Middle and Upper Pools are way back there in that grotto area.
One of the most frustrating things about taking pictures in the canyon (besides the high contract between shadow and sun) was you could never capture the GRANDNESS of this place. It was huge. It's amazing how small we really are. These walls towered above us and I could never show you that in a picture. I tried to with a few panoramic shots, but even then, it still doesn't capture the epicness of this place. All I can say is, it's really really really big and the walls are very high and we are very small.
We made it! This had a 200 foot waterfall, but that day, it was just a small trickle. It was so peaceful and quiet here. Completely serene. You could hear water dripping. I could have stayed for days.
The Emerald Pools get their name from the special type of green algae that grows in them.
You can also levitate here.
The streaks on the walls are where water has vaporized and left mineral deposits on the rock surface. The red color comes from iron oxide (rust) in the rock.
We took the shuttle to the very end of the canyon (well, as far as you can go in the shuttle) to the Temple of Sinawava. There are river access spots and we trekked on down to get a closer look at the Virgin River.
The Temple of Sinawava. Actually, I think this is considered the beginning of the canyon. You can go further north in the canyon via the Narrows. The temple is a natural amphitheater with 3,000 foot high walls. I cannot remember the reason for the name. Something about an Indian woman, though. And this rock formation was the main focus of the story.
On the way back to the house, we got off the shuttle at the Big Bend stop...named so because it's a big bend in the river. Clever. From there, we got another humbling view of Angel's Landing.
Okay, see the little jags in the mountain on the right...the lowest part is Scout's Lookout. Then, there's a "false peak" little rise then another dip, then the final peak. We made it to that dip. It looks like, "Oh, you guys were so close." NO WE WEREN'T.
At the bottom of the Landing, there's another fin that connects to a formation called The Organ. A lot of rock climbers conquer this one. In the distance is the Great White Throne, named by the same guy who named the Landing and the Three Patriarchs.
Driving back to the entrance. The Watchman in the distance. I have a lot of Watchman pics, be forewarned.
That night, we rewarded ourselves with a fantastic dinner at The Spotted Dog, right across the road from the house. SUCH. GOOD. FOOD. For appetizers, David got a creamy parsnip soup and I got French onion soup. Mine was delicious, for sure, but David's was to die for. No, really. I almost killed him for it.
Then, we both had the best spaghetti and meatballs I've ever had. Complete with edible flower.
An adventurous day, indeedy deed.