Day-hiking Zion: Angel's Landing
Friday, September 30
Today was to be the day that we'd tackle the exciting and scenic route down the Left Fork of North Creek. More colloquially known as "The Subway" route, it is a day long adventure that spans open slickrock scenery, a narrow canyon, and several rappels and watery sections, culminating in a scenic section of slot canyon shaped like a subway. I'd already done the Subway a few times, back in the late 90s, and was looking forward to another visit.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. The Subway is a route that is fairly popular, and the park service has a quota system that limits the number of people in the canyon at any one time. We had just missed getting an advanced permit the day before; this morning, we tried again to get a last-minute cancellation permit -- but to no avail. Doing the Subway would have to wait for another trip.
As we waited futilely to get a Subway permit, we thought about contingencies. We needed something that did not require a permit, and that allowed us to finish at a reasonable hour in the afternoon. We wanted to leave enough time at the end of the day for our drive back to Las Vegas.
I thought about it for a bit, and in the end we chose two separate but short outings: one which I know very, very well, and the other which I'd never done before: Angel's Landing, followed by a watery hike up towards the narrows of the Virgin River.
Angel's Landing is something anyone new to Zion must do. Arn and Gosia had never been to Zion before, so we had to do it! The hike to Angel's Landing is, for the most part, quite straightforward, and it is fairly short. It therefore fit well into our schedule.
Angel's Landing Hike Start
We took the obligatory Zion Canyon shuttle bus to the Grotto Trailhead, then started out on our climb. Most of the way to Angel's Landing is along The West Rim Trail -- one of Zion's arterial trails, and only the last bit of the climb to Angel's Landing branches off of it. Angel's Landing rose prominently above us as we walked along the paved path next to the Virgin River.
Heading for Angel's Landing
Arn, Gosia, and Angel's Landing
The superbly graded and paved path started to wind and twist as it made its way up the steep wall of Zion Canyon. It was a beautiful, clear day, and the views down Zion Canyon as we ascended were breathtaking.
More steep and sinuous trail brought us to the dramatic side-cut across a blank slab of cliff, and then we turned into the shady confines of refrigerator canyon, where a twenty minute walk mostly on the level brought us to the base of Walter's Wiggles.
Looking back down Zion Canyon
Arn and Gosia, Sandstone-framed
Walter's Wiggles are an especially well-constructed set of tight switchbacks that lead from the floor of Refrigerator Canyon up to Scout's Lookout. Scout's lookout is a dizzying spot high above Zion Canyon with great views and a huge dropoff. It isn't the top of Angel's Landing, though.
Scout Lookout is where the trail to Angel's Landing leaves the wide, paved path of the West Rim Trail, and starts an exposed final ascent up the narrow fin of sandstone that leads to Angel's Landing's summit, which we could now clearly see ahead.
Reaching Walter's Wiggles
The final leg of the Angel's Landing trail to the summit involves some exposed scrambling and walking along a narrow fin of sandstone, more than a thousand feet above the floor of Zion Canyon. Gosia was understandably quite nervous about this, and it took her a few minutes to gather up the courage to proceed. Proceed we did, though, following a veritable conga line of other hikers slowly along the exposed and amazingly scenic ridgeline to Angel's Landing's summit.
Fifteen hundred feet of air