Tuesday, July 31: Zion
It is more important to try than to succeed
”It is more important to try than to succeed...”
Today turned out to be the exact opposite of yesterday.
We planned to hike Angel’s Landing, so we got up a bit earlier, around 7:30. The sky was blue with a few puffy clouds, and it was cool--almost perfect.
We had breakfast, got geared up, took the shuttle up one stop, and then started on the trail around 9:30.
I was amazed at home many details of the trail I had forgotten. The first portion of the trail is technically the West Rim Trail. It goes along the river a bit climbing slowly, then it climbs steeply until it reaches the cliff. At this point it climbs through steep switchbacks, with the accompanying large drop offs.
The good part about hiking this trail in the morning is that the first portion of the trail is shaded by the East Rim. Then there is some sun, but by the time you get to the switch-backs, you are in the shade of Angel’s Landing itself. It is much nicer doing the climbing in the shade than in the sun. Later in the day, pretty much the whole trail is in the sun, but by that time we were going down.
Eventually you reach the mouth of a side canyon, and the trail goes along there. I had remembered this as being more mellow without the drop-offs, but I was wrong. It does go along the floor of the canyon for a ways, but then it starts to climb up the side of the side canyon, eventually reaching some really steep and short switch-backs, which are apparently called “Walter’s Wiggles” after the superintendent who made the trail.
After more up, you come to the trail junction with the Angel’s Landing trail, and some toilets. At this point, I looked out along Angel’s Landing, saw the people climbing the steep rock holding onto chains, and I said to myself, “I’m not doing this.”
I proceeded however. It wasn’t too bad where the chains were, but to be perverse there were a number of places where one chain would end, and then there would be a gap of 3-5 feet, and a new chain would begin. Would it have really hurt them to continue the chains together????
I went up and over one hump, then I saw ahead of me the trail descend a bit, cross over a narrow neck, and then start climbing the bulk of Angel’s Landing. The neck was only about 4-5 feet wide. To be perverse, the chains ran to the neck, then ended. About 4 feet further, the chains began again.
Once again I said to myself, “I’m not doing this.” But I did continue.
Crossing that gap was really scary. I went about 20 or 30 feet further, and looked up at the rest of Angel’s Landing. Portions of it had chains, but large portions did not.
For a third time, I said to myself, “I’m not doing this,” but this time I turned back.
At this point, I came across my worst nightmare. I couldn’t go back across the gap! As I approached the gap in the chains, due to the geometry, I looked down past the edge of the rock 1,400 feet to the river below. Unfortunately, I could vividly imagine what would happen if I were to slip or stumble crossing the gap, and then take the express route to the bottom.
It is sort of strange that at a much lower elevation, I could have crossed that bit of rock without a momentís thought, but up there I was extremely slow and tenuous, and very unstable.
This is sort of the reason why I turned back when I did. I was afraid that I would get up but then be unable to get down. Of course, in a sense I had already gone too far by that measure.
I called Amy back (Amy isn’t afraid of heights). She ended up standing on the side of the rock holding on to the pole for the chain with her left hand, and extending her right arm across the gap. I went as far as I could holding on to the pole, then I grabbed her right wrist (and almost squeezed the life out of it), and using that for balance slowly eased across the gap until I could grab the other pole.
After that, I proceeded back to where the ground widened out, while Amy and Mike continued forward. As in going forward, there were a lot of slowdowns as people passed other people or just waited for a particular hairy spot to not have opposing traffic.
I waited for them for quite some time, I didn’t measure it. I talked with a volunteer who was perched there, doing some bird watching. She left, and I wandered off to find a shady spot. I lay down on the rock with my head on my pack and rested. At one point, apparently (from the comments from my neighbors) a squirrel came by and tried nibbling on my camera case.
In one sense, compared to the knife’s edge, this was a wide, stable place to rest. But looking out at the far side of the side canyon reminded me that I was still pretty high up, maybe 800-1000 feet above the canyon floor.
Eventually, I saw Mike coming back along the chains, but I couldn’t see Amy. It turns out that Mike is (not surprisingly) much faster than Amy, and he reached the end long before she did. They both started returning at the same time, but he left Amy “way back”. Maybe 10-15 minutes later I saw Amy coming along.
I had all of the water (I felt like a camel). I had given them a big drink before turning back, but as I expected they were both very thirsty when they reached me.
We were all hungry, but we had no lunch with us. Amy and Mike were happy that they had made it to the top, and I was happy that I had made it as far as I did.
We rested for a moment, drank water, and then started down. As expected it was in the sun, but it was *much* easier and faster going down.
We got down around 3 and took the shuttle back to the lodge. The first priority was an ice-cream cone each. We weren’t sure what to do about lunch. We had made dinner reservations for 6, and we didn’t want to each lunch just before that. So we ended up shifting the dinner reservations to 5 and making the ice-cream cone our “lunch”.
Then it was back to the cabin. Amy took a shower, and right now Mike it taking a bath. After he finishes, I’ll take a shower, and then it will be time for dinner.
Amazingly, the stream of perfection continued through the evening.
When we left for dinner at 5, Amy noticed some dark clouds just south of us, so we took some rain gear. By the time we had walked to the main Lodge building, we could just feel the first few drops. By the time we were seated next to the big windows, we could see the wind rising and the tree branches whipping around. A few minutes later, the rain was pouring down. We could see sheets of it blowing in the wind, and it was so heavy we could hardly see the other side of the canyon. This was followed by a series of flashes and booms from lightning.
As we walked to dinner, Amy had looked at Angel’s Landing through her binoculars, and she had seen at least one person up there (very late). Hopefully they made it off safely. I would hate to be up beyond the knife’s edge, with rising wind, sheeting rain, and lightning to boot. Certainly, they got soaked.
The waiter at one point took us to a staff area with windows pointing towards the east rim, where he showed us a waterfall that only existsduring heavy rains.
But by around 6pm, when we finished eating dinner, the rain had stopped. Unfortunately due to the weather, the satellite TV reception was hosed, so we couldn’t watch Olympic coverage in the auditorium.
Michael stayed in the lodge building, while Amy and I took the shuttle to the end, the Temple of Simawava. I wanted to get pictures of the river in the low evening light. What we found, not unexpectedly, was a large sign saying “Flash Flood Warning. Flash Flooding Imminent. Canyon Narrows are now Closed.” This was in case it wasn’t obvious. The normally tranquil green river was now a roiling mass of chocolate brown, with a much higher flow rate than earlier in the day. Anyone who would go wading in that would be crazy.
There was also a tall waterfall (2000 feet?) that isn’t normally there. That waterfall was also a chocolate brown, which is rather unusual. I took a bunch of pictures. Amy noticed a white waterfall further up the canyon, so we walked up there and took more pictures. On our way back, we noticed that the Virgin River was already lower than it was when we arrived.
As we took the shuttle back, we noticed many deer, and apparently just missed seeing a fox. We also saw the beginning of blue sky.
This day has been amazing from start to finish; a stark contrast from yesterday.
P.S. Just got back from the nightly ranger program. He said that the amount of water that came down the river this evening (i.e. the flash flooding) was much bigger than usual; i.e. that amount of roiling brown water was larger than normal.
Otherwise, it is a perfect temperature outside. We have the windows open. If it weren’t for Mike needing his sleep, I would love to go wandering outside.
Coming back from the program, there were a half-dozen or so deer grazing on the lawn in front of the lodge. It was dark enough, however, that you couldn’t see them unless headlights happened to illuminate them (or their background), or unless you had tourists lighting them up with “flashlights” from their smart-phones. There were people only a few feet from them taking their pictures, and the deer totally ignored them. We also think we saw some fox, but we’re not sure.
P.P.S. I just did go for a short walk. It was really calm and peaceful on the lodge grounds--something you wouldn’t get at a Motel 6 outside the park. I walked to the lawn to see if the deer were there. It was too dark to tell. So I turned on my light. Suddenly I saw a number of shadowy gray forms, all staring back at me with bright glowing green eyes. It was almost spooky.
Perfect temperature as a perfect end to a perfect day.