I looked over the edge of the canyon. It was a steep 200-foot drop down a red wall. One of the members of our group threw a rock over the edge, and we didn’t hear a crash for what seemed like a really long time.
“We’re supposed to rappel down… that?” I asked.
“Yup! It’ll be awesome!” our guide Eric cheerfully replied.
Though I’d already completed one rappel, and had been rock climbing in Joshua Tree a few months prior, this looked far. Our guide reassured me that fear was totally normal — that if you weren’t afraid of heights, you were stupid. (If that’s the case, I’m Einstein.)
And as it turned out, much of my trip to Zion National Park was a battle with this particular fear (which I’ve dealt with before).
Hiking Up to Angels Landing
First, the rappelling, and then our hike up to Angels Landing. The pamphlet said the hike wasn’t appropriate for people with acrophobia, but Tim insisted they were exaggerating — and that I could do it.
I try to be open to anything when traveling, so I agreed.
The first part of the hike was great. Beautiful views, perfect weather, good workout.
Then we reached Scout’s Lookout, a flat area popular for picnics, and the real hike began. Welcoming us was a sign stating that, due to steep falls, six people had died on this trail in the past 10 years.
I took a deep breath and proceeded.
The “trail” became a series of boulders to be maneuvered over and around — all while balancing yourself by holding on to metal chains bolted into the ground.
Though my legs started to shake a little bit, I kept going. I was bolstered by the fact that several other people also looked fairly terrified. (At least I wasn’t the only one!)
At last, we arrived at a flat area, which I assumed was the top. A sense of achievement flooded over me as I took in the stunning views.
“We made it!” I exclaimed, slightly incredulous. Only… we hadn’t. Another lady ruefully looked at me and laughed, saying: “I thought the same thing.”
She then pointed further up the mountain, where I could clearly see a skinny trail snaking back and forth. Tiny people marched up and down in single file, gripping on to the chains so they wouldn’t take a tumble down one of the sheer cliff faces.
Even worse, the trail to Angels Landing only fits one person at a time, so I could see little traffic jams where ascending and descending people were trying to pass each other.
You’ve got to be shitting me…
I’d come this far, however, and I wasn’t going to give up now. While saying, “Don’t be a wuss, don’t be a wuss, don’t be a wuss,” over and over to myself, I set foot on the narrow path.
Annnnnnd I got all of about 20 feet.
That’s when I looked over the side and saw nothing but thousands of feet of vacant space. The breeze had picked up into a gust, and fast-walking-suicide-wishing people had started to line up behind me.
NO WAY, JOSE.
I turned back around. I didn’t care if I was a wuss or if I was letting my fear get the best of me.
I didn’t care if Channing Tatum was naked and handing out free Newfoundland puppies and ice cream at the top. I wasn’t going any further.
After arriving safely back at the flat area, I told Tim I’d never been happier to NOT do anything in my entire life. Usually, I suffer from severe FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), but not in this case.
I happily sat there and ate my snacks while enjoying the view from solid ground. We made our way back down (which was a million times harder, btw), and I managed my fear pretty well. (That is, until Tim had to point out a “tiny bus!” about a zillion feet below us. NOT cool.)
Don’t Be a Hero
Travel is about pushing yourself — but it’s not about being a hero.
Go ziplining, eat bugs, try scuba diving, and explore a new country by yourself. Whatever gives you a bit of a good tingly rush. Don’t get on motorbikes with strange dudes, walk down dark alleys alone, or use the ultra-budget skydiving company.
To stay safe and happy, don’t do things that don’t feel right.
I’m not saying I would’ve died if I’d kept going, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I had great views from where I was, and I was satisfied with what I’d accomplished. I didn’t make it to the top of Angels Landing (nor do I think I ever will), but I’d pushed myself. Initially, I didn’t want to go on the hike at all, and in the end, I got farther than I thought I would.
And that 200-foot rappel?
It turned out to not be scary at all. As Eric promised, it was actually kind of awesome. No matter what, rappelling was much less scary than rock climbing (during which my legs were trembling so much I felt like a human jackhammer).
Or maybe… maybe I’m just getting braver.
I’m curious: Would YOU have done the Angel’s Landing hike?
Essential Zion Info
Watchman Campground: Beautiful, quiet, and right in the park. Super clean bathrooms. Convenient bus service through the park. Be sure to pick a spot with shade! Cost: $16/tent site.
Red Desert Adventure: Their 1/2 Day Canyoning Adventure was a brief, but fun, introduction to canyoning. Our guide Eric is one of the founders and was really informative. Cost: $110/person with a group of four.
Recommended hikes: Angels Landing (even if you don’t go to the top, it’s a gorgeous route), The Narrows (didn’t do this, but I heard it was amazing), Emerald Pools + The Grotto (easy hike with some nice views — though the pools are not exciting!)
Recommended restaurants: Go to the grocery store and cook at your campsite. We tried Bit & Spur (okay) and MeMe’s Cafe (eek); we wouldn’t go back to either.