Angel’s Landing: Sunrise at the Top of the World

Note: I spent last week in Utah, climbing and roaming around the desert in the middle of nowhere. These posts are about the things I saw, the places I climbed, and sometimes, the drawings I made.

From Monday, May 31, 2010

I watched the sun rise this morning from the top of the world.

My 4:45 alarm woke me up, I crawled out of my bed in the back of my truck. It was Pre-Dawn Monday morning, May 31. I was in Zion National Park. I fumbled to make myself coffee and pack up my camp in the cold and dark.

About a dozen people got on the first (5:45 am) shuttle up Zion canyon. I was half asleep when I hit the trail to Angel’s Landing, 3 other folks also hiked the trail, and pulled ahead of me. One set of switchbacks brought me off the canyon floor, followed by a mild walk through a small canyon, then another set of deathly switchbacks brought me up to the north rim of the canyon. A little ways longer, and I reached the turn off for Angel’s Landing.

Trail to Angel's Landing

The last bit of narrow trail to Angel's Landing. The trail proceeds along the narrow fin of rock, then up the large mound to the top. There are a few folks starting the climb in the lower right corner

Apparently, this rock was named when whoever-it-was that named these things said, “only an angel could get up there.” Not a completely unreasonable observation.

Angel’s Landing is a mound of rock that sticks out into Zion Canyon, the Virgin River bends around this fin, a good 1,200 feet above the canyon floor. This mound is separated from the nearby canyon by a narrow fin of rock that dips down from the canyon, then up again as it nears Angel’s Landing. I got to the fin, and stopped for a moment.

This moment actually lasted quite a while. This narrow fin is, in some places, has no more than a yard wide area to walk on, and the plunge on either side does not stop for about 1,000 feet.

I sat at the top of this fin without crossing it – yet. The wind blew strong in this pass, and I planted myself down to wait for the sunrise.

The wind howled through this dip between the canyon and the Landing, I had to take my hat off to make sure it didn’t blow away. I sat there, watching the sun slowly peak up over the top of the canyon, and thought… nothing.

My mind was clear of everything, nothing raced through my head. I just sat and watched the light top off over the canyon wall, and begin to flood everything below with light. No mental breakthroughs, no grand philosophical or spiritual revelations, just… nothing. And it was glorious.

This narrow fin didn’t make me sure of my feet, or my knees, and I went back a bit to a nice landing with a view of Angel’s Landing. I pulled out my coffee thermos, an apple, and a pear, and had breakfast.

One or two groups made it up behind me as I started to sketch the mountain, and breakfast prompted me to keep moving. It turns out that I wasn’t sure of my footing, I just needed some coffee and fruit to fuel me up. The pass that looked incredibly difficult to pass was pretty easy, and I quickly got to the top, even though I was often one misstep away from a 1,000 foot plunge to my death.

Chain handrails have been added in places, and the climb to the top was half hiking, half scrambling up rocks, and half grabbing the chains and pulling myself up.

It was worth it.

The top of Angel’s Landing is at nearly the same height as the canyon walls. I stood out in the middle of the canyon, well above the canyon floor:

View Up Canyon from Angels Landing

The view up Zion Canyon from the top of Angel's Landing

View Down Canyon from Angels Landing

The view down Zion Canyon from the top of Angel's Landing

I pulled out my sketch book and worked on a drawing looking North from the top of the Angel's Landing.

Colored Pencil Drawing looking north from Angel's Landing by Sean Neprud

Looking North From Angel's Landing, color pencil drawing

I am fascinated most of all by the colors of this place, and how the mountains change colors as they rise up. The very tops of the mountains are light gray, almost white, littered with spots of green from the trees growing high up there. As they get closer to the canyon walls, the rocks are more of a brown color, until you hit the sharp fall of the canyon wall, and the rocks are a rich red brown color.

I stayed on top of the Landing for a good hour or so, then started the scramble down. Going down was easier than the scramble up, I had become far more sure-footed by making my way to the top.

New hiking boots with good traction help quite a bit. Over this trip, I learned to trust my boots to pull me up, over, and around all sorts of rocks. I learned to trust that they would stick to the rock when I needed them to. My boots would become invaluable to me over the next week.

In many very real ways, I trusted my boots with my life, and to keep me from serious injuries. In many of the places I would go over the next week, my boots were all that were between myself and pain, major injury, and — in the case of today — certain death.

I made it down, worn out, ready for a big breakfast, and with a clear head.

Next: A trip through Devil’s Garden to the Dark Angel

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