Shortly after I returned from Thailand, Joanie and I left home for our first trekking holiday of the year: to the American Southwest and, in particular, to Southern Utah for a couple of weeks of pre-planned trails and impromptu adventures. The winter was longer than usual this year, so inclement weather altered some of our plans. But with every bit of “bad luck” we also found unexpected rewards.
As we had done in the English Lake District last year, we moved in a large loop through five “bases,” where we could unpack and settle for a few days in each while enjoying nearby day hikes. Most were in or near National Parks, National Monuments and State Parks, and reminded me of a quote often attributed to one of my favorite authors about the American West:
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.Wallace Stegner, 1983
The American Southwest has been important to me all my life, as it was to my dad and his father before him – primarily for its spectacular geologic formations that present dramatic views and yield magnificent photographs (as you will see in future posts). The landscape forces you to consider the passage of time on a whole new scale. Millions of years in the making, much of the area seems from another world! I have often described this as the center of my universe, and I am certain that my comfort in this arid desert, the mountains and the canyons is to be credited for my desire to move to Namibia with the Peace Corps several years ago, a decision that has just felt right ever since.
It was nice to return to old favorite haunts and to share them with Joanie, plus to see many places that were new for both of us. Not surprisingly, because it has become so popular for tourists from around the world, the authorities often impose restrictions on the number of visitors allowed in the parks or on the trails each day. A permit is sometimes required in advance of the visit and these are often issued by lottery. I began planning this trip months in advance, yet failed to secure permits for all the places that we wanted to visit. For those locations, we applied again in the smaller “day-before” lotteries and sometimes got lucky. This is how we found ourselves climbing up to the famous Angels Landing from our first base in Zion National Park on our very first hike. It was an auspicious start to the trip!
A powdered sugar dusting of snow, and sub-freezing overnight temperatures encouraged us to carry crampons for our boots, which we definitely needed for stability on the ice at the higher elevations.
It’s only happy smiles at the trailhead for the West Rim Trail, located at The Grotto on the North Fork Virgin River. The National Parks Ranger kindly took our photo after ensuring that our gear and Angels Landing permit were in order. Our destination can be seen through the tree branches above “The Grotto” sign.
We started out alone and quickly overtook a few other serious hikers and many not-so-serious walkers.
Looking ahead, our first goal is the notch between the cliffs, but how do we get up the sheer rock face?
If you look closely, you will see part of the trail carved into the cliff.
And if you zoom in further, you can see three people walking up this stretch.
I was so excited to be hiking again!
The views back down the trail gave us a great feeling of accomplishment.
Once the first climb is done, the trail moves a short and easy distance through the notch…
… before arriving at the base of the famous 21 steep switchbacks named Walter’s Wiggles. (N.B. this isn’t my photo but I found it on the internet and chose to share this great view of the “wiggles”).
Image: @schuddelife on Instagram
At the top of the wiggles, we arrived at Scout Lookout where the spur to Angels Landing splits off from the main West Rim Trail. Alongside this informative sign, we are approached by more National Park Rangers to ensure we have the right gear and a permit for the trail.
Then the steep scramble began, sometimes with chain support…
… to the summit.
As you can imagine, the views took our breath away!
Back down on the valley floor, we celebrated our accomplishment over a nice dinner loaded with protein, and a Paso Robles cabernet. It was a great first day in Utah!