It was Labor Day weekend (September 3-6, 2010) and Devin and I decided to do another road trip, this time to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon. For ease of reading I am breaking this into two separate posts focusing on each location; however, this was one continuous trip for us.
Like in the past we took off straight from work on Friday and drove up the I-15 through Vegas. Traffic wasn’t as bad as we expected on a four day weekend, but that could be due to the fact that we did a “6 and out” at work (what we like to call going in at 6 AM for 6 hours and then leaving). After gassing up the car and stopping at the liquor store to grab a few beers for our “road sodas” we were on the road by one. For the record, I will state that while consuming my “road soda” I was not driving- Devin on the other hand, well that’s another story; I even have video evidence so there’s no refuting my side of the story. It was dark already by the time we arrived in Vegas so we stopped to grab some dinner before continuing onto Utah.
We ventured off the strip to the Palms Casino as neither Devin nor I had been to it before and thought this was our perfect opportunity to check it out. Although we probably would have been better off eating at the $5 buffet in Buffalo Bills when we stopped at state line so I could go pee. Not that the Palms isn’t a nice casino, but none of their restaurants were appealing. After sitting in the car for five hours in my “lounge wear” I was in no mood and no attire for a $300 fancy steak dinner; the only available option was some Mexican restaurant.
Living in California I have eaten some of the best Mexican food at random hole in the walls (even though Devin believes that there isn’t great Mexican food- that it is so easy to make and it all taste the same) so you can probably imagine why I wasn’t impressed with this On-the-Border type restaurant. The food was average at best and the refills on my margarita were slow; the only glowing review I can give is that they had quite a salsa selection. Nevertheles, it was a meal and it filled me up.
Beat from all the driving we pulled into a Travelodge in the city of Virgin Utah just outside the park entrance. While I prefer Marriott’s or Hilton’s it was three in the morning, and this was the only accommodation around. The hotel was extremely old and you could tell that our room had some history. Scuff marks in the bathtub, dents in the walls, and weird stains on the carpet had us picturing a psycho esque movie.
We set an alarm for early in the morning, though it didn’t mean that we woke up; as usual we snoozed for quite some time before getting out of bed. I would have been content sitting in bed all day watching bad reality TV reruns, but we didn’t drive all that way to do something I could have done from the comfort of my own apartment, which isn’t as nasty as this “motel”. So we each took a quick shower, packed up our belongings, and headed up the mountain towards the park entrance. Once we got to the entrance we were faced with the challenge of finding parking; apparently no cars are allowed within Zion, and by noon all the lots were full. They do offer a shuttle into the park, so if you are going park wherever along the side of the road and walk to the nearest shuttle spot.
When we finally reached the visitor’s center we had to decide which hike we wanted to do. There were several options, but one called my name: Angel’s Landing.
Angel’s Landing is described as a strenuous uphill hike; it is 5 miles roundtrip, uphill for over 1,000 feet, and at the top is 5,785 feet in the air. For parts of the hike you are climbing cliff side holding onto a metal chain; one slip of the foot could plummet you 5,000 feet to your death. In fact, nine people have died climbing this trail. I wish I would have known what I was getting myself into!
As we started off the hike I was fairly optimistic; the description said it was a hike for younger people since it was so strenuous, and I was thinking “well we’re young and although we might not be conditioned for this we aren’t in that bad of shape, we should be able to make it”. However, about half of a mile into the hike I was in total despair. I had already gone through a full bottle of Gatorade; I only had one more Gatorade and liter sized water bottle to last the rest of the hike, for whatever reason both Devin and I didn’t fill up our Camelbacks with water. I started questioning if we were going to be able to make it and we were only 20 minutes in.
The fact that so many others were stopping every few feet to catch their breath too made me feel a little better, like I wasn’t the only person struggling this early on, but the sun and the incline were just killing me. It was about 100 degrees outside and the trail was fully exposed to the sun; the only way to get shade was to push my body so close to the rock that the overhang from above would cover me. The incline kept increasing and soon I was stopping at each switchback to catch my breath. Devin was feeling it too; although, I think he was trying not to really show it to keep me motivated.
We had been climbing for about two hours and kept seeing all these old people coming back down the trail. We figured we must be close to the top and if they could do it so could we, so we pushed on. Only later did we find out that these people didn’t make it all the way up, that they had turned around about halfway up.
Both our bodies were feeling pretty weak at this point; we had only eaten a small sandwich before we started the hike, so we took a long rest to eat some trail mix. Next to us was a woman who was just as exhausted as we were. She had sent her family along without her thinking that she was never making it up. She had done this hike once before and assured us that it was worth continuing on, that we were about halfway there.
When I heard this I was shocked; both Devin and I were under the impression that we only had half of a mile left, not a mile and a half! Somehow against my better judgment we continued on and made it to the crazy switchbacks. There were about 20 of them which in total climbed 500 feet up the mountain. After about 5 of these I was ready to turn back.
I had reached my breaking point and just thought that there was no way I could push myself any further; that I just needed to call it quits and go back down. (For the record I do not easily give up, I am quite stubborn. It was hard for me to say I wanted to stop, but I thought if I didn’t I might end up dying from heat stroke.) Devin was going to do whatever I wanted to do and knew that if I was saying I didn’t want to go anymore it must be serious, I think he was secretly relieved.
However, all the people passing us on the way down were so encouraging; they said that we were almost there, that after the switchbacks started the mountainside climbing and that we were currently on the hardest part. They were all raving about the views from the top and said it was worth it to keep going. So I decided that if I had gone this far I had to keep going, I had to finish.
The last part of the hike, I believe, was the most difficult. Devin and I had to scale the mountain climbing up the rocks grasping onto a metal chain while others were trying to squeeze past us on thier way down. Being so close to the edge made my stomach feel uneasy; I suddenly realized how high up we were and how unsturdy the rocks seemed to be.
I began to feel very light headed so we took a seat where I could lay out for a few minutes. At this point I had drunken all of my water/Gatorade and was starting onto the little bit Devin had rationed. I was eating trail mix to elevate my blood sugar, but the salt in it was dehydrating my body and with no liquids left it was a lose-lose situation. As we were resting the woman that we had met earlier was coming back down the trail. She had pushed herself on and met up with her family who had been waiting for her at the top. Seeing that I was exhausted and not doing well she offered me a cookie to help give me energy; I politely declined but was very grateful for her compassion to a complete stranger. By the time we got up to start climbing again I had finished all of our water, leaving us with nothing for the rest of the way.
Four hours from when we started we finally made it to the top of Angel’s Landing. Exhausted we sat in the sparse shade provided by a small tree and admired the view from the top. It really is amazing. The huge red rock formations and the green valley beneath them are breathtaking.
But that’s not the end of our adventure; we still had to make it back down the mountain before dark and without water. Contrary to what many believe (even myself) the way down isn’t easy; in fact, I think it took a bigger toll on my body then the way up.
The steep incline that had me breathless on the way up was now an extremly steep decline putting intense pressure on my ankles, knees, and thighs. It was almost easier to run down then to try and walk, so that’s what we did for part of the time. Climbing down the rock formation wasn’t easy either. We had to be careful about where we placed our feet so that we wouldn’t slip; something that I experienced firsthand. We were working our way down the rocks and I stepped on the wrong part causing me to twist my ankle. Luckily I was holding onto the chain and we were at a wider part of the path; otherwise I could have fallen over the edge. I was left with a throbbing ankle for the two miles we had left.
It was now six in the evening and Devin and I were at the shuttle stop waiting to get picked up. Still to this day I have never wanted anything more than I did in that moment, I wanted or should I say I needed water so bad. The whole trip down was done without water, and each time I saw a fellow hiker taking a sip from their Camelback I felt my mouth get drier. I desperately wanted to ask a stranger for a drink regardless of whatever herpes or germs they may have had, but I didn’t. Instead we had to wait until we got to the visitor’s center where we purchased two water bottles each, both consuming one before we even had the chance to pay for it.
Tired and defeated we got into our car and drove to a local sports bar to grab a quick bite. My whole body ached and all I could think about was crawling into bed to sleep. However, we weren’t going to be sleeping anytime soon; we were only just beginning this trip and still had to drive to the Grand Canyon.