Joan Larsen’s Scariest Climb: Reaching for Heaven on Angel’s Landing

Posted on August 9, 2017

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By Joan Larsen

The scariest climb

It is no secret to my friends that I absolutely live for adventure…  so yes, over the years I have done more than my share of climbing to the heights in so many places in the world.  “But what was the most difficult, the most scary, the most life-threatening hike I had attempted in our country?” a friend was asking.  A number of what I call “close calls” actually came to mind – really close calls, to be honest.  But then I thought perhaps it would be, after all, the trail called aptly ANGELS LANDING at Utah’s Zion National Park.

The Park itself is so beautiful that it makes the spirit just soar.  There is a feeling of serenity and peace – something we all need at times.  And so I tend to return.

The trail is probably the most famous trail in the United States – or vying for top honors anyhow!  But I must tell you that the park does post a warning at the start.  It is a sign that does make you pause.

But then after finding the first couple of miles upward going along without any problems, I just knew this climb was going to be a breeze.  And then – I hiked through a tunnel – looked up, and a first glance alone had me wondering if it was time to turn around.

But I didn’t.

Aptly named Walter’s Wiggles if I remember right, the trail began to sharply weave around and up, was narrow, and boy! it was steep.  What turned out to be a strong sense of security set in:  if I make it, I thought, I should be nearing the top.  I can do this.

I was wrong.  After “The Wiggles” for which I expected ‘ high fives’, a glance upward told me that there was still a long way to go.  I see now that the trail designers back in the 1920s had to be very devious – for now I had to navigate the next half-mile along a narrow sandstone isthmus with sheer cliffs on both sides.   The word “narrow” would be an understatement.  A new word appeared in my vocabulary:  arduous.  The isthmus of sandstone dropped 1200 feet on one side and 800 feet on the other.  Climbers needed the chains provided for more than the feeling of security.  One false step?  Well, you know what THAT would mean.  Clutching the chain for dear life, I took a photo of the person below me on the climb.  Do you see a trail?  I thought not.

This was H A R D – but climbing down with someone undoubtedly coming the other way, clutching that one chain for dear life, was like a scary balancing act.  OK – it was even worse than that.

But finally . . . I had climbed the pinnacle.  I could reach the heavens from this height, and the views of Zion Canyon from every direction from the top of the world were worth every step.   Those of us who climb know that the descent on sandstone can be far more dangerous than the climb up…  but I tried not to think of that part.

As a parting snapshot, I want you to see the full glory of Angel’s Landing for it does take the breath away.  But I want you to see just how high we had climbed, and the absolutely sheer walls that made a single misstep one that could be your last.

My feelings now?  At its beginning, the trail gave me no indication of what I was in for, how dangerous this could be.  But  the feeling of elation of finding I was capable of reaching the pinnacle was incomparable.  I was to climb so many other heights in traveling the world.  However, it was the first — and one of the most difficult — that was the one never to be forgotten.

Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth.  But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again.  She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”

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