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Day one: Angels Landing

Published by Don Gilman on

I have to admit, I’ve been feeling petrified as the “official” start of Climb to the Light on Angels Landing drew near. I’ve got an unhealthy fear of failure, and this is one thing I desperately don’t want to screw up. I took a positive step in addressing this by asking my friend Anne to be the CFO and all-around partner in this thing. Luckily, she agreed.

I feel like I shouldn’t be struggling as much as I have been lately, but I have. My anxiety has been in overdrive, making it hard to even leave my room, much less get the work done that needs doing.

However, I did get some work on CTTL done, and before I knew it the first had arrived. It was time to get this started. If there’s one thing I can always do, it’s get myself going enough to climb mountains.

I woke up at 6, an hour and fifteen minutes before my alarm was set. I was worried I’d sleep through it. So I got up, made a big thermos of coffee, packed my backpack full of water and warm-weather gear (it was supposed to be about 15 degrees in Zion this morning.) When Anne messaged she was on her way, I said goodbye to roommate and went outside to wait. As I gazed at the thin crescent moon, I noticed Venus was in close proximity to it. I took that as a good sign.

It took us almost exactly an hour to drive to the trailhead, and we could quickly tell we’d have a relatively uncrowded day on Angels. Once we got out of the car we found out why. It was so cold! We quickly hustled up the trail to get warm.

At a certain point we noticed a guy running up the trail behind us, and I thought it was this dude doing laps on the mountain, but when he caught up with us, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was my friend Jared, literally running up the mountain to catch us!

We continued on, making excellent time, arriving at the entrance to Refrigerator Canyon after half an hour of hiking.

After about another half hour of climbing, we reached Scouts Lookout, the “chickenout” point of Angels Landing. Finally, we were in the sun. After taking a brief break for Anne and her son, Simon, to eat, we headed out across the exposed, half-mile ridge that gives Angels Landing its fame.

I had been worried about how much snow and ice would be on this section, but it wasn’t bad at all. We made quick work of the exposed ridge. Along the way we “adopted” a couple from Tennessee, one of whom was feeling uncertain about completing the climb. We stopped to shout encouragement to them every once in a while. They did eventually make it.

We got to the summit and were shocked to see just one person on top, so for a few rare minutes, we were the only ones on the summit! We took a few pics and I shot some video but it was so cold we quickly knew we needed to head down. It had taken us an hour and a half to get up there.

On the return, we began to find the swarms of people Angels is (unfortunately) infamous for, but we were off the chain sections before it got too busy. We were really glad we started as early as we did.

Once we got back home, the all-too-familiar feeling of anxiety took over. It’s a painful dichotomy. I feel sooooo good when I climb mountains, but inevitably I return to the “real world” and those negative emotions take control again. Maybe someday this won’t be the case, but for now it’s my reality. Mental health is a full time thing. I’m just appreciative that at least I’m happy when I’m climbing mountains. Not everyone gets that kind of respite.

So, day one is in the books. Only 51 more to go. I’ll probably do peak #2 sometime this weekend. It’s a good start.


Don Gilman

Don Gilman has been climbing mountains for 20 years, beginning with an ascent of Mt. Thielsen in Oregon in 1998. He has been dealing with severe depression and suicidal ideation since he was nine years old. He also deals with PTSD and anxiety on a daily basis, and uses climbing as a form of therapy. In 2014, he woke up to find his then-13-year-old son had hung himself. Fortunately, his son survived, but that event has become the motivating factor that has made suicide prevention the most important cause in his life.

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