Training: Angels Landing

Published by Don Gilman on

As some of you already know, Angels Landing is a special place for me. It was the first hike I did on my first day in Zion. I climbed it shortly after my son’s suicide attempt and he and I made the summit together a few months after that. So, of course, it had to be the first mountain I climb during Climb to the Light’s 2019 campaign. So we decided to make the trek yesterday, originally because my friend Bryan had never done it, but when he had to work, my friend Anne and I decided to do it anyway.

It was a beautiful almost-winter day, and by the time we arrived in Zion National Park it was almost 60 degrees (geez we’re spoiled here in the desert.) I got really emotional when we arrived in the park. I started crying. But then the excitement of the journey took over and I began to feel better.

Angels Landing, unfortunately, has become an overcrowded nightmare for large portions of the year, but in winter, if you time it right, you can often find it relatively uncrowded. Yesterday was just such a day.

We saw maybe 70-80 people during our journey (this may seem like a lot, but considering that one can encounter maybe 500 on the busiest days, it seemed practically empty to us.)

It took us around half an hour to reach Refrigerator Canyon, a pretty decent time. Anne and I talked about our complex lives as we huffed and puffed our way up the switchbacks. We stopped and talked to a nice couple from Germany before heading into the depths of the canyon.

Before too long we reached Scout Lookout, the normal turnaround point for people who decide not to tackle the final exposed half mile to the summit. But for us, this is where it gets good.

Almost immediately the hike becomes a scramble (protected by sturdy chains.) Due to recent snowmelt from the week before, the rock was sandier than normal, adding just a touch of spice to the scramble. We enjoyed climbing along the precarious spine, the exhilarating exposure providing a sense of freedom and adventure. We stopped and talked to almost everyone we met, encountering people from Ohio, Maine, Illinois, France, Oregon, California and even a few of us locals.

The last half mile of the climb is really fun, with almost non-stop scrambling. It’s the best part of the adventure.

It took us around an hour and a half to reach the summit, where fewer than 20 people were hanging out. The views are truly awesome, with the stunning monolith of the Great White Throne looming over us to the east, Observation Point to the north, the canyon of the Temple of Sinewava to the northwest and awesome Zion canyon to the south. After taking some time to enjoy the views, we headed back down, thrilled to have once more had a spectacular adventure in Southern Utah.

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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