Saturday, July 19, 2014

Day 10/11 - Angels Landing / Grand Canyon

We left our KOA camp site after spending three days there (the longest we've stayed in one spot so far) to head back to Zion National Park one more time for a jaunt up to Angels Landing. The path is a fairly acute angle for most of the 5 mile round trip but if you pace yourself and plod up the hill, it's not that bad. Being such a steep road, you change elevation quickly which is quite satisfying as you see the valley swell before you.

After the point where this picture was taken, the climb levels out a little bit and you head straight back between two forested canyon walls until you reach the last 75' change in elevation which consists of numerous quick switch backs. What I would term the second portion of the climb is thankfully much cooler due to being hidden from the sun somewhat and the canyon walls holding in some coolness. Once you are at the top of the switchbacks there is a look out area on a big rock where many people stop for water and a snack. Opposite the side you just climbed up is a very steep drop off down into the valley. As soon as I got close to the edge to take some pictures, my stomach flipped over but it was worth it.

All the lore I heard of Angels Landing and the photos I saw online looked like it was only something daring people would attempt. The trail I described above is actually only the trail to Angels Landing. The landing proper is a small mound (maybe another 35' foot rise) that you climb up holding onto a large chain bolted into the face of the rocks. We didn't actually go to the top so it maybe we missed out on the treacherous section but the pictures I saw online seemed to be false advertising. It's not all that steep of a climb and the rocks are almost carved into steps by nature itself. 

In this picture you can see the chain in the background running along this type of surface. The climb was beautiful and peaceful but don't get your expectations up of having an acrophobic victory to brag about to your friends. 

I didn't post yesterday because as soon as we returned from the hike and ate lunch, we headed to Arizona to see the North Rim today. Most of the campgrounds were booked but we were fortunate to get into De Motte campground where they only had 2 spaces left. This campground is so far out that there is no cell service and my hand crank weather radio could barely pick up a station till I MacGyver'd an antenna leaving us with NPR and country to listen to and no internet. 

Last night was the best night of the trip with cooler temperatures and the most beautiful sky I may have ever seen in my life. Unfortunately my cellphone wouldn't capture any of the night time wonder but it was like going to a planetarium. You look up and the sky actually looks like a dome where you can see constellations you never knew existed and satellites streak by. For a while I thought there was a light but patchy cloud cover until after it didn't change for several hours, we realized that it was the Milky Way Galaxy we were observing. Being that far away from everything feels like you are on a different planet. I mean shit, they still have a working payphone at the gas station across the street. That's saying something. 

This morning on the way to the North Rim we saw bison in a meadow on the side of the state road. Like the somewhat foolish person that I am at times, I tried to creep up and get a closer picture. When a large male bison picks up his head and starts eyeballing you, you don't wait to see if he's going to let you pet him or shove his horns up your ass. I snapped and then ran. 

There are several places you can go on the north side but we chose Cape Royal which was absolutely gorgeous. It's about 20 miles from the entrance through hills wooded with birch and fir trees. The roads are narrow and winding so it's slow going but the air is cool and scenery is enjoyable so it's not really a chore. While I enjoyed all the other sites we had seen on the trip with hiking the Narrows being the most fun, after a certain point the sites just become another fucking rock sticking out of the ground: the Grand Canyon is different. It's not just that it's beautiful but the sheer magnitude of the canyon is awe inspiring. The color palette is diverse as are the formations of rock and across in the distance you can a massive plateau that looks completely barren. 

I had never been to the Grand Canyon till today, the closest I'd ever gotten being 4 miles from the south rim in 2006. It was the first time I attempted to move out to LA to pursue my dreams and my car threw a rod through the oil pan as we climbed a hill near the park. Since then, the Grand Canyon has always been a memory of disappointment and temporary failure especially since I never was able to make it to the actual park. When I got divorced last year, my ex-wife asked "that if I ever decided to sell my ring or whatever, that she would buy it off of me". That whole idea made me feel ill and I've had it in my storage unit trying to decide what to do with it till this trip. Today I walked out close to the edge, said a few words and then let the ring go forever along with all the disappointments from the past into the depths of the canyon. This trip has truly been an adventure worth every penny. Each part of it would have been worth doing alone but together it has made for an unforgettable experience.

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