May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey
I love that quote. It strikes the same chord in me which resonates when I find myself well off the beaten path — outmatched and way over my head. That surge of adrenaline tinged with panic that hits in the instant you step up to the edge, on the cusp of launching yourself into the unknown. It’s a quote about embracing risk and, in doing so, stumbling across wonder.
In Zion National Park, Brandon and I hiked the infamous Angels’ Landing trail; a route which just about perfectly encompasses Abbey’s quote.
Getting to those places of wonder isn’t always easy, however. The way may be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous… this trail was three of those.
The day we set out was a hot one, one of the warmest days we’d encountered on the trip thus far. We started on the valley floor, the looming monolith of Angels’ Landing rising before us. The leisurely pitch of the valley trail quickly gave way to a series of switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles, preceded by the aptly named Refrigerator Canyon running along the side of the monolith. The brief reprieve from the unrelenting sun was a mercy.
Stepping onto the crest of the ridge, the reality of just how high we really were began to sink in. The route ahead revealed a terrifying, chain-lined path along the narrow fin of a ridge to the summit. At points, thousand foot drops were mere steps to either side. Those who know me might know of my crippling fear of heights. I can be 15 feet above the ground and I’ll get the shakes something fierce. “Nathan,” my subconscious groaned, “you are an idiot!”
A quick break to rehydrate and have a quick lunch also allowed us to coax our nerves into cooperating.
There was nothing for it. We could turn back, or we could finish the hike. And with all the people pressing on (including little kids. KIDS!), there was no way we were slinking back with our tails between our legs. Onward.
Then, the wonder. Nerves frayed and body trembling as the adrenaline dissipates in your veins, you pull yourself over the crest and stare. The world is laid out before you, sprawling and vast; you — the ant — are perched above it all as the wind strives to blow you from your perch.
Seeing the valley floor winding away on either side, framed by the sheer walls of the gorge was a sight which will stay with me for a long time. It was a stunning view, made all the more awesome by the grueling hike we’d taken on to get to it.
All the exertion, all the fear; worth it.
Experiences like hiking Angels’ Landing are healthy for my mental state. They keep me grounded and well aware of my weaknesses and fears. Coming back unscathed reaffirms my belief in myself, that I can rise up and face the things which terrify me. And most importantly, that fear only has the power I give it.
Descending the ridge, we were exhausted — physically and mentally. The sun descended quickly, casting shadows across the valley floor as our hopes of making it to the Narrows dwindled. It was just as well; by the time we got back to the shuttle stop, we were spent.
Have you ever faced one of your fears head-on while traveling? What was the fear, and how did you feel when you overcame it? Or was it too much for you? Share in the comments below!