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  • Wednesday, October 8, 2008

    The Grand Staircase, Part Eight
    - Numbers 27, 47, 93, 111, 130, and 131 on my life list.

    Thursday 
    Click Here for Part One

    After breakfast, we went to the base of Angel’s Landing. Switchbacks snaked their way up hundreds of feet, foretelling a strenuous hike ahead. I wasn’t used to the altitude, Randy wasn’t used to hiking this much, but we made it without any complications. The steep but straightforward section of trail ended and the final ½-mile push to the top was along a narrow scramble with nearly 1,500-foot vertical drops on either side. Randy decided to stay behind. A chain bolted into the rock helped people get to the top without a terrifying freefall. I very much appreciated this addition.

    At a far distance, this narrow ½-mile section to the top resembles a rocky serrated dorsal fin, with people hiking along its edge. Some steep sections required all fours to traverse safely. It wasn’t too difficult, with the help of the chain, unless you have a fear of heights. A couple of times, I had to duck under and move to the other side of the chain, millimeters from a lethal drop, to make room for oncoming traffic. As long as the chain held, and I didn’t do anything stupid, I would be fine. Even though most people could make this hike if they felt motivated, I still felt a feeling of accomplishment when I got to the top. 

    The 360-degree view was spectacular. A few people scattered around on the cream-colored smooth stone surface. A girl sat a few feet up on a rock to write in a journal. An older couple sat on the ground too weak in the knees to stand. They asked a person they didn’t know to take their picture. He backed up slowly to frame them in, nearing the edge, which added some drama to the simple picture taking. Another girl in clothes displaying her college’s initials stood at the edge and looked out at the view. The canyon road and Virgin River were now thin wavy lines surrounded by mammoth jagged red cliffs topped with forested mesas. 

    I captured several photos myself and made my way back down about twenty minutes later. I loved every step. A ranger was hiking close behind me. I decided to let him pass. “I’m going to let you go around me since you’re faster and know the way better than I do.” A minute later he started to go one way, changed his mind, and chose a different route. “See I’m glad I let you lead,” I said. “Oh no you can go that way if you want. It’s just that a guy fell to his death over there a little over a year ago, and I wanted to avoid it,” he said in the same tone he’d use if he saw a pile of dog shit and was telling me to watch my step. “Oh, does that happen often?” I asked. “Uhh, we had three die in the past year or so, one was from a heart attack. But, you know, that’s out of tens of thousands of visitors a year.” 

    The unfortunate hiker was fifty-three year old Barry Goldstein of St. Louis. Hiking up Angel’s Landing with a family wedding party, he accidently fell to his death in June of 2007. Rangers estimated that he fell about 1,000 feet. An eyewitness who called 911 said, “It was a sheer drop-off. There were no second chances when he went off. We could see him fall…. Just like that, he was gone.”

    Just days before, a canyoneer fell to his death around Upper Emerald Pools. The park received a lot of press with such an upsetting week, but this didn’t stop the flow of day-hikers aspiring to reach the top. I’m glad I didn’t hear these stories before beginning my hike up. Fear tends to generate boring lives. I’d rather not know. 

    After making my way back down, I found Randy and we started down the long switchback decent to wait for the next shuttle. At Zion Lodge, we decided to get a sandwich at the Lodge restaurant, before going back to camp. Few things in life are better than a nice fattening cheeseburger after a grueling hike. 

    After finishing our meals, I saw taps for natural Zion spring water on the side of the restaurant. All day we had been drinking bad tasting well water from a spigot near camp. We promptly dumped our hydration packs and filled them with the refreshing cold spring water, free of aftertaste. 

    Once back, we got in the car and drove to the adjacent town of Springdale for firewood. At the campsite, we again got a campfire crackling and sat at the picnic table, talking and playing poker with headlamps on for the remainder of the night.

    < Part Seven | Part Nine >