Overcoming Fear at Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

May 1, 2010
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The Angel's Landing Trail ascends up Angel's Landing in Zion Canyon, the last half-mile of the hike in Zion National Park, Utah. (Mike Cavaroc)
Hikers pause before ascending Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah

First off, if you don’t see the hikers in the photo, they’re at the very bottom-right. I was glad I got them in there since they provide such a great sense of scale. The trail itself to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah starts off not too different from any other moderate-to-strenuous hike. You’re climbing up the western wall of Zion Canyon before reaching a narrow canyon that will take you up to Scout’s Lookout where you get a good view of the last half-mile: an ascent straight up Angel’s Landing. The rock formation known as Angel’s Landing, which is what the hike is named for, shoots out of the canyon walls and goes seemingly straight up into Zion Canyon. The trail narrows in some places to no wider than about ten feet (with a chain to hold on to) and on either side is roughly a 1,000 foot drop. It’s at this point all those warnings about avoiding this hike if you have a fear of heights come into play.

The interesting thing however, is that you’ll encounter people with a fear of heights on the trail. I was one when I did this hike back in 2006 and that’s because there are two types of people with acrophobia that do this hike: those that get to Scout’s Lookout and turn around, and those that are determined to conquer what may very well be the ultimate challenge. I was the latter back in 2006 and at some parts, was crawling with a friend until reaching the top, doing whatever I had to do to take just one more step.

This last time around, I was a lot more comfortable, but still a little hesitant due to a lot of wet sand that laid out a thin cover on many spots increasing the likelihood of a slight slip. There are some people though that simply get to a certain point and can’t go any further. If you have that determination to conquer, or at least put up a fight against acrophobia, it’s vital that you keep going. Fear is something that’s ingrained in many of us for one reason or another, usually originating in childhood. It was put there by parents and teachers and in most cases, they were simply telling you not to do something because they were afraid of doing it, whereas a child is perfectly comfortable trying new things and testing their abilities. If the fear is never put there, there’s no reason neither the parent nor child worries and though a bump or bruise may happen from time to time, the child just gets up keeps going. They learn their limits and only when they’re comfortable with it, will try to raise the bar. It’s a parent’s or teacher’s disapproval though, that convinced you that you were wrong and they were right when in reality, you were just fine and the fear wasn’t even there until it was put there.

For that reason, it is possible to overcome every fear you have. If a fear of heights is something that’s always held you back and you’re officially tired of it, Angel’s Landing may be your cure. What helped me through it the first time back in 2006 was reminding myself that I’m in control of my feet and they’re not going to go anywhere other than where I tell them to go. That eventually settled and I was able to see that I was going where I wanted and thus, there was absolutely no reason I would somehow go flying off the edge. Once I was on my way down, it all clicked. In one quick instant, the views that had terrified me were all of a sudden mesmerizingly beautiful! I looked down in amazement at what Mother Nature had done, whereas just five minutes before looking down would have given me vertigo to the point that I would need to sit down. I knew I had done it. I knew I had conquered my fear of heights, or worst-case scenario, just dealt it a huge blow. This coming from someone who only a couple of years prior took an indoor rock climbing class in college and couldn’t even step off the ladder the first day. (During the course of that class I did eventually scale the entire wall and make it to the top comfortably.)

I learned then that I could accomplish anything if I was motivated enough and if I believed in myself. Every person is the exact same in that respect. Anyone can overcome their fears no matter how great. Some have chosen however, to simply live with their fears and live vicariously through others. Others have chosen to live for themselves.

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Categorized: Landscape.
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