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Should Anything Be Done With Angel's Landing?

Summit of Angel's Landing, Daniel Smith Photographer
Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park; Daniel Smith, photographer.

    What should the National Park Service do, if anything, with Angel's Landing in Zion National Park?
    This question arises every time there's a fatality, and rightly so. The recent death of Barry Goldstein has rekindled the debate, with at least one reader believing the Park Service should, in essence, certify the ability of hikers determined to reach the landing.
    Is that reasonable? Does the Park Service have the manpower to station someone at the base of the landing to bear that responsibility? Would it not merely heighten the Park Service's liability for those who are deemed experienced enough to make the hike to the top?
    And if the Park Service agreed to such a proposition, which I doubt will ever happen, what of other parks and the risks they present? How do you guard against canoeists, kayakers and rafters drowning while on park outings? What about those who are swept away by avalanches, who are attacked by grizzlies, die from the heat at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, or fall from Half Dome in Yosemite?
    What responsibility does the Park Service have to try to prevent these accidents? Just as important, if not more so, what responsibility do individuals bear?   

    We live in a dangerous world, one where we have to recognize not only the dangers that exist, but our own limits. And those who visit national parks need to appreciate that these are not city parks, not well-manicured and contained. National parks present a host of dangers, ranging from cliffs and rivers to wildlife and even other park visitors.
    This is not intended to belittle or minimize the loss felt by Mr. Goldstein's family and friends, or the families and friends of other victims of national park accidents. It's not to question their actions, capabilities, or decision-making. The pain of their untimely deaths cannot be soothed, there is no salve that can erase it.
    Rather, this post is simply to acknowledge that there are dangers that exist, both in national parks and beyond their borders, throughout the world we live in, and that we need to accept both the responsibility of our decisions and that accidents do happen.
    Might those who fell from Angel's Landing over the years been saved had they had to meet specific qualifications to ascend to the summit or if the Park Service put railings atop the landing to keep hikers a safe distance from the edge? Perhaps. But incredibly qualified climbers have died in accidents in the parks, and folks have clambered over railings, trusting their own judgments, only to die in accidents.
    Beyond that, do we really want to sanitize the parks?   
    I don't think I'm alone in believing that a good part of the allure of places such as Zion, Yellowstone, Yosemite, North Cascades, Mount Rainier and Grand Teton, just to name a half-dozen parks, is their ruggedness, their wildness, of entering them on our own terms and seeing how we match up.
    It scared the hell out of me the first time I went up Angel's Landing, when I climbed to the top of the Grand Teton, and to the summit of Half Dome. That adrenalin rush not only heightened my cautiousness, but it also let me know how alive I was. When my time does arrive, I hope it comes in a national park and not while driving down the highway or crossing the street.

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The park service can't station someone at the trail head to do 10 second physical fitness tests. It would leave the service really wide open to liability not only for falls but also for ADA violations. NPS Rangers aren't have no medical training to determine who is and who isn't fit enough to make the grade or to determine who is subject to dizziness or balance problems, etc. etc.

The only thing the NPS can or should do would be to put up extremely graphic simply worded warning signs or close the area entirely to hiking.

When you look at the climb itself, you know where you are getting into. My opinion, be your better judge and know your own limitations in combination with the local conditions. No matter how well you might keep people from doing things. When you say something is not allowed and there are no guards, usually that is what people are going to do, just because it is not allowed. And posting guards at every possible hazzardous place is no option in any park. I agree with Kath, post obvious and plain signs. A prewarned person might be double carefull.

When I climbed Angel's Landing I did so without touching the chains (much to my chagrin there were a couple places where the chain was right where I wanted a handhold). I wanted to take the climb on its own terms, and was extremely cautious--probably much more cautious than someone walking along holding the chains. Do the chains actually make the climb more dangerous by allowing complacency and enticing inexperienced hikers?

I'm having second thoughts about this hike, I have wanted to do for the past couple of years now. I belong to an online Zion group and read posts from people daily about Zion in general.

It was sad to read about this fatality. Then so much sadder to read a post a few days later by Mr Goldstein's sister as she happened upon this group in her struggle to understand how this happened to her brother as family watched in horror.

Survival of the fittest. Hiking the trail is optional and there are plenty of warning signs. Until people stop hiking unprepared (I met one person on Angels landing who hiked it with 16 OUNCES of water in 110 degree heat), people will continue to be at risk. Nature can be dangerous, people (but not as dangerous as driving). Don't like it, stay home.

Sanitize NPS land holdings? You might as well just plow them under, dam the rivers, and open the ecosystem to whatever type of development, be it commercial or residential, whose shadows currently cast a blight on the majority of the nation. Be certain to bear witness to the prospective outcome of any litigation brought against the Park Service, and remove the responsible judge(s) from their office as public servants when their terms expire.

It is unfortunate that one cannot account for the ignorance or sometimes blatant stupidity of the general public. These magnificient sites are NOT a child's playground. They require respect, careful planning and common sense when being approached by even the most skilled outdoorsman, let alone "Joe Vacationer" whose only outdoor pursuits are carried out behind the wheel of his SUV. Maybe the answer lies in signing a document upon entry to any wild terrain, stating that you understand and acknowledge that your own carelessness can result in death, either of yourself or another party, and you both know and agree to abide by the limitiation of your own ability when embarking upon any activity within NPS, BLM, or other public lands. It is a shame that the best way to protect the lands for future generations might be to remove the chain assists from various trails, thereby removing the NPS from any possible role and financial responsibility in the accidental deaths of the unprepared, the unequipped, and the just plain careless who enter the park system each year by the tens of thousands.

my son and i where there on may 20 and may 25 of 2007 we climbed upto scouts' landing just below angels landing and based on the amount of people going up and down, the time of day and the wind chose not to finish the climb up to angels' landing. other people made a similar chose and when either on or backdown. if someone chooses to continue due to a bad decision that is their chose and the have to be helded accounable for it not the park. as forest's mama said "stupid is as stupid does"

I just hiked Angel's Landing last month and it scared the hell out of me. I've spent quite a bit of time in the backcountry, summited multiple mountains (including Rainier and Shasta in Feb.), etc. So, I'm no stranger to risk and adrenaline. The difference is I was prepared for each of these experiences and was properly equipped. I was not prepared for Angel's Landing. This is a climb for someone who is sure footed, in good shape, and knows their limits. Of the 50 or so hikers who we encountered on the trail I can think of only a handful who belonged on that trail. We saw people in flip-flops, hiking w/o water, and even a gaggle of 12 year olds who were too stupid to be scared. One could even make the argument that you'd need to rope up on the last stretch (a little much I know but.....).

I think there's a very simple solution. Close the trail as a "regular" hike and reclassify it as backcountry. You then have to go to the backcountry desk, get a permit (can be free of course), and made aware of what you're getting yourself in to. Just by having a 2 minute conversation with a Ranger I think a few morons would be saved.

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