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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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Don't waste your time on the Landing and hike the Narrows instead (if you haven't already). I think National Geographic rated it as one of the top 100 hikes in the US. Make sure you overnight in the canyon as well.

I agree with Russ, absolutely! First off, my hub and I, in our late 40's are in good physical shape and had no exertion issues with any of the climbing associated with A.L. or Hidden Canyon, which we had easlily hiked the day before to "warm up" for A.L. My husband (a "retired" mountaineer, who has also climbed Rainier and McKinley, climbed in Nepal and also most of the 14teeners here in CO), was shocked that the chains were the offered assist holds to "climbing" this hike...and that the audio recording on the shuttle up the canyon actually advocated this trail as the "most popular trail" in the system that gets "very interesting" the last half mile, making almost a mockery of this very serious trail hike. This and the absolutely ridiculous chain-as-handrail actually presents an increased risk to the (inexperienced) hiker by allowing a false sense of security and quite reasonably even throwing one's balance off from the natural and inviting fatality. As we descended back down Walter's Wiggles, we met no less than 50 hikers everywhere from 15 to 65 and all levels of fitness and inappropriate attire making their way up to what expectation? People DIE on this trail ("Google" it yourself to confirm)...though not a great marketing strategy, maybe the NP system could consider at least adding this to their pleasantly spoken caution, "your safety if your responsibility" line when making the meandering and otherwise wonderfully educational shuttle trip up the canyon. I could never have watched a child hike this climb after Scout's Landing without mountaineering gear.

These situations are never easily dealt with, but the one factor usually associated with them is "hiker error", underestimating the terrain while simultaneoulsy overestimating your ability. What do people want, elevators, escalators, covered walkways, helicopters? I too have ascended the pinnacle 3-4 times and while certain sections do require an increased attention span, the climb itself is not particularly hazardous given that you pay attention to what you're doing and where you are.......DON"T change the trail, change the hiker's approach to the ascent. Signs aren't the answer. Maybe a permit akin to the registration for the Narrows or the Subway, where rangers check for equipment, planning, and get a general sense of competency prior to anyone attempting the ascent. Obviously, this won't eliminate the possibility of disaster, but it just might keep some of the "recreational" hikers from attempting the climb without at least a cursory looking-over from a staff member. By signing the waiver, at least they've been warned, which is really all you can do to prevent a catastrophic outcome. People will go where they are least adapted or prepared. It's their right, which is exactly why they need to be informed about what they're undertaking. It amazed me to hear the comments on the ascent through Refrigerator Canyon and up Walter's Wiggles, on Scout's Landing, and particularly on the final ascent to the Landing, about "geez, this is a lot harder and more exposed than I thought!". I guess they didn't READ the printed literature. SURPRISE!!

I totally agree with Kath's comment. The only suggestion I would add to it is this: while making that last half mile of the climb, there are areas of large gaps between chains. Some of the gaps are in spots where the chains would certainly add to the stability and safety of the climber. If the chains were continuous to the top, with short or no gaps, I believe the safety would be improved significantly.

Park visitors who want to protect their trail-climbing privileges at dangerous places like Angels Landing and Half Dome need to be very careful about the safety measures they demand. The climbing community knows all about the perils of asking for too much. With a few notable exceptions (such as at Denali), the rock climbing and mountaineering folks don't pressure the Park Service to invest a lot of money and manpower in protecting climbers or in climbing-related search and rescue operations. They know that making strident demands for protective measures would backfire because the cash-strapped, shorthanded agency would respond by severely restricting or denying access to areas now open to climbers. This is not to mention that safety measures can be overdone, taking a lot of the challenge and interest out of many routes and trails.

I just hiked Angels Landing for the first time on Easter last week and I was more afraid watching the confusion of people not being able to get around each other on the last part than the fact its a long way down. It felt like 'any moment now' something bad is going to happen. And like Lea said about the audio recording on the shuttle, inviting everyone! There were lots of people up there that shouldnt have been. I didnt like the chains either. I didnt need them and didnt like watching people scared and nervous trying to grab a chain thats moving all around!! They just make it that much more tempting for people that have no buisness up there. But I will say what a perfect place to go WHEN its your time.

My husband, two sons ages 16 and 13, and I just returned from Zion. We hiked the Narrows one day, it was our favorite part of the trip, and hiked up to (my husband and sons, not I) Angel's Landing. I stayed at Scout's Landing. I started to hike up Angel's Landing and came back down before I made it to "Chicken Out" point. My husband has ankle and feet problems so I knew it would be a while before he made the trek there and back. We were not fully aware of the strenuousness of this hike or the very narrow parts and gaps in the rock. As I sat at Scout's Landing I saw several people returning from what I assume was a full hike up to Angel's Landing. I saw everyone from older (60's possibly) heavy set women to children who looked to be 5 or 6 holding their parent's hand coming down the first set of chains after Scout's Landing. One little girl looked like a mountain goat as she hopped down holding her dad's hand. I was terrified for her the whole time. When my husband and son's made it back approx. one and a half hours later he commented "That was the most irresponsible thing I have ever done as a parent." He couldn't believe that he allowed his two children to make that hike. He said there were several times that he sat down and contemplated turning back but the boys talked him into pressing on. I was so happy to see them return that I gave them a standing ovation. I'm sure everyone else on Scout's Landing thought I was crazy but I was just so glad that hadn't fallen over the edge.
Maybe there should be an age limit for this hike and the suggestion of making it a permit only hike might also be appropriate. I wouldn't want anyone to miss the opportunity to make their own decision about this hike but they should be more strenuously forwarned of the possible dangers.

With only 5 official Angel's Landing deaths in the parks 100 years, I think there is a little bit of overreacting when this topic is discussed. Don't get me wrong, I have hiked Angel's Landing numerous times, and this is a serious hike, but the scariest part for me, an experienced canyoneer, is always the other hikers you encounter once you pass Scout's Landing, which make maneuvering around the trail almost impossible since they are "white knuckled" to the chain and scared to death to move. I'm heading back to Zion next week, and I think Angel's Landing will be on the agenda for this trip as well.

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