The journey to Cedar City, Utah, was breathtaking. It was also slightly terrifying. It was late afternoon and evening was creeping up quickly. I had been driving on a very steep and winding mountain road for a very long time. I had no cell phone reception, and wasn’t even completely sure where I was going. I had waited too long to set my phone GPS and now with no service, it wasn’t working. The views were beautiful, but I also knew that I did NOT want to be on this steep winding road after sunset.
It eventually ended up ok. I got some stellar mountain views and then arrived in the very cool town of Cedar City. It was sunset when I arrived, and there was just enough daylight left for me to appreciate and enjoy the mountains towering over the town. How awesome!
I was staying at an AirBnB. My host Keir was great. He was a very friendly guy. I chatted with him a bit and told him my plans to check out Zion and Bryce. He recommended two trails to me in Zion. “Angels Landing” and “The Narrows”. These were the same two that my friends Chad and Alyssa had mentioned to me at The Grand Canyon. Keir gave me some advice on food, should I want to go out and get something to eat tonight. But I was pretty tired after driving all day. I lacked the motivation to go out. Honestly I just wanted to crawl into bed and pass out. Which is exactly what I proceeded to do. I had a long day ahead of me.
I slept great and was up and out of bed very early in the morning. By the time the sun was rising over Utah, I was on my way to Zion National Park. The mountains over Cedar City were gorgeous at dawn, and I was glad my GPS wasn’t taking me back through the winding mountain road from last night.
I got to Zion quite early, maybe around 8:00 or 9:00 AM, and it was already getting pretty crowded. I had to drive around for a few minutes to find parking. Signs indicated that the lots filled early in the day, and most people would have to park in town and take shuttles into the park.
Zion is pretty huge, so I started off at the Visitors Center. The walls were decorated with a lot of different posters describing the various trails and rating their difficulty. There were a lot of options, but I already knew Angels Landing was the trail for me. There were notes on the walls about how strenuous this trail could be. It was not meant for people with a fear of heights or balance issues. These warnings just made me want to climb it even more. I was up for a challenge. Today would be a great day!
I boarded a shuttle and got off at the stop for Angels Landing. As I started the trail, I read a sign that said that 6 people had died on this trail so far. A bit ominous huh? I continued onward.
I immediately loved Zion. I couldn’t even believe a place like this existed. It looked completely magical, I could have stepped into a fairy tale. If pixies or unicorns or other magical creatures started frolicking past me, I wouldn’t have even been surprised. Zion!!!!
I began the trail to Angels Landing, taking my time and walking at a leisurely pace. This mountain was a marathon, not a sprint. The beginning of the trail had a lot of long switchbacks, going back and forth, ever upwards. I saw some people huffing and puffing as they made their way up. I wasn’t huffing. There was no need to. I took my time, moving slow, and taking a lot of breaks to take pictures. With each pair of switchbacks, I stopped to pause and gaze at where I was. The trail was slowly ascending up a mountain, and I could look down into a lush green valley below me. The higher up I got, the more breathtaking this valley became, and more magical Zion revealed itself to be. Eventually, the trail went down around the corner. Now there was a very long series of shorter and steeper switch backs, but without the amazing views that the first half of the trail had. Without endless vistas of lush fairytale valleys to pause and gaze into, my pace quickened. I just wanted to get up the mountain. Everyone around me was pretty tired by this point. I was thrilled when I finally got to the top of the switchbacks.
There was a big open area here at the top of the trail. Some other trails led down to this point too. And this is where a lot of hikers stopped. For good reason. The trail going forward was significantly more treacherous. The first half of this hike had been along a very smooth paved trail. But the second half would require me to climb up along some rocky paths. There were huge metal chains drilled into the large slabs of rock. We had to grab onto the chains for support as we climbed up the big and treacherous rocks. The trail to Angels Landing had developed halfway between a hike and a rock climb. And that’s why I loved it! But at times it indeed felt a little sketchy. Sometimes I had to carefully balance on a rock, holding onto the chains, while other people tried to climb back down past me. The secret was to never look down.
I thought we made it to the top when I made it up the rocky wall. Here was a big open area with a ton of people hanging out and taking pictures. But that is when I was told that the trail continued far onward. Somebody pointed me in the direction, and I saw a very thin rocky path that went onward towards the peak of another mountain. This path was a narrow ridge, with 1000 feet dropoffs on either sides. Yikes!
I wanted to make it to the end of this trail though. The view at Angels Landing was supposed to be amazing. I saw somebody coming back just as I was about to start the trail. I asked him how the view was at Angel’s Landing.“I don’t know,” he answered. “I didn’t go. The trail looked very sketchy, so I turned around.”
Yikes. Well, I figured if it was TOO dangerous, the trail wouldn’t be open. Though I briefly remembered that 6 people had died on this trail already. Hmmm.
I continued on. The trail became interesting. A lot of people abandoned their walking sticks because they were impossible to use while climbing up and over all these rocks. The trail was definitely feeling like a rock climb at times. I absolutely LOVED it. It felt so good to get my hands on the rock, to be out in the mountains of Utah, in the fresh air, living, breathing, exploring, and adventuring. The altitude felt great. My body felt alive as a sense of adventure renewed my spirit. I was excited. I felt alive.
I had quit my job to climb mountains!
The path continued to narrow. Now I was hiking very carefully along the high ridge. I held a strong and tight grip on the thick chains drilled into the rock. I kept my eyes forward on my next steps, refusing to acknowledge the thousand feet drop offs on either side of me. It didn’t seem as dangerous as I expected, especially with the chains to hold on to. But I could see how people with balance issues or acrophobia would have serious fears up here. I wondered about the people who were crazy enough to come up here and drill the chains in the first place.
I enjoyed every single moment of this hike, and my hard work was rewarded. There are just no words for what awaited me at the top of Angels Landing. It was literally one of the best views I have ever seen. Far below me, cocooned between the towering mountains, a lush green valley sprawled out. If I thought I was in a fairy tale before, I was sure of it now. Sometimes I felt that I was looking at a painting, like I could reach out and touch it. No. Angels Landing was real. I was actually here.
The journey up here had taken a long time, and so I stayed up here for a good while taking in the majestic beauty of Zion. This was a complete turning point for me. Literally. Zion was the farthest west I would go on my road trip before I turned back and began moving East again. . But it was a turning point or me emotionally as well. As I stared down into the green fertile valley of Zion, nestled between the towering mountains, I felt something change within me. A switch flipped inside me. I had spent so much time unhappy and feeling trapped at home, in a job that was eating away at my soul for years. And now, I was far away from my life. I had completely smashed apart the rut that had imprisoned me for so long. I had gotten in my car and headed west, I had thrown myself into the world, and now was experiencing so much. I felt fortunate, I felt blessed.
But most of all, I felt whole. For the first time in a long time I felt completely whole. I felt I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was meant to be doing. And I felt like exactly who I was meant to be.
I was free and I was happy. And I spent a long time up on top of that mountain, feeling completely blessed, looking at this incredible world below me and thinking of what it took to get me to this point.
I felt like a new man.
And that feeling stayed. As I turned around, and began to use the chains to climb down the rocky wall, that feeling stayed. As I carefully traversed that path, steep drop offs on either side of me, that feeling stayed. And as I excitedly headed down the endless switchbacks towards the magical green valley below, that feeling stayed.
I was a new man.
I was whole. I was free. I was complete. And there was something else.
There was a fire burning inside me now. A fire that had almost been extinguished over the years, as the rut and routine of my life had begun to smother the flame of my spirit. I felt the fire now, in my eyes, in my heart, in my soul. Burning so bright. Engulfing me. I was shining.
I made it down and took the shuttle to the lodge. That long hike left me starving. I got some food and decided what to do next. I went to the visitor center. People had been recommending The Narrows trail, but I didn’t really want to walk in water. I would have to go back all the way to my car to change into waterproof clothing. So I picked an easy trail called The Three Emerald Ponds. I’ll say, I was less impressed with this one. The ponds weren’t really ponds, I would describe them as puddles. And they weren’t emerald at all. But perhaps it was the time of the year. Maybe in the spring they would look a lot better.
Despite the unimpressive nature of these ponds, I absolutely loved the hike on this trail. I felt so transformed. I had spent so much time hiking the same tired trails in my home town. Now, to be exploring these wonderful nature trails in the mountains, was incredible.
I was deeply satisfied when I left Zion that day. The fire burned strong within me. I made it back to Cedar City and explored the town a bit. I went to a Pizza place, socialized with Keir and his friend for a bit, and then relaxed and crawled into bed. It had been a long day and I slept like a baby.
And even as I slept, that fire continued to burn within me, brighter and stronger than ever before.