“Six people have died here since 2004,” the sign warned.
It seemed like a place we needed to go.
The path to Angel’s Landing leads 1,500 feet up from the valley floor. The trip will take you through about two and a half miles of Zion National Park’s most famous scenery—but it’s the last half mile of the trek that can kill you.
That’s the part where the faint-of-heart falter, where thousand-foot pitfalls loom on either side of a misplaced step or a slip down the sandstone. The National Park Service has installed a chain along much of the final ascent to Angel’s Landing, but it’s seems more like a stop gap than a guarantee of safety.
We hiked on, aiming for the summit.
Zion is a park of mystery. It’s half King Kong and half Yosemite dipped in red. I’ve never been here before, but as our group of adventurers clung tightly to the metal chains separating our bodies from doom, I felt at home. 55 days into Souled Outside, I seem to have lost my fear of heights—my pulse barely ticked past normal amidst a scene that sent several hikers home in tears.
For me, summiting Angel’s Landing was about seeing my friends through it, about hanging back and soaking in the views while Jeremy, Ashley and Shah (Clayton hung back at mile 2.1), pushed themselves through one of the toughest mental challenges in North America. And in a small way, it was about capping off Souled Outside.
We won’t leave Zion until Sunday, but Angel’s Landing is the first piece of the final grand puzzle. And the cliffs that are so often described as “knife-edge” here remind me more of bookends.
As we reached the top, it was hard for me to stay focused on the present. Though breathtaking views surrounded us in all directions, my eye was lost in the past, reflecting on the thousands of miles separating my old life from a new one. In the old world, I’m certain “knife edge” cliffs would be frightening; but then again, in that world, the idea of crossing the country alone was frightening, too.
Neither of those things scare me now.
Instead of fear, I find joy. I find it in watching my friends’ faces light up on the trails. I find it in watching them push themselves further than they thought they could, past the mental chains that can keep you from breaking physical ones.
At first, when I realized my pulse wasn’t racing on the cliff’s edge, I thought something was wrong with me. Now, I realize that something is right: I’ve found out how to replace fear with joy. And I found it in a place called Zion.