Thursday, June 28, 2018

An Inexperienced Hiker's Take on Angel's Landing

Hello, my name is Ericka and I am an inexperienced hiker.  A novice.  A complete and total rookie.  

Before my trip to Zion National Park, I had only truly hiked four times.  That's right - four; I had four hikes under my belt before I attempted to hike to the pinnacle of Angel's Landing, the most renowned day hike in Zion that consistently ranks as one of the best hikes in the United States and also as one of the scariest.    

During the 2.7 mile trek up to Angel's Landing, hikers ascend 1,488 feet from the canyon floor to the summit which sits at 5,790 feet above sea level.  Those who make it to the top are rewarded with incredible views of the Virgin River and canyon below.  Reaching the summit requires tackling steep switchbacks, facing sheer drop-offs on both sides of the trail, and more climbing and scrambling than hiking during the last half mile.

I like to describe my hike to Angel's Landing according to the distinct sections I encountered along the way.

Grotto Trailhead

The first 2.2 miles are on the West Rim Trail, which begins across the Virgin River from the Grotto Trailhead (stop #6 if riding the Zion shuttle).  Here the trail is mostly paved and it meanders along  relatively level terrain that gradually increases in elevation.  Angel's Landing is easily visible from the very beginning as the sandstone tower juts out into the canyon.  I found it absolutely impossible to ignore and I kept looking up towards its summit in the early morning hour.  

After some time, I came to the first set of switchbacks which took me up the steep rock.  The hike up the switchbacks wasn't terrible, but it definitely got my heart pumping and I stopped several times to catch my breath.

Beginning our trek to Angel's Landing, the huge towering sandstone 
formation in the background.

The first set of switchbacks.

The West Rim Trail and switchbacks as viewed before Refrigerator Canyon.

Refrigerator Canyon

As a reward for making it up the first set of switchbacks, hikers enter Refrigerator Canyon, a narrow canyon that is predominately shady and substantially cooler than the rest of the trail.  Given that I was hiking at an early hour and the temperature was already in cool (high 40s/low 50s), I couldn't tell any difference in the canyon.  After about a third of a mile, we reached Walter's Wiggles.

Walter's Wiggles

I can't help but chuckle every time I say that name, but, alas, I digress.  Walter's Wiggles is a series of 21 steep, zigzagging switchbacks that quickly rise to the top of the ridge.  I'll be completely honest, "the wiggles" are appropriately named.  As I continued the seemingly endless, relentless climb, my thighs burned like wildfire.  By the time I reached the top, my legs definitely had "the wiggles."  I stopped several times during this section to catch my breath and to give my legs a short break.

An aerial view of Walter's Wiggles. via

Scout Lookout

Hikers emerge from top of Walter's Wiggles at Scout Lookout, a relatively flat and wider area where the trail splits; the West Rim Trail continues to the north and the trail to Angel's Landing turns to the south.  Here hikers can catch their breath, use the available pit toilets, enjoy the scenic views, and/or continue on one of the trails.  This is also a common turnaround point for hikers who decide to go no further.

The Saddle and Hogsback

From Scout Lookout, I crossed what is known as The Saddle, a narrow ridge with sheer 1,000 foot drop-offs on both sides.    I remember very little about this section of the trail and I took no pictures while on it. I'm not afraid of heights, but I'm very realistic.  Prior to my Zion visit, I read many articles online and was hyper-aware of the fact that this is a trail from which people have fallen to their deaths. I gave the trail and my footing my complete and undivided attention. 
The route from Scout Lookout to Angel's Landing. via
The Saddle. via
The Saddle and Hogsback.  via

As the ridge widened slightly on the other side, I started to  climb the ridiculously steep section called Hogsback.  Most people, regardless of their hiking and/or climbing abilities, utilize the chains at this point. (The chains first appeared right after Scout Lookout.)  I used the chains and everything else I could grab onto to climb the rugged, rocky face.  Somewhere near the top, after emerging from a particularly hard chain section, I looked up expecting to see the summit. Instead I saw another set of chains looming ahead and "Holy shit..." escaped from my mouth.  I took a moment to catch my breath and continued to trudge upwards.

The ascent up Hogsback. via

Angel's Landing Summit

I don't think I realized that I had reached the summit until the chains disappeared and the sandstone path under my feet leveled out.  That's when I saw the expansive view of Zion Canyon and I knew I had finally made it to the top.

Exhausted and perhaps a bit delirious, I found a good spot to sit down, rest, and take in the wondrous view. Even though much of the canyon was still in the early morning shadows, the view was stunning. 

Yes, without my ball cap my hair was all crazy (I took it off earlier because I didn't want 
the wind whipping it off my head) and without my sunglasses I was squinting like crazy.  
Not the most flattering picture of myself, but I don't care.  That's how I looked at that 
precise moment.

After taking some time to rest, reflect, hydrate, and eat while simultaneously fending off an aggressively foraging chipmunk who wanted part of my Clif Bar, I started the downward hike.  Overall, the descent was much easier, but still difficult in tight, narrow spots. Even though my group reached the summit early, by the time we started our descent, we encountered a steady stream of uphill climbers on the narrow spine.  This made two way traffic very difficult.
I'm smiling because it was all downhill from there.

Once we left Scout Lookout, the rest of the hike down to the canyon was easy with one caveat - a steep uphill climb to the summit translates to a steep downhill hike on the return trip which can be murder on the knees.  To take some of the pressure off, I walked with two trekking poles which really helped.

Pointing to where I had just come from after reaching the end of the trail.

Even though I had a good idea of what I was getting into, Angel's landing surprised me in a lot of ways.  I had no idea how challenging and strenuous it would be and how much climbing would be involved at the end.  

Here's the bottom line - you can read descriptions of the hike and watch YouTube videos galore, but until you've hiked it, you have no idea of what it's truly like.  So, having said that, here are some tips for newbie hikers like myself who are contemplating a trek to Angel's Landing.

Go Early

My hiking party was on the trail before 6:00 a.m. for two reasons:  1) to beat the heat and 2) to beat the crowds.  

Zion can get very hot during the summer; temperatures often exceed 100 degrees.  The hike to Angel's Landing is exhausting enough without adding heat exhaustion to the mix.  And, given its popularity, the trail can get very crowded and tends to do so throughout the day.  As I mentioned earlier, parts of the trail, especially the last 1/2 mile, are steep and narrow.  Two way traffic in these sections is difficult, dangerous, and often impossible.  When the narrow sections are clogged with people, the difficulty and danger are compounded.

An example of congestion on the trail.  Coincidentally, this is the spot on the trail that gave
me the most trouble.  En route to the summit, I had to literally jump down into this crevice
because I couldn't find any foot or toe holds that my uber short legs could reach.  On the
return trip, getting back up into this crevice required a lot of unique footing, straddling, scaling,
and upper body strength in order to pull myself up using the chains.  via

Pace Yourself

There's an old saying about leaving your ego at the door and that saying applies here, too, just leave your ego at the trailhead instead.  All of the people I hiked with are middle aged, myself included, and I couldn't tell you how many times we were passed on the trail by younger hikers who basically left us in their dust.  It was very tempting to try to match their pace and keep up with them, but we had to be realistic about our ability levels and remember that it was not a race.  In the end no one cared how fast we got there or in what order we arrived; the main thing is that we got there.  

Take Water and Food

The trail to Angel's Landing is 5.4 miles roundtrip and most posted signs claim that it takes an average of 4 hours to complete.  Do not skimp on water on this trail.  Given the elevation, the abundant sun exposure, and the physical exertion required, it's important to stay hydrated, especially during summer months. Remember, while there is water available at the trailhead, there is none available on the trail.

It's also a good idea to take a snack.  You expend a lot of energy on this trail and your body needs fuel. The last thing you want is to be hangry while negotiating the chains or while waiting on people to pass. This is definitely not the trail to be on if your sugar levels drop.

Wear Appropriate Footwear

As I descended, a lot of hikers were making their way up and as I passed them I noticed two things: 1) if they were carrying any water and 2) what kind of shoes they were wearing.  I saw a wide variety of footwear, ranging from flip-flops to Crocs to men's dress oxfords to women's heeled booties - I kid you not! Although I cannot fathom walking 2.2 miles uphill to Scout Lookout in any of them, I guess it's possible and the only person affected would be the wearer (blisters).  However, if those people went on to Angel's Landing wearing those shoes they not only put themselves in danger of  falling, but also the other people with whom they shared the trail.  You need to be as sure-footed as you can be on this trial. Hiking shoes, hiking boots, hiking sandals, or at the very least trail sneakers are essential.

Don't Bring Young Kids

Also on my way down, I saw a disturbing number of families hiking to Scout Lookout with young children in tow.  I can only hope that Scout Lookout was their final destination and that they didn't attempt to go on to Angel's Landing. Angel's Landing is rated as Difficult/Strenuous for a reason and it's simply too dangerous for kids. 

Be Patient

Along one of the chained sections on Hogsback, I got behind a lady who was moving at a slower pace than I. There were several times in which my climb came to a complete stop and I had to stand precariously on a narrow step clutching the chain as she figured out how to propel herself upwards.  So I waited...  patiently. This is not the place to rush people or to be in a rush yourself.  One rushed, miscalculated step could be deadly.  It's also important to keep in mind that most of the last 0.5 mile is so narrow that only one person can pass at a time.  There will be times when you have to stop in a wider section to let others up or down. This requires patience.

Respect Your Limitations

One of the most disturbing things I saw before I left Scout Landing on my way back down was a couple who was attempting to hike out onto The Saddle.  The guy was coaxing the girl down the narrowing path and it was obvious that she was scared to death.  I was very concerned for her because I knew that the trek was only going to get harder from that point on.  

If you are scared of heights, this may not be the trail for you.  If you have vertigo and balance issues, this may not be the trail for you.  If you are not in good health or out of shape, this may not be the trail for you. And you know what - that's ok.  There is absolutely no shame in knowing what your body is or is not capable of and stopping.  None.  This is another instance where you need to leave your ego at the trailhead.

Final Thoughts

The experience of hiking to Angel's Landing took several days to fully process.  When I started the hike that morning, I wasn't sure if I was going to continue past Scout Lookout or not.  I went with an open mind and trusted that I'd know what I could and wanted to do once I got there.  Looking back, I'm so very glad that I continued on.  It was by far the most strenuous, physically demanding, and dangerous thing I've ever done, but also one of the most rewarding.

For a first person perspective on the hike to Angel's Landing, please check out this video that my uncle filmed.  It's pretty cool and condenses the 2 - 2.25 hour trek into 13 minutes.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I've Given Up On/Don't Plan to Finish

Stephanie Plum Series by Janet Evanovich

I enthusiastically gobbled up the first fifteen or so books in this series.  However, by the eighteenth installment, my interest started to wain.  The series, in my opinion, became stagnant and the books were no longer as funny as they once were.  It also drove me crazy that Stephanie's hamster, Rex, never aged and she still couldn't make up her mind between Morelli and Ranger.

Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

I enjoyed the first book and the four smaller prequel stories in this series. The second book, Insurgent, was okay.  By the time I got around to reading the third one, several people I know had already read it and had expressed how much they disliked it.  I kept putting it off and putting it off until it finally became apparent that I had lost interest in the story as a whole.

Crazy Rich Asians Series by Kevin Kwan

I thought the first book in this series, Crazy Rich Asians, was hilarious!  I really had a lot of laugh out loud moments!  But, with the second installment the funniness started to wain and most of the characters and their circumstances became hard to relate to.

Women's Murder Club Series by James Patterson

I think I read the first three books in this series and then my interest just wained. I don't know why, it just did, and as more time has passed, I haven't missed it.

Sisterhood Series by Ann Brashares

The first one was good but the story in general didn't pique my interest enough to read the second one.

Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

I was late to game in reading this uber popular book.  Although it was entertaining, it wasn't my cup of tea.  I couldn't see myself reading any further.

Bridget Jones Series by Helen Fielding

I was perfectly fine with the way this book ended and wasn't interested in reading any more.

To be perfectly honest, I found this book to be average and it didn't make much of an impression on me.  I saw no point in continuing the series.

The first book in the series was cute and all, but I simply wasn't interested enough to read the next one.

I enjoyed this book but was perfectly fine with the way it ended.  I had absolutely no desire to know what the next book had in store.

Is there a book series that you've given up on and don't plan to finish? How do you feel about abandoning a series that you've begun? 

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Add It To My List... (Vol. 3)

I've only participated in this link-up a few times.  You see, I rarely try new things in terms of products (beauty, hygiene, household, etc) because I have a tendency to stay with the tried and true products that I've used for years.  Every now and then, however, I stumble upon something new that is "wow-worthy" and I'll recommend it.

Today, I have one recommendation and it will only apply if you like to see movies in the theater - MoviePass

My husband loves to see movies in the theater.  Up until a few months go, before we "cut the cable" on our satellite and starting streaming, we had a hellacious satellite bill.  With movie tickets averaging around $10 a ticket, it was hard for me to justify going to the movies while paying a small fortune every month for every movie channel known to man.  My thinking was this - unless a movie was one that my husband or I really, really, really wanted to see in the theater, we'd just wait for it to come out on HBO.  On average, we would usually see 3-4 movies in the theater a year.  All that changed when he and I signed up for MoviePass.

So far this year I've seen 10 movies and it has only cost me approximately $10 a month.  My subscription allows me to see one regular movie a day (IMAX and 3D movies are excluded).  *Changes apparently are coming in July that will apply to hot, new films.  This was just announced last week, so I'm not sure how much it will impact me.

The process is easy.  You join online, they send you a card, and you activate it via the app.  When you want to see a movie, you go to the theater and "check in" using the MoviePass app.  That basically "preloads" the money onto you MoviePass card (that in turn acts like a debit card).  You go in and buy your ticket using a kiosk.  Voila!

Granted, MoviePass will only save you money if you like to see movies in the theater.  If you're not much of a movie person, then you probably wouldn't get your money's worth out of the service.

Anyone else out there use MoviePass?  Like it?  Hate it?

*I should mention that I am not receiving compensation from MoviePass for this blog post.    

(Maybe) linking up with (bc I'm not sure if they are hosting this linkup anymore):

Thursday, June 21, 2018

LEGO® Exhibit at the Louisville Zoo

Although I've lived in and around Louisville for 18 years, I had never been to the Louisville Zoo until last summer.  As a member of the Norton Walking Club, I can go to the zoo two hours before it opens to the general public to utilize the looping, 1-mile roundtrip walking path. I enjoy the challenging, hilly walk and being able to admire the various critters along the way.  

This summer, my walks in the zoo have included an extra special treat. In addition to all the typical animals one would expect to see in a zoo, I've also seen many larger-than-life animal sculptures that are made entirely out of LEGO® bricks.  That's right - LEGOs!  

The exhibit is called Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks and it consists of thirteen sculptures that were designed by artist Sean Kenney.  He and his team used over 770,000 bricks to create the sculptures and the process took over 6,500 man hours!

The thirteen sculptures, all of which depict a different species, some of which are endangered, some that are not, and one that is already extinct, are displayed throughout the grounds within the zoo's natural scenery.  The exhibit aims to increase the understanding of the importance of  animal conservation.


Number of bricks: 31,565  |  Hours to build: 275

Approximately 10% of hummingbirds are endangered or threatened due to loss of habitat.

Fun Fact: Hummingbirds are the birds that can fly backwards.


Number of bricks: 12,990  |  Hours to build: 87

Seals are under threat from fishing practices, climate change, and ocean pollution.

Yes, this would've been cuter if two faces where filling the holes, but I had no volunteers.


Number of bricks: 88,516  |  Hours to build: 564

Stressors such as climate change, ocean acidification, diseases, overfishing, sedimentation, and pollution threaten coral reefs around the world.


Number of bricks: 49,034  |  Hours to build: 511

Chameleons are not considered endangered at this time.

Fun fact: Chameleons' eyes can look in two different directions at the same time.


Number of bricks: 57,462  |  Hours to build: 482.5

Leatherback sea turtles are considered vulnerable due to fishing nets and hooks, habitat loss from rising sea levels, uncontrolled coastal development, vehicle traffic on beaches, and other human activities.


Number of bricks: 43,678  |  Hours to build: 365

Whooping cranes, the tallest flying North American bird at 5 feet tall, are considered endangered.  

The sculpture depicts a mother whooping crane tending to her nest.  Do you see the 318 white dots below?  Those white dots represent the entire world's population of whooping cranes.


Number of bricks: 133,263  |  Hours to build: 1,048.5

Polar bears are considered vulnerable due to reduced winter sea ice that they need in order to hunt seals.

Fun fact: The polar bear statue uses the most bricks of any sculpture in the exhibit.


Number of bricks: 63,379  |  Hours to build: 580

Snow leopards are found in the mountains of Central Asia in countries such as China, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, and Afghanistan.  They are considered vulnerable.


Number of bricks: 66,655  |  Hours to build: 502

Wildebeasts are part of the antelope family and stay together in groups with zebras to easily spot predators and increase their chances of survival. Wildebeasts are considered endangered.


Number of bricks: 58,139  |  Hours to build: 372.5

Zebras are currently considered vulnerable.

Fun fact: A zebras stripes are like fingerprints as each pattern is unique to the zebra.


Number of bricks: 39,708  |  Hours to build: 330

The monarch population is facing challenges from habitat loss and climate change.  These butterflies have the longest migration of any butterfly (2000 miles).


Number of bricks: 86,361  |  Hours to build: 726

Sumatran, Javan, black, and northern white rhinos are all endangered.  Today, very few rhinos live outside national parks and reserves due persist poaching and habit loss over many decades.

This statue is called DISAPPEARING RHINO.  The artist said, "Rhinos are disappearing right in front of our eyes.  I believe very few people understand how critically endangered they really are, made because they are so culturally ingrained in our minds as an iconic African mammal.  I wanted to illustrate both the massive size and physical presence of the Black Rhino as well as the fact that they are quite literally disappearing off the face of the earth." 


Number of bricks: 71,669  |  Hours to build: 668

The dodo bird went extinct in 1681 due to human exploitation and the introduction of predators on their island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. 

The chart on the pedestal shows the dodo's population, starting when Mauritius was settled, ending in extinction only 176 years later.  The artist, Sean Kenney, said that the dodo is the embodiment of animal endangerment and that is why he chose to make this sculpture look like a grand monument.

Additional LEGO® Fun Facts:

  • LEGO® bricks were first sold in 1958.  A brick from 1958 will fit a brick created in 2018.
  • Each brick used in these sculptures is bonded with a special solvent an them the entire piece is shellacked to kept the brick colors from fading.
  • The word "LEGO" is made from the first two letters of the Danish phrase leg godt, which means "play well."
  • A LEGO® brick can withstand up to 950 pounds of force.


The Louisville Zoo
1100 Trevilian Way
Louisville, KY 40213

Children (3-11) $11.75
Adults (12-59) $16.25
Senors (60+) $11.75 

*There is also a $5.00 parking fee (per vehicle) if you park in the zoo lot.
**Military discounts are also available.

Daily 10:00am - 6:00pm (last admission is at 5:00pm)

The Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks exhibit is on display at the Louisville Zoo until September 3, 2018.

If you are unable to visit this particular exhibit, there are several other Nature Connects® exhibits on tour this year:

Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
Winchester, VA
Through September 3, 2018

Green Bay Botanical Garden
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Through August 19, 2018

Red Butte Garden
Salt Lake City, Utah
Through September 16, 2018

San Antonio Botanical Garden
San Antonio, Texas
August 31 - December 31, 2018


Of the thirteen statues on display at the Louisville Zoo, I'd have to say that my favorite is the polar bear with the coral reef coming in second.  Do you have a favorite?

Previous posts about Louisville:
Jerry's Junk
A Guide to Louisville's Street Murals Part 1 & Part 2
T is for Thunder Over Louisville

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