When you hear about Angels Landing deaths summer after summer it might dissuade you from doing the hike in Zion National Park. On the shuttle bus the drivers warn you that it isn't for small children or those who have even the slightest fear of heights. However, whenever I tell anyone I'm from Southern Utah the first thing they ask me is "Did you hike Angels Landing?" Granted, I hiked it before the recent deaths and before there were even a lot of notices about being afraid of heights. You’ll want to follow common hiking rules like not going by yourself and leaving plenty of time before sun down.
Angels Landing Death Count
The National Park Service acknowledges only 5 deaths on Angels Landing. It says it only recognizes incidents without "suspicious activity". This figure is since the park opened but the Wikipedia page has several more deaths listed than the NPS recognizes. At least one death in 2010 occurred in the Scouts Lookout area which is generally thought to be much safer than the final ascent to Angels Landing. The real danger in my mind comes from the knife edge. This takes you from Scouts Lookout to Angels landing. It's basically a bridge with more than a thousand feet drop offs on either side. Plus you are sharing the trail with a lot of other people.
For me the most surprising part of the list is that Angels Landing isn't the deadliest trial in Zion according to the National Park Service. It’s actually Emerald Pools. I'm assuming it occurs mostly in the upper pools because the lower pools is wheelchair accessible. It has an easy rating, but a death count of seven. I'm assuming that this occurs from people ignoring the signs to not climb in certain areas or playing or jumping in the water. Maybe people let their guard down because of the easy rating.
For me one of the scary parts of hiking in Zion is how crowded it can get. Angels Landing is one of the more popular hikes. That means that at peak times of the year you may have to wait your turn. You can remedy this usually by going earlier in the day. There are chains in the more dangerous parts of the hike; seriously use them. When it gets crowded though and you have people coming up and down the same trail there just doesn't seem to be enough of that for everyone.
The other area of danger comes from people just not being properly prepared. I've seen people start the hike with half a bottle of water in the middle of summer where temperatures can easily be over one hundred degrees. Other people just have simple sandals on. Again, this is dangerous because you are walking vertically on slick sandstone. This rock can be difficult to get a grip on even when it isn't wet. If there is ice and snow up there the NPS recommends that you not even attempt it and consider wind too. Don’t overestimate how fast you hike and get stuck up there at dark. Sure, you can usually walk or run faster than one mile an hour. The NPS estimates that it will take you 5 hours to cover the 5 miles. There is a restroom at Scout’s Lookout, but bring your own toilet paper. There isn’t any drinking water on the trail.
Also if you have kids on any trail with you; keep them within reach. There was a tragedy of a boy scout falling from Angels Landing a few years ago. Even though your kids might be able to hike faster than you don’t let them and keep them off of dangerous trails like this one.
At first it seems like it's going to be a pretty easy hike; it's only 2.4 miles one way. However, when you actually start hiking you notice that basically these feel like vertical miles. First you start with a series of switchbacks. This leads you to Refrigerator Canyon which is a welcome relief in the summer months. Then after that nice rest you hit the infamous Walter's Wiggles which has 21 switchbacks in a row. This takes you to Scout's Lookout. I can easily do this part of the hike without being too scared of heights although it is pretty strenuous which was why I was surprised to learn that there had been a death at this point.
For me at least the scary part is the hike up to Angels Landing. It just gets worse once you get up there. There's lots of wide open space and there always seems to be one person who wants to see how close to the edge they can get in every single hiking party. I think it's partly psychological, you've just finished the terrifying adrenal pumping part of the hike and you feel safe when you're finished. Be aware that your legs might not be as steady as what you're used to owed to Walter's Wiggles. Also if at anywhere along the trail you see a fence or guard; it’s there for a reason… to keep you away from the edge. Please let it do its job.
So to answer the question “Have you ever hiked Angels Landing?" the answer is yes. I have not hiked it a second time though and will also be much more aware the next time I head to Scouts Lookout. With proper preparation and realistic expectations of what you can accomplish it can be a pretty safe hike but you still need to be cautious. Some forums have suggested that this be a permit only hike because of the recent Angels Landing deaths. I am not into canyoneering or a rock climber but I do hike a fair amount and find that it’s doable but it needs to be a personal decision.
At least on the bus tour of the park they tell you that it's called Angels Landing because the first person to see it thought that only an angel could get up there. I don't know if that legend is true or not but it does let you know that you should proceed with caution on this hike.