Finding Angels

Earlier last year, I wrote about how when traveling, I like to find state parks and go “explore”. Well, now that the weather is turning, and the days are lasting longer, it is time to start exploring again. A couple weeks ago, I “explored” somewhere I will never forget, but not for the reason I would have guessed.

The week consisted of two cities, Manchester, Tennessee and St. George, Utah. These two terrains couldn’t be more different, so I knew this would be a great opportunity to see some things I don’t usually see in Texas.

Tennessee was first, Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park was less than ten minutes from my hotel. I was with a team of co-workers at this dealer, and I couldn’t help but talk about my plans later that day. We all got excited, so right after work, we grabbed our stuff and headed to the park for a run. We found a path that led straight to a series of beautiful waterfalls cutting through the Tennessee rock, it was a stunning state park that I hope to return too.

Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park

As great as Tennessee was, my real excitement for the week, was my second destination. With some helpful advice from a friend, I decided I was going to climb Angel’s Landing. I had never heard of the climb before, or why it was called Angel’s Landing, but I would soon find out.

I arrived in St. George late, so the next morning came fast. I opened my hotel room curtains and stood in awe. If you’ve never been to St. George, you need to. It is a beautiful city. Everything is so clean and bright; the community is nestled amongst towering stone walls surrounding the valley.

The manager at the store knew all about Angels Landing. He told me how it is a world-famous climb into the Zion National Forest that overlooks the Canyon in the Zions. As wonderful as a setting St. George is, it pales in compression to the Zions, that’s what the manager told me anyway. The only way to reach the landing, is a grueling two-and-a-half-mile hike, straight up eighteen hundred feet, then of course, you turn back around, and climb back down.

Sign me up.

The problem with my plan, was that the trail head for the hike, was a solid hour drive from where I was, and the sun was to set at eight. So, I had just a few hours to complete a five-mile hike, thousands of feet up and get back before dark. The staff at the dealership warned me not to go as it wouldn’t be safe.

Against their council, I went anyway. I was determined to make the trip, after all, I was not coming back to Utah anytime soon. As soon as work ended, I went straight to the hotel, changed, and sped off to the Zions. I arrived at the base of the park around 5:30.

Expecting to park and get started, I was not prepared for what was next. I had to park my car, get out and catch a shuttle into the park, to the base of the climb. I took my seat on and tapped my feet in anxiety. Each minute that passed was one less minute of daylight.

Finally, the bus reached the sixth stop on the trail, my stop. With my backpack full of water and my legs ready to go, I started to run. The first mile went fast as I climbed higher and higher. I remember being amazed at how many people were there making the journey too.

Lookout from the first mile

The second mile was much tougher as the pitch of the trail increased, the trail turned into a series of switchbacks, like a giant snake had cut its way down the face of the mountain. I felt a tick in my watch and I looked down. I had gone two miles, and it had been 34 minutes. Not bad, plenty of daylight left.

I had reached a leveling off point called Scouts Landing. Looking to either side, the landscape opened, and you could see the walls of the canyon, and base of the canyon a thousand feet below. In front of me, was a sign warning about the next half mile, people have died here, and they wanted to make you very aware of that fact.

Silly me, I thought I had already made it to the top.

Looking over the edge and realizing how high I really was, my legs started to tremble, my head started to pound, I could feel my pulse pounding everywhere in my body, I was exhausted. Maybe running wasn’t the best move. I didn’t have time to think about this, I had to keep moving. I hadn’t made it yet, I was going to do this.

Walking across Scouts Landing, I reached the start of the last leg to Angels Landing. Looking forward, you could see the mountain standing in defiance, jetting out like a peninsula into the open canyon. The trail was thin, and there was no run off, it was a straight drop, only a small chain to hold onto as you scaled the exposed cliffside.

About twenty feet out on the cliff-side, holding onto the chain my knees started shaking, inches to my left a thousand-foot drop, one foot to my right, another thousand feet down. I felt a level of anxiety I’ve never felt before. That sign wasn’t messing around. I was afraid, my heart pounded harder as my body swayed in the wind. Twenty feet in, and half mile to go; I turned around. I headed back to safety in defeat.

Turning around, I held my phone out to see the view down.

Not ready to go back yet I stood looking into the open canyon, and then it dawned on me. I was the only person alone. As I ran up the hill, I had passed by a lot of people going up and down, but not a single person was by themselves.

Here I was, just me. Defeated.

“You on your way back down?” A young lady asked as she walked up to me.

“Well, I am not sure I can do this today.” I replied

“Wrong answer, you made it here, we’re going to make it up.” The young man with answered with a smirk on his face.

That apparently was good enough for me. The three of us started back up the mountain, section by section we climbed. A couple of guys up ahead saw me start again, “Hey, you’re doing it!” they yelled. They must have seen me turn around.

“Peer pressure!” I yelled back.

The width of the trail is about three feet, with only the chain to hold onto.

Soon we caught up to the two guys and the five of us climbed together. Step by step my confidence rose, my pulse slowed, higher and higher we went up the mountain. As we reached the top, the temperature dropped, and the wind increased, we scaled the last bit of rock and we reached the top.

There are no words to put here to give that view justice. Once we reached the top, we walked out the end of the towering peninsula. Here I was standing at the end, eighteen hundred feet up, with nothing to stop me from hitting the ground, and all the sudden I wasn’t so worried about how cold it was, how dangerous it was, I made it, and I wasn’t alone. This was truly a sight for Angels.

Top of Angels Landing looking down the canyon

Then came the rain.

“Oh Shit” we all said at the same time.

We got out of there, and fast. Never forgetting how high I was, or the fact that I was less than a foot at any time from falling, the fear of the rain making the rocks a slide took over. There was no time to go slow.

if you look on the rock, you can see the path winding accros the top.

After we got back to scouts landing, the temperature warmed back up, we were sheltered from the wind, and the rain stopped.

The two guys went their separate way, the couple and I talked on the way down. I learned about what they’re doing in college, and we talked about my wife and children. We talked what we just witnessed, and how truly amazing this world is.

The sun was getting ready to set, so the last mile I said goodbye and ran the rest of the way down. I made it up and down, in two hours and eleven minutes. Not bad.

Sitting on the bus back to my car. Groups of people were talking about their day and sharing pictures of all they’ve seen. I once again realized how alone I was; I just sat in silence. There was no way I would have made that climb without the motivation from those kind people. We never even bothered to introduce ourselves, names didn’t matter. I needed them, and they knew it.

It’s incredible how often this happens to us in life. How many times have you failed reached a “summit” you’re too afraid to climb? Maybe you didn’t even realize how close you were? It takes others to motivate and pull us through the journey, we need to be ready to accept the help.

On the other side, how many times have you been tackling a problem or reaching a goal and pulled others with you up to your level. Sometimes we are a powerful driving force in others’ lives, and we don’t even know.

We as humans are amazing, we can do some very power and incredible things alone, but there is no doubt we can do more as a team. Caring for each other and pushing us all to reach new heights. Thank you to those who have pushed me to reach my goals. From my wife to close friends, to complete strangers.

I promise, I will pass it on.


One thought on “Finding Angels

  1. You are an amazing fellow, Steele. And you sure fit that last name.

    So proud of you. What a milestone! Your recount of the adventure makes us feel the challenge and share the experience.

    You are one damned good author. The best part is that it’s non-fiction.


Comments are closed.