At the beginning of this month I took a great trip with a great friend, and as soon as I get around to going through the nine bajillion photos we took, I’ll write a post about the whole week. This one’s just about a single hour of it.
When Alli first suggested a trip to Zion National Park back at the beginning of the summer, I started doing research right away. What I read about most was Angel’s Landing, a point at the top of a 1,488-ft rock formation that towers over Zion Canyon. The photos were gorgeous, but the real adventure, I read, is getting there. The trail, cut into the rock in 1936, starts as a steep set of switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles. Once you’ve hurdled those, you’re at Scout’s Lookout. From there, it’s a half-mile up over the spine of the ridge, on one of the most dangerous hiking routes in the world; in places the trail is less than two feet wide, with a 1,300+ foot drop on either side. There is no room for error. People have died trying. It went to the top of my bucket list immediately.
Alli and I got up before dawn on the last day of our trip, and by the time the sun was fully up, we were at the trailhead. When we first got to Scout’s Lookout, we thought we’d reached the end of the trail. When we realized there was a whole lot of trail ahead and above us – in a place that looked, from where we stood, like no place a trail could, or should, go – the fear set in.
After a few hundred feet of scooting along a rock face, clinging to the chains, Alli looked around and made the smart choice. Angel’s Landing was not for her, and so she headed back, and further up the West Rim trail to look at things from above. In what was admittedly not my best moment as a friend, I called that I’d meet her back at Scout’s Lookout, and I just kept going. Something had started to coil itself up inside me, and I had this totally unshakable feeling that I had to get myself to that peak.
What followed was one of the most terrifying and truly remarkable experiences of my life. Like most people, I spend almost all my time engaged outside myself. When I’m not on the phone for work, or just chatting with somebody, I’m reading something, or watching something, or listening to something. It’s so rarely just me and my brain.
But on the way up that trail, it was like something snapped into place. Like my mind and my body and, I think, my soul were all moving forward together. It was slow, and deliberate, and every step was sure. And my head – a place usually so riddled with anxiety and self-doubt – was full of encouragement, and pride for what I was doing, and what my body was doing for me. It was windy, and whenever a strong gust would hit I’d try to feel like a solid thing, trusting my legs to hold me to the earth. I scrambled, in places using both hands to pull myself up and over rocks, on a path that honestly seemed suspended over open air and nothingness, and I felt brave, and strong, and capable.
And I was scared for every single second of it. Every time I finished an incredibly difficult section I’d think, “It must get easier from here,” and it never did. And then, just like that, I was at the top. I’d been watching my feet, watching the trail ahead of me, choosing each step so carefully, and making damn sure not to peek out over the edge. But at the top, there was no wind at all. It was warm, and I picked up my head and burst into tears.
I mean loud, full-blown ugly crying, right on top of this mountain.
What I could see was almost too beautiful, too immense, or impossible, or vast, or something I just don’t have a word for. And maybe you’ll think it sounds kind of strange, but I settled on God. I felt close to God, in a way I can’t explain. I felt limitless, and overwhelmed by gratitude for something I can’t even name. It was a feeling of fullness, like I’d done all this work for something so precious, and now here it was lying in my palms. I’m not sure I can make it make sense, but it was a moment in my life that is absolutely without equal. I just felt free.
A very nice hiker waited for me to pull myself together, and then took this photo. It’s not the most flattering shot ever taken of me, but there is unadulterated joy etched across my face, and I think that is itself a thing of wonder.
There’s a point I want to make, and it’s this: do scary things. You don’t have to climb a crazy rock in Utah, but do something worthwhile you think you have no business doing. Go out and chase that feeling of fullness and freedom, every chance you get. I’m beginning to think we all owe it to ourselves.