Challenges and chains: Hiking your summit

Walter's Wiggles, ascent to Angels Landing, Zion National Park | Photo courtesy of St. George Health and Wellness Magazine

FEATURE – I took a deep breath in, letting the cool air fill my lungs. The bite valve of my CamelBak was wedged between my front teeth and my hands were over my head in an attempt to expand my breathing capacity. I was glad that despite my body’s protests, I had decided to start my hike early. There is something invigorating about morning hikes, especially in the springtime. The snow was still melting in Zion National Park, filling the rivers and streams with fresh runoff and the rockscape was beginning to see signs of life sprouting up around her, softening her callous cliffs with a sprig of elegance here and there. I glanced behind me at the 21 steep switchbacks termed “Walter’s Wiggles” I had just climbed. As I made my way up them, they had seemed so monotonous and endless but looking down I was impressed by the vertical gain they provided me. I took a final swig of water before beginning the final stretch of Angels Landing, a half mile trail up a steep and narrow ridge of rock.

I began my ascent up the rock, visualizing each step before actualizing it. The trail was well worn in some spots by past hikers, telling me the best route to take. I looked up and saw chains, providing a safe trail for this steep incline. I was an avid hiker and had done a lot of rock climbing when I lived in Colorado. I didn’t need chains. I reminisced about hiking trips I had taken and some of the fourteeners I had climbed with good friends. I wondered where they were now, as it had been several years since I had seen them. Suddenly the ground beneath my foot crumbled and I found myself sliding down a rock slope reaching out for something. Anything to grab hold of. I dug the heel of my hiking boot into a patch of silt in a concave spot of stone and stopped.

My heart was beating so hard I could hear it in my ears and my fingers were shaking, still contorted into claws and embedded with sand and dirt from trying to grip the rock. I looked down which was a mistake. There was about two feet of ground between me and a 1,500-foot free fall. I slowly put more weight on my anchor foot but it slid an inch and I froze. Why had I not held onto the chain? Why had I come alone? Why did I let myself get careless with thoughts of the past? I felt completely helpless. Help. I needed help. “Help!” I called out to nobody. I called out for what seemed like hours, but was probably only minutes. My calf was beginning to cramp, and I was losing hope when I saw a figure above me. He yelled something down that I couldn’t understand, and then I saw a rope land beside me. I grabbed it tightly and felt a tug. Once I got some footing, I used the rope’s leverage to climb back to the trail. I thanked the stranger, then hugged him, then thanked him again.

As I finished my hike to the summit that day, I kept a firm hold on the chain. My nerves were still on edge, but I was determined to finish my hike. As I sat at the top, taking in the awesome view, I realized something. In life, there are risks. Things are not easy. At times they feel monotonous and you wonder if you are really making any progress, until you look back at your vertical gain and realize each switchback got you closer to your goal. Sometimes we get careless. Sometimes we think we don’t need help. We are strong enough and good enough to ascend the rocky trail unassisted and it somehow makes us feel proud. The truth is, we all need a chain to hold when things get challenging. Whether that chain is our faith, our family, or our friends, we all need something to hold on to. Something to keep us on the path that leads to our destiny. And if we slip? If we fall? We need someone that will be there to hear our call for help. Someone to throw us a rope so we can get ourselves back on the trail. The trail that leads us to vistas unknown, glory unseen and a destiny that can only be ours if we are not afraid to keep climbing.

Terrin Parker_Picture

Written by Terrin Parker for St. George Health and Wellness magazine.

Terrin Parker is a physical therapist from Cedar City, Utah. She graduated from Loma Linda University in California, and has lived in Denver, San Diego, and St. George. She loves to surf, snowboard, write, travel, play the guitar, and spend time with her husband and their 12-month-old son.

St. George Health and Wellness website

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, Inc., and St. George Health and Wellness magazine, 2013, all rights reserved.

Angel's Landing

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1 Comment

  • John Teas April 25, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Most excellent article. I have yet to experience Angels Landing, but this article has moved it way up on my Bucket List of outdoor adventures in Southern Utah.

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