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Should Anything Be Done With Angel's Landing?

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Summit of Angel's Landing, Daniel Smith Photographer
Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park; Daniel Smith, photographer.

    What should the National Park Service do, if anything, with Angel's Landing in Zion National Park?
    This question arises every time there's a fatality, and rightly so. The recent death of Barry Goldstein has rekindled the debate, with at least one reader believing the Park Service should, in essence, certify the ability of hikers determined to reach the landing.
    Is that reasonable? Does the Park Service have the manpower to station someone at the base of the landing to bear that responsibility? Would it not merely heighten the Park Service's liability for those who are deemed experienced enough to make the hike to the top?
    And if the Park Service agreed to such a proposition, which I doubt will ever happen, what of other parks and the risks they present? How do you guard against canoeists, kayakers and rafters drowning while on park outings? What about those who are swept away by avalanches, who are attacked by grizzlies, die from the heat at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, or fall from Half Dome in Yosemite?
    What responsibility does the Park Service have to try to prevent these accidents? Just as important, if not more so, what responsibility do individuals bear?   

    We live in a dangerous world, one where we have to recognize not only the dangers that exist, but our own limits. And those who visit national parks need to appreciate that these are not city parks, not well-manicured and contained. National parks present a host of dangers, ranging from cliffs and rivers to wildlife and even other park visitors.
    This is not intended to belittle or minimize the loss felt by Mr. Goldstein's family and friends, or the families and friends of other victims of national park accidents. It's not to question their actions, capabilities, or decision-making. The pain of their untimely deaths cannot be soothed, there is no salve that can erase it.
    Rather, this post is simply to acknowledge that there are dangers that exist, both in national parks and beyond their borders, throughout the world we live in, and that we need to accept both the responsibility of our decisions and that accidents do happen.
    Might those who fell from Angel's Landing over the years been saved had they had to meet specific qualifications to ascend to the summit or if the Park Service put railings atop the landing to keep hikers a safe distance from the edge? Perhaps. But incredibly qualified climbers have died in accidents in the parks, and folks have clambered over railings, trusting their own judgments, only to die in accidents.
    Beyond that, do we really want to sanitize the parks?   
    I don't think I'm alone in believing that a good part of the allure of places such as Zion, Yellowstone, Yosemite, North Cascades, Mount Rainier and Grand Teton, just to name a half-dozen parks, is their ruggedness, their wildness, of entering them on our own terms and seeing how we match up.
    It scared the hell out of me the first time I went up Angel's Landing, when I climbed to the top of the Grand Teton, and to the summit of Half Dome. That adrenalin rush not only heightened my cautiousness, but it also let me know how alive I was. When my time does arrive, I hope it comes in a national park and not while driving down the highway or crossing the street.

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I am all for respecting the personal rights of others, but I have done many dangerous hikes over the years and this one is in my opinion the most dangerous. What many don't know and those who love the hike won't tell you is that at certain points this hike is as narrow as 3.5 feet wide with 1000 foot plus sheer drops on both sides. Additionally, the much toted guide chains do not extend the full length of the ridge. There are areas like I just described where there is no guide chain. Additionally, the large number of people on such a narrow hike presents another major hazard to climbers. This hike should be open to the public, but only on a permit basis which would include age restrictions (I have seen children as young as three on the trail). Additionally, I think that the number of people on the hike at any given time should be restricted. The forest service could further reduce the risk to hikers by installing an additional safety wire that harnessed climbers could hook onto. At this point, if you want to take your life into your own hands I would implore you to be smart and be safe, and for the love of God don't take your children on this hike!!!

[This comment was edited to remove a gratuitous remark. Ed.]


it is called "scout lookout" not scott's landing


After reading this entire column, I have to wonder how much more dangerous the drive to and from Zion is then this climb?

People risk the lives of their children without a single thought by loading them into a car to take them to National Parks all across the USA yet they complain about people taking children on this hike.

I have yet to take this hike but after looking at the photos, I feel that I have missed something.

I hope to take this hike this summer or the next and my wife will be with me all the way.

Yes, we know our limits but looking at ALL the photos, reading ALL these logs and other web pages, we see no problem unless it is with the weather on the day we attempt the hike. We have actually hiked in a lot of "unknown" locations that look a lot worse then this hike.


Just went up AL - phenomenal experience. That said, "K" is precisely right - any parent that takes a child up to AL needs to have their head examined. Whatever an ADULT does is fine. But to take a child to AL ????? I am sorry, you are a bad parent and/or an IDIOT !!! I am an experienced climber and that is NO PLACE FOR CHILDREN.


Just went up AL - phenomenal experience. That said, "K" is precisely right - any parent that takes a child up to AL needs to have their head examined. Whatever an ADULT does is fine. But to take a child to AL ????? I am sorry, you are a bad parent and/or an IDIOT !!! I am an experienced hiker and that is NO PLACE FOR CHILDREN. If you are deluded enough to believe that you are developing some type of inner confidence in your child ... there are many ways to do that without putting their lives at risk. Why not give your kid a fifth of liquor and the car keys - same decision.


I am a foreigner. I come from France. I am 56 years old. I play basket ball all along the year in Championship for old people. So I know the efforts.
I reached the summit in August 2009. There are enough warnings (with photos and comments) on Internet sites and within Zion park to evaluate the risk.
To my opinion, my advices are the following:
Start early in the morning to avoid high temperatures,
Try to hike in a group because sometimes the trail is not clear. So it is useful to get the first place then to switch when you get tired.
Keep some strength for the return. It's always more difficult to go down than to climb.

But once you succeeded, anybody said "We did it". That's a wonderful experience.


Just returned from a wonderful hike up AL. I've heard about all the warning sings, the accidents, crowds in the summer, howling wind. I brought lots of water, good shoes, light gear for the final ascent, and a buddy. I could see how people are getting unruly during the busy summer season, as I've heard stories of people shoving and pushing to get in front of people. Personally, one of the tougher part of the whole hike is to conserve energy to reach Scout's point. The chains are nice for balancing, but it could provide a false sense of security for some, or even dangerous if someone's swinging it when you actually do need to grab it! The most tricky part for me was actually the first 500 yards or so, as the rocks are slanted, and you need to find a good footing to continue. Once you've begun your actual ascend, the trail is quite clearly marked. Also, the ever changing wind is a concern for some. That's why i hiked with only what I need, so I can carry a lighter, less profile daypack. The most windy spot is on the 2nd part of the ascend, halfway to the final summit, and once you've reached the summit, it's nothing but calm wind, since there's much less pressure differential up top from the canyon draft.

I think if there's anything NPS can do anything about it, is to require all AL hikers watch a 10 minutes video to summarize all the warnings, and also some common sense rules for some of the inexperienced hikers. (Another place that came to mind was Ha'nauma bay natural reserve in Honolulu. You watch a beautifully done 10 min. video explaining what to do, what not to do when you snorkel)


I hiked angels landing twice as a child and then again this last March, 2009 at 33. As I opted out of the last chained and riskier portion at the end of the peak this last time around I felt empowered because as a child I remember it being such a scary experience. Seeing it now, I am resentful that adults hadn't been more responsible for me as a child who didn't have the ability to really judge risk like that reasonably. As I watched a child that looked to be about 7 years old descend the chains crying this last March I was angered that parents were taking these kind of risks with their children's lives. The risk for this trail is documented and yet people are allowed to take risks with their children's lives here everyday. I wish there were a large warning sign posted at the top section at the base of the chains declaring the risk and suggesting that young children shouldn't attempt the climb. Children should be given appropriate warnings so that they can opt out as they wish. Children who decide to proceed after receiving the risk information should only do so with a responsible adult who has carefully assessed conditions and uses rope safeties and careful instruction. Ounce of prevention. Worth a life.


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