Should Anything Be Done With Angel's Landing?

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.

Comments

I have extensive experience and training in mountaineering and rock climbing. I have climbed sheer rock faces and hiked some extremely dangerous trails (including the El Camino Del Rey in Spain). This hike is not for those in "moderate shape", nor is it for children! If I were you sir I would consider the responsibility you bear for the advice that you offer others.

My family and I just returned from Zion last month--- yep,Angel's landing was really something-- especially if you are afraid of high places.I think that it should be kept open as a trail for everyone BUT there should be more warnings or whatever about how terrifying it can be.Especially to a Florida "flat-lander" like me.My wife and i got to chicken-shizzit turn around or whatever its called and turned back. My four sons went on ahead-- i told them i'd see them in the next life!! Thankfully they all made it there and back. They haven't stopped talking about the experience since.Unfortunatly the narrows was closed because of high water in the Virgin River.

My wife and I hiked Angels Landing a week ago - at least to the point where the chain starts. I couldn't believe how many people were on the chain for the last half mile to the top - literally elbow to elbow. This last half mile is really dangerous and I am surpised that they even allow un-roped climing in this section. The hike to where the chain begins in great and I personally think that should be the end of the trail unless you are an experienced climber and are roped up. I would NEVER take youger kids nor was I about to risk my wife on this section.

There are things that could and should be done on Angels Landing. First, post a BIG sign where the chain starts and warn (once more) that this is an area of EXTREME exposure and many fatalities have occured on this final 1/2 mile to the top. Suggest that no climber under 18 should goto the top AND ALL climbers should be roped to a safety line. Big mountains have safety lines around ice falls and other dangerous areas where climbers can rope up.

I hiked this route today for the first time. Please don't change ANYTHING!

Kent, yeah, I know your comment about Lady Mountain Trail is five years old, but I just saw it. I remember back in 1970 my family was in Zion (I was 18) and their plans for the day didn't look interesting to me, so I asked if I could go hiking (by myself, never a good idea, but...). I looked on a map (old, apparently) and saw Lady Mountain Trail. Looked interesting. So I took off. It wasn't long before I realized "wow, this is a strange trail". In places there were ropes and chains and railings, but most of them were broken, or nothing was left other than the bolts. But I scrambled along without them anyway. Until I reached a place where there was a four-foot gap, with a vertical 1,000+ drop below it (well, it looked like 1,000 feet to me). I actually contemplated attempting it, but I wised up and turned around. When I got to the bottom I found a ranger and told him that the trail was in very poor shape and needed a lot of attention. He said "that trail has been closed for years!" (Actually I don't think it was officially closed until 1978, but his point was that it was no longer maintained.) Well, it would have been nice if they had put up some signs at the trailhead!

People need to be informed that the chain is for balance only. If your feet slip on the sandstone few have the arm strength to hang onto the chain. Of course if your feet slip you are dead without the chain anyway, but the chain gives a false sense of security. I would favor a permit system to avoid the crowds which make it much more dangerous. As far as an age limit goes I hiked it when I was 70 with a friend who was 80. He found it easy.

We tried Lady Mountain but turned around where it required ropes and carabiners for the bolt hangers.