Thursday, September 17, 2015

The first recorded climb of Angels Landing in Zion National Park?

                Just past Scout Lookout, this shows the final climb to Angels Landing.

By Lynn Arave

ANGELS Landing is defined by Zion National Park as one of its strenuous hikes. It is 5.4 miles roundtrip and climbs a total of 1,488 feet. "Not for young children," according to the National Park Service, the final mile of the hike is dominated by sheer vertical cliffs and dropoffs. This trail is not for the faint of heart, or for those fearful of heights.
In fact, metal chains were added decades ago for additional safety as something solid hikers can hold on to. Many steps have also been cut into the rocks.

                    Roger Arave shows some of the early on cables to hold on to.

The Washington County News newspaper of Dec, 25, 1924 contains what may be the first recorded climb up Angels Landing. Not that others before hadn't climbed it -- this was possibly the first one publicly recorded -- and, of course -- happened BEFORE there were any chains to grab on to, or prior to any safety improvements.
This newspaper story reports that Park Ranger Harold Russell is believed to have been the first to stand on the Angels Landing summit in 1923. Russell was also a guide, along with David Dennett on this climb reported in the St. George, Utah  newspaper.

                                  A section of Refrigerator Canyon.

The climb up and through Refrigerator Canyon were not described as anything harsh. Pretty much only a 15 degree lower temperature than the surrounding area was reported in the narrow canyon by the hiking group. Today much of the lower Angels Landing trail is paved, but back then white sand dominated much of it. 
There were also no Walter's Wiggle switchbacks, located above Refrigerator Canyon in 1924 either -- they had not been built yet.
Some of the hiking party dangled from ropes in thin air to reach the summit of Angels Landing.
Frederick Vining Fisher, an Ogden resident and former pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Ogden, named Angels Landing and two other Zion Canyon landmarks during a visit there in 1916.

                                 The summit of Angels Landing.

-Here's the St. George newspaper report by R.B. Gray on the climb past Scout Lookout to Angels Landing. (It was originally published in Union Pacific Magazine.)
All photographs are by Liz Arave Hafen. Highlights are in bold type:
(Note the archive copy is difficult to read and it has been transcribed as accurately as possible. If you try to read this on your own at a digital newspaper site, it will be garbled and the left margin often cut off ) ...

                             Going down the Angels Landing upper trail.

"The crest of the ridge, as it lay before us, first descended to a rugged point, then swept up in a great craggy ... curve to the haunt of the Angels; the summit, in fact, appeared lofty and inaccessible that the legend of the angels seemed wholly credible and some of us timidly deliberated the possibilities of joining their ranks. It is relatively easy going down to the gap; beyond that point the ridge narrowed from ten feet to ten inches.

                                     Steep and rocky path.

"It became dizzily steep, and occasionally presented little cliffs of thirty or forty feet that required slow and careful progression by means of ten fingers, and prayerful exclamations, assisted by the abdominal muscles. All of the arts of crawling .... were imitated. But there were places too steep for all but experts in rock work. A helping hand would clutch an inch thick ledge, put a bit of weight on it and find the friable sandstone as soft as a pie crust; A flat slab grasped ... had an exasperating habit of falling down on one's head. "There were five hazardous stretches which the guides and several experienced climbers of the mountain scaled unassisted; but the remainder of the party required the aid of ropes let down by these pioneers anchored to their bodies. At some interesting spots the climber dangled over some 1,6000 feet of pure mountain air and all of them seemed not displeased when their feet rested again in level rock.

                                            Dizzy heights.

                                          Sheer cliffs and narrow trail.

"The apex of the monolith broadens out to a sloping platform of some twenty feet at its widest and one hundred feet long, capped by a pogoda-like cone. There a cairn of stones was erected, a scroll of names placed therein, and to its top was fastened the skull of a steer brought from the Tinted Desert north of the Kaibab Forest.
 "Angels Landing projects far into Zion Canyon and tho panoramas from its peak are of the highest grandeur, immediately below us was the Great Organ; opposite in the east, tho stupendous mass of The Great White Throne, soaring 1,200 feet higher.
"Northward we looked into the dizzy walled red amphitheatre called the Temple of Sinawava and beyond to the Narrows where the ethereal white cone of the Mountain of Mystery rises above the gory precipices. Behind us loomed the majestic, reposeful white cliffs of the upper rim.
"Southward, the vision included the entire sweep of the east wall Red Arch Mountain, the Mountain-of-the Sun and the Twin Brothers, glowing in the sun.
"Such visits are part of the enduring enchantment of Zion; its magnificent, sculptured masses, displaying all the tones of red from peach blossom pink to the deepest carmine known to lipsticks, and onward through Indian lake and maroon to reds that the shadows turn black; its atmospheric moods of bulk and color; its infinite variety; its unlimited opportunities for pioneer exploration with the reward of matchless vistas of scenes never beheld before by civilized man. 

                    The spectacular view southward from the Angels Landing summit.

"Those of the artistic temperament who seek scenic effects not to be had elsewhere on earth will find Zion satisfactory. It is said that a safe trail may be made at small cost to the spot where the angels land and this will probably be done by next season. The splendid vermillion butte will then become a favored observation point for Zion's increasing throng of visitors." -Originally from Union Pacific Magazine.

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:

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