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Angel Landing New Heights

Posted by johnnieraz on July 5, 2024 at 8:00 PM

By John Rezell

     Light-headed with butterflies fluttering in my stomach, I realized there wasn't any choice in this matter.

     From their earliest age, I've stressed to Sierra and Taylor that this feeling, when your belly churns butter and your knees turn to jelly, it's simply your body telling you that something special is about to unfold. Don't fear it. Embrace it.

     Time to embrace it.

     While enjoying a wonderful summer vacation at Zion National Park — the kind of old school summer vacation where the family loads up the car and tent camper for two-plus weeks of adventure — Sierra finds yet another way to blow me away with her zest for life.

     Having just completed an exhillarating hike to Hidden Valley, where we left Mom behind and ventured deep into an unmaintained canyon, we felt understandably on top of the world. Then Sierra decided she wanted to ascend to new heights. Her goal: Angels Landing.

     They tell you about Angels Landing just about anywhere and everywhere around Zion. It's the hike where, at some points, you look down either side 1,500 feet to the valley floor. They warn, almost endlessly, that it isn't for the feint of heart. I listen closely to advice like that.

     So when Sierra said confidently, "I want to hike Angels Landing" with Debbie and Taylor quickly opting to pass on such nonsense, I was left to ponder the reason the bottom of my stomach just disappeared and my head felt dizzy.

     In a short few months she will be on her way to the next phase in life as a freshman at Oregon State, yet that curious bundle of energy that she has been since she arrived 3.5 weeks early will always have a stranglehold on my heart. I understand two truths: One, I hate heights. Two, I can't pass this up.

     I tell her it will be her 18th birthday present, that day still a few weeks off. She smiles with that glow and says, "I can't think of a better birthday present."

     We plan for an early ascent, to beat the crowds, although not ridiculously early. We don't need to hit the sunrise shuttle.

     We get to the shuttle early. We get off quickly, and hit the trail full stride.

     The thing is, Sierra climbs like a mountain goat. It seems like she can hike upward all day and all night. Her long legs have a nice stride, and she is always relentless on a hike. Keeping up with her with her adrenalin surging is no easy task. But I manage.

     Among the unforgettable memories of the hike is the ultimate reminder of the need to be cautious. A fair-sized deer lies, neck broken, in the corner of one switchback. No one's footing is assured here.

     We hit the moment of truth, where many call it a hike and turn around, rather than skitter out along the edges of the red stone, hanging onto chains here and there. We look ahead to see bodies snaking up, around, over and along the edge out to Angels Landing. We go for it.

     I handicap myself with a backpack filled with all emergency items one might need in the wilderness. Its 20-25 extra pounds throw my balance off here and there, but damn it if I'll be caught needing something I left at camp.

     This added imbalance only shakes my confidence more. The heights and views while astounding are also frightening. Tack on the fact that with each uneasy section where concentration and focus are necessary, I'm not only positioning myself to climb, but to be in a position to catch Sierra if she stumbles.

     She's not stumbling. I'm having a tough time holding her back. She senses my fear, and obliges with a slower pace than she wants. Instead, she's allowed to savor the moment.

     When we hit the top, and see the view of a lifetime, her smile and sparkling eyes fill my soul like few moments have. I'm not sure if the chills running from head to toe stem from the fear buzzing through my body, or the pure satisfaction of being a Dad. Not just any Dad. Sierra's Dad.

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