Conquering Dreams Despite Fear

Angel’s Landing, View from the Bottom

In 2007 I was on my first exploration of National Parks. And I fell in love. I remember being on a hike in Grand Teton and asking two separate gentlemen what park and/or hike they would recommend. Both replied with Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. This was quite honestly the first time that I had heard of ZNP, let alone the potentially deadly, Angel’s Landing. But nonetheless, it earned a spot on my Bucket List.

Fast forward to 2017, Brandon and I were planning a trip that started in Zion which meant Angel’s Landing. Here’s the thing though. Apparently in the 10 years since learning of the hike, I had become “afraid of heights”. This could be a whole story, but we’ll stick to the point and I’ll “agree” that “maybe”, I was afraid of heights. Or falling. Or dying. Same difference in this case.
In the summer of 2016, we had driven (Brandon drove, I had my head in my pillow sniffing essential oils) one of the highest highways in America. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. I had a tough time with the drive and as we were planning ZNP I realized how I may feel when I’m walking along a ridge that is only 4 feet wide…scared for my life!

After our descent of the aforementioned 4-foot wide trail. You can see that portion behind us in this picture

I read articles, stories and the guidelines. Of course, the Park says not to do it if you have a fear of heights. That’s just good sense but I was still going to do it. “I’m young. I’m healthy. I’m adventurous. We hike all the time. Look at everyone else that is doing it.” Positive thoughts. And then, I watched some Go-Pro videos of people doing the hike and I found that I was getting nauseated and vertigo-ish just from the video! So now what?! I talked to people who had succeeded. I talked to people that didn’t even attempt it once they got close. I talked to people that got partway and then froze clutching the red rock. This is what I was afraid of. Paralyzing fear that would leave me hanging on the side of the monolith. I was also afraid that if I couldn’t make it, Brandon may not go to the top and I could not stand the thought of that. Potentially holding him back from an amazing experience. So how do you get to Angel’s Landing with a fear of heights?!

  • From Zion National Park Hiking Guide
  • View from Angel’s Landing

As a chiropractor, I’m used to helping people with alternative ideas to improve their health, but how do you get rid of a fear? Somehow or another, I recalled hearing about hypnosis. I was able to meet an amazing clinical hypnotist and in 3 sessions over 4 weeks we were able to reframe my consciousness regarding heights. It was one of the best things that I could have done. Not only did I get to the top of Angel’s Landing without losing my mind, but I enjoyed myself! I truly enjoyed it. Did I get close to the edge on top and push my limits, ABSOLUTELY NOT. But we made it!

A couple tips for those of you who are thinking you want to conquer this hike:

Wear good shoes. You’d think this was common sense, but I can’t tell you the number of people that were in sandals or “Toms” type shoes. I’ll reserve my judgement on that for the sake of this post, but if for no other reason, wear good shoes for everyone else! There are a lot of other people on this hike and if you go down, you’re likely to run into someone else. Don’t let this happen because you didn’t plan your footwear. Plus, your legs and feet will thank you.
Gloves. This may not be for everyone, but I’ll tell you why it helped me. My hands sweat, especially if I’m nervous. For the last ½ mile to the top, there are chains that you can hold onto to help with your balance. I spent $5 and got some cheap weight-lifting gloves that absolutely helped me conquer this without feel like I was going to lose grip.
Meditate or some form of brain training. I’m not saying everyone needs hypnotherapy, but if you’re interested in doing Angel’s Landing (meaning that you’re able bodied) and you’re worried, you need to do something. This will be mind over matter, so brain re-training is key.

Go early. Earlier the better which if you are nervous is important because there will be less people to pass going up and down the steep passes. It will also not be as hot which is a bonus.

Food and water. It should go without saying to hydrate the day before and morning of. If you’re nervous, I’d recommend stopping to grab a small bite at Scouts Lookout because if you’re anything like me once I was up there, happy as I was, I couldn’t eat. From the very beginning I was more nervous to go down than up. (Faster and easier to fall when your momentum is already going down…) Also, use a pack of some kind, you’ll want both hands available to scramble and not to carry your water bottle and camera. For short hikes like this one, I like to wear our “hiking fanny” which is a fanny pack that goes on the back. Worked great.
Be kind and patient. Always. People will be looking to pass you from both directions if you’re slow. When in doubt, just hold onto the chain, throw your body against the rock wall and let them pass. (If they really want to pass, they can go on the outside in my opinion.) When you’re going down, don’t be afraid to call ahead and ask those coming up to stop and give you a minute to get through the tough spots. We had the fortune of meeting up with a trail guide that only had one client, so we were able to get through some of the technical spots with her. The thing that I noticed was that she was not afraid to ask people to stop and let her/her group (aka me!) get through.

Breathing. When it gets tough, take deep breaths and stare at the rock and chain and don’t look down. Put one foot, one hand in front of the other. Be deliberate. If you want to look around, I recommend finding a break in the hikers, hold on to the chain and take in the sites. Enjoy it but don’t go crazy if you’re nervous or are afraid of heights especially with looking down.

  • Safely made it to the top, and back to Scouts Lookout!
  • Safely made it to the top, and back to Scouts Lookout!

These were a few ideas for conquering Angel’s Landing in ZNP from a girl who is/was afraid of heights. Hopefully I was able to provide some insight through my story and experience that may help you or someone you know achieve this dream if they were nervous. It takes time and dedication to get in the right mind-set and is certainly not to be taken lightly.

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