Kristin and I have been laying low since our wedding and honeymoon, just settling into married life. We were pretty burnt out after December, however, the past few weeks we’ve started to get the itch to take a little getaway. We hadn’t been out to San Diego to see my uncle Christoper and his family for quite a while. The recent snow in Minnesota had us dreaming of warmer weather! A weekend getaway to visit family and the California sun sounded perfect.
We were planning on leaving Saturday on the first flight out. Most of you know we travel on my flight benefits I receive through my employer. It’s pretty simple, we fly in empty seats for little or no cost. While the flight to San Diego looked like it had empty seats earlier in the week, the flight load looked worse and worse the closer we got to Saturday. When we woke up Saturday morning, the flight was completely full with many other employees also trying to get on board the flight.
We decided to scrap the San Diego plan and try for somewhere we had a better chance of making it. Kristin mentioned she still wanted to hike Angels Landing in Zion National Park, a quick drive north from Vegas. I had already hiked it as a day trip in February 2018 and had been trying to get Kristin to hike it ever since. A quick glance at the flight to Las Vegas and we had a solid plan B with an opportunity to see some new friends of ours that live there.
On our honeymoon in December, we met the couple pictured below, Alex and Ellen. After we boarded our ship, it became apparent that a longer cruise like ours (11 nights) attracted a mostly older crowd. We met Alex and Ellen on the first night aboard and quickly bonded over being one of maybe five other young adult couples on the ship. By the end of the cruise, the four of us had become good friends. After our cruise one of our close friends in Minnesota was quick to remark that we were, “not allowed to replace her with our tropical friends”. Since then, we have always referred to Alex and Ellen as our “tropical friends”.
“What are you doing tonight?”, I sent to our group text with Alex and Ellen. Kristin was annoyed at my intentional vagueness.
“Just tell them already we are coming!”, she said
Despite the fact that we would arrive in Vegas in only three hours, they were elated we were coming and even invited us to stay in their guest room. The disappointment over not making it to San Diego started to fade and excitement over seeing our friends and going to Zion replaced it.
Landing just after noon we grabbed a rental car and headed to a staple stop on any west coast trip, In-N-Out. After some extremely delicious burgers and fries, we were off to meet up with Alex and Ellen. They had an awesome home about 10 minutes from the airport (also conveniently close to In-N-Out). It was great to see them again after getting to know them so well on the cruise. Their dog, Bella, was immediately suspicious of the new houseguests, however, after some careful sniffing we were deemed okay to hang around.
After getting settled in we headed to Downtown Summerlin to grab some drinks and walk around a bit. Every time I’ve been to Vegas previously, it’s been to climb in Red Rock Canyon so I really haven’t visited much of the area besides the strip and downtown. Summerlin was a really cool area to spend an afternoon in. We spent most of our time walking around this huge outdoor mall that had lots of cool spots to grab coffee, drinks, and food. That night, Alex and Ellen brought us to one of their favorite Mexican restaurants at which we promptly overate. We had a big day on the books for tomorrow so we headed back to their place and crashed.
Zion National Park is a three-hour drive from Las Vegas. We got on the road around 8 AM and started the drive north to Utah. It went pretty fast and before we knew it, we were surrounded by the massive walls of Zion. Parking was a little tough to find once we actually got to the park but eventually we snagged a spot and jumped on the shuttle to the Angels Landing trailhead. From the trailhead it’s about 2.75 miles up 1500 feet of elevation to the top. It’s known for its tough terrain and exposed scrambling. In fact, just days after we were there a man fell and died from the very same hike. Despite all this, it’s hard to pass up the killer views at the top.
I looked at my phone as the trailhead parking lot was disappearing behind me, “12:20”, it read. A quick google search on the drive here revealed the sunset was around 08:30 PM tonight, plenty of time. The start of the trail follows a small river and is fairly flat. As we progressed onward the giant wall of sheer rock we’d be hiking to the top of just kept getting bigger. As you look ahead, the trail appears to disappear into the rocky terrain. As you approach, a steep trail up the wall emerges carved by the Park Service.
After topping out this first steep section the trail leads you into Refrigerator Canyon. The trail follows a dried up creek bed surrounded by massive canyon walls with some absolutely stunning scenery. Shortly before you reach the end of the canyon, the trail takes a right and heads up a section of switchbacks named Walters Wiggles. These switchbacks are brutal and really felt more like a staircase than a trail.
Your reward for getting this far is Scouts Lookout. This provides the first view of “The Spine”. This section of the trail is what gives Angels Landing its fame. Continuing the trail from here takes you along a narrow ridge ascending the last 500 feet to the summit with 800 to 1000 foot drop-offs on either side. The Park Service installed a chain railing on most of this ridge to aid hikers in navigating the highly exposed terrain.
The ridge took around 45 minutes to complete, mostly because of the number of people on the trail. Many of the sections are so narrow they can only accommodate one person at a time leading to miniature traffic jams on many sections of the ridge. Kristin has never really enjoyed hikes over rough terrain but she did extremely well and looked like she was having a great time. As you crest the summit you’re greeted with a spectacular view of the valley. A short traverse across a flat section of ridge brings you to a large flat rock where you can enjoy the scenery and take a little break before heading down.
After enjoying the views and having a snack we headed down. With the adrenaline of reaching the summit worn off, and a large amount of traffic going both directions on the ridge, going down quickly started to feel tedious. However, before long we were back down at Scout’s Lookout.
We cruised down the rest of the hike and 3.5 hours after we started we were standing back at the trailhead with big smiles. Our after hike meal choice was made probably ten minutes into starting the ascent, Culvers in St. George. Burgers with sides of cheese curds hit the spot! We packed back into the car and headed back to Las Vegas. We had originally planned on hitting the hot tub when we got back but were so worn out just put in a movie and relaxed before heading to bed.
We got up around 4:15 AM on Monday to try and make the first flight from Vegas back to Minneapolis. To our dismay, there were seven more people booked on the flight than there were seats. Fortunately, in Vegas the early morning flights have a higher than normal no-show rate (any idea why?). If any city is likely to have someone miss a 6 AM flight, it’s Las Vegas. Just before the plane door closed, it became apparent there was going to be three seats, just enough for Kristin, myself and one other airline employee to make it on board.
It always feels good to be home after a trip, but reality came rushing back. Kristin went into to work right after we got home and while I wasn’t planning on going into work, due to some weather impacting the east coast, I ended up there anyway. Regardless it felt really good to have a quick weekend getaway to an amazing place like Zion and even better to visit our tropical friends. Not sure when our next blog-worthy trip/event will be, nothing planned as of right now but we’re prone to last minute adventures!