Operation heli-poo at Zion’s Angels Landing

Angels Landing
View of Angels Landing in Zion National Park. Note the teeny tiny people at the top of the peak on the left.

If you’ve ever attempted the precarious hike to Angels Landing in Zion National Park, you understand the need for a bathroom. We gave it a try several years ago and ended up bailing at Scout Lookout, the last sane place before the trail ascends across a narrow spine enroute to the landing, located about 1,500 feet above the Virgin River in Zion Canyon.

This weekend, Zion National Park temporarily closed Scout Lookout and Angels Landing in order to remove waste from the “evaporative toilets” at Scout Lookout. Wonder who drew the short straw on that task.

The Park Service says it will helicopter out 10 to 15 barrels of waste each day during the operation (I guess not all of it, um, evaporated) which started Thursday and will end on Monday, Feb. 24. Each barrel weighs about 500 pounds when full. The toilets installed at Scout Lookout were intended to accommodate up to 50 people per day, but are now overused at rates reaching 400 people per day. Talk about overload. There’s also a restroom at the Grotto trailhead, which hikers are urged to use before hitting the trail — one of the most popular in the park.

If you’ve never done this trail, beware: the warning signs can’t begin to emphasize the hairiness of this hike. At some points the route hugs the mountainside. You can hold onto chains installed in the rock (shown below) enroute to Scout Lookout, which provide some modicum of safety.

Whatever you do, don't look down.
West Rim Trail enroute to Scout Lookout, before final push to Angels Landing. Whatever you do…don’t….look….down.

But a short stretch beyond the lookout entails walking along a chainless narrow ridge, and this is where we turned back. I started out on the ridge and made the fatal error of looking down. Shown below are hikers just beyond the ridge, where the chains reappear.

Hikers enroute to Angels Landing

The hike leading up to that point was very pleasant. The Walter’s Wiggles switchbacks were fun and Refrigerator Canyon was cool. Zion has an amazing eHike interactive on the Angels Landing trek, one of my favorite online presentations ever, with video, photos, maps, audios of bird calls, even little animated stick people on climbing routes — an alternative way up.

We’ve been told we were total wusses about not completing this amazing hike. We’ll be back there someday to try it again. Maybe. When we do, we’ll be sure to use the restrooms at the trailhead.

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