Yeah, yeah…we live by the desert, but when the Caltech Y is here, can fall colours be far way?
So we went on a hike to Zion National Park, Utah.
We leave Caltech around 2 pm, Friday. There are forty of us. Some veterans of several Y-hikes, others new, all excited! Zion is 400 miles away, in Utah- the journey is billed to take eight hours. The road passes through Las Vegas, which we reach around 6 pm…and look out of the bus window at the stuff of the movies. The road arching downwards to reveal the spectacularly lit up skyline, the glittering hotels!
But the Techers live up to their reputation as ultimate snobs, and we stop not at a casino but a modest parking lot, have dinner and leave Vegas an hour later.
It’s almost 11 pm by the time we reach Zion. We unload in the moonlight, fix up our tents and prepare to sleep. I am with three other Indians, Tejaswi, Shankar and Tiwari. Tejaswi and Shankar duly consider the rain and bear factors, conclude that there are no bears in Zion…and rain be damned, decide to ‘sleep in the open’. I join them.
It is an enchanting feeling to lie on the forest bed, with the moonlight shining upon your face. Then, the sky becomes a wonderland, and the clouds the fairy carriages, ships and galleons that travel across it. The gurgling stream too is then no longer one of the earth but belongs to the sky above. It is beautiful!
I wake up in the morning – it is brightly lit up, and not too cold. I leave my sleeping bag and look around the lovely campground. Not so far is the river, and on all sides of us are mountains. Steep rocky cliffs several thousand feet high, in every possible hue of red, yellow and grey. They are breathtaking in their grandeur! There are four hikes scheduled for the day and everyone packs lunch and divides up accordingly. I choose the hike to Angel’s landing. It was described to us at Caltech as not the most strenuous of all hikes but certainly the scariest. Mary- one of the group leaders- had warned us at least twenty times that anyone afraid of heights should not choose the Angel hike. We -those who decided to take the hike- had thought she was overstating. We were soon to realise that it was quite an understatement!
Anyways, it was twelve of us, me included, who set off for the Angel’s landing. Now, Angel’s landing is the peak of a mountain, one of those sky-touching cliffs with sheer rock faces on all sides. We started from the foot of the cliff and trekked along a narrow trail for an hour, and gained maybe five hundred feet of elevation and three miles of distance and lost a fair amount of energy- and then the fun began! For the rest was no longer a trail or even a indistinct path- it was a rocky too feet wide ridge on the cliff, that went up and up and up.
On the side of the ridge are chains. You walk , climb, and grate up the ridge holding on to the chain for dear life with one hand(or both) and try your best not to look to your wrong side, because , where the two feet ends, a thousand feet drop starts. The climb is very steep and very scary, and we climb up several hundred feet like this. There are climbers going up and others going down and when they meet, one of them has to leave the chain and crouch upon some juncture of the ridge and hope that the wind doesn’t get strong enough. Then there are places in the middle, where the path is slightly wider, about four feet maybe, but with a thousand feet drop beyond that on both sides, and no chain!
We reach the peak around noon and look out. The view is to die for! You can see the tops of all the mountains, and the road way way below, and the tiny river making its way through the forest. We have lunch and then head down. The descent if anything is even scarier-but by now everything is great fun!
There is still a lot of time when we reach down and so we decided to do another hike. This one is a normal hike-no chains etc- and the scenes are beautiful. We finally get to see fall colours along the road, pass streams and valleys, and we are really sorry when its time to go back.
In the evening there is a campfire and we all sit by it, talking. Then I walk around the river, and then a fairy from the land of far far away calls me up. I talk for a while, and then return to the campfire.
At around eight, Tejaswi has the idea that we should do a moonlight hike into the jungle. We take permission from Greg and set off to a nearby mountain. The mountains are now no longer red, but black, sillhouetted against the moon. We return around 9, and then go to sleep.
It is raining heavily the next morning, so there is no chance of a sunrise hike. At around ten thirty we board the bus, and leave Zion. We reach Caltech at six in the evening.
We didnt stop at Las Vegas on the way back.