Is the Angels Landing hike in Zion National Park safer with a permit?

He had to apply twice, but Jorge di Giorgio finally had his jaw-dropping experience.

The Los Angeles-based financial adviser to JP Morgan got excited about hiking to Angels Landing in Zion National Park after seeing an Instagram reel. Although less than five miles round trip, the trail gains 1,500 feet in elevation, revealing some of the most exquisite views in the park. Cliffs streaked red with iron oxide pop against dark green fir trees and iridescent purple and blue mountains in the distance. Far below, the pea-green Virgin River meanders through the smoky shadows cast by the canyons.

The main attraction, however, is the narrow last half mile of the trail, which is just over a foot wide in places with an elevated range acting as the only barrier between hikers and a drop along rock faces steep to the bottom of the canyon. It has been on many lists of the most dangerous trails in the country, if not the world.

At 53, di Giorgio thought the hike to Angels Landing would be an empowering experience and would make him feel more alive. Even with reduced crowds thanks to a new permit system – a system that has mostly been praised – it has also brought him uncomfortably closer to danger.

“I could have killed someone,” he said, “easily.”

How dangerous is the Angels Landing hike?

People have died after falling off the trail. Since the early 1900s, more than 15 people are believed to have died while hiking the Angels Landing Trail. This includes five deaths in the past five years, including two in 2021.

This alone, however, did not induce park officials to implement the permit system.

The number of people wanting to test their mettle on the dizzying trail in recent years (thanks to a combination of factors, including the pandemic pushing more people outdoors and social media influencers inflaming the trail’s risky reputation), has made the experience less than pleasant. On the worst days, the line of hikers descending from Scout Lookout, the last stop before the start of the chain section, rivals that of Disneyland’s Splash Mountain on a summer Saturday.

The National Parks Service estimates that in 2017, before the COVID-19 outbreak created a new wave of hikers, the Angels Landing Trail would see around 1,200 people on peak days. But since park officials began issuing permits in January, only about half now have official access to the trail each day.

Zion spokesman Jonathan Shafer said “several hundred” permits are issued through each seasonal lottery, which takes place more than a month in advance (the lottery for a hiking permit between September and November, for example, closed on July 20). “Several hundred” more are distributed via lottery the day before, he said. Permits are for the chain section of the trail only. The hike to Scout Lookout can be done without a permit.

“Our goal with this program was to reduce clutter, reduce congestion, especially on the half-mile section of trail with chains [located] between Scout Lookout and Angels Landing,” Shafer said. “And this permit program has helped us accomplish that.”

So far, the permit program has received a fairly positive reception. Some, however, said they wish Zion officials would impose even greater restrictions on the number of hikers or do a better job of weeding out those without permits.

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“I’m used to hiking and doing that kind of stuff, and I don’t see how it can handle more traffic than what’s allowed,” di Giorgio said. ” Because there is [are] some places where you have to wait for someone to get off before you can go there [up]. And they have their six people. And then you have people behind you backing off. Sometimes you have to move or be in really awkward positions, and there is danger everywhere.

“So I appreciated that it was controlled.”

How to Apply for an Angels Landing Permit

The first chance for potential hikers to apply for a permit is during the seasonal lottery. The lottery window opens a few months before the “season” and remains open for 20 days. In January, for example, park officials opened the lottery window for hiking in April and May. On October 1, it will launch its fourth Angels Landing lottery, with permits issued for dates from December through February. Permits will be required year round.

To apply, hikers must first create an account on Recreation.gov. They are then asked to rank their seven preferences for days or date ranges in the season as well as when they prefer to start their hike from The Grotto. Hikers can request a departure before 8 a.m., between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. or after 11 a.m.

If the permit application is refused, or if someone wants to make a more spontaneous trip, another option exists. Zion runs a day before lottery that allows people to apply for a permit anytime between midnight and 3 p.m. the day before they want to hike Angels Landing.

At 4:00 p.m., they will be notified of the success of their application.

Both application processes cost $6 and, if a permit is granted, there is an additional $3 per person fee for up to six people. Another permit holder can be named when applying, but that person or the applicant must be present during the ride for the permit to be valid.

So unless they are able to identify with another group that has given up hikers, people who place “permits wanted” messages on hiking sites like All Trails probably don’t have a chance.

“The reason we’re doing this is that we wanted to make our system accessible, flexible and fair,” Shafer said. “And allowing people to create a secondary market for that kind of undermines what we were trying to accomplish.”

Shafer recommends that permit holders take a hard copy or take a screenshot of their permit, as internet reception can be sketchy at the park. Shafer said rangers will patrol the trail and stop hikers at various locations and times of the day and night. And, he had a warning for anyone trying to hike the trail without a permit.

“Anyone who goes to Angels Landing without a permit may be cited by a ranger,” he said, noting that penalties will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Take risks

The lack of advanced planning forced di Giorgio to try his luck with the lottery the day before last April when he and his family made their annual trip to St. George. His first request was denied. On his second try, he entered.

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“It was a big party that we could go to,” he said.

(Jorge di Giorgio) Jorge di Giorgio of Los Angeles takes a selfie before hiking the spine of the Angels Landing trail in Zion National Park in April 2022. April was the first month the park required a permit for hiking, which is his most popular and one of the deadliest in the country. Five people have died while hiking in the past five years, but none so far this year.

Her crew included a friend, her brother-in-law and her niece – who had to turn back on her first attempt last year because, although she had already summited Mount Whitney, the falls along Angels Landing hike scared her.

Di Giorgio’s first impression? “There were a lot of people,” he said. “It’s a huge tourist attraction.”

He noted that some people seemed unprepared for the hike, wearing open-toed shoes or not carrying water. Others have forgotten their patience. This is how di Giorgio lived his near-death experience.

Di Giorgio had stopped to catch his breath while chaining on a tight section of trail with steep drops on either side. Although 5ft 7in tall, he has broad shoulders and walked most of the way, he said. As he stood there, however, a man caught up with di Giorgio and, without announcing his presence, attempted to pass him from the left by letting go of the chain and going around di Giorgio’s body. The movement suspended the man for a brief moment above the cliff, and di Giorgio still shudders to think of what would have happened if he had backed up at that moment rather than freezing.

“If I had backed up while he was going through me, I would have just pushed him away,” he said. “Then he would have gone down forever, and forever and ever. It’s also fast. …that’s how dangerous it can be.

When asked if the hike was safer under the permit system, Shafer hesitated.

“Your safety is your responsibility,” he said. “We want to empower people to make choices that will ensure they have a happy and healthy visit.”

But, Shafer said park officials are collecting data and planning to use it to continue to make the hike a better overall experience. One change they have already made is to move the start times by an hour, say 9am to 8am, to allow more hikers to avoid being on the trail during the hottest hours. of the day.

“This is a pilot program,” he said. “We’re going to continue to optimize it to maximize the number of people who can ride it while achieving the desired conditions: reduce clutter, reduce congestion.”

Di Giorgio isn’t sure if he would hike Angels Landing again, given the chance. But he wanted an experience and he said he had an unforgettable one.

“It was everything I expected and more,” he said. “And that made me feel really good about life and where I am right now.”

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