Saturday 12 October 2013


It was mid-March. The sun was blazing on a blue sky without clouds. My wife Alice and I had just three days prior "conquered" an enormous rift in the world's rind, descending to its bottom and back up in one day. Then two days' ride through a landscape full of blazing colors, traversing the great red-brown river on a bridge hazardly clinging to bare cliffs, and by-passing ranges aptly called "Vermillion". Then on to endless planes of semi-desert sagebrush until, on the horizon, white haired giantesses beckoned, dressed in pink skirts of Junonesque splendor. Ever nearer did we travel until entering deep clefts between the rises. Suddenly, a seemingly limitless expanse opened up between walls mauve as in fairytales. We braked the car and I rashly approached a promontory permitting an undivided view of all this splendor. We had arrived in the holy land of Zion! A dream of a land had come true at last!

This benighted view, so romantically accessed by us, lies in America, at the joining of four US States. This is rather blandly called the "Four Corners Region", but there is nothing bland about it. You would be hard put to find another land in the world so rich in geographical as well as human history. Human history, you might ask? "Yes!", indeed, wherever you go you find traces of human presence and rich history, from pre-historic times all the way up to present times. Barren the region may be, nowadays, with water dear and temperatures high. But it has not always been like this and the region has teemed with cities and culture in earlier ages and climes. 

Prehistoric Civilisation – White House in Canyon de Chelly
Even if present-time climate is un-inviting to human presence, it has its advantages. Large swathes of land and mountain slopes in the region are bare and lacking vegetation, lying wide open to eyes willing to see and brains apt to interpret. Earth's history in all its millions and millions of years is accessible to us in those multi-colored landscapes, if we but take the effort of climbing the slopes and bridging the wide expanses. 

You may well ask, what has this region in common with California, thus meriting its mentioning in the present blog? Granted that, in my voyage down memory lane, it was natural, hitherto, to concentrate on the narrow surroundings of UC Berkeley, where I had spent such a happy time some 35 years ago. But, to my benefit, the study year in Berkeley had some breaks, permitting my wife and me to range a lot farther than the East Bay Hills and San Francisco. So, in March 1976, we had spent two weeks traveling to and within the Four Corners Region. We were completely un-prepared for what we would find there when leaving Berkeley, since we had not had the time to read about it and otherwise make preparations. So all the wondrous experiences we had during those two weeks came as a big, but welcome, surprise to our mind, still young and eager to take it all in. I am blessed to have a plethory of memories from that trip, from a time when the natural wonders were still unencumbered by myriads of tourists and thus often experienced by us in splendid isolation. 

Alice deciding she won't follow me to the top
Often, in later years, I dreamed back to this trip and told myself I would repeat it upon my retirement. I would, I foresaw, rent a mobile home, driving around the sites once again, this time traveling in style and resting in more comfort in-between hiking and climbing tours. As my retirement approached, the dream gradually receded into the background; with age, you tend to change your focus and other agendas come to the forefront of your mind. But my interest was rekindled when a travel bureau offered a hiking tour to Utah some months ago. "Why not?" I thought and booked the trip. Departure time is now imminent and I am much looking forward to visit this region once again, after 35 years' delay. After some initial warming up, more posts will hopefully be forthcoming in a subsequence dealing with this topic. Stay tuned, dear readers, this may become interesting yet. 

Do I hear that you have already a question on your tongue and are eager to get an answer to it? Why the title of this post? Well, let me give an answer for the first part of the title right now, leaving the second half to the end of the sub-sequence. "Angels Landing" is the name of a prominent promontory, really a small mountain, rising up in the middle of Zion Canyon in Utah and enticing visitors to the Park to attempt its ascent. This is no easy task since, after two hours' relatively easy approach hiking, the last part of the ascent entails a precarious balancing on a very narrow ridge with yawning declines threatening to the left and right. I had to do this last bit alone, back in 1977, since Alice had enough sense to abstain. Enough said; I am still alive and able to tell the story. Once on top, a beautiful vista opened up of the canyon floor, with the Virgin River tracing a delicate pattern on the valley floor, surrounded by white-capped mountains with pink shirts covering their private parts. 

In those days I was a rash youngster and always striving to get the best vista possible. At that occasion this entailed jumping across a fissure, about 1,5 meters broad, to come to the very end of the top. I had entrusted my camera to a vigorous young lady with instructions on how to photograph me at the very brink. However, after the jump I noticed her shaking so badly that I had to ask her to calm down and take several more shots. The very last one turned out reasonably sharp and can document my presence on this top for posterity ;-). 

The "Angel" has landed – Emil on top of Angels Landing
Just to round up this divertissement, the other day I found a nice video on Youtube that tells the story of a recent ascent, by a rash group of youngsters eager to repeat my accomplishment. Of course, theirs was the easier task, since the traverse of the precarious ridge is nowadays reasonably secured, with ropes installed and steps hoed into solid stone. Still, six people have died in the ascent within the last decade alone. So, it is a bit scary to look at those youngsters in action. But don't be afraid! Make sure to watch the whole film!