Angels Landing: One of the most dangerous hikes in the US also comes with a great payoff

clip_image002 Few trails around the US can boast the kind of vertigo inducing, heart-thumping adrenaline overload that Angels Landing in Zion National Park can. The steep, winding trail follows a cliff-spine with dramatic drop offs into a far-away canyon floor on both sides of the pathway. And yes, some people have actually given their lives climbing this trail.

So what draws thousands of people to this treacherous walk every year? The trail takes you on the back of a fin-like mountain that juts out into the center of a canyon 1,500 feet above the floor. If you can make it up to this point, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most majestic views nature can offer. But remember that it’s not for the faint of heart.

What you can expect out of the hike

clip_image004 The trail starts off unassumingly enough at The Grotto Trailhead. A paved walkway passes by olive colored greens. Soon enough, the path will start leading you upwards giving you just the first taste of the challenge ahead. The full hike is about 5 miles roundtrip and will take roughly 5 hours to complete.

As you leave the valley floor behind, you’ll walk through a series of zigzags affectionately dubbed Walter’s Wiggles. Further on, Scout Lookout is often considered the last opportunity for regretful travelers to turn back before the worst of the hike begins. And if you’re still walking at this point, you’ve hopefully come to terms with any fear of heights you might still hold. Chains hammered into the bedrock will help guide your ascent throughout the trail here. And sturdy if gnarly tree roots lining the pathways make for pretty decent handholds. But the going is rough with views to the dangerous Cliffside drop right over your shoulder through much of the trip.

Managing two-way traffic on the path can be a sort of a stomach wrenching dance in some places and it requires a tad more precision and alertness than you’d probably use on a city sidewalk. You definitely don’t want to rush through these passings.

The prize at the top

clip_image006 The final stretch of the hike courses on top of the exposed spine of the mountain where you can see the canyon floor from both sides of the trail. Anyone with a fear of heights will probably not want to attempt this trail. But the reward for all that work will be a stunning 360-degree view of the whole canyon at the end of the trail. At this point, go ahead and grab a rocky seat, rest those weary feet, and take in the beauty surrounding you on every side.

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When to go

clip_image010 Angel’s Landing is open year-round but hikers are advised not to go when it’s raining or snowing. In the winter, the trail can be covered in snow as well as ice. You’ll see the most people on the trail between March and October. Summer can get oppressively hot but spring and fall should be pleasant.

And for the most Insta-ready photos, try to avoid reaching the summit in the early afternoon. The harsh, color-draining rays of the midday tends to make your photos look flat. Early morning and late afternoon views will give you the most color and softer shadows. But of course, this all depends on the conditions of the day and the bounties nature has in store for us.

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Get lost in the aloneness of Marcin Baran’s evocative photographs

Haunting, emotional and dynamic, the photographs of Marcin Baran evoke so much of a single story in a sparse environment. Baran’s shots are carefully considered, each element serving a specific purpose to create the whole. Light sources are perfectly placed; colors are used sparingly and purposefully with each line and shadow meant to direct the viewer’s eye.urbanphotographybaran3-900x534 There’s an inherent isolation to many of Baran’s photos, whether it’s a dog surrounding by fog in cast in moody black and white or a single yellow umbrella filling the frame. It’s more contemplative than sad, a musing on what it means to be alone rather than lonely. Because even when people rush through the rain, their umbrellas are cheerful and even when a man walks alone down a cobblestone street, there’s a literal light at the end of the tunnel. [h/t fubiz.net]urbanphotographybaran0-900x552 urbanphotographybaran1-900x520 urbanphotographybaran2-900x519 urbanphotographybaran4-900x509 urbanphotographybaran5-900x533 urbanphotographybaran6-900x505 urbanphotographybaran7-900x518 urbanphotographybaran8-900x531 urbanphotographybaran9-900x530 urbanphotographybaran11-900x546

Get to know the distinct personalities of the 9 Hells of Beppu, Japan

When you hear the phrase “Nine Hells of Beppu,” you probably don’t immediately imagine a nationally designated “Place of Scenic Beauty,” but that’s exactly what those (actually 8) hells are. Located in Beppu, Japan, these hot springs are beautiful and curious in all their steamy, strange glory.

hells-of-beppu-9 The Southern Japanese city is built on a collection of over 2,500 geothermal hotspots, the Hells constituting only a fraction of the hot spots around the area. Many of the hot springs have entire resorts built around them, with people coming from all over to indulge in the health benefits of the springs.

Beppu onsen, Japans most famous vulcanic hot springs

140131170506-beppu-oniishibozu-jigoku-oniishi-shaven-head-hell-horizontal-large-gallery Probably the hellish of all the Hells is Chinoike Jigoku, or “Bloody Hell Pond,” and its the oldest too. The blood red color comes from the iron and magnesium-rich clay that makes up the surrounding ground. It’s actually the coolest of eight hells, its temperature clocking in at 172F. The nutrient rich clay actually works wonders on a variety of skin diseases and a balm made from it is sold at a nearby shop.

nine-hells-of-beppu-5 About 80 crocodiles call Oniyama-Jigoku, aka Demon Mountain Hell, home. They’re drawn to the murky, warm water and find it an ideal breeding ground. The steam pressure from this particular spring is powerful enough to pull almost two train carriages!

oniyama-jigoku Then there’s Oniishibozu Jigoku, or Shaven Monk’s Head Hell, so named because the bubbles that simmer up from the boiling mud resemble a bald man’s head. Sea Hell (Umi Jigoku) is a brilliant turquoise blue because of the iron sulfate in the water, making this pond one of the prettiest of all eight hells.

beppu3-jpg-crop-promo-large2 One of the Hells, Tatsumaki-Jigoku, is not a geothermal pond at all but a geyser that erupts approximately every 45 minutes. Tornado Hell is actually the hottest of all the Hells, with the spouting water reaching almost 300F.  Mountain Hell’s water is almost 200F, though a menagerie of animals, including flamingoes, monkeys, snakes and hippopotamus call the spring area home.

tatsumaki_jigoku Cooking Pot Hell, or Kamado-Jigoku, features a large, red demon statue at its entrance. This is one of the cooler Hells where visitors can soak their feet and legs. The water is also used to cook a variety of food for tourists to enjoy during their time at the 9 Hells.beppu-jigoku-3 White Pond Hell looks serene, with its pastel green water and surrounding greenery, but the 200 degree water doesn’t allow for much relaxing. Shiraike-Jigoku is also home to a rather run down aquarium, where a variety of sea creatures and fish are kept for tourists to peek at.

nine-hells-of-beppu-2-week-jr-pass-6 It costs about 2,100 yen (or $20) to access all eight hells; the Beppu tourism board has done an excellent job at monetizing these naturally occurring springs into something that provides the city with income and provides tourists with lots of places to get good Instagram shots. [sources: Wikipedia, CNN, Slate]

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