Gabriella Viola - Third Time's A Charm: Mustering the Courage For Angels Landing

Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?

Hello! I'm Gabriella Viola, an outdoor photographer currently living in Lake Tahoe, California. I was born and raised in Westchester County, New York.

I would say that my hiking roots started pretty late in life. Growing up in a New York suburb, I wasn’t what most would consider outdoorsy. My outdoor experience mostly consisted of playing outside, summer camp, and family vacations in Florida. I attended college in Boston, and after I graduated moved to New York City.  

Needless to say at this stage of my life, my time spent enjoying the great outdoors was pretty minute. I loved being a city girl and couldn't picture life any other way. However, as the years went by, city life started to feel stale and confining. 

I started to entertain thoughts of moving to California.  During the summer of 2013, I decided to turn those thoughts into reality and moved to Venice Beach, California.

Venice Beach California
Venice Beach California

Circling back to the question "where are my hiking roots", it wasn’t until I moved out west that I discovered my (perhaps dormant) love of nature and desire to live a more adventurous life.  I started doing hikes around Los Angeles and eventually began road-tripping and hiking all over California and the Southwest. I also discovered my passion for outdoor photography during this time.

One place I found myself returning to time and time again was Lake Tahoe.  I felt incredibly inspired by the mountain town's natural beauty, especially from a photography standpoint.  So in August 2019, after living in LA for 6 years, I moved to Lake Tahoe.

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

My story from the mountains takes place at Angels Landing. For those not familiar with Angels Landing, it’s that infamous hike in Zion National Park with the jaw-dropping views...and dangerous reputation. With sheer 1,000 foot drop-offs on both sides, extremely narrow sections of the trail, and bolted chains for added support, the last section of the Angels Landing trail ranks as one of the scariest hikes in the US.

Despite the stories and vertigo-inducing photos I had seen online, I knew I wanted to hike Angels Landing. Little did I know that it would take me 3 attempts over 3 years to finally muster up the courage to make it to the top.


My first attempt at the intimidating hike was during the summer of 2015 while on a girl's trip to Zion National Park. It was my first time visiting the park, and my best friend and I decided our first order of business was hiking Angels Landing.

I knew my friend had no intention of doing the last .5 miles of the trail, but the plan was for her to wait for me at Scout Lookout (the flat section right before Angels Landing) while I completed the hike. I attempted the daunting ascent with another hiker that I met along the trail, but panic soon ensued.

I quickly scurried back to the safety of Scout Lookout while the hiker kept on. Of course, I was disappointed that I let fear get the best of me, and it only made it worse when the hiker texted me a photo of the epic view from the top.

My next visit to Angels Landing was during the fall of 2016 with my boyfriend at the time. I once again attempted to make it to the top and even managed to get a little further this time. However, it was flurrying out which only made me feel less stable on the exposed cliffs.

I froze with fear and told my boyfriend to go on without me. Either he realized I would have been waiting there for a while or he felt bad for me, but we decided to turn back together.

I returned to Zion National Park two years later, during the fall of 2018 while road-tripping across the southwest with a friend. At this point, I had accepted in my mind that reaching the top of Angels Landing was not in the cards for me. 

I contently hiked up to Scout Lookout, grabbed a few photos and was ready to head back down. However, my friend had other plans.  He started making his way towards the chains, looked back at me and said, "Are you coming?" My choice was either to wait for him at Scout Lookout (for what could've been hours) or...go with him. So I said to myself "screw it" and nervously began the daunting climb to the top of Angels Landing.

Once I made it past the part where I would usually freak out and turn back, something happened.  I noticed that my fear was gone and that I was loving the hike.  With every step I took, with every small section that I made it past, I felt so proud that I was pushing through (what I thought) were my limits. I was actually doing this!

The Top of Angels Landing

Of course, reaching the top of Angels Landing was incredibly rewarding. But for me, the real accomplishment was conquering the half-mile between Scout Lookout and the top of Angels Landing (and squashing my fear in the process).

Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?

Making it to the top of a difficult/scary hike has taught me that no matter what your fears are, they can be overcome (even if it takes years). 

I know it's cliche, but you really can do anything you set your mind to. If you are wishy-washy about a goal or an idea, you’re probably going to talk yourself out of it. However, if you're determined to make it happen, that goal will become a reality.

Also, in terms of accomplishing a hike that intimidates you, it helps to have a hiking partner who is confident and encourages you to push past your limits. Sometimes you need that person who says, “You can do it!”.

Cathedral Rock Hike in Sedona AZCathedral Rock Hike in Sedona AZ

I don't think I would have made it to the top of Angels Landing or completed some of the other hikes I've done if I didn't have a partner who pushed me when I doubted myself.

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

As a photographer, it kind of goes without saying that my favorite item in my pack is my camera.  Honestly, I wouldn’t want to hike without it. For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of a hike is capturing those killer views at the top. It's just as much of an adrenaline rush as the hike itself. I currently shoot with the Nikon D750.

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

My most obvious piece of advice is to just get out there. Aside from that, it's always a good idea to do a little research about the hike beforehand.  Before hitting the trail I like to read a few blog posts about the hike I'm interested in. 

Also, I like to bring someone along the first time I do a hike, especially if it's a long hike. Once I've done the trail and know what to expect, I can go back and do it on my own.

What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?

One of my favorite accounts to follow on Instagram is @jess.wandering.  Her adventures are truly inspiring and her photos are always next-level (which I believe are mostly taken by @everchanginghorizon).  I also enjoy reading her blog, which is both visually stunning and informative.

Where’s your next adventure?

I have a few adventures in the works for 2020. One that I'm excited about is road-tripping through Redwood National Park and then up the Oregon Coast. Living in LA, Redwood National Park and the southern coast of Oregon seemed pretty far and remote in terms of driving. But now that I live in Tahoe, it’s much more doable.

If you are wishy-washy about a goal or an idea, you’re probably going to talk yourself out of it. However, if you're determined to make it happen, that goal will become a reality.

I would like the weather to be on my side, so in terms of timing, I’m shooting for May.  Some other destinations on my list for this year are Kauai, Amsterdam, and British Columbia.

Where can others learn more about you?

If you’d like to know about some of my favorite photography locations or if you're looking for a little Tahoe inspiration you can find me here:

Feel free to say hello or message me with any questions. I'd love to hear from you!

Want to share your Story From The Mountain?

Hey, I'm Greg Kamradt, the founder of Terra Mano.

We interview awesome hikers/mountaineers/climbers/photographers and share the stories behind their ambition. By sharing these stories, we want to help others become inspired to reach their goals.

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