k.creveling Author

Getting Out the Hiking Boots

Have you retrieved your hiking boots out from underneath your ski boots yet?  It’s that time of year when you should, as the snow begins to thaw from the trails in the Wasatch Front. Each day the hiking trails begin to emerge as the sun warms their meandering paths, and the leaves on the trees transition from brown to green.

Hiking opportunities in this weather are endless.  There are so many local hiking trails that you could go on a new hike every day, continuously exploring new territory.  The canyons that are adjacent to the Salt Lake Valley are the perfect place to begin.  Each canyon has streams and rivers, resulting in a luscious fern bed full of life and moisture.

One trail that you can visit just 30 minutes from the University of Utah is up Millcreek Canyon.  The gate four miles up the canyon will open in July, and won’t close until November.  Seven and a half miles past that gate you will come across 1000 Springs, one of the natural springs in Millcreek Canyon.  Beneath the Springs, there is a pond that is home to a family of beavers.  If you are lucky when you are hiking along the road you’ll see one working on a dam.

Another beautiful hike  in Millcreek Canyon is the Pipeline Trail. Beginning approximately half-way up the canyon, you are actually walking along an old pipeline trail. The overlook at the end puts you in the perfect location to view Salt Lake in the distance.

To the South is Neff’s Canyon.  Neff’s Canyon is very steep but has a multitude of hikes for every level. You are hiking just north of the magnificent Mt. Olympus and it has impeccable views of Salt Lake City. There is even an old cave that you can hike past called Neff’s Cave — one of the deepest caves in North America. Don’t worry about falling in, though, as the entrance has been blocked off. Instead, you can use a flashlight to stare into the abyss to satisfy your curiosity. Continuing up the canyon you’ll have a view over the top of Grandeur Peak as well as passing the Mount Olympus Spring. Dogs are allowed up the canyon, so don’t forget to bring a water filter if you want to enjoy some of the fresh spring water.

Continuing south, the next two large recreation canyons you’ll reach are Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon. Each canyon has their own unique hikes and adventures. Since the two were formed by different forces — river and glacier erosion respectively, the canyon walls vary drastically in steepness. Big Cottonwood Canyon offers many hikes that are about the same steepness in ascent from the beginning to end, whereas Little Cottonwood typically has very steep beginnings that taper off once you reach the high mountainous valleys.  The views at the tops of both will keep bringing you back for more.

These options are good anytime, but particularly for spring weather. If you find yourself available for a hike on a more summer-like day, some hikes that you should definitely put on your list are Lake Blanche, Lake Mary, Twin Lakes, Cecret Lake, and Red and White Pine Canyons.

These hikes give you the opportunity to reach far-off peaks if you so desire, but will also allow the inexperienced hiker to practice their skills.

No matter where you go now that snow is a little less common in the weather forecast, remember to use the buddy system and never hike alone. At the very least be sure that someone always knows where you are.



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Conquering Peaks: Becoming a Mountaineer

Ever heard of Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, Reinhold Messner, or Jon Krakauer? These are the men who helped define mountaineering, the sport of climbing tall mountains. Each stepped foot on the tallest mountain in the world — Everest. They were united by the desire to summit mountain peaks, a feeling that drives all mountaineers.

To launch my own mountaineering career, I decided to start locally.  With a climbing colleague, we set out to tackle Broad’s Fork Twin Peaks last June. Although the elevation of 11,329 feet is nowhere near that of the breathtaking elevation of Everest (29,035 feet), we were faced with challenges.

After reading previous mountaineers’ advice on which route to take on Mountain Project, we decided to start at the S-curve in Big Cottonwood Canyon. We discussed the equipment needed to go on this expedition — sunglasses, sunscreen, hiking poles, crampons, a mountaineering axe, a probe, a beacon, and a shovel. We were forced to bail on our first attempt due to a snow storm, so the next time we began before the sun came up on a cloudless day.  The hike was straightforward on a dirt trail for about 3.5 miles until we hit the snowfield. We were both instantly blinded by the ivory blanket reflecting the sun.

We pulled out our glacier glasses and continued the ascent. Shortly after we stepped onto the snow field, the steepness made it difficult to keep our balance. We switched from hiking poles to the mountaineering axe and strapped on crampons. When mountaineering, there is often no trail to follow. Instead, you must assess the terrain and find the safest way up.  We saw previous slide paths from avalanches and made our best path zig-zagging through them.  The soft snow made it so we were postholing, meaning each step brought us waist-deep in the snow.

We made it to the ridge, cautious with each step between the 2,500-foot drop-offs on either side. Then, we began the final ascent, approximately 500 feet to the summit.  The closer we got to the peak, our hearts were pounding knowing we were almost there. At last, we summited East Twin Peak and gaped at the impeccable view. While catching our breath, we took our crampons off to walk around on the peak. Once we saw the other peak tantalizing us 528 feet away, we decided to finish the job.

We walked slowly on the thin knife blade of a ridge and enjoyed a break on the other peak. While taking photos, we heard a roaring sound echo around us, which sounded like a locomotive steaming by. It was an avalanche that broke loose on O’Sullivan peak a half-mile behind us and crashed down in the valley below.  That was our cue to exit and make our way back down the long and tedious descent.

Once we reached the open snow field, we could glissade down using our axe to self-arrest as we sped down. We removed our snow gear and stepped back onto the dirt trail, a few miles from our cars. At the journey’s end, we got in the car and looked back up toward the peak, neither of us believing the amazing climb we just endured. After mountaineering to the top of my first peak, I understand the desires each of those wild peak baggers have. Mountaineering is an addictive sport.


Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Corrected from “These are the men who helped define alpinism, the sport of climbing tall mountains.” on 4/12/17.


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Constellations on Camera

Have you ever wondered how to capture the night sky while camping? Photography harnesses light and stores the information on either film or a digital sensor, but when capturing images at night, you are missing the primary component — light. So listen up, if you want to capture that perfect Milky Way photo, you’ll need to know a few of the basics of photography — ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.

ISO: The electrical sensitivity of the digital sensor.

Shutter speed: The amount of time the camera has the shutter up to allow light to expose the image sensor.

Aperture: The size of the opening in the lens to allow light to expose the image sensor. The aperture is usually referred to as f/number, or the ratio of the focal length to the diameter of the pupil which allows light through the lens.

Capture those unforgettable moments during your night adventures with these steps:

Step One: Increase the ISO (film equivalent to speed) so less light exposes the image.

Step Two: Decrease the shutter speed to allow as much light as you need to properly expose the image.

Step Three: Lower the f/number (f/1.4, f/2.8, f/5.6) to allow the amount of light entering the lens to increase. Warning: when you decrease the shutter speed, you’ll need to ensure that the camera “shake” does not drown out the subject matter of your photograph. Use a tripod and an intervalometer to stabilize the camera while decreasing the shutter speed more than the typical 30-second timer. The use of a tripod will mitigate vibrations for extended periods of time, like when you are imaging stars at night.

When you have your camera on a tripod or on stable ground, first increase the ISO to a high number that doesn’t introduce electrical noise — this will typically be the highest ISO before you reach Hi 1 and Hi 2. The higher the number, the more false noise (rainbow colored specks) in your image. Next, change the focus to manual on your lens. Because it is near impossible to focus on an object in the dark, have someone point a flashlight on the object that you want to be in focus and manually adjust the lens until you’ve focused your object. Lower the f/number on your lens to the lowest number to allow as much light as possible expose the image sensor. Last, decrease the shutter speed to allow the desired amount of light expose the image. Pay attention to the exposure meter to see if your image is over or under exposed and adjust the settings accordingly until you get the perfect shot.

Here are your basic camera settings for capturing the heavens above: ISO 3200, f/2.8, 30-second exposure*, 14 mm focal length, manual focus, tripod to stabilize the camera. Have fun! Write down the settings you use and see what works and what you need to change.


If using a full-frame camera (35 mm digital sensor), divide 500 by the focal length to find the best exposure time.

Exposure time [sec]≈500/(focal length [mm])

If using an APS-C camera (24 mm digital sensor), divide 500 by your camera’s crop factor and focal length to find the exposure time.

Exposure time [sec]≈500/(Crop factor)*(focal length [mm])


Photo by Kiffer Creveling


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How to: Tie a bowline

One of the most useful knots you can learn to tie is the bowline, a knot in which the loop does not slip.  As my dad taught me, there are three important rules to tying a knot:  1)  it is easy to tie, 2) it does the job, and 3) it is easy to untie.  The way to correctly tie the bowline knot is to first grab the rope and make a loop.  Then, using the free end of the rope, thread the end through the loop and go around the opposing rope and back through the loop.  This is the saying to remember the bowline:  Make a hole, the rabbit goes out the hole, around the tree, and back in the hole. Detailed photos and video tutorial here: http://www.animatedknots.com/bowline/#ScrollPoint

Bowlines can be used to tie a loop at the end of a rope to be used for hanging a bear bag or a hammock.  The knot can also be used as a safety harness to put around someone as the knot will not tighten and restrict circulation during the event of a rescue.

Detailed photos and video tutorial here: http://www.animatedknots.com/bowline/#ScrollPoint


Photo courtesy of animatedknots.com


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How to: Build a Campfire With Purpose

Camping — one of the most fun, and easiest, activities in the great outdoors. While escaping civilization, sitting around the campfire is inevitably how you’ll end the day. What you want from your fire is completely dependent on how you build it. Fires need two key ingredients: oxygen and fuel. When you first construct your campfire, you will need tinder — small twigs, sticks, pine needles, sagebrush, and paper. This will go on the bottom of the fire to initially get the kindling ignited. The next layer of your campfire is kindling, or small branches and twigs as well as parts of a log that you have chopped down with a hatchet. The last layer of a fire is the fuel (or logs) which take the longest to ignite. There are three main types of campfires: tipis, lean-tos, and log-cabins. Each campfire type has its own purpose.

When it is cold out and you need immediate heat, the best fire type is the tipi. The kindling is stuck into the ground and forms a single point in a radial direction resembling a Native American tipi. Inside the tipi is the tinder which you will ignite. The kindling will catch fire after the tinder has ignited and then you add logs to the fire to keep the flames roaring.

When it is windy out, the best design is a lean-to. This differs from a tipi in the sense that a large log is placed upwind to act as a wind break. The kindling is then placed by leaning on the support log and the ground. The tinder is placed inside the wind-protected area. Again, light the tinder and the kindling will ignite shortly. Keep placing fuel on the fire by leaning the logs on the wind break.

When you need to cook dinner at your campsite, go for a log cabin. The log cabin uses a rectangular shape with logs stacked parallel to one another by laying logs across from one another. The final result will be a small log cabin. Inside the log cabin you will construct a small tipi where the tinder will ignite the kindling and then will progress outwards to light the fuel. The log cabin needs to be large enough to support cookware.


Photo by Kiffer Creveling


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Island Biking

Have you ever seen that mountain that seems to sit inside the Great Salt Lake? Ever wondered what it is? Antelope Island, a sagebrush and bison-covered chunk of 42 square miles plopped in the middle of Utah’s biggest lake. Conveniently, it’s only two hours north of the U and a great place to explore different terrain on your mountain bike.

Each of the trails have varying levels of difficulty.  Split Rock Loop (five miles) and White Rock Loop (6.4 miles) are both on the western end of the island near the bison corral.  The popular Split Rock Loop descends very quickly towards Split Rock near the west shore. Once there, continue on the trail up the mountain to the historical horse corral. White Rook Loop is a nice warm-up that will get the blood flowing in your legs. You will definitely want to do this ride first on the island. If you continue south on the island, do the Elephant Head Spur or Split Rock Loop. On the east side of the island is the Mountain View Trail — an 11.8 mile one-way trail which goes along the edge of the shore from north to south, all the while featuring a backdrop of the Wasatch Front.

The trail to the highest point on Antelope Island, Frary Peak, does not allow cyclists due to the difficulty of the trail, but you can hike to the top if you desire.  The east side of the island is still in the development process of mountain biking trails.

Because of the excess of insects, pack bug repellent and go in early spring or late fall when the insect level is decreasing.

Once you make your way to the island, bison will welcome you. William Glassman and John Dooly introduced bison to the island in the late 1800s. Today, there are nearly 700 bison that call Antelope Island home. Depending on the time you head out to ride your bike, you’ll come across these muscular, car-sized beasts grazing in the fields.

To get there, head north on I-15 and take the Antelope Island Dr. exit in Syracuse. Before crossing Farmington Bay, stop at the ranger station and pay the $10 entrance fee.  Head west along the Davis County causeway, the only road accessible to the island.



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Seeking Adventure in San Rafael Swell

A kaleidoscope of red rock, the San Rafael Swell in Southern Utah is a destination you have to see. Approximately three hours south of Salt Lake City near Cleveland, Utah sits a vast playground of hiking and mountain biking.

When approaching from Cleveland, you will drive through plains as far as the eye can see. Looking east, the plateau in the distance towers above the flat plains and ranch corrals. The dirt road to get to the Swell meanders through the country like a snake.

There is a turnoff to stop and see the Wedge Overlook, which I highly recommend seeing. Imagine a miniature Grand Canyon and there you have it, the aptly nick-named “Little Grand Canyon.” Standing at the top of a majestic overlook, see canyons weaving in and out. On your way to the campsite located 100 yards from the historic bridge crossing the San Rafael River, you’ll drive down Buckhorn Wash. As you descend deeper into the Swell, the canyon walls narrow in on you and grow in magnitude.  Stay on the Buckhorn Wash dirt road for approximately 27 miles until Swinging Bridge Campground. Watch for debris from flash floods on the road.

One of the best sites to stop and visit while driving to the campsite is the Indian Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel, approximately 4.1 miles from the campground.  The pictographs are over 2,000 years old and you can make out a few animal shapes resembling a sheep or a horse (or whatever your imagination conjures up).

San Rafael Swell Camping Trip, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

San Rafael Swell Camping Trip, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Continuing on your journey to the campsite just past the San Rafael River, you will cross one of the only suspension bridges in Utah, now a registered historic place.

There are endless places to hike and bike in the San Rafael Swell. The Mountain bike trail to Mexican Mountain parallels the San Rafael River and is very popular. On the southernmost part of the Swell, you have two of the most popular destinations: Little Wild Horse Canyon and Goblin Valley eighty miles south on Buckhorn Draw Road and I-70. Little Wild Horse Canyon, an eight-mile loop with approximately 800 feet of elevation change, will entice you. There are some passages that are so narrow you will have to hold your pack above your head to pass through. The wind is chilly when you are walking through the deep crevasse, but when you are in the open spots, it is essential to have plenty of water and sun protection.

Near the campsite,  there are a few fun canyons to explore. Each has its own special beauty with natural bridges, forming arches, and desert life. The most popular canyons are Calf, Pine, and Cow canyon. After an hour of hiking up Calf Canyon, you will reach the ‘Double Caves.’  There are cacti, jack rabbits, lizards, desert toads, scorpions, and more.  At night see the entire galaxy light up the sky and shooting stars visible after the moon sets. The Milky Way will be prominently located across the horizon.  You will never want to leave because of how beautiful it is.

DAY 1: Drive South to the Wedge Overlook and proceed to Swinging Bridge Campground. Stop to see the Indian Pictographs.

DAY 2: Drive back up Buckhorn Draw Road to Calf Canyon and hike to see “Double Caves.” Head back to the campground to enjoy burgers and relax.

DAY 3: Drive south to get to Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse Canyon. The hike will take approximately five hours depending on how hot it is outside. Camp at Goblin Valley for your last night to enjoy the Goblins at night.

DAY 4: Drive back home to Salt Lake City from I-70 to I-15.

Camping in the San Rafael Swell, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Camping in the San Rafael Swell, Photo by Kiffer Creveling



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Devil’s Castle

At a glance:

Jet black limestone in an imposing jagged configuration, Devil’s Castle is an outdoor execution unsuitable for the faint of heart. This ascent is located within Little Cottonwood Canyon’s Albion Basin near Alta Ski resort. At 10,920 ft., this peak rests at a comparatively lower elevation than many of the larger fixture’s in the Wasatch Range. But don’t let that fool you, this hike is not to be underestimated.

Photo Credit: Cedar Fisher

Photo Credit: Cedar Fisher

What to expect:

Devil’s Castle is constituted by three overlying peaks — the middle of which houses a summit register mailbox —  and can be traversed by a number of distinct routes, each varied in difficulty and with relative degrees of exposure. Even the easiest approach contains compulsory stretches of lower class five free climbing and scrambling along exposed knife-edge ridges from which a single misstep could be fatal. Despite its apparent difficulty and notoriety, Devil’s Castle is considered by many locals to be one of the best scrambles on the Wasatch and, for truly audacious outdoorsmen, an experience nothing short of sublime. From the saddle, the 11,051 ft. Sugarloaf Peak is accessible by an approximately half-hour detour west and is difficult to resist for the imperious peakbaggers among us.

Getting there:

The trailhead is located within Albion Basin Campground, at the very end of Little Cottonwood Canyon — the unpaved inlet road is typically closed during the winter.

Photo Credit: Kiffer Creveling

Photo Credit: Kiffer Creveling

Lone Peak

At a glance:

A renowned peak and prominent feature easily distinguishable from both the Salt Lake and Utah valleys, Lone Peak is a formidable alpine ascent to scratch off your list before the snow falls. At 11,253 ft., Lone Peak is among the highest mountains along the Wasatch Front and is widely regarded as the most strenuous due to its considerable elevation gain and daunting class four scrambling along the summit ridge. This climb is worth every drop of sweat as one stands upon the apex of the peak’s glacial cirque and overlooks the high desert landscape.

What to expect:

The average hiking time from trailhead to summit is approximately five to seven hours, depending on the route. There are numerous ascents, but the two most popular and heavily recommended are Jacob’s Ladder Trail and the relatively new Cherry Canyon Logging Trail. Jacob’s Ladder is the fastest ascent to the summit but is poorly maintained and steep through minor stretches (though it does enable access to the rustic Outlaw Cabin). The second is slightly longer, but passes a reliable perennial spring and is considered to be more scenic. Upon entering the glacial cirque and scrambling onto the mountain’s jagged spine, you’ll traverse the heavily-exposed, precarious ridge to summit.

Getting there:

Dependent on your route, yourhikingguide.com is a great resource and offers valuable information. “From Salt Lake City or from the south take Interstate 15 to exit for 12300 South, and head east to 2000 East. You’ll go straight through a roundabout at 1300 East and continue to 2000 East. Turn right on 2000 East for about 0.2 miles and turn in the Orson Smith parking area. The Bear Canyon Trailhead/Cherry Canyon Logging Trail starts here. To continue to the Jacob’s Ladder trailhead, follow the dirt road for about 2.6 miles and park at the parking area on the right” (yourhikeguide.com).


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Kings Peak


At a glance:

High in the sky, at 13,528 feet stands Utah’s highest mountain – Kings Peak.  A very popular backpacking destination in the High Uinta mountain range that goes right through the Highline Trail.

What to expect:

One of the more popular routes to the top of Kings Peak starts at Henry’s Fork, beginning with a moderate elevation gain over the first ten miles.  You will ascend a river drainage known as Henry’s Fork and follow the river most of the way up, fortunate for those who frequently need to fill up water.

After passing Alligator Lake, detour from the trail to soak in the scenery, eat a sandwich, and catch your breath before the next long haul.  Some hikers even set up their first or last camp here depending on the length of their expedition.  One of the next most popular places to set up camp before the summit is either Henry’s Fork Lake or next to Dollar Lake, closer to the pass you’ll summit tomorrow.

The stars on a clear night are a kaleidoscope of colors; you’ll finally understand why they call the galaxy the Milky Way.


Photo Credit: Kiffer Creveling

The next morning is your summit bid.  Trek through Gunsight Pass and seemingly endless switchbacks. At the top, you can look into the next basin over (Painter Basin) and know the peak it near (about three miles away). Walk through waist-high shrub until you round the right-hand side of the basin. Now comes the final ascent toward Anderson Pass, and the views keep getting better. Look at the boulder field and step slowly to the top, avoiding unstable rocks, which will most likely have snow and ice between. After about an hour and a half of extremely slow-cautious hiking through the boulder field, you’ll reach the summit.  There is a small plateau for you to throw your pack off and enjoy the view.  Kick your feet up and take in the moment and the view that you’ve earned.

Photo Credit: Kiffer Creveling

Photo Credit: Kiffer Creveling

After reaching the summit, you have only finished half of your journey.  The next half is the descent back to the bottom.  Have fun and enjoy the trek back home.

Getting there:

Take I-80 for an hour and a half through Wyoming, turning off around Fort Bridger to follow small roads south back into Utah. The trailhead is at the end of FR-077, a total of about 2 1/2 hours from Salt Lake City.


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Thrifty Trips: See dinosaurs and other natural wonders for $90

If you haven’t heard of Harpers Corner, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Overlooking the confluence of the Green River and the Yampa River, the trail is located just outside Dinosaur, Colo. It is a beautiful desertscape situated 2,500 ft. above the water. My most recent trip there cost me just $90.

To get to Harpers Corner, you’ll first need to travel to Vernal, Utah, which is about 170 miles from Salt Lake City on US-40. From Vernal, Harpers Corner is just about 70 more miles away. After Vernal, keep straight on US-40 towards Colorado through Jensen, Utah. If you want to stop by and see the Dinosaur National Monument quarry (there’s a $10 entrance fee), turn left in Jensen just before you cross the Green River. Drive past the large pastures at the foot of Split Mountain.

In the dinosaur excavation building there are also replicas of a few different dinosaur skeletons. One of the coolest displays is a skull of an Allosaurus. It looked like a fierce creature back in the day and could have definitely ruled the land.

Once you’re done with the dinosaur exhibit, continue your travels east on US-40. Once you reach the Colorado border, you’ll immediately drive through the city of Dinosaur, where all the street signs are dinosaur names. We turned on to “Tyrannosaurus” just because we could.

Keep driving until you see the Canyon Area visitors center; then turn left and continue on the windy road for another hour to Harpers Corner. As you make your way up the plateau, you’ll see all sorts of landscapes every which way. There are a few overlook pullouts that you can stop at to see how vast the area is.

Once you reach the trail parking lot you’ll be enthralled by the beauty of the area. But hang tight — you have to get your hiking shoes on and walk the trail for about 1.5 miles to get to the vantage point.

Be sure to bring a lot of water because this area heats up fast. The beginning of the trail is all downhill and then flattens out. It is amazing to think that the river carved each of the deep canyon walls over millions of years.

While at both sides of the vantage point, if you look down on the river — be careful not to go past the fence — you might see some rafters floating during the hot summer months. The river is green because of all the active erosion taking place, but it is still beautiful to see.

When you’re done looking at the amazing scenery, head back the same way you came.

On your way back through Vernal, you’ll come across an iconic pink dinosaur welcoming you to the city. Go ahead and indulge your inner tourist, and snap a quick picture to remind you of your trip to Colorado.



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