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n.halberg Author

Bomber and Company: More Flashy than Functional

I stray far from the frivolous. Every item I purchase, or think about purchasing, is weighed against the possible experiences I could have for the same cost. Spending $50 to replace the rain jacket I lost last October? No thanks. I’d rather swing by Walmart and grab a dollar poncho before heading up into the Uintas for an overnight backpacking trip.

Needless to say, when Bomber and Company’s package showed up in the mail for us to review here at Wasatch Magazine, I was skeptical. At first glance, these seemed frivolous. I was, we’ll say, half wrong.

In the neatly packed box were five items: the Bomber Barrel (duffel bag), the Mini Bomber Travel Kit (amenities bag), the B-2 Nano Blade (truly tiny pocket knife), Bomber Carabiner Paracord Keychain (exactly what it says), and the Bomber Firestarter Paracord Bracelet (bracelet of woven paracord with firestarter flint). At first sight, all these products absolutely nailed one main factor: design. Everything was sleek, black, and modern, from the cleanly woven paracord zipper pulls on the duffel to the tactical shape of the “world’s smallest pocket knife.” The whole lot was a solid mix of tactical survival with modern, everyday city life. Anyone carrying these items would certainly give off the outdoorsy, bad-to-the-bone, Bear Grylls-esque, “I survived behind enemy lines for three days eating only cactus,” impression.

However, from a first impression, I suspected this is where the products would end. The actual utility of these items seemed like an afterthought. That didn’t sit well with me, so I decided to use these pieces of trendy gear like they were advertised. I ended up with mixed results.

The duffel is easy to rate. It paired with the travel kit to make for a very useful bit of luggage. I toted it along on a weekend backpacking trip to Zion National Park’s Kolob Canyon and found that it served perfectly as my “doesn’t belong in the backpack” bag. That is, the bag with all my snacks, books, chargers, etc., that would not be accompanying me on the trail. I found the bag to be a good, medium size with a simple number of pockets, just enough to hold all your small bits without acting like a puzzle when you have to get something out.

The two paracord items, the bracelet and keychain, also proved at least functional. They clearly were still created for form over function, though, they did still function. The firestarters on both worked (after scraping off the black coating). I found that by wrapping the keychain around your knuckle and using the separate circular striker, you can throw decent sparks off the flint and steel. Of course, if your fire-making skills aren’t already pretty solid, it won’t be of much use.

The B-2 Nano Blade, on the other hand, I found frivolous. I saw no use the tiny pocket knife could provide that a much cheaper Swiss Army knife couldn’t. At least you get a toothpick with the Swiss Army. It only seems useful if you want to feel like a marine while opening your envelopes.

The major downside of all these products ties into their biggest positive. They are all far too expensive. The duffel catches a cool $200, while the paracord products each hit the $23 mark. The hopelessly small pocketknife asks a steep $35. To me, this only reinforces that these products were made for looks, not necessarily use. They aren’t bad, but paying that much for an extraneous piece of gear isn’t something I’m chomping at the bit for. These are targeted towards consumers who are trying to put on a facade and don’t mind paying a little bit more for it. For that market, they’re doing great.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Trodding Across the Trans Zion Trail

After a full summer of living 30 minutes from Zion in the often overlooked and mispronounced town of Hurricane, Utah, my girlfriend Libby and I found ourselves avoiding the park. We had explored all of the big hikes in the main canyon, squeezed our way through some slots off the side of the main roads, and camped on top of the main rims. Just as I felt our recreational opportunities in Utah’s flagship park were expiring, I looked at the map. There, right smack in the middle, was an empty field. The only mark cutting through it was a series of dashed lines forming a winding path: the Trans Zion Trail. This past fall break, we finally worked out a window large enough between her work schedule and my classes to give it a shot.

Zion National Park. Photo credit @surfnsnowboard.

The Trans Zion is a beautifully classic, almost 50-mile backpacking trip that links paths starting from Lee Pass Trailhead in Kolob Canyon to the east entrance of the park. It is one of the most easily accessible and spectacular multi-day trips in any park in Utah, and it offers solitude that cannot be found near any of the more popular parts of Zion. Because of time restraints, Libby and I decided to start at the traditional beginning (Lee Pass), but end at The Grotto, cutting out the East Rim, ending in the main canyon instead of the east entrance.

Our itinerary was moderate, averaging 10 miles a day. Some people run the whole trail in a day, others take nearly a week to complete it. Since permits are needed for every camp, you will have in the backcountry, day mileage as well as trip length is heavily determined by the availability of those permits. We lucked out and ended up with the following itinerary.

Day 1: Lee Pass TH to Hop Valley A (about 9 miles)

All Trans Zion trips start at Lee Pass, which means you’ll need two cars or a shuttle. Libby lives in Hurricane still, so her friend dropped us off, but Zion Adventure Company also provides this service for those without such connections. From here, we followed the La Verkin Creek Trail for 6.9 miles until it met up with the Hop Valley Trail. Near the very end of La Verkin Creek is Kolob Arch. It’s only a quick 1.2 mile detour, and it is absolutely worth the 30 minutes it takes to see it. Campsite 10 is just past this junction, and Beatty Spring is usually flowing there. It’d be a good idea to fill your bottles here, or in the creek itself, before heading up the steep switchbacks to the Hop Valley Trail. There was not water above the switchbacks for us. We camped in Hop Valley A, a picturesque camp hidden in a grove of Ponderosas beside a sandy wash, but any of the later spots along the La Verkin Creek Trail (ideally camps 7-10) would provide a similar mileage day. Hop Valley B is another good option.

Zion National Park. Photo credit @surfnsnowboard.

Day 2: Hop Valley A to Wildcat Canyon Dispersed (about 13 miles)

Rise early to get out of Hop Valley before the sun is too high. The trail is beautiful, yet sandy; I would not want to slog through there at noon with a heavy pack. After about 5.5 miles, we reached the Hop Valley Trailhead. Unfortunately for us, it was here that we discovered Libby had fractured her knee and had to quit the trail. Had we continued, however, we would have followed the Connector Trail 4 miles, passing the beautiful Pine Valley Peak on our right, and joined the Wildcat Canyon Trail. From there, we would’ve continued about 3.5 miles until reaching the beginning of the dispersed camping zone, where our permit would have allowed us to camp anywhere out of sight of the trail. The backcountry office told us that Wildcat Canyon Spring was flowing, so we would’ve had water nearby our camp.

Day 3: Wildcat Canyon Dispersed to West Rim 5 (about 8.5 miles)

We would’ve spent the day more or less on the West Rim Trail. Depending on where we camped in the Wildcat Dispersed zone, we may have had about a mile before joining the West Rim. Once there, we would encounter some steep sections, but the views, I’ve heard, are unmatched. Again, the backcountry office told us that West Cabin, Potato Hollow, and Sawmill Springs all had at least a small water flow. Any site towards the bottom of the West Rim would be ideal (meaning sites 1 through 5). The even numbered ones are put online for reservations, so they’re likely taken already, but the others are kept for walk-ins. We had to get to the visitor center early the day before our trip so we could be first in line to grab a spot when the doors opened at 8 a.m.

Day 4: West Rim 5 to The Grotto (about 6.5 miles)

Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park. Photo credit @surfnsnowboard.

This final day should’ve be the easiest. It’s pretty much all downhill (so anyone with bad knees will rue this day) as we would’ve hiked from our site to Scout Lookout, where we should’ve been able to add a quick 0.8 mile detour hike to the top of Angel’s Landing, and eventually end at The Grotto. From there, we planned to take the park shuttle back to the visitor center where our car would be waiting.

Needless to say, Libby and I were disappointed we couldn’t finish the trail. The one night we did get to spend in Kolob enchanted us with a sky heavy with stars and orange cliffs that glowed during sunset. Ain’t no valley high enough and ain’t no canyon low enough to keep us from getting to Lee Pass again soon.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Saving Our Zion from Ourselves

Half a century ago, American author and essayist Edward Abbey laid forth a description, in his classically cynical style, of the forces pushing the National Park Service and ultimately shaping our public lands. In his mind, there were “The Developers,” the ones who wanted to see as many cars crammed into Yosemite valley as possible, and “The Preservers,” the ones who wished to see none. As Abbey put it, “the most important issue and perhaps the only issue [between these two factions] is the one called accessibility.”

Fast forward 49 years, and this issue is no longer just the ramblings of a grumpy man living alone in the desert, but the central concern of many popular national parks. No park is more worried about it than the fifth most visited park, directly four hours south of Salt Lake City.

Zion has been experiencing massive growth since its founding nearly a century ago. In my lifetime alone — 19 years — park visitation has increased by about two million people annually (from 2.3 million to 4.3 million). From 2015 to 2016, the jump was a little under 700,000. Those are numbers nearly on par with Disney World, something that would make anyone batting for “The Preservers” shiver in their goretex boots.

It bears noting that increased park traffic is good, to a degree. As John Marciano, the public affairs spokesman for Zion National Park, said, “Every person or vehicle that pays the admission fee and enters the park is a vote for the park.” Lawmakers and influencers see these “votes” and realize how valued places like Zion are both as an economic resource and a part of Utah’s unique identity. Zion played a huge role in generating the $8.15 billion tourists spent in Utah in 2016.

The fact remains though, too many visitors can lead to a degradation of Zion as a natural place.

Shuttle line at Zion National Park. Photo credit Zion National Park.

Because of Zion’s special configuration, most of the park’s 10,000 daily visitors stay within a narrow seven mile corridor along the Virgin River. Even there, the visitation is compounded to just three trailheads: Angel’s Landing, Emerald Pools, and The Narrows. This quickly leads to issues. In the main canyon there are only 12 designated trails, but over 800 social trails, totalling 35 miles. The animals in the park, especially the chipmunks on Angel’s Landing and the squirrels in The Narrows, are so tame they’ll roll over and play dead for a piece of your Clif Bar. Sure it’s cute, but it’s not natural or how a healthy, protected ecosystem should function.

None of this even mentions the incredible lack of infrastructure that exists in the park. Inside Zion, there are perhaps 1,000 parking spots, enough to cover a 10th of the visitors on an average day. Lines for the shuttle can frequently back up to the bathrooms or parking lot and run multiple hours. Throughout the main canyon there are maybe 40 toilet systems — 40 for what is sometimes, on a holiday weekend or busy day, 30,000 people.

“We have to do something,” Marciano says. “The visitor experience is diminished and the resource is being trampled.”

This begs the question, what can be done? How do you add accessibility to a place already so highly visited? If you’re one of Abbey’s “Developers,” the answer is easy: develop.

“There’s an empty space here, or there” Marciano says, motioning across the fence in front of us to a field, sarcastically embodying a “Developer.” “Build a big parking lot.”

Crowds at Zion National Park. Photo credit Zion National Park.

Fortunately for Zion, and us, this is not an option. Legally, the park is mandated by Congress to “protect [their] resource in perpetuity as it is.” Slathering the ground in fresh slabs of tar and concrete certainly would violate this. Ethically, neither Marciano or Jeff Bradybaugh, Zion NP superintendent, want to see the park become any more degraded by adding more parking lots. One point to the “Preservers.”

The trouble is, Zion is not getting less popular; something still needs to be done that can fix both of these problems while still preserving the park. Luckily, we have some inventive people in the office down south. They’ve put their heads together and have begun creating the Visitor Use Management Plan, or VUMP, which aims to do two things: First, maintain accessibility, and secondly, protect the park. Creating and implementing this VUMP will be a long road — an estimated five years — and requires intensive data collection to ensure the right solution is implemented. The park is confident that by the end of that time when a solution is reached, it will be the right one.

Part of this confidence derives from how much public input they are receiving. In mid-August, the Preliminary Alternative Concepts — the first “proposals” for how to mitigate overcrowding — closed their public comment period. These included ideas such as a reservation system to enter the main canyon, allocating time slots that certain groups could do certain trails, and changing nothing (an option that is looked upon poorly by the park). Well over 1,000 responses were received. Now, the park is sorting through all that data and will come out with a Preferred Alternative, which will have its own public comment period as well.

Zion is grateful for any and all ideas or comments the public has to make on this issue. By the time most of us graduate, these policies will be in place. If they are effective, other parks dealing with the same issue of accessibility and overcrowding could adopt whatever system Zion implements. This means that adding your voice now, while the park is encouraging you to do so, could not only affect the future of Zion, but the National Park System as a whole.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Reaching Heights in the Uintas

The high alpine is an environment so sodden with life and beauty that it has drawn words of praise from everyone, including the likes of John Muir and beyond. Truly, “the mountains are [always] calling,” but with classes and busy schedules, it is sometimes harder than that famous line makes it seem. Nevertheless, a bit of tedious time management can free up a weekend to head out and connect with the most spiritual and uplifting of natural places. In Utah, this means a trip to our tallest range, the Uintas. Here are a few of the best mountains to stand atop, triumphant and graceful, in our state’s most dominating range.

King’s Peak

King’s undoubtedly lands at the top of anyone’s list. If the stunning 6,000+ feet of prominence (how high the actual peak separates from the ground) doesn’t take your breath away, and if the beautifully exposed final ridge walk can’t do so either, then at least you can say you’ve stood on the tallest point in Utah. The most popular route to sack this peak is Henry’s Fork. From there, the trip is a little over 12 miles one way, and it gains about 5,200 feet of elevation, making it possible to ascend in one day. It’s more typical to take two days or a long weekend and split up the mileage a bit. Other approaches include one from Yellowstone Creek Trail (17 miles one way) or Uinta River Trail (50 miles round trip). All routes will eventually end at Anderson’s Pass which is just an hour ridge walk away from the summit of King’s Peak.

Mount Emmons

Although three peaks in Utah tower just a little higher than Emmons, this mountain is massive and visible from far away. It practically draws you to its peak. There are two approaches to get to the top. The Uinta River Route covers 27 miles round trip and 5,600 feet of elevation, while the Swift Creek Route notches just below it at 25 miles and 5,400 feet of elevation. Emmons itself rises to a sturdy 13,440 feet, but it only flashes 930 feet of prominence. Regardless, the route is far less trafficked than King’s, and it can offer an incredible rewarding outing if enough effort is put forth.

Mount Powell

Acclaimed as the most beautiful of Utah’s 13ers — or 13,000 foot mountains — Powell can offer one of the most pleasant winter ascents anywhere in Utah. It sits nearby maintained and plowed facilities, meaning the roads should be passable year round. Almost every face of the mountain can be ascended without much difficulty, and the mellow slopes mean prime backcountry skiing is plentiful. If you do try to attempt a winter ascent, be well prepared and up to date on avalanche dangers and safety. In the summer, however, no special skills are required — just determination to battle through the mosquitoes and a good judgment when it comes to thunderstorms.

Tokewanna Peak

If solitude and remoteness are what you’re searching for, Tokewanna is where you’ll find it. The trails are poorly marked, especially towards the summit, and although it is the closest Utah 13er to a road, it is still a 15 mile roundtrip journey. If you’re good with a map and compass, and a little bit lucky, you’re almost certain to be one of the few to experience standing on the peak of a 13,000 foot mountain with no one else in sight. Middle Fork Blacks Fork is the most used trail to ascend the peak, meaning it should be the easiest to follow. Still, there are no promises of an easy route find to the top. This adventure is one you have to work for yourself.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Beyond The Mighty Five

Many Utah folk try to enjoy the outdoors. If you’re among them, you’re likely either a part of the classic motor-tourist family, or you’re a semi-adventurous backroad traveler. If you identify with the former, you cram your trunk and zoom off across I-15, I-70, or some other highway to join the crowds craning their necks up in Zion, strolling along the canyon at Bryce, or waiting in line for their picture under a sweeping ceiling of stone in Arches. If you fit in with the latter, you might hit the backroads of Capitol Reef to stop in Cathedral Valley or brave the heat of Canyonlands to see The Needles. Either way, more likely than not, your itinerary will begin and end with the Mighty Five.

Amazingly enough, Utah’s wilderness extends past the borders of its five famous national parks. While they are a sight to see, and worth many full days of exploration in their own right, confining your itinerary to include only those parks means you’ll miss out on everything else our piece of the Wild West has to offer. Fortunately, there is another, less popular contingent of public lands endorsed by the Department of the Interior. They are our national monuments, and Utah is home to eight of them.

Cedar Breaks National Monument. Photo by Esther Aboussou.

National monuments are not quite national parks, though they are often confused. Parks are designed to inspire awe and wonder in their visitors by showcasing some of the country’s most spectacular natural features. Generally, monuments are smaller than parks, by at least about 2,500 acres. Monuments are far more specific; instead of highlighting a general region, like Zion Canyon or Yosemite Valley, they protect a specific resource for historical, scientific, or recreational use. They can be as small as a few blocks or as large as a couple million acres depending on how large the resource is. Monuments are typically less established than parks and see fewer visitors, meaning it is far easier to find a trail without tourists.

Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the Utah-Colorado border, is home to one of the densest collections of dinosaur bones found anywhere. Since its founding, the 80-acre park has expanded to well over 200,000 acres and now encompasses vistas and canyons as stunning as anything found in Canyonlands. The best way to see the park is to imitate the late John Wesley Powell (the legendary, one-armed figure who first mapped the Grand Canyon) and raft from the Tolkein-esque Gates of Lodore to Echo Park along the Green River. These are undoubtedly the two most stunning areas of the park, and are both a long, circuitous drive on 4×4 roads, making a raft the best option.

Bears Ears is also on the list of historic marvels. The monument derives its name from a pair of buttes that distinctively mark a section in the area. The 1.35 million acres protects so many historically important aspects, listing them is nothing short of tedious. On the short list, there’s Alkali Ridge, Hole-in-the-Rock trail, Grand Gulch, Big Westwater Ruin, and many more–as that’s not even mentioning the deep traditional and cultural significance five different native tribes attribute to the land. Most of the protected area is undeveloped. The intent of the monument is preservation of these historic spots, not exploitation for recreation.

Up farther north, near Lehi, Timpanogos Cave sits under the shadow of its namesake mountain. This monument has no giant lizard bones or ancient villages, but the underground caverns are so fantastic, dragons would nest there if they ever existed. Follow a ranger on a guided tour through any of the three caves and be dazzled by the alien, underground world. To kill a day or two afterwards, you may as well hike Mt. Timpanogos, the second tallest peak in the Wasatch range.

While the weather is still nice, be sure to spend plenty of time exploring the largest of all the U.S. national monuments, Grand Staircase-Escalante. The monument’s 1.8 million acres encompass three main areas: The Grand Staircase, a haven of scientific knowledge uncovered by a unique erosion process; Kaiparowits Plateau, a massive geologic wonder extending all the way to Lake Powell; and the Canyons of Escalante, a canyoneer’s ultimate playground.

The next two of Utah’s monuments are also best explored in tepid weather, and oddly enough, by car. Monument Valley, more widely known as the place where Forrest Gump stopped his famous “run,” sits on the southern bord

A tree at Cedar Breaks National Monument. Photo by Esther Aboussou.

er, extending into Arizona. Go at night, find a spot that will allow you to comfortably face your tent east, and wake with the sun to one of the most classically western views in the world. Natural Bridges is famous for its very uncommon and non-classical views of rock bridges, as the name implies. Drive the loop around the monument and be sure to check out some of the largest natural bridges in the world. It’s like a mini Arches with a fraction of the visitors.

When the weather finally does turn, head just a few miles outside of Brian Head to check out Cedar Breaks. Reminiscent of Bryce Canyon, the monument has a ranger cabin open during the winter months to greet you with a warm fire and cup of cocoa. Grab your cross country skis or snowshoes and trek out for a true winter adventure to one of the state’s most gorgeous canyons.

National monuments are an explorer’s chance to dig deep into the historic, geologic, and cultural wonders of our land. They preserve those places which heighten our legacy and preserve our heritage. They remind us of days past, when creatures five times our size roamed, or when settlers ten times our imagination travelled. They inspire us with their deep canyons and expansive views, and lift our souls to see the most beautiful aspects of the natural world. They set the foundation for a huge part of Utah’s economy by establishing four of our state’s beloved Mighty Five. They are as integral to our country as any national park, and should be protected, explored, and loved.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Respect Our Parks

Peace and serenity, that’s what most people expect to find when they step out of their home’s threshold and into the wild. For over a hundred years now, the National Parks Service has stewarded millions of people from the geysers of Yellowstone to the big walls of Yosemite. While this is a great thing—public lands are meant for the whole public to enjoy—it comes at a cost.

Our parks cannot sustain this huge number of visitors without some serious infrastructure. Roads, buildings, bridges and any number of other such structures dot the entrances to nearly every popular park across the nation.

All these markers of man’s influence naturally detract from the main attraction of the park itself: unspoiled wilderness. Visitors don’t drive from Maine for food in Springdale. They come to see the inspiring cliffs towering over them in Zion Canyon, or to get their feet wet walking through The Narrows. The Grand Canyon is not famous because the lodge is the epitome of luxury. It’s famous because the view right outside the window will water your eyes and steal the words out of your mouth.

Of course, there is a balance here. We want our parks to be as accessible to everyone as they can be, but we must not forget what it is that has made them so splendid in the first place. So far, we have done a nice job maintaining this dynamic. Every year millions of people are able to come see the beauty these places bring.

As citizens of this country, we have a stake and ownership in these most awe-inspiring places. They are our public lands, a part of our identity as a nation and our heritage as a people. Protecting them is not merely the job of the green shirted men and women who work there, but the responsibility of every visitor who enters the gate.

Sadly, this is not always the case. Some of the most iconic spots in our parks are marked with ugly remains of thoughtless visitors. Atop one of the most pristine and famous lookouts in Zion, Angel’s Landing, a visitor will find names carved into the sandstone at their feet. They would be hard-pressed to walk three feet without being greeted by a pack of eager, and incredibly adorable, chipmunks begging for food, now dependent on humans for life as they have been trained not to forage on their own.

While these may seem small and trivial, the intent behind them and the sum of their effects is what is most troubling. If every hundredth visitor had carved their name on the summit of that most stunning Zion hike, there would be tons of marks distracting us from the beauty of what’s in front of our eyes.

Many years ago, our white predecessors walked into Zion Canyon and decided it to be a sacred place after it had been lived in by Native Peoples for years prior. For years since it has been protected. Our parents have visited and enjoyed the same landscapes that we now see today. As visitors to these parks, we too have an obligation to ensure our children can one day walk into Zion, or Yosemite, or Yellowstone and feel the emotional uplift of these stunning natural cathedrals. It comes down to every individual and our small actions. Do we respect our parks enough to not leave that soda tab on the ground or avoid carving our name into an Aspen?

 

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Gear to Get You Started

Breaking into a new sport can be intimidating and expensive. As any outdoor lover is painfully aware, your gear will burn a hole in your pocket faster than wildfire. Buying into a new activity can put you back a fair bit, especially if you decide you don’t like the sport as much as you first thought. You can start off by renting the essentials, but soon this becomes more costly than just owning the gear yourself. Eventually, you reach a point where an investment is necessary. Here are a few pieces of gear that will maximize what you’re able to do while minimizing the amount of money you need to put in to get started.

Backpack (60 L)

This is the single most important piece of gear any so-called outdoor lover should own. Being able to pack yourself into remote locations and camp is a skill applicable to just about every outdoor sport. Attach your tent — or hammock — and bag peaks in the summer, strap your skis on in the winter and boot pack a chute, carry your rope and climbing shoes with you in the fall and ascend that new route, and/or snuggle your fly rod on in the spring to land that big Brown. Getting a pack 60 liters or larger will allow you ample room to cram in your essentials and get started on some easier overnight trips. Best of all, backpacks can be found at almost every used gear sale. It shouldn’t be too difficult to snag a deal on one.

Climbing Shoes

It seems there are two pseudo-requirements to live and recreate in the Salt Lake area: know how to ski and know how to climb. Both can get pricey fast, but climbing has the cheapest buy in. All you really need is a pair of shoes (and some chalk if you really want to be bougie). From there you can boulder, indoors or out, and see if constantly cramming your fingers in small cracks and holds suits your fancy. If you boulder outdoors be sure to either rent a crash pad ($6 a day from Outdoor Adventures) or pick boulders with soft landings, free of rocks. Like backpacks, climbing shoes are fine to buy used. Just be sure to check the condition of the sole, particularly on the edges, because it tends to get worn away the quickest.

Fly Rod

The Cottonwoods are not just the home of great climbs and powdery runs, but streams and lakes too. Meandering their way through all these are trout: rainbows, brooks, lakes, and browns. You will need a fishing license as well as a rod, but you’ll be able to keep up to four fish a day (unless specific area regulations permit otherwise). For most spots in the Cottonwoods a small, dark fly will work well. Even if you do more fishing than catching, a day spent next to pristine alpine streams and lakes is a day well spent.

Headlamp

Aside from being an extreme luxury/ borderline necessity, a headlamp is vital for caving. All over Utah lie underground tunnels and caverns waiting to be spelunked. While many caves require technical skills and are very easy to get lost in, there are some that are shallow and give just a taste of the bigger systems, like the Snow Canyon Lava Tubes. Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting absolutely filthy and leave your claustrophobia at the entrance.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Technical Slot Canyons for the Beginning Canyoneer

Just like with most adventure sports, canyoneering only gets better the more difficult it is to get through the canyon. While hikes through slot canyons are beautiful, they can’t compare to rappelling down one or having your partner help you climb over a stuck rock. A technical canyon is the best version of an adult obstacle course nature has to offer us, and one of the most adventures fun found anywhere. For those just getting started, however, it can be intimidating or even dangerous to drop down a canyon far above your skill level. Here are five canyons that are perfect for an amateur’s first few descents.

Blarney Canyon

This is a two for one canyon; there’s an East and West Blarney Canyon and both are great for those wanting to practice their natural anchor building skills. There are no bolts, but the canyon is well trafficked and natural anchors are bomber and easy to find. Both have medium sized rappels and moderate down climbs. Using a hip belay allows for less skilled down climbers to get some good practice safely. The canyons are located near Hanksville and are not difficult to find. Route finding is similarly easy, but it is exposed and, like all of Southern Utah, can be brutally hot in the summer. Either hike in early in the morning while it’s still cool or do the canyon at night (Note: not recommended if it’s your first time descending it). Either branch of the Blarney offers all the fun of a big, fully technical canyon without throwing anything too difficult in your face. No permits required.

Diana’s Throne

THE canyon for first timers. Located just outside Zion, this route is short, sweet, and extremely beginner friendly. The technical section only lasts a short while but offers a sampling of common canyon obstacles. Everything is bolted, making it very easy to safely maneuver every downclimb and rappel. Three big rappels mark the start of the slotty section, but a more vertical descent hides a bit farther down the canyon. The approach and exit are fairly well marked out and the canyon is not terribly hard to find. Footprints paint the way there. Around the exit to the canyon are a few, bigger offshoots that can hold fun rappels themselves if proper anchor building tactics are employed. No permits are necessary as the land is all BLM.

Yankee Doodle Hollow

Intimidating, then simple and sweet. Yankee Doodle starts with a big 130-foot rappel off the side of the canyon to the floor. It is partially overhanging, meaning you’ll be free floating at least part of the way down, but it’s anchored with bolts so there’s little chance of your anchor not holding up. After that initial rappel, some down climbs and slotty section will follow, but you won’t be rappelling again. It’s a one and done deal, making it great for those who want to try out a bigger descent. The canyon is located off the Leeds Exit (22) of I-15. There are no permits needed.

Keyhole

Perhaps the most heavily trafficked, and most common beginner canyon Zion has to offer. The canyon has just one, small rappel (30 feet), but offers multiple sections of good downclimbing and a classic cold water Zion swim. Break out the wetsuits for this canyon even if you’re doing it in July; water down in the depths rarely sees the sun and seldom heats up. Like others on this list, the canyon is short and should only take a few hours to get through. This canyon is so iconic of good Zion canyoneering that it has its picture hanging behind the permit station in the Visitor’s Center, which you’ll be able to admire while picking up your mandatory permit.

 

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Utah’s Backpacking Gems

Summer brings about the liberation of one of life’s most valuable resources — time. For the adventure-minded, more time means longer trips, and longer trips usually mean backpacking. In a state where outdoor recreation is world class, there are surprisingly few trails long enough to warrant a hearty backpacking trip. When excavated deep enough, however, a few diamonds emerge from the rough. Here are some of the shiniest.

Coyote Gulch

This is one of those places so famous in Utah that it’s hard to live in the state one month without having heard of it. Located about 33 miles down Hole in the Rock Road in Escalante, Hurricane Wash provides the ideal trailhead for a longer trip into this area. Typically, the 26 mile trail is hiked as an out and back at 13 miles each way, but a shuttle car can be used at one of the many other trailheads leading into the gulch to cut out some distance. Coyote offers beautiful scenery all around the trail, two different arches, a hidden lagoon, and numerous other unique points of interest. Since it is backcountry, waste should be packed out and fires are prohibited. A free permit is required, and it can be picked up at nearly every trailhead.

Uinta Highline Trail

For a traditional, high alpine, long trek, look no farther than the Uintas. The mightiest range in Utah is home to one of the most stunning backpacking trails the state has to offer. Over 100 miles of elevated path guides the way across some of the most stunning points in Utah, including King’s Peak. Never dipping below 8,000 feet, the trail is snowed in, and it is typically not passable until July. When hikeable, the trail boasts a ridiculous amount of wildlife. Everything from moose to coyotes are common. As part of this, it is maintained, but rough and remote. At times, only spaced out cairns will mark the way, so a good map and navigation skills are critical for anyone interested. No permit is required.

West Rim Trail

Arguably Zion’s most famous backpacking trip, the West Rim Trail offers a perspective of the massively popular park that most of the tourists will never see. Starting at Lava Point and descending 19 miles into the bottom of Zion Canyon, this trail renders views of both back- and front-country. It can be done as a strenuous day hike, but taking two days allows time to tack Angel’s Landing on to the end of the second day as a bonus. If done as a multi-day trek, a backcountry permit is necessary, and camping is restricted to one of the nine backcountry sites.

Narrows Top Down

The Narrows is arguably Zion’s second most famous hike, conceding only to Angel’s Landing. In order to see all of it, however, you’ll need to hit it from the top down. This is a 16 mile hike, starting at Chamberlain’s Ranch descending a steady 1,500 feet to the typical Narrows trailhead. A shuttle will be needed to get you from the park to Chamberlain’s. This hike is usually not possible in spring due to the high water flow. If the river is running over 120 cfs, Zion will close the Narrows. This means June is usually the earliest the hike is open. Like the West Rim Trail, the hike can be done in a day, but who would pass up a chance to camp in the Narrows? A permit is required for both the overnight and day trip options.

The Maze

The Maze district in Canyonlands is a classic Southern Utah trip. Hard to access trailheads surround one of the most remote places in the lower 48 states. Little water is offered throughout the treks, so careful planning and preparation are required. Due to its inaccessibility, trips are rarely shorter than three days. Many routes contain low grade climbing maneuvers and a 25 foot rope is recommended to shuttle packs up. Many of the hikes are exposed, and hot in the summer. It is best to go in fall or spring. When there, be cautious. This place is truly extreme and remote. Self sufficiency and proper preparation are essential for enjoying your time in The Maze. However, a successful trip can be rewarding as the area is stunningly beautiful, and solitude is easily found. Permits are required for all trips to The Maze.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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The Most Underrated of the ‘Mighty Five’

Every summer there’s the magical little period of post-school, pre-work freedom. Ideally, this is a week or longer, allowing for some kind of big, planned trip to take place. This year I had a weekend. With much whim and little planning, we stuffed the trunk and backseat of my friend’s Subaru and headed off to Capitol Reef for a night. Little did I know I’d be stumbling into Utah’s most underrated national park.

Our expectations were low; nobody in our group really went to Capitol Reef. I had seen stunning pictures of the park on random Instagram posts before, but I was suspicious. Plenty of places in Utah caters to what I call the “tourist adventurer.” These are people who make it seem like they are incredibly remote when in reality they’re standing off the side of a highway. I did not want to be swarmed by the masses as we all crammed into a little parking lot and hiked a quarter mile to some awesome geologic formation. I wanted to actually be remote.

We decided to head to the visitor center where we knew we could get a map and ask the ranger’s advice on where to go. After a few PB&J’s and some deliberation, our decision had been made. We packed up lunch, hit a few of the touristy day hikes, and then headed off to our real adventure.

After an hour of getting lost, two hours of high clearance, dirt road navigation and good music we reached the imposing sandstone formations known as Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon — aka our campsite. Soon, our tents were pitched just outside the park on BLM land, but still within view of the Temples. We enjoyed dehydrated beef stew, red beans with rice, and beef stroganoff as the last of the sun’s light fell across the towers. A few more hours and their dark silhouettes provided the perfect juxtaposition to the star encumbered sky.

Our expectations were well exceeded. Capitol Reef can lead you into a trap of “tourist adventurers” if you stay on the surface. Venture deeper into the park, though, and you can visit sites like Cathedral Valley, where you’ll find something far different.

In this hidden gem, we were met with total solitude and expanse, even though it was Mother’s Day. The main road, which houses most of the park’s visitors during their time, was relatively uncrowded. The parking lots at the hikes would fill, but barely. Just hours farther south, Zion would be entertaining bus after bus of tourists, while in Capitol Reef we saw equal views and far fewer tourists.

After just 24 hours in the park, my perception of it shifted completely. Capitol Reef holds the stigma of being unimpressive or not worth visiting, but as I found out, this is utterly untrue.

The park is nearly twice the size of Zion meaning there are far more backcountry and off-the-path places to explore. As the least visited national park in Utah, it is not hard to find a landscape totally devoid of people. Even the nearby towns are small and relatively unobtrusive. BLM land surrounds almost every border of the park, offering free camping wherever you go. Everything about this place is wild, expansive; and entirely underrated.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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