n.halberg Author Nick likes skiing, canyoneering, climbing, backpacking, and generally any other outdoor activity even though he isn't spectacular at any of them. He was born in Sacramento, grew up near Chicago, and loves living in a state with world class recreational opportunities just out his backdoor. When in civilization, Nick loves cooking (but more so eating) food, reading adventure books, and watching American soccer. He's anxiously awaiting the day Sacramento Republic FC becomes a part of MLS and he can finally watch his hometown team on TV.

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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Non-Technical Slot Canyons for the Adventurous Day Hiker

Utah is home to some of the most unique and amazing geological features in the American West. Nearly every other license plate in the state has a picture of Delicate Arch on it, and the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon and Goblin Valley are famous enough to warrant millions of Instagram posts. Perhaps most unique of all, and most seldom explored, are the thousands of slot canyons specific to Utah. While many require rappels and pothole escape techniques, there are still some that will take your breath away without requiring any technical skills. Here are a few of my favorites.

Little Wild Horse

Located six miles west of Goblin Valley State Park, this canyon separates you from the crowds of people swarming around the hoodoos next door. The hike is an 8-mile (four hour) loop. It occasionally has water running through it, but the water rarely rises above knee deep, so a good pair a wading shoes are all that is needed. Any major obstacles are avoidable and down climbs are easy. Overall, this is a sandy bottomed, mostly dry, kid-friendly slot canyon perfect for beginners or day hikers.

Beta: http://climb-utah.com/SRS/lwh.htm

Peek a Boo and Spooky

Due to their popularity, hiking these canyons feels more like an adult Disneyland than traversing around southern Utah’s desert. Nevertheless, the slots are absolutely stunning and the hikes are not long. While Peek a Boo and Spooky can be done separately, the best way is to loop them. Hike up Peek a Boo and, upon exiting, follow the cairned route east to the top of Spooky. Scramble down Spooky and return to the main concourse area where both the trailheads meet. The canyons are located about 26 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock road near Escalante, UT. Take the 4WD, high clearance Dry Fork Turnoff and follow it left to Dry Fork Overlook where the trails begin.

Beta: https://utah.com/hiking/peek-a-boo-slot-canyon

Moonshine Wash

Back in the days of prohibition, this canyon was used to hide an illegal distillery, remains of which are easily located in the canyon. Thus, the name Moonshine Wash. The canyon itself is a classic, tall slot. It’s located in the San Rafael Swell near Green River, so expect some solitude. At times, it requires deep wading, but all the down climbs are secure and simple. A competent hiker should have few problems completing this canyon. An old sheep bridges spans the top of one section of the canyon, making for an iconic photo op, and plenty of primitive camping is close by.

Beta: https://www.roadtripryan.com/go/t/utah/robbers-roost/moonshine

Egypt 3

This canyon pushes the “non-technical” description. It has potholes that require partner escapes, exposed down climbs, and advanced route finding. A GPS is highly recommended for this canyon. Yet, the rewards of completing Egypt 3 make it worth it. As soon as the hike begins, you are greeted by a stunning cliff drop-off of a few hundred feet. Traversing left, you see the massive Egypt Canyon begin to form. Eventually, you’ll drop into it via a bonus side canyon and begin to experience huge slotted walls and long, tight squeezes. This is an extremely narrow canyon, often needing 100-150 yard squeezes with packs held in front. There is a single rappel at the very end of the canyon, but it is optional and can be avoided. Unless you have experience canyoneering, do not do the rappel. The exit hike is very exposed and extremely hot. It would be easy to get lost walking back. Bring beta, a map, compass, and GPS with way-points to safely and enjoyably complete the canyon.

Beta: http://www.canyoneeringusa.com/images/stories/PDFs/Escalante/HoleInRock/Egypt.pdf

*Canyoneering is a dangerous sport, even for non-technical routes. Many canyons are remote and not often traveled. An accident could mean serious trouble. Nearly all require exposed hikes in/out in hot desert sun. Bring lots of water, usually at least three liters each. Have plenty of options for route finding. A GPS is preferred, but a map, compass, and good beta should be brought every time. Be careful, well prepared, and practice good LNT.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Carolyn Webber

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Modern Day Expeditions

Today it’s near impossible to step foot where no human has before. It seems that the golden age of exploration has been trickling out since the last fur trappers and government surveyors found desk jobs. While expeditions on the scale of Lewis and Clark are few and far between, that does not mean there aren’t still people out there exploring wild places. Here are three modern day expeditions that you can follow from your computer screen this year.

Everest No Filter

Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards are no strangers to Everest or mountaineering. Two years ago they launched #EverestNoFilter to document their first attempt to reach the top of the world with no supplemental oxygen. Cory succeeded while hypothermia forced Adrian to turn around. A year later, however, Adrian shattered the record for the fastest ascent of an 8,000 m. peak. It took him exactly two weeks from the time he stepped foot out of his home in Tahoe to the time he stepped back in. This year, he switched his training and diet and is ready to reach the top without supplemental oxygen.

Both Cory and Adrian will be posting snaps to the main @EverestNoFilter account. With constant posts thanks to satellite technology, you’ll get a near live view of what it’s like to live in base camp, climb the mountain, and (hopefully) reach the summit.

Pole2Pole

Mike Horn is one of the rare modern day explorers. He sets out on his expeditions with the goal of completing something nobody else has done. He’s racked up a list of the most ridiculously impressive feats, like swimming the entire Amazon River, following the Arctic Circle across the Earth during winter, and circumnavigating the world using only human power. Now, he intends to once again circumnavigate the globe solo, this time vertically. He will cross both the north and south pole on his expedition, using a combination of off-roading, sailing, and skiing to reach his destinations. He set off about 150 days ago, and has already crossed the south pole, but is headed through New Zealand on his way up north.

Instagram is the best traditional social media to follow Horn on. He posts daily when possible. His website, mikehorn.com, has an interactive map that shows where Mike currently is, where his support boat is, and every location he uploaded.

Riding Wild

Aniela Gottwald grew up with a love of the wilderness. Her father routinely took her on seven hour hikes through the forests and mountains and her mother taught her everything there is to know about horses. Starting this Spring, she plans to traverse over 4,000 miles accompanied only by her two recently broken mustangs and one wolfdog. Her route follows the Pacific Crest Trail through the U.S. and continues two to three months past the trail’s end to the Sacred Headwaters in Canada.

Her goal is to raise awareness for wild mustangs in the U.S., whose populations and habitats have been steadily declining since Americans first settled the West, and the Sacred Headwaters, which lack any governmental protection and are being developed for mining. Ultimately, Aniela hopes to make a documentary of her travels in order to raise the most awareness for her cause. Follow her on social media or check out her website at ridingwild.com.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.co

 

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Adventures to Get Over Your Post-Ski Blues

Even though this year record-breaking storms have been pummeling California endlessly, ski season here in the Wasatch is coming to an end. It’s always hard to say goodbye to the best snow on earth, but the ‘Satch still provides plenty of opportunities for adventure if you get out and look for it. Here are just a few.

Boulder Little Cottonwood

Switch from stuffing your feet in ski boots, to climbing shoes. Both Cottonwoods boast no shortage of trad, sport, and even top rope routes to work on. However, Little Cottonwood holds the crown when it comes to bouldering. Follow the road up the canyon for about 1.3 miles before reaching a parking turnout on your left to reach Gates Bouldering. Most of the routes are just a short walk from the car. If you’re not a serious climber, then bouldering is a great place to start. Check out Mountain Project to find a few problems for your skill level. Plus, Outdoor Adventures rents crash pads for $6 a day.

Longboard Provo Canyon

Provo Canyon is the Goldilocks of roads to longboard. It’s mellow enough to keep control the whole way down, but steep enough to keep you going. The best way to do it is to set up a car shuttle. Park one down canyon at Nuns Park and pile into the other to shuttle up to Vivian Park. Hop out and enjoy the 25-minute coast back down to the bottom car. Repeat if desired. Beware that there is a 15 mph speed limit for all riders. Local authorities have considered banning boarding altogether here from the number of people breaking this, so please keep it in control.

Shoot the Tube

Nearly every Salt Laker drove over this adventure all winter long during their hurried dashes to catch some pow at the resorts. Located literally underneath I-215, Shoot the Tube offers an adult version of those classic, inflatable water slides. Finding it is not hard, just head down Foothill until you can see Suicide Rock (the one off to the left covered in graffiti). The tube starts in the bottom of that little canyon. Grab some inflatable tubes, a GoPro, and a couple friends to welcome in the hot desert summer. Be careful to pay attention to water levels.

Climb the Pfeifferhorn

In winter, the Pfeifferhorn (known as The Little Matterhorn), offers one of the best technical mountaineering experiences in the Wasatch. Most of us do not have the skills, gear, or know-how to not end up swept away in an avalanche. That’s why summer is the perfect time to tackle this most iconic peak. Drive your car up to White Pine Trailhead in Little Cottonwood Canyon and enjoy the climb. Plenty of people tackle the peak in a single day, an out and back trip of about nine miles, but you can also camp at Red Pine Lake for a more mellow day. Either way, the view from the ridge is amazing.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Hannah McGuire

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Wet Your Whistle: Water Purifier Review

In a state like Utah, where most of the best outdoor opportunities are covered in sand and baked in hot sun, water is the most essential resource. No trip will be fun or successful without a few liters of this life-preserving liquid. Humans can’t drink just any water we come across like camel, but we can employ technology to make it safer for consumption. Here are a few of the most common ways to purify water.

LIFESTRAW

This neat little blue straw is by far the trendiest of water purification devices, and for good reason. It is incredibly simple, compact (just nine inches long and weighs two ounces), and allows you to drink from just about any water source. There’s no pre-filtering or skimming out silt. It’s just dunk and drink. However, the straw requires you to be at a water source or carry one with you. Pairing the Lifestraw with a Nalgene is not a bad way to combat this, but drinking out of a bottle with an oversized straw is more than just a slight inconvenience. Having to stop every few minutes, unscrew your bottle, put the straw in, then blow the excess water back out of the straw can quickly become tedious. Even worse, it can’t be used with water bladders. At $20 though, there is no reason not to pick one up. Lifestraw’s small size and versatility make it the optimal backup water purifier to keep in your pack at all times.

 

KATADYN HIKER

This is often the go-to filter for big group trips. It has the ability to purify large amounts of water reasonably quickly (only a few minutes per Nalgene), and does not require any wait time. You could drink the water right from the out-hose if you wanted. The downsides are that it requires some physical effort to pump multiple liters of water, and the filters are easily clogged. If this happens and there isn’t a replacement available, the pump might still work, but it will be painfully, infuriatingly slow. Be sure to check and double check the condition of the filter before leaving. Pumping in shallow, sandy areas or in very murky water is almost sure to stuff up the filter. While the most expensive filter on the list, averaging about $70, the Katadyn is still well worth it.

 

STERIPEN

Of all the water purifiers out there, this one is perhaps the least suited to backpacking. The UV light that the SteriPEN uses to kill all the harmful bacteria can only work in perfectly clear water. If there are objects floating around or silt obstructing the UV rays, the bacteria have a much higher chance at survival and you have a much higher chance of diarrhea. This filter is best for travel or a home preparedness kit. At around $60, it’s steeper than a Lifestraw anyways.

 

 

 

IODINE/CHLORINE TABLETS

Depending on the water source, this can be the most efficient (and painless) method of cleaning your water. All that is required is filling the bottles with water clear enough to not gross you out and adding the correct amount of chemicals. Instructions are on the package, but typically the ratio is one chlorine tablet or a few drops of iodine per liter of water. Allow the chemical the correct amount of time to work its magic (length also shown on product package) and remember to bleed the threads before drinking. This means turning the water bottle upside down and unscrewing the lid a little so some can leak out through the threads of the top. If not, you could end up getting Giardia from the little bits of unpurified water sitting trapped in the cap. Katadyn makes Micropur chlorine tablets that run for $20 for a pack of 20 tablets. Polar Pure makes an iodine cleaner for $20 that is able to purify 2,000 quarts.

 

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Feature Photo courtesy of Aquamira

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Get a Job Outdoors This Summer

Birds are chirping, flowers blooming, and the stress of finals and unsolved summer plans grow with each passing day. Yes, spring is finally here. As students around campus scramble to bump their grades up just a few more points, the professional world is gearing up for the summer season. Entry-level jobs pop up faster than wildflowers, and the good ones are taken just as quickly. If you’ve ever considered working outdoors, get your resume. This list will convince you to snag that summer dream job.

Explore More

Melting snow and warmer weather unlock an entire realm of Utah activities. Peaks are begging to be climbed in the Wasatch, trails ridden in Moab, and canyons descended in Zion. While you can (and should) jump at these opportunities during your off-days, you will discover all the hidden nooks and crannies of these places, squeezing every drop of adventure from it. You get to spend way more time rafting down rivers or climbing rock faces and you’ll get paid to do it!

Add Some Spice to Your Resume

Eventually, college will come to an end and the years of work we put toward a degree will hopefully go to use in an actual career. On that day, we will be reduced to a paper of accolades stacked in with hundreds of others. Having an interesting summer job on there, like Kayak Guide or Vineyard Assistant, will set your sheet apart from the others. Plus, it will open the door for you to share a sweet story and connect with your employer.

Mold Your Job to Your Liking

Anna de St. Aubin landed a job on a local farm last summer. Her daily duties involved everything from feeding goats to selling vegetables. Each morning, “[she] woke up early, made coffee, and watched the sunrise,” and every evening she would time her chores, “so the sun would be setting just as I was finishing milking, so I could watch the bats come out.” This is a whole lot better than waking up to a screaming alarm and bussing tables until it’s too dark to see outside.

Live Outside

While there’s always an allure to showers and a soft bed, there’s hardly a better experience than weeks on weeks of camping. Backpackers pay no small amounts to go do it all around the world, but finding a job that lets you camp for the season means you’ll be the one filling their pockets rather than emptying them. If your goal is to dirtbag through life, make your mom proud and earn cash while doing it.

Pro Deals

Loving the outdoors means you probably love gear too. All of the greatest recreational opportunities require a boat load of expensive equipment, most of which marks well beyond the salary of a college student. As a guide, or affiliate of a guide company, companies will set you up with deals to get everything cheaper. They know that clients will see you use it and be more likely to purchase that brand over another. Score garage sale-like deals so you can adventure on.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Chris Hammock

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Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Pulls Out of Utah

In February of 2017, Outdoor Retailer Show Director Marisa Nicholson announced that Outdoor Retailer, the Outdoor Industry’s largest gear expo, would not be returning to Utah following the expiration of their contract in 2019. This means that the summer 2018 show will be the last OR show in the state that has hosted it for over two decades.

While the loss of such an event is sad for Utah, there was still a glimmer of hope. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance was in the final stages of contract negotiations to move their show to Sandy, Utah. While not as big or flashy as Outdoor Retailer, the new show would still tie the state directly to a part of the outdoor industry.

Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is an organization created to help independent specialty retailers. They began small, just six members sitting around a table helping each other navigate the vast outdoor industry. Since then, they have grown to represent over 60 brands in 130 locations.

“[We’re] all about collaboration and education; to make us better at what we do” said Rich Hill, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance. Running a small, independent retail store is no easy task. The staff is small and has limited specialties. Being able to collaborate with other businesses and get advice from people in similar situations is extremely helpful to the members of Grassroots.

Their trade show represents this goal. There is no music played, no alcohol served, and all the booths are closed off into private rooms. “It is a get-work-done kind of atmosphere,” Hill said. Grassroots handles meetings and other logistics so that retailers can focus on closing deals and stocking up their stores for the next few months. Outdoor Retailer is more a place to build relationships and connect with other members of the industry.

Although the shows are drastically different, the people attending them are not. Grassroots decided it was time to co-locate their show with Outdoor Retailer so their clients could easily attend both expos. Since, at the time, Outdoor Retailer was planning on staying in Salt Lake City, Grassroots planned to move their show from Albuquerque, NM,  and Knoxville, TN, to Sandy. This plan dropped as soon as Outdoor Retailer said they would not be considering Salt Lake City as a future host site, and Grassroots announced their decision earlier this month. Their main goal is to co-locate their show with Outdoor Retailer, something that would not be possible if they signed a long-term contract inside of Utah. The business for Sandy hotels and restaurants won’t be brought by the outdoor industry.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

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First Descents: The History of Canyoneering

Just four hours south of Salt Lake City lies the birthplace and holy land of one of the most versatile adventure sports today: canyoneering. Since the late 1970s, Southern Utah has hosted a select group of adventurers as they climbed, swam, and rappeled their way into the depths of the narrowest, toughest, and most fantastic canyons on Earth. Ironically, the sport of descending got its roots from a group of dirtbags focused on ascending.

Climbing had just a two-decade head start on canyoneering, with the first ascents of Half Dome and El Capitan both around the late 1950s. Soon, pioneers in the climbing community began creating their own gear for the sport. Companies like Patagonia and The North Face found their beginning at the base of Yosemite’s big walls and were some of the first companies to produce advanced climbing gear.

Most of the pioneering canyoneers started out as climbers, utilizing recently developed climbing equipment to go down instead of up. Pitons were used to bolt un-anchorable rappels, and climbing ropes lowered the early athletes over waterfalls and overhanging cliffs. But canyoneering did not truly have its own identity like climbing did. It was more an activity for climbers to do in their off time than a sport in its own right.

Dennis Turville — climber, professional photographer, and pioneering canyoneer — changed this in the 1970s. Often accompanied by fellow outdoorsmen Mike Bogart and a few other close friends, Turville blazed the trail for many of the first recorded descents around the Zion area. He is considered one of the earliest serious recreational canyoneers. Famous Zion canyon routes like Heaps, Keyhole, and Pine Creek are all can be attributed to Turville and company. His reports are sparse — usually no larger than a paragraph for each canyon. Sometimes, like in the case of Middle Echo Canyon, the account is as short as, “one rappel bolt.”

The records are as barebone as they come, yet this was likely intentional. Turville didn’t record his canyons so others could follow him. These few lines were simply him documenting that he was the first down the canyon. He wanted his hidden hobby to remain that way. As it stood, he never saw other people in his canyons, or even signs of people. The only information that slipped to the public’s eyes were the photographs Turville snapped inside the canyons, offering glimpses into the tantalizing world beneath the rim. Yet, the locations of these photos were heavily guarded.

As sparse as they were, the reports at least included a date for each canyon. The earliest of which, and possibly one of the first true American canyoneering descents ever, was the Middle Fork of Choprock in April of 1977. It was descended by Bogart, Karen Carlston, and Dave and Annie George. Because of its non-technical nature, Turville sat out, preferring instead the difficulty and technicality of other canyons.

Repelling down Pine Creek Canyon in Zion National Park, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Revealing Hidden Canyons

Turville and his associates kept pounding out first descents into the late 1980s, but by now they were no longer alone. Other explorers started dropping down canyons all over Southern Utah and beyond. Among these were a few who believed the canyons should be for all.

Michael Kelsey, by far the most controversial of the above mentioned group of canyon-goers, wrote some of the earliest guidebooks for canyoneering. His most popular, “Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau,” just published its sixth edition and boasts over 400 pages of route descriptions.

Although many people use Kelsey’s descriptions to find new adventures, not all are fans of the man. In fact, enough people find Kelsey despicable enough that he acquired the nickname “the devil in sneakers.” This contempt stems from a few perspectives.

On one hand are the Bureau of Land Management/National Park Service (NPS) agents who now have to deal with much higher traffic in previously unknown areas. This inevitably means an increased number of ill-prepared parties and a much higher rate of accidents and rescues. It also means greater environmental degradation.

The other half of Kelsey’s critics are the serious outdoorsmen who recreate in Southern Utah and like Turville, aim to keep their spots secret. Suddenly, their favorite local hike is frequented by troops of boy scouts and trails appear where footprints weren’t visible a few years ago.

Kelsey, who has been catching flack since he published his first canyoneering book in 1986, shakes most of the blame onto individual parties for not practicing Leave No Trace principles or preparing properly. Since then, he has continued to hike, take meticulously detailed notes, and publish edition after edition of his various Southern Utah guides, opening up the world of canyoneering to anyone with $20 and a sense of adventure.

Canyoneering Hits the Mainstream

By the early 1990s, canyoneering had grown in the Southwest among small groups of serious outdoor recreationalists. However, it had yet to reach the mainstream in any impactful way like climbing had. Unfortunately, canyoneering became mainstream after the stories of two accidents.

In 1993, a group of three adults and five teenagers faced devastation in Kolob Canyon near Zion National Park. Flood waters were too high for the canyon that day and two adult leaders drowned. The remaining six were trapped for days in the canyon before the Park Service rescued them.

The ordeal gained public attention when some of the survivors sued the NPS and the Washington County Water Conservancy District, for the death of the two men because their leaking dam upstream of Kolob attributed to some of the heightened flood waters. The tragedy and controversy of the story, and the implications of the outcome of the court case on the NPS as well as landed the gruesomely tragic tale on pages from local magazines like High Country News, to national publications like People magazine. For many Utahns, it was the first they heard of canyoneering.

Just 10 years later in 2003, Aron Ralston pinched his arm in by a loose boulder in Blue John Canyon. He survived over five days in the canyon before amputating his own arm with a low quality knife and walking out. His heroic story was most famously told in the 2010 Academy Award-nominated film “127 Hours,” in which Ralston is played by James Franco. This was canyoneering’s most mainstream appearance yet, and the story most recreationalists point to when describing what the sport is to their unknowing friends.

While both of these instances spread canyoneering past the confines of the Utah desert, they also marked the sport as dangerous. If unprepared and uneducated, there are few more dangerous activities than rappelling down 60-foot waterfalls and swimming through hypothermic waters.

Legitimizing the Sport

Stories of danger and disaster seemed to only embolden more and more adventurers to get out and canyoneer. By the turn of the century, more and more people wanted to get their fix of Utah’s famous canyons, yet there was no organization in place to provide the proper education to these adventure seekers. It was shaping to become a serious problem for canyoneering. Fortunately, the solution arrived, and his name was Rich Carlson.

If Turville is the pioneer recreationalist, and Kelsey the pioneer route publisher/popularizer, Carlson is the pioneer professional for the sport. Carlson has been dropping down Utah’s canyons since the late 1970s, and started America’s first professional canyoneering guide company in 1990. In 1999, he started his ultimate vision of creating the world’s premier canyoneering organization, the American Canyoneering Academy (ACA).

David Tigner, head of the University of Utah’s canyoneering program, calls Carlson a “pioneer of canyoneering” who chose to “concentrate on training people.” His ACA today sets the bar for every canyoneer and canyoneering organization in the United States, and possibly worldwide. It is Carlson and the ACA who are responsible for deciding the requirements needed, from professional certification standards to defining a minimum degree of competency for a canyoneer.

Tigner’s own program at the U is modeled after the three basic skill sets the ACA requires for beginning canyoneers. It emphasizes practice, preparedness, and caution. One of the key points Tigner tries to impress on all his students is, “the best place to learn canyoneering is at home, not dangling 100 feet off a cliff.” This very much aligns with Carlson. He’s interested in revolutionizing the sport through training and organization, something canyoneering badly needs, rather than exploration.

Repelling down Pine Creek Canyon in Zion National Park, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

The advent of the ACA in 1999 pushed canyoneering to a new level. Suddenly, the sport had legitimacy. Serious canyoneers could focus on professional guiding to earn a living rather than dirtbagging it in a van, and beginners to the sport had a place to go to safely participate and learn the skills. Yet, no matter the skill of the canyoneer, they were still going into a canyon with gear made for climbing.

Industry didn’t catch up with the sport until the mid 2000s, when Tom Jones started Imlay Canyon Gear. This was one of the first canyoneering-specific companies, specializing in packs, ropes, and rope bags. Generally, the problem with using climbing gear in canyons is durability.

While in a canyon, any given piece of gear will be submerged in water repeatedly, drug through sand, scraped on walls, and tossed anywhere from 10 to 100 feet onto the ground. This means ropes need to be more tightly woven, packs have to have drainage holes in the bottom, harnesses, as Tigner jokes, need to have a, “PVC cover for your rear end so you don’t rip out your pants.” While canyon-specific gear is still very niche and rare, even having a market large enough to support a canyoneering company is a sign of growth.

Today, the sport is a far cry from where it began. It is organized, detailed, and far safer, yet no less adventurous. Pioneers like Turville, Kelsey, and Carlson have all progressed the sport in radically different ways, blazing the path for many others to follow down the depth of Utah’s, and the world’s, best canyons.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of @surfnsnowboard

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Best Hikes for In-Between Seasons

The end of February and beginning of March aren’t necessarily seasons. It’s a little too sunny and mushy for winter, but not warm or rainy enough for spring. For avid trail users or even casual walkers, this makes trails difficult to navigate. High elevation hikes are especially at risk for avalanches while lower trails are mucky and trapped in the inversion. Here are four of our favorite hikes to hit during this weird in-between time.

Spiral Jetty in February. Photo by Carolyn Webber

Spiral Jetty

Spiral Jetty is one of the easiest and most unique off-season hikes in Utah. If the weather is nice and the road is in good condition, this is more of a roadside attraction than an actual hike. The parking lot is a five minute walk from the jetty unless the road is impassable, in which case it’s up to three miles long. Water levels are low enough to reveal this man-made spiral of rocks, but, depending on temperatures, there might be a light dusting of snow. Get your mileage in by hiking on the oolitic sand to touch the Great Salt Lake.

Antelope Island

Another lakeside destination, Antelope Island, offers a different sort of barren beauty. In the summer, there is little protection from the baking sun and in the winter, no refuge from the ever pervasive cold wind. This means post-winter, pre-spring time is the Goldilocks of seasons on the island. Roaming around the island are herds of buffalo, and Antelope Island is one of the few places in Utah to see these impressive mammals in the wild. There is a $10 per day use fee for the area and a variety of crisscrossing trails you can hop on and explore.

Hiking up to Donut Falls in Big Cottonwood Canyon in the winter. Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Donut Falls

One of the Cottonwood’s most famous hikes, Donut Falls is usually characterized by crowded trails and full parking lots. In the offseason, both disappear, making it the perfect time to visit. The falls themselves might be frozen, an interesting view alone, but temperatures could be warm enough to let some water sneak through.

Killyon Canyon

Killyon Canyon is the best destination when The Cottonwoods are closed or bumper to bumper from ski traffic. The hike is in Emigration Canyon, just a five-minute drive from campus. Unlike the Cottonwoods, dogs are allowed up Emigration, so bring your poop bags. This time of year, there’s almost definitely snow, possibly enough to snowshoe. The trail is about 5.5 miles round-trip and gains a little over 1,700 feet of elevation. As far as Wasatch hikes go, it’s mild, but still just as scenic.

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