Adventures

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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Editor’s Note

When you hear of someone bike touring Argentina, kayaking the Pacific Northwest, or climbing in the Caucuses, the initial response is an odd blend of jealousy and awe. You wonder how on Earth someone can blow off that much time and money to catch a dream we’ve all been chasing.

Everyone is finishing another school year, and some of us are finishing school for good (at least for now). Keeping to the typical projection of life, a job or internship will follow and we will evolve into weekend warriors, time permitting. We’ll read books like “Wild,” watch movies like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and say, “One day…”

I’ll be joining my cap and gown-clad peers in the conga line toward a handshake, smile, and a diploma next month, but I won’t be following them toward a job right off the bat. Instead, I am walking straight on- from Southern California to Canada in fact- on the Pacific Crest Trail. A whole 2,000 (ish) miles.

I’m not telling this to you to impress you or make you feel inferior, but to remind you that yes, it is possible to be that person. It doesn’t have to be a three-month excursion to an exotic country. Utah is beautiful enough that you could adventure here the rest of your life and never see it all. Whatever that outdoor dream of your’s is, go get ’em. Your body, mind and spirit will be forever grateful. “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Carolyn Webber

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Opinion: The Price I Paid for “Trespassing” on Public Lands

Arguably, there is no recreational activity more simple than walking outside. There’s no money, skills, or gear required besides a pair of shoes and maybe a walking stick and water bottle. That’s why I’m a tad bit flustered when my simple human activity of walking is cut short by bureaucracy.

Maybe it’s just me, but lately I’ve had some bad luck on my hiking excursions. I have a history of bagging little knolls and obscure neighborhood mountains that I can see from the valley, usually looking at the mountain from the ground, picking a route, and simply walking out from my front door. If there’s a fence in the way, I’ll hop it. If there’s a “No Trespassing” sign, I’ll falter for a second to make sure nobody’s around before hopping that one too. Only once have I been kicked off of private property for trespassing: a caretaker on a ranch in Montana intercepted me on my way down from the top of a little butte to escort me back to the fence. Fortunately, I was able to enjoy the view at the top before being run off.

This is a crazy concept to me in the U.S. Everyone wants their own little piece of land and threatening to protect it with guns is the norm. This isn’t the case in many other countries. Sweden has a general public idea called “allemansrätten” or “every man’s right” to roam on both public and private lands for recreational walking as long as it’s not destructive and is fairly respectful to privacy. This is an idea I can get behind. Not all of us can afford to buy up our own piece of land, and as there become more and more of us we need to be willing to reasonably share. Because of increasing private property, long public trails like the North Country Trail, for example, are becoming increasingly harder to build as land is constantly subdivided, limiting accessibility to wild places to previously established trails. The days of freely wandering the west are not the same anymore.

Here’s where I’m really irked, though: I was fined $280 for walking in a National Park, on public land. This reignited an ongoing thought of mine: U.S. National Parks, like protective private property, are not a reasonable way to share. In general, National Parks are based around tourists driving their cars through and pumping revenue into the area through pass purchases, gift shop sales, ritzy lodge resorts, boat tours, and expensive campgrounds. In National Parks, everything’s a competition from campsite reservations to permit lotteries to lines to read a sign at the visitor centers. There’s no parking at trailheads. You can’t mountain bike, paraglide, or fly drones. Oh yeah, and don’t forget you need a permit to walk.

I know it’s standard protocol to acquire a permit for backcountry camping in national parks. So, for our visit to Capitol Reef National Park, we planned to get our free permit from a visitor center in Glen Canyon Recreation Area.  Going to this visitor center avoided a five-hour detour to the out-of-the-way Capitol Reef Visitor Center. But, after 12 hours of driving,  we arrived at the beautiful (and brand new) expensive Bullfrog Visitor Center, only to be greeted by a locked door. After stressing about getting all of our backpacking gear, food, maps, and car logistics figured out, we failed to double check if a national park visitor center we were recommended to visit would actually be open midday on a busy spring weekend. There were no hours listed on the door, and after a call to the local dispatch and Capitol Reef, nobody could say when it would open next. The voicemail for the Bullfrog Visitor Center informatively stated it will open “as personnel become available.” For some odd reason the government can’t afford to pay someone to staff this brand-new million-dollar-plus visitor center to permit me to go on my walk. On top of that, the only ranger in the area that could possibly issue us a permit was more than three hours away on a boat on Lake Powell.

But wait, the bureaucratic mess gets worse. I asked the dispatch operator if Bullfrog had been open or a ranger available, we could have even obtained a permit from Glen Canyon in the first place. The definitive answer, after five minutes of cogs turning asking around in the government office system, was no. Contrary to what was stated online, told to us by Capitol Reef staff, and displayed at the trailhead, under no circumstance could we obtain a backcountry permit for Capitol Reef in Glen Canyon, a glaring miscommunication between the parks. So, I’m angry, because, after all of this effort on my side to follow the rules, I still received a $280 fine from the National Park Service for a “failure to obtain a backcountry permit.” The issuing NPS ranger only knew we were there because of our courtesy call as good people to let Capitol Reef know when and where we were going—more or less the entire purpose of a permit. Keep in mind, this was for hiking from of a trailhead with no other cars for three days, only seeing one other group of three the entire time.

There has to be a better way to all get along and be able to just go for a walk. The National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have it right. You can camp and hike just about anywhere in their jurisdiction and I think that’s how it should be on our wild lands. As long as we all maintain a mutual respect for each other and leave no trace during our excursions, let’s just keep it simple when we want to take a walk.

c.hammock@wasatchmag.com

Photos by Chris Hammock

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Hiking When the Snow Melts

As any grizzled Utah native will tell you, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five-minutes.” This hackneyed anecdote never rings truer than during spring. While each surprise snowstorm means an extended season for local powder-junkies, those of us who prefer deep-canyon excursions are left waiting. Fortunately, the grand ol’ Wasatch is much more accessible than you may think. The handy rule-of-thumb is stick to the foothills.

Stand on an elevated surface and look towards the mountains. You’ll notice that the range remains bare, dry, and accessible from the radio towers and smaller peaks from behind the University of Utah (like Mount Wire) to Mount Olympus and continuing along the Wildcat Ridge. This stretch may seem limited, but there’s plenty to explore without getting your feet wet.

The first more challenging peak-bagging excursion available is almost always Mount Olympus, which can be done without specialty equipment as early as late April. See here for a guide up this grueling summit.

The most important thing to recognize when spring hiking in this bipolar range is that conditions are always in flux. While weather reports will give you a general idea of conditions-to-come, they are ultimately tentative until you wake up that day and look at the sky.

Also, if you do intend to take your hike higher than the Bonneville Shoreline (which carves along the lower reaches of nearly the entire range), prepare to get muddy. Residual snow at higher elevation melts in spring, and wary hikers often find themselves sludging through the mud. Wear sturdy boots and bring an extra layer, regardless of how easy the hike may seem.

When warmer temperatures arrive, Millcreek, Neff’s, and the Cottonwood Canyons will gradually open themselves up to adventurers—though don’t be surprised if you run into mud and snow in the shadows. Late-spring is a wonderful time to catch a view of the violent and impetuous spring run-off in the rivers that carve the canyons and the blooming wildflowers beside them.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Dalton Rees

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Spring Skiing at Brian Head

It’s that time of year. The snow in the Cottonwoods is slushier, skis are skinnier and costumes are more flamboyant. Spring skiing is in full swing. You don’t want to miss a prime spring skiing weekend, but you really want to camp and see some red rock to get you through the last few weeks of school. Pack up your skis and camping gear and take an overnight trip to Brian Head.

Brian Head Ski and Snowboard Resort is a short three and a half hour drive from campus. Of Utah’s many ski resorts, it has the highest base elevation (9,600 ft.), serving eight chair lifts and 71 runs over two mountains, along with two terrain parks. So why would you trek out to semi-southern Utah to ski slush when there’s plenty right here in the Wasatch? A Brian Head spring staycation is epic for three reasons: cost, camping, and craziness.

Cost:

An adult weekday full-day pass is only $38, a weekend full-day pass $59 — compare that with a $79 day at Brighton, a $83 day at Solitude, and $106 at Snowbird. So whether you drive out Thursday night to ski Friday for $38 or make the trip on a weekend day, rest assured you’re getting all the wild slush of spring skiing at a fraction of the Cottonwoods’ cost.

Camping:

Since Brian Head is more southerly than most ski resorts, surrounding areas are much warmer, much more melted, and therefore conducive to camping. Camp for free overnight before your epic day of skiing without worrying about the logistics and gear required for winter camping in the snow.

Brian Head Resort is only about a 20 minute drive from free camping in Dixie National Forest. There are plenty of trees, and the area is readily accessible to vehicles, so feel free to sleep in a truck bed, sling a hammock between trees, or pitch a tent. Whatever your choice, snuggle in among that scrubby southern Utah shrubbery and red sandy soil you’ve been missing all winter long. Freecampsites.net is a superb resource to consult while selecting your site.

Craziness:

Brian Head closes for the season Sunday, April 16, meaning next weekend will be prime end of season madness. Expect all the skimpy clothing, parking lot partying, and sunny silliness that you love about spring skiing. Additionally, Saturday, April 15 will be the Brian Head Annual Bikini Slalom & Pond Skimming Contest — definitely arrive prepared for epic enjoyment, whether you participate in or watch the festivities.

c.simon@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Brian Head Ski Resort

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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.

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com 

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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Coping With FOMO

I ran into my buddy at the climbing gym the other day. He was planning a weekend trip to Arizona to kayak, and this was the first I had heard about it. He didn’t even think to invite me, and perhaps with good reason. I had my own plans to canyoneer in Hanksville, Utah with my UExplore class.

Most of the time, I think taking eight outdoor education classes in a single semester was the best decision I made since coming to college. But sometimes, I realize that while I’m practicing rappelling with my classmates, my buddies are out kayaking. While I’m learning quinzee construction in the Uintas, my friends are shredding eight inches of fresh powder at Alta. While I’m topping out on my first ice climb in Ouray, Colorado, my dorm friends are splashing around in the Subway in Zion National Park. Yes, it’s a little ridiculous to regret missing kayaking with your friends when you’re descending a canyon with other friends, but it’s hard to avoid; Utah is jam-packed with opportunities to have wild adventures. And the FOMO — the Fear Of Missing Out — can be all too real. Just look at the steady stream of ski hills and climbing routes inundating any outdoorsy Instagram feed.

Should we, as “outdoorsy millennials,” plunge headfirst into every random outdoor sport that comes our way — even if this means we won’t necessarily become expert or even proficient in any of them? Or should we focus our energy exclusively on one or two of our outdoor passions, sacrificing new and novel opportunities in other venues? There’s really nobody to tell you how to enjoy the outdoors, and moreover, no perfect recipe to balance your professional and academic careers with your outdoor passions. Sometimes, when you enjoy climbing,

mountaineering, canyoneering, skiing, ice climbing, kayaking, hiking and mountain biking, it’s a struggle to live in the moment — to fully appreciate the slope you’re skiing or the slab you’re climbing — because you’re so ensconced in indecision, in fear of missing out on other adventures. And don’t forget that finals are coming up and you’ve got a paper due Monday and you really should be studying. So how do you balance it all?

First of all, still go outside this weekend — even if you have seven papers due Monday. It’ll keep you sane. There’s no “recipe for recreation,” so go out and build your own adventure. Take eight UExplore classes if you want to — or maybe take two — or maybe take none. Let yourself be fully swept away when you’re kayaking and let climbing completely rock your world. Personally, the best means I’ve found to really live in the moment outside is to push myself as hard and as far as I possibly can. I want to be sure I am fully appreciating, exploring, and living in whatever space I find myself. There’s no use thinking the grass is greener or the peaks are higher somewhere else.

c.simon@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Claire Simon

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Up in Flames: Crews Prep for Wildfire Season

When April showers subside and May foliage is dried out by incessant sunlight, Utah firefighters brace themselves for another season of near-constant summer wildfires along the Wasatch Front and beyond. Wildfires occur on a sporadic, unpredictable basis, but their regimented human counterparts remain on-the-ready, prepared to address developing infernos at any hour and in any condition.

The environmental influences of fires, both wild and man-made, are a mixed bag. “Fire has positive and negative impacts on ecosystems,” explains Jason Curry, Public Information Officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands. “Historically, fire has been a key component of ecosystem health in the West. Fires keep vegetation from getting overgrown and keeps things in balance.”

With the continually increasing human population and temperature in Northern Utah, this equilibrium becomes disrupted profoundly. “Since the early 1900s, the role of fire has changed: instead of small fires keeping vegetation in check, we get large fires that do catastrophic damage to ecosystems,” Curry says. “If fire burns at a low pace, it’s generally a good thing. Extreme fire behavior is generally negative.”

There is ultimately no ideal rate at which wildfires should occur. Most agree with Curry when he says they should happen “as often as nature will allow.” However ardently Smokey the Bear attempted to instill his message over the years, humans still remain responsible for over 90 percent of wildfires (in Utah’s case the remaining 10 percent can be attributed to lightning and other natural anomalies). Between these, there will likely be a wildfire every day of the summer, and that is not natural.

Fortunately, most wildfires are controlled within the first hour or two, but every year, a handful slip through the cracks. A fire on Antelope Island last July burned a whopping 15,330 acres, and another 20,614 acres blazed in Northern Utah’s Broad Canyon the following month.

The awe-inspiring capabilities of firefighting teams are due to efficiently connecting a massive network of individuals. According to the Utah Department of Natural Resources, every incident begins in virtually the same way: A wildfire is reported through 911, the operator dispatches fire engines, and the call is referred on to one of five Regional Interagency Fire Centers (IFC).

The IFC dispatches all available local resources capable of combating the fire, regardless of affiliation. The first firefighters on scene initially take command and report back to the IFC to assess the complexity of the fire. “As the fire increases in complexity, command may be transferred to someone with higher qualifications and more expertise.”

The “complexity analysis” ranges from the less technical Type 5 through severe and technical Type 1. Type 4 and 5 are representative of around 98 percent of Utah wildfires and require little more than a handful of local personnel to effectively extinguish them. When a fire progresses to Type 3, it enters the realm of “extended attack,” requiring multiple days and the assistance of personnel from outside of the local area, around 200 collectively. At Type 2 or 1, a pre-formed Incident Management Team comprised of 20-40 “overhead personnel” from various agencies oversee the fire. That might mean several hundred personnel dedicated to fighting the fire over several weeks, if not months. They pull out all stops, from fixed-wing “Air Attack” platforms to 10-12 person “Helitack Crews,” helicopter bucket ships then can drop more than 2,000 gallons of fire retardant or water.

Utah is the only state, aside from Alaska, that has Hotshot Crews employed and managed directly by the state government — all others are recognized as federal resources. These elite teams (of which our state has two) are hand crews of 20 firefighters vigorously trained in wildfire suppression tactics and are distinguished by exemplary physical fitness, expertise, and the ability to tackle the most stressful and technical of situations.

Rising global temperatures and ever-multiplying irresponsible outdoorsmen correlate with increasing wildfires in our high desert state. Local firefighters vigilantly stand by, ready to protect Utah’s ecosystem and people from the most ravenous of elements.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of FEMA

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Natural Medicine: Mending Wounds Through Outdoor Adventure Therapy

Stepping foot onto the Bonneville Shoreline Trail on a sunny Saturday afternoon means running into about as many people as you would at the grocery store on Thanksgiving Eve. But instead of people frantically sprinting between aisles, eyeing their list to check off every item, you’ll see bikers, hikers, and runners with child-like grins, breathing the fresh air of the Wasatch foothills.

Few would deny that nature is good for the soul, especially in a state where outdoor recreation brings in $12 billion in consumer spending and generates 122,000 direct jobs. Utahns love spending time outdoors. But recently, researchers, medical professionals, and therapists are showing that there is more going  on in the body and brain than we might think, and they are beginning to see lasting effects on some patients.

UNPLUG AND REWIND 

David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, began to study the effects of nature on the brain a few years ago, after noticing changes in himself when going outdoors.

“If [you] go on a river trip or a backpacking trip and are away for a while, you start to really think differently. Your senses are recalibrated, you notice things that you didn’t notice before,” he says. Now, he brings his classes away from technology and into the wild every year, measuring electrical activity in the brain with EEG scanners. What did he find? Nature boosts problem solving abilities, creativity, sense of well-being, and decreases stress levels and blood pressure.

When we are outside, away from our smart phones and email and the constant nagging of tasks in the back of our minds, we can rest the part of the brain that controls multi-tasking. The prefrontal cortex, as it is called, is like a muscle. It needs to rest and heal in order to give 100 percent later on. The glucose and glycogen energy stores are restored when you can quiet this part of the brain and go to default mode. It’s not that your brain just slows down though. The brain is actually more active, but in separate areas, like those activated by meditation.

Strayer can prove nature’s healing properties on a screen, but he’s also seen it firsthand. Enrolled students in his “Cognition in Nature” courses are frequently those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq after being on military tours. These students are often quiet and separate from the class, disconnected from the rest. But, as the trip continues, he sees them inch closer to others during group time and participate more and more.

“In one case, we came back to class the day after we got back from the desert and we all thought, ‘Who’s this guy sitting in the class?’ He had shaved off his beard and completely transformed. These are amazing transformations, and it happens on a regular basis.”

HEALING OUTDOORS

Psychologists and therapists are begginning to catch on the trend. At the National Ability Center in Park City, Craig Bryan, executive director for the National Center for Veterans Studies, runs a therapy program for PTSD victims that combines trauma-focused therapy sessions in the morning and recreational activities in the afternoon. While outdoor recreation alone doesn’t often have long-term recovery effects, therapy sessions and the outdoors are the perfect match.

“We use these outdoor activities for people to do things that elevate their mood. We provide opportunities to challenge the core beliefs of our veterans. Many of them ony think ‘I’m a failure. I screw everything up,’” he says. “In therapy we say, ‘Didn’t you just climb to the top of a mountain yesterday? How is it possible to climb a mountain if you can’t do anything right?’”

Since its start last year, the program has seen a 73 percent recovery rate of PTSD by the end of the two-week program. They are continuing to gather data in order to prove to the mental health community at large that there is some kind of healing power of the outdoors.

Wilderness adventure therapy can help those with other mental health issues too, be it trauma survivors, teens with mental disabilities, or addicts.  At some colleges, like Prescott College in Arizona, there are even adventure therapy majors available for students. Utah boasts perhaps the highest quantity of these therapy services.

Aspiro is one of these, taking teens on trips for eight to 12 weeks all over the state. Year-round, groups of six to eight individuals, ranging with problems from autism spectrum disorder, drug abuse, or depression, backpack through the desert or ski tour the Wasatch, says Joe Nagle, Adventure Facilliatation Trainer for Aspiro.

“Doing things that are difficult, especially things that you didn’t know you could do before, translates really easily to whatever you are coping with at home. We found a model that works with a broad range of students,” he says.

They grow in identity coherence, or the ability to know themselves and take pride in who they are, as well as gaining effective coping mechanisms. Pushing limits outdoors can be scary, but believing in yourself and then doing it makes you confident in your abilities.

Nagle knows that, like PTSD recovery, these changes are only possible through the combination of nature and therapy, but there’s no denying that nature is a necessary ingredient.

A PRESCRIPTION FOR NATURE

Stories abound about people stepping into nature to find healing. Most revelations recorded in scriptures happened outdoors just think of Moses on Mount Sinai, Jesus Christ in the wilderness, or Muhammad in the Cave of Hira. In ancient literature like The Odyssey, nature is part of the healing, says Stacy Bare, director of Sierra Club Outdoors.

Bare has been working with researchers, mental and public health professionals, and outdoor advocacy groups to bring the conversation back to the outdoors.

“People see, finally, that this is another way for preventative as well as treatable care,” Bare says. “We need to view our public lands as a public health care system. The benefits of getting outside are incredibly real.”

Park prescription programs are starting to emerge, such as the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Outdoors Rx program, which prescribed active outdoor activity for children and adults suffering with obesity and high blood pressure. Bare himself found healing through climbing, hiking, and skiing after serving in the military for five years.

Stacy Bare skiing in Iraq this year. Photo courtesy of Stacy Bare.

Last year, Bare, Strayer, and others met at the White House to propose a plan to get people off drugs and into nature. Yes therapy and medication are important, but there is a natural healing element that happens when you smell a ponderosa pine or touch a trickling mountain stream.

After millennia of proof from poetry to films, the data is catching up. Nature changes us. And if you don’t believe it, take the advice from Henry David Thoreau. You’ll walk away feeling taller than the trees.

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

Photos courtesy of Aspiro Adventures

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Beyond the Wasatch: Great Basin National Park and Lehman Caves

Three and a half hours west of Salt Lake City, in the middle of the Great Basin between Utah and Nevada, lies a hidden treasure trove of adventure.  Within the 77,180 acres of Great Basin National Park, it’s impossible to get bored. Explore a diverse range of scenery and activities, from the 13,000 feet of its highest mountain peak to its lowest sub-alpine lake. Gaze in wonder at the beauty of a bristlecone pine forest, trek to a glacier, or hike to an arch, but you can’t come without exploring the depths of the magnificent cave system.

Before I visited the Lehman Caves at Great Basin National Park, the most I knew about caves is what I could remember from the cartoon “The Berenstein Bears” that I watched as a little girl. “Stalactites and stalagmites, only caves have got ’em. Tites are always on the top and mites are on the bottom.” I walked away with an education that surpassed that tidbit of information by leaps and bounds.

The Lehman Caves Tour is one of the biggest attractions that Great Basin has to offer, and rightfully so. As I descended underground, I felt as if I had stepped back into a place frozen in time. The marble and limestone caverns were formed 550 million years ago and discovered just under a century ago by Absalom Lehman in 1885. Along with the usual array of stalactites and stalagmites, the Lehman Caves have quite the collection of shields (over 300). These rounded formations projecting upward out of the cave walls are rare, and are thought to form as the limestone cracks and shifts.

The temperature in the caves is a cool 50 degrees year-round and the first room on the tour is the Gothic Palace. Footsteps echo as you enter this grand chamber and you can hear the drip-drip of water sliding down the limestone walls, but your see only darkness. The park ranger leading the tour simulated how it would have felt years ago to enter this space for the first time, as Lehman did. She instructed each of us turn out our lights, then she lit a single candle; the only light source that Lehman had at the time.

This isn’t a cave for spelunking or exploring on your own. Tours are guided by a park ranger, who takes you through the 5 cavernous rooms, each with a unique history and geology. The groups are limited in size to 20 and run at different times depending on the season. The tours are regularly sold out, so make a reservation ahead of time. The $10 fee for the 90-minute tour is absolutely worth the cost. Or, for those short on time, there is a 60-minute tour available for $8.

While the Lehman Caves are very popular, Great Basin is also home to 40 other caves. Most of them are closed for safety reasons and research, and others are closed to protect the bats that call these environments home. For those experienced in caving, Little Muddy Cave is open for recreational use. With a permit, you can explore this cave from October 1st through April 1st. Little Muddy Cave is a little over 1000 ft. in length and it’s filled with mazes of crawl ways. The smooth mud floor is perfect for wiggling through some of these tight spaces.

During the summer, more hikes are accessible, but going in the winter means less crowds. Whenever you decide to make the trip, here are some tips to make it worthwhile:

-Regardless of which direction you’re coming from, the road to Great Basin can get pretty desolate. Driving past endless fields, rolling hills, and snow-capped mountains is a wonderful way to start this journey. Make sure you’ve got a driving buddy, or a really good podcast to keep you awake.

-Between the three campgrounds in the park, there are 70 campsites to choose from. Each site is $12. In the winter, they are first come first serve, so call ahead to check on availability. In the summertime, reservations are available, but they fill up quickly.

-If you’re visiting in the winter, pack accordingly. There are few in-town amenities and water pumps are off until April.

 -Make sure to apply for permits at least two weeks ahead of time. Backcountry camping, climbing, and caving all require permits and the approval process can take a few days. If you’re planning on booking a cave tour, make a reservation at least a week in advance in order to  guarantee a spot.  If you don’t get a permit, don’t fret. There’s plenty to do here:

-Hike up to the Bristlecone pine forest. This moderate 2.8-mile trek brings you to a grove of ancient trees. Just past the trail’s end, you can get a look at Nevada’s only glacier.

– Ascend the highest mountain peak in Nevada. Wheeler Peak (13,063 ft) has breathtaking views of the sage-covered hills and birch tree forests.

– Try your hand at catching a rainbow trout as you fish in either Baker Lake or Lehman Creek. Purchase a Nevada fishing license ahead of time.

– Take the 3.4-mile roundtrip trail for stunning views of Lexington Arch. This natural Arch is six stories tall and carved out of limestone.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

Photos by Esther Aboussou

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