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Adventures

The Stuff People Say

Outdoor Adventures at the University of Utah is the largest collegiate rental shop in the nation, according to its website. With all that gear, and all those students wanting to try it out, you are guaranteed a crazy story or two.

“By the way … there’s a book.”

I had gone into Outdoor Adventures expecting to interview the employees about gear rental options, but that one sentence caught my ear. I was hooked; like a dog sensing food nearby, I couldn’t resist the temptation.

Matt Klassen, one of the attendant employees, explained he usually begins gear rental interactions by asking students what they want to use the requested gear for. Time after time that simple answer has prompted responses that have left employees’ jaws hanging.

These stories began spreading through employee gossip. The usual, “Hey, you won’t believe what I heard the other day.” It wasn’t long before the collection of stories to tell grew big enough to warrant a little more attention. No one could point to who came up with the idea of making a book, but it caught on, and soon one page turned into a second page turned into a book.

Matt handed me the 11 by 4.5-inch book with the enjoyable title, “The Sh** People Say.” He laughed nervously as he did so, saying, “Here are some of the wild stories your fellow classmates have legitimately told us.”

 

1. A student asks to rent a wetsuit, saying, “I’m going pumpkin rowing” as part of the annual Daybreak Pumpkin Regatta. For the Regatta, she explains, people grow huge pumpkins, hollow them out, sit inside them, and paddle in the lake. She backs her story up with a photo of herself last year in a large pumpkin wearing a hippie costume.

 

2. A student selects a duckie for rental and says, “I need to save my duck. She’s stranded in the middle of a pond, but she’s playing with other ducks. My drunk friend released her the other night.”

 

3. After being directed to a tent rental, a student remarks, “I’m worried about setting up this four-person tent. It’s going to be really difficult.” The OA employee asks, “Are you going to have another person with you?” to which the student responds, “Well, yeah. Three other people. It would be really weird if I rented a four-person tent for myself.”

4. A student walks into Outdoor Adventures. Their first question is, “Can we rent a raft to slide down a mountain?” (OA regretfully did not rent out a raft for this activity.)

 

5. A student rents out a piece of equipment and before leaving, asks, “Can I UPS my rental back to your dropbox?” Apparently, the only problem here was the fact that, as the OA employee responded, OA “[does not] have a drop box.”

s.guirguis@wasatchmag.com

 

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Keeping Warm in the Great Outdoors

Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by the ice-cold temperatures while trying to enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you’re hiking or camping, staying warm is the only way to have a safe and enjoyable trip. If anyone claims they like being cold, they’re lying. Here are a few tips and tricks to staying warm during your winter adventures.

Keeping warm requires a variety of tools and tips during Utah’s cold months. Photo by Annie Duong.

Pack the Hand and Toe Warmers 

Keeping your hands and feet warm is essential to not losing a finger or toe to frostbite. No one wants to go through the trauma of that, so listen to the nagging voice of your parental figure in the back of your mind, and pack some hand/toe warmers, some nice thick socks, and gloves.

Stick to the Three-Layer Rule

This may be common sense but it’s important to make sure you have a tight-fitting base layer, a middle layer, and an outer layer. For your base layer, it’s best to have a synthetic or wool article of clothing. DO NOT WEAR COTTON. Cotton is very loosely knitted and takes a very long time to dry. Your middle layer should retain heat. Fabrics like merino wool, down and/or fleece are suggested. Finally, your outer layer should protect you from the elements so it should be windproof, waterproof and well ventilated. Just remember the three Ws: wicking, warmth, and weather.

Two Beanies are Better than One

Not only will you be the most stylish individual in your group, but you’ll also be the most prepared. If you didn’t know, you lose a lot of heat from your head, so it’s best to always have a beanie or warm hat. Bringing two can ensure you’ll have a dry and comfortable beanie to wear at all times. This goes for clothing, too. Wearing wet clothing will 110 percent make you colder than if your clothes were completely dry, so doubling up is a necessity.

Chug Olive Oil

Apparently chugging things like olive oil, and eating avocados and other foods high in fat content, will help keep you warm. The burning of calories leads to an elevated body temperature, so bottoms up. I’m sure to most people olive oil does not sound appealing to drink, so any alternatives that are high in carbs and fat (like chocolate and/or nuts) will keep your internal furnace well fueled.

Keep Your Butt off the Ground

Never leave the fire or you’ll freeze your butt off, and try not to sit directly on the cold ground or on rocks. That goes for sleeping as well. Be sure to sleep on a sleeping pad or a cot to ensure maximum heat insulation. For below freezing temperatures, shoot for at least two or three inches of insulation between you and the ground when sleeping.

Make Yourself a “Crotch Bottle”

Think back to a cold, dreadful night in your tent. Do you remember where your hands were for the majority of the night? Probably in between your thighs, right? There are important arteries in your inner thighs that are essential to regulating body temperature; so don’t put away the kettle or jet-boil just yet. Use this to fill that extra water bottle you packed with hot water and get cozy with it in your sleeping bag, placed perfectly between your thighs to keep your body temperature up.

Big Spoon or Little Spoon?

Don’t know your tent mate? Suck it up, buttercup. Get your pillow talk ready. It’s common knowledge that sharing body heat keeps you warm, why not do it?

Don’t Get Trashed

Even though chugging olive oil isn’t as appealing as the whiskey you packed, a liquor blanket can only get you so far into the night. I’m sure half the reason you’re going camping is to sit around the fire with a beer or bottle, but drinking alcohol makes you dehydrated, and dehydration makes you cold. That warm, fuzzy feeling inside is a trap. You are colder than you think; limit your drinks and make sure those friends of yours who maybe aren’t as careful don’t pass out in unsafe conditions.

Drink Lots and Lots of Water

If you’re like me, being out in the cold doesn’t particularly make me thirsty. The truth is though, the cold, dry winter air actually dehydrates you faster than warmer air. Obviously, water keeps you alive and well but sometimes it’s an easy need to ignore. As your body is working harder to generate heat under all your layers, water is vital. To keep your water from freezing, use a wool sock, invest in an insulated bottle, or use a DIY foam sleeve.

Splurge on Nice Gear

If you do enough cold weather camping, it may be time to invest in some high-quality gear. This isn’t really a tip but you’ll definitely feel a difference between that $30 sleeping bag compared to a $300 one. I’m not telling you to go buy the latest and greatest equipment, but it may be time to do a little research and invest.

a.duong@wasatchmag.com

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Packing Your Camera for Adventure

You may be wondering how adventure photographers get such epic photographs. The easy-yet-complicated answer is: They take their cameras with them everywhere. Whether an adventure is high in the mountains, deep in a cave, or under the interstellar sky with the Milky Way Galaxy above, these adventure photographers have their cameras with them at all times.

This answer for getting great photographs is easy, yet complicated because adventuring with a camera is more difficult than you might think. You need to plan your gear for your adventure, as well as the camera equipment you’ll want to take, without breaking your back, or risking the safety of too much equipment. There’s a lot to take.

For instance, when you want to photograph skiing, you first have to plan out what essentials you will need to keep yourself warm. These may include glove liners, pocket warmers, extra sunglasses, and an additional layer under your coat for when you are standing still observing skiers. Next, you will need to grab some snacks and water so you do not go hungry on the slopes. Lastly, you need to bring your camera. Oh wait, what about lenses? Let’s throw some additional lenses into the mix. Don’t forget a spare battery. Since you will be in the snow for a few hours, you will also want some sort of microfiber towel to dry off the lenses to prevent water damage.

Finally, you’re packed. Now another problem appears: How do you carry your gear?

The only solution is a backpack you can rely on, at a weight you can manage, that will carry all of your gear safely. This requires significant planning ahead of time, and probably quite a bit of money.

There are many assorted styles of backpacks that photographers use, from roller bags to backpacking backpacks. The single most limiting factor preventing any adventure photographer from taking all the equipment they want is weight. You must carry the gear back and forth, and modern-day camera equipment gets heavy fast, not to mention challenging to organize.

When packing for an expedition, you should also always consider your ability to access your camera equipment. You never know when something extraordinary — like a wolf howling at a blue moon or an eagle catching a fish over a lake — is going to be in front of you. You never want to go home from an adventure saying, “I wish I had taken a photo of that.” Having an organized pack where you can easily access your camera equipment will solve this problem. The pack should also protect your gear so the falls and bumps you encounter won’t severely damage them. Camera specific bags have padding to divide lenses into compartments and they are useful for organization, too. When you don’t have padding, use your clothing. Hats, sweaters, and gloves are excellent clothing items that double as soft pads. Last but not least, make sure nothing inside your pack moves around or can fall out of a loose zipper. Dropping a lens and hearing it crack is one of the worst things a photographer can experience since those can easily cost thousands of dollars to replace.

For quick access to cameras, I like to have a CamelBak worn on my chest that houses the camera and lens. At times it does appear awkward when hiking around, but after the trip is said and done, I am very appreciative that I carry the extra pack. It also has the added benefit of letting you keep snacks and water close at hand during any outing.

As you begin packing your gear for that adventure, do some research to determine what gear to leave behind. There are various websites, like Flickr and 500PX, where you can search and take note of what lenses, ISO, focal length, and aperture other photographers used to create their stunning photos. This is a fantastic way to eliminate camera gear you can do without. Plus, when you are on your adventure, you will have a nice starting place to initialize your camera settings, from which you can make minor adjustments for the specific conditions you are in.

During your photography adventure, document what camera gear you end up using and what you do not, for both yourself and other photographers. You will also be able to write down a few essential camera settings you can use next time.

Remember, there are always going to be exceptions, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you feel an urge to bring a lens or filter, do so. You are the artist behind the camera; only keep in mind with extra gear comes extra weight.

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com 

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Bouldering in Bishop

Rock climbing in Happy Boulders in Bishop, CA with Nik, Trevor, and Jill on Sunday, November 6, 2016. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

The time has come for regular climbers to plan their annual fall trips. With Utah getting cold fast, your best bet is to look elsewhere for thrilling climbs. One place I’ve taken to venturing to is Mount Whitney in Bishop, California.

If you have not, Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous 48 states, standing at 14,505 feet, and it is located one hour south of Bishop, California. The drive is long if you’re coming from Salt Lake City, about eight hours if you go through Nevada, so make sure to have some playlists ready. After reaching the Nevada-California border, you’ll begin to see some of the highest mountain peaks in the lower 48. They are crested with white snow and sit atop the horizon. The best place I recommend stopping for food is at Erick Schat’s Bakery for fresh Dutch bread and treats before heading out to the camping spot known as the Pit. Of course, you should make sure you already have supplies for your climbing expedition.

The Pleasant Valley Pit Campground, located 8 miles west of Bishop on Highway 395 is the perfect campground and is relatively inexpensive. The cost will set you back $14 per night with a maximum stay of up to 60 days. That is, if your body can handle that long of a trip. The view from the Pit is stunning. You’ll fall asleep directly under the stars while looking at Mount Tom, which towers over you at 13,652 feet. Most of the fellow campers in the Pit are also climbers looking to either boulder or climb in the Gorge.

Rock climbing in Happy Boulders in Bishop, CA with Nik, Trevor, and Jill on Sunday, November 6, 2016. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

Owens River Gorge, about 11 miles north of the Pleasant Valley Campground, is the perfect place to work sport climbing routes. With over 577 climbing routes, including both sport and traditional, the possibilities are endless. I recommend heading to a few routes in the Holy Trinity crag in the Upper Gorge. Routes range from 5.9 to 5.12 with excellent protection. The routes will almost be shaded from the daytime sun since they run next to the river in the gorge. Pick Pocket, 5.11a, was my favorite route. It is easily noticeable because of the specific chalk holds that have marked the path up to the bolts 60 feet off the ground. Other notable climbs in this area that are a must are Triple Play cliff, great for warm ups, and Gorgeous Towers, awesome crack climbing, especially on Wacked Scenario 5.10b. You will absolutely love this crack.

After you’ve finished climbing in the gorge, head back up to your car and drive north to take a dip in the Crab Cooker hot spring 20 miles northwest. The Crab Cooker is located on your way to Mammoth, a classic California ski resort in the Inyo National Forest. The hot springs have adjustable temperature settings with a wrench to turn the valve. Once you’ve relaxed in the hot spring, head back to camp and catch some shut-eye before bouldering the next day in the Happy Boulders area.

When you wake up the following morning, get a well-rounded breakfast and head due east about 4 miles to the Happy Boulders for another exciting day of climbing. The only bouldering I had done prior to this trip in Bishop, California, was in a Salt Lake City gym. After bouldering outside in Bishop, I finally understand the desire to boulder — it is so much more fun to be outside with friends, climbing on real rock. The thing about bouldering is that there are so many different routes to climb it is unbelievable. In the Happy Boulders area alone, there are 481 marked routes. One climb I would put down for the record books is Monkey Hang V3, which starts out with an unbelievable Gaston hold, a technique where you push against holds instead of pulling on one to gain leverage, and a foot hold. While keeping your hands placed on the starting hold, you swing your body around to latch your feet on the top edge of the boulder. Once they have been placed, carefully reposition your body to mantle (a move where you push and flop like a beached whale) up over the lip to finish the route. You will be breathing heavily after completing this route, but you will feel like a champion once reaching the top.

Rock climbing in Owen’s River Gorge near Bishop, CA with Nik, Trevor, Jill, Felix, and Kristen on Saturday, November 5, 2016. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

As always, climb with friends in case of an emergency, and remember to take the proper equipment such as sun screen, clothing, and food. Document your adventure with a camera and tell others about the awesome area in Bishop. On your drive back home, I suggest stopping by Erick Schat’s Bakery for some cinnamon pull-apart bread to enjoy in celebration.

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Beginners’ guide to skiing and snowboarding

Living in Utah, you should already know that the winter season is a big deal. If you were like me growing up, I never saw the middle school skiing/snowboarding program, Snow Blitz, appealing as a young tween. Wearing layers upon layers of snow attire and falling down a mountainside didn’t sound fun, and the expense was unattainable — until now. Even though I’m interested now, I must warn you, the falling doesn’t stop. Which leads me to the first of many tips when you begin to learn how to ski or snowboard — get used to falling, but before you start falling, you’ll need the gear for it.

Gear

Buying skiing and snowboarding gear right off the bat can be quite the commitment and can start at $600 and easily reach into the thousands.

Luckily, if you’re a student at the University of Utah, you’ll find the cheapest rentals rates in the state at the Student Life Center. Pro tip: you don’t need to be a student to rent from the university, but you can get 20 percent off the already cheap rates if you bring your UID. You can rent a basic skiing and/or snowboarding package, which includes skis/snowboard, bindings, boots, and poles (if skiing). You can also rent a coat and snow pants. The staff is there to help you get fitted, teach you proper gear technique, and you can store all this information for future reference. While the U would be the cheapest and easiest rental place, there are places all over Utah you can rent gear from like Ski N’ See & ARCS, which offers discount lift passes if you rent from them.

What you’ll need:

  • Beanie
  • Helmet
  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Coat
  • Snow pants/overalls
  • Layers
  • Boots
  • Bindings
  • Skis/snowboard
  • A snowy mountain

Lift Passes

Lift passes are the other expensive part of this hobby. As a beginner, no one wants to dish out $400+fon a season pass, but it can be pricey paying by day. Brighton Ski Resort is a great place to begin. If you can handle the cold, single day evening passes at Brighton are your best bet. While single full day passes allow you to ride from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and start at approximately about $82, night passes start at about $47, allowing you to ride from 4-9 p.m.

Though it can get rather cold and dark, night riding is a great time to learn since there are less people around. While a seasonal night pass to Brighton Ski Resort is only $319-$419, a seasonal day pass can range from $599 to $750. The best part of Brighton is the promotional offers it runs during the season. You can always find promotional deals on night riding like “2 for 1” rides or a discounted night pass if you bring canned goods during their food drive. Find the entire list of promotional deals on night riding and lessons on the Brighton webpage.To do it right, you need lessons.

Lesson

Once you have your gear and a pass, it’s time to hit the slopes.

If you don’t have a patient enough friend, adult lessons will help develop your skills. While you have the option between group lessons or private, you will learn skills and techniques to help ride more of the mountain while having fun with other riders. Keep in mind; resorts, like Alta, are for skiers only, so instructors may not know how to teach you how to snowboard. While lessons can range from $50 to $100+, Brighton offers the cheapest skiing/snowboarding lessons starting at $55 for a night lesson. Remember, safety first. I highly suggest not trying to teach yourself how to ski or snowboard as it can be fairly dangerous without proper skills and technique.

Tips

  • Don’t compare yourself to anyone else on the slopes.
  • Helmets are cool; wear one.
  • Skiers, don’t cross your tips.
  • Always keep your knees bent, but not too bent.
  • Wear proper winter clothing. Do not wear cotton (it absorbs and holds water, making you colder).
  • Save money on gas by using your pass as a ticket for public transportation.
  • Snowboarders, there are such things as butt pads.
  • Look for promotional deals.
  • Bandanas/masks make a big difference in keeping warm.
  • Your boots should be snug, but still have enough room for when your feet swell.
  • Have fun, but safety first.

a.duong@wasatchmag.com

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Skipping School for Skiing

Ski run at Alta Ski Resort. Photo by Samira Guirguis.

“There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream/The earth, and every common sight/To me did seem/Appareled in celestial light/The glory and the freshness of a dream.”

These words by William Wordsworth describe the moments I look forward to. Moments when the pull of snow on the mountain tempts me into skiing down runs filled with fresh powder, or moments when I survey the world from the top of a red, rocky cliff I traversed by digging my hands into its cracks and crevices. These moments in nature capture what it truly means to be present, alive, and at the same time, these moments continually force me to fight against the concept of time or obligations like school or work. The need to feel free and to experience living on my own is why I chose to forgo college for the spring semester at the University of Utah and decided to live and work the winter at Alta’s Rustler Lodge in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Ski communities harbor the nomadic people of our world — the ones who have not paved a steady path for themselves, choosing to live out of cars or tents, working odd jobs in different states in order to embrace nature through skiing or rock climbing. It’s hard not to pass judgment when the entirety of your life can be packed into a beat-up Toyota, but this was the norm for the employees at Rustler Lodge. While some in society might see these people as vagrants, it was difficult for me not to be enamored by their carefree lifestyle and the exciting stories they told in the evenings in the employee dining room. These were the people I would spend every skiing and working moment with for an entire season.

I loved the feeling of my beacon pressed against my side, cheeks rosy from the cold, nose numb. Each trip like a mini expedition filled with risks and careful decisions; a dumb choice could trigger an avalanche, thus ending a person’s life. But working at Rustler Lodge provided more than endless skiing. I got my first steady paycheck and mastered working in the kitchen of a busy resort restaurant. I learned how to live on my own and negotiate the drama created by tight quarters. When the snow melted, signaling the end of the season and work at Alta, everyone began to pack for their next adventure. Some wanted me to come with them. “School isn’t the only way to get an education,” I recall one guy saying who is currently hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, / But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep,/And miles to go before I sleep,” words from Robert Frost. I loved my winter in the mountains, and as I sit at my computer typing an article for Wasatch Magazine, it is obvious that I chose to return to the apparent normalcy of schedules and deadlines rather than live a carefree lifestyle in nature. I want to be a journalist, which means I will have a goal that requires me to go to school and master certain skills that will enable me to be a successful reporter. In the future, I know I will experience the world by taking the path less traveled, but this doesn’t mean we can’t have a semester off. Or if you’re scared you might get behind in school, you can always take spring off and go back for the summer semester. We live in a state where we have easy access to world class ski areas that offer live-in positions like Rustler Lodge.

Rustler Lodge, Alta Peruvian, Alta’s Goldminer’s Daughter, Snowbird, Solitude, and Deer Valley is a short list of resorts, which offer a range of jobs from working as ski instructors to cooking in busy restaurants. Take advantage of the fact that we have access to these canyons and make the most of it. November is when you should start applying for these jobs, and the fall colors of Little Cottonwood Canyon make the drive to apply.

s.guiguirs@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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Bindings—A Ski for all Reasons

How do you pick the right pair of bindings for your skis? There are so many variations of bindings available that it’s difficult to find the right pair just for you. You can listen to vendors describe the intricate details of why their bindings are better than their competitors, but it all boils down to one simple concept –— bindings are used to attach your skis to your boots. With this in mind, there are three categories of ski bindings: alpine, alpine touring, and telemark bindings. With these bindings, it is important to know what type of ski boot you are using, because there is no ski boot that fits all three.

The first step to choosing a new pair of bindings is determining what type of skier you are. If you prefer to ski exclusively in resorts and on groomed trails, then alpine bindings are the right choice for you. These bindings are designed for skiers who are learning how to get down the mountain to Olympic skiers who race down mountains at freeway speeds. These bindings have a release setting based on your skill level and weight. This setting is known as the DIN of your bindings. Generally, the higher the DIN setting, the better or heavier a skier you are.

If you are a more experienced skier who is looking to transition from waiting in long lift lines to making the first tracks down the mountain after a recent storm, then alpine touring (AT) bindings will fit your needs. These bindings are designed to release from the heel and pivot to about the toe to mimic the motion of cross country skis. Alpine touring bindings are used for scaling mountain sides with the ability to transform back into a downhill ski. There are two main types of alpine touring bindings: frame AT and tech AT bindings. Frame AT bindings will work with your normal alpine boots, whereas tech AT bindings need special boots that only work with tech bindings. The main difference between these two types of bindings are the weight savings, tech bindings being much lighter than frame ones. If you are a veteran backcountry skier, the tech boots and bindings are the best way to go. If you are just getting into backcountry skiing and are looking to save a penny or two (or a couple hundred dollars), then frame AT bindings are the best option. Both types of bindings will get you to some of the best, untouched powder available.

If you are the type of person who’s looking for a challenge and wants to look good while doing it, then telemark bindings are the best choice. These bindings allow for a novel type of skiing that mixes downhill and cross country skiing. The toe is connected to the ski, but the heel is free the whole time. This is unlike AT bindings, where the heel is free for the ascent, but then clips in for the descent. You have to change your style of skiing because you are essentially making a lunge motion down the mountain. While elegant to watch, just know that telemark skiers love to work their legs to exhaustion in an already tiring sport. Only telemark boots will work with telemark bindings. The range of motion allowed by the combination of the boot and the binding allows you to make these dynamic maneuvers.

In summary, think about what type of skier you want to be this season before purchasing a new pair of bindings. Look at your boot inventory and decide which bindings will be compatible with them. Once you have made all of these decisions, mount your bindings to your skis. Have a professional set your DIN release setting, then get on the mountain and ski.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Stop and Smell the Flowers

Wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo taken by Kiffer Creveling.

Typically when you think of Alta, you are likely to think of skiing or hiking. What most people don’t think about are the natural wildflowers that grow all over the area. High-altitude wildflowers are some of the most rugged plants because of the environment they live in, residing in elevations near 8,500 feet or even higher. The blooming time of these flowers does not usually occur in the spring, but is instead delayed to the end of July, or even early August.

The Albion Basin wildflowers are something that everyone should have the opportunity to visit because of the uniqueness of those flowers. When you head up Little Cottonwood Canyon, you’ll begin to see the sea of flowers that flows around every canyon. Pay close attention to all of this, as the colors will change the higher up the canyon you get, as flowers of different elevations bloom at different times.

Wide shot of wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

When you reach the top, where the Alta parking lot is, you can take the free shuttle that will drop you off on the Cecret Lake trailhead. It takes approximately 15-20 minutes between shuttles. The other option you have is to walk up to the trailhead through the Albion Basin meadow. If you are an ambitious hiker, then this is the option for you. You can walk next to the stream to see the flowers that need more water, which look completely different than the flowers in the meadows. Look carefully for the ground squirrels that have made their residence in the hills. Sometimes they’ll even peek out of their holes to ensure dominance over any approaching competition. Their presence makes the flowers even more fun to see.

Bluebell wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

The bluebells and Indian paintbrush make up most of the blue and red flowers that you’ll see in the basin. The yellow flowers across the basin on the west side of the canyon make up the second largest meadow basin at Alta. The hike up to this meadow takes quite some time, but allows you to gain a new perspective of the Albion Basin flowers.

Two of my favorite flowers to look out for are fireweed and elephant’s head. Fireweed is the faint purple flower that grows on tall green stocks that taper to the leaves. At the beginning of the summer at these high elevations, the flowers are near the bottom of the plant; as summer progresses, the flower blossoms move towards the top. Once the blossoms have reached the top, you know that summer has finished and that fall is near. Elephant’s head, on the other hand, looks just like what you’d think: a small pink flower that resembles the head of an elephant. It grows on a shorter plant that is typically located near water or a marsh.

Fireweed wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

Remember as you go that the flowers are there to stay and for others to enjoy. Too many times you may see other visitors picking the flowers to make a bouquet. If you see this happening, kindly remind them not to do so.

Forest rangers have put up informational cards on a few of the trees on the hike up to Cecret Lake, allowing young kids and the inquisitive hikers to learn about local nature in the area. On these cards you’ll read about the moose and the natural habitat, including the flowers surrounding you. If you are lucky enough on your walk to see the flowers, you may also be lucky enough to see a moose on the loose. Be sure to stay away and let them be — don’t disturb them. Make sure you take your camera with you to share the beauty of these wildflowers with others, without taking them away and harming the environment.

 

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Conquering the City of Rocks

Have you heard of the City of Rocks? Just think a city — but with rocks. The City of Rocks National Reserve in Southern Idaho lives up to its name. It is a city of rocks that rivals New York City, only with natural rock structures. With well over 449 established rock climbing routes (traditional, sport, aid, and bouldering), this is a destination location for any climber looking to work on granite projects.

The City of Rocks is located northwest of Salt Lake City, approximately 166 miles away, or a three-hour drive. Head north on I-15 and make your way towards Boise, but turn off before you hit the Idaho border at Exit 5, then head west towards Almo, Idaho. Watch the speed limit as some of the towns you’ll pass through might have the fuzz just waiting to make the rounds. There are a few campgrounds inside the City of Rocks National Reserve that will cost you $12.72 per night, but you can also camp on the BLM land south of Almo by 2 miles.  Once you pass the cattle guard, take an immediate right, and there will be a few camping spots.

After climbing in Little Cottonwood Canyon for the past two years, I was really excited to try some new rock when I visited. I had heard that the City of Rocks had some special granite rock that was unlike the granite in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and the rumors were true. The granite in the City of Rocks is so grippy, it felt as if you could walk up anything.

Our group headed to the Drilling Fields to work on the Lost World to practice sport climbing. We first got on Tourist Season — a 5.7— and the 5.8 just to the left. The site proved an excellent beginning to a climbing trip to the City of Rocks to work on foot placement, filled with excellent holds and bolts not too far apart from one another. Next, we worked our way over to the other end of the Lost World to climb. There’s Friction Afoot (10.b) and Contra Friction (5.9). Both were excellent climbs to work on slab climbing and foot placement.

Our favorite route in the City of Rocks we climbed was The Drilling Fields (11.a). Brian Smoot, a veteran climber who has established a ton of climbing routes in the Salt Lake area, led the climb to get our group on top rope so we could each take a stab at the 100-foot route. From jugs to crimps to heel-hooks, this climb contained them all. Don’t let the length of the route scare you, because once you are on the wall, it will seem as if you are in your own world and that each bolt is your goal. Only when you reach the top you’ll realize how high off the ground you are. You’ll finally catch your breath as your belayer lowers you to the bottom, looking up to see what you just accomplished.

If you have climbed all the routes in the City of Rocks that your hands can handle and still have not finished climbing, just 5 miles north of the City of Rocks is Castle Rock State Park with another 239 established climbing routes: trad, sport, aid, and bouldering. To reach Castle Rock State Park, head back towards Almo and continue north. Once you get to the park, you will need to pay the $8 park entrance fee before proceeding. Here, we climbed in Hostess Gully — West Corridor on the back side of Castle Rock.  This was a great place that had morning shade for Zinger — a three pitch 5.8 route — to work on rope management.

The approaches are very easy with 15 minute hikes that are moderate in difficulty. Climbing is on all sides of the rock which allows climbers to avoid the direct sun in morning/afternoon. Keep in mind that the most important thing in rock climbing is to be safe. Wear a helmet, and always check to ensure that your safety equipment will hold. With that in mind, I encourage anyone who wants to increase their skills in rock climbing to head to The City of Rocks, because it is an excellent location to boost your confidence.

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com

 

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