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Adventures

Constellations on Camera

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

ISO: The electrical sensitivity of the digital sensor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AVOID STAR BLUR:

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

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

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

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

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Kiffer Creveling

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9 Tips for the Perfect Adventure Crew

Whether it’s on the first ascent of an isolated mountain or on a chill car camping excursion for the weekend, the people around you can make or break a trip. You can’t change much about the core personalities of you or your friends, but there are a few things you can all agree to smooth out the wrinkles of any trip. 

Those with formal outdoor education (I’m looking at you, PRT Department and NOLS) have probably seen these tips before, but for us casual campers, here are the tricks to have a more relaxed outing with friends:

1. Help out

Contribute to the tasks that need to be accomplished. Pitch in ideas planning, help a driver navigate, build the fire, cook, clean up, set up the tent, etc. Everyone appreciates each other and things go smoothly when people help out.

2. Pick people with similar ability levels and goals

Scrambling up Class 4 mountains might be a typical day for some hikers while those behind them are texting their families their final wishes. Varying abilities can add some flavor to a trip, it’s true, but being on par in fitness/adventure level helps everyone get the most out of the trip.

3. Communicate openly about everyone’s comfort levels and what they want to accomplish

It’s alright if someone is new to what you’re doing. The adventure of trying something new is part of the fun. Make sure everyone is in the same boat and in the know regarding the goals of the trip and how the weak link(s) will be supported. If one person wants to ice climb and another wants to just sleep in a cabin but neither bring it up, there will likely be problems.

4. Let everyone know if you have something that might hold you back like an injury, fear, etc.

On a similar note, if you have something that could prevent the group from accomplishing the goal of the trip, let everyone know so it can be accommodated and prepared for as early as possible. If you have some irrational fear of tent stakes, for example, that might be good to share.

5. Don’t complain about the weather, or other obvious situations

This isn’t original, but I like it. When it’s raining or the drive is really long, it’s no secret to the rest. There’s no reason to be a downer and complain about it. Just embrace it, it’s part of the fun. Talk about something else. Complaining isn’t fun, man.

6. Don’t forget your gear, and if you do, keep it to yourself

There’s no reason to stress other people out about gear that you lost or forgot if you don’t have to tell them. It’s best to avoid making yourself look silly and unprepared if it’s something simple like forgotten toothpaste.

7. Be in shape

Being the slowest in the group isn’t fun for you or anyone else. Know your physical abilities and set expectations to meet them. Don’t be that person repeating, “Man, I’m out of shape” along the trail.

8. Enjoy yourself and try to maintain some sense of optimism and happiness

When things go south, it’s OK to be stressed and bring problems up to the group. If everyone keeps their heads up with a positive attitude, it goes a long way to keep the group motivated together working toward your end goal.

9. Play nice

In the outdoor community, most of us are pretty decent people connected by our common love of the outdoors. When you are on a week-long river trip, you can’t really escape anyone you get in a tiff with. Address issues as they come, but don’t ruin everyone’s trip by being a rude know-it-all. If you get frustrated, take a breath of the fresh air and realize where you are.

c.hammock@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Chris Hammock

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How to: Make Coffee When Camping

Imagine that you’re deep in the Wasatch Mountains, hiking up to Mount Timpanogos 20 miles away from your favorite coffee shop or your fancy espresso machine at home. Scary thought, right? When you’re planning for a weeklong backpacking or camping trip, excessive gear is tossed out left and right, but for everyone’s sake and sanity, keep the coffee. Follow these steps to beat any “cowboy coffee” or Starbucks instant packs when on the trail.

Snow Peak’s French Press, the best camping French press in my opinion, is so lightweight, it’s always worth bringing along. I store all my coffee supplies for the trail inside and use it as a pot, since it can be placed directly on coals. The only drawbacks are that it doesn’t make a lot of coffee and it’s a little pricey — $55.99, to be exact.

To use it, just follow these three simple steps:

  1. Boil water
  2. Add grounds (my favorite is Cuarenteno from Jack Mormon Coffee Co.)
  3. Sit for three minutes and filter.
  4. To clean, rinse out grounds with a little water

Another alternative is liquid coffee concentrate, the perfect solution to serve high volumes of hot coffee quickly. Plus, the concentrate can be used to make iced coffee by diluting with two parts cold water and ice.

  1. Place two cups of ground coffee in a pitcher and cover with six cups of water at room temperature. Cover with a tea towel and let sit a minimum of 12 hours, 24 if you want it to be stronger. When camping, prep ahead and let it sit overnight.
  2. Strain coffee concentrate with a coffee filter.
  3. Dilute the concentrate with two parts boiling water. I tend to do a ratio of one part concentrate to two parts water, but over time you can experiment to see what tastes best to you.
  4. Depending on how long your trip is, grab some cream from the 7-11 before heading up the canyon or buy some Milkman instant low fat dehydrated milk from Amazon or REI.

You never need to give up a cup of coffee, even when you are out in Utah’s wilderness surrounded by red rocks or pine boughs and the crunch of snow. You can awaken to the sounds of unzipping bags and tents and the smell of a smoking campfire with the knowledge that delicious hot coffee awaits. You and your friends will be even happier with caffeine pumping through your blood.

s.guirguis@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Sam Guiguis

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Paragliding with Braedin Butler, a Family Tradition

Some say they’re adrenaline junkies, and some say they’re idiots asking for death. To us, they are adventure seekers living the dream. We took a look into the niche world of paragliding through a firsthand account of the sport from Braedin Butler, an aerospace engineering student at Utah State University and avid paraglider. He says most people miss the point of paragliding.

“The first thought of people who aren’t too familiar with the sport is ‘Oh that’s so dangerous, you’re crazy,’ but it all comes back to the fact that it’s just as safe as you play it. Be smart about it. If you play it safe, it’s safe, just like driving a car.” On first glance, it may seem like reckless recreation but in reality it’s a way to soar with hawks, bond with friends and family, and experience a view unlike any other.

Butler got into the sport at 15 years old, after a three-generation family tradition of dads teaching their sons how to paraglide. He lives the adventure sport lifestyle skiing and mountain biking in the wasatch, but the sky is his favorite outdoor playground. He loves kiteboarding, kite skiing, and a unique sport called kite buggying that involves using a kite and a large trike getting up to speeds of 50 miles per hour on wide open spaces like the Salt Flats. To top it off, Butler is also a cross country track athlete at Utah State, but he says paragliding is probably his favorite of them all.

His favorite place to fly is a zone near Centerville, Utah by the Great Salt Lake. “Especially at sunset,” he says. “It’s the best time to fly.” There, he was enamored by the sport. “Paragliding is just beautiful; that’s the reason I love it so much. When you are in the air and everything is silent, you get a bird’s-eye view of everything and you just feel so free.”

“[I love] when you’re in the air next to another pilot flying … my dad and I would fly wingtip to wingtip, close enough to where we can just have a conversation with each other.” Of all the ways to bond with your dad, having a one-on-one conversation soaring a couple thousand feet in the air might take the cake. Some other favorite moments include birds circling around and sharing thermals (an upward current of warm air) with paragliders, flying up and gaining altitude together in the same pocket of hot air.

Butler hopes to use his aerospace engineering degree to contribute to the safety of the world of flying sports, especially paragliding. He will continue to fly for the rest of his life, following his grandpa’s lead.

c.hammock@wasatchmag.com

Photo and Video courtesy of Braedin Butler

 

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Good to Go, Meals for the Trail

Spring break is quickly approaching, and so is the season of gradual snowmelt, wildflowers, and terrestrial rebirth. Whether you intend to flock to more temperate wilderness or strap on a pair of snowshoes and stay local for the coming break, you’re going to need to sustain yourself out there. We’ve ditched the extravagance, leaving you with quick, hearty, and easy recipes to fill your tummy and more importantly, give you time and energy to engage with nature to your heart’s content.

TRAIL MIXES

We’ll give you the ingredients, you decide the quantity. 4:1 chocolate to peanut ratio? Go for it. All ingredients can likely be found in the bulk section of your local grocery store.

Sacred Seeds: Almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper.

Power Blend: Flax seeds, goji berries, pistachios, dried blueberries, and dark chocolate chips.

Nutty Nutrition: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, pecans, and raisins.

GORP: Simply peanuts, raisins, and M&Ms.

Coastal: Macadamia nuts, white chocolate chips, dried pineapple, and coconut flakes.

THE REAL MEALS

Particularly on longer excursions, Clif bars and handfuls of trail mix may not cut it. Give your body what it needs with these quick-and-easy recipes. Essentials: water-boiling mechanism, sturdy bowl and utensils, and trash bag for waste.

Pseudo Eggs and Bacon: pre-cooked bacon bits, instant mashed potatoes, and powdered eggs. Despite its ultra-processed components, this meal provides you with high amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and sodium to keep you marching along. Prepare heated ingredients separately.

Oatmeal: Use either bulk steel-cut oats or instant oatmeal as a base, mix in granola or some of the tasty trail mix you threw together, and you have yourself some hearty morning sustenance.

Thai Curry: Insta-rice, canned tuna, coconut milk powder, and a bit of curry powder. Infuse coconut milk with curry powder/paste to create the base — add the base into cooked rice and tuna.

Jerky Ramen: This one is lightweight and easy-peasy. Prepare any flavor of top ramen and submerge preferred jerky variety into broth, allowing it to soak for a while. Soy sauce optional (and highly recommended).

Nutella Wrap: Not entirely nutritious, though a delicious reward for a long day of physical torment. Requires only a flour tortilla, Nutella, and dried banana chips (feel free to be adventurous with additional ingredients). Simply spread, sprinkle, and wrap — voila, dessert!

Between your newfound knowledge of trail mix combinations and fully-stocked utility belt of simplistic, hearty meals, you are ready to march forth into the wilderness with confidence! Remember: a savvy snacker is an environmentally conscious snacker — leave no waste, and leave no trace.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Old School Navigation

Learning to survive in the wilderness is a skill many outdoorsmen and women brush under the rug. We think we’ll never get lost, our equipment will never fail, and if we   ever injure ourselves, it won’t be more than a scratch.

Navigation is essential in wilderness preparedness, especially since Google Maps doesn’t work when you are 15 miles away from the nearest trailhead in the middle of the San Raphael Swell. This spring break, learn how to find your way with these three tips.

FOLLOW THE STARS

If you are hiking with the stars in the northern hemisphere, the best tip for navigation is to look for the North Star, aka Polaris. Locate the Big Dipper, one of the more recognizable constellations. If you look at the opposite side of the handle on the Big Dipper and draw a straight line using those two stars, you’ll find the North Star. It is the brightest star on this line and is about three fist sizes away. Find south using Orion, following his belt straight down to the horizon when it’s vertical in the sky.

READ A COMPASS

While compasses all point North based off of the magnetic pole in the northern hemisphere, they can also be used to accurately point you in any direction. Using a combination of the compass needle, the compass housing, and the orienting arrow, any direction is possible. For a magnetic compass, this is done by rotating your compass housing until the direction you are looking for is lined up with the direction of travel arrow. Keeping these all fixed, rotate yourself until the compass needle lines up in the direction of north within the compass housing. With both of these aligned, you will have the correct direction of travel.

INTERPRET A TOPOGRAPHICAL MAP

Topos give you an accurate three-dimensional representation of the lay of the land in two dimensions, so keep these tips in mind when reading one. Every point on the same contour (wavy) line has the same elevation. One side of a contour line is uphill and the other is downhill, based on the distance between those lines. Contour lines close to form a circle or they run off of the map. The area inside the circle is almost always higher than the contour line. This helps gauge the elevation gain or loss on a mountain pass trail. It lets you know how much work it will be to go one mile in direction X compared to direction Y. Now that you can read contour lines, try to correlate them to physical features around you, such as peaks, valleys, or waterways.

Once you have these skills, you are set to navigate almost any terrain. The best part? No batteries or charging required.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Peter Creveling

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Kick off the Climbing Season in the Valley of Zion

Ice and snow are sliding off the canyon walls, exposing those projects you’ve been dreaming about all winter. Rock climbing season is here. It’s still March though, an indecisive month that can toss rain, snow, or 65 degree temps at you with a shift of the spring wind. Yes, the Cottonwoods have missed you, but escaping the mountains gives you a better chance of escaping that random snowstorm that will kick you off your project. Switch granite slabs for limestone crags overlooking the expansive Great Salt Lake. Come to the Valley of Zion.

It sounds exotic, but don’t worry, the classic, scratch-your-head names climbers give to walls await you. Choose from Blob’s Your Aunt, Blob’s Your Cousin, Blob’s Your Nephew, or Blob’s Your Uncle. Most are single-pitch sport routes that are a lot longer than you initially expect. Since the majority of climbs are in the 5.9-5.10b range, it’s the perfect confidence booster to launch a new rock climbing season.

Warm up on Blob’s Your Uncle, just above and to the left of the parking area. Greg’s Bear Hug and Drunk Monkey are some favorites, but there’s not a climb here that won’t give you varied climbing and some exposure. Just remember to bring a lot of quickdraws, since 10+ bolts are common. The climbs are side by side, making it a great cragging spot with endless views of Stansbury Island and the near-constant lull of trains passing along the salty desert.

Head over to Elysian Fields after you’re warm, a four-pitch sport climb classic never exceeding 5.9 difficulty. The views along the way are stunning.

Camp for the night and check out Blob’s Your Aunt, another easy crag with a large collection of routes. If you want to try out more difficult, shorter climbs, go to Cannabis Crew Wall. You’ll need to check out “Utah’s West Desert” by James Garrett for a full list of climbs in the area.

Once you’ve had your feel of the valley drive back toward Grantsville to explore South Willow Canyon. The West Desert is the perfect weekend climbing spot not too far from Salt Lake, but with different terrain to feel like you went somewhere.

Photo by Andre Romero

Get here:

Drive west on I-80 past Tooele. Take exit #77 and a side road to the base of the climb. Four-wheel drive required. Hike up a short trail for a quarter mile.

Camping:

From I-80, take exit 84 to get to Stansbury Island. Since the land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, you can pretty much camp anywhere. Just remember to leave no trace. The sunsets and sunrises over the lake are unreal.

Packing List:

Sport climbing gear (at least 14 quickdraws)

Camping gear

Warm layers (It’s the desert — it gets cold)

Fire wood and camping food (fires are permitted on the island)

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Ana Shestakova

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Whitewater Thrills in Jackson

A Chicago city slicker with Ray-Ban sunglasses wrapped around his head with twine, a rugby princess with flowing red locks, a blind former professional gymnast, a blonde pun master with a brilliant fake Australian accent, me, and a handful of middle-aged parents. This was the crew that rode the Snake River through Alpine Canyon, just outside of Jackson Hole, Wy. Our fleet consisted of three hard-shell kayaks, two inflatable kayaks, and one raft. Our emotions were somewhere between panic attack and out-of-our minds stoked, corresponding to our varying degrees of river-running competence.

The morning of the descent, we drove about an hour from Pun Master’s family cabin in Driggs, Id. to the put-in. While some of our crew bumbled around unloading trucks, inflating boats, and running a shuttle vehicle to our takeout point, I was tasked with instructing our Chicagoan city slicker on righting a flipped inflatable kayak in the river.

The first stretch of river was calm with blue skies. The Chicagoans, having never set foot nor paddle in a river before, were frantically paddling over every little riffle in sight. Easy class II and III-waves were punctuated with stretches of flat, where cookie-eating and game-playing prevailed. After about two miles on the river, we came to Haircut Rock, the second class III rapid of the day and the only one of any real consequence. It involved a sharp right turn in the river, to avoid the rapid’s raft-flipping namesake. Eddy lines roiled around the infamous rock, threatening the kayaks in a Bermuda Triangle of unseen conflicting currents, ultimately flipping and holding our Pun Master and his hard shell in a hole, or recirculating current. I nearly shot straight into his flipped boat, skirting him as widely as I could. The city slicker clung to his own paddle and watched the water in front of him so closely that he failed to even notice the “Bermuda Hole”. Those of us that witnessed the flip shouted encouragements to roll back up and watched with avid trepidation to see whether our friend would stay in his kayak. Pun Master ended up taking a swim, emptying the water from his boat with some difficulty considering its drain plug was makeshift-stopped with a wine cork. The Chicagoans looked on in a state of impressed, frazzled awe as Pun Master relayed to the group the weird forces of the currents converged in the canyon.

For the next three miles, small surf waves and irreverent women’s rugby team sing-alongs, conducted by our fearless red-headed rugby leader, kept everyone occupied. The trip took a turn for the frigid when we lost the sun to gray clouds and Alpine Canyon enveloped us on either side in deep gray rock. We were soon upon the Big Kahuna class III rapid, closely followed by the class III Lunch Counter. Our cold woes quickly dissipated and the wave trains carried us hard and fast down the river.

Less than 7.5 miles after the put-in, we reached the take-out. Jackson Hole burgers and a bouldering wall at the park in town were beckoning. We’d made it — city slicker, blind gymnast, rugby star, fake Aussie, and all.

Photo by Eric Simon

FOLLOW OUR LEAD

Put In: West Table put-in has changing rooms, toilets, and super-hero rangers who will take note of your party logistics and inform you regarding river flows and any debris or hazards in the canyon. The ranger station has a manual pump for inflating kayaks and rafts. There is no drinking water available, so be sure to bring enough with you.

Features: The Alpine Canyon run of the Snake has two class II rapids, five unrated surf waves, and seven class III rapids. However, at low to moderate flows, Haircut Rock, Big Kahuna, and Lunch Counter are the three crucial points of challenge on the run.

Takeout: Sheep Gulch takeout is at mile 7.4 of Alpine Canyon. It is critical that rafts take out here, as it is the only point accessible to vehicles via takeout ramp. Kayakers can run some fun wave trains just below Sheep Gulch and still easily trek out to the ramp.

Area Attractions: If you’re looking to log more time on calmer water, a trip to Alpine Canyon is also the perfect opportunity to float around Grand Teton National Park, with 10 scenic lakes open to non-motorized vessels. The Tetons offer prime camping, hiking, climbing, and backpacking opportunities. If jet-boiled Ramen just won’t cut it after a cold day on the water, venture into Jackson Hole for some killer post-float food. The gargantuan nachos at Lift Jackson Hole are a personal favorite.

Do not forget warm, waterproof layers. In the spring, snow run-off makes this canyon run even more bone-chilling — especially out of direct sunlight.

If you have no experience running whitewater, Jackson Hole is home to scads of commercial companies that can guide you down the Snake River. Jackson Hole Whitewater and Mad River Boat Trips are two of the most reputable companies.

c.simon@wasatchmag.com

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Beyond the Wasatch: Arches National Park

Over President’s Day weekend, I packed up the car and left town early to escape the overcast grey skies of the Wasatch Front. As I drove southeast, each passing mile of the three-and-a-half-hour road trip down to Moab meant less snow-covered peaks and more red rocks sneaking into the terrain.

The promising forecast of 55 degree weather and the off-season crowds made it one of the best times to intimately explore Arches National Park. With over one million annual visitors, you are bound to see other people on the trails, but visiting this park before the peak season (April – September) is a great way to escape the crowds.

There are over 2,000 natural arches, making the grand landscape of Arches National Park home to the greatest concentration in the country. Beyond that, the beauty of the balanced red rocks, sloping sandstone hills, peaks, spires, and slick rock canyons of Arches make this park an ultimate destination for desert rats. Inside the park, there are 14 hiking trails to choose from, along with areas for rock climbing and canyoneering. Surrounding trails just outside of the park give you access to mountain biking and ATVing.

The entrance fee is $25, so shelling out $80 for an annual parks pass is worth it for the chance to visit this part of Moab again, or any of Utah’s other national parks. You can’t live in Utah without seeing the iconic Delicate Arch that appears on Utah license plates, but once you get away from the ant march of traffic on the trail, try some of the lesser-known hikes such as the Fiery Furnace. You’ll need to purchase a $6 permit in order to navigate the sandstone fins of the furnace, and if you need a helping hand, rangers are always available for guided tours. With 76,000 acres of Arches’ delicate desert ecosystem, you can have hours of fun exploring the park.

SPRING BREAK ITINERARY

MONDAY: Moab is a popular tourist destination, which means planning ahead is crucial so you don’t end up  driving around trying to find a campsite at the last minute. Inside of Arches, Devil’s Garden Campground is often full. Instead, take advantage of the many surrounding campsites outside of the park for cheaper rates. I’d recommend the Sand Flats Recreation Area, just eight miles south of Arches. There are 120 sites to choose from at $15 a night. Each campsite has a fire ring and picnic table, and all are within short walking distance of a vault toilet.

Once you set up camp, go for a scenic drive through Arches to take in the sights of Delicate Arch and the Windows section. Here you can see some of the largest and most iconic arches in the entire park. Check out the historic Wolfe Ranch, home of the first family of settlers to live in Arches.

TUESDAY: Start at Devils Garden campground and hike the 7.8-mile primitive trail loop. The farther along you get, the thinner the crowds become. You’ll see seven arches on this hike, starting with the 290-ft. span of Landscape Arch. Hiking the primitive trail is a great way to break away from the crowds while taking in the beautiful scenery of the park. Just make sure you’re prepared to do a bit of scrambling and sliding as you navigate over the terrain. As you traverse farther along the trail, enjoy the seclusion of the surrounding valley of desert life and geological formations.

WEDNESDAY: When your body is good and sore from the previous days’ hike, head over to Moab Main Street to visit the in-town attractions. Get your feet off the ground at Raven’s Rim Zip Line adventures and catch a birds-eye view of Moab for $129. If heights aren’t your thing, at the same location and for the same price, you can book a 2.5 hour 4WD adventure tour through the high desert. There are many shuttle services in the area to drop off and pick you up at the end of the day if you choose to try out river rafting or mountain biking.

THURSDAY: Finish your trip hiking some of the moderate trails. Trek a mile to check out historic rock art panels at Courthouse Wash (one mile), gaze in wonder at Balanced Rock (0.3 miles), or navigate sand dunes and slick rock as you make your way to Broken Arch Loop (two miles).

FRIDAY: If being surrounded by million-year-old rocks makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, then it’s worth it to make a stop at the Moab Giants Dinosaur Park before you hit the road home.

The attraction is conveniently placed just nine miles north of Moab on Hwy 191 and boasts a large concentration of fossils. Tickets are $22 to enjoy all the indoor and outdoor activities of this mini Jurassic park. Roam along the dinosaur trail to discover over 100 life-sized dinosaur models, check out ancient sea creatures in the paleoaquarium, and browse the museum to learn all about the animals that lived in Moab centuries ago.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

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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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