Be Aware This Spring Break

There are few things as quintessentially American as the classic college road trip. It is an adventure every student should strive to experience before that graduation cap lands atop their head. The memories created driving across a dirt road, windows down, with friends and camping gear in tow are truly special, and the memories made when everything goes wrong, and you’re forced into some crazy predicament, are absolutely unforgettable.

Here in Utah, we have the incredible fortune to be practically drowning in all the possible road trip itineraries. Spend the week,or at least a few nights, exploring some remote corner of the desert, visiting that national park you haven’t been to, or climbing, paddling, hiking, or pedaling that line you’ve been eyeing. Get out and revel in the absurd beauty of all our state’s natural spaces.

While you’re there, remember one thing. We aren’t the first spring breakers here, and we certainly won’t be the last. The reason our pristine natural places exist to this day are because those who took the trips before us were respectful enough to visit as a ghost, and leave with no trace. Pick up your cans, use your wag bags, and please, for all that is good, do NOT carve your name into the sandstone next to that petroglyph. Let’s be sure this great college tradition of visiting pristine places can be carried onto the next generation of adventurers.


Photo by Dalton Rees.


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Bears Ears in Retrospect

The southeastern corner of Utah has seen numerous changes over the past year as Bears Ears National Monument was first established and successively shrunk. Although the battle over the borders has been steadily building since 2010, the history of Bears Ears dates back to long, long before this.

Utah. USA. Detail of Sand Island petroglyph panel along San Juan River. Colorado Plateau. Photo courtesy of Scott Smith.

The first people to inhabit the Bears Ears region were the ancestors of modern native tribes. They existed here for thousands of years before the first Mormon settlers reached the region, and have a history as complex as any other civilization. Understanding all the intricacies of this history is a job fit for a full team of archaeologists, but — fortunately — the important points are simple.

Because multiple tribes lived in this area throughout its history, today tribes that no longer reside in Utah still have important ancestral connections to the land, and all these ancestral people left behind hundreds of thousands of artifacts that now scatter the Bears Ears region. This means that modern tribes, like the Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indians, and Navajo, have strong cultural, historical, and spiritual ties to Bears Ears.

The next main inhabitants of this region were the Mormon settlers. In 1879 they set out on the infamous “Hole in the Rock” journey to settle the then barren area near the San Juan river. Though they encountered and fought against numerous obstacles, including blasting a 2,000 foot passage down to the Colorado river in order to cross it, the pioneers made it without any loss of life. By 1880 the road was open and the settlement of Bluff had begun. Since then, Bluff and other settlements near Bears Ears, like Blanding and Monticello, have grown into proper towns and seen generations of families carve a living out of Utah’s sandstone deserts.

Unfortunately, these two groups that both have historic and cultural claims to the land, do not see eye to eye on how to use it. The current inhabitants of Blanding, Bluff, and other border towns have grown up exploring the wilderness around them and using it to graze cattle. They’ve been free to roam relatively unrestricted and even collect or sell many of the artifacts they find. To them, this is life. Changing it would be enormously difficult. The tribes, however, see the destruction that is happening to their ancestral lands — mostly in the form of large-scale looting of and vandalism to the artifacts there — and are not pleased.

Utah. USA. Silvery lupine (Lupinus argenteus) in bloom above Hammond Canyon. Manti-Lasal National Forest. Canyon walls are eroded Permian-age Cedar Mesa Sandstone of the Cutler Group. Photo courtesy of Scott Smith.

This is why the Navajo, in June 2010, presented the first proposal to protect Bears Ears to Utah Representative Bennett. The Navajo went around speaking to all the elders of the Navajo nation and other tribes with interests in the area to create a map of all the areas that needed protection. Representative Bennett lost his election that year so the Navajo did not release their map until April of 2011. In July of that same year, Utah Dine Bikeyah (UDB), a Navajo organization set up to specifically handle the process of protecting Bears Ears, turned the map and proposal into a short book and distributed it to political leaders across Utah and Washington D.C. The idea of protecting Bears Ears was now fully on the table, and the debate began.

It took two more years before the state of Utah had a real proposal in response. It came in the form of the February 2013 Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI). The bill, proposed by Utah Representative Bishop and supported by Utah Representative Chaffetz, sought to solve many of southern Utah’s land debates in one giant compromise. The peak of this was Bears Ears. The tribes, now aligned in the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, wanted Bears Ears to be protected at a size of 1.9 million acres, with the authority to manage the land placed in their hands.The state of Utah wanted to ensure that the people of Bluff and Blanding had their interests represented as well, and wanted to keep the area open to future economic development.

Although nearly three years of debate, discussion, and compromise went into the PLI, it ultimately failed. The tribes eventually pulled their support from the bill, saying that Representative Bishop was continually unresponsive and in the end excluded the tribes from having management authority over the Bears Ears region. By the time the 114th Congress had ended in late December 2016, no vote had been taken on the PLI.

The tribes knew that this was a possibility from the beginning, and so, planned for a backup. They initially sought to have the region protected as a National Conservation Area with the help of the state of Utah (this was the PLI), however, they also knew that the president could establish a National Monument and protect Bears Ears without the state’s help or consent. The Intertribal Coalition had therefore been lobbying President Obama and Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell in case the PLI were to fall through. When it became clear that the PLI would not gain the votes it needed before the end of the 114th Congress, President Obama designated a 1.35 million acre chunk of land in southeastern Utah as Bears Ears National Monument, and granted the tribes’ request for management authority.

Protestors congregate on the Salt Lake Capitol to protest shrinkage of Bears Ears. Photo by Nick Halberg.

The Utah delegation, and many Utahns near the new monument, saw this designation as an obvious abuse of the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law that allowed presidents the authority to create national monuments, and a huge overreach by the executive. Almost immediately, the Utah delegation began lobbying president-elect Trump. Senator Hatch was so influential in this lobbying that Trump mentioned him on multiple occasions while discussing the monument.

The first step by the Trump administration in the Bears Ears conflict took place in April of 2017 when Secretary Zinke began touring and evaluating all the monuments designated in the last 21 years. The entire process was wrapped in suspicion, however, as Zinke’s final report on the monuments was not officially released until long after the tour was complete.

On December 4, 2017 President Trump travelled to Salt Lake City to once again use the Antiquities Act to determine the borders of Bears Ears National Monument. This time, however, the monument was reduced by roughly 85%, from a size of 1.35 million acres to 200,000 acres. Grand Staircase-Escalante, a monument designated by Bill Clinton just shy of 20 years ago, was also reduced from 1.9 million acres to about a million acres. The reductions were met with applause from the Utah delegation, and boos from thousands of protesters who took to the Capitol steps a few days before Trump’s arrival.

Across the country, the reductions were met with the same mixed reaction. A bigger question plagued the action: was it legal? The Antiquities Act does not explicitly designate the president the power to reduce monuments, though borders have been altered on a few occasions in the past. Now, the courts will decide the fate of both Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante as the Intertribal Coalition and a collection of environmental groups have sued the president.

Protestors congregate on the Salt Lake Capitol to protest shrinkage of Bears Ears. Photo by Nick Halberg.

The Utah delegation, not willing to leave their victory in uncertainty, have proposed two bills to codify the president’s reductions. Representative Stewart introduced H.R. 4558, which will solidify the borders and create a new national park in one of the monuments’ sections. Similarly, Representative Curtis introduced H.R. 4532, which also aims to codify the reductions to Bears Ears. The bills are being deliberated over in a congressional subcommittee now.

The history of Bears Ears is complex, and the debate is far from settled. As the court cases and legislative pieces progress, the possibility of Bears Ears borders once again being altered is high. There only seems to be one thing certain about the landlocked, arid corner of Utah: it has made, and will continue to make, big waves.


Cover photo courtesy of Gary German.




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Changing the Way You Ski & Board

Sometimes it feels like Millenials and the generations that have followed are derided for almost everything they do. Whether or not this derision is always valid, the truth is, post-Baby Boomer generations are causing significant fractures and shifts in the way western societies function. One such fracture and shift is happening now in the ski and snowboard industry, a shift post-baby-boom generation Bryan Dunn and Luke Zirngibl have created the website SnowSearch to acknowledge.

SnowSearch.co’s homepage. Photo courtesy of SnowSearch.

“The U.S. ski industry is in a very interesting spot right now. It has historically, very much from a spending and engagement perspective, been driven by baby boomers who had a very specific set of travel habits. They were very loyal,” explains long-time snowboarder Dunn. “What’s happening with leisure/travel and being echoed in the ski industry is this departure from loyalty — loyalty to brands, loyalty to certain hotels in certain cities, and loyalty to ski resorts.”

According to Dunn, this drop in loyalty is coupled with a “desire to explore,” and to go beyond the few mountains they were raised on by those far more loyal baby boomers.

The ski and boarding industry has noticed this shift in part, which has led to the rise

SnowSearch co-founder Bryan Dunn boarding in Hokkaido, Japan in January of 2017. Photo courtesy of SnowSearch.

of multi-passes. One of the first such passes came from global mountain resort operator Vail Resorts, Inc. Their pass, called the “Epic Pass,” functions quite differently from past single resort options. Dunn says, “Instead of buying access to one mountain, [with the Epic Pass] you bought a season pass to all mountains, and you could go to as many of them as you want as much as you like.” Vail’s Epic Pass has proved incredibly successful. Other multi-resort passes are now available on the market as a result. “If you’re someone who skis more than a few times a year, it suddenly makes sense to buy into one of these multi-passes,” Dunn adds.

SnowSearch co-founder Bryan Dunn boarding off Wyoming’s Teton Pass in September of 2017. Photo courtesy of SnowSearch.

Such desire for exploration inherent in the success of multi-passes shows in Dunn’s own habits, boarding in resorts on four continents. His experience making these trips and going through the frustrations of not only planning which resort to go to, but also where to rent any needed gear, what type of overnight space to stay in, and how to manage transportation from said space to the resort, is what inspired the website.

“We’ve always looked for some unbiased, trusted viewpoint and we’ve found that really difficult to capture. And alongside that, these multi-passes are great, but they only include lift tickets. You’re always going to purchase a hotel or a vacation rental — whether that’s a home rental, Airbnb, something else; sometimes you need gear rental; sometimes you need transportation,” says Dunn. “There’s all these disparate pieces of inventory that you need to purchase when you finally do figure out where you want to go and when, and all these things are all over the place on the web.”

Bryan Dunn and Luke Zirngibl’s RV which they used to drive across country from Boston to Utah. Photo courtesy of SnowSearch.

A business-minded individual himself, it was the combination of Dunn’s project pitching and the more technical-minded Zirngibl’s insights and skills that made SnowSearch, which aims to answer these problems, possible.

SnowSearch.co offers convenience at levels other ski websites have only brushed up against. From the start, the site is bursting with information. Current snowfall amounts for a variety of ski resorts scrolls across the top of the screen. Stories by local skiers and snowboarders, that know the resorts they cover, line the left-hand column. A map featuring nearby resorts lines the right.

The main feature of the site — the ability to simultaneously search for resort passes, gear rentals, and lodging — sits just below the scrolling snowfall information, right next to the SnowSearch logo.

Resort detail on SnowSearch.co. Photo courtesy of SnowSearch.

Type in a resort, choose a date range, select the number of people you’re looking to plan for, checkmark what other components you need to arrange, click “Deals,” and you’re matched with relevant information you would normally have to use multiple tabs for, all ready for you on one site. Dunn and Zirngibl see this as the only logical future for ski and snowboard planning. “We wanted to create one centralized environment where you can both find good trusted information based off what matters to you most, whether that’s where the most snow’s coming, or which resorts are nearby on your pass, or who has the best music, or ski party on the books for the next couple of weeks, and then book whatever you need for that trip,” Dunn says.

He adds, “We believe the industry needs something like this. It’s very sophisticated from an operational perspective, very sophisticated from a back-end tech perspective, but if you look at consumer-facing tech it’s super old-school, which has always worked just well enough,” he says. “As demographics start to shift, we’re confident we can provide a better channel for the industry to reach younger generations, who will represent the majority of spend within a few years. We’re eager to open up our platform to legacy stakeholders with the vision that the more comprehensive our site is from both an information and inventory perspective — as SnowSearch grows into a metasearch for the broader snow sports space — the better we can position the industry as a whole to engage the future consumers of these amazing sports.”






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Wasatch Winter Mountaineers

Through each season, the peaks of the Wasatch transform with the elements to take on a radically different façade,

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

and during the period of snowfall and cold, this range is an entirely different beast. While the notion of climbing to the apex of one of the many cloud-carving goliaths seems intimidating and prohibitive to most in the valley during the summer, doing so while the Wasatch is encased in snow is downright unimaginable. For some impetuous local mountaineers, however, the endeavor is exhilarating, sublime, and worth the struggle and risk. If you’re an individual with a bit of cardio, grit, and interest in learning, surmounting one of the glistening peaks in the winter is merely a matter of will and determination.

Sports like this, of course, are contingent upon connecting with a community; knowledge is often best passed-down by a mentor, as it is not wise to approach these expeditions alone (particularly on one’s first attempt). While social media may be among the modern practices keeping people either indoors or buried in their smartphones, it has served as an incredible mechanism for bringing together like-minded folk from all walks of life. This sport is no exception.

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

While many local groups have existed long before the induction of social media in contemporary consciousness, platforms like Facebook have played an essential role in uniting and organizing mountain junkies and their activities. The most prominent and active among them include the longstanding Wasatch Mountain Club and the accurately named Wasatch Mountain Wranglers, collectively comprised of 7,375 members (the latter having the most at 5,502). Each group routinely organizes a variety of expeditions into these mountains throughout the year, serving as an inclusive environment in which locals at any level of practice can get connected with exhilarating trips, as well as experienced, knowledgeable, and passionate mentors.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I reached out to some of the impetuous Utahns to determine just why they do it, what it takes, and what advice they may have for newcomers. At every level of expertise, these determined individuals all have something that drives them to these peaks.

Nicole Frazier Condie is a lifelong Mapleton local, mother, self-proclaimed mountain-lover, and is relatively new to winter mountaineering. She explains that while she has spent her entire life treading the slopes of the Wasatch, she has found recently that “the winter brings a gift: a quiet extreme. You experience this rush while at the same time you feel so at peace —  safe but not safe at all. It is an absolute juxtaposing experience. Its beauty is truly something straight from Narnia.”

Courtesy of Nicole Frazier Condie.

This quiet extreme is something Condie came to learn most profoundly on her perilous group expedition up South Thunder Mountain (11,154 feet) last March. While the weather had fared well for her group throughout the day, Condie says “the wind changed dramatically up after 10,500 feet to 50-60 mph gusts. One smaller woman on the team was actually lifted and fell from the wind during the last push to the summit. As sharp ice flurries burned past my face I worried that the wind would pick up one of those large pieces, sending me over the edge. But I pressed on, unable to see or hear the others in my party.” Despite the treacherous conditions, including — at one point —  making a wrong turn  toward a precarious ravine and later having to learn how to glissade with an ice axe on-the-spot. Condie persevered nonetheless, leaving her with the sense of accomplishment.

Courtesy of Nicole Frazier Condie.

“I really had done something. I really lived in that moment. Something beautiful truly awoke in me,” she says.

Each individual capable and driven in winter mountaineering seems to develop their own intimate relationships with the mountains and motivations for climbing them. Joe Butcher, an experienced mountaineer and Kaysville native, affirms his motivation for climbing “really is spiritual.”

“I enjoy being reminded how small I am in the grand scheme of things. I also enjoy the difficulty, and training my mind with the fortitude to overcome some of the most difficult obstacles I have ever encountered. My experiences in the mountains have provided me with the wherewithal to endure many other trials in my personal life,” he says.

Jonathan Scott, a Utah County native and active all-season mountaineer in the Wasatch Mountain Club, finds himself drawn to these peaks in winter due to the sublime challenge they hold.

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

“[In the winter] there are more variables that make it more difficult, but also more rewarding, like solving a 1,000-piece puzzle as opposed to a 100-piece puzzle. I like challenges, and the winter offers that for me,” Scott says.

Scott urges newcomers not to shy away from the challenge, however daunting it may seem.

“Don’t be so afraid of a winter objective that you don’t try it,” he says. “Just like when you project a boulder problem or climbing route outside of your current abilities, start at the bottom and work your way up the mountain, even if it takes you 10 times.”

Tanner Maxwell is an avid Wasatch Mountain Wrangler and photographer. He finds a sublime aesthetic and self-actualizing potential on these ridges.

“Solitude and incredible beauty that can only be found in high places in the winter is what drives me to the Wasatch in the winter months,” Maxwell explains. “Challenging myself and setting summit goals is what keeps me sane. There is no place like the mountains, and seeing them firsthand in all types of weather and seasons is what makes it worth undertaking. I feel like I better myself when I am up there.”

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

Each of these practicing winter mountaineers had their own perspectives on the greatest risks associated with the mystifying sport and tips to ensure a safe and positive experience, but one thing that remained consistent in their responses was that avalanches are among the greatest possible dangers. One must always be mindful of conditions on the mountain — to “know before you go,” if you will.

Mike Gibby, a well-seasoned climber and mentor figure in the Wasatch Mountain Club with dynamic experiences both domestic and international, claims that the ideal conditions to keep an eye out for are “low avalanche danger, snow consolidation, cold weather — to help stabilize the snow — good visibility, and no wind.” It is ultimately best to pick a cold, clear day and push-off as early as 2 or 3 a.m. This is such common practice in the sport that it has been named an “Alpine Start.”

Gibby also advises aspiring winter mountaineers to recognize that safety must be taken as the primary objective, and to always “be prepared to turn around if conditions change.”

Other potential dangers associated with this sport are dehydration, exposure to the elements, snow and ice hazards, like melting cornices and snow bridges, and, of course, involuntary sliding and falling.

Regardless of outdoor experience level, potential newcomers to winter mountaineering are encouraged to 1) begin by practicing in shorter and less precarious winter hiking locations to familiarize themselves with the equipment and conditions, 2) take at least one avalanche course, 3) develop a habit of assessing snow-levels on the Utah Avalanche Center site, and 4) acquaint themselves with people well-experienced in the practice, like the Wasatch Mountain Club and Wasatch Mountain Wranglers. It is also important to 5) be transparent with yourself to ensure you have the composure to lead your body up such an icy mountaintop. Aside from a firmly level and clear head, the essential equipment for winter mountaineering largely depends upon conditions, but the basics include:

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

>ice axes


>full-shank boots

>many layers (top and bottom) for varied conditions

>multiple glove layers

>water with freezing prevention methods




>trekking poles with snow-baskets

>snowshoes or skis with climbing skins for the approach

>short, mountaineering, or climbing rope depending on route

>avalanche safety equipment (like a beacon, shovel, and probe)

>knowledge of weather and avalanche conditions

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

While you don’t necessarily need to break the bank when attaining equipment, particularly while you are still uncertain whether or not the sport is for you, you should always err on the side of quality equipment, since cheap and unreliable gear can either ruin your day or even cost you your life. It is a general rule of thumb that any gear you will trust your life with — this includes ropes, harnesses, carabiners, etc.— should not be bought for just this reason.

Though virtually any snow-covered peak or route can be taken on with sufficient gusto and preparation, some of the most popular and appraised are the Pfeifferhorn, the Everest Ridge, and Timpanooke routes on Mount Timpanogos, South Thunder Mountain, White and Red Baldy, Lone Peak, Mount Olympus, and the Tripe-Traverse goliaths: Dromedary Peak, Sunrise Peak, and the Broadsfork Twins.

Stay safe out there.

Title photo courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.





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Enjoying the Snow in Snow Canyon

Utah is famous for its five beautiful national parks, Zion being the most famous of them all.

While lesser known, there are plenty of state parks in the area that offer many of the same views and amenities as the more popular Zion National Park for a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the crowds.

Photo by Esther Aboussou-Shaw.

Snow Canyon State Park located in Ivins, UT just outside of St. George is a wonderful example of this. This beautiful state park is located just one hour west of Zion National Park, and, while not as large, contains a very similar landscape and quite the selection of hikes to keep you busy.

At $6 per vehicle, the entrance fee for Snow Canyon State Park certainly won’t break the bank. Camping is $20 a night for a basic site, and $25 for a campsite with hook-ups, water, and electric. The 27 campsites are set against a backdrop of stunning red and white sandstone that southern Utah is famous for.

Snow Canyon was founded as a state park in 1959 and was named after Mormon settlers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow. The park is famous for its cinder-cones, lava flows, and tubes that have formed over the years after the Santa Clara volcano erupted.

Photo by Esther Aboussou-Shaw.

Though the campground is small there is plenty to keep you busy. Hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trails are available to explore in the 7,400 acres of Snow Canyon State Park. Out of the 38 miles of hiking trails, I would recommend the Johnson’s Canyon, Whiptail, and Cinder Cone trails. Johnson’s Canyon is an easy two mile hike that leads to great views of an arch spanning 200 feet, reaching it after winding through lava flows and red rock canyon. Whiptail is a bit longer at six miles roundtrip but is still fairly easy and accessible. The Whiptail trail is great for hikers and bikers alike and it’s a great way to take in the flora and fauna, with many plants that are native to Snow Canyon observable along this trail.

If you’re looking for something to challenge you, Cinder Cone trail is the way to go. This hike is difficult — even being only one and a half miles round trip. What makes the effort worth it is the end sight of a crater that was left behind when the Santa Clara volcano erupted.

While Snow Canyon certainly has its own unique features because of its volcanic origins, there are still many similarities in its landscape to Zion National Park, such as the eroded sandstone waves, red rock towers, and sandstone cliffs. Additionally, because of the mild weather year round in the St. George/Ivins area, Snow Canyon is open year round. The campsites are also accessible year round. Hikes may sometimes close due to flash flooding or maintenance, but updates are usually posted on the park’s website ahead of time.

Photo by Esther Aboussou-Shaw.

Until word gets out about how awesome Snow Canyon is, you can avoid the crowds and enjoy the solitude while taking in all the beauty that southern Utah has to offer.



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Have you ever wanted to try a cool recreational activity, but didn’t have the knowledge, equipment and/or money for it? Well, you’re in luck. Our beloved University of Utah offers credit and noncredit classes in a wide range of activities. They are listed under the “Parks, Recreational, and Tourism” or PRT section of the current semester’s class schedule. Among the classes offered are opportunities to take a weekend long trip to Zion National Park to learn landscape photography, or discover the basics of outdoor rock climbing, and that’s only the beginning of it.

While classes are offered fall, spring, and summer semesters, types of classes can vary depending on the season. The search acronym PRT within the semester catalog can be followed by a few different letters: L for land, S for snow, and W for water. This allows students to narrow down what kind of recreational sport or activity class they want to take. Most classes will cover the cost of food and most equipment. Some classes require camping, which means you’ll need to bring camping essentials like a sleeping bag, pillow, and tent, while classes like Pistol Marksmanship do not require camping equipment. Make sure to read the class description so you know what you’re getting yourself into, though don’t let concerns about equipment keep you from going as any outdoor equipment you don’t have can be rented from Outdoor Adventures in the Student Life Center for cheap. For classes that require electronics (like nature photography), students are able to check out cameras and other equipment through the Marriott Library via the Knowledge Commons. One other thing to keep in mind is travel, as all PRT classes require students to make their own way to the class rendezvous location.

This fall semester, I decided to take Rock Climbing I. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it turned out to be the most fun I’ve ever had while taking a college class. Offered for one credit or noncredit, this class met just once for two hours, to go over the syllabus, discuss class procedures/expectations, and plan for needed equipment before meeting up in Veyo, Utah where class actually began. Unfortunately, students had to find their own way down to Crawdad Canyon. Nick Rushford, our instructor, suggested carpooling to save money on gas and provided a sign-up sheet for just that purpose. Though it seems awkward to drive 4.5 hours with random strangers, it turned out to be refreshing to speak to new people.

A week after our mandatory meeting, it was time to pack the car up and head to Veyo. There, we learned the fundamentals of outdoor rock climbing. All equipment was provided (including helmet, harness, ropes, etc.), except for climbing shoes. The class lasted three days, starting on a Friday and ending that Sunday. For those taking the class with credit, the only additional requirement was to pass a short quiz and write a short essay due a few weeks later once class ended. I highly suggest taking advantage of the PRT classes because they’re fun, you can get credit for it, you get to learn about something you’re actually interested in, and it’s a whole lot cheaper through the University than through a third party. Get out and explore.



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Practicing Self-Care in Nature

Lowering temperatures, gray skies, and a loss of sunlight are signaling the change of the seasons as the winter months quickly approach in Utah. The “winter blues,” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as it’s officially called in the DSM-IV (the manual of mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association), is a common disorder that affects many men and women as the seasons change. Unfortunately, it’s not always recognized for what it is.

It can be easy to dismiss symptoms of SAD as just being “moody” or having a bad week. Certainly, everyone has those moments. The problem occurs when you can’t seem to shake those feelings. If you’re a student, there’s the constant stress and pressure of looming tests and projects. If school isn’t part of your life, there’s work, bills, kids, appointments, etc. There is always something else, and it can be exhausting and overwhelming. Regular everyday struggles coupled with SAD can trigger a downward spiral that feels impossible to overcome. Feelings of exhaustion, hopelessness, anxiety, and depression are serious problems no person should have to struggle through alone.

A dead tree on Antelope Island. During this time of year, the feeling of deadness can be felt in many ways.

In life, there’s always going to be a job that needs to be finished, a deadline to be met, or a relationship to nurture, and these are all wonderful things that keep us enriched. At the same time, when the pressure becomes a bit too heavy, there’s no shame in slowing down and taking time to stop and smell the pine trees.

In Utah, we’re lucky to have an amazing contrast of outdoor spaces. I’ve found that one of the best ways to practice self-care and get back to myself is in the solitude of nature. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I have a handful of places to go where I can relax and unplug; taking these mini getaways has been a life-saver when I need a rejuvenating mental health day.


Diamond Fork Hot Springs

There’s nothing better than a good, long, mineral filled soak after a winter hike. Fifth Water Hot Springs in Diamond Fork Canyon can be reached after a 2.5 mile hike. The best time to go is in the fall before any heavy snow falls force the road to close. The blue and green colors of the swirling pools are vibrant and absolutely mesmerizing.

Stansbury Island

Stansbury is one of the largest of the Great Salt Lake’s 15 islands. There are primitive camping spots all throughout Stansbury Island, and it’s secluded. Stansbury is located in Tooele, Utah, and you can witness the most amazing sunsets and sunrises. The colors reflecting off of the still salty water make for a fantastic sight. I love taking one-night car camping trips to Stansbury after a long day of work.

Neffs Canyon

I love gazing out over the Salt Lake Valley from the top of the Neff’s Canyon Loop trail, a moderate 1.2 mile trek. Neff’s is one of my favorite canyons to visit at the beginning of fall when the leaves start to change. It’s perfect for a lazy afternoon stroll.

Silver Lake

A good workout always helps me take my mind off of things. Unfortunately, I’m also one of those people who hates the gym and organized workout sessions. The most exercise I do comes from hiking and snowshoeing. In the winter, Big Cottonwood Canyon is perfect for skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers alike. The area around Silver Lake has great trails for this latter group.

Heber City

Going for a ride on the Heber Valley Railroad is a cute and quaint way to spend an evening; fares range from $8 to $30 a person depending on the route. It’s wonderful to view Wasatch county through the windows of a slow moving train as you sip a hot beverage on a chilly day.

Crystal Hot Springs

Did you know that little old Honeyville, Utah, has hot springs with the highest mineral content in the world? These developed springs are just an hour north of Salt Lake City,

and it is absolutely worth the drive. Soaking is $7 and camping starts at $20. There’s a small hotel nearby that has an Airbnb style self check-in option. The Olympic sized lap pool at Crystal is one of my favorite ways to enjoy this resort.

While visiting these places is certainly a wonderful way to unwind and combat the feelings of depression the season’s changes bring on, I also want to make a point to mention that sometimes extra help is needed to make it through the winter months. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reaching out to a close friend, a counselor, or a psychiatrist is a good idea. Listen to your body and pay attention to your emotions. We all need a little help sometimes, and at the end of the day, taking care of your personal happiness and health should be a priority.



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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.




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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.




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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.




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