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Destinations

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

>crampons

>full-shank boots

>many layers (top and bottom) for varied conditions

>multiple glove layers

>water with freezing prevention methods

>helmet

>sunglasses/goggles

>gaiters

>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.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

 

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PRT & U

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.

a.duong@wasatchmag.com

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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.

e.aboussou@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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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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Post-Trail Utah Eateries

Picture this: You have just finished backpacking for five days in the Wasatch Mountains. You are exhausted from hiking an average 10 miles a day, plus a little extra on the fourth day because you took a wrong turn. You have had nothing to eat besides cheese, crackers, filtered water, trail mix, and your assorted favorites of freeze-dried foods. On your way out, you can think of nothing else but your favorite eatery. Literally nothing else besides the next bite of food that you will be consuming. But where do you go? Here is a short list of my absolute favorite places to satisfy the overwhelming need to gorge myself.

Moab Brewery

If you find yourself venturing out in Moab, Utah exploring the vast amounts of red rock and national parks, but you are staying near or in town, you’ll find plenty of locations to indulge yourself with food. Over the many years that I have traveled to the area and explored the landscape, there is one place that I keep coming back to in order to ease my way back into society: That place is Moab Brewery (686 S. Main St, Moab, UT 84532). Whether you consume alcohol or not, this is the place for you. Some of my best memories of eating come from sitting at their tables. Their food is worth it, I guarantee it. My personal favorite is the Jack Daniels Burger. If you have had it before, you know what I’m talking about. If not, what are you waiting for?!

Porcupine Pub & Grille

Another great location is the Porcupine Grille located at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon (3698 Fort Union Blvd, Salt Lake City, UT 84121). To this day, this pub and grill has the best nachos known to humankind. After ski days, camping trips, rock climbing, excursions or mountain biking adventures, I always make a stop here. The best part about their nachos is the portions: this appetizer is perfect for an entire family, or a group of three ravished climbers. Porcupine Grill’s convenient location and delicious food makes this place perfect for anyone to stop by after a day in the Wasatch.

Lone Star Taqueria

The other restaurant in my top three is Lone Star Taqueria located in Cottonwood Heights (2265 Fort Union Blvd, Cottonwood Heights, UT 84121). This place has some of the best authentic Mexican food in town for a reasonable price. They are especially known for their fish tacos and large portions, and I have to agree wholeheartedly that they deliver on both. Even though Lone Star Taqueria is a smaller restaurant, the atmosphere is perfect. Be sure to sit on their outdoor patio and enjoy the scenery up against the mountains while you reminisce in the memories you have just made.

These are only a few places to stop by in order to curb your hunger after a great adventure in the outdoors­–there are many hidden gems located throughout Utah so have some fun finding new haunts on your own. Ask people in the area where the best places are to stop by. My recommendation? Always find the place where the line is out the door. You won’t be steered in the wrong direction.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Antelope Island Weekend Getaway

What to Know

Antelope Island is the largest and arguably the most scenic of the 15 Great Salt Lake Islands located in northern Utah. The 42 square miles that make up this state park are filled with beautiful scenery, and a wide array of wildlife. The flat expanse of land is ideal for viewing mule deer, pronghorns, jackrabbits, coyotes, and American bison as they roam freely throughout the island.

Antelope Island has quite a few amenities, so it’s a comfortable getaway for even the most casual camper. Showers, bathrooms, the Island Buffalo Grill, horse rentals, boat tours, and a gift shop are just a few of the amenities that make a trip to Antelope Island a pleasant experience.

What to Do

If you’re planning on visiting Antelope Island this fall, the weekend of Oct. 27 is a fantastic time to check it out. The park’s annual bison roundup will be in full swing, making that weekend a perfect opportunity to see these animals close-up.

Here’s a potential step-by-step itinerary for your stay:

Friday: Arrive at the park. Camping at Bridger Bay and Ladyfinger is $15 a night. If you miss out on these affordable sites, there is always White Rock Bay Campground, where campsites run at $30 a night.

Take it easy at first and check out Buffalo Point trail (.8 miles). A moderate hike with benches along the trail, it’s the perfect way to get plenty of amazing views of the island as you travel to the point. It’s also a great spot to view the sunset at the end of the night, as the fading light shimmers and glitters on the waters of the Great Salt Lake.

Saturday: The top of Fray Peak is also a great hike, and at 6,595 feet, this peak marks the highest point on the island. Frary Peak is strenuous, with an elevation gain of 2100 feet. The climb is absolutely worth the strain, though. Just like Buffalo Point trail, there are gorgeous views to be had on this hike; what’s different though, is that you get to enjoy them in solitude. No horses, bikes, or dogs are allowed here, and it’s not as popular as many of the shorter trails because of its 6.6-mile roundtrip distance.

Sunday: Relax and breathe. Antelope Island is not too far from the mainland — but it feels like it is. Enjoy the serenity and take a walk along the beach. If you’re adventurous, you can also float in the salty (and admittedly smelly) water of the Great Salt Lake. For the more stylish, you can book a Sunday lunch cruise from Gonzo Boat Rentals and Tours at $55 per person. End the evening by joining a star party, where you can gaze at incredible constellations that can be seen clearly at this certified Dark Sky Park.

What to Pack

Bug spray, bug spray, bug spray — and sunscreen. Brine flies, midges, gnats, mosquitos, and biting gnats are constant inhabitants of Antelope Island. The biting gnats, referred to as “no see-ums,” are very active in the warm months of spring (April-June). There is little sun shade or shelter from the elements, so a head net and hat can also come in handy.

Binoculars, or a telephoto lens for your camera if you’re a photographer. You won’t want to miss out on getting a shot of the bison as they roam across the plains. They are easily found, and not too shy. Wildlife viewing is one of the biggest attractions that Antelope Island has to offer for good reason.

A road or mountain bike. The Davis County causeway that connects Syracuse, Utah, to the island has a designated bike lane, and many of the park trails allow for non-motorized vehicles. Biking is a great way to explore the island, so definitely bring one if you can.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

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Saving Our Zion from Ourselves

Half a century ago, American author and essayist Edward Abbey laid forth a description, in his classically cynical style, of the forces pushing the National Park Service and ultimately shaping our public lands. In his mind, there were “The Developers,” the ones who wanted to see as many cars crammed into Yosemite valley as possible, and “The Preservers,” the ones who wished to see none. As Abbey put it, “the most important issue and perhaps the only issue [between these two factions] is the one called accessibility.”

Fast forward 49 years, and this issue is no longer just the ramblings of a grumpy man living alone in the desert, but the central concern of many popular national parks. No park is more worried about it than the fifth most visited park, directly four hours south of Salt Lake City.

Zion has been experiencing massive growth since its founding nearly a century ago. In my lifetime alone — 19 years — park visitation has increased by about two million people annually (from 2.3 million to 4.3 million). From 2015 to 2016, the jump was a little under 700,000. Those are numbers nearly on par with Disney World, something that would make anyone batting for “The Preservers” shiver in their goretex boots.

It bears noting that increased park traffic is good, to a degree. As John Marciano, the public affairs spokesman for Zion National Park, said, “Every person or vehicle that pays the admission fee and enters the park is a vote for the park.” Lawmakers and influencers see these “votes” and realize how valued places like Zion are both as an economic resource and a part of Utah’s unique identity. Zion played a huge role in generating the $8.15 billion tourists spent in Utah in 2016.

The fact remains though, too many visitors can lead to a degradation of Zion as a natural place.

Shuttle line at Zion National Park. Photo credit Zion National Park.

Because of Zion’s special configuration, most of the park’s 10,000 daily visitors stay within a narrow seven mile corridor along the Virgin River. Even there, the visitation is compounded to just three trailheads: Angel’s Landing, Emerald Pools, and The Narrows. This quickly leads to issues. In the main canyon there are only 12 designated trails, but over 800 social trails, totalling 35 miles. The animals in the park, especially the chipmunks on Angel’s Landing and the squirrels in The Narrows, are so tame they’ll roll over and play dead for a piece of your Clif Bar. Sure it’s cute, but it’s not natural or how a healthy, protected ecosystem should function.

None of this even mentions the incredible lack of infrastructure that exists in the park. Inside Zion, there are perhaps 1,000 parking spots, enough to cover a 10th of the visitors on an average day. Lines for the shuttle can frequently back up to the bathrooms or parking lot and run multiple hours. Throughout the main canyon there are maybe 40 toilet systems — 40 for what is sometimes, on a holiday weekend or busy day, 30,000 people.

“We have to do something,” Marciano says. “The visitor experience is diminished and the resource is being trampled.”

This begs the question, what can be done? How do you add accessibility to a place already so highly visited? If you’re one of Abbey’s “Developers,” the answer is easy: develop.

“There’s an empty space here, or there” Marciano says, motioning across the fence in front of us to a field, sarcastically embodying a “Developer.” “Build a big parking lot.”

Crowds at Zion National Park. Photo credit Zion National Park.

Fortunately for Zion, and us, this is not an option. Legally, the park is mandated by Congress to “protect [their] resource in perpetuity as it is.” Slathering the ground in fresh slabs of tar and concrete certainly would violate this. Ethically, neither Marciano or Jeff Bradybaugh, Zion NP superintendent, want to see the park become any more degraded by adding more parking lots. One point to the “Preservers.”

The trouble is, Zion is not getting less popular; something still needs to be done that can fix both of these problems while still preserving the park. Luckily, we have some inventive people in the office down south. They’ve put their heads together and have begun creating the Visitor Use Management Plan, or VUMP, which aims to do two things: First, maintain accessibility, and secondly, protect the park. Creating and implementing this VUMP will be a long road — an estimated five years — and requires intensive data collection to ensure the right solution is implemented. The park is confident that by the end of that time when a solution is reached, it will be the right one.

Part of this confidence derives from how much public input they are receiving. In mid-August, the Preliminary Alternative Concepts — the first “proposals” for how to mitigate overcrowding — closed their public comment period. These included ideas such as a reservation system to enter the main canyon, allocating time slots that certain groups could do certain trails, and changing nothing (an option that is looked upon poorly by the park). Well over 1,000 responses were received. Now, the park is sorting through all that data and will come out with a Preferred Alternative, which will have its own public comment period as well.

Zion is grateful for any and all ideas or comments the public has to make on this issue. By the time most of us graduate, these policies will be in place. If they are effective, other parks dealing with the same issue of accessibility and overcrowding could adopt whatever system Zion implements. This means that adding your voice now, while the park is encouraging you to do so, could not only affect the future of Zion, but the National Park System as a whole.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Opening Minds to the Oquirrh Mountains

Veiled in mystery by the legalities and the eminence of the adjacent Wasatch mountains, the Oquirrh Range serves as the 10,000 feet dividing line between the Salt Lake and Tooele valleys. Equipped solely with the knowledge of a BLM public lands route provided by an outdated hiking guide, and a strong desire to summit a couple of the Oquirrh’s more prominent mountain tops, I took to the westernmost ridge of Kessler Peak.

It seems that the majority of Salt Lake residents simply lack the desire to trek into the Oquirrhs, given the close proximity of the sublime, and comparably larger Wasatch Range. Those who have opened their minds and weekends to the western green peaks have often suffered for it. They are met with the intimidating barrier of red tape and prohibitions deterring even the most intrepid outdoorsmen from entering for fear of hefty fines — or worse. Painfully evident by the violently dissolved mountain that is now the main Kennecott mining facility, the Oquirrh Range remains in a perpetual state of contractual inaccessibility since Rio Tinto’s colossal 1872 land grab that still holds control to this day.

With this corporate acquisition and grand expanses of private purchases, virtually the entire eastern face of the Oquirrhs is restricted to public use (with some exceptions to the far south). While some exploit the negligence of private landowners and trail-blaze in this region outside of the law, those who prefer risk-free, legal natural emersion are ultimately out of luck. Thankfully, the back westernmost face of the range offers a patchy network of BLM land allowing access to those extra-determined to explore Oquirrh terrain without paying heavily for it.

Following the guidance and antiquated advice of a 7-year-old online hiking guide, I made my way to that western back side with hopes of surmounting the ridgeline connecting Kessler and Farnsworth Peaks without deliberately breaking any laws. The guide I relied on did accurately get me to the approximate location of an access point, though it failed to compensate for the nascent housing developments along the base of these mountains.

The overlying drawback of hiking in a largely neglected public land is the total absence of trails, and the consequential abundance of wildlife and wilderness left to flourish independently of human obstruction. When I arrived, I was without the helpful understanding that the access point was at the perpendicular bend, and I began much farther back than I ought to have. I was thus left to bushwhack through dense, arid fields of overgrown dead grass, and the ubiquitous webs of hobo spider webs strung among them (yes, hobo spiders). Long pants and socks are highly recommended in this area in anticipation of the venomous arachnids that call it home — exercise caution.

Aside from the apparent danger of overgrown desert wilderness, the back face of the Oquirrh Range is beautiful. It serves as a tangible reminder of the desolate nature the remaining untamed American West provides.

While my lack of preparation and foresight forced my dejected party to turn back before completing the trek, an impetuous push up the ridge will eventually place you atop Kessler Peak. It is connected by an extended ridgeline to Farnsworth Peak, the more dominant of the two. Note: A section of this ridgeline is private land. Trespassing is not encouraged and would be done at your own risk.

Even if not for the explicit purpose of surmounting some of the more obscure peaks surrounding the Salt Lake Valley, exploration west of the Oquirrhs is sure to provide you with a palpable sense of connectivity with our forgotten 19th-century wild-western past. At the very least, you will come across the disheveled rusted railway spikes, and the scattered animal bones that are evocative of it. The radiant and largely untouched natural beauty is something worth seeing.

Immersion into this incredible yet inhospitable expanse requires only preparation and consciousness; all else is scenery.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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