Destinations

Paragliding with Braedin Butler, a Family Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

c.hammock@wasatchmag.com

Photo and Video courtesy of Braedin Butler

 

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Kick off the Climbing Season in the Valley of Zion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Andre Romero

Get here:

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

Camping:

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

Packing List:

Sport climbing gear (at least 14 quickdraws)

Camping gear

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

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

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Ana Shestakova

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Whitewater Thrills in Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Eric Simon

FOLLOW OUR LEAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

c.simon@wasatchmag.com

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Beyond the Wasatch: Arches National Park

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

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

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

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

SPRING BREAK ITINERARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

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First Descents: The History of Canyoneering

Just four hours south of Salt Lake City lies the birthplace and holy land of one of the most versatile adventure sports today: canyoneering. Since the late 1970s, Southern Utah has hosted a select group of adventurers as they climbed, swam, and rappeled their way into the depths of the narrowest, toughest, and most fantastic canyons on Earth. Ironically, the sport of descending got its roots from a group of dirtbags focused on ascending.

Climbing had just a two-decade head start on canyoneering, with the first ascents of Half Dome and El Capitan both around the late 1950s. Soon, pioneers in the climbing community began creating their own gear for the sport. Companies like Patagonia and The North Face found their beginning at the base of Yosemite’s big walls and were some of the first companies to produce advanced climbing gear.

Most of the pioneering canyoneers started out as climbers, utilizing recently developed climbing equipment to go down instead of up. Pitons were used to bolt un-anchorable rappels, and climbing ropes lowered the early athletes over waterfalls and overhanging cliffs. But canyoneering did not truly have its own identity like climbing did. It was more an activity for climbers to do in their off time than a sport in its own right.

Dennis Turville — climber, professional photographer, and pioneering canyoneer — changed this in the 1970s. Often accompanied by fellow outdoorsmen Mike Bogart and a few other close friends, Turville blazed the trail for many of the first recorded descents around the Zion area. He is considered one of the earliest serious recreational canyoneers. Famous Zion canyon routes like Heaps, Keyhole, and Pine Creek are all can be attributed to Turville and company. His reports are sparse — usually no larger than a paragraph for each canyon. Sometimes, like in the case of Middle Echo Canyon, the account is as short as, “one rappel bolt.”

The records are as barebone as they come, yet this was likely intentional. Turville didn’t record his canyons so others could follow him. These few lines were simply him documenting that he was the first down the canyon. He wanted his hidden hobby to remain that way. As it stood, he never saw other people in his canyons, or even signs of people. The only information that slipped to the public’s eyes were the photographs Turville snapped inside the canyons, offering glimpses into the tantalizing world beneath the rim. Yet, the locations of these photos were heavily guarded.

As sparse as they were, the reports at least included a date for each canyon. The earliest of which, and possibly one of the first true American canyoneering descents ever, was the Middle Fork of Choprock in April of 1977. It was descended by Bogart, Karen Carlston, and Dave and Annie George. Because of its non-technical nature, Turville sat out, preferring instead the difficulty and technicality of other canyons.

Repelling down Pine Creek Canyon in Zion National Park, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Revealing Hidden Canyons

Turville and his associates kept pounding out first descents into the late 1980s, but by now they were no longer alone. Other explorers started dropping down canyons all over Southern Utah and beyond. Among these were a few who believed the canyons should be for all.

Michael Kelsey, by far the most controversial of the above mentioned group of canyon-goers, wrote some of the earliest guidebooks for canyoneering. His most popular, “Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau,” just published its sixth edition and boasts over 400 pages of route descriptions.

Although many people use Kelsey’s descriptions to find new adventures, not all are fans of the man. In fact, enough people find Kelsey despicable enough that he acquired the nickname “the devil in sneakers.” This contempt stems from a few perspectives.

On one hand are the Bureau of Land Management/National Park Service (NPS) agents who now have to deal with much higher traffic in previously unknown areas. This inevitably means an increased number of ill-prepared parties and a much higher rate of accidents and rescues. It also means greater environmental degradation.

The other half of Kelsey’s critics are the serious outdoorsmen who recreate in Southern Utah and like Turville, aim to keep their spots secret. Suddenly, their favorite local hike is frequented by troops of boy scouts and trails appear where footprints weren’t visible a few years ago.

Kelsey, who has been catching flack since he published his first canyoneering book in 1986, shakes most of the blame onto individual parties for not practicing Leave No Trace principles or preparing properly. Since then, he has continued to hike, take meticulously detailed notes, and publish edition after edition of his various Southern Utah guides, opening up the world of canyoneering to anyone with $20 and a sense of adventure.

Canyoneering Hits the Mainstream

By the early 1990s, canyoneering had grown in the Southwest among small groups of serious outdoor recreationalists. However, it had yet to reach the mainstream in any impactful way like climbing had. Unfortunately, canyoneering became mainstream after the stories of two accidents.

In 1993, a group of three adults and five teenagers faced devastation in Kolob Canyon near Zion National Park. Flood waters were too high for the canyon that day and two adult leaders drowned. The remaining six were trapped for days in the canyon before the Park Service rescued them.

The ordeal gained public attention when some of the survivors sued the NPS and the Washington County Water Conservancy District, for the death of the two men because their leaking dam upstream of Kolob attributed to some of the heightened flood waters. The tragedy and controversy of the story, and the implications of the outcome of the court case on the NPS as well as landed the gruesomely tragic tale on pages from local magazines like High Country News, to national publications like People magazine. For many Utahns, it was the first they heard of canyoneering.

Just 10 years later in 2003, Aron Ralston pinched his arm in by a loose boulder in Blue John Canyon. He survived over five days in the canyon before amputating his own arm with a low quality knife and walking out. His heroic story was most famously told in the 2010 Academy Award-nominated film “127 Hours,” in which Ralston is played by James Franco. This was canyoneering’s most mainstream appearance yet, and the story most recreationalists point to when describing what the sport is to their unknowing friends.

While both of these instances spread canyoneering past the confines of the Utah desert, they also marked the sport as dangerous. If unprepared and uneducated, there are few more dangerous activities than rappelling down 60-foot waterfalls and swimming through hypothermic waters.

Legitimizing the Sport

Stories of danger and disaster seemed to only embolden more and more adventurers to get out and canyoneer. By the turn of the century, more and more people wanted to get their fix of Utah’s famous canyons, yet there was no organization in place to provide the proper education to these adventure seekers. It was shaping to become a serious problem for canyoneering. Fortunately, the solution arrived, and his name was Rich Carlson.

If Turville is the pioneer recreationalist, and Kelsey the pioneer route publisher/popularizer, Carlson is the pioneer professional for the sport. Carlson has been dropping down Utah’s canyons since the late 1970s, and started America’s first professional canyoneering guide company in 1990. In 1999, he started his ultimate vision of creating the world’s premier canyoneering organization, the American Canyoneering Academy (ACA).

David Tigner, head of the University of Utah’s canyoneering program, calls Carlson a “pioneer of canyoneering” who chose to “concentrate on training people.” His ACA today sets the bar for every canyoneer and canyoneering organization in the United States, and possibly worldwide. It is Carlson and the ACA who are responsible for deciding the requirements needed, from professional certification standards to defining a minimum degree of competency for a canyoneer.

Tigner’s own program at the U is modeled after the three basic skill sets the ACA requires for beginning canyoneers. It emphasizes practice, preparedness, and caution. One of the key points Tigner tries to impress on all his students is, “the best place to learn canyoneering is at home, not dangling 100 feet off a cliff.” This very much aligns with Carlson. He’s interested in revolutionizing the sport through training and organization, something canyoneering badly needs, rather than exploration.

Repelling down Pine Creek Canyon in Zion National Park, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

The advent of the ACA in 1999 pushed canyoneering to a new level. Suddenly, the sport had legitimacy. Serious canyoneers could focus on professional guiding to earn a living rather than dirtbagging it in a van, and beginners to the sport had a place to go to safely participate and learn the skills. Yet, no matter the skill of the canyoneer, they were still going into a canyon with gear made for climbing.

Industry didn’t catch up with the sport until the mid 2000s, when Tom Jones started Imlay Canyon Gear. This was one of the first canyoneering-specific companies, specializing in packs, ropes, and rope bags. Generally, the problem with using climbing gear in canyons is durability.

While in a canyon, any given piece of gear will be submerged in water repeatedly, drug through sand, scraped on walls, and tossed anywhere from 10 to 100 feet onto the ground. This means ropes need to be more tightly woven, packs have to have drainage holes in the bottom, harnesses, as Tigner jokes, need to have a, “PVC cover for your rear end so you don’t rip out your pants.” While canyon-specific gear is still very niche and rare, even having a market large enough to support a canyoneering company is a sign of growth.

Today, the sport is a far cry from where it began. It is organized, detailed, and far safer, yet no less adventurous. Pioneers like Turville, Kelsey, and Carlson have all progressed the sport in radically different ways, blazing the path for many others to follow down the depth of Utah’s, and the world’s, best canyons.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of @surfnsnowboard

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Guide to Discount Ski Tickets

Living along the Wasatch during the winter season can feel particularly incapacitating.The typically accessible trails are covered in a thick snowpack, requiring high levels of technicality, resources, and devotion. For most, the only recourse from the inversion and languid indoor blues is adrenaline-pumping immersion in Utah’s trademark “Greatest Snow on Earth” atop a pair of skis or snowboard. Unfortunately, the average student shredder can hardly afford to sustain themselves, let alone expend much-needed cash on absurdly expensive ski passes. Not to worry—we here at Wasatch care about your happiness and strained income, and this week we share with you some screamin’ deals to get you on the slopes without breaking the bank.

The Any-Day Discount Pass Approach—Discount Vouchers in the Valley

If you have the extra money and are compelled to go where you want, when you want, evade full price passes by visiting one of the many savvy outlets. On-campus folks in a rush can stop by the Student Union services desk and purchase tickets at a slight discount (really, only about $5).

Discount tickets can also be found at Lift House, Canyon Sports, REI, Salty Peaks, Sports Authority, Milo Sports, Sid’s Sports, Wasatch Ski Connection, Ski-N-See, Harmon’s grocery stores, Canyon Sports, and AJ Motion Sports.

Pro-tip: Passes tend to be significantly less expensive if bought in bulk—a good option if you intend to ski multiple times, though not enough to justify purchasing a season pass.

Or, if you prefer surfing for discount passes at home, check out these online resources:

  • Liftopia.com
  • Ksl.com
  • Groupon.com
  • Uofuonelove.com
  • freeskiersociety.com

As Good as it Gets: Specialty Promotions and Circumstantial Offers

Browsing many of the options listed above, you may think to yourself, “Wow! Lift tickets are still super expensive!” And you would be right! For those of us with more modest budgets, a couple of our local resorts offer specialty promotions that, if properly seized, can be an astoundingly inexpensive way to hit the slopes:

Powder Mountain:

  • College Days:  $27 – Every Wednesday and Thursday. Must present current student ID.
  • College Night: $15 – Every Thursday night, with student ID.
  • She Shreds Ladies Night: $15 for women every Wednesday night.
  • Family Night: 6 tickets for $65 every Tuesday night. (Your “family” can be brothers from other mothers, and sisters from other misters.)

Brighton:

Unfortunately, Brighton is pretty stringent with standard day passes, though they do offer several awesome deals for night skiing (usually $45 regular rate)!

  • Monday: Family Snow Evening – $99 for a family or group of 4 or less. Includes lift tickets and a 24″ pizza from the Alpine Rose.
  • Wednesday: Buy a combo meal at participating Arctic Circle Restaurants and receive a buy one get one free night skiing voucher.
  • Thursday: Snow Sports School Thursday Night Lessons; Get a two-hour lesson + a night lift ticket for $50.

Best of luck out there, savvy skiers.

D.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Best Hikes for In-Between Seasons

The end of February and beginning of March aren’t necessarily seasons. It’s a little too sunny and mushy for winter, but not warm or rainy enough for spring. For avid trail users or even casual walkers, this makes trails difficult to navigate. High elevation hikes are especially at risk for avalanches while lower trails are mucky and trapped in the inversion. Here are four of our favorite hikes to hit during this weird in-between time.

Spiral Jetty in February. Photo by Carolyn Webber

Spiral Jetty

Spiral Jetty is one of the easiest and most unique off-season hikes in Utah. If the weather is nice and the road is in good condition, this is more of a roadside attraction than an actual hike. The parking lot is a five minute walk from the jetty unless the road is impassable, in which case it’s up to three miles long. Water levels are low enough to reveal this man-made spiral of rocks, but, depending on temperatures, there might be a light dusting of snow. Get your mileage in by hiking on the oolitic sand to touch the Great Salt Lake.

Antelope Island

Another lakeside destination, Antelope Island, offers a different sort of barren beauty. In the summer, there is little protection from the baking sun and in the winter, no refuge from the ever pervasive cold wind. This means post-winter, pre-spring time is the Goldilocks of seasons on the island. Roaming around the island are herds of buffalo, and Antelope Island is one of the few places in Utah to see these impressive mammals in the wild. There is a $10 per day use fee for the area and a variety of crisscrossing trails you can hop on and explore.

Hiking up to Donut Falls in Big Cottonwood Canyon in the winter. Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Donut Falls

One of the Cottonwood’s most famous hikes, Donut Falls is usually characterized by crowded trails and full parking lots. In the offseason, both disappear, making it the perfect time to visit. The falls themselves might be frozen, an interesting view alone, but temperatures could be warm enough to let some water sneak through.

Killyon Canyon

Killyon Canyon is the best destination when The Cottonwoods are closed or bumper to bumper from ski traffic. The hike is in Emigration Canyon, just a five-minute drive from campus. Unlike the Cottonwoods, dogs are allowed up Emigration, so bring your poop bags. This time of year, there’s almost definitely snow, possibly enough to snowshoe. The trail is about 5.5 miles round-trip and gains a little over 1,700 feet of elevation. As far as Wasatch hikes go, it’s mild, but still just as scenic.

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Winter Hike to Lake Blanche

On any given weekend, the road up Big Cottonwood Canyon is dominated by skiers and boarders headed to get their powder fix. More than a few cars will pull off to the side of the road on the first bend of the S turn, however. They are headed to a more secluded day in the Wasatch, and some are finding it at Lake Blanche.

Blanche is one of the most popular hikes in the canyon and strikingly beautiful, or so I’ve been told. Just a few weeks ago, I set out with my friend Claire to see how it holds up to the hype.

Our day was perfect- blue skies, warm (for February at least), and no fresh powder. Within fifteen minutes of closing our car door, we were approaching the split from the large, mildly graded main trail to the narrow, steep footpath leading up to the lake.

Since the heavily trafficked trail hadn’t seen much snow, the path was beaten solid for us and we ditched our snowshoes. The road was nearly full of cars, but we saw others only intermittently and never had to dance that awkward tango of maintaining the appropriate distance between parties.

The trail is more or less a straight shot back and up into the canyon. It maintains a medium grade for the majority of its three miles before steepening out near the top. We gained 2,700 feet of elevation along the way, but the serene atmosphere helped me forget the altitude. Birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and I fully expected to see Bambi run by us at any moment.

At least, until we hit the last quarter. To my great misfortune, I spied Sundial Peak, the mountain that borders the lake, poking just over the ridge in the background. I thought we were getting close, maybe five more minutes.

Forty minutes later we were still trekking. Up near the top, the sun crept over the far ridge and landed on the snow, softening it. Until this point, the hike had been in shadow, keeping the trail nice and firm. Now, every step was a roulette spin as to whether or not we’d end up crotch deep in snow. The hiking turned to trudging, but the view increased exponentially.

We persevered and soon were topping out and enjoying the flat ground. The lake is completely snowed over and could be hard to pick out if we didn’t already know where it was. Sundial stood proudly in the background, urging me to think of warmer weather and a time when I could return to climb it.

After the traditional end-of-hike Clif bar and pictures, we started the return trek to the car. On the way down, we saw the fresh tracks of the split boarders we had seen at the top, and we couldn’t help but be a little jealous. Still, by the time we were cozy back in the car, our consensus had become clear: Blanche was not an overrun, over-hyped trail. It was worth it.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Nick Halberg

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Beyond the Wasatch: Goblin Valley

Last year, my fiancé and I made it a goal to travel at least once a month. We visited national parks and monuments, state parks, and hot springs, and we were able to round out 2016 with 13 camping trips under our belts. This year, we started out fresh with a January trip to Goblin Valley State Park.

Goblin Valley is basically an enormous playground. There’s something for everyone; campers, hikers, bikers, and climbers. The park’s main attraction is the collection of sandstone hoodoos sprinkled throughout the landscape. Down in the valley, these mushroom-shaped rocks and towers fill your view in every direction, and each one is unique. Inside the park, there are five designated hikes.

Little Wild Horse and the Ding and Dang Canyons are just a few miles away from the visitors center and these slot canyons offer a whole day of fun. Little Wild Horse especially is very popular because you don’t need to be experienced to navigate, climb, and scramble through it.

A day use pass to enter the park is $13. If you’re planning to stay the night, there are 25 sites in the campground and two yurts available. Campsites are $25 a night, and there are options for tents and RV hook-ups. Along with that, there are showers and flush toilets, and each site comes with a fire-pit, picnic table, and shade shelter. Yurts are $80 and are equipped with bunk beds, a seating area, table, heat, A/C, and a BBQ cooker.

For weekend warriors like me, here’s your perfect three-day itinerary:

FRIDAY:

Arrive at the park as early as you can. After setting up camp, explore the three valleys of goblins. They are in close proximity to each other and offer hours of fun if you decide to trek through all of them. Pack a lunch and a lot of water. After a break, take the 1.5 mile hike to the Goblin’s Lair and relax in the fresh cool air of this enormous cavern. If you’re prepared for it, permits for rappelling down into the canyon can be purchased at the visitors center or you can hire a guide for a canyoneering tour.

SATURDAY:

Visit Little Wild Horse slot canyon, just five miles west of the Goblin Valley Visitor Center. The full loop of Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon is eight miles, or you can stick to Little Wild Horse, 3.3 miles one way. It’s easy to navigate for all skill-levels and ages. When you get back to camp, relax your sore muscles by the fire and gaze up at the many visible stars in this Dark Sky Certified Park.

SUNDAY:

On the last day of your trip, take the easy 250-yard trail down into the valley to get a closer look at the Three Sisters, one of the most iconic formations in the park, before packing up and heading home.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

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Find Your Pitch, Ice Climbing close to home

Climbers have three options in the winter: drive south, go indoors, or layer up and get on some ice. If you haven’t yet tried option number three, there is still time, the season isn’t over yet. Yes, attaching metal spikes to your feet and holding on by the tip of an ice axe can be a little intimidating, but there are few epic adventures more brag-worthy than standing atop a pillar of ice. Try it once, and you’ll be hooked.

Most people have their baptism by ice at Ouray Ice Park in Colorado: the perfect launch pad for an ice climbing career. The man-made ice is reliable and thick, while in the Wasatch, fluctuating weather patterns and avalanches make route finding a little more fickle.  For those sick of following a Candy Lane trail of colored, chalked-up holds in the gym, put your gloves on instead and try these ice climbing routes.

PROVO CANYON

After driving up this canyon, park at the Bridal Veils parking lot, and you will find another vehicle full of climbers. Accessibility and consistent ice make this place a little crowded, but there is a high concentration of climbs here. Access the famous Stairway to Heaven just off the trail, a multi-pitch climb that can reach up to 10 pitches during a good ice season. The first pitch, lovingly called The Apron because of its width, is easy to set up a top-rope on and do laps. There are a few bolts at the top, so you can hop between routes if you are in a bigger group.

If you keep walking up the trail before turning toward the Stairway area, you will come to the breathtaking Bridal Veil Falls. While it rarely freezes, there are a few fantastic climbs to the right of it. Ice leading experience is required.

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON

You really can’t call yourself an ice climber and live in Utah without climbing the Great White Icicle. It’s a classic multi-pitch easily accessible off the freeway. The views get better and better at the end of each of the four pitches, but don’t get distracted and forget to watch for falling ice. Because of high traffic, you will get hit with ice, so always wear a helmet. Once you’ve done this classic, you might as well hike over to Scruffy Band, a collection of ice dripping off granite slabs. You can switch easily between routes of easy grades.

MAPLE CANYON

When avalanche dangers are high in the Wasatch, Maple Canyon is the perfect alternative. Around every winding cobblestone corner, ice pours into perfect climbing routes. There are several routes accessible off the Main Road, but Box Canyon and Left Fork also reveal hidden treasures. Tennis Shoe Slab is long but sustained, and the intimidating Dagger is just around the corner, suspended over an easy first pitch that has set chains. The Wet Itchies and Bowling Ball Head are a little more steep, but fun if you are ready to push yourself.

JOE’S VALLEY

This famous bouldering destination also has stellar ice in the winter months. The CCC and Donoricicle are both breathtaking pillars of thick ice that just taunt you to climb them. A top rope can easily be set up at the Donoricicle, but leading experience is necessary for the two pitches of the CCC. A plus here is the belayer isn’t stuck with a bad view, the frozen Joe’s Reservoir and surrounding mountainous landscape are visible below.

**If you are going ice climbing in Utah, purchase the detailed guide “Beehive Ice” by Nathan Smith and Andrew Burr. Also, check avalanche conditions prior to the climb and check equipment constantly throughout.

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

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