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Utah’s Backpacking Gems

Summer brings about the liberation of one of life’s most valuable resources — time. For the adventure-minded, more time means longer trips, and longer trips usually mean backpacking. In a state where outdoor recreation is world class, there are surprisingly few trails long enough to warrant a hearty backpacking trip. When excavated deep enough, however, a few diamonds emerge from the rough. Here are some of the shiniest.

Coyote Gulch

This is one of those places so famous in Utah that it’s hard to live in the state one month without having heard of it. Located about 33 miles down Hole in the Rock Road in Escalante, Hurricane Wash provides the ideal trailhead for a longer trip into this area. Typically, the 26 mile trail is hiked as an out and back at 13 miles each way, but a shuttle car can be used at one of the many other trailheads leading into the gulch to cut out some distance. Coyote offers beautiful scenery all around the trail, two different arches, a hidden lagoon, and numerous other unique points of interest. Since it is backcountry, waste should be packed out and fires are prohibited. A free permit is required, and it can be picked up at nearly every trailhead.

Uinta Highline Trail

For a traditional, high alpine, long trek, look no farther than the Uintas. The mightiest range in Utah is home to one of the most stunning backpacking trails the state has to offer. Over 100 miles of elevated path guides the way across some of the most stunning points in Utah, including King’s Peak. Never dipping below 8,000 feet, the trail is snowed in, and it is typically not passable until July. When hikeable, the trail boasts a ridiculous amount of wildlife. Everything from moose to coyotes are common. As part of this, it is maintained, but rough and remote. At times, only spaced out cairns will mark the way, so a good map and navigation skills are critical for anyone interested. No permit is required.

West Rim Trail

Arguably Zion’s most famous backpacking trip, the West Rim Trail offers a perspective of the massively popular park that most of the tourists will never see. Starting at Lava Point and descending 19 miles into the bottom of Zion Canyon, this trail renders views of both back- and front-country. It can be done as a strenuous day hike, but taking two days allows time to tack Angel’s Landing on to the end of the second day as a bonus. If done as a multi-day trek, a backcountry permit is necessary, and camping is restricted to one of the nine backcountry sites.

Narrows Top Down

The Narrows is arguably Zion’s second most famous hike, conceding only to Angel’s Landing. In order to see all of it, however, you’ll need to hit it from the top down. This is a 16 mile hike, starting at Chamberlain’s Ranch descending a steady 1,500 feet to the typical Narrows trailhead. A shuttle will be needed to get you from the park to Chamberlain’s. This hike is usually not possible in spring due to the high water flow. If the river is running over 120 cfs, Zion will close the Narrows. This means June is usually the earliest the hike is open. Like the West Rim Trail, the hike can be done in a day, but who would pass up a chance to camp in the Narrows? A permit is required for both the overnight and day trip options.

The Maze

The Maze district in Canyonlands is a classic Southern Utah trip. Hard to access trailheads surround one of the most remote places in the lower 48 states. Little water is offered throughout the treks, so careful planning and preparation are required. Due to its inaccessibility, trips are rarely shorter than three days. Many routes contain low grade climbing maneuvers and a 25 foot rope is recommended to shuttle packs up. Many of the hikes are exposed, and hot in the summer. It is best to go in fall or spring. When there, be cautious. This place is truly extreme and remote. Self sufficiency and proper preparation are essential for enjoying your time in The Maze. However, a successful trip can be rewarding as the area is stunningly beautiful, and solitude is easily found. Permits are required for all trips to The Maze.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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The Most Underrated of the ‘Mighty Five’

Every summer there’s the magical little period of post-school, pre-work freedom. Ideally, this is a week or longer, allowing for some kind of big, planned trip to take place. This year I had a weekend. With much whim and little planning, we stuffed the trunk and backseat of my friend’s Subaru and headed off to Capitol Reef for a night. Little did I know I’d be stumbling into Utah’s most underrated national park.

Our expectations were low; nobody in our group really went to Capitol Reef. I had seen stunning pictures of the park on random Instagram posts before, but I was suspicious. Plenty of places in Utah caters to what I call the “tourist adventurer.” These are people who make it seem like they are incredibly remote when in reality they’re standing off the side of a highway. I did not want to be swarmed by the masses as we all crammed into a little parking lot and hiked a quarter mile to some awesome geologic formation. I wanted to actually be remote.

We decided to head to the visitor center where we knew we could get a map and ask the ranger’s advice on where to go. After a few PB&J’s and some deliberation, our decision had been made. We packed up lunch, hit a few of the touristy day hikes, and then headed off to our real adventure.

After an hour of getting lost, two hours of high clearance, dirt road navigation and good music we reached the imposing sandstone formations known as Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon — aka our campsite. Soon, our tents were pitched just outside the park on BLM land, but still within view of the Temples. We enjoyed dehydrated beef stew, red beans with rice, and beef stroganoff as the last of the sun’s light fell across the towers. A few more hours and their dark silhouettes provided the perfect juxtaposition to the star encumbered sky.

Our expectations were well exceeded. Capitol Reef can lead you into a trap of “tourist adventurers” if you stay on the surface. Venture deeper into the park, though, and you can visit sites like Cathedral Valley, where you’ll find something far different.

In this hidden gem, we were met with total solitude and expanse, even though it was Mother’s Day. The main road, which houses most of the park’s visitors during their time, was relatively uncrowded. The parking lots at the hikes would fill, but barely. Just hours farther south, Zion would be entertaining bus after bus of tourists, while in Capitol Reef we saw equal views and far fewer tourists.

After just 24 hours in the park, my perception of it shifted completely. Capitol Reef holds the stigma of being unimpressive or not worth visiting, but as I found out, this is utterly untrue.

The park is nearly twice the size of Zion meaning there are far more backcountry and off-the-path places to explore. As the least visited national park in Utah, it is not hard to find a landscape totally devoid of people. Even the nearby towns are small and relatively unobtrusive. BLM land surrounds almost every border of the park, offering free camping wherever you go. Everything about this place is wild, expansive; and entirely underrated.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Climbing Close to Home

As Utah finally decides to change its mind, and the weather begins to warm up, there begins a whole new season of rock climbing. This is the climbing Utah is known for: multiple pitch routes with unforgettable vantage points, boulder problems that will haunt you and also reward you, or class sport routes with a crux that include just about everything you can think of. Want to know the best part? The majority of these locations are within a half-hour driving distance. You can commonly find a group of climbers leaving after work at 5 p.m. who are still getting some laps in before sundown.

Little Cottonwood Canyon

One commonly sought out place to climb is up Little Cottonwood Canyon. The majority of these climbs are trad, or traditional, routes. If you are up for some world class crack climbing, this is the place for you. The difficulty of the routes will cater to the first timer, and it can also cater to the most advanced veteran dirt bagger. There are hundreds of routes to choose from up and down the canyon that will help fulfill your heart’s desire. The rock type is almost all white granite with a couple of areas that are limestone. My personal favorite area to climb is up Gate Buttress, which is about one mile and a half up the canyon. These climbs go from 5.6c at Schoolroom to 5.12c of Bloodline for the more classic routes in the area.

Getting there: Get off I-215 at 6200 South. Then, follow signs for the ski resorts. After that, follow Wasatch Boulevard for a few miles, and the road will directly lead up the canyon.

Climb difficulty: 5.6c to 5.12c

Big Cottonwood Canyon

Big Cottonwood Canyon contains another popular upward climb. Similar to its neighbor, Big Cottonwood also has hundreds of routes up and down the canyon catering to every skill level. This is the first place I ever went rock climbing outdoors. Ever since that first time, I’ve known there was no leaving this sport. The rock type is quartzite, which makes the rock more slippery and more difficult to climb, therefore it is mostly used for sport climbing. There are also a wide variety of trad routes as well. But don’t be fooled, this rock has many holes and holds in a wide variety of shapes and sizes which make this canyon an epic location to climb. My favorite locations are up near the slips or along Challenge Buttress. These areas are home to several multi-pitch trad routes or various sport climbs.

Getting there: Take I-215 to the 6200 South exit, then follow the ski resort signs for Big Cottonwood Canyon. You will reach the base of the canyon within a few minutes from exiting the freeway.

Climb difficulty: Varying

American Fork Canyon

The other main canyon to climb in northern Utah is through American Fork Canyon. American Fork is better known for its intermediate to advanced sport climbing. It is also home to some of the most difficult routes in the state with ratings of 5.14c. There are many 5.9c routes for those who are looking to explore the canyon for the first time. This canyon is also a great location during the hot summer months as most of the crags are shaded with plenty of trees, or they are hidden deep within the canyon. This will keep your belayer nice and cool while you conquer the crux of the project you have been working on for weeks. Keep this one on your list of classic climbs to scale this upcoming summer.

Getting there: I-15 to the Pleasant Grove exit. Then, follow along Highway 92 straight into the canyon.

Climb difficulty: 5.9c-5.14c

These are a few of the most popular areas to climb during the summer months in northern Utah. There are many other places to consider, too; but these three canyons should definitely be on your list. After all, there are enough routes within them all to keep you busy for a lifetime.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Getting Out the Hiking Boots

Have you retrieved your hiking boots out from underneath your ski boots yet?  It’s that time of year when you should, as the snow begins to thaw from the trails in the Wasatch Front. Each day the hiking trails begin to emerge as the sun warms their meandering paths, and the leaves on the trees transition from brown to green.

Hiking opportunities in this weather are endless.  There are so many local hiking trails that you could go on a new hike every day, continuously exploring new territory.  The canyons that are adjacent to the Salt Lake Valley are the perfect place to begin.  Each canyon has streams and rivers, resulting in a luscious fern bed full of life and moisture.

One trail that you can visit just 30 minutes from the University of Utah is up Millcreek Canyon.  The gate four miles up the canyon will open in July, and won’t close until November.  Seven and a half miles past that gate you will come across 1000 Springs, one of the natural springs in Millcreek Canyon.  Beneath the Springs, there is a pond that is home to a family of beavers.  If you are lucky when you are hiking along the road you’ll see one working on a dam.

Another beautiful hike  in Millcreek Canyon is the Pipeline Trail. Beginning approximately half-way up the canyon, you are actually walking along an old pipeline trail. The overlook at the end puts you in the perfect location to view Salt Lake in the distance.

To the South is Neff’s Canyon.  Neff’s Canyon is very steep but has a multitude of hikes for every level. You are hiking just north of the magnificent Mt. Olympus and it has impeccable views of Salt Lake City. There is even an old cave that you can hike past called Neff’s Cave — one of the deepest caves in North America. Don’t worry about falling in, though, as the entrance has been blocked off. Instead, you can use a flashlight to stare into the abyss to satisfy your curiosity. Continuing up the canyon you’ll have a view over the top of Grandeur Peak as well as passing the Mount Olympus Spring. Dogs are allowed up the canyon, so don’t forget to bring a water filter if you want to enjoy some of the fresh spring water.

Continuing south, the next two large recreation canyons you’ll reach are Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon. Each canyon has their own unique hikes and adventures. Since the two were formed by different forces — river and glacier erosion respectively, the canyon walls vary drastically in steepness. Big Cottonwood Canyon offers many hikes that are about the same steepness in ascent from the beginning to end, whereas Little Cottonwood typically has very steep beginnings that taper off once you reach the high mountainous valleys.  The views at the tops of both will keep bringing you back for more.

These options are good anytime, but particularly for spring weather. If you find yourself available for a hike on a more summer-like day, some hikes that you should definitely put on your list are Lake Blanche, Lake Mary, Twin Lakes, Cecret Lake, and Red and White Pine Canyons.

These hikes give you the opportunity to reach far-off peaks if you so desire, but will also allow the inexperienced hiker to practice their skills.

No matter where you go now that snow is a little less common in the weather forecast, remember to use the buddy system and never hike alone. At the very least be sure that someone always knows where you are.

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Non-Technical Slot Canyons for the Adventurous Day Hiker

Utah is home to some of the most unique and amazing geological features in the American West. Nearly every other license plate in the state has a picture of Delicate Arch on it, and the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon and Goblin Valley are famous enough to warrant millions of Instagram posts. Perhaps most unique of all, and most seldom explored, are the thousands of slot canyons specific to Utah. While many require rappels and pothole escape techniques, there are still some that will take your breath away without requiring any technical skills. Here are a few of my favorites.

Little Wild Horse

Located six miles west of Goblin Valley State Park, this canyon separates you from the crowds of people swarming around the hoodoos next door. The hike is an 8-mile (four hour) loop. It occasionally has water running through it, but the water rarely rises above knee deep, so a good pair a wading shoes are all that is needed. Any major obstacles are avoidable and down climbs are easy. Overall, this is a sandy bottomed, mostly dry, kid-friendly slot canyon perfect for beginners or day hikers.

Beta: http://climb-utah.com/SRS/lwh.htm

Peek a Boo and Spooky

Due to their popularity, hiking these canyons feels more like an adult Disneyland than traversing around southern Utah’s desert. Nevertheless, the slots are absolutely stunning and the hikes are not long. While Peek a Boo and Spooky can be done separately, the best way is to loop them. Hike up Peek a Boo and, upon exiting, follow the cairned route east to the top of Spooky. Scramble down Spooky and return to the main concourse area where both the trailheads meet. The canyons are located about 26 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock road near Escalante, UT. Take the 4WD, high clearance Dry Fork Turnoff and follow it left to Dry Fork Overlook where the trails begin.

Beta: https://utah.com/hiking/peek-a-boo-slot-canyon

Moonshine Wash

Back in the days of prohibition, this canyon was used to hide an illegal distillery, remains of which are easily located in the canyon. Thus, the name Moonshine Wash. The canyon itself is a classic, tall slot. It’s located in the San Rafael Swell near Green River, so expect some solitude. At times, it requires deep wading, but all the down climbs are secure and simple. A competent hiker should have few problems completing this canyon. An old sheep bridges spans the top of one section of the canyon, making for an iconic photo op, and plenty of primitive camping is close by.

Beta: https://www.roadtripryan.com/go/t/utah/robbers-roost/moonshine

Egypt 3

This canyon pushes the “non-technical” description. It has potholes that require partner escapes, exposed down climbs, and advanced route finding. A GPS is highly recommended for this canyon. Yet, the rewards of completing Egypt 3 make it worth it. As soon as the hike begins, you are greeted by a stunning cliff drop-off of a few hundred feet. Traversing left, you see the massive Egypt Canyon begin to form. Eventually, you’ll drop into it via a bonus side canyon and begin to experience huge slotted walls and long, tight squeezes. This is an extremely narrow canyon, often needing 100-150 yard squeezes with packs held in front. There is a single rappel at the very end of the canyon, but it is optional and can be avoided. Unless you have experience canyoneering, do not do the rappel. The exit hike is very exposed and extremely hot. It would be easy to get lost walking back. Bring beta, a map, compass, and GPS with way-points to safely and enjoyably complete the canyon.

Beta: http://www.canyoneeringusa.com/images/stories/PDFs/Escalante/HoleInRock/Egypt.pdf

*Canyoneering is a dangerous sport, even for non-technical routes. Many canyons are remote and not often traveled. An accident could mean serious trouble. Nearly all require exposed hikes in/out in hot desert sun. Bring lots of water, usually at least three liters each. Have plenty of options for route finding. A GPS is preferred, but a map, compass, and good beta should be brought every time. Be careful, well prepared, and practice good LNT.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Carolyn Webber

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Conquering Peaks: Becoming a Mountaineer

Ever heard of Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, Reinhold Messner, or Jon Krakauer? These are the men who helped define mountaineering, the sport of climbing tall mountains. Each stepped foot on the tallest mountain in the world — Everest. They were united by the desire to summit mountain peaks, a feeling that drives all mountaineers.

To launch my own mountaineering career, I decided to start locally.  With a climbing colleague, we set out to tackle Broad’s Fork Twin Peaks last June. Although the elevation of 11,329 feet is nowhere near that of the breathtaking elevation of Everest (29,035 feet), we were faced with challenges.

After reading previous mountaineers’ advice on which route to take on Mountain Project, we decided to start at the S-curve in Big Cottonwood Canyon. We discussed the equipment needed to go on this expedition — sunglasses, sunscreen, hiking poles, crampons, a mountaineering axe, a probe, a beacon, and a shovel. We were forced to bail on our first attempt due to a snow storm, so the next time we began before the sun came up on a cloudless day.  The hike was straightforward on a dirt trail for about 3.5 miles until we hit the snowfield. We were both instantly blinded by the ivory blanket reflecting the sun.

We pulled out our glacier glasses and continued the ascent. Shortly after we stepped onto the snow field, the steepness made it difficult to keep our balance. We switched from hiking poles to the mountaineering axe and strapped on crampons. When mountaineering, there is often no trail to follow. Instead, you must assess the terrain and find the safest way up.  We saw previous slide paths from avalanches and made our best path zig-zagging through them.  The soft snow made it so we were postholing, meaning each step brought us waist-deep in the snow.

We made it to the ridge, cautious with each step between the 2,500-foot drop-offs on either side. Then, we began the final ascent, approximately 500 feet to the summit.  The closer we got to the peak, our hearts were pounding knowing we were almost there. At last, we summited East Twin Peak and gaped at the impeccable view. While catching our breath, we took our crampons off to walk around on the peak. Once we saw the other peak tantalizing us 528 feet away, we decided to finish the job.

We walked slowly on the thin knife blade of a ridge and enjoyed a break on the other peak. While taking photos, we heard a roaring sound echo around us, which sounded like a locomotive steaming by. It was an avalanche that broke loose on O’Sullivan peak a half-mile behind us and crashed down in the valley below.  That was our cue to exit and make our way back down the long and tedious descent.

Once we reached the open snow field, we could glissade down using our axe to self-arrest as we sped down. We removed our snow gear and stepped back onto the dirt trail, a few miles from our cars. At the journey’s end, we got in the car and looked back up toward the peak, neither of us believing the amazing climb we just endured. After mountaineering to the top of my first peak, I understand the desires each of those wild peak baggers have. Mountaineering is an addictive sport.

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com 

Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Corrected from “These are the men who helped define alpinism, the sport of climbing tall mountains.” on 4/12/17.

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Up in Flames: Crews Prep for Wildfire Season

When April showers subside and May foliage is dried out by incessant sunlight, Utah firefighters brace themselves for another season of near-constant summer wildfires along the Wasatch Front and beyond. Wildfires occur on a sporadic, unpredictable basis, but their regimented human counterparts remain on-the-ready, prepared to address developing infernos at any hour and in any condition.

The environmental influences of fires, both wild and man-made, are a mixed bag. “Fire has positive and negative impacts on ecosystems,” explains Jason Curry, Public Information Officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands. “Historically, fire has been a key component of ecosystem health in the West. Fires keep vegetation from getting overgrown and keeps things in balance.”

With the continually increasing human population and temperature in Northern Utah, this equilibrium becomes disrupted profoundly. “Since the early 1900s, the role of fire has changed: instead of small fires keeping vegetation in check, we get large fires that do catastrophic damage to ecosystems,” Curry says. “If fire burns at a low pace, it’s generally a good thing. Extreme fire behavior is generally negative.”

There is ultimately no ideal rate at which wildfires should occur. Most agree with Curry when he says they should happen “as often as nature will allow.” However ardently Smokey the Bear attempted to instill his message over the years, humans still remain responsible for over 90 percent of wildfires (in Utah’s case the remaining 10 percent can be attributed to lightning and other natural anomalies). Between these, there will likely be a wildfire every day of the summer, and that is not natural.

Fortunately, most wildfires are controlled within the first hour or two, but every year, a handful slip through the cracks. A fire on Antelope Island last July burned a whopping 15,330 acres, and another 20,614 acres blazed in Northern Utah’s Broad Canyon the following month.

The awe-inspiring capabilities of firefighting teams are due to efficiently connecting a massive network of individuals. According to the Utah Department of Natural Resources, every incident begins in virtually the same way: A wildfire is reported through 911, the operator dispatches fire engines, and the call is referred on to one of five Regional Interagency Fire Centers (IFC).

The IFC dispatches all available local resources capable of combating the fire, regardless of affiliation. The first firefighters on scene initially take command and report back to the IFC to assess the complexity of the fire. “As the fire increases in complexity, command may be transferred to someone with higher qualifications and more expertise.”

The “complexity analysis” ranges from the less technical Type 5 through severe and technical Type 1. Type 4 and 5 are representative of around 98 percent of Utah wildfires and require little more than a handful of local personnel to effectively extinguish them. When a fire progresses to Type 3, it enters the realm of “extended attack,” requiring multiple days and the assistance of personnel from outside of the local area, around 200 collectively. At Type 2 or 1, a pre-formed Incident Management Team comprised of 20-40 “overhead personnel” from various agencies oversee the fire. That might mean several hundred personnel dedicated to fighting the fire over several weeks, if not months. They pull out all stops, from fixed-wing “Air Attack” platforms to 10-12 person “Helitack Crews,” helicopter bucket ships then can drop more than 2,000 gallons of fire retardant or water.

Utah is the only state, aside from Alaska, that has Hotshot Crews employed and managed directly by the state government — all others are recognized as federal resources. These elite teams (of which our state has two) are hand crews of 20 firefighters vigorously trained in wildfire suppression tactics and are distinguished by exemplary physical fitness, expertise, and the ability to tackle the most stressful and technical of situations.

Rising global temperatures and ever-multiplying irresponsible outdoorsmen correlate with increasing wildfires in our high desert state. Local firefighters vigilantly stand by, ready to protect Utah’s ecosystem and people from the most ravenous of elements.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of FEMA

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Natural Medicine: Mending Wounds Through Outdoor Adventure Therapy

Stepping foot onto the Bonneville Shoreline Trail on a sunny Saturday afternoon means running into about as many people as you would at the grocery store on Thanksgiving Eve. But instead of people frantically sprinting between aisles, eyeing their list to check off every item, you’ll see bikers, hikers, and runners with child-like grins, breathing the fresh air of the Wasatch foothills.

Few would deny that nature is good for the soul, especially in a state where outdoor recreation brings in $12 billion in consumer spending and generates 122,000 direct jobs. Utahns love spending time outdoors. But recently, researchers, medical professionals, and therapists are showing that there is more going  on in the body and brain than we might think, and they are beginning to see lasting effects on some patients.

UNPLUG AND REWIND 

David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, began to study the effects of nature on the brain a few years ago, after noticing changes in himself when going outdoors.

“If [you] go on a river trip or a backpacking trip and are away for a while, you start to really think differently. Your senses are recalibrated, you notice things that you didn’t notice before,” he says. Now, he brings his classes away from technology and into the wild every year, measuring electrical activity in the brain with EEG scanners. What did he find? Nature boosts problem solving abilities, creativity, sense of well-being, and decreases stress levels and blood pressure.

When we are outside, away from our smart phones and email and the constant nagging of tasks in the back of our minds, we can rest the part of the brain that controls multi-tasking. The prefrontal cortex, as it is called, is like a muscle. It needs to rest and heal in order to give 100 percent later on. The glucose and glycogen energy stores are restored when you can quiet this part of the brain and go to default mode. It’s not that your brain just slows down though. The brain is actually more active, but in separate areas, like those activated by meditation.

Strayer can prove nature’s healing properties on a screen, but he’s also seen it firsthand. Enrolled students in his “Cognition in Nature” courses are frequently those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq after being on military tours. These students are often quiet and separate from the class, disconnected from the rest. But, as the trip continues, he sees them inch closer to others during group time and participate more and more.

“In one case, we came back to class the day after we got back from the desert and we all thought, ‘Who’s this guy sitting in the class?’ He had shaved off his beard and completely transformed. These are amazing transformations, and it happens on a regular basis.”

HEALING OUTDOORS

Psychologists and therapists are begginning to catch on the trend. At the National Ability Center in Park City, Craig Bryan, executive director for the National Center for Veterans Studies, runs a therapy program for PTSD victims that combines trauma-focused therapy sessions in the morning and recreational activities in the afternoon. While outdoor recreation alone doesn’t often have long-term recovery effects, therapy sessions and the outdoors are the perfect match.

“We use these outdoor activities for people to do things that elevate their mood. We provide opportunities to challenge the core beliefs of our veterans. Many of them ony think ‘I’m a failure. I screw everything up,’” he says. “In therapy we say, ‘Didn’t you just climb to the top of a mountain yesterday? How is it possible to climb a mountain if you can’t do anything right?’”

Since its start last year, the program has seen a 73 percent recovery rate of PTSD by the end of the two-week program. They are continuing to gather data in order to prove to the mental health community at large that there is some kind of healing power of the outdoors.

Wilderness adventure therapy can help those with other mental health issues too, be it trauma survivors, teens with mental disabilities, or addicts.  At some colleges, like Prescott College in Arizona, there are even adventure therapy majors available for students. Utah boasts perhaps the highest quantity of these therapy services.

Aspiro is one of these, taking teens on trips for eight to 12 weeks all over the state. Year-round, groups of six to eight individuals, ranging with problems from autism spectrum disorder, drug abuse, or depression, backpack through the desert or ski tour the Wasatch, says Joe Nagle, Adventure Facilliatation Trainer for Aspiro.

“Doing things that are difficult, especially things that you didn’t know you could do before, translates really easily to whatever you are coping with at home. We found a model that works with a broad range of students,” he says.

They grow in identity coherence, or the ability to know themselves and take pride in who they are, as well as gaining effective coping mechanisms. Pushing limits outdoors can be scary, but believing in yourself and then doing it makes you confident in your abilities.

Nagle knows that, like PTSD recovery, these changes are only possible through the combination of nature and therapy, but there’s no denying that nature is a necessary ingredient.

A PRESCRIPTION FOR NATURE

Stories abound about people stepping into nature to find healing. Most revelations recorded in scriptures happened outdoors just think of Moses on Mount Sinai, Jesus Christ in the wilderness, or Muhammad in the Cave of Hira. In ancient literature like The Odyssey, nature is part of the healing, says Stacy Bare, director of Sierra Club Outdoors.

Bare has been working with researchers, mental and public health professionals, and outdoor advocacy groups to bring the conversation back to the outdoors.

“People see, finally, that this is another way for preventative as well as treatable care,” Bare says. “We need to view our public lands as a public health care system. The benefits of getting outside are incredibly real.”

Park prescription programs are starting to emerge, such as the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Outdoors Rx program, which prescribed active outdoor activity for children and adults suffering with obesity and high blood pressure. Bare himself found healing through climbing, hiking, and skiing after serving in the military for five years.

Stacy Bare skiing in Iraq this year. Photo courtesy of Stacy Bare.

Last year, Bare, Strayer, and others met at the White House to propose a plan to get people off drugs and into nature. Yes therapy and medication are important, but there is a natural healing element that happens when you smell a ponderosa pine or touch a trickling mountain stream.

After millennia of proof from poetry to films, the data is catching up. Nature changes us. And if you don’t believe it, take the advice from Henry David Thoreau. You’ll walk away feeling taller than the trees.

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

Photos courtesy of Aspiro Adventures

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Beyond the Wasatch: Great Basin National Park and Lehman Caves

Three and a half hours west of Salt Lake City, in the middle of the Great Basin between Utah and Nevada, lies a hidden treasure trove of adventure.  Within the 77,180 acres of Great Basin National Park, it’s impossible to get bored. Explore a diverse range of scenery and activities, from the 13,000 feet of its highest mountain peak to its lowest sub-alpine lake. Gaze in wonder at the beauty of a bristlecone pine forest, trek to a glacier, or hike to an arch, but you can’t come without exploring the depths of the magnificent cave system.

Before I visited the Lehman Caves at Great Basin National Park, the most I knew about caves is what I could remember from the cartoon “The Berenstein Bears” that I watched as a little girl. “Stalactites and stalagmites, only caves have got ’em. Tites are always on the top and mites are on the bottom.” I walked away with an education that surpassed that tidbit of information by leaps and bounds.

The Lehman Caves Tour is one of the biggest attractions that Great Basin has to offer, and rightfully so. As I descended underground, I felt as if I had stepped back into a place frozen in time. The marble and limestone caverns were formed 550 million years ago and discovered just under a century ago by Absalom Lehman in 1885. Along with the usual array of stalactites and stalagmites, the Lehman Caves have quite the collection of shields (over 300). These rounded formations projecting upward out of the cave walls are rare, and are thought to form as the limestone cracks and shifts.

The temperature in the caves is a cool 50 degrees year-round and the first room on the tour is the Gothic Palace. Footsteps echo as you enter this grand chamber and you can hear the drip-drip of water sliding down the limestone walls, but your see only darkness. The park ranger leading the tour simulated how it would have felt years ago to enter this space for the first time, as Lehman did. She instructed each of us turn out our lights, then she lit a single candle; the only light source that Lehman had at the time.

This isn’t a cave for spelunking or exploring on your own. Tours are guided by a park ranger, who takes you through the 5 cavernous rooms, each with a unique history and geology. The groups are limited in size to 20 and run at different times depending on the season. The tours are regularly sold out, so make a reservation ahead of time. The $10 fee for the 90-minute tour is absolutely worth the cost. Or, for those short on time, there is a 60-minute tour available for $8.

While the Lehman Caves are very popular, Great Basin is also home to 40 other caves. Most of them are closed for safety reasons and research, and others are closed to protect the bats that call these environments home. For those experienced in caving, Little Muddy Cave is open for recreational use. With a permit, you can explore this cave from October 1st through April 1st. Little Muddy Cave is a little over 1000 ft. in length and it’s filled with mazes of crawl ways. The smooth mud floor is perfect for wiggling through some of these tight spaces.

During the summer, more hikes are accessible, but going in the winter means less crowds. Whenever you decide to make the trip, here are some tips to make it worthwhile:

-Regardless of which direction you’re coming from, the road to Great Basin can get pretty desolate. Driving past endless fields, rolling hills, and snow-capped mountains is a wonderful way to start this journey. Make sure you’ve got a driving buddy, or a really good podcast to keep you awake.

-Between the three campgrounds in the park, there are 70 campsites to choose from. Each site is $12. In the winter, they are first come first serve, so call ahead to check on availability. In the summertime, reservations are available, but they fill up quickly.

-If you’re visiting in the winter, pack accordingly. There are few in-town amenities and water pumps are off until April.

 -Make sure to apply for permits at least two weeks ahead of time. Backcountry camping, climbing, and caving all require permits and the approval process can take a few days. If you’re planning on booking a cave tour, make a reservation at least a week in advance in order to  guarantee a spot.  If you don’t get a permit, don’t fret. There’s plenty to do here:

-Hike up to the Bristlecone pine forest. This moderate 2.8-mile trek brings you to a grove of ancient trees. Just past the trail’s end, you can get a look at Nevada’s only glacier.

– Ascend the highest mountain peak in Nevada. Wheeler Peak (13,063 ft) has breathtaking views of the sage-covered hills and birch tree forests.

– Try your hand at catching a rainbow trout as you fish in either Baker Lake or Lehman Creek. Purchase a Nevada fishing license ahead of time.

– Take the 3.4-mile roundtrip trail for stunning views of Lexington Arch. This natural Arch is six stories tall and carved out of limestone.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

Photos by Esther Aboussou

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Moab: the Mountain Biker’s Mecca

Moab is home to some of the highest quality mountain biking trails in the country. About four hours southeast of Salt Lake City, over 100 miles of trails sit, begging to be explored. From short tracks just over a mile to overnight rides taking you deep into the desert landscape, you will likely leave addicted to the red rock landscape. Break out that dusty bike of yours, give it a shine and tune up, and dirty it up with some red mud.

If you are new to mountain biking but are looking for a little bit of a challenge, ride the 20 miles of Klonzo trails just north of Moab. Drive two to three miles along Willow Springs Road toward Arches National Park to find the seven Klonzo trails. They range in difficulty, but they are geared toward intermediate riders. Ride along petrified sand dunes with a stunning backdrop of the La Sal Mountain Range.

For the skilled and technical riders, the Porcupine Rim Trail needs to be on your Moab itinerary. It includes everything you love about mountain biking: tight edges along cliff sides, stunning scenery of red rock in a vast desert landscape, and fast single-track drops coupled with ledge drops. Most importantly, there is only 1,000 feet of elevation gain over the entire ride. The 15 miles of exhilarating terrain will take you about four to six hours to complete, depending on how many stops you take for photos. Or, start in Moab for a 34 mile out-and-back.

The Whole Enchilada, located at Burrow Pass Trailhead along the La Sal Loop Road east of Moab, is one for the record books. Originally designed to be an entire loop, the trail now boasts about 25 miles, and it helps to have a shuttle car. This is no walk in the park. Anyone who has been to Moab before knows that the hill climbs and the descents are not to be taken lightly. If you find yourself walking some of the technical portions of the ride or to cross a couple streams, don’t feel too bad. Tricky spots shut down some of the best riders. Nonetheless, weaving between sandstones and lush forests keeps riders coming back hungry for more.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Peter Creveling

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