Desert Adventures: Zion, Utah edition.

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Christmas in Zion, Utah!

The desert is a pretty unforgiving place. When I tell people that I climb in the desert, they immediately think of the Sahara or Gobi deserts- somewhere that’s always scorching hot. What people don’t seem to realize is that the temperature is not what defines a desert, rather it is the lack of moisture that does. Making the transition from camping and climbing from Nevada to Utah, you’d assume that the climates were more or less the same, as they aren’t too far from each other. Zion is slightly more northern than Red Rock and it would appear that that tiny shift in location would make all the difference with the temperature. Zion, like Red Rock, is classified as a desert. The simplest way to describe the temperature in both these deserts is: extreme. Unlike Red Rock, where the air is dry, Zion tends to have some humidity, resulting in chillier evenings and mornings. I’ve woken up to many early mornings to temperatures below zero, anywhere from -5 to -6, depending on the morning and can now say I’ve slept with five to six layers on my upper body, with a toque, two pairs of tights, thermal socks and sweat pants. I can say without a doubt that camping and climbing for two weeks in these frigid temperatures was long enough.

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Part of the campground within Zion.

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Part of our view at our campsite. Everywhere we looked, we were surrounded by beauty.

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Parking lot views. We usually started our days incredibly early and ended when the sun was no longer out. This led to other climbers telling us that the park rangers were looking for people from BC one of the days we were climbing.

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All smiles here! 

The climbing in Zion varies in extremes as well. In the shade, it’s incredibly cold and I’m convinced that all the energy I get from my morning breakfast isn’t used on a climb, rather it’s used to keep my body warm. Add that and the fact that I’m rather new to the techniques of trad climbing and you have a recipe for a very long day. The first two days in Utah, Ali and I ventured out to an “easier” crag. These “easy routes” have definitely been some of the hardest climbs I’ve ever had to do. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this new at climbing- something that feels quite foreign to me. But I suppose this is a good thing, challenges are always a good thing. It’s been a very different mind set and a change in pace with the differing climbing styles. Zion is just as beautiful as I thought it would be, however, it’ll be some time before I come back. I’m incredibly happy I finally get to cross this destination off my bucket list, but, I won’t be back unless I a) fully commit to trad and b) become extremely skilled in trad. It would appear that many traditionalist (climbers who believe in leaving as little an impact on the rock route as possible. ie: not bolting a route or not using man made anchors- Ali and I encountered many “natural” anchors in the form of using trees to rappel off of) climb here. The result of this is needing to be skilled and crafty with certain things, such as the anchors. The climbing guide describes Zion as a destination for big walls and adventure climbing. There’s definitely no shortage of either here.

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The “parking lot” 

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The approach to our climbing destination. Yes, it really was as cold as it looks.

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First order of business before any crack climbs were conquered. Taping up your hands as that acted as the barrier between your hands and the rock.

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Our first climb of Zion. Probably one of the hardest “easy” climbs I’ve ever been on.

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Can you find Ali? Hint, she’s close to the rock face 😉 On some of the climbs, Ali set up a top rope anchor so we could attempt some of the harder climbs. The approach to the tree was no easy feat either, as getting to the tree meant you were on an unstable, sandy and rocky rock surface. Often times, because there were no bolted anchors, your safety was tied around a secure smaller tree branch. Imagine doing that on the big walls of Zion!

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Coffee break in between climbs.

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One of the many views of Zion from the top of the climb.

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You can’t quite tell from this angle, but we had to climb off a huge flake. Climbing Navajo Sandstone is unlike anything I’ve ever climbed on before. The sandstone in Red Rock was much more secure and stable compared to the sandstone of Zion. Zion sandstone has a reputation of being fragile…that it was. Every time I attempted to smear “stand on the rock”, my foot just blew off and would not stick. A little disconcerting initially. 

After two very full and involved days of Ali trad leading, we decided to check out a sport crag in an area known as St. George. It’s located close to the Utah-Arizona border and is home to various rattle snakes, scorpions and chuckawalla. The climbing area there is densely populated with a five minute approach from the parking lot. It was essentially an outdoor gym. There were many fun and easy routes and made for the perfect last climbing destination.

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Ali taking a breather before getting on a climb at St. George.

After many long and incredible days of climbing, sleeping under the stars at freezing temperatures, cracked skin and spilt tips, Ali and I decided to come home a day early. We decided that if we weren’t climbing our last day, we would head home. Ali was pretty spent and wouldn’t be leading any of the climbs, so I’d be on the sharp end. With a number of spilt tips, I decided that I wouldn’t be able to climb- my hands had had enough. There comes a time in a trip where you know you’re ready to head home. We had hit that and decided that we needed to respect our limits. From icy-slick roads, to windstorms, to dense fog, to snowstorms to sunshine, to varying temperatures and destroyed hands, this was a trip of extremes. Everyday was an adventure and my passion for wandering, exploring and climbing has been reignited. People take a look at some of my photos and remark on how beautiful it is, and it is- but you have to be willing to go through some of the extremes to get there sometimes. Trips like these remind me of what’s most important to me and that to live a fulfilled life, adventure is essential. I can’t wait to see where the next adventure takes me.

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Cheers to another amazing adventure.

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