Weekend escape to the outdoors

So I’m finally settled back into the swing of things at home, so why not escape again to where the people are few, and the scenery is awesome?

I’m sitting at Breezy Bank in Vermont, one of the cooler camps at Camp Edgewater.

I pulled in after a 3.5 hour drive, excited to see who was around, excited to sleep in a house where you can hear the waves on the beach below.

We all caught up for a bit, some of the other cousins and others my age, and then went down to check out the beach. Magically, there was already a fire started by Pat. Guess what though? The lake was silent. No waves, no wind, nothing. Don’t worry, it’s still there but I’ve never seen it so calm.

Hopefully tonight will be better for sleeping.

Post Canyon Trip Feelings/Thoughts

So I’ve been back for three days.

A lot of my thoughts revolve around missing the people I was with, digging some alone time, and wondering what my next plans are.

It’s so different coming back to the east coast, where there are no mountains, the people are all crammed together, and there’s no open space save a couple of parks. While I was out there, I thought about how nice it would be to live out in the Southwest (got as far as looking at rental $ in Moab, Utah/looking to see what jobs are available). Unfortunately, it’s a very popular place, and will only be going up in value. Plus I don’t know if I can deal with my skin being that dry again.

I miss every one of the people on the trip, and don’t know if I can wait til next year to see them again. We’re keeping up in a group chat, but I wonder how long we will still entertain each other now that we are away from one another. I’d like to think that we will still comment on our experiences, laugh about some of those inside jokes, but I feel like the memories are already slipping away as I start to become reconnected to my “real” life in Boston.

I’m planning on making my way to London at some point, I’ve never been there and the thought of being able to hang out with Emma, Nick, Matthew, Katie, and Michael sounds pretty fucking amazing. I googled what to do on long flights when you can’t sleep, and think I have some tricks up my sleeve.

We made a plan to go to South Africa next year, and plan on saving up vacation days for that. I think I can handle a full 2 weeks away from work.

I’m most looking forward to doing some more hiking on weekends/camping around the White Mountains to get my fix in. I know that none of the hikes will be as amazing as the ones we did in the southwest, and I find this pretty disappointing. I have two plans in mind at this point:

  1. Visit every US National Park (I bought all the post cards, so I can send one from each that I visit). So far I can cross off Acadia, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Red Woods, Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Bryce, Arches, Zion, and probably another one I can’t think of.
  2. Move to a state that has more mountains, preferably away from the east coast. Not any time soon, just sometime. I think that Vermont helps a lot with my desire to be away from the general population and be around nature, but I think waking up every morning and seeing huge mountains would be amazing.

Well, we will see. Thanks for reading. Until the next trip!

Days 10, 11 – Back to Vegas

Ah, the end of the trip, but a few more fun things on the way back to Vegas.

We stopped at one of Jeremy’s favorite coffee shop, thank god they had smoothies. I was feeling semi-hungover/tired from the night before, lots of beers, fun, and staying up late. We were able to relax for a bit at the coffee shop, and got a nice picture out in front with their wind sculptures (picture to come).

Back in the car, and our way to the Hoover Dam. The traffic once we were on the road to the dam was horrendous and it took us 35 mins to go about 2 miles. The dam was really nice, minus the hoards of people, and Jeremy showed his true fear of heights.

We went back to the hotels and dropped off Sarah, Tarn, Michael, and Emma. Emma wasn’t coming out on the party bus with us, so it was a sad goodbye. The rest of us were dropped off (except Kiara and me, and the 2 block walk back to the Red Roof was the worst). We got checked in, showered, and changed for dinner.

Dinner at Culinary Dropout in the Hard Rock was delicious. All the appetizers tasted amazing, and the dinner was great with Jeremy, Nick, Matthew, Katie, and Kiara.

Next up, Party Bus! It was a party bus. It’s what you would expect. I didn’t really like it, but it was fun to be with everyone. We went to the Little White Chapel and got a good pic of Kiara and Tones getting fake married. We headed to the Vegas sign and got some bad selfies. We wound up at the Bellagio for the water fountain show and stayed there for a while. It kind of was like Ocean’s Eleven, where each member slowly drifts away, but we only lost Hannah at this point. We hung out, drank beers, hugged, laughed, took pictures. We went out to a couple places near the strip, hung out.

It was a late night, but it was nice sleeping in in a real bed for once. I slept in my sleeping bag since a couple people had already made comments about the heroin needles in Red Roof rooms.

The next day, we met up for lunch at a little taco place on the strip, and walked around some of the casinos/resorts. Did you know you can see sharks in one resort and flamingos in another?

It was hot, so we found one last hurrah before I had to leave. We decided to go to the King’s Tournament at Excalibur for a 3-course, eat with your hands, meal and got to watch some jousting. It was fun, and really nice to be out of the heat.

And then I made my way to the airport, totally losing my phone in the cab. Called it a gazillion times, could see from another phone that it was sitting in the cab waiting lot of the airport, but he wasn’t answering. Well, I’d figure that out once I got back. The airport is just as depressing as Vegas in my opinion. There are slot machines everywhere, to-go containers for beers, and a smoking section that features MORE slot machines. I’m good on Vegas, I’ve crossed it off. I do not need to go back there, especially not when it’s so g-damn hot.

And the guy is shipping me my phone, should be here Friday, so more pictures to come!

Day 9 – Angel’s Landing and the Narrows

Day 9, our final hiking day before we go back to Vegas, was a lot of fun.

We woke up early (5am) to get to the first shuttle at 6am so we could beat the crowds at Angel’s Landing. We were mostly ahead of schedule getting to the shuttle but of course, everyone else in their right mind had the same thought. The line was pretty long, but they pack the shuttles full, so we were able to get on the third one. We were at the trail by 6:45am.

The trek up to Scout’s Lookout (aka Chicken Out Point) is not too long but you hike some pretty serious altitude (all via switchbacks, of course). The trail was really nice and this time I hiked with Kiara, Nick, Matthew, and Emma. The path starts out along a river and then as you get up higher, we were walking through a nice slot canyon. The echos were great and could hear two different people respond to a “Choo choo” while we were headed up.

Angels landing is one of the most difficult and dangerous hikes in Zion, but not because of the switchbacks. When you get to Scout’s, you come face to face with the next section of hike, chains bolted into the side of the mountain leading you up to the “neck.” The neck features the same guiding chain but in this part you have no mountain to lean on. There is a 1,000 ft drop to either side.

I knew this going on, and had already decided I might attempt the first part of the chain section, but when I arrived I decided that I would not be attempting. Nick, Matthew, and I waited at Scout’s for the others to return.

Even from Scout’s, the view is breathtaking. There was a nice breeze and good company so we sat and chatted with other hikers.

I’m glad I hadn’t attempted. About 30 mind after we arrived, the crowds and line to get up was growing. The way the chain part of the hike works is that it trades off between the going up people and going down people. There isn’t room for two people to pass by each other. The beginning up people just don’t know that they have to take turns. The result is that a LOT of people get clustered up in some of the turnaround spots. I don’t think I would have liked being up there waiting for 20mins to let people go by while I’m just holding on for my life.

About 2 hours later the rest of the group joined us and told us about the hard hike and the amazing views. Still no regret.

We hiked down (which was harder on my knee) and on the way down there was a man about two switches above me who was singing opera into the echos of the slot canyon. I really liked this, but sounds like everyone else hated it. Sorry guys!

We met up at the shuttle and made our way to our next hike, the Narrows. The Narrows follows a river up to an apparently amazing slot canyon. They have boots you can rent but we had forgotten to rent these the night before so we were SOL on that one. I had realized that I couldn’t get my orthotics wet, so wound up taking those out while I was at angel’s, and decided I’d be fine walking in them without. The only other problem was my lack of walking stick; I had read in the Zion death book that walking up the river was like walking on slippery bowling balls. But I had to try, plus it was so hot, the 40 degree water would be refreshing.

We had lunch along the river and then hiked up to the path that would bring us into the canyons. Emma and I started hiking up and it was slow going. There were a LOT of people here which was pretty frustrating, and a lot of kids running and goofing off. I’m glad to know that the group didn’t make it much past where we were before turning back. It was just too much, and the thought of twisting an ankle did not have much appeal.

We made our way back to the shuttle and visitors center, Emma had to buy souvenirs, Matthew and I headed back to camp.

That cold refreshing beer hit the spot. We relaxed until dinner, I can’t remember what we ate, it was delicious.

There was another Trek group at the campsite next to us, they came over for our campfire and beers, and I was so happy that I was with my group. The others were younger, didn’t love hiking, and didn’t get along as a group. A couple of them even noted that they could sense that our vibe was way different. Nevertheless, they invited us to join their party bus the following night in Vegas.

We stayed up late, despite needing to get an early start. We talked about our trips, we branched off into smaller groups to talk about the day, but in the end we were all just one group/family. I was sad to know that the trip was coming to a close.

Day 8 – Bryce Canyon and then on the road to Zion

Bryce Canyon was super awesome, but we were on our way into Memorial Day weekend, and you know how much Americans like Memorial Day (3-day weekend kicking off the summer). So there were just mobs of people all over the trail, selfie sticks, hiking in tutus, generally making me hate humanity.

The hike itself was pretty cool, another down THEN up version, where we were able to see a bunch of hoodoos that are formed by freeze-thaw – “windows” are created, and then the tops fall out and make these cool looking rock formations.

We hiked down to a spot at the bottom called the Queen (a hoodoo that looked like a queen on a throne, but honestly it looked more like a witch with a broom). Half the group didn’t listen to directions and totally missed this. The way back up was pretty tough, a bunch of switchbacks and a pretty steep altitude gain, and WAY too many people. I think I’m probably in a bunch of selfies that I inadvertently photo bombed. Found a good hiking buddy, Emma, who likes to take the uphills at a similar pace, and we were able to get up without totally dying.

Then we were on the road to Zion NP. The drive was stunning and I had just bought the Death in Zion book so read all about the two big hikes I’d be attempting tomorrow (Angel’s Landing and the Narrows), probably not recommended.

Pulled into another beautiful campsite right outside of Zion NP, at the foot of some awesome mountains, and set up camp. We would be waking up very early the next morning to get to Angel’s Landing ahead of the crowd (5:00am) so it was a fairly early night.

Day 7 – 2 NPs and 1 SP

Oh boy, I was tired on day 7. We went to bed pretty late (1ish) and woke up at 6. Luckily it was a break day, lots of driving, but I unfortunately can not sleep in the car, so it was just relaxing and reading in the car.

We were driving from Canyonlands to Bryce, with some stops on the way.

We swung by Goblin NP to check out the rock formations there, these were also created by the freeze thaw method that has made holes in the slick rock. They look like little creatures, maybe goblins?

Then we checked out Capitol Reef NP, where you can find a monocline, single step giant rift. Since it happened on a fault line, you get this giant step miles across.

Then we went to see some more petroglyphs that were carved along some rock faces. It really is amazing that people drew them so long ago and that they haven’t been touched at all (except for some dumb dumbs that have carved their names next to things).

Next up was an old Mormon pioneer house, we stopped here for lunch and ice cream/pie. Both were delicious.

We took a scenic drive on the way to our super awesome, (via the coolest coffee shop on the side of a mountain) and by far, the best camp ground at Kodachrome Campsite. We were so secluded from the other campsites, but still within a 2 min walk to the very nice bathrooms and showers.

This was one of the top nights with he group, introduced everyone to Corn Hole and found that a handful of people were naturals, found two trees for a hammock spot (finally), and had a great view of Kodachrome State Park in ALL directions and hiked all around. After dinner we just chilled as a group, had WAY too much fun playing Heads Up (accents specifically), and had a camp fire.

Day 6 – The Maze: High Spur Canyon

Day 6 was intense! Woke up early, but didn’t get on the road until 8:15 or so. Our guides were a bit disorganized and the dynamic was a bit stressful, but we did it.

On the drive to High Spur trailhead, we could see why it may have taken some time to pick us up on the canyon yesterday. 4WD was 100% necessary to get around up here, and is great for deterring tourists.

I was not sure about what to expect with this hike, but once we got into it, I was not comfortable. We were going to be climbing through a slot canyon, which is a path that thunderous walls of water have carved out over time. The canyon has steep drops, narrow paths, and twisting turns. All of the rock is the same slick rock, except for rocks that have been delivered by flash floods from above.

The first tricky part looked very steep, my knee has been bothering me on downhill parts, and the guides said we could easily go around, so I did. Ok, not so bad. Here’s what the first drop looked like:

The next drop down was not optional. I was freaked out. I thought I’d be ok, but was not trusting this rock as much as I had yesterday. With the help of the others, made it down this one successfully with only a little bit of cursing and screaming like a little girl. I was not feeling this hike, but once we made it down further into the canyon, the view was amazing. The light shone down in some places, others were shady, and the colors were amazing.

There were a bunch of non-optional technical parts, which I did not love, and plenty of optional stemming parts for the climbing types who I had decided to live vicariously through. I felt a bit wimpy trying to keep my feet on the floor, but in the end I’m glad I did, because even without climbing along walls, this was a hard hike (mentally and physically).

We stopped halfway for lunch (our guide said it was more than half, but the second half was hard too). We still had to get through some more technical parts, and we still had to get out (up). Looking back, I am so glad that I didn’t read any of the flash flood death stories.

The hike out was hard, and in my opinion, terrifying. We were scrambling up at steep angles on slick rock (still grippy, don’t let that name deceive you), loose sand, and krypto.

Side note about crypto: full name Crypto Biotic Soil. These are bacteria that combine over time and create this crispy looking layer on top of the sand. It provides nutrients and stability to the otherwise super loose sand. It’s a vital part of this area because it creates an environment for trees and plants to grow. It is very delicate, if you step on it, it disintegrates back into sand. Not great when people are trying to find a path to the top of a canyon, so we had to tiptoe through the crypto.

I was so nervous about falling back down this canyon, basically was hands and footing it up, and basically said fuck the crypto. My life is more important than a tree’s. Sue me in a billion years.

I’m amazed that I made it up out of that canyon. I really thought I was going to freak out enough that I was going to shut down and be terrified. Maybe that way I could get a helicopter lift out. Anyway, I did it, mostly because the group was super supportive. And so much thanks to Kiara who kept checking on me, let me go in front of her, and was ready to catch me. ❤️

I’m so glad that we did this hike when we did, 6 days in. It was so great that we already all knew and cared about each other, trusted and supported one another. We were down there a long time and it was awesome spending more one on one time with people (there’s only room for a single line of people, so you wind up talking with that person and helping them through tricky parts, plus snapping cool pics).

We finally got back to the cars, had a beer, and got on the road back to camp in Moab. We had about two hours of very rocky 4WD terrain in front of us, and 2 more hours after that, until we could get to the Moab brewery for a night of restaurant dinner and great brews.

Of course I hit a second wind, and they had a pool table, and then wound up talking around a fire until 1am, and had a 6am wake up time (for a shower finally!)

Day 5 – Horseshoe Canyon, aka “barrier canyon,” petroglyphs, and middle of nowhere camping

Today we start a two day adventure with Navtec guides. We packed up all our equipment (in record time), and started driving from camp to Canyonlands. Canyonlands consists of three different sections, the island in the sky, needles, and the Maze. We headed to Horseshoe Canyon, named for the way the canyon twists and turns from the river that made it.

There were three cars, and I instantly knew that we wanted to ride with Lisa. She seemed to be in charge of the group, and I knew she would be a great guide to talk to. Kiara, Katie, Emma, and I jumped in. I was not wrong. Lisa has a wealth of knowledge and the trip went by very quickly. We discussed stupid things people have done to get themselves killed in the canyons, different types of plants you could find in this desert and their uses, and what the day would look like.

Once we got to the trailhead, we ate some snacks and started out. The Navtec crew would be driving around to the other side of the canyon, setting up camp a bit, and then meeting us inside the canyon at the Grand Gallery.

So we were off. The trail is made up of slick rock, named by the pioneers that once traveled here with horses and wagons. Yes, for them, it was slick. For us, however, the rock was grippy against our rubber soles. The rocks are very sandpaper like, and we found we could do some very easy scrambling up and down. Lisa had mentioned that she would be able to do some almost vertical inclines up and down and she was not wrong. Even if the rocks were wet we would still be able to get some grip.

The canyons twist and turn and are not visited by people very often since you need a 4×4 truck to reach the trailhead. We only saw 5 people on our way. It’s amazing because there are so many Native American pictographs and petroglyphs. We also saw a possible alcove and abode, likely inhabited by people from 400 AD to 1100 AD.

We are waiting at a halfway point for the Navtec crew to come meet us. Minus our group, it is quiet, but the wind is rippling through the cottonwood trees. It reminds me of Vermont in the summer. There is smooth red sand everywhere (tough to walk through but so soft). I’m pretty sure I have loads of it in my shoes.

I’m sitting on a rock bench, looking up at these paintings. They are so intricate and interesting. There are also two metal boxes here, one has binoculars, the other has a “guestbook” and some information about all the drawings.

It took us two hours of waiting for our guides and we started exploring, semi trying to find the trail that would take us out, if we needed to leave sooner. Finally they got to us.

The way out was harder than it initially looked. We could see a switch back trail up the hill, and then it looked like we’d be at the top. As we got up that path, which was actually still super sandy and hard to walk up, it turned out that was not the top. We had to do some rock scrambling up two more layers of rock. (Fun fact: we could see the gap where Aaron _______ fell in, and cut off his own arm to survive, see 127 hours). We finally got to the car, and drove to the campsite.

The camp was unlike anything we had experienced so far. We were the only people up there, we could put our tents wherever we wanted, and it was beautiful.

Our guides showed us how to use the “blue box area,” which was our only option for taking care of business while we were up there. Basically, grab the blue box, walk down the path to a convenient out of view, box, complete with a toilet seat and great smelling blue liquid. Our own personal toilet.

We had delicious burgers with all the condiments (Kiara was all about ALL the sauces), deliciously made by Sarah and Tarn, Anthony supervised.

Another campfire, more 20 questions, beers, and so much laughter. And off to bed, to get up early (6am to leave by 7:30).

Day 4 – Moki and Delicate Arch

Hi everyone! Cell service has been spotty so haven’t been able to post a bunch of these, I’m also still a couple days behind on actually writing them, but I have some car time today, so will play catch up.

Car time, which is a pretty big part of the trip, is actually pretty awesome. Even when the drives are long (max 4 hrs), there is always good scenery, mountains, ridges, wonderful colors. Being with everyone in the car is great too. Some people sleep (I cannot), we read awesome books about Death in the Grand Canyon (I’m the most avid reader, and think people MAY be tired of all the death stories), everyone has a chance to DJ, or we chat. I think I have laughed more in the last 5 days than I thought was possible. It’s amazing to see everyone’s personalities start to come out now that we are getting to know each other better. As I write this, I’m in day 6, and already thinking how sad I’ll be to leave this group. I’m already planning a Grand Canyon rafting reunion.

Anyway, Day 4, we rolled into camp late last night, so we were putting up tents and cooking in the dark. We also didn’t get to see what camp looked like, so when I woke up to go to the bathroom in the morning, I was surprised to see Nick just sitting on the picnic table staring off. More concerned that these people were seeing me with bed face, I made a sassy comment, “want to get the tea kettle going?” to which I got a response of “well I’m actually enjoying watching the sun rise (British accent included).”

Turning around, I realized we were overlooking these great buttes and spires and the sun was rising between them. Foot in my mouth.

After packing up camp, we headed towards Moki. On the way, we pulled off on the side of the road to take a picture replicating the end of Forrest Gump, when he’s done with his run and thinks he’ll go home.

We dropped off the trailer and made our way up a series of switchbacks up a great big mountain.

We picked up the trailer and we were off to Arches NP. We made a quick stop into the visitors center and learned about the changing landscape. Billions of years ago the area was an ocean, dried, ocean again, swamp, and now a desert. There was probably an ice age in there too. We also learned about the grasshopper mouse, which eats meat and howls.

We took a less strenuous hike up to Delicate Arch, up a bunch of slick rock which is actually very sandpaper like and grips your shoes perfectly. At this point, I’d read too many death stories about people “hamming it up for the camera” in the GC, and falling to their deaths, so I was not walking towards the arch which looked like it had a drop off behind it. Instead I took a picture of the group. They yelled over that they were going to do a jump pic, to which I yelled back “No Jumping!” I think only two people actually jumped and after a picture, I just told them they were great, “got it!” I’ve later learned that while my brother was here, a guy did a handstand under the arch.

We headed back to camp, had spaghetti and meat sauce, and finally a camp fire! Thanks Hannah! Nick had made an amazing salad and coordinated the whole dinner incredibly with having the right people doing the right jobs (I cannot stress this enough)!!!! (Guest writer: Nick Speers)

Day 3: Helicopter ride and Monument Valley

This one is short because I’m a few days away from here now.

We took a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. As we approached the canyon, the pilot told us the drop off view would be great. Going at 150 mph and seeing the ground drop out beneath you is truly an experience.

They took us on a 50 min loop over the north and south rims and pointed out some of the peaks along the way. Our pilot pointed out the butte fault line, which was pretty cool. You can tell the difference between the fault line and the rest of the surrounding rock, the fault line shows more vertical layers of rock, vs the horizontal layers of surrounding rock. Overall, great experience.

Then we picked up the rest of the crew and we were off to Monument Valley.

We went on a guided Navajo tour of the different “monuments.” The Navajo people named the different rock structures based on what they looked like. Our tour guide Richard was a real hoot. He caught Emma and me off guard when he asked if we were going to put our bandanas on our faces, and told us it would be extremely disrespectful to do this. Turns out he was just kidding.

There were a couple spots that we stopped that were truly amazing. At one spot, Richard played his flute a bit and we laid back on the rock, stared up at a big hole cut through the rock at the blue sky.

We were running a bit behind so when we finally left the tour, we were all starving, a bit chilly, and had not set up camp yet. It was a bit crazy trying to set up camp AND make dinner (it was my groups turn).

Dinner was barbecue chicken, salad, and quinoa. It was great!

So there’s the late and short update.