Monday, February 26, 2018

It Was Worth It






 There is a scene from a 1982 movie called The Man From Snowy River.  It is about a group of seasoned Australian mountain men who are chasing on horse-back a coveted pack of wild horses called brumbies, free-roaming wild horses.  These skilled men are chasing these horses through rugged terrain and wilderness, trying to be the ones who capture the horses for a large purse.  The brumbies, however, evade the mountain men by jumping off an extremely steep down-slope.  Too steep for the mountain men to follow, the chase comes to a quick and abrupt halt.  Then, suddenly from the back of the group, the main character in the movie, a rookie mountain man trying to establish his place in the mountains, cracks of his whip as he leaps off the steep slope to continue the chase.  Eventually, it is the fledgling who captures of the brumbies.
Craig Dropping into Bowl
On February 13, 2018, six skilled skiers stood looking over the edge of the snowy Commissary Ridge in Wyoming Targhee Mountains, examining an untouched bowl of fresh powder.  They had spent 30 minutes sawing off cornices, in order to determine if the conditions were safe enough to ski without creating an avalanche. Once the conditions were deemed safe, the six men peered over the edge wondering who should go first.   With a crack of a Wahoo!, Craig, the rookie in the group, exuberantly leapt off the ridge, capturing  a one-year dream of backcountry skiing in the deep wilderness.  Everyone on the ridge echoed with Wahoo’s and Yipee’s as 62- year-old Craig carved first tracks.  
His journey to get here had been one of total dedication and commitment.  He made lifestyle changes to improve his physical stamina.  He learned the necessary skills to ski safely in the backcountry.  And he improved his nutrition in order to decrease his body weight so he could be more energetic on the uphill portion of touring.  


I write this commentary hesitantly because to explain the details of Craig’s repetitive efforts would make for a very boring story for most readers.  But, in the story lies the real journey for all those who desire to conquer their own ‘backcountry.’  Day after day after day, there has to be this undeviating commitment to goals and preparation, even overcoming the doubt and wondering if the discomfort will be worth it. It required months of training to be physically prepared for three days of leg-burning, deep powder skiing.  I cannot tell you how proud I am of Craig and his unrelinquishing attitude as he prepared for his KOLIfit adventure.  

The adventure began Sunday afternoon as Craig, Greg, Brandon, and I drove 4 hours to Driggs Idaho.  The time flew by quickly as we introduced ourselves to each other and talked about our past adventure experiences. There were stories of climbing Mount Everest, Alaska crab fishing, traversing ridge lines, and skiing steep n deep narrow canyons.  Indiscreetly, we were sizing each other up to determine how ‘adapted’ each of us was for this adventure.
We pulled into a quiet little Driggs about 9:30 p.m. in frigid conditions.  After we found our trailhead off a shimmering icy Leigh Canyon road,  which made for a fun adventure, we returned to the Korean Restaurant (pretty much the only thing open on a Sunday night) for an amazing family style dinner.  As we ate, we were continually sizing each other up as we shared more stories about our individual adventures and exploits.  

We met the rest of our group and a guide from the Teton Backcountry Guides on Monday morning at 9a.m.  Our group of six, Craig, Greg, Brandon, Brandon, Brandon, and  Aaron (say that 10 times as fast as you can), made our final preparations  with 40-pound packs full of three days of food and gear. Excitement was high as we anticipated our adventure in the National Targhee Wilderness.  
We had a four mile approach to the yurt where we would be staying with a 1,000-foot elevation gain.  As we encountered the trailhead, we noticed that it was well-packed and could be easily traveled in our four-wheel-drive vehicle.  A plan was proposed to haul all the gear 3 miles up the road.  This would save us some time and conserve needed energy that would be needed to ski the fresh powder.  We cleared the plan with our guide who expressed his approval with some excitement because he had another opportunity near the City of Rocks once he guided us to the yurt.  

Greg had read on the Teton Backcountry Guides website that sleeping bags were provided at the yurt for a fee.  This was a courtesy provided by the Teton Backcountry Guides in order to reduce the amount of gear, and consequently weight, to be packed to the yurt.  Greg had assumed that he could obtain the key to the locker at the yurt.  Consequently, he did not bring his sleeping bag.  I think you have figured out the end of this tale.  Yep! No key.  No sleeping bag.  And no way to get one at this point in the trip.  Now, we have a conundrum: six guys and five sleeping bags in sub-zero temperatures at 8,000 feet altitude in the backcountry miles away from any store.  We were all thinking the same thing: “There ain’t no way in h--- I am spooning up in a bag with Greg!” 
Luckily, our guide saw our plight and took pity on us.  Consequently, he called his boss and got us the key to the locker at the yurt, but with a catch.  Someone would have to drive back to Driggs to pick it up.  So, Greg and Brandon #1 got the job.  Meanwhile, Aaron, Craig, and the guide will drive up the road and drop off the rest of the gear.  Craig and the guide would get a head start and meet us at the yurt.  I would drive the vehicle back to the trail head parking lot and wait for Brandon #1 and Greg to get back with the locker key.  Once we got everyone and everything to the yurt, we could start skiing around noon.
We had not driven more than a  ¼ mile down the snow packed road when I started to feel uneasy about the conditions of the road and felt the plan needed to change. The road was less solid and firm the further we drove down it and I could feel the vehicle struggling for traction.  The road, however, was too narrow to turn around.  Now, I was left with the reality of having to drive backwards, by myself, to the parking lot after we dropped off the gear.  My anxiety levels skyrocketed as I imagined myself backing down a narrow snow-covered road.  I went through every “what if” scenario imaginable.  And as I did, my anxiety got worse.  You can imagine what’s going on in my mind as I visualize trying to back down the road, looking in the rearview mirror, in the side mirrors, over my shoulder, bumping long, spinning the tires.
Our guide sensed my uneasiness and he, too, was apprehensive about backing the truck down the road. Craig, however, was all in and encouraged us to continue down the road.  In his mind, this was his ticket to keep from expending energy and have more time to ski the beckoning white powder.  Quickly, the guide and I established a two-man dictatorship and decided to drop the gear at about ⅓ mile from the trailhead, despite Craig’s protests. Consequently, I sent Craig and the guide off to the yurt with their gear and left everyone else’s gear on the side of the road.
However, I still had to drive the truck down the road backwards….by myself.   As I clutched the steering wheel, I could feel the sweat streaming down my face, especially when the truck started to slide.  Despite the fact, there were some anxious moments and a few close calls of sliding off the road, I made it back, safely, to the parking area.  As a footnote, when we returned to the vehicles after our 3-day skiing excursion, there was a sign posted at the trailhead, “No Vehicles Beyond This Point.”  I think our guide must have reported out predicament to someone and they shut down the road.
Grand Teton in the Background
Shortly after I returned from parking the truck, Greg and Brandon #1 returned with the key to open the locker at the yurt for the sleeping bag.  Now, with all our problems resolved and anxieties relieved, we were ready to cut some track and ski!  We had some great conversations on our four mile tour, from “Should they make the Escalante area a National Park” to, well, let’s just say that boys will be boys.  We arrived back at the yurt by 12p.m.  Stoked up the stove with wood, and started boiling water for our Mountain House lunch.  As we sat there, enjoying our lunch, we soaked in the beauty of our surroundings.  There was no way to put into words what our eyes viewed and what our hearts felt as we were immersed in the ambience of brightly lit snow-covered peaks with the aroma of fresh pine all around us.  It was simply one of those things which could not be described.  It had to be experienced.  For me, personally, I was home!  The group kicked back and reminisced like we had all known each other since birth.  However, we came to ski, so like bloodhounds on the scent, we set off.  We had another four hours of daylight left and we did not want to miss a single ray as we sought the best rideable lines to ski.
To our surprise, however, there were a myriad of snowmobile tracks.  And many of the rideable lines we had observed from a distance had been obliterated by skiers and snowmobile tread.  There was a mood of betrayal among us.  We had come to backcountry ski in this remote area, supposing it would be unscathed by man or machine.  We had come to enjoy the silence of the backcountry and hear only the sound our breath as we climbed, searching for those untouched lines.  It was akin to coming to wildlife preserve and finding all the magnificent creatures left dead by poachers.  All the untouched lines had been obliterated by our “poachers” on their snowmobiles as they drove up to the top of Beard Mountain to drop off a skier, and then return for the next one.  They could ski four laps to our one with hardly expending any energy and the price was the destruction of pristine lines.  This was not what we were expecting and it dashed our dreams.  But, we refused to let this setback ruin our trip.  We expended the effort to find an area which was untouched in the trees and skied a couple of lines.  It was so exhilarating that our disappointment quickly turned into our joy as evidenced by the perma grins across our faces.   
After a few runs and the long tour to the yurt, a few in the group were ready to start their days recovery.  They wanted to have plenty of energy for the next day which was Tuesday.  Brandon and Craig wanted to head back to the yurt. But I was in exploration mode, which means rest and sleep are overrated. I can do that when I get home.  I wanted to make my mark and find the goods. So, rather than return to the yurt by the most direct route, the four of us decided to head towards Beards Mountain.  Even with the plethora of tracks, it was too tempting to not go have a look.  It had snowed about a foot of fresh snow over the week.  The temperatures had dropped into single digits, sucking the moisture out of the snow and creating very light powder
Craig Making First Tracks
As we traveled along the Commissary Ridge to find an alternate route to the yurt, we found what we were looking for.  It was difficult not to drool all over ourselves like Pavlov’s dog as we gazed at a north facing bowl unscathed by man or machine.  It was a perfect blanket of snow illuminated by the golden rays of the sun as it began to set.  As we stood there, gazing upon this pristine sight, it was all that we could do not to ski off “into the sunset,” but we knew we would run out of daylight, and the return trip to the yurt could be precarious if not dangerous in the dark.  So, we made mental notes and anxiously anticipated returning tomorrow to this heavenly place.  

We arrived at the yurt around 6:30 p.m., satisfied with our introduction to the Targee Mountains.  It was, now, time to rest our weary bodies in our humble 200 square foot home.  Equipped with just enough to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, e.g. good people , good food, and memorable times.
Now, when I tell my children that vacations are to be savored and that sleep is overrated, I am slightly exaggerating.  Sleep is a wonderful part of life and I value every minute of it.  I have trained myself to live off of about 6 hours of sleep per day.  If it’s not good quality then I need a bit more.   Camping, however, has never provided the highest quality of sleep for me.  Being a side sleeper, I usually toss-and-turn all night long.  I can never get comfortable on a 1-inch pad. Now, add to it a cacophony of snoring for 2 nights, by the time I returned home, I will felt like that I didn’t sleep the whole 72-hour trip.  I am adding one more piece of gear to my equipment---earplugs!  
The lack of sleep, however, did not hold back the excitement we felt as we anticipated skiing the untouched bowl. The whole reason why this trip was planned was because Craig wanted to experience a backcountry ski trip.  He had his shining moment.  Tuesday came and went by with everyone skiing one of the best days of their life.  Everyone made several runs, making their mark on the North Face of Commissary Ridge.  Every time we finished the 700-foot, 37-degree run,  it was instinctive to look up and see your perfect tracks while crumbs of powder would melt and dribble down our faces.  Craig’s hard work had finally become worth every drop of perspiration, every stair stepped, and every leg workout.  It was even worth the sacrificed Mountain Dews.  He realized the benefits of his commitment and hard work.  Before the day was over, he was already talking about and planning next year’s trip.  

It was becoming late afternoon on Tuesday and fatigue was setting in, but we dug deep to ski another run.  And then another.  And then another.  We had come too far and expended too much, in time, money, and preparation, not to capture every moment from our long-awaited adventure.  But, eventually, the mind succumbed to the body’s cry and Craig had to call it a day.  He had exceeded his expectations and experienced his dreams.  He and 2 others went back to the yurt to relish in their accomplishment. 
However, I wasn’t quite ready to go back, yet.  There was still one more thing that I wanted to do.  One of my most favorite peaks is the Grand Teton.  It speaks to my soul every time I see it and it was a stone’s throw away at the top of Beard Mountain. The sky was crystal clear and I wanted a picture of unadulterated view of the Grand Teton.   To acquire this view meant traveling another mile to the summit. But summiting Beard Mountain also meant we could ski the 2000-foot West Face run back to the yurt.  

Brandon, Brandon and I made it to the top of Beard Mountain and enjoyed the view with a pleasing selfie and a soulful chat with the Grand Teton. Then came a surprisingly amazing 2000’ run back to the yurt. Even though it was heavily skied we found untouched lines that gave us a rewarding leg burn. It’s adventures like these that change and reinforce a style of living. Everyone in the group understood the uniqueness of the experience.  It had been totally worth it.

I love the drive home from epic adventures. Bellies are full with burgers and fries from the local cafe. The analytical chatter of sizing each other up shifts to a quiet ride with reminiscent memories causing an occasional low chuckle. There’s the heavy breathing and head bobbing as sleep deprived bodies succumb to a relaxed comatose state. With Craig at the wheel and me in the shotgun seat, we pulled out of Driggs, gave each other that look “man that was worth it” and cranked the tunes and enjoyed the ride home.


Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Worth of Taking a Picture

While I was skiing with some friends in the solitude of the Utah backcountry the other day, I glanced over my shoulder to check their progress and saw something that awestruck me.  It stirred my soul and I felt a connection!  It reminded me of a statement made by Edward Abbey, “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.”  This was the kind of panoramas that inspired poets and writers.    The beauty of the colors and the  contrasts in an environment where the air was crisp and clear culminated in a scene that was breathtaking.  I had to take a picture and post it on social media.  Few people, I thought, have the opportunity to enjoy such raw, pristine beauty.  It needed to be shared.

As I gazed at the picture, however,  I realized it did not capture what I saw and felt.  A picture cannot capture the sounds or the smells, even the solitude.  A picture cannot capture what the human eye can see, a panorama so beautiful, so spectacular, it was hard to describe.  A depiction cannot produce the feeling of immersion in the splendor of such beauty.  Frankly, most people will probably scroll past it and say, “Just another sunset picture.”  

Sunset skiing in Grizzly Gulch
There is a reality, however, associated with the picture.  It captured a moment which, when viewed, solicited all the sights and sounds and feelings I experienced as I stood there immersed in nature. I scroll through my own social media photos and videos from time to time in order to relive the moments and recall the effect it had on my “human spirit.”  There are times when I wished I had taken more pictures.  They are not only a record of activities I love, but they conjure feelings which can be lost with the expiration of time.  A picture captures a story and recalls it to life, again.

For example, on the day I took this picture, I was skiing with a small group which include a friend whose name is Craig.  He is a stout, middle-aged man who has a zest for life.  He is a successful businessman who loves Mountain Dew.  He is an amazing athlete who played college  football and wrestling.  And he has an insatiable appetite ……..for adventure.  Despite his athletic prowess, his body bears the scars of time with  two knee replacements and a fused ankle.  Yet, he will not quit.

Last year, I exposed him to backcountry skiing.  I took him to a spot called “Short Swing” in  Big Cottonwood Canyon.  It is an ideal run for a first-time experienced down hill skier.  1600 vertical feet at 30 degrees  amidst interspersed quaking aspens.  Once you ascend to a 9200’ unnamed peak, you glissade down the slope, weaving your way in and out of the trees.  It is wonderful exhilaration.

It was interesting to observe Craig’s exuberance and excitement.  He was sweating profusely early into our tour!  I was amused that his gushing perspiration might create an ice hazard for those behind him.  Despite the fact he was experiencing a ‘sufferfest,’ with great energy, he bounded forward with gusto, enjoying every minute of his adventure.

Aaron backountry skiing in 3 pin bindings and leather boots (1995)
To put things in perspective, backcountry skiing requires a certain level of fitness.  Because I am a fitness trainer,  I don’t really think about the stress and distress physical activities might create for someone else.  I have been backcountry touring for years and, even when I feel out of shape, I can comfortably  endure 5,000 vertical feet and feel pretty good. I forget what may be easy for me as a result of years of physical and mental conditioning could be an excruciating reality for others, such as Craig.

Even though Craig was physically willing and mentally prepared, after a couple of hours of climbing and losing 10lbs of water weight, he was spent.   200-feet from reaching top he had to throw in the towel.  There wasn’t much energy left in his tank for the down hill return.  Yet, as a result of his skiing expertise,  he gracefully carved his way through the Aspen trees and, despite his weariness,  he could not keep from smiling.  

For some, this might have been labeled as horrible experience, e.g. to work yourself into exhaustion, not reaching the majestic view from the top of the summit.  For Craig, however,  it was the impetus for a new obsession, backcountry skiing.   He and his wife purchased backcountry skiing equipment, learned the fundamentals of backcountry touring, worked on their conditioning, took an avalanche class, and started touring in the solitude and beauty of the Utah wilderness.

Shortly  after the experience with Craig,  I went to Moab area with some other friends to ski in the La Sal range at the Geyser Pass Yurt near the base of Haystack mountain.  We skied for three days until our legs had become like puddy.  There was nothing left to hold us up.  Yet, these are the experiences for which I live.  I would be happy to survive on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just to enjoy the majestic beauty of Haystack Peak, Mount Mellenthin, Mount Peale,and Mount Tukuhnikivatz.  There is simply nothing that compares to the raw beauty of nature in all seasons of the year!

Upon my return from the La Sal mountains, I told Craig what we had done with so much excitement that he wanted to experience it, too.  Which brings me back to the picture mentioned above. It has become one of my missions in life to expose as many people as I can to things that, perhaps, would currently not be on their radar.  Or, in other words, get people off the ‘freeway’ of life, have them slow down, and take a two-lane road to some of the most gorgeous country God has created, the backcountry of Utah.  Hike, bike, ski, it does not make any difference.  Rather than let National Geographic televise the wonders of our country, I want them to get out and enjoy it first-hand.  I want to help people create their own memories and recall the elation as they witness the spectacular beauty of nature in a way they thought would never be possible.

Training Day
Craig has committed himself to a training program that we hope will enable him to ski 10,000 vertical feet in a day.  To put that into perspective that is like hiking from the base of Snowbird Resort to the top of the tram……… 3 times.   He will follow an intense training program that encompasses high intensity weight training, hours on the stair master, and touring every weekend with me.  

It’s like a scene from Rocky IV.  The music starts as Craig walks into the gym.  He screams with pain and agony as he finishes his squat, leg press, and lunge circuits.  He reaches total exhaustion as he transitions from single step to double step intervals on the StairMaster, peaking his heart rate at 170 bpm each interval.  And then listens to his incessant coach  bark,  “Technique,Technique, TECHNIQUE!” and   “Keep your heart rate under threshold,”  as we tour natures training ground.

Craig is so excited for this adventure.  Every training session he expresses how he can barely wait to go to Moab.  He is like a little boy on Christmas Eve enthralled with excitement to open his presents.  He has trained hard for this event.  I can't wait to see the hordes pictures that capture priceless memories, and remind me of why I love what I do.






Monday, January 8, 2018

Wisdom From a Father

My name is Dick Ogden.  I am Aaron’s father.  I grew up hiking and camping in the lush woods of the Midwest, particularly in Indiana.  The seclusion was rejuvenating as I would wander along the creeks, searching for those isolated ‘gardens’ which, simply, touched my soul.  Even though it was hard to leave a paradise I loved, I came to Utah to go to college.  To my surprise, I found another garden.  I discovered the majestic peaks of the Wasatch Mountains and the glowing sandstone of Southern Utah.
My first backpacking trip was in 1971 into an area called “the little Grand Canyon” located in the San Rafael Swell.  I was awe-struck by the towering cliffs as we made our way down a canyon cut by the meandering San Rafael River.  It was exciting to see mountain lion tracks along our path.  I was hooked!  From that time until now, 46 years later, I have frequented on foot and on bike the beautiful land we call Utah.
Over the last 10 to 12 years, however, I have spent most of my time roaming over the rocks of the Capital Reef area.  In the beginning, it was rare to encounter other people on foot or in vehicles.  Even though it was a national park, it was a well-kept secret.  It was the kind of solitude which I enjoyed.  More recently, however, I 
have noticed a changing trend---more people.
In November, I took a friend who was born and raised, and currently lives, in Utah to the Capital Reef area which he had never seen.  Even though he was awestruck by the view of the Waterpocket Fold from Strike Valley Overlook, we had encountered five other vehicles in an area that is generally desolate and off the beaten path.  Not so, any longer.  In the last several years, I have noticed the number of increasing tourists to the area and a partial end of my desired seclusion ‘on the trail.’  And with the increase in numbers comes the increase in regulations and oversight.  It is understandable in order to keep our state ‘pristine,’ but more governance means restrictions, either self-imposed or governmentally imposed.  They are already considering making the Escalante National Monument a national park.  There are also discussions about limiting traffic into Arches National Park by reducing access to reservations only.

In a few more years, it may be difficult to access some of the country without encountering hordes of other people who want to take advantage of the scenic beauty of our state, people from within and without the United States.  Tourism is good for the Utah economy, but it may limit access to places we love.  My point is “get out and enjoy them now.”  Hike, bike, camp, climb, rappel, even drive, whatever excites and motivates you.  Make 2018 the year you explore and enjoy the beautiful country we call “home.”

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Living in a Van Down by the River

From the ages of 23 to 27, I whitewater kayaked at least 3 days a week during the Spring runoff when the water was running fast and high. Kayaking was an obsession. I schemed how I could escape my responsibilities and go kayaking. It was like a bad sugar craving and I caved in guiltlessly. But it all abruptly changed when I started having kids. Making fatherhood a priority, I had to eventually learn to balance my time between fun, family, and work.  Consequently, I had to enter a “rehab facility” to wean myself off the “adrenalin high” I had become accustomed to experiencing---and enjoying.   
Recently my daughter handed me a loaded cookie by announcing she wanted to go to Iceland for her Senior trip in 2 years.   Little did she know that the “ land of ice and fire” is one of the kayaking meccas of the world. And I selfishly canived how I could benefit from her request.
“How would you like to learn how to kayak?” I asked manipulatively.
It was difficult for me to withhold my elation.  A place I, too, had dreamed of visiting since my early 20's due to the stunning rivers. Naomi wanted to visit Iceland for its majestic glaciers and awe- struck views (I'm sure the movie Walter Mitty had something to do with that). No matter our reason it was going to be an adventure playground for both of us.  And, I would have the opportunity to share one of my greatest passions with the female version of me.
One of the most gratifying experiences in life is to participate with your children in an activity that is your passion. But, kayaking has an inherent risk that goes against my protective fatherly instinct. I thought to myself, “Could she do it?  Could I prepare her to kayak in this paddler’s paradise?”  I thought to myself, “She certainly has the athleticism and mental drive developed from her years of competitive swimming.
Training started on Saturday at 5 a.m. before the Sports Mall pool opened to the public. We have 5 months before Utah rivers start to cascade with turbulent flows. Front stroke, back stroke, draws, braces, and the highly anticipated Eskimo roll all fundamentally need to be developed in the wee hours of the morning in preparation for her first experience of kayaking.


Over the next few months KOLIfit will report Naomi’s training and progress in the pool, the Weber River, and the Snake River (can’t wait for this one).    What an honor it is to share the KOLIfit philosphy, inspiring people to improve their health through outdoor adventure, with those who are close me.  I just hope I can control myself from “living in a van down by the river.”

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Adventure Countdown (Click on Highlighted Text for Video)

I am turning 45 years old this year.  Reality hit not to long ago at the Sports Mall, where I work, when an “ older lady”  came in for her scheduled training consultation. During our conversation she stated that she was 45. It then dawned on me, for the first time, that I must look like an “older man.” I have not put much interest into the aging effect, and how it will eventually limit the types of activities I can participate in. But this was a shrewd experience to remind me that I am not invincible and things are beginning to change.  

So in my aging years I took time to reflect, during my 5 hour car drive to the Escalante Staircase, on the impressionable adventures of my “younger years”: free soloing in my teens, backcountry skiing before there was the high performance backcountry gear, whitewater kayaking, wildland fire fighting,
Alaska Backpacking 
homeless adventure  in Alaska, the Utah desert, and many more cherished memories
. During my reflection I felt an odd sense that an adventure countdown has begun. Is it my age, my course of life, my family responsibilities,  that are alarming me to an inevitable fate?  That one day I will not be able to participate in some of the adventure activities I love. My heart sadden as I realized I'm entering a new chapter of life.  So if this is the beginning of the end then I am going to make sure that my adventures are momentous moments.

For my first countdown adventure I decided to go canyoneering in the Escalante Staircase.  As you stand overlooking the Escalante Staircase from a nearby plateau you may ask, “What the crap was President Bill Clinton thinking when he made this a monument? It's a barren land of dirt and rock!”  It's when you get down into landscaped that you realize the labyrinth of beauty he was protecting. Escalante is chock-full of canyons and washes that are scars of mother nature's power. Ironically these scars are the lifeline to the beauty and spectacular scenery that attracts so many people to this area. These washes are the feeding grounds for deer and cougar, and house a plethora of rodents and frogs.  There are  thick “jungles” of grasses, shrubs and willows, aged cottonwood trees, and the undesired tamarisk and russian olive.  This oasis of greenery is something you wouldn't expect in a desert. It is amazing to view the checks and balances of years of nature's creative power.  All the more reason to protect this wild beauty.

Ironically my momentous Escalante moment starts at a desk. I planned our adventure using the Alltrails app, by downloading topo maps and direct routes to base camp and canyons. I  also flagged significant areas and attach vital information to my maps.  I love using the Alltrails app for adventures.  It allows me to see where I am at, at any given time without  cell service.  I was shocked how many people were hiking in the Escalante wilderness unprepared.  We were asked several times  how to find “somewhere.”  The only downside to Alltrails is, it’s an electronic map so I have to bring a charging device. But if I put my phone in airplane mode,  I can use my phone for 2 days without having to charge it. Of course I am a good Boy Scout and I  always print and bring a hardcopy map for “just in case.”

The  trip included  3 canyons in two days.  Neon and Ringtail on day 1 and Choprock on Day 2.  I  personally have experienced Choprock and Neon canyons. My first descent down Choprock took over 14 hours, finishing in the dark around 10pm. The canyon starts with a 2-3 hour approach across primitive wilderness. Good navigation and route finding skills, or using your Alltrails app can save you a significant amount of time since there are no designated trails. The approach is very exposed to the sun and it is HIGHLY recommended that you start just before sunrise.  Which can be a little disheartening when you have to cross the frigid Escalante River, thigh deep, that early in the morning when the temperature is about 45 degrees. But totally better than the alternative of nasty sweaty parts due to extreme heat.  

Choprock is an adult  playground with several 20-40’ Elevator slides using wet suit  friction to control your descent. There are a few stemming and bridging sections that if you are like me, a little afraid of heights, make your sphincters pucker.  There are plenty of long frigid swims where everything shrivels up even with a 5mm wetsuit. And slots so narrow that anyone who  is considered a “Clydesdale” will raise an eyebrow and wonder if they just entered their grave. But will soon find out that they fit just fine as long as they are content with leaving a few chucks of flesh and strips of clothing.  Interestingly I  repeated  Choprock canyon a few years later and we practically swam the entire canyon.  Which offered a complete set of new challenges and a fresh adventure experience.

That is one of the great  attractions to  canyoneering.  Canyons are constantly changing due to Mother Nature’s power.  Which then offers a unique experience that requires respect each time. I always get  canyoneering  “jitters” before I enter a canyon, because no matter how much beta I research, there are always unforeseen challenges that require problem solving.  Which, also is an appealing element of adventure.  Our group, Jared, Adam, Braden,
Start of Escalante Adventure 
and myself had plenty unforeseen issues during our trip. We had broken pack straps, soles detaching off shoes, we got lost….not really,  just cliffed out, , muscle cramps, taking NUUN without water to relieve cramps (not recommended),
protective rope sheath broke, and the normal unexpected canyoneering issues of how to get over, under, through obstacles.  It is these unforeseen challenges that create laughter around the campfire and bonding memories for a  lifetime.
 
We arrived at the trailhead at the end of Egypt Rd Thursday night (really Friday Morning)  at 2am.  It was a chilly 32 degrees with billions of stars giving off there luminescent glow.  With a 2 hour hike to base camp in the morning and anticipated 14 hour day in canyons, there was not much chit chat.  It was straight to bed on my one inch Therma-rest insulating me from the rocky ground.

The objective of backpacking is to pack the bare minimum equipment so there is less energy spent in carry, and more energy spent in traveling.  So, there was careful planning on what equipment to bring for  the lightest pack possible. Combining a backpacking activity with a canyoneering activity makes it difficult to carry a  light pack.  With both activities  mandatory gear our packs were weighing about  65 lbs  

Canyoneering equipment
  • Wetsuit 3 lbs (dry)
  • Two 100’ 8mm rope 3 lbs each
  • 300’ 8.5mm rope 15lbs
  • Pothole escape bag (hooks, shot bags, slings, etc.) 5 lbs
  • Rappelling equipment (harness, belay device, biners, rapides, etc) 5 lbs
  • Canyoneering Backpack 3 lbs

Backpacking equipment
  • Touring backpack 3 lbs
  • Clothes (2 pair of hiking clothes, 1 pair of camp clothes) 5 lbs
  • Sleeping bag and pad 4 lbs
  • Food 5 lbs
  • Cooking Gear 2 lbs
  • Hydration equipment and filters 1lb
  • Water 5 lbs
  • First aid 1lb
  • Toiletries 1 lb
  • Other (cards, phone batteries, headlamp, etc) 5 lbs
We rose Friday morning  just after a beautiful sunrise and took our bare minimum weight of 65 lbs. into the Escalante wilderness.  The Escalante wilderness isn’t really supposed to have designated trails.  But because of the increasing popularity to this area social trails have become designated trails.  One of the social trails highlighted on our map was a mile shortcut to our base camp.  Let me rephrase that, it was supposed to be a shortcut to our base camp. Due to a few degrees off in our bearing we missed our mark by about ½ mile (Sunday School analogy material) and were cliffed out looking for another way down to the river bottom about 500’ below. We found a way that required a 20’ down climb off a rock face.  To finalize our commitment to this route I threw my bare minimum pack off the cliff and yelled “I’m committed” and scurried my way down the cliff.  This quickly became the theme of our trip, “I’m Committed!”
  
Base Camp Night 1
We attained base camp, in the Escalante River wash surround by aged cottonwood trees, by 10am.  No time was wasted setting up camp.  We quickly emptied our shoes of the extra pounds of red desert sand, and organized our canyoneering equipment to head off to Ringtail Canyon. Now, Ringtail  was the mystery canyon.  I  searched many canyoneering websites, and  the information was  vague and non consistent with the images I was seeing.  The beta was stating “an easy out and back very dark canyon.”   But, many of the  images showed narrow dark slots with  keeper potholes.  The phrase “keeper pothole” kinda puts the fear of God in you, and you would think there would be more information on this canyon if it was going to be difficult.  So I search for many days trying to find beta and information about the canyon, but nothing was very helpful.  So I made my own plan,  using Google Earth, the  AllTrails app, and a few blogs,  to find a route that would possibly lead us to the technical part of the canyon and avoid an out and back experience.  As we started hiking to the Ringtail entrance,  my “sense of exploring” euphoria kicked in.  I was loving it!

On they way we met some visitors from Montana who were kayaking the Escalante River and were canyoneering each canyon along the way.  I was highly intrigued and spoke to them for quite awhile.  River running is my favorite outdoor activity. Combining  river running with  canyoneering would be like George Costanza combining food with his intimate activities, it would be a pinnacle experience.

After coming off my next year's fantasy high we found ourselves at the base of Ringtail Canyon.  Using the information I had gathered we found an entrance 1 mile up canyon.  Ringtail Canyon did not disappoint. There was plenty of narrow slots, down climbs, and a couple of  potholes.  I think the information is so vague to keep it  a secret.  We had so much fun stemming and bridging through the narrow slots and using some partner assist strategies to get out of the potholes. We even pulled out the grappling hook for one pothole.  But it was only used to measure how deep the water was to see if we had to use a swimming escape or a partner assist escape technique.
Ringtail canyon was the perfect 3 hour “warm up” to our adventure, that  took more of a toll on our bodies than anticipated.  Mainly because we did not put on our protective wetsuits until after we had left a few layers of our skin slot walls.  And the beta was right, slots so narrow that the sunlight did not  penetrate through the narrow crack above.  Creating an attractive element to come back again. Maybe next year during  my kayak fantasy trip?

Wasting no time again, we  set off for Neon Canyon  with its much anticipated Cathedral Arch about 1 mile up canyon from Ringtail.  Because Neon was so close, we decided to keep our wetsuits on and just roll the top half  down to our waist….Mistake!  Though the temperatures were a very pleasant 70 degrees, the route to the entrance of Neon is very sun exposed.  We quickly were blazing in the sun creating a nasty sweaty environment in the lower half of the body.  But the canyon entrance was ensight and we endured the unpleasantries of sweaty male bodies.

As stated before, when repeating a canyon I get the jitters from the unknown due to the changing conditions in slot canyons.  Neon has a couple of keeper potholes if the conditions are right. But  jitters quickly transitioned  to a fun, relaxing,  lazy river ride.  Neon was full of water, and there were plenty of welcomed  swims through narrow slots that cooled the  unpleasantries from our approach hike.

Neon’s gift is the last rappel of 80’  from Cathedral Arch.  It is an indescribable obeisant double holed arch formed in a fern laden grotto with a pool at its base reflecting a contrasting palette of  surrounding colors.  People come from all over the world to hike at its foot,  and we are privileged have rebirth from its breath.These are the types of experiences that words and pictures do not give justice to how amazing this area is.  I have had the conversation many times comparing an experience with looking at pictures and video. Though the pictures and video are amazing, their purpose is to inspire action, and to create your own adventure experience where you get a glimpse of what heaven might be like.

With only  4 hours of sleep on my 1” Therma-rest and playing in Nature's playground for 12 hours, we strolled into base camp exhausted and ready to reminisce the day over a 600 calorie Mountain House entree and sipping purified Escalante spring water.  Sleep came easy for half the night as I laid comfortably  in my daughters hammock. A first time experience for me.  I have shied away from hammocking due to the exposure to bugs.  But I was desperate in reducing my pack weight and chose a 6oz hammock over a 5 lb tent.  And the hords of No-see-um bugs orchestrating  fly by maneuvers had no affect on my deep slumber.

The second half of the night was rudely interrupted by some unknown  specie of annoying bird that had over 15 different calls.  I know,  because I counted them.  I even tried to determine if there was a pattern to its calls.   So, I forcefully enjoyed the moment by listening to the night orchestra of dessert sounds, and gazed at a view in the sky that alludes to something much greater than my puny existence.    

Ringtail and Neon canyons  were great preludes of what was to come in  Choprock.  We woke early  Saturday morning just before the sunrise around 5:30 am.  We broke base camp and moved it to a different location crossing the Escalante river, thigh deep, 5 times before we could drop our 65 lbs (now 75 lbs due to wet gear) of bare minimum equipment. We then headed North East parallelling the south fork of Choprock Canyon for an uneventful  2 hour approach hike.  

One of the great privileges to our human existence is how we connect emotions with our experiences. Exuberant joy with the birth of a child, soiled pants fear due to heights, and shouting at the TV anger from a dropped pass in the endzone are just a few examples.   I love experiencing adventures when you feel a gamut of emotions. Then finish with a big grin on your face and with a chuckled voice say “I just did that.”

This was our 8 hour Choprock experience. There were barbaric yawps as we finished sketchy down climbs. There were stealthy chuckles as we weaved through tight squeezes just big enough to fit our helmets. There were “Oh s#%*” moments like when Adam had to elevator slide 30’ into a pool of water. Another puckering moment was when my backpack, hanging from my harness on a 60’ rappel,  got tangled in the rope preventing me from from rappelling down. And the scariest moment was when Braden made the last rappel of  80’ and watched the protective sheath around the rope shear tear exposing the fibrous rope. It was these moments and many more (of course not so scary) that we all smiled and said “I just did that.”

It's a good trip  when everyone walks out of the canyon safely, and with their shoes still on their feet. The wear and tear on equipment from canyoneering is pretty harsh. Ripped packs and new holes in the wetsuits become boasting trophies. We even had a voluntary moment of silence for Jared's 15 year old talking shoes during our Sunday morning 3 mile hike, all uphill,  with 75 lb packs, back to the car. Yes, 75 POUNDS! Our gear was still wet and there was enough stowaway sand to amount to 10 extra pounds.  But likes sand through an hourglass so are the days of our lives,  and our adventures must come to an end.   It seems that the car ride home is much quieter than the drive down.  It might be because we were tired and our bellies were full,  or we might have been reflecting on the moments, but we were all in agreement to pencil in the next adventure and add another momentous moment to our lives.  









Monday, April 25, 2016

Let your fitness make a difference

It's impacted or will impact all of us at some point in our lives. Whether it's personal, a family member, friend, or acquaintance, cancer will impact your life at some point. Over our lifetimes, we've watched parents, relatives, friends and co-workers fight for their lives to overcome this insidious disease. Some have been fortunate to win the battle, others, we remember and miss everyday. 

This year KOLIfit is dedicating it's 6 peaks challenge to the fight against cancer, and we want you to help make a difference. We're asking all KOLIfit members, family, friends, and co-workers to use their love of fitness and the outdoors to let their fitness make a difference in the lives of others.  KOLIfit has paired with Huntsman Hometown Heroes to raise money to support their efforts to rid the world of this terrible and often devastating disease.  

Our fundraising goal: $53,739 or $1 for every foot climbed throughout each of the six peaks. Gather your friends and family, and challenge each other to not only accomplish the 6 peaks, but to raise money that really does make a difference for all of us. 

There are many ways you can participate in the 6 peaks challenge, even without taking a single step (although we want to see you out there on the trails with us.)

  • For those who are or have been engaged in the battle with cancer, either personally or with a loved one, dedicate the 6 peaks challenge, or even just one peak to your fight or that of your loved one(s). Carry the name(s) of those you represent as you summit each of the 6 peaks. Share your challenge with those who are fighting and cannot climb with you. Or, dedicate your challenge to those who tragically lost their fight, and honor their memory with each step and each peak you climb.  


  • For those who are active and looking for challenging summer hikes, the 6 peak challenge offers you the opportunity to explore the Wasatch Front in new and unique ways with a group who shares your same passion. At the same time, your passion for outdoor fitness will help make a difference in the fight against cancer and directly impact those who are effected by it. 
  • Not ready, or able to participate in the challenge, you can still make a difference. Sponsor someone who completing the challenge by making a donation to their fundraising page. If you don't know someone, make a donation directly on KOLIfit's page.

Here's how it works:

  • In order to qualify for the challenge and receive the benefits and perks, you must be a member of KOLIfit.
  • Each month, beginning in May, KOLIfit  has selected one peak to summit. Go to KOLIfit.com to get a schedule of peaks and dates. You can choose to climb the peak with KOLIfit on the scheduled date (encouraged), but you may also summit solo as well. In order to qualify for the challenge, you will have to upload your GPS track into your KOLIfit account.
  • Fund raise for the peak(s) you are planning on doing. KOLIfit will send a fundraising packet to each person who joins the 6 peak challenge to help with your efforts. Although there is no minimum required, we are suggesting at least $100 per peak.
  • Each month for every person who completes the challenge they will be eligible for a drawing of a $100 gift card to the sponsor of that month's challenge. For example: May's sponsor is Wasatch Running. If you complete the challenge and are chosen in the drawing, you receive $100 to Wasatch Running. Each month presents a different sponsor and a new chance to win. You can increase your chances of winning by raising additional funds, recruiting friends, and sharing on social media.
  • KOLIfit is offering practice hikes each month to help you prepare for the month's challenge peak. The practice hikes are a part of your KOLIfit membership and give you the opportunity to sharpen your skills as well meet people who share your goals.
  • For each person who completes all 6 peaks, we have custom swag from Huntsman Hometown Heroes just for you.
For more details and information visit KOLIfit.com