Off the beaten path: Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

So, who knew that National Monuments were such a big deal on our national political stage? You may have forgotten amid the daily…er…activity coming out of the White House, but a while back, President Trump ordered a “review” of 25 National Monuments, as designated by Presidents (via the 1906 Antiquities Act) going back to 1996, amid talk of “giving control of the land back to the people.” Much as I’d like to, I’m not going to get into the political argument here, because, well, I am an unabashed lover of national parks and monuments and that’s that.

Instead, let me introduce you one of the monuments on the list, which I had the good fortune to visit on my trip out to Southwest Utah a couple of months ago.

I’ve already written about exploring a tiny part of the unbelievably vast and wonderful Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (which is also on Trump’s list). But this visit was unique in that I didn’t know I was heading into a National Monument. In fact, I didn’t really know where I was heading, period.

After quite a few days of planning our own itineraries, this part of our trip was surrendered entirely to a tour company (Dreamland Safari Tours –  I highly recommend them), which made me unreasonably happy. For a day, someone else was going to drive us; I didn’t have to worry about navigating or finding a good place to eat or what activity we were going to do next. We just got in our suburban and let our guide, Steve, drive us out to the middle of nowhere.

Now, it turns out that we were heading south and east from our base in Kanab, Utah, into the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. Apparently, somewhere near this part of the country, there is a famous place called The Wave; it’s so popular the lottery to get permits resembles that of Hamilton on Broadway. We, however, were heading in a different direction, to explore South Coyote Buttes and White Pocket. Those words meant nothing to me, honestly – I really didn’t know what we were about to see, but I had faith that it would be awesome, like most things we encountered on this trip.

So anyway, 6 of us piled into our monster vehicle and settled in for a 2 hour drive on a chilly, misty, cloudy day. We headed far, far out onto a dirt road, and when we stopped to let the air out of our tires in anticipation of a bumpier ride, we got to view these gorgeous red cliffs, that it turns out, are the Vermillion Cliffs for which this monument is named. Supposedly you could see endangered condors here sometimes; we didn’t.

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Photo by Shawn Bagci

This was our last chance for an outhouse, and then we headed deeper into the Monument, the road becoming more and more rutted, and the terrain more and more remote. We passed farms scratched out of the desert, saw jackrabbits, and even had to slow down for some horses that were sharing our road.

Eventually, we arrived at the trailhead for South Coyote Buttes, which was unremarkable – just a path through red sand with various shrubs and bushes surrounding us. We had about a mile to hike in, all flat, and still, I really didn’t understand what were about to encounter.

Then…this came in to view:

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Photo by Shawn Bagci

As we got closer, I realized the formations were all some variation of this incredibleness:

South Coyote Butte (3 of 30)

I don’t even have a frame of reference to describe these formations; they’re unlike anything I’ve seen before. We could tell they were shaped by water – sometimes it felt like we were walking on the ocean floor – and we could only imagine what the colors would look like on a clear day. But on this day, the peaks and swirls and lines were shrouded in fog that moved in and out around us, hiding and revealing a magical landscape that we could wander mostly at will. The light changed constantly; sometimes the base color was red, sometimes orange, sometime lavender. There were no trails; we just wandered and took pictures and slid down the sand and scrambled up the sandstone and generally had a blast. Here are just a few of my favorite shots:

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This was the entrance to a section called Hogwarts:

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When is saw this one, I immediately exclaimed – that’s the Sorting Hat! Which was not as big a deal to my fellow travelers, who apparently were not Harry Potter fans:

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I was completely enchanted by this little arch:

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Our guide said this section didn’t have a name, so we dubbed it The Kremlin:

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This is the Yellow Wave. A smaller version than the more famous one, apparently, but clearly the best:

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South Coyote Butte (8 of 30)

South Coyote Butte (27 of 30)

South Coyote Butte (29 of 30)

We eventually and reluctantly had to head back so we could get to our 2nd destination and have lunch. Which we did, bouncing on more rutted dirt roads as snow began to fall.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that we were expecting rain, but snow? Not on the itinerary. So, when we got to the parking area for White Pocket, our plans for a picnic were scuttled by a wet, slushy mess coming down. So we ate in the car – a sandwich buffet that, like always happens when you’re hiking, tasted divine. And then we set out to explore White Pocket.

It was snowing so hard that it wasn’t easy to get a sense of the entirety of this area, and full confession; I was really cold during this part of the trip, so I wasn’t paying as much attention. But my memory is of a large, ocean-liner like formation on the right, and a lumpy, brain-matter-like formation to the left. The place must be utterly stunning with a blue sky and sunshine, but did I mention we were basically in the middle of a snowstorm? Yup.

But intrepid folks that we were, we weren’t going to let a little snow slow us down. Except when it got all slushy and slippery on the gray rock…that definitely made us step more carefully. My favorite moment of this trek was when Shawn, my hiking partner, decided to go scramble up one of the tougher parts to get up out of a canyon, and the rest of us took a slightly easier route. I’m usually a follower when we’re out on hikes – it’s just my nature. But I was ahead of the group, and our guide basically waved me on and told me to find my own way out of the canyon while he waited for the others. “Just go right at that waterfall and you’ll be fine!” So up I went. There really was a waterfall pouring down the rock (it’s not there normally, but the snow/rain changed the entire nature of the place) making it really slippery. It took me a while, but I got myself up there and stood all alone, turning a slow, awed circle amid the silence until Shawn appeared on the ridge far above me.

I mentioned it was cold – I put my camera away for most of White Pocket, so the following cool photos are all by Shawn:

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Then it was back to the car and the blessed heater, and a long drive back to Kanab through a pretty serious snowstorm.

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As we drove, I couldn’t help but think about the math of this little trip. See, a permit is required to visit South Coyote Buttes, and according to our guide, the Bureau of Land Management issues about 40 of those a day. So, just for fun, if each group has 6 people in it, that’s 240 people a day who get to see what we saw. When you think about the volume of tourists that make their way through national parks and other attractions in our country, it’s a pretty elite club we joined that day. I found myself feeling incredibly grateful to know that such remote, amazing, unusual places exist, and that they are being protected. And that somehow, I got to see them.

Someday, I hope I get to go back, and maybe bring my niece along with me. Hopefully these magical places will still be protected when that day comes.

A Spooky lesson in confidence

There’s a thing that happens to fat kids. Or at least, it happened to me.

Let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge how hard it is for me to write the words “fat kids,” because they are so incredibly fraught with anxiety and shame. They carry – literally – a lifetime of doubt, of fighting to believe that one is still worthy of joy, love, happiness, even when one is overweight. I never, never, never, want any kid to feel any of what I felt as someone who’s struggled with weight my entire life, so it’s hard to even say the words.

For fat kids, everything active that “normal” kids do is harder. At least, it was for me. Pull ups. Situps. Learning to waterski. Playing soccer. Running. All of it.

Don’t get me wrong, in many cases, fat kids are as strong as other kids. But what they aren’t, or at least what I wasn’t, is as confident in their bodies.

It’s taken a great deal of self-analysis and deliberate, almost dogmatic self-encouragement, for me to accept my non-skinny body and still demand a great deal of it. I ask it to play volleyball, to run, to hike mountains, and in most cases, it obliges, albeit with the occasional protest.

But sometimes I am faced with a situation where – even though I KNOW I am a strong and confident 40+ woman who can do anything I set my mind to – I suddenly become that fat, timid kid who couldn’t climb the rope for the Presidential Physical Fitness test.

It happened to me this past week, on the tail end of a marvelous vacation. I’d hiked my way through Southern Utah, up “strenuous” climbs in Zion National Park and even up one trail in the pitch black of night. I’d done most of the trip pushing through a minor ankle injury that made every step a little more precarious. I wasn’t as fast as my hiking buddy, but I’d finished nearly everything he’d done. I felt good…happy, strong, confident.

And we were heading for the famous slot canyons of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. For those who are wondering, a “Slot Canyon” is a narrow path that’s been carved into sandstone by flash floods and water flow over time. I’m sure they aren’t meant for man and woman to traverse. But because they are so magical, traverse them we do. Here’s a picture of a very wide and accessible one that we visited earlier in the trip.

Lower Antelope Canyon (38 of 46)

Now, I won’t lie, when I heard “Slot Canyon”, my knee-jerk reaction was to wonder if I’d fit; that’s the lifetime of being just a bit too big for comfort kicking in. Rationality indicated that I would, as did the eagerness of my hiking buddy to add this to our trip, so I set that foolishness aside and prepared to enjoy myself.

And for a while, I did. I had to suck it in and make sure I found the right contours in the rock to accommodate my, ahem, curves, but it was a riot. I was laughing and having a blast.

Then, we came to the first of two sections that required some climbing. I took one look at the height, did the math, and was instantly despondent. In the space of a moment, I was reduced to a trembling child, fearing, above all else, that I wouldn’t be able to do what the other kids could do, and that I would look foolish trying.

If you want to get to know Spooky Gulch and its tiny crevices, here’s a good description, but keep in mind that, on the advice of our shuttle guide, we were going the opposite way from what’s described in the article. This would wind up being a good thing in the end, but at that moment, it was a crisis for me. I was certain I wouldn’t be able to get up that first section. Certain of it.

My hiking buddy, who loves to climb and has complete confidence in his own body to get him where he wants to go, scrambled up like a monkey and then looked down at me with a grin. But I was flummoxed.

In the end, it took him hauling me from the top and a stranger down below giving me a boost, and then basically just planting his hands on my butt and shoving, for me to clear the obstacle. And all my mojo was gone. Shaky, embarrassed, filled with adrenaline of the not-good kind, I slogged forward. Then the 2nd obstacle appeared, and I heard myself, to my chagrin, whimper “I don’t know if I can do it” in a tiny voice that I hated to hear coming from my mouth.

With little choice, and his own brand of confidence, my hiking partner blithely assured me I that could, told me he’d help by anchoring my foot, and basically forced me up. Surprisingly, I popped through this one pretty quickly; I even heard another stranger exclaim in pleasant surprise when my head cleared the top.

After that, it was easier, but the residual fear of being weak – and all the scars of fat kid embarrassment – followed me through the rest of the canyon, so that I don’t remember much of it. I’m sure I missed some amazing pictures because I was so far gone into my head that I couldn’t even look beyond my feet.

As we cleared the slot and sat to have lunch, I fought the shake in my hands and the welling tears in my eyes. I was so freaked out that I couldn’t even figure out how to turn the water valve on my water bladder. We faced another slot canyon and I honestly gave thought to bailing, right then and there.

But my hiking buddy just tossed me a bagel and told me how to switch the water valve without making me feel even more stupid than I already did. We talked a bit about technique, and he offered me his gloves, and then we set off for the 2nd slot, known as Peek-A-Boo. I discovered, to my joy, that we were going to go DOWN this slot, rather than up, and for some reason that seemed better, even though Peek-A-Boo was supposedly full of water, which had a lot of our fellow hikers freaked out. My hiking buddy was determined to stay dry, and I was pretty much resigned to getting wet. But I felt like I could handle downhill. I’m always on friendlier terms with downhill.

And then something wonderful happened. As we entered the slot, we tramped along a bit, and then came to a big pool of water ringed with sandstone. Ah well, I thought, it’s time for me to get wet. My hiking partner did this nifty thing where he basically plank-walked his way over the puddle, inching his way in a spread-eagled fashion. He made it look easy and quite impressive. As I looked at the pool and prepared to step into it, he suggested that I try it his way. No way, I said, laughing. I can’t do that.

Sure you can, he said back. Give it a try. Just don’t fall in.

So I did, and by God if I didn’t make it across. At one point, I was what felt like completely parallel to the pool (I suspect it wasn’t quite as bad-ass as that, but it felt like it) staring at the water, thinking “Man, this will suck if I fall in. ” But I didn’t, and with a whoop, I cleared the pool and stood up, laughing in relief. My hiking buddy was laughing too, regretting that he’d been too busy watching me (and hoping I wouldn’t fall in) to snap a picture.

And on we went. Eventually, I had to get my feet wet, though he managed to pull off some Spider-Man worthy moves and stay dry.

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It was a riot, and I was soaked and giddy when we finished.

Later that afternoon, we met up with the strangers who’d helped shove me over the first obstacle, and they were smiling and chatting with us and no, they didn’t laugh at me or or make fun of me for my struggles. When I thanked them for their help (again) they seemed surprised that I felt I needed to, even though they’d literately had to shove my butt up a rock crevice.

So, here’s the marvelous thing to learn from all of this. It’s nothing new or revolutionary. It’s that we are often our own worst enemies in situations like this. Everyone ELSE in that canyon figured I’d make it up eventually. Sure, maybe they felt a little embarrassed for my flailing attempts, but odds are, they were more worried about themselves than me. Even after watching me struggle, my hiking buddy kept pushing me to try stuff beyond my comfort zone, because he figured I could do it.

Sure, it’s a little annoying that I needed the external affirmation before I could get over myself. But how great that it was there when I needed it?

And how lucky that we did the downhill portion of the hike last. 🙂

Peek A Boo (1 of 1)

Peak-bagging in the White Mountains

Living alone can be wonderful, empowering, freeing, fun.

It can also suck.

Like, for example, when you’ve just done something fairly epic and you have no one who is forced, by virtue of his/her being trapped in the same space as you, to listen to you retell the story, adding the occasional “wow” or “uh huh” at appropriate intervals. Dogs don’t count, because, well, they can’t speak.

Blogging just ain’t the same. But we humans are nothing if not practical and persistent, so I will use the tools I have and blog on, because, dammit, I want to tell someone about my Saturday hike in the White Mountains.

I don’t understand my recent obsession with hiking lately, but luckily, I am able to indulge such whims without it negatively impacting my, or anyone else’s life; after all, the laundry left languishing on the floor at home is mine alone. Sadie would probably argue that her life is negatively impacted, being that she’s often left behind when I embark on longer adventures, but, well, I will just have to accept that dog mom guilt. Because I’m pretty sure the tortuous 7 hours in the car would have erased any joy she’d have gotten from the 7 hours on the trail.

Anyway, I set out at around 5:45am, with a 2.5 hour drive ahead of me. Driving in Boston early on a weekend is bliss; I zipped through town and onto the highway. The sun was rising to my left, the harvest moon was setting to my right, mist was rising off of various ponds and rivers; it was magic, pure and simple. A wonderful start.

I-93 is so eerily familiar – I drove it a million times in my youth. It’s still a little weird to drive by exit 23 without my car automatically taking the exit…but it’s only a little bit weird. I feel pretty remote from that part of my life these days.

Anyway, I arrived at the Edmands trailhead around 9am and it was already fairly full of people. It was a beautiful late-summer-not-quite-fall day, and I set off with a spring in my step.

A little background for those unfamiliar with the Whites: there are 48 “4,000 footers” up there, and those tall (for us East Coasters, at least) hills have been calling to expert and would-be hikers for hundreds of years. I was headed for Mt. Eisenhower, which according to most articles, is one of the more “moderate” 4,000 footers, because, well, I’m still building up my fitness and skill for difficult mountains. If I felt good when I got up there, I planned to bag Mt. Pierce, as well, about 500 feet lower and a mile and a half away, and then loop back on the Crawford trail.

This is the 2nd time now that I’ve been lulled into the idea of “moderate” by a White Mountain (the other time can be revisited here). And objectively, it wasn’t like I was scaling a vertical cliff. Nope, the first three miles were just…up. Sometimes mildly up, sometimes more severely, but unrelentingly, steadily UP. There were no switchbacks. The trail showed a lot of use, which meant it was full of roots and boulders and mud and so I trudged, waaaay slower than I’d hoped, up the first couple of miles. I stopped a lot. I was passed more than a few times, and I’ve gotta admit, with no one to talk to other than the occasional fellow hiker, I was a little bored.

But eventually, I passed a trio of older hikers who informed me we were 500 feet from something (I didn’t catch what we were supposedly heading to) and that put some life into my legs. And finally, I saw a hiker ahead of me get out his camera. Yes!

We emerged to a brief view of the brilliant blue-green that is the signature of the White Mountains. I saw no evidence of changing leaves, by the way.

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And then, I turned back to the trail and blinked. Gone was the boring woodsy upslope – instead I faced a cliff of wet, black rock. It’s a sign of how I’ve changed that I said to myself “FINALLY! Something fun to tackle!” and up I went, slowly as always, but grinning nonetheless.

After I cleared the slippery rocks, I found myself on a flat ! trail that was clearly winding around something…and that went on for a bit. There was a slightly hairy place where I was stepping over boulders that were part of some kind of rock slide, completely exposed and at the mercy of a fairly steep cliff to the right. I wished for hiking poles in that moment. A few more big boulders to scale and then I reached the junction of Edmands Path and the trail to Mt. Eisenhower’s summit, which looked pretty steep from where I stood.

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However, there were a few dozen hikers at the junction, and they were loud and chatty, so I lit out for the top of Mt. Eisenhower pretty quickly. It was a short trek up, about half a mile, and not nearly as hard as I’d thought; just some scrambling and long rock faces. I saw this view along the way…I mean…come on.

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And then, the summit, marked by a huge cairn and 360 views of the mountains, including Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, just two peaks away, looking tantalizingly inviting. The weather was completely perfect, which is saying something at a place where it (the weather) has killed people when it’s bad. But not today, it was sunny and windy but not too cold. So, so, so gorgeous.

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One sandwich and a bunch of water later, the gaggle of loud hikers had reached the summit, and I layered up and prepared to head down the mountain and on to Mt. Pierce. The trek down was as fun as coming up, with some helpful wooden ladders dropped in occasionally when things got too steep.

img_9557When I reached the bottom of Mt. Eisenhower, I found myself at a crossroads and had to get my map out. I set off along the Appalachian Trail (also known as Crawford Path), and had one of those moments that the chronically directionally-challenged among you will understand – even though I’d checked the map 17 times and confirmed with a passing hiker that I was indeed heading to Mt. Pierce, I still had that niggling fear that I could possibly be going the wrong way. So out came the map again, and this time I even got out my compass, confirmed that Southwest was the direction I wanted, and continued on my way.

Crossing the ridge between Eisenhower and Pierce was wonderful. Gorgeous views, easy hills. The biggest adventure on this stretch was remembering how to use the bathroom in the woods, which I’m happy to say I achieved without incident.

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Mt. Pierce was full of lovely views, too, but by this point, about mile 6 into the hike, my feet were starting to hurt, and I was feeling tremendous dog mom guilt, so I didn’t linger, and headed down Crawford Path, which is, for those who care, the oldest continually in-use trail in America. This path was basically a reverse of the Edmands path – a long, rocky, muddy slog through the woods that, I’ll admit, sort of kicked my butt. I’m pretty sure that every muscle in my legs rioted on me at least once on the trek down. I might have whimpered once or twice as the 3-mile trail seemed to go on FOREVER. It was also crowded, and several times I encountered lithe, gorgeous teenagers hauling giant boxes of supplies up to one of the huts, which of course made me feel totally lame for being tired.

However, I did reach the bottom eventually, only to have another 2 miles of road to trek before I got back to my car. I passed one couple who were talking about how much they couldn’t wait to take off their boots (YES!) and another group who asked me if they looked as bedraggled as I did (NO, they looked positively chipper…bastards). Despite my niggling fear that I’d again taken a wrong turn (even with multiple map checks), I did eventually make it back to my car, where I might have collapsed on the hood for a moment or two before violently tearing off my shoes and socks and nearly weeping in relief.

Then it was the drive home, which was made nearly 1.5 hours longer by traffic and other nonsense coming in to the city. By this point, the dog mom guilt was at its peak, but Sadie, the awesome pooch that she is, had not peed in the house and was super glad to see me.

However, going down the stairs to let her out that night, and the next morning, and the next night…yeah…ouch.

So, all in all, a good adventure. Can’t wait to get back up there and bag some more 4,000 footers. Thanks for reading and hopefully adding your nods and “uh-huh”s at the proper intervals.

PS: Summiting more than one peak is called, appropriately, peak-bagging, and it’s cool to say you’ve done it. I won’t lie.

 

A grand western adventure

There are some vacations that, when they are over, however awesome they were, we are glad to get back to our lives.

And there are some we wish would never end.

Other than a twinge of missing my dog once in a while, my most recent western adventure is one of the latter.

Together with a semi-old (we met in 2009) friend turned new travel companion (this was our first extended trip together), I recently spent 9 days flitting…well, driving…about the American West. Here are the stats:

States I’d never been to:  4 (Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana)
Miles walked/hiked: more than 60
Miles driven: more than 1500
Times we heard “Desperado” on Sirius XM radio: At least 3
Mormons met: 3
Bears seen: ZERO…harumph, and I even got bear spray
Bison traffic jams: 2
Ankles rolled: ZERO (seriously, that’s a big deal)
Cans of Febreeze needed for the car: 1
Times we tried to visit Delicate Arch at dusk: 2
Stars seen over Yellowstone: Millions
Times we didn’t die in Death Canyon: 1

So, yeah, it was quite an adventure. Lakes, mountains, waterfalls, geysers, bison, sunrises, sunsets, Korean barbeque, Mormons, red rock canyons, arches….so many wonderful things were seen. I could write a whole blog post on the experience of traveling as a twosome, but really, you don’t want to hear me rant against how society is biased toward couples. You’ve heard that before.

Nah, let’s just look at some pretty pictures. You can live vicariously and I can try to keep the buzz going.

Day 1: I flew into Salt Lake City and arrived late. Nothing exciting to report there.

Day 2: The first part of the day was spent wandering the city, trying not to sing tunes from Book of Mormon out loud. We were given a tour of the Tabernacle and Conference buildings by several really, really nice Mormons. One was named Sister Hug. I kid not. It was quite the impressive setup.

Salt Lake City

The view of Sal Tlay Ka Citi from the park built on top of the 21,000 seat theater where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs

Then we drove the 4+ hours north to get to Grand Teton National Park. We pitched our tents in the dark and turned in with plans to rise early the next day.

Day 3: And rise early we did. So we could see this.

Grand Teton National Park

And this:

Jenny Lake

We got a few miles in on relatively flat ground at Jenny Lake to ease my East Coast legs and lungs into higher elevations, then decided to do a hike called Death Canyon, which, let’s be honest, was really all about the name. The legend is that some dude entered the canyon and didn’t come out, though the ranger we talked to said he could have just kept going to Idaho. At any rate, I struggled with this hike, although views like this helped:

Phelps Lake

At one point, I sent Shawn on ahead so he could, you know, hike at more than a snail’s pace for a bit, and spent some quality time communing with nature by the side of the trail. Needless to say, I slept pretty well that night despite chilly temperatures.

Day 4: On this day, we were bound for Montana, to check out an arts center called Tippet Rise that has sprung up from the ranchland. You can read about it here; I don’t want to try to explain it when others have done it better. But it was an interesting experience; we heard some incredible solo piano, and trekked a few miles out into the fields to see these sculptures:

Montana (47 of 15)

Montana (49 of 15)

Montana (50 of 15)

But really, the highlight was the locally-sourced barbeque. Yummo. We stayed the night in a totally adorable little cabin, complete with antlers and horses as our neighbors. Get it, “neigh” bors? Cracking myself up over here.

Day 5: For the first time, our drive wasn’t more than 4 hours, and we made our way down to Yellowstone National Park in good time. So began two days that are a blur of wonderfulness – hikes and photos and views and campfires and stars and bison. I’ll just share some photos and not try to talk about it too much.

Yellowstone day 1 (41 of 42)

Yellowstone day 2 (42 of 3)

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Seriously, y’all, Yellowstone is a magical, magical place. I plan to go back. Anyone who wants to invite me along next time you go, don’t hesitate.

Day 6: Our drive back to SLC took more hours than it should have due to some nasty wildfires in Yellowstone, but by this point, we were pretty tired and dirty and smelly, so heading back to civilization was worth it. Civilization also meant Korean Barbecue (my first), a long shower,  and sleeping on a mattress, plus yummy Mexican food the next day before we headed south.

Day 7: If being among the craters of Yellowstone felt like being on the moon, Moab, Utah and the parks there felt like visiting Mars. We got to Moab fairly late, but managed to get in a two short hikes, one into a canyon, accompanied by bagpipes…yes, I said bagpipes

Moab (41 of 1)

…and one up to try to see the Delicate Arch. If you don’t look too closely, this is a good photo (no tripod, alas):

Delicate Arch

It was warm and pleasant in Moab, so camping that night was pretty easy. It’s also worth pointing out that this day was the official 100th birthday of the National Park Service. We are lucky that at one point, some politicians decided to do something noble and visionary for all of us to enjoy.

Day 8: On our last day, we ran/drove a gauntlet of gorgeous red rock places: starting off in Canyonlands National Park, where we hiked out to Upheaval Dome, a crazy crater that was formed either by the movement of oceans or a meteorite; we chose meteorite, for obvious reasons.

Moab (4 of 1)

Next up was a walk along the canyon rim at Grand View Overlook, where you can see the Colorado River.  It was indeed a grand view.
Moab (4 of 2)

After lunch at Dead Horse State Park (don’t ask how that park got its name, it’s a terrible story), we went back to Arches to do a 7.5 mile hike through Devil’s Garden. Hiking on the so-called “primitive” trail, we saw a bunch of arches, and also did some scrambling over rock fins and down into canyons. Shawn breezed through, I had some moments of struggle, but it was super fun and the views were incredible. See all those towers/spires of rock down there? We basically came through that to get to where  took this photo.

Moab (5 of 2)

Later, we visited the Windows area of the park, and saw some more arches.

Moab (4 of 1)-2

And then we decided to end the day with a race against the sunset to try to see Delicate Arch at night. That was an adventure I’ll tell you about over a beer sometime, but suffice to say that it involved headlamps, a few curse words (uttered by me) and two different paths to the arch (one for me, one for Shawn), but in the end we both made it up and down in one piece. We then enjoyed what was probably the best burger I’ve ever had, and passed out in our tents for our last night under the Utah stars.

Day 9: With markedly less enthusiasm, we rose and drove back to SLC, where even the shower was less awesome (but still delightful). And then, I flew home.

And that, as they say, is that. If you’re still reading, I really do owe you that beer sometime. Hope you enjoyed my travel ramblings.

 

When Mt. Monadnock kicked my ass

As I sat down to write this blog post, my first thought was:

“Crap. I need the power cord to my laptop. I’m not sure I can get up to get it.”

Luckily, it was next to the bed (yes, I type this from the bed, because it’s an oven here in Boston and my bedroom is the only room with AC. That’s how we do it up here in the north).

But then I thought:

“I need my phone” (for photos)
“I need my camera” (for better photos)
“I need a glass of water” (because, well, read on)
“Well, I guess if I get all three an once, I can justify getting off this bed. Just hope my legs agree.”

Because, damn, y’all. I just got my ass kicked by a mountain.

Let’s back up a bit. Those who follow me on the socials may know that I’m heading out west later this summer to feed my addiction to epic views. Naturally, I am both excited and nervous about this, because, well, the mountains out there…let’s just say they are a wee bit taller than even the tallest we can muster here in New England. And, well, if today’s adventure is any indication, I might have some issues climbing them.

Mt. Monadnock is legendary in these parts. In fact, I met a bunch of visiting teachers on the hike, from all over the country, and they said “We had to hike THE mountain, right?” To which I agreed.

This wonderful little trail connection moment happened just past the 2 mile mark, when I was still filled with joy and bonhomie prompted by my first glimpse of a view and a relatively easy…well…tolerable hike.

Whoops, getting ahead of myself again.

Ahem.

Mt. Monadnock = legendary; it’s one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world. Check. Mt. Monadnock = moderate to difficult to hike, which translates to, for 98% of the population, “holy-hell-this-is-tough-i’m-gonna-die-will-I-ever-get-to-the-top?”.

I encountered many of the 2% on this hike. You know, the folks whose steady, upward cadence never varies (even when they just hiked the same section that you basically crawled up and are now “admiring the view” from the nearest rock while sucking oxygen frantically into your lungs) or who glide down over the boulders as if the boulders were water and their boots were Jesus. This while you are sliding down the boulders on your butt in order to avoid, well, dying.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m in the 98%. I’m with the poor lagging teenager who, when I told him there was a nice view up where his friends were, pleaded “is it the summit?” I had to tell him it was nowhere near it. 😦

I suspect I might be in the bottom of the 98%, because I struggled mightily on this hike. I took the Birchtoft (no that’s not a typo) route, mostly because I’d read it’d be less crowded, and it was about 7 miles roundtrip with some difficult sections, which is what I wanted to try to get my hiking legs a little more under me before I go west.

But, enough exposition. Let’s get to the narrative.

It’s worth pointing out that I woke at 5am for this adventure. Just so you know I’m committed.

I reached the parking lot around 8am, and was greeted by a super-friendly ranger who did his best to make sure I understood that A) it was cold on the summit and B) I’d better bring lots of water. I assured him I had both of those covered, plus a poncho in the case of rain, a first aid kit, a multi-purpose tool, a map, a combo whistle/compass/thermometer, and someone back in Boston who was on standby to call him if I didn’t check in at the appropriate time. Hashtag responsible solo hiking for the win

Birchtoft was pretty easy (it’s rated a 2 for difficulty) – just a nice 2 mile stroll in pretty woods with the occasional hill. Oh, I won’t lie, it got my heart rate going, but nothing I couldn’t handle. It started off so hopefully – 3.4 miles ain’t that bad, right?

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But then…Birchtoft ends and eventually links up with the Red Spot Trail, aka Satan’s trail (not really, I just made that up).

The last 1.4 miles of this hike, in a word, completely slayed me. The steep part started off ok. I mean, this doesn’t look THAT bad. Plus, the ferns!

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But after a few of these teasers, the “trail” became basically nothing more than giant granite boulders strewn on a slope that felt like more than a 45% angle. But by far the worst, worst moment was when I trudged up a rock face, thinking I was near the summit, and saw that, no, I was not, in fact, anywhere near it.

image3I might have said some bad words at that point.

Standing there, I honestly considered turning around. I was miserable. I felt like such a loser, unable to climb a mile of rocks without my legs shaking and my heart pounding. The 2%, and several of the higher-level 98%ers, were passing me by. I had to stop and rest every few feet, it seemed. It was both pathetic and not a lot of fun.

I almost turned back about 50 times over the next 1/2 mile, a scramble over granite slabs and cool little tidepool-like puddles, on the way to the summit. But eventually, I made it.

The payoff of Monadnock, at 3166 feet, well above the tree line, is 360 degree views of six states. It’s pretty epic. Admittedly, I was shredded, and found my way to a comfy rock recliner and sat there sucking down water and eating trail mix before I had much energy to enjoy the views. It was also very, very cold and windy. I’m happy to report that my new hiking shirt performed admirably.

And did I mention the views?

Monadnock3 (1 of 1)

Monadnock4 (1 of 1)

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Just after taking the requisite squinty selfie, I turned to the east (once on the summit, it’s easy to miss the trail…I ,however, was prepared and knew my landmarks as well as used my compass) and sobbed inside at the thought of clamoring DOWN those horrible, horrible rocks. I mean, I like downhill as much as anyone, but I haven’t developed enough trust in my own legs to skip down at a fast clip, letting momentum take me. I’m still convinced that momentum is gonna kill me, so it was a long slog. I mean, really, does that look like a TRAIL to you?!

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I did swear a bit. I did crush the dreams of a few upward bound folks who asked hopefully if they were near the summit. I did grab a few trees, and slid down a few rocks on my butt. I did wonder if my legs would hold out long enough.

And yet, I managed to make it to the bottom in one piece, with no ankles rolled and no knees scraped. The sign at the base said hikers should allow 6 hours for the hike, and I finished in about 6:15. So I guess I didn’t do too bad.

And now, I sit on my bed in Advil-induced bliss, after stopping for a meatball sub (the best one I’ve ever eaten, period), taking a long, glorious shower (seriously, a post-hike shower is one of my top five things in life), and attempting to replace all the sweat I lost with copious glasses of water. Sadie’s snoring beside me; I missed her on this hike (dogs not allowed). I haven’t moved from the bed in a while, and I feel pretty good. Mid-way through those rocks (in both directions), I seriously wondered if I’d ever hike another mountain again. Back down at sea level, I know I will, but I think I might stick to the more moderate stuff.

Maybe. 😉