“The mountains we climb, are mountains of the mind.” Far more than merely a cute sentence, I carry this quote around like another key on my ring. Like rock, it’s layered, speaking not only of an idea about difficult/dangerous hikes/treks/climbs being more about our mindset and drive, rather than the actual terrain; but leads me to think about the overall mind itself when we are just simply in nature, with its power, and even better when we are exploring that nature itself, in a higher state altogether. For me, it’s the new and foreign beauty that rushes into me. How it inspires me, lifts me, and how it can totally separate me from bullshit and that proverbial back-home-bubble.
I’m most alive and excited for life, feeling it’s energy and a true connection, when I’m traveling and exploring at the same time. Even better when I’m totally alone and with no person, place, or thing telling me where I have to be or what I have to do. I am literally an explorer, free to wander wherever and at whatever pace. I can leisurely meander places where I want to shoot more photography and enjoy the scenery or maybe take advantage of beautiful light. I can go on a crazy, random night hike under the moon, or I can haul ass somewhere else, even taking off in the middle of the night to my next place because I want to wake up there. It’s My time. My Wander.
I just returned from a long overdue road trip all over Utah & Arizona that was absolutely packed with incredible nature and just complete fun, and adventure. I got to be the grown up kid that I am. Running around, jumping on and off rocks, chasing down overlooks and sunsets, hiking and climbing whatever I wanted, even if just because it looked cool or challenging. I solo travelled around SE Asia for 4 months last year, and this was somehow even more fun, more adventurous and with far more freedom. Because I could sleep in my Jeep with the seat down, I didn't have to set up and break down tents or sleep in the cold. I just slept where I parked at whatever free campsite, driving off in the morning whenever I woke up, to wherever the day’s adventure was.
Things started off at Arches National Park. That first morning I was already driving up the mountain in total darkness, as I got a nice head start on the sun. Those are some of the best days, because you truly see the full transition of dark to light, and the way the rocks and landscape look in such changing light, can sometimes feel like you’re watching or even inside of a slow motion nature documentary. That’s how Arches felt as the sun slowly rose, lighting up endless spaces that I had never seen, never been. I would drive out that day in the same fashion, in the dark, letting the sun leave long before. To have sunrise to sunset, while packed with a full-on day of driving, hiking, and just openly exploring with no plan; was to truly take this place in and the connection was amazing.
The next morning I was instantly off to Canyonlands. I typically limit myself from diving too deep into research or letting myself see too many pictures of a place I’m going, once I’ve decided I’m truly doing it. I want it to be that much more foreign and new, still holding some surprises. So, I knew hardly anything about Canyonlands or what to expect, and I kept it that way until I got there. The landscape was so vast and what echoed so vividly throughout the massive canyon, were the colors of deep purple and desert red. They create a gorgeous color spectrum, making you feel like you’re truly standing in one of the most beautiful and colorful places in all of the southwest. I wandered off some of the closer, main road lookouts, then took off on a hike around the rim of Island In the Sky. I also got lost for a bit. I was already lost in my head to music and just the natural beauty and sheer peace, that I wandered way off the trail. Worth it, although it did take about an extra two hours to find my bearings and locate the trail. Island of the Sky is the top part of Canyonlands that allows you to view everything looking down into the canyon. The Needles, is the opposite viewpoint, being down within the canyon looking up and is a completely different feel, but just as inspiring.
That same night I met up with a buddy from Red Rocks, whose uncle owns a ranch at a location I can’t disclose(by his request), but the spot was perfect, situated somewhere near Grand Staircase Escalante, as well as Bryce Canyon. After exploring a bit of The Needles the next afternoon after those first two solo days, we headed to Page, Arizona where we’d stay the night so that the following morning I could check out Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. These two are very close to one another and you can easily see and do both within a matter of hours. Although Horseshoe is just an overlook and doesn’t involve much hiking or physical activity, it’s still really cool to stand on the ridge and see it in person, taking it all in. Antelope was bitter sweet though. Yes, being inside one of the most unique slot canyons on earth was incredible and I recommend anyone who can, see it; but the insanely touristy nature and sheer amount of people were absolutely ridiculous and this was in slow season too. I’m happy I experienced it, but never again. A mass of tourists and loud people in any nature spot, for me, basically ruins it or at least changes everything.
Both spots were beautiful, but it was great to move on from crowds of people as we headed to the ranch, getting to do a few days of camping and off trail hiking where there’d be nobody around. We set up camp that evening, then took off the next morning to explore a slot canyon in or around Grand Staircase/Escalante. Just getting down into the canyon, we either had to have climbing rope(we didn’t) or make the choice of getting wet right away and dropping into pools of very cold water and thick mud. We’d run into multiple instances like this all throughout the canyon and they usually seemed to get deeper and worse. I ended up trying to free climb and scale up a cliff wall to avoid one of them toward the end of the hike. It was worth the risk if I’d made it, but I didn’t. I fell in, just about fully submerged, which gave my buddy a very long and loud laugh that echoed into the canyon and seemed to make things that much more cold and wet. The high note to that was my REIKA bag going completely underwater and kept everything in the backpack dry. My jacket, my gloves, my wallet & keys, all of it. The low note, hiking straight up a 250 foot, loose rock cliff to get out of the slot, in wet clothes and half frozen hands. The slot was an awesome hike adventure, and we pushed even further on after going back to camp for dry clothes, some food, and then off to hike to the top of the pink cliffs on the backside of Bryce Canyon. We ended up at the top just around sunset and the views were incredible, gazing down into the rock cliffs and seeing how majestic it all was.
The next morning we took off for Zion National Park, so that I could quiet my hunger and curiosity for Angel’s Landing. The most interesting thing about Zion for me, is that of all the Mighty Five, it’s easily the most popular and touristy, but has some of the most dangerous and thrilling hikes. The Narrows is one of them, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to do it on this trip. I plan for that one to be done properly, doing the entire 16 mile trek, from the top to the bottom, which usually takes two days and involves true backcountry overnight camping. Angel’s Landing is a pretty serious climb, ascending almost 1,500 feet, with a lot of switchbacks, until you get to it’s most dangerous part that looks like you’re about to climb up onto the back of a giant dinosaur. This is where a lot of people end their hike and decide they’ve had enough. If you have a thing for heights or don’t truly trust your climbing abilities and strength or don’t have a serious stomach for adventure, there’s usually a crowd that remains in an area full of people waiting for someone else who decided to keep going. This was one of the coolest hikes I’ve ever been on, and before I was even back down I decided it would be quite next level to do this at night under a full moon, and be waiting at the top of the peak for sunrise. If I have my way, in February or March it’s going to happen.
This adventure was not only desperately needed for multiple reasons, but also to be able to remind myself and others of an important idea about life. Of how fast it moves. Of how incredibly easy it is for us to get swept up in it, taken away from the realization of how important it is to make experiences like this happen. To go places and do things. To stop the cycle for a bit and go wander off. Having new experiences and getting away from our home and the same scenery. To explore, and to be a bit free and connect with something real. And within that idea of how easily life pulls us into a place where we feel we have such little time, I write not only for someone else to read about these experiences, but also to remind myself that they happened and how they felt, what I saw and what I achieved and went through. Traveling is by far one of the best things we can ever spend our time & money on, because in some unique way, experiences can last forever, even long after we’re in them. You can always look back at at a moment’s magic…
I didn’t take in the craziness of Angel’s Landing and what the full climb entailed until the way back down when I looked below and could truly witness what it takes to get up to it’s peak. It’s a massive drop off on either side of the ridge and in a few instances just a sheer climb straight up. Some spots demand you use a metal chain anchored into the stone rock you’re climbing, and this is also while other people are taking the same route back down. There are two parts to Angel’s Landing…the adventure of it’s challenging and dangerous climb and what it feels like to reach the top, then the intense sprawling valley view you’re rewarded with for completing the hike. The landing looks straight down into Zion’s tight walled canyon and is absolutely breathtaking. In fact, breathtaking was the word I found myself most often thinking about when I was in Zion. Each of the Mighty Five all had their own completely different feel and vibe and scenery. Zion is very very special.
Part 2 coming soon