Winter Runaway

After saying goodbye to my UCC friends and coworkers, I left Logan. I did manage to sneak in a hike I had been meaning to do before leaving, although the scenic canyon views were obscured by snow flurries. The snow lent the hike an intimate feel, somewhat of a novelty out West (at least in my experience). The hike led up to an outcropping in the canyon that is home to a 1500 year-old juniper, which was gnarled and beautiful in the dandelion-head snowflakes. My partner on the hike thought the tree looked like two people dancing. I’m inclined to agree.

The Jardine Juniper.

I had mixed emotions about leaving Logan. It felt abrupt, especially after the emotional intensity of the last three months. Some of the relationships I had cultivated were only just coming to fruition, and it’s hard to say goodbye when you truly don’t know if or when you’ll see each other again. Of course, social media eases the distance, but it’s no substitute for face-to-face interactions.

But overriding the bitterness was a sweet, sweet relief. No more work! No more waking up in the dark, cold and dirty, scraping away at mud while struggling to get blood into my extremities. I was free, and so looking forward to getting back on the road.

One stop had to be made first. A coolant leak in the engine and a rather ominous “SRS” light on the dash had been on my mind, and this was my first real chance to drive down to the nearest dealership to get the van checked out. My appointment in Salt Lake City was on a Friday. Unfortunately, they had to order a few parts, which wouldn’t arrive until the following Tuesday. Unable to drive anywhere too far away, I decided to try my hand at “urban camping” for the weekend.

If you use your favorite search engine to do some research on “urban camping” or “stealth camping,” you’ll find one oft-repeated mantra: “be inconspicuous.” Now, I’m a fairly quiet guy. I don’t try to bother other people, and I think I can be rather subtle, when the situation calls for it. My van, however, is not subtle. It is not stealthy. And it is certainly not inconspicuous. Without getting too much into it, let’s just say that I’m not a fan of urban camping. It wasn’t until Tuesday night, after I got out of the dealership with a (mostly) clean bill of health for my steed, and I drove until the road disappeared, fell asleep, and woke up in the mountains, that I realized how much more relaxed I was away from the city. It was like I had been holding my breath for the last four days, cooped up on my bed with the curtains drawn, hoping that every passing car would just keep driving, dreading the “tap tap tap” of a Maglight on my window, praying that I wouldn’t wake up to a window being shattered by an enterprising youth or junkie hoping to score some free medical equipment, and generally feeling like a heel. I belong outdoors, where I can slide open my doors, clean out my domicile, cook my dinner, and stretch my legs without worrying about people breaking into the van.

Glorious conference food. So many kinds of sliders.

Glorious conference food. So many kinds of sliders.

Being stuck in Salt Lake City wasn’t all bad, though. My best friend from high school happened to be part of a chemical engineering conference that was happening in the city that week, so I was able to hang out with him and pretend to be a grad student. Judging by the open bars and abundant catering, chemical engineering is a good field to be in.

Once I was done with the city, I met up with a friend from UCC and drove out to Great Basin National Park, just across the border in Nevada. It’s among the “Ten Least Visited National Parks,” which is a shame. It may be remote, but it’s beautiful. While we were there, we hiked to the base of Wheeler Peak and took a tour of Lehman Cave. We didn’t make it to the summit of Wheeler, but after ascending 3,000 feet in 3 miles, dwindling daylight and snowy conditions made another 3,000 feet seem unwise. If you’re looking to bag this peak, make sure you start early, both in the season and the day. And make sure you stay up late enough to see the night sky. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen more stars.

Hiking in the elements.

One example of a basin. Apparently the "great basin" for which the park is named spans the entire state of Nevada, so it didn't fit in the picture.

Wheeler Peak

Lehman Cave. This is the only picture that (mostly) turned out. GoPros don't do so well in the dark.

After Great Basin, I scooted back into Utah. I visited some lovely people in Provo, and made my way to Joe’s Valley, where a friend of mine was climbing. The day I arrived, it looked idyllic. Mild weather, full sun, plenty of free camping, and few crowds. Excited for the climbing ahead of me, I settled in for the night.

I put my boots out to dry overnight. This is how they looked in the morning.

I put my boots out to dry overnight. This is how they looked in the morning.

The morning greeted me with two inches of bright, fluffy snow. I had been warned that winter weather was on the way, but the cheerful weather lulled me into a false sense of security. I had driven south, but not far enough. After meeting up with my buddy and doing some hand-wringing (“when you think it’ll melt?” “are there are any caves we could climb in?” “what’s the weather for the rest of the week?”), I decided to pack it up and head to Las Vegas. There’s a famous climbing area there called Red Rock Canyon, and the weather there looked considerably better. I hit the road right as the snow returned. I drove through 200 miles of winding mountain roads in white out conditions. As a Minnesota native, I’m pretty comfortable driving in snow, but all the confidence in the world doesn’t protect you from other drivers. More than once, a semi appeared out of the snowy tumult just in front of me, inching its way uphill with its hazard lights on.

The ferocity of the snowstorm was impressive, but just as impressive was the contrast between the conditions once I made it past St George, Utah. Crossing into Nevada, I took off my sweatshirt and jacket, and even cracked the windows. There was still snow melting off of my rear bumper, but it was warm enough in the sun to be in short sleeves.

After fighting through the Vegas traffic, I arrived safely and warmly in Red Rock Canyon. I’ve only been here a day, but I can tell that it’s going to be hard to leave. I may not have gotten much climbing in over the last three months, but there’s more than enough here to keep me busy! Let’s just hope that my soft skin holds together on the sandstone…

Red Rock Canyon

 

-Austin

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