Utah Part V – Go big then go home 

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The last few days we spent in the desert turned into sister adventure time. I love climbing with my sister. We both learned to climb indoors in our teens and when I moved back to Calgary in 2014 she had started outdoor climbing and immediately brought me out with her. She taught me all of the basics, how to climb on rock, how to clean an anchor, how to set up an anchor, how to lead, how to multi pitch. Climbing together is always fun. She never makes me feel like I’m not strong enough (even though she climbs so much harder than me) and she always encourages me to push my limits.

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The view of the La Sals from Arches National Park.

We decided to spend our last few days in the desert together.We started first with some climbing and headed into the canyons near Moab. The gravel road starts along the river and then turns into a windy steep road on which you would suffer some major consequences for distracted driving. We parked at the base of a cliff off the side of the road and hiked up a short section. Julie had already picked out a climb for me to lead and we were in luck since no one was on it. We got to the base of the climb and it looked easy. It was a classic 5.5 climb with fairly obvious gear placements. Julie headed up first and set up a top rope and then I climbed it, examining her gear placements and feeling out the route. I wanted to do this without fear, which meant getting comfortable. I lowered off of it with the gear and then climbed it a second time, on top rope, placing the gear where I would have put it. Then we swapped and my sister headed up the climb looking at my placements. They were all solid but a few could be improved. So I listened carefully to her feedback and when she came down, cleaning the route, I racked up. I was nervous yet excited. The climbers next to me that I had been chatting with cheered me on as I headed up placing gear. My pieces felt good. I knew they would hold if I slipped but I still didn’t want to slip or even take. As I got to the crux at the end, I placed a small cam in a crack and I knew it wasn’t a great placement. But the action of placing it calmed the fear in my mind and allowed me to finish the route. I felt amazing. It was my first trad lead and I was hooked.

After climbing some more lines we headed to Moab for what would be my second and last shower for 2 weeks. Living like a dirtbag was glorious. Everyone we were with was dirty, no one had clean hair, no one had shaved legs and it was nice forgetting about the societal standards we had all grown up in. But a shower, after a week of climbing, touring and feeling grimy, was glorious. Washing what you thought was a good tan but ended up being dirt off your legs was sad and satisfying.

We got back to camp that night and all celebrated together. The guys had a successful summit of the south six shooter tower they climbed and I had climbed my first trad lead.

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Arches National Park. So many features to climb.

The next morning, my last day of climbing before we would leave, my sister and I got up early to head to Arches National Park. She wanted to take me up a single pitch route, The Owl, and I was stoked to climb my first desert feature.

The dogs stayed behind with the guys and we headed for the park with coffee and a lot of yawning. Even early in the morning there was a large line up for the park. We waited almost 10 minutes before getting in and then we drove along the windy roads. I could see why it was so popular. It was a spectacular park but it was also incredibly busy. I’ve always found that the busier a spot is, the more I lose interest. I snapped photos as we drove along and finally parked next to our feature. A couple of guys were headed up the route so we racked up and then waited at the bottom.

The route followed up a crack in the middle of the feature. It looked slabby from below but would prove to be anything but. Once it was free my sister headed up, leading up fairly quickly. I was impressed watching her go and feel comfortable enough to place gear on those moves. Once it was my time to follow, what I thought would be an easy climb ended up being a fight. The climb was burly and I felt like I was bouldering. A year and a bit prior I had hurt my shoulder from too much bouldering and had spent a long time avoiding climbing and staying off anything overhung. I’ve been scared of pulling hard ever since. I prefer to climb knowing my feet won’t blow. But this wasn’t an option and at the crux I tried to get my sister to lower me but her position meant we couldn’t hear each other. So instead, I powered through and got to the top. In the end, I was happy I had climbed through it. It would take me a while to realize but that climb had been a sort of come back to climbing harder.

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Mike celebrates as the dogs follow in full chase. One last sweet corn turns lap.

The next morning Mike and I packed up early and headed to the La Sals for a final quick tour before driving back out and crashing at the rest stop we had slept at on the way in. We had two days of driving ahead of us and since Mike had celebrated his birthday while we were there, I had bought him a geological map of Utah and he narrated along as I drove us through the state. Idaho and Montana were not nearly as interesting geologically, but the drive went well and we pulled up at home to unpack, we realized the truck, and most of our gear, was tainted red with the desert sand. Some of that sand is gone now, washed off by the rain and use of gear, but some of it is still there, especially on the base sheet of our tent. It’s a nice reminder of our time in the desert every time we camp and part of me never wants it to disappear.

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