“Life Now” in Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks, UT

With Joe’s Valley behind us, Dustyn and I pushed South for Utah’s three remaining national parks. We came across Capitol Reef first, braving the brutal heat for a quick pass without giving the park the justice it probably deserved.

‘Quite a Rock’ taken in Capitol Reef

By the time we arrived in Bryce Canyon that evening, we had already decided to spend the night there rather than continue South. We found the cooler temperatures and strangely forested desert terrain refreshing.

‘Purple Hoodoo Light’ taken in Bryce Canyon

The canyon’s amphitheater was the calling card of the park — it’s collection of bizarre hoodoos the greatest in the world. We dove into the canyon for a closer look at the unstable walls.

‘Caving In’ taken in Bryce Canyon

The next day we were up early to continue our trek. We arrived before long to the glory of Zion, its high walls towering far above the valley below in a way reminiscent of the imposition I imagine Yosemite poses.

‘This is Zion’ taken in Zion

We explored for a while before finding a library to relax at and catch up on work. I made myself comfortable in some bean bags with a window wall view of an enormous mountain face. After the library closed for the day, we rolled up the street to skate below said mountain on some junk we found by the side of the road.

‘Tent with a View’ taken on BLM land

By dusk we made our way out to a BLM spot I’d heard of to pitch camp for the night. We were enjoying beers and good conversation by a fire when a truck pulled up at the far end of our spot. For several hours a lone man seemed to endlessly coil and uncoil rope in his truck bed. Dustyn and I were perplexed at least and unnerved at most, but it didn’t keep us from getting a good night’s sleep in anticipation of climbing Zion the next day.

‘A Wall Built to be Climbed’ taken in Kolob Canyon

In the far northern end of the national park lies Kolob Canyon, home to the legendary Namaste Wall. Its lines of huecos make it look as though it was hand-crafted to be climbed. Despite it’s inviting appearance, we soon found the wall firsthand to be deceptively overhung and even taller than imagined. All the more inspiring… and we had it all to ourselves.

We jumped on Half Route (5.10+) to warm up for Namaste (5.11d), the namesake of the wall. At 80 feet, though, Half Route was not to be taken lightly. I got the onsight, thanks to a hueco big enough to sneak a decent rest about a third of the way up. Even still, by the time I clipped the anchors the pump in my forearms was real.

Dustyn blew past the rest intentionally; Namaste’s own resting point wasn’t until after 90 feet of climbing and he correctly figured to get there clean he’d have to be able to send Half Route without resting.

It’s hard to manage this level of pump without specific training, though; Dustyn fell on Half Route a bolt before the anchors. Namaste was even more of a struggle.

‘Climbing the Ladder’ taken in Kolob Canyon

At 140 feet, fourteen bolts and then two anchors, Namaste is one of the greatest tests of endurance in all of North America. After getting through the initial 50º overhang to start out the ascent, Dustyn ended up piecing together the rest of the route more or less bolt by bolt — the lead climb made immeasurably more difficult by having to haul up the weight of half of the 70 meter rope with one arm just to make each clip (something else we had not anticipated).

Because of the overhang and the height of the wall, I’d lost sight of him about halfway up the wall. When he yelled down to me that he’d finally clipped into the anchors, we were together glad that the war of attrition was over and had been won, even though it hadn’t been pretty.

We’d calculated with a little bit of light geometry that the climb could be viewed as a triangle and that my 70 meter rope would be just long enough to go all the way up and back down if it only went along the hypotenuse once. That meant the line had to first be led and then top-roped afterwards to clean the quickdraws. So after Dustyn made the long descent back to Earth’s surface, I was on deck to finish our work.

On the wall I also made quick work of the initial overhang, but annoyingly slipped off at its vertex. Even more annoying, the overhang sent me far out into open air and unable to swing back onto the wall to continue climbing, even though I was clipped into the draws above. That meant I needed to be dirted to start from scratch. Climbing more carefully, I made it through the technical crux without slipping off again.

The rest of climb was a slow grind, though. Similarly unable to manage the creeping pump and in order to avoid swinging helplessly out of reach of the wall, I also ended up going bolt by bolt. It felt like I was up there forever — the exposure unlike any climb I’d ever been on. In the end I did finish and was glad to be done, finally cracking a smile after I’d reached the top.

After just the two pitches we were spectacularly spent but extraordinarily energized. We hiked out of the canyon and relaxed the rest of the day at a Starbucks in St. George. For some reason they treated us to free drinks and enough food to last us a few days.

The physical highs and lows of the day would become emotional highs and lows the following day. Thursday morning I received troubling news that jeopardized my ability to continue this grand trip and left me with a hard choice to make. In my newfound position of discomfort and uncertainty, I found myself at first strangely excited at the novelty of it all before reality struck and my thoughts floated around in a state of paralytic indecisiveness.

Dustyn, meanwhile, had come across some vocational struggles of his own. Uncertain of what freelance work would come his way after finishing up with his current client and frustrated by stalled progress on a personal project, we found each other in rare moments of existential crises. It was in this adversity that we came together and began to work through it.

Throughout the trip we’d had moments of creativity that brought forth ideas of all kinds. That trying evening in particular we brought Del Taco burritos to a city park and started iterating through each brainchild, simultaneously analyzing levels of feasibility and market size. In time, a new idea sparked from Dustyn and quickly caught fire in me. With clear vision and unparalleled excitement we collectively decided to move forward with the first step. We’ll see where it leads us.

‘Peekaboo’ taken in Zion

Freshly inspired, we retook to Zion the following morning — our sights set on the grandest hike in the park and one of the most epic in the country: Angel’s Landing.

Angel’s exposure and scrambling deemed death-defyingly daunting to most was more or less a cake walk for Dustyn and I. The views throughout were breathtaking but the capstone was definitely the precipice at the landing itself. I was called crazy more than once on the descent for the lines I took down the rock, but I never did anything I wasn’t sure I could do.

‘Precipice’ taken in Zion

We finished our stint in southwest Utah with a weekend of hot but shaded climbing outside St. George. As non-noteworthy as my climbs were, Dustyn’s were impressive. I more or less accidentally free-soloed a 5.9 halfway up but got my butt kicked by a 5.10d with a poorly placed bolt. Dustyn, meanwhile, sent two more 5.12s: Dancing Fox (25 ft) and Tortuga (40 ft), the former purely powerful and the latter more carefully calculating.

‘Jugging Turtles’ taken at Turtle Wall

From here we depart Utah and close our chapter in the desert with a long move to the Sierra Nevadas of California.

Woke up in Joe’s Valley, UT.

Slept/woke up  in Bryce Canyon, UT.

Slept/woke up outside Zion, UT.

Sleeping in the Mojave Desert, CA.

560 miles.

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