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We Won The Lottery! The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Arizona

We set our alarm for 7 am on day 10, the last day of our trip. We stayed just a few hours at  the Jacob Lake Inn, our admittedly beautiful but pricey…

We set our alarm for 7 am on day 10, the last day of our trip. We stayed just a few hours at  the Jacob Lake Inn, our admittedly beautiful but pricey cabin that we barely enjoyed. At least we were able to get some sleep. Just the night before, we came in very late from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, about an hour away. Yet there was no time to linger. We were on a mission.

Let’s back track a bit. Less than 24 hours earlier in Kanab, UT, we similarly flew out of bed and drove immediately to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center, which was just up the road from the rickety motel we were staying in. Every morning, often over a hundred visitors hailing from all over the world arrive at the Visitor Center, hoping to win a permit to explore the absolutely breathtaking sandstone rock formation, the Wave in Coyote Buttes. Only 10 people in person and 10 people online can be accepted into the lottery per day, in order to preserve his delicate and special natural wonder. Months earlier, we had applied to the online lottery to hike the Wave, and didn’t win. Feeling our traveler’s luck so close to the end of our journey, we planned the gamble into our route.

Out of 100 people (including some eager folks from Europe and Asia) we were the second random bingo ball to be chosen — lucky number 7! I say this now, but I just had a feeling we’d get in!

 

permit-980x735We stayed for a 40-minute presentation on how to prepare for the four hour trek we won for the following day. We of course had visited other unmarked trails on this trip, but the ranger outlined some pretty serious warnings — that we bring 2 gallons of water per person, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants for sunny conditions, and pack plenty of salty snacks to replace any sodium we may lose through sweat. And, don’t forget: SUNSCREEN. They also provided an impressive photographed, step-by-step map, which showed us exactly which landmarks to keep an eye out for in our search. The ranger also emphasized that we were not to leave behind cairns, stack of rocks often created to mark trails; that could potentially mislead other hikers for the worse. There have been cases of unprepared hikers getting lost, or even dying in Coyote Buttes; however, I think the warnings were amplified due to the widely mixed experience levels, age ranges, and physical capabilities of Wave-seekers.

And so, we were in. Day of — here we go:

Driving from Jacob Lake Inn to Coyote Buttes was an hour and a half drive, and so we arrived to comfortable hiking conditions — dry heat but not too scorching, and moderately bright sunlight (though sunset would have been ideal for photos). We pulled into a dusty parking spot and saw a few other cars already there, green permits showing off on their dashboards. I think  it’s a $500 penalty to hike that area without a permit. Not like we would have tested it, should the lottery not have worked out…

Almost immediately, we started the hike. It kind of felt like a race whenever we ran into other pairs of hikers — we definitely wanted to see the Wave as a blank canvas, so we booked it past other permit-holders rather competitively.

This journey seemed to encompass the different terrains we encountered throughout the trip — our rushed strides ceased once we hit 30-minute increments of forced sluggishness through stretches of deep sand (any time that happened on our trip, I hated it!)  Sometimes we went up hill, sometimes we went downhill, all in the bright sun. Every so often we’d stop and hold up our map to compare shapes of visual landmarks, it was wonderfully accurate, or we’re just that gooood. There was no climbing until the “entrance” of the Wave — a nearly vertical wall of layered sandstone that of course I enjoyed scrambling up, but had to stop frequently because of the asthma. But just one look at the small group of hikers behind me was enough motivation to keep racing to the top.

Once over the entrance, it was pretty easy from there.

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The Wave is an immense beauty, but surprisingly petite. You can climb throughout the formation pretty fast, and there’s no way you can lose your hiking buddy behind the gentle maze of silent, majestic walls. But in the right spot, and at the right time (I think we managed to be alone for over 30 minutes, we are winnerzzz!) you can find yourself completely surrounded by the smooth, perfect, natural patterns formed by ages of wind and water. The graceful stripes of oranges and blacks stretch up into the sky, boldly blue and still for us that day.

I took my shoes off and slapped my bare, sweaty feet on the sandstone like a lizard, skipping, jumping, and inspecting while Michael took some good shots. Eventually an older couple came along and I congratulated them on making it up, (welcome to the club!) and took their photo. Soon more hikers showed up, those who teamed together along the way, and it was a full house, but we still welcomed the others with knowing smiles. We found a quiet spot behind a boulder and munched on trailmix and water, loving the Arizona-Utah border ahead of us.

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Photos managed to do this renowned formation visually, but the feeling of navigating to the final destination on our 10-day list, is simply immense. Ten days of driving, hiking, climbing, hours of listening to Harry Potter book-on-tape, holding back on hangry retorts and short bouts of impatience, endless rounds of memorable puns and horrible jokes, a couple of ill-timed Reddit ghost stories recited from an iPhone screen, junk food for dinner, wacky characters in wacky places, constant asthma attacks, snow, desert, heat, elevation…

The whole trip was a lottery. A 50/50 chance that we wouldn’t kill each other by the end. And we didn’t, we only nearly died a few times (my first time mountain driving, yeesh), endured some scrapes and bruises, and laughed it off when it was all over. If I could, of course I’d do it all over again.

And I will, just somewhere else just as amazing.

Where to?

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center: 745 U.S. 89 | Kanab, UT 84741

The Wave: $7 permit. Coyote Buttes, AZ

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The Only Way is Up: Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park

It was a typical day with a full itinerary: We started off at Dead Horse Point State Park, hiked through Canyonlands National Park, including a stop at The Whale, a sticky rock formation…

It was a typical day with a full itinerary: We started off at Dead Horse Point State Park, hiked through Canyonlands National Park, including a stop at The Whale, a sticky rock formation classified as an “Easy” hike. I was delighted by the name, The Whale, but after a while I began to refer to it as the “Virgin’s Thighs” for its smoothness and curves. I remember that day having flashing pain in my head (perhaps dehydration and fatigue) and being quite sullen during what was supposed to be a fun stop. In fact, I was so tired that I left my hiking shoes in the parking lot after the hike, so we had to drive back an extra 30 minutes to grab them.

permit_onlyStill, day six’s adventures were not over. We had one more stop: the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park. An intimidating, unmarked maze of towering sandstone walls, visitors can hike the Fiery Furnace with a ranger in a group, or you can obtain a permit separately and adventure solo for $4. Either way, before they sign off on your entrance, you’ve got to watch a brief “training” video, and answer a few questions to make sure you’re not going to get lost (GPS does not work there), try not to tread on any paths with an evident ecosystem, and simply be alert and make good choices.

Of course, we chose to explore on our own. It was almost 4pm when we got our permits from the visitor center, but luckily the sun was still blazing high, though we didn’t notice the heat as much the second we entered the labyrinth. The high, jagged walls shaded us pleasantly, but made for challenging navigation and mental breadcrumbs. We were not allowed to leave cairns, as they may lead a separate group of hikers in the wrong direction– although I am quite sure we were the only ones hiking in the Fiery Furnace the entire time we were there.

The nervousness of getting lost was quickly shed by our eagerness to climb shit. This place is the ultimate playground, and despite the miles of hikes we did every day, hours of being in the car needed to be released. We first searched for slim walls to squeeze through and shimmy up; that was fun. Then we found the rumored Secret Arch, and did a leap of faith from one wall to another to catch a view directly underneath it. The only way to get back to the “path” however, was to slide down wall B to get back to wall A, a maneuver that could easily trap your ankle in a slot and give it an ugly snap. Michael went first, then I did it, but faster and barely secured my footing, which prompted immediate mutual wide eyes and relieved giggles.

secret_arch

One thing that stood out to me in our orientation was this: Just because you can climb a wall, it doesn’t mean you can get down. Isn’t that a scary thought? We kept this in mind, but couldn’t help but to take on the challenge. We discovered quickly that the rock was sticky, much like the texture we encountered at The Whale. While piles of boulders seemed to teeter at awkward angles, or stood almost vertically, going up or down was strenuous indeed, and at times, crippling scary (what a rush!), but not impossible. Only a few times did either of us scamper to the top of a rock, and yell down that it was a dead end.

The sun began to fall around 7pm. Before we knew it, three hours of wandering about had passed, so we had to chase the sun to find our way out. Luckily, we were somewhat able to get an idea of our location by standing atop one of the higher walls, and Michael pulled out his handy iPhone compass. After a few guesses and a couple more daring leaps, we recovered our tracks from hours earlier, which led us to the car — exhilarated, refreshed, and starving.

fiery4

 

Where to?

Dead Horse Point State Park: State Route 313 | Moab, UT 84532

Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch Trail

The Whale

Arches National Park Visitor Center:  Arches Entrance Rd | UT 84532

 Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park

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Utah 2014! A Belated Trip Guide

It’s been almost five months since my big vacation of 2014: a 10-day roadtrip throughout Utah with my best travel buddy/super-fun boyfriend. I had ambitious plans to detail the entire…

It’s been almost five months since my big vacation of 2014: a 10-day roadtrip throughout Utah with my best travel buddy/super-fun boyfriend. I had ambitious plans to detail the entire trip in a series of blog posts, but it’s definitely a time-consuming project. So, I decided to organize what I have now, but encourage you to come back and check for fresh new content as I find the time to reminisce the specifics. For now, though, here’s a brief overview about this special vacation.

In addition to it being the first “big” trip of the relationship (stuck with each other on the road, trails, hangriness and exhaustion), personally it was the most physically demanding journey I had ever been on. Hiking and climbing for up to 10 miles a day was definitely different; doing it for 10 days straight with major driving in between (bless Michael’s heart for taking the wheel for most of the trip) pushed me to a point of quiet mania at some points, loud asthma attacks at others. Looking back now, and even looking back then during one of the hotter, more frustrating desert hikes, I don’t regret it. Besides, I came back with a pretty sweet tan and plenty of great memories.

utah_all

If this whole series is TL;DR, here are some highlights from the trip that always make me smile:

  • Screen-shot-2014-10-17-at-10.57.48-PM-300x252Hiking Angel’s Landing for the first time. On top of constant asthma attacks throughout the 4.5 hour hike, Michael did not warn me that we’d eventually exit the switchbacks to climb a frigging 1,488 foot cliff, with nothing to hold on to but chains and, I don’t know, nothing. As terrifying as it was, and as mad as I was at the time, I can’t wait to return to do it again.
  • Going from desert to snow fall in the middle of May at Bryce Canyon. As we drove towards Bryce, we piled on our winter layers and rejoiced at elevation markers. While hiking that day, we found ourselves taking shelter under a few pine trees to wait out the thick flurries.
  • Scrambling through the Fiery Furnace, an unmarked, natural maze of sandstone walls in Arches National Park. No guides, no people around, really. We relied on our memory and instincts, which is kind of hard because it was basically a giant rock playground and we just wanted to be irresponsible and climb everything. It was great!
  • Winning the lottery to hike the Wave. Out of 100 people, we won two of the ten available spots to hike that day! Lucky number 7. It was the last hike of our trip, included almost every terrain we walked on over the 10 days. Again, an unmarked trail except for the photo map the park provided for our reference.
  • And of course, that time we hiked Waterholes Canyon at high noon for two hours in the blazing, unforgiving sun. I got mad, and mad dehydrated. Once we drove out of the parking lot, we revived with a can of ice cold soda and an order of Sonic tots. Then, we jumped into Lake Meade for the most perfect cool-off in history.
  • That time some hikers thought they heard a cougar giving birth (“We heard lamaze breathing!”), and we went to look for it, but only found a loud, frog. Ribbeting.
  • Burritos. Too many power bars. Just enough PB & J sandwiches.
  • And more. Check out the video.

On a helpful note, if you’re itching to retrace steps, you can check out our detailed, 10-day itinerary on Google Maps!

Enjoy the mini-guide in progress. It’ll get done one day.

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Zion National Park, Utah

We jumped off the plane, excited to enjoy some dry desert, shorts, and exposed skin. I had slept nearly the  entire journey there, and Michael was ready to explode from boredom and restless…

We jumped off the plane, excited to enjoy some dry desert, shorts, and exposed skin. I had slept nearly the  entire journey there, and Michael was ready to explode from boredom and restless limbs. Pulling out of the Vegas car rental lot and onto the scalding road which we would practically live on for the next 10 days (May 10 – 19), we threw on the obligatory get-pumped playlist and honked the horn in victory. Vacation at last!

Not just any vacation, of course. An outdoors adventure had been dreamed up and theorized from the very start of our quick friendship. One thing I learned about Michael right away was that he doesn’t dream— he makes it happen, fast. And before I knew it, I was saving up for my plane ticket to Utah.

Day 1

It was 200 miles from Vegas to Zion National Park, the first stop of our odyssey. We filled the time with burritos, silly conversation, and Harry Potter on audio book, stopping once to tend to the crisis of finding a nail in the tire of our rental. Once swapped out, we gunned it Zion, hoping to fit in a hike before sundown. Success!

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Watchman Trail

“Kim, did you enjoy this hike?” Michael asked. When I said yes, he replied, “Good, because it’ll be like this all day tomorrow, for hours. Can you take that?” Stubbornly always up for the challenge, I said in my duh voice, Uh, yeah.”

Day 2

It was not like that. We woke up around 5:30 the next morning. Having slept in the roomy back of our Kia during the previous night’s storm, I tried not to roll around in my sleeping bag as Michael drove up to the Canyon Overlook trail to catch a great sunrise view. The ride up itself was awesome, in every sense of the word, especially going through the majestic, man-carved Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel (which will later lead us directly to Bryce).

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Michael doing morning broga on the Canyon Overlook trail.

Post-morning hike, we headed back towards town and secured a campsite. Breakfast of pb + j + bananas before catching a shuttle up to the trails. I’m feeling good, refreshed, and lovey dovey. I could easily see myself doing this for the next few days. Then we got to Angels Landing. That is when shit got real.

Angels Landing

Location: The Grotto – Zion Canyon
Difficulty: Strenuous; steep with exposure to long drop-offs
Length: 5 miles (round trip), 4-5 hours
Elevation change: 1,488 feet
Source

Now, Michael and I have been gym buddies for quite some time, dealing with ridiculous workouts and the subsequently short fuses that come with it (mostly from me). One workout that I particularly hate but can respect the quick results is our legs day 45-flight of stairs climb. My problematic asthma kicks up almost immediately, my chest feels tight and twisted, and I usually get a murder-y look in my eyes for the next 25 minutes til we reach the top of the building.

Angels Landing, a hike Michael claimed to know everything about and was eager to conquer it, was about 4 hours-worth of legs day, plus wind, heat, and most unexpectedly, heights. I had imagined a darling 1-hour hike and lunch. Let’s start from the top. Or rather, the bottom.

Steep. Michael pointed to the top of a cliff formation in front of us. “We’re going up there!” he exclaimed. I was impressed, but honestly didn’t know what getting to that destination entailed. Imagine my surprise when only 10 minutes into the hike, I could feel my lungs tighten in that dying way as the flat switchbacks turned simply and impossibly…vertical.

“Isn’t this amazing!” Michael said cheerfully as I peeled off l layer after layer of clothing, my heart wanting so badly to share in the happiness but my eyes uncontrollably shooting every sharp object imaginable in his direction. ”

SO GOOD,” I wheezed, as the trail got higher, catching the view of the indeed, very amazing and gorgeous green valley in its entirety. Achieved hikers pounded past us effortlessly, giddy from completing the hike. That’ll be me soon, I thought hopefully. It wasn’t, but a mix of those torturous switchbacks and relaxing walks through wide canyons helped me catch my breath. Though physically shocked, the beauty was not missed on me.

Prior to the trip, in anticipation of a true, mind-blowing experience, I refrained from looking at any pictures of the places on our itinerary. I’ve of course seen photos from Utah in passing, but never attached a name to the image. On top of that, having been raised on a healthy dose of you’ll-die-if-you-run and family TV night marathons of Rescue 9-1-1, I never thought I’d actually be there, on a trip like this. Speaking of things I never thought I’d do, we finally reached to the top— or at least I thought it was the top, until I saw a truly ridiculous sight.

angels2

A truly ridiculous sight.

See that thin cliff right there? With those stacks of rocks to step on and nothing to hold on to except those bolted chains and maybe a helping hand from a kindly hiker? Yeah. It wasn’t over, not even close! I knew there was no turning back. I mean, it was right there. I could turn around and never know my physical capabilities and the view, of course, or I could push myself, and my fear, and get to the top. The real top.

“Several fatalities,” are the words that the automated announcer spoke on the shuttle, while describing Angels Landing. I figured they were just fighting words, an attempt to freak people out and monitor crowd control. No. I see now that this was a legit concern that wouldn’t escape my mind, along with thoughts like, “My dad’s gonna kill me for doing this,” “People call this fun?!” and “Shit shit shitshitfuckfuckshitfuckshit.”

After awhile, though, I began to realize that this shit was fuckin’ fun. A few years ago, I took a very involved self-defense class that had the students fight a foul-mouthed actor in a padded suit, using full force while acknowledging and therefore utilizing the adrenaline you were running on, to survive. Ever since, I’d been looking for ways to act on that adrenaline rush— like riding a bike through the city, which I love doing. As I instinctively pulled myself up those narrow foot ledges, peeling off and putting on my layers according to the manic weather patterns around the corner, I felt simply super, and was determined to make it like everyone else hiking Angels Landing would make it that day. Also, I couldn’t have Michael finish without me. He wouldn’t have let that happen, anyway.

 

Where to?

Google Maps Route: Check out our round trip stops.

Watchman Trail: Zion National Park, Utah

Angels Landing: Zion National Park, Utah

Zion Outfitters ($5 showers): 95 Zion Park Blvd | Springdale, UT 84767

Zion Pizza & Noodle Co.: 868 Zion Park Blvd | Springdale, UT 84767

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