Their loss. Clouds drift up the canyon and shower us with more flaky wonder. Up here in the Wasatch, low-flying clouds will replenish the high mountains for another couple of days. It's the type of perfect late season powder skiing many people might not realize exists. When Utah resorts turn into your own private heli-ski tenures. Days like this are why we live in Utah, but at one o'clock we pull the plug, giddy on face shots.
There are other reasons we live in Utah. Fifteen minutes later we are down the canyon, double-checking everything we'd packed the night before and 10 minutes after that we are on the road heading south. In Salt Lake, it's 50 degrees.
Less than three hours after our last face shots, we're pulling mountain bikes off the car at a trailhead in Price, Utah. The town of Price is cultivating its landscape to draw some mountain bikers and it's gaining momentum. For an hour we tear along singletrack on Luke's trail; twisting, turning, and swooping through sagebrush and juniper. Two hours later we're pulling into Moab. It's in the high 60s. Town is alive with spring, but the dreaded Jeep Safari is over—the crowds gone. In the distance, The La Sals glow red in the final light of the day. Not too far after the pavement ends, we rendezvous with our friends from Colorado who've staked out two campsites.
You could hunker down in the Moab area for weeks and still find fresh things to do. Nearby Canyonlands National Park is the biggest in Utah, three times the size of Zion, but it is the least visited of all the major National Parks. After that there's hiking around the Fiery Furnace in Arches; rock climbing in Indian Creek; and mountain biking Porcupine Rim. We're here for the mountain biking, too, but you already know about the mountain biking.
Our crew settles on a spring ski mountaineering outing to the La Sals. In the morning we run a car shuttle and leave a vehicle at snowline. From Geyser Pass it's a three mile skin and bootpack over and down into Gold basin and then up to the summit of Mt. Tukuhnikivatz. We carry ice axes and crampons but hope for softening corn snow so we don't need them. The season is short here. The area is prone to avalanches and our intended line—on the southwest face of Tuk—is a terrain trap of ultimate consequence. The face is the proud one you see from 191 south of Moab. The shot is the Southwest Couloir—3,500 feet of steep fall line corn skiing, arguably the best shot in the La Sals. We want to ski it while gazing at the crazy jumble of Canyonlands, skis slipping effortlessly from turn to turn in perfect corn an inch deep. But the snowpack doesn't play along and we end up skiing low angle trees. Next time.
In the morning we go canyoneering. Zion is famous for the dedicated canyoneering crowd, but the Moab area has some options, too. It's Intro to Canyoneering. A few miles past Ken's Lake on a dirt road, Entrajo Canyon makes for a half-day outing that wends you through a few slots, gets you wet, and sports some rappels—the last one a two-stage hundred-footer. Entrajo gets its name from the two sandstone layers it passes through, Entrada and Navajo. We start out hiking on the dirt road, take a fork and then leave the trail, scrambling uphill for about 20 minutes until we top out with views of the surrounding desert. Then it's a series of slots and a few raps one of which deposits you in waist deep water we trudge through for 30 yards—a little excitement with the chill.
The next day finds me out at Indian Creek with my friends, Dave and Greg, watching them work out on a wicked face/crack combo that's a 5.12 before they set me up on a corner that's more my speed. It's a perfect crack that goes from good finger and hand and foot holds to an off width which starts requiring bigger jams involving more arm and leg. As I near the top my forearms are cramping, I give a quick yell below just as my arms give out, "Got me?" I don't mind hanging a minute to shake out my arms, it's the only way I can keep going and negotiate a little roof, the last move before the chains. Lack of polished technique leaves me with some scrapes that are telltale signs of a hack, but I top out feeling pretty damn good about it. I like crack climbing the best, it's supposed to be tough on you, but cracks seem easy to understand.
I spend a few days, sometimes weeks, surrounded by warm sandstone. A cherished tradition, a rejuvenation, a rekindling of the senses. By the end of the ski season the desert is like paradise found. Toes come out of their winter prison and wiggle, skin that has been buried beneath layers soaks up the sun, my entire body revels in less clothes and the warmth. Camping out relaxes the soul. The desert is coming back to life. I come back with it.
|Holiday Expeditions offers a variety of multi- sport options—rafting, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking—in Canyonlands National Park and on the Colorado Plateau system. A bike-raft combo, including three days of mountain biking on the White Rim and four days rafting the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, starts at $1,395 per person. Or spend two days mountain biking the La Sals and two days rafting through Westwater Canyon for $795. [bikeraft.com]||Gearheads on Main Street in Moab is a tiny powerhouse of an outdoor store—with so much stuff inside they have to hang it from the ceiling. Like having an REI in your basement. Fill your containers with filtered water here for free.||
The Desert Bistro at Moab Springs Ranch on the north edge of town offers a relaxed, elegant atmosphere with two quaint dining rooms and a patio. It’s upscale, but approachable, and features fresh local ingredients. Nightly specials include wild game and fresh seafood. Complete wine list and full bar. [desertbistro.com]
|Moab Desert Adventures is Moab’s oldest climbing and canyoneering guide service, offering trips for all abilities with rock climbing on desert towers or canyoneering through slots. Instruction available. [moabdesertadventures.com]||Milt’s Stop & Eat has been a fixture in Moab since 1954. This old school luncheonette with burgers, shakes, and fries; you can sit on the patio under the trees and grab your food at the window. You can’t miss it on the way to the Slickrock Trail. It’s behind Dave’s Corner Market where you turn off 400 E [miltsstopandeat.com]|
From the Spring 2010 issue