Saturday, October 26, 2019

East Temple Zion

I said fuck it to finances and took the week off work to travel to Virgin, Utah. My dad and his friends-on-wheels boondock here every Autumn to hike in & around Zion National Park. I've joined my Pops on quite a few RV adventures now, but only once before to this mystical section of the Southwest. I LOVE UTAH.

I cherish these trips with my Dad and will always find the time and means for them. I'm acutely aware that these days spent exploring and lounging together are ones I'll look back on in absolute reverence. These scarce experiences, when you're living out a future memory and you're actually aware of it in the moment, are so rare and delectable.

Many beautiful scenes, trails, and photos to share from another glorious week in the desert. The most memorable moment though, was one of me choking down some humble pie- and that's the one I choose to commemorate.

On our second day of hiking, resident badass Mark suggested we do a scramble up to the saddle below East Temple and attempt a loop they had never done before. Now, these guys have done damn near every trail in the area, so I was instantly intrigued. We started on the Canyon Overlook Trail, probably one of the busiest within the East Canyon as it's super easy and accessible. It's a fun one though, with some standout crossings.

Once at the view point, I took the obligatory photos before we turned to face the obstacle behind us. The East Temple is a 7,000+ foot Navajo Sandstone peak and it's daunting as hell to an out of shape, under practiced, sea level Seattlelite.

The face of a person who does not yet understand what they are about to hike

I had a great attitude to start, so onward we went; zig-zagging our way across and up mostly firm sandstone to crest each new level of shelf. This was achilles stretching vertical grade, bordering on achilles snapping. It felt cartoonish, walking straight up a rock incline with no trail and no rope. I struggled to trust my footing on the unfamiliar stone and kept reducing myself to a crab to hoist my weight up. In the process, I bumped my Hydroflask out of the side pocket of my pack. It banged its way down, echoing fiercely thanks to the 5000 ft. gaping canyon below.

It was really that simple. The ricochet of my water bottle cascading out of sight, top breaking free, water flying, instantly made me nauseous. Suddenly what I was doing felt very literal and not at all adventurous- rather absolutely fucking crazy. Here I was, awkwardly ascending the side of a mountain on all fours like a demonic creature, sweat lining my palms, with zero experience in technical climbing. I completely freaked out. The idea of actually having to come down what I'd already come up suddenly consumed me. I felt so incredibly sick, dizzy, and emotional. My legs were weak, and I began to tear up involuntarily. I have never once cried or lost it this brutally on a hike. Not on Angel's Landing, nor Mt. Storm King in snow, even in the midst of a winter white out.

As it turns out, I am merely human. I am equally floored and relieved by the reminder. I don't know how I got in my own head so severely that afternoon, but I did. Suddenly I hated the feeling of straddling that rock more than absolutely anything. I desperately wanted to chicken out, ironically frozen in the desert heat.

Eventually I accepted my state: suspended, closer to the top than the bottom, with three other people who had not experienced the mental and gut wrenching shift I had. Cajoled, forced, implored, whatever you call it- I made it up to the saddle eventually.

The triumph of success was met on equal ground with embarrassment and self analysis. Why'd I freak out? What happened? Am I not cut out for this kind of adventure, so easily accessed by the people I am drawn to and respect? These stories of inadequacy are always hovering in my consciousness. 

We can come a long way in our lives. Be a lot of people. The experience of freezing on this route brought me back to uncomfortable memories of my childhood self. I was the emblematic scaredy-cat. Always homesick, forever worried, prone to hide away with a book rather than engage in any kind of competitive or risky activity. Honestly, I think I called home crying from camp every summer until 7th grade. I struggled tremendously to let go.

It still amazes my family how far I've come. What I'm willing to do alone, which is everything. They were flabbergasted when I continued to hike solo after dislocating my kneecap and limp-crawling my way out. Many remain surprised by my dedication to live alone and my willingness to spend so much time away from...everything. Out here in the boonies, living the dream. My Dream. My, how we change..

Fear of misstep, failure, and falling is so rational and valid. Regardless, somehow we have to invite moments where we can make peace with the fact that life will repeatedly become unmanageable or unsafe. If we can't invite them, we can allow them. If we don't allow them, we will crumble. If you are looking for a place to test this fact, I highly recommend the desert.

The durability of the desert and its commitment to persevere is nothing short of astounding. Long gone eras exposed in layers of weather worn stone. The red rock and sandstone monuments of Utah are distinct and deliberate in their resistance to being overthrown. Yet, there is also an undercover vulnerability to the rugged aesthetic of the desert. Nights that see temperatures drop to shocking digits, winds that can rattle the teeth out of your mouth. Rocks turned to crumbling shale, and mountains quilted by years of freezing and unfreezing. Everything that exists is tested. Nothing is as untouchable as it may appear.

The desert isn't particularly safe, and certainly not predictable. It's an ecosystem of extremes, and it serves its purpose to any who chose to wander in. Or, to scramble up-

"I am learning to pray again. Not in the way I was taught as a child, but in all the ways the desert has taught me to listen." -Terry Tempest Williams
What a wild and wondrous blessing to hike through one of the busiest national parks in the country and rarely run into another soul. It sure is good to know the right people!
Many thanks to Dad, Bobbie, and Mark for another great trip.  

You can read Mark's two part summary of our epic hike here and here

For those who have been to Zion or are otherwise interested, we completed Joe's East Temple Loop: Canyon Overlook trail ---> East Temple Saddle ---> the other side of the Temple, making our way down past Shelf Canyon and into Pine Creek Canyon.


  1. It is always such a pleasure meeting up with your dad to play in the deserts of Utah and Arizona, and even more fun when you show up (almost) every year. We take it as a challenge to find people-less nooks and crannies in one of the busiest National Parks. So thrilled that you were "down" with following us off the beaten path.
    mark and bobbie

    1. Heh, Heh. Always Down, even if I lose it momentarily. Can't wait to hear about the new RV and adventures therein!

  2. I feel the same sense of gratitude and fortune getting to hike with Dad (Mark) and Step-Mom (Bobbie). Love the blog, first time reading.

    1. Hey, Thanks Caleb! So glad you read and enjoyed. Your dad talks about you and your wife all the time. It is really fun to hang and hike with them all. Maybe we will all hit a trail one day!


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