Made to Be Broken

This essay first appeared in the pages of the Utah Adventure Journal.

Zion National Park, Utah.
Zion National Park, Utah.


I was late.

Charlie, Bowe and I had started the day in the half occupied Watchman Campground. After breakfast beneath the yellow cottonwood leaves we obtained a backcountry permit then found our way into Mystery Canyon. Following the government shutdown last September, where visitors were forced to make other autumn travel plans, the park felt vacant. Hours later, after wandering through the solitude of a narrow fold in the desert; following eight rappels, a swim and plenty of wading, one final abseil remained to escape. The clock was ticking. I’d agreed to pick up my wife in the town of Hurricane at five. Perched 130 feet above the Virgin River in the shadows of the November afternoon Charllie threaded the anchor then Bowe tossed the rope. I watched as its coils butterflied open between walls of water-carved sandstone. Wading the final leg of the trek five o’clock came and went. Ignoring the sunset sky, I stepped out of the river, peeled off my wet suit, and began jogging toward the car.

Charlie rapping in Mystery Canyon, Zion National Park.
Charlie rapping in Mystery Canyon, Zion National Park.

The clock read six as we pulled up to the dark factory. Headlights illuminated the doorway and Jacki’s solemn face appeared. “I’ve decided to work tomorrow,” she announced over dinner. She was not happy. Sometimes this happens. When asked if we could talk about it she simply said, “later.” Our relationship, like climbing, is not always easy.

The day prior to Mystery Canyon, Charlie, Bowe and I had bushwhacked through sage, salt and rabbit brush, eventually finding our way to the base of the Watchman and a route named The Vigil. The initial pitch began as many Zion routes do, moss-covered, sandy, loose and awkward, but somehow it was manageable. The off-angled fist crack of the second pitch looked intimidating, but with a little work it unfolded. During the third pitch, which cast out onto wild features in the Navajo sandstone leaving the crack behind, the sun crested the summit of the Watchman and began warming the rock. Then we hit a snag.

The first of two dead ends had me climbing a flared, lichen-filled crack that I repeatedly greased out of. The second involved traversing over a section of loose blocks to access a fingertip dihedral. 30 feet higher the seam petered out with nothing on the horizon. Slowly and deliberately I made my way back to the belay. After consulting the topo and I discovered an unlikely escape to our right bolt out right. Heads-up, run out climbing on delicate patina edges and shallow cracks put us back on track. Dirt and brush rained down the cliff as I clambered to the shelf above.

Charlie throws the rope on the Watchman, Zion National Park.
Charlie throws the rope on the Watchman, Zion National Park.

From the halfway ledge on the Watchman we sized up the five remaining pitches. In the light of the setting sun the stone appeared immaculate. Below the village of Springdale hummed with traffic, the cottonwoods lining the Virgin River shimmered with golden leaves and the park’s canyon walls held an inviting glow. A late start followed by a longer than expected approach combined with my poor route-finding skills equaled we’d run out of time. Without a word we exchanges a look then descended.

Rock Lobster, Indian Creek, Utah.
Rock Lobster, Indian Creek, Utah.

I first met Jacki during a weekend trip to Indian Creek. I recall thrashing my way to each set of anchors only to have her come along and casually float up the cracks. What had taken me half a life to obtain as a full time devotee, Jacki appeared to have been born with. Over the course of the weekend I learned she was a recent divorcee, mother of two and had just begun climbing. She was way out of my league.

Friday in Zion, after delivering Jacki back to the factory, we pulled the car over near the entrance to the Mt Carmel Tunnel. Bowe wanted to photograph Charlie and Paul climbing so I offered to rig the rope up The Headache, a classic three-pitch route. I reached my hand into the splitter crack and flexed. The sandy grains set into my skin and I stepped up. Shuffling quietly through a wider section, letting my feet do most of the work, I noted the wavy nature of the rock then changed corners and settled into the belay. Bowe followed, occasionally sagging onto the rope to snap frames. Across the way shadows swept their way from left to right along the flanks of East Temple Peak. Below, cars crawled up the road, winding their way through hairpin corners before vanishing into the mountain. I could hear the camera’s shutter open and close.

Lichen on Navajo sandstone, Zion National Park.
Lichen on Navajo sandstone, Zion National Park.

More than half a year passed before I mustered enough courage to ask Jacki out. One of the first dates was a weekend in the Tetons. The forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms so we settled on an alpine start. Morning light hit the tents in Garnet Canyon as we walked quietly by. Above the Caves, up the talus, we found our way onto the folds of golden quartz and grey gneiss of Irene’s Arête. Swapping leads we made our way quickly and quietly up. Scurrying along the knife-edge ridge as it joined the main body of Disappointment Peak the clouds that had been filing in from Idaho became energized. Carabiners buzzed and hair stood on end. Without a chance to enjoy the top Jacki and I dashed down the decent gully.

Jacki topping out on Dihedral of Horrors, Death Canyon, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
Jacki topping out on Dihedral of Horrors, Death Canyon, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

The next day in the Tetons the weather had worsened so we hiked. From a perch among ancient spruce trees Jacki and I looked down to Phelps Lake. The sky flashed white followed by a clap of thunder. Turning from me Jacki spoke. “You should move to Jackson.” The wall of mist, obscuring the mouth of Death Canyon, rolled toward us. Cool drops of rain penetrated the thin canopy above. “Someone like you shouldn’t be tied to me and the kids. You should be here, in these mountains…” Water dripped from her chin.

Jacki reluctantly joined our group Saturday for some Zion cragging. Blowing from the west the wind pounded us at the Confluence Crag. As part of a group of five, Jacki and I avoided sharing a rope. After a quick lap on Salty Dog Arête, Gunslinger and Crimson King, Jacki chose to leave when Bowe and Paul announced they’d had enough of the wind. I was not invited. Feeling left behind I continued climbing with Charlie.

The wind tugged at the rope incessantly while we explored the two pitch bolted line named The Tribute. Large elephant ear holds aided in not being blown off as we scrambled to the top of the climb. I threaded the chain then Charlie threw the rope. We watched as the wind bustled it into a twisted mess. Charlie lowered himself down, cleaning the rope from its tangles one foot at a time.

Fynn, Josie and Jacki on the shores of Deep Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming.
Fynn, Josie and Jacki on the shores of Deep Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

After five years full of wrong turns and plenty of backtracking, but double the amount of happiness, Jacki and the kids allowed me to join their family. Under an autumn sky in Salt Lake we fastened our hands to the kid’s in a union where we promised to listen and understand.

“Are you busy today?” I asked early Sunday morning. “Um, kind of,” Jacki replied her eyes still closed. “I was wondering if we could go climbing together, just the two of us?” “Mmm, maybe… but first I have to share something with you” I listened. “Sometimes I feel like you put my needs behind everyone else’s,” Jacki’s voice was soft, “and I hate the fact that it bothers me.” I apologized again for being late. “Waiting for you the other night I realized that I rely on you and it pisses me off. No matter how much I fight it and hate to admit it… I need you.”

Arriving to the second belay.
Arriving to the second belay.

The shuttle bus was nearly empty when we boarded at the visitor center. “I can’t remember the last time we did a route together,” Jacki spoke over the announcements. I couldn’t either. Getting off at the Zion Lodge we found a trail among cactus and beneath limbs of gamble oak. Flaking the rope at the base of “Made to Be Broken”, a five pitch bolted route on the Carbuncle Buttress that requires no gear other than quickdraws, Jacki was skeptical. It had been described as quality face climbing containing run-outs on delicate rock. I saw it as having set anchors that would be easy to bail from. “Let’s find out just how hard it can be,” I suggested. “We’ll just take it one pitch at a time,” she reminded me.

High up on pitch three.
High up on pitch three.

Leaving the ground I high stepped my right foot then rocked up committing to a meandering path from bolt to bolt. Smooth, clean features emerged from the lichen-covered stone revealing the way. Jacki, who stands 62 inches tall, struggled to leave the ground. After several attempts to smear her feet high she accepted a boost from the rope then eased her way up. At the end of the first pitch she reluctantly weighted the anchors. “I hate hanging belays,” she shuttered. I wrapped an arm around her. “Should we rap or do you want to see about the second pitch?” I told her it was up to her. She studied my face then after a few deep breaths nodded and we continued.

The sequence above the belay, out right then traversing left, unsettled me. Stepping up then down repeatedly my legs began to quiver. Reverting to a common saying when climbing together, knowing that she would have no problem following, I quipped, “Come on Jack. How hard could it be?” She smiled and I went on. Joining me at the next anchor her worry was gone. From there our conversation tapered being replaced by the movement and exposure. Tension, frustration, and anger were released and floated freely up the rust colored walls. Right foot, left foot, right hand then left. It could have lasted ten minutes or ten hours, but after losing track of time the five pitches were suddenly below us. For a brief moment we were surprised to be standing together on the prow of the Carbuncle Buttress soaking up the autumn sun.

The summit of Carbuncle Buttress.
The summit of Carbuncle Buttress.

While Jacki and I shared a bench in front of the lodge waiting for the next shuttle to arrive a pair of kit foxes emerged from a stand of oak, their large ears calling our attention. Glancing at us and the other tourists they soon faded back to the brush. I smiled. The two climbers we passed while rapping Carbuncle could be heard yelling to one another in the distance. The colors of the canyon walls shifted in the afternoon light. I cradled Jacki’s hand gently in mine. As a bus pulled in I leaned forward to stand. “Where are you going?” Jacki asked. I told her I didn’t want to be late. Pulling me back to the bench, allowing the shuttle to pass, she smiled. “You already are.”

Copyright louis arevalo 2014.

Winter’s Sunrise.

I have never regretted waking before dawn… Especially in the snowy months.

Split board mission in Wyoming. Day after day of pre 4am wake ups definitely made a mark, but scenes like this one made everyone worthwhile. First light in the Grand Teton National Park.
Split board mission in Wyoming. Day after day of pre 4am wake ups definitely made a mark, but scenes like this one made everyone worthwhile. First light in the Grand Teton National Park.
March 2013. Wolverine Cirque sunrise mission take two. On our first trip the week prior clouds on the horizon obscured dawn. Second go, not a cloud in sight.
March 2013. Wolverine Cirque sunrise mission take two. On our first trip the week prior clouds on the horizon obscured dawn. Second go, not a cloud in sight.
December 2014. The iconic south face of Mount Superior is not a secret. It's been skied every which way and photographed as much… I sort of avoided shooting it until now… Don't ask me why.
December 2014. The iconic south face of Mount Superior is not a secret. It’s been skied every which way and photographed as much… I sort of avoided shooting it until now… Don’t ask me why.
January 2015. Morning twilight in the Little Cottonwood ridge line. The warm glow of the coming dawn makes it easy to forget that at the moment of this image temperatures were hovering in the single digits.
January 2015. Morning twilight in the Little Cottonwood ridge line. The warm glow of the coming dawn makes it easy to forget that at the moment of this image temperatures were hovering in the single digits.
April 2014. It's funny how much the Wasatch clears out once spring arrives. Luckily there are friends who take advantage of the deep snow pack and lack of crowds. Sunrise from Flagstaff.
April 2014. It’s funny how much the Wasatch clears out once spring arrives. Luckily there are friends who take advantage of the deep snow pack and lack of crowds. Sunrise from Flagstaff.
April 2014. The idea of connecting the seven ski areas of the Wasatch is not new. Last year there was new life breathed into it. If completed it would consume excellent backcountry terrain. Sunrise from Clayton Peak.
April 2014. The idea of connecting the seven ski areas of the Wasatch is not new. Last year there was new life breathed into it. If completed it would consume excellent backcountry terrain. Sunrise from Clayton Peak.

Exit stage left.

The initial pitch began as many Zion routes do. Dirty, sandy, loose and awkward, but somehow it was manageable. The off-angled fist crack of the second pitch looked intimidating, but it too was achieved. Bowe led the flared hand crack of the third pitch that soon cast out onto the wild features Navajo sandstone is known for. During this pitch the sun crested the summit of the Watchman and warmed the November cold from the rock’s face. Going off a vague route description I began the fourth pitch. The first of two dead ends had me climbing a mossy flared crack that I repeatedly greased out of. The second dead end involved traversing a deteriorating section of stacked blocks covered in patches of grass to accessing a tapering finger dihedral. Eventually the seam petered out and I found nothing on the horizon. Character building down climbing followed.

Ten feet above the belay I discovered the unlikely escape from the flared crack. Run out climbing through elephant ears, patina edges and shallow cracks put us back on track. Dirt and moss rained down the cliff as I clambered to the anchors. It was heads up climbing and I liked it. Bowe and Charlie, not so much.

From the ledge we stared at the pitches above. It was just before sunset and in the sharp light the stone appeared immaculate, begging to be climbed. Below the village of Springdale hummed with traffic, the cottonwoods shimmered with their golden leaves and the surrounding sandstone appeared warm and inviting. Five more demanding rope lengths remained to gain the top. Without a speaking a word we looked at each other and chose to rappel.

Rapping the Watchman.
Rapping the Watchman.


Did I ever tell you I studied journalism in school? Yeah, and somehow I ended up taking more photography classes than writing classes. It was something I’d always been interested in and during school it became the fun easy class I looked forward to each semester.Skiing Seduction Drainage, Icefall Lodge, BC Canada, February 2014.

Out of school instead of finding a job at a newspaper or magazine to refine the writing and photo skills I chose to keep my job as a deliveryman and play hard. Climbing, skiing, backpacking and traveling became the main focus of life for over a decade. During this time I’d browse through magazines then say to myself, “I can do better than that.” It was complete arrogance and ignorance.

It wasn’t until my thirties that I decided to walk the walk. I blew the dust off my film camera then after much resistance, purchased a digital one and began writing regularly. I was going to do better. Guess what? I fell flat on my face.

Turns out making better photographs in the outdoor realm was not as easy as understanding iso, shutter speeds and f-stops. And writing… what can I say? Nobody wanted another trip report to Indian Creek and leads, nut graphs, body, structure, they all felt so impossible. I should have quit, but somehow didn’t.  One photo eventually turned out and one editor took pity on me so I slowly limped by.Skiing Seduction Drainage, Icefall Lodge, BC Canada, February 2014.

It feels like yesterday, but somehow years have passed. All the lessons from school make more sense. That whole shooting a white egg on a white sheet is brilliant. The mantra of one of my writing professors, “Focus! Focus! Focus!” is louder today than it was in the classroom. And the current lessons, the ones they couldn’t teach in a classroom are a daily occurrence.  The difference now, even though I still regularly stumble, is that sometimes I don’t, but mostly I still do.

Yeah, so I studied journalism in school and now I’m learning how to make better stories one face plant at a time.Skiing Seduction Drainage, Icefall Lodge, BC Canada, February 2014.

Threadbare part 3 of 3

This is an essay that was first published in the Summer 2012 issue of the Utah Adventure Journal.

Sunday morning, with the smell of juniper and sage in the air, Elizabeth and I ran to Flaming Rock. Last year she had backed off Rain Dance, the two-pitch route to its summit. This year she cruised it, only hesitating at an overlap on the second pitch. Getting her down the backside was a bit touchier.  She crawled to the edge of the face then wrapped her arms around my neck. I gently set her below the anchor and told her it would be fine. Releasing her arms from my neck her lips quivered for a moment then relaxed as I let out rope.

To the Bread Loaves, we chose Twist and Crawl. As she jammed her tiny hands into the finishing crack her face pinched into a scowl.

“Liz, you look like a crack climber!” She responded by sticking out her tongue.









No one was on Skyline at 11 am Sunday morning so I made my way up. Only wanting to take her to the edge of comfort I had some doubt on this one. Steep and precarious, it might’ve been enough to unnerve her. As I neared the top a group of climbers appeared and asked Elizabeth when we would be done. Feeling awkward she asked not to climb it. I felt relieved.

The last formation of our trip was Elephant Rock. We arrived to an empty parking area and saw no climbers. To have the place to ourselves was a gift.

“It wont come out!” Elizabeth was having trouble removing the first cam.

“Take it easy. Squeeze the trigger then ease it out.” She got it and moved on to the next one. It was no problem.

“This is… scary!”

“You’re almost here. It’s the last climb of the trip.”

“I can’t get it!” 30 feet below me and 80 above the ground she was fussing with the final tcu. I had finessed it into a pod and now it’d require some guidance to retrieve. I took up the slack and had her sit on the rope. Her arms jerked up and down as she tried to pry the cam from the crack.

“Stop! Take a breath, Liz. It’s not a big deal.” Tears were falling; I could hear it. “Okay, now nice and easy, move it bit by bit.” It was my father’s voice. “Don’t force it. Never force anything, Liz.” She was trembling when she arrived to the belay. I hugged her tightly and told her she’d done awesome.

A father's hand reaches towards his son's hand.








I’d like to say the institution was a silver bullet, but it wasn’t. While I never returned to partying like I’d done in the past, time was needed to clean up. Rehab did, however, have an effect on the relationship with my dad. Although neither of us was able to speak about the past, we did develop a distant respect for one another. He no longer demanded anything from me and I took full responsibility for my actions. It seemed like this was a descent outcome to our differences, but after his death depression grabbed hold. It felt as if a dark and toxic cloud was suffocating me. For years I struggled to rectify these issues. At first I suffered from nightmares that revisited our altercations, then after time I began having dreams of regret where I was unable to speak, to tell him that I was sorry.  And now, more than decade later, I’m finally being comforted with dreams of his love.

As a young asthmatic I recall several trips to the emergency room. My dad would sit next to me speaking softly with his Peruvian accent.  “Luis, I want you to count backwards from the number ten.  At each number we will take a breath.” Sometimes he would count in Spanish, “Diez… Nueve… Ocho…” He would calmly walk me through relaxation exercises while my mom, near hysterical, would be demanding the doctors make me “breath like a normal child!” I struggle with this. Why is it so hard to get along with the ones we care most for?

The last memory I have of my dad is being in his room. I was 20 years old. After having his stomach removed in order to stop the spread of cancer, a procedure that his body didn’t accept, he had withered away and now his time was up. Afternoon light crept through thin drapes covering the windows. I sat next to his emaciated body. My weight was the only impression on the mattress. His eyes rolled in their sockets when I touched his hand.

“Dad…” they half opened. “How do you know you’re ready to have kids?” His lolling head snapped straight and the clouds vanished from his sunken eyes. Blinking in astonishment he feigned a smile. “How do you know?” I repeated.

“No one is ever ready for children, Luis.”








On a Sunday afternoon in June I sat with Elizabeth on the top of a granite formation in the City of Rocks. Other rocks rolled away from us, down into Circle Creek Basin. Smokey Mountain sat quietly, covered in dark pine. Turkey vultures floated in a blue sky with the sun beating down.

The fear I’ve known through climbing; embracing uncharted rock, getting buzzed by lightening, rolled over by refrigerator-sized blocks or falling, pales in comparison to the knowledge that I’m capable of despicable behavior. I worry about cross-threading my relationship with these children.

This was only climbing. How would I handle the kids when it became serious?

The thought paralyzed me. Elizabeth, no longer trembling, looked at me and smiled. My father was right. Considering my past I would never be prepared, but right or left, up or down, the next move was up to me.

copyright louis arevalo 2012

Discovering jems in your own back yard. What new areas have you recently discovered?

This article appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Utah Adventure Journal.


Sunset in front of Cobb Peak.
Sunset in front of Cobb Peak.

After saying good night to my wife and twelve-year-old stepdaughter, and while breathing in the lupine scented air I sensed something new and musky. Unzipping the tent I peered out from the edge of a large alpine cirque to see the sliver of a crescent moon low on the twilit horizon. On a whim to get away and explore someplace new, beautiful and hopefully not too crowded, we chose to backpack into the southwestern corner of the Pioneer Mountains near Sun Valley, Idaho. It was late July and we had just settled down for the night in Hyndman Basin. Above us, in the purple hue of sky, stars winked alive while my eyes adjusted to the light. Soon the silhouettes of half a dozen elk materialized in the gloaming. Near a babbling brook they fed on grasses and flowers before passing through camp, so close I could hear their breathing.

Checking in with Joe Miczulski at the Ketchum Ranger District Office of the Sawtooth National Forest, he agreed that the Pioneer’s, or Pio’s, don’t see as much human traffic as the surrounding ranges. This makes sharing ventures in the region with wildlife that includes black bear, elk, deer, mountain goats, mountains lions, coyotes and wolves, more common. “Even at the peak of summer use it seems you can always find solitude up near Hyndman,.. even more so if you spend the night.” He explained.

Sun Valley Trekking co-owner and Wood River Valley resident for nearly 13 years, Francie St. Onge, echoed Joe’s claim of less traffic and more wildlife. She also recommended it as a place to bring the kids. Francie has been bringing her four-year-old daughter, Neve, to Hyndman Basin since she was an infant. “It’s a great place to bring the kids with several options depending on their ability.” She recommended, for smaller children, making the journey to Outfitter Meadow, which sits at the western foot of Cobb Peak between Big and Hyndman Basin. At 9,000 feet the meadow contains a pond, pine trees, has a small creek running through it and is filled with areas for kids to play and families to camp.

Older kids can make it another mile and 1,000 feet into Hyndman Basin proper. There they can wander through gnarled firs or run through spring fed meadows that overflow with wildflowers. Paintbrush, sunflowers, elephant head, blue camas are only a few of the flowers they can identify. If the kids are up for additional elevation gain and more adventure make your way to the saddle between Old Hyndman and Hyndman Peak and follow the second-class trail to Idaho’s ninth highest point at 12,009 feet. From the summit of Hyndman Peak they will be rewarded with a 360-degree panorama that includes the highest point in the state, Mt. Borah.

An alternative to going into Hyndman Basin is the historic Pioneer Cabin. Parents with older children can easily make it a day hike. Built in the 1930’s by Sun Valley ski instructors this pine cabin, located on the western edge of the Pio’s, is open to the public and may be used on a first come first serve basis. The simple structure, donning an aluminum roof, single pane windows and containing a wood-burning stove offers stupendous views of not only the Pio’s, but the surrounding ranges as well. You may reach the cabin via Corral Creek, Johnstone Creek or Hyndman Creek. These can be out-and -back, through-hikes, or loops.

We chose the basin. Leaving the Hyndman Creek Trailhead that morning the three of us crossed a footbridge heading east. Following a gently graded, abandoned mining road we wandered through fields of grass peppered with firecracker penstemons, sego lilies and dancing aspens. For three reasonable miles, that eased Josie, my stepdaughter, into the hike, we passed and were passed by a few others before the trail steepened. Here it quickly climbed 600 feet depositing us in a meadow filled with the blooming lupine. Strolling by the vacant Pioneer Yurt, which is operated by Sun Valley Trekking during only the winter months, we found a comfortable spot beside the creek. Taking shelter from the sun beneath the trees we discovered vibrant columbine flowers. Refreshed by the passing water and cool breeze we lunched and discussed camping in the meadow. Unanimously we chose to make the final push into the basin. There we found a secluded site for our camp, set up and immediately ventured to the frosty waters of a small alpine lake. As we waded and skipped stones, a string of hikers meandered by, emptying the basin as the hour grew later. It was here that we encountered our only neighbors for the night; a group of five who had come to summit Hyndman.

Elephanthead wildflowers in Hyndman Basin, Pioneer Mountains, Idaho.
Elephanthead wildflowers in Hyndman Basin, Pioneer Mountains, Idaho.

In contrast to their neighboring ranges of Boulder, Smokey and Sawtooth Mountains, the Pioneers tower above not only in elevation, but also in their geological variety. According to geologist Darlene Batatian, who did her graduate work mapping the range, the creation of the Pioneers left visible layers of gneiss, quartzite, schist and other rocks for those who experience the area. The edge of Hyndman Basin, hanging above the canyons below on the rising side of a detachment fault, is an example of a Mylionitic zone, the place where the shearing force of the land either pulverized the rock into tiny crystals or morphed its structure into something else; the result being an array of color in the land that is both amazing and breathtaking.

Back at camp we spread a geology map in a field of wildflowers. Doing my best to find our location then identify different rock types, the sun dropped lower in a royal blue sky. The deepening hues were a rainbow of earth tones in the setting sun. As I read each description Josie pointed to the areas that seemed to match. The main peaks of Cobb, Old Hyndman and Hyndman, serrated and jagged, appeared to be gneiss, grey, featured and beautiful. Tilting rapidly off the southwestern slopes of Cobb and Duncan Ridge was a softer layer of yellow dolomite, eroding its way down into the canyons below. Casting our gaze West, toward Bald Mountain, we saw layers of orange tinted quartzite glinting off the lesser peaks and points before being swallowed by the greens of sage, pines and aspens that blanketed the land below.

That evening, after the elk had moved on, I fell into a deep slumber only to wake in the wee hours of the night. I crawled from the warmth of my bag and tent and stood still as the breeze caused goose bumps to rise from my arms. Above our tent ran the span of the Milkyway, streaking south from the summit of Hyndman across a star filled sky. It seemed to touch down in the Snake River Basin. I heard the wind whirling around the peaks, the stream passing by and the breathing of my wife and daughter, deep in slumber. I had one thought in my head before returning to bed, “We should always go on a whim.”

Milkyway above Easton Rimrock 2P tent, Hyndman Basin, Pioneer Mountains, Idaho.



Guide Book: Hiking Idaho  Ralph Maughan and Jackie Johnson Maughan  A Falcon Guide

Maps:  Hyndman Peak USGS quadrangle

For current conditions and restrictions Sawtooth National Forest Ketchum Ranger District  208-622-0090

Sun Valley Trekking:  208-788-1966

Outdoor stores:

Elephants Perch  208-726-3497

Sturtevants  425-454-6465

Backwoods Mountain Sports  208-726-8818

When to visit:

Visit midsummer for the height of flowers season, bring bug repellant to ward off mosquitoes and deer flies, and then return in autumn when the aspens leaves have changed from their usual green to a vibrant tangerine.

Getting to the trailhead:

Turn off Highway 75  5.5 miles north of Hailey. Drive 6 miles East. Take a hard left at sign that reads North Fork of Hyndman Creek. Drive 3 miles to the crossing of Johnstone Creek. Cross Johnstone Creek and continue another 1.5 miles to the parking area.


Hyndman Peak = Latitude: 43-44’57” N Longitude: 114-07’51” W

Pioneer Cabin = Latitude: 43-44’35” N Longitude: 114-11’29” W

Old Hyndman Peak = Latitude: 43-44’27” N Longitude: 114-07’01” W

Cobb Peak = Latitude: 43-43’52” N Longitude: 114-07’35” W

Duncan Ridge = Latitude: 43-45’03” N Longitude: 114-08’43” W

Big Basin = Latitude: 43-43’33” N Longitude: 114-07’09” W

Super Moon of the Grand Canyon. Where can you find solitude?

This was published in the Fall 2012 issue of Utah Adventure Journal.

“Where do you think the moon will rise?” I asked. Seated on a boulder made of scarlet sandstone, above the Esplanade Trail, in the southern border of the Kanab Creek Wilderness, Rachel pointed to the southeast horizon. Scanning past a gaping gorge in the surrounding desert stone our eyes rapidly climbed the spotted slopes of sandstone, shale and limestone and stopped at a juniper cover point beneath a sunlit cloud. It sat 3,000 feet above our current elevation and another 3,000 feet above the canyon’s floor. Lin, Rachel’s husband, guessed to her left, my wife, Jacki, guessed to his left and I to her left.

Saturday May 5, after the sun had gone, the four of us waited for the Super Moon. When Lin and Rachel invited us to backpack in Jump Up Canyon they promised an awesome weekend in a very special area of the Grand Canyon where “we’d explore like kids in a candy store… rock art, springs and blissin’ out”. This along with the full moon made it an easy sell, but I was still skeptical. I’d yet to visit one of the most popular destinations in the West over reluctance to share it some many others, but seated on our “Moon Rock”, having wandered the area for the day we had not seen another soul. As the sky deepened to cobalt blue any doubts I had about this weekend faded with the final light of day.

According to the Grand Canyon Park Profile 2012, compiled by the National Park Service, the area saw over 4,360,466 visitors last year. 4 Million of those visitors were passengers of the park shuttle, 132, 365 were train passengers, 106,467 floated the Colorado River, and 93,178 were backcountry users. Of the backcountry visitors only 41,000 used trails outside the corridor between the north and south rims. Fewer of these backcountry users spent the night and the number became even less for visits to Jump Up Canyon, a wash that feeds into the Kanab Creek, which joins the Colorado River from the north.

At 5:40 on a Saturday morning in May, my watched beeped. Lying among the low brush that popped from rusted soil south of Fredonia, Arizona, I left my bag. Friday night we had camped on the BLM land twenty miles north of the Jump Up Canyon Trailhead. The morning air smelled of sage. A large blood-orange moon hovered above the horizon.  Looking to the east the coming sun burned thin clouds into shades of red, pink, purple, orange and blue. There was no wind.

An hour later, driving south on highway 22, we entered the Kaibab National Forest and from the plains of sage we drove into woods of juniper and pinion, eventually finding ourselves in large stands of Ponderosa. 13 years before the Grand Canyon was designated a National Park; Theodore Roosevelt made this area of the Kaibab Plateau a game reserve in 1906. Hunters came from around the globe to bag deer, elk, big horn sheep, bobcat and mountain lion. In the reserves first 15 years there was a huge push to exterminate the cougar population. It was thought that the cats were in direct competition with hunters for deer. In less than 20 years the deer population exploded from 4,000 to 100,000. From 1924 to 1926 over 60,000 mule deer died of starvation. Biologists at the time argued the decline in mountain lion population was direct cause for the deer boom and bust. They predicted that had the cougars not been pursued in such an aggressive manner they’d have regulated the deer population to a level that could survive off the surrounding land.

1906 was also the year the forest service constructed the cabin at the Jump Up Canyon Trailhead. Today this simple and sturdy structure made from planed yellow pine set above a stone foundation dons a new tin roof along with stovepipe. A few single paned windows are nailed into place and two doors allow entrance. Finished wood floors, a card table and wood stove are the only furnishings. Open to the public, it was an option to camp at the cabin, but the destination was five miles down canyon to Lower Jump Up Springs. Ours being the only car at the cabin raised my hopes of a secluded weekend.

“Know The Canyon History, See Rocks Made By Time.” Treading past a band of limestone, Lin gave us a quick geology lesson. The first letter of every word in the saying correlated with the layers of rocks found in the Grand Canyon. Kaibab Limestone, Toroweap Formation, Coconino Sandstone, Hermit Shale, Supai Sandstone, Redwall Limestone, Muave Limestone, Bright Angel Shale and Tapeats Sandstone. After the Colorado Plateau was lifted thousands of feet above sea level the Colorado River went to work. Slicing through northern Arizona the river has exposed over two billion years of the earth’s history. Geologists believe the thickness of the crust beneath the plateau has permitted the rock layers to stay intact and allowed them to remain in Superposition; the rock layers appear in order from youngest to oldest, top to bottom.

After our eyes adjusted to the dry look of the canyon Rachel offered us knowledge of the flora by identifying dozens of blooming plants. We slowly picked our way down pausing at each new flower and plant. Mormon Tea, penstemon, globemallow, aster, paint brush, prince’s plume, prickly pear, monkey flower and Mojave blanket flowers kept our gaze low. It was the towering century plant shoots, some up to 20 feet tall, that brought our eyes back up to the kaleidoscope of colors from the cliffs, slopes, trees, brush and sky. Flesh colored stone ran downhill into sparsely vegetated swaths of land separated by scars of red sand gashed from the earth’s side.

1869 was the year that John Wesley Powell began mapping this area of the Colorado Plateau. By floating the Colorado River from Green River, Wyoming to Grand Wash Cliffs, near present day Lake Mead, Nevada, Powell went down in history. The 99-day adventure included numerous rapids for the expedition to negotiate. Before entering the Grand Canyon they would portage their boats when possible. Once in the canyon, having cliffs on both sides they had no choice but to run the rapids. At the final and largest rapid of the journey three members abandoned the expedition. Having heard rumors of enormous waterfalls the men believed they had a better chance of survival trying to climb out of the chasm than running what is now know as Lava Falls Rapid. After heading north from the river the three men were never seen again.

Crossing the Esplanade Trail after drifting down the broadening wash of the upper canyon I realized how hard that decision must have been. Leaving the river for the dry, unexplored terrain above they must have been desperate. Having a map and knowing where the spring was located we continued down Jump Up into a narrowing slot of sandstone. Densely grouped cottonwoods, oaks and willows welcomed us to the lower spring. Croaks of canyon tree frogs echoed off the Supai Sandstone walls. Seeps appeared, trickling down the cliffs and all at once water burbled from the wash. We made our camp near.

May 6, 2012. I awoke before my watch beeped. The desert air was only slightly cooler than when I’d fallen asleep. Alone, I scrambled out of Jump Up Canyon. Instead of taking the Esplanade Trail to the west, back to Moon Rock, I headed east. The sky appeared grey with only the thinnest clouds spreading west to east. The clean smell of desert penetrated my lungs. Leaving the rustling leaves of the spring behind I entered silence. Soft foot steps upon soft sandstone, relaxed breathing from a relaxed being. Coming to a Gooseneck Point I stopped. As the sun kissed the limestone rim to the west I sat in solitude and pondered the landscape.

Today native cultures of the Hopi, Havasupai, Paiute and Navajo, call the Grand Canyon region home. Artifacts dating back 12,000 years have been discovered within and before these present day tribes inhabited the area, Paleo-Indians and Ancestral Puebloan’s hunted and gathered here. Proof of their existence can be discovered in pottery, pictographs, points and mutates found by observant eyes.

Sunday afternoon we wandered deeper into Jump Up. The cliff walls seemed to be swallowing us as we came to a significant drop. Delicately, we used a ladder constructed of sun-bleached timber lashed together to negotiate the “jump”. Next to a cool pool of water below the pour-over Jacki and I waited for Lin to join us.

“It sounds like two men are coming down canyon.” Earlier we’d joked that if we did encounter anyone else it would be someone we knew. Sure enough, Mike from St. George had come for a day hike and of course Lin knew him. Wanting to be home before nightfall, and perhaps not wanting to intrude, Mike quickly exchanged greetings and carried on alone as we slowly wandered among weathered stonewalls and steps of pouring water. As the world shrank back to our small group this one encounter with another person failed to raise my skepticism about the area being overrun.

At the junction with Sowats Canyon we headed upstream. Arriving at Mountain Sheep Springs we found a panel of pictographs with a flat grinding stone seated below. The gurgle of the spring and the croaking frogs were the only sounds. Before returning to Jump Up we top off our bottles from a pool of water as orange damselflies rushed through the air.

Saturday night, sitting on Moon Rock, Jacki and Lin practiced yoga while Rachel and I absorbed the vast scenery. It was mind boggling to comprehend. A mile deep gash in the earth and there we sat at the half way mark. Filled with ancient history and nobody around, the moment surrounded us. Just before nine a glow appeared on the horizon. Rachel had won the bet.

Dr. Tony Phillips of explains the Super Moon like this; the occurrence happens once a year and it’s when the moon is closest to the earth and is full. From its farthest to its closest position to our planet, the moon’s size varies up to 14%. That sounds significant until you realize the variance is separated by at least six months or six other full moons. The difference when compared with the previous month’s full moon and the one following is about 2%. Still, when backpacking in a solitary section of the Grand Canyon, it was something to see.

Sunday evening we would come out of Jump Up Canyon. We would say good-bye to the spring, pass the junction of the Esplanade Trail and retrace our steps up the cheat grass-covered wash back to the cabin. We’d build a fire in the steal ring out front and wait again for a waning moon to appear. But on Saturday night, May 5, 2012, we sat, mouths open, as a giant, illuminated, sphere soared above the skyline. The evening atmosphere suspended the moon over the south rim of the Grand Canyon and for the moment it was if we were the only four people on the planet.