Being back in Zion with beautiful climbing temps (sub 90 degrees!) has been awesome. I am hitting my stride again and have been doing more 3rd and 4th class climbing rather than hard pulling in order to increase my cardio fitness for the second half of September when I will be shooting in the mountains of British Columbia and will need more endurance than power in order to stack on the vertical footage and the video footage! I have stopped fretting as much about the things I can’t control and accepting where I am and the opportunities that are all around me in Springdale. As of today (day 237) I have accumulated 49,380 ft! Please help us complete the necessary funding for Project 365 by liking this video through your YouTube account and sharing it with all your friends. Each like on the video will generate $1 from our sponsor Roche, the makers of Accu-Chek.

“Hey dude, you wanna explore this flat area I found on the map?” Rob asked me over breakfast. I caught myself as I was about to simply fire back with an affirmative response. Explore a flat area? Something sounded…off about this request considering that it was coming from Rob. I quickly backpedaled and inquired about the terrain leading up to this “flat area”. 

Rob allowed that we would be traversing the backcountry on the east side of the park and that there would be no established routes, paths or set agenda other than  exploring some topography that he had found engaging while poring over one of the many maps that litter the kitchen table and cover the walls of the apartment.  We plotted a general route south from the road and in towards Parunaweap Canyon, a cousin to Zion Canyon, which is essentially cut off from the outside world.

The price of admittance is steep but costs little money–I began to realize that this oft-romanticized narrative of the backcountry is far from what any normal person would think of as “fun”. Immediately after leaving the pavement, we started down a sandy wash, in towards a dry creek bed that we planned to follow overland. I can think of few things as hateful as hiking through sand. I tried to postpone my complaining until we had been on the move for more than two minutes. A short time later we cut up a slickrock slope that was pitched at about 60 degrees. My lungs burned and I stopped to take a picture. I gnawed on a half of  a Builders Bar to counteract the sugar that I knew was being consumed. Better to stay ahead of the game–cardio tanks my sugar if it is sustained and when I looked up, Rob was about 200 feet ahead of me, a distance that he covered in a remarkably short time.

Shit. I have to catch up. Don’t want to gum up the works and I certainly dont want to be downclimbing this mess by headlamp!

I found it harder and harder to keep moving as the climb went on, not because I was out of energy, but because there was so much to photograph! Knowing that almost no one goes back in this area made everything suddenly more interesting and more genuine. This was my experience alone–to enjoy and then share! The higher we climbed the more the rock quality deteriorated. Large slabby layers of the typical whitish sandstone would cut loose while you stood on it like a giant surfboard. Most of the rock seemed to be held together by pressed sand, which made for an entertaining guessing game called “Will this hold fail?”. Each move you were guessing if your next move would be clawing for a rescue hold as the previous one gives way.

 

Some sections were steeper than others and looking up from the bottom the moves seemed straightforward. I looked back down a few times and remember feeling less excited at the grim steepness littered with rock that was more akin to oatmeal or crushed saltines. Nevertheless, with a bit of perseverance, Rob and I tagged the summit of this unnamed peak–which we named Mount Frank Reynolds in honor of one of our favorite sitcom characters. We had just enough light to spend 10 minutes on the summit looking down into Parunaweap. We sat there taking in spectacular views and I took stock of what this adventure had cost me in terms of energy and willingness to accept suffering. I marveled at the fact that millions of people a year are in Zion National Park  but in a given year if more than 3 or 4 people stood at the summit where we were, that would be a lot.

As we began descending in the waning light, I found the downclimbing on rotten rock to be as horrifying as I expected, but I also found myself more adept at negotiating the terrain than I had initially imagined. I realized that the future of my climbing will include more exploratory routes. The pictures I brought back capture some of the beauty but the feeling of empowerment that comes from exploring new ground…that is still sitting up on top of Mount Frank Reynolds, waiting for the next person willing to tempt fate and leave behind all the things that have already been done to death.