Over the last few weeks I have been slammed with work–which is good because it’s always good to be busy. There are lots of new things coming along between SweetestSummit programs gelling and opportunities for LivingVertical–and of course, the daily grind of editing the documentary from Project 365. I can say without question that the physical challenge of Project 365 (climbing every day plus balancing blood sugar!) was every bit as difficult as making this movie. It is like a complex maze in which you can’t tell just how lost you are until you have wandered around for days–by which point your frame of reference is completely gone!

So this weekend I decided to step away from the computer and spend time with some friends out climbing and adventuring. On friday I headed out with Chris and Rob to climb a lesser traveled route on the east side of Zion called “Led by Sheep”. We all swapped off turns carrying the camera and it felt good to get a few hundred feet off the ground and onto a beautiful summit that feels quite remote!

Rob and Chris on the approach above Petroglyph Canyon
Rob and Chris on the approach above Petroglyph Canyon
More from the approach up the white sandstone
More from the approach up the white sandstone
overlooking petroglyph canyon on the approach.
overlooking petroglyph canyon on the approach.
A quick blood sugar measurement before getting roped up at the base of the route (Photo Chris Mahoney)
A quick blood sugar measurement before getting roped up at the base of the route (Photo: C. Jon Mahoney)

I should mention here that I am always a bit concerned with transitions; going from sitting at a computer predominately for the last few weeks to a weekend of climbing can cause my sensitivity to insulin to shift. This can create unexpected highs or lows which can be very problematic on days like this. But I was pleased to find that my sugar was around 130 when I tested after the approach which was perfect for me–room to go up or down a little without any problem!

Starting up the base of the route to the first pitch, Rob belaying me. (Photo: Chris Mahoney
Starting up the base of the route to the first pitch, Rob belaying me. (Photo: C. Jon Mahoney)
This route was not steep--it felt a lot more like mountaineering than rock climbing. "Rockaneering" is a common term for this sort of climbing where simply pulling hard is not the point (or even possible due to the low angle)
This route was not steep–it felt a lot more like mountaineering than rock climbing. “Rockaneering” is a common term for this sort of climbing where simply pulling hard is not the point (or even possible due to the low angle) (Photo: C. Jon Mahoney)
After clipping the first bolt the "business" started. It was physically quite manageable, but there were some places where bolts were 30 feet apart and falling was not an option.
After clipping the first bolt the “business” started. It was physically quite manageable, but there were some places where bolts were 30 feet apart and falling was not an option. (Photo: C. Jon Mahoney)
I wore my approach shoes for the route and found that they were sufficient--there were some places where it was a bit scary having to make moves in larger shoes, but despite the distance between many of the bolts, there was always a bolt where a hard move demanded protection--so while it WAS in reality runout, it didn't feel like it. (Photo: Chris Mahoney)
I wore my approach shoes for the route and found that they were sufficient–there were some places where it was a bit scary having to make moves in larger shoes, but despite the distance between many of the bolts, there was always a bolt where a hard move demanded protection–so while it WAS in reality runout, it didn’t feel like it. (Photo: C. Jon Mahoney)
It was so fun to just be up high off the ground, not worrying about editing video or getting permits or overhauling websites! (Photo: Chris Mahoney)
It was so fun to just be up high off the ground, not worrying about editing video or getting permits or overhauling websites! (Photo: C. Jon Mahoney)
Just Rob. (Photo: Chris Mahoney)
Just Rob. (Photo: C. Jon Mahoney)
Chris belaying Rob up the final pitch.
Chris belaying Rob up the final pitch.
Chris and Rob taking in the views from the summit of Aries Butte.
Chris and Rob taking in the views from the summit of Aries Butte.
Capturing some sunshine to recharge on the summit--thanks to Goal Zero for the power!
Capturing some sunshine to recharge on the summit–thanks to Goal Zero for the power! (Photo: C. Jon Mahoney)
Rob and I found the summit register and we all added our names to the collection of people who have stood on this summit.
Rob and I found the summit register and we all added our names to the collection of people who have stood on this summit. (Photo: C. Jon Mahoney)

After this adventure I headed out to Las Vegas to pick up my middle-school friend Aaron who I hadn’t seen in over ten years. He and I had reconnected during Project 365 and we had been trying to find an opportunity to get together so he could try out climbing for the first time–Zion style!

Aaron climbing Ashtar Command in Zion National Park.
Aaron climbing Ashtar Command in Zion National Park.

But the “real” adventure this past weekend began after we got done climbing and decided to do some photography. We wanted our last day to be a rest day and we all enjoy taking photos, so we decided to explore areas outside the park proper where there would be fewer people.

Aaron getting a different perspective of the Virgin River
Aaron getting a different perspective of the Virgin River
Driftwood
Driftwood

We drove my car (Honda CRV) up to the Kolob Reservoir  which is on the west side of the park and rarely visited, relative to the main canyon. The Kolob area is pretty remote and we decided that it would be fun to follow the dirt roads around the reservoir to get some photos. It looked like the road went all the way around, so we figured we could just circumnavigate the water. The difference in elevation between our current location and Zion canyon was about 4000 feet–and it was properly cold where we were.

We were enjoying just looking at the aquatic birds as we drove next to the water without a care in the world. Until we came to a point where the road was washed out. Chris got out and ran ahead, testing the depth of the water and scouting a line that I could drive through this “obstacle”. He guided me through the first washout without a great deal of difficulty. On the other side I felt relieved to have made it through–until we drove around the next corner to find another similar obstacle that was even muddier, wetter and right at the edge of the lake.

We repeated the procedure from the first obstacle–and the subsequent disappointment of realizing that we were not “in the clear” several times over. By this point we started to realize that our assumption that “the road will get better and we can just drive on around” was getting less realistic. And the last several muddy, rutted sections of the road were so risky that going back was getting to be less and less feasible of an option.

IMG 2556 from Living Vertical on Vimeo.

It looked like the road went all the way around from the other side. It should go. One more section of steep mud, rocks and roots. 

I tried not to think about what would happen if we got stuck out here. There was no cell service and no one around. Oh–and then the gas light came on. And then it started to rain, which would make the mud even more difficult to navigate. After narrowly passing our seventh obstacle, Chris got out to walk the next bit of the road—and came back with great news: “The road dead ends here–there’s a barbed wire fence and no way to get around it”.

We had to find a way to turn the car around on a mangled dirt road and then reverse our course through a minefield of mud, rocks and exposed tree roots–which were bordered by the edge of the reservoir, which loomed on one side, threatening to punish any error in driving.

How do I get myself into these situations? It looked passable. What if…

I had expended my daily quota of adrenaline. I was pretty sure I was about to be stranded in a very inopportune place with my friends who had just wanted a fun afternoon of shooting photos…If the terrain didn’t get us, surely the gas would run out–or vice versa. So I asked Chris to take a shot at reversing our course and rescuing us. Off road driving isnt my strong point. I was totally out of my element and I was starting to freak out. I can be comfortable on the side of a cliff, hundreds of feet up, but this situation was simply too far outside my comfort zone.

Fear is a very relative thing. Many people assume from my love for climbing that I don’t have fear or that I have conquered it to the point that I can just do any old thing without too much effort. This is far from the truth, and I was gripped  for the entirety of this “adventure”. Fortunately, Chris was able to take over and put his USMC off road driving training to good use…and he made the reversal look really easy. We were soon out of the dirt and mud and back on the pavement where we were able to coast on “E” down 15 miles to the nearest gas station.

It always an adventure out here–but its great being able to share those adventures with friends. I pushed my limits outside of where I was comfortable. My horizon got just a little bit bigger this weekend.