N DEC. 4, my friend Scott Peters sent me an e-mail.
"We have to do a hike soon. Something Yellowstone-esque."
The Yellowstone challenge of 2005 involved a 38-mile, three-day hike, including 18 miles uphill on our final day. We declared it Warrior Day.
Scott and I
declared the backcountry hike the most difficult thing we had ever accomplished--in part because we had to cross rushing streams that resulted in pebbles getting stuck in blisters, all while trying to fend off grizzlies and rabid elk.
So I was intrigued by his new challenge.
My e-mailed response: "I am planning on going to Zion National Park in Utah over MLK Day weekend."
Scott: "Won't it be, like, snowing?"
Me: "It snows a coupla times a year there. So yeah, it'll be cold but I don't think it'll be, like, zero."
Scott: "Wouldn't you rather go to coastal Mexico and bask in the warm sun?"
I didn't. I pushed Utah.
Technically, I was perhaps right. Temperatures were not zero. They were below it, though they
did hit 10 during the day. When we arrived in Zion, it was balmy--temps in the 30s and dropping fast.
Bryce Canyon, two hours away and about a mile higher, was a different story.
Looking back, Mark Guppy, another friend on the trip, sums it up this way: "A very grizzled front-desk clerk at the Zion Lodge told us that Bryce was going to get 2 feet of snow and the road there may be impassible. We decided that our sheer masculinity would guide us through even the most rigorous snowfall. After a few beers and running around in ninja masks, we went to sleep with visions of snowballs dancing in our heads."
I say this: We woke up Friday morning to the most delightful landscape I've recently discovered. Zion, the land of red rock and high-desert green scrub, slept beneath a dusting of 4 inches of snow. Wispy clouds danced along sheer magenta cliffs, thousands of
feet high. Blue sky peeked through. Brooks trickled through soft, crunchy snow--the perfect wet snow for building forts and snowballs.
Life was sublime.
Our days were spent with high-altitude hikes, slogging through snowy red paths. Our nights were occupied with necessities: Monopoly tournaments, Bud Lite and a brand of crabby waitress not typically found outside late-night Atlantic City.
We spent two nights at Zion, then moved on to Bryce Canyon for two more. The weather at Bryce, with its 8,000-foot elevation, was simply ridiculous. Abusive. Daytime highs hit 10. Nighttime lows hit negative 17.
We woke for one sunrise; spending an hour standing in wind chills that dropped to negative 35. Yes, negative 35. Icicles grew off our faces.
The cold pierced seven layers of thermals,
fleece, gloves, facemasks, beanies and double-layered socks.
The world of southern Utah was perfect. Pristine, untouched. This terrain, so overrun by summer tourists that its parks ban car traffic, belonged almost exclusively to us.
In fact, our trip was so perfect, I looked to end it on an almost deadly note. My final attempted photograph in Zion was nothing short of disastrous.
There, in front of me, stood a stark red cliff, streaked in black glacial scars. The soft afternoon light reflected it perfectly in a frozen pond. I inched closer on the edge of a snow-covered rock. And took one step too far.
This wasn't wet snow, it was dry, and I couldn't get my footing as I slipped down the slick, icy rock, through a thin film of ice and into the coldest water I've ever
My body and all six layers of clothing were drenched. Up to the neck. Wondering what happens when your clothes get wet in 15-degree weather? They freeze to you. Solid.
I ran nearly 2 miles back to our car, pain shooting through my legs, water swishing around inside my soggy boots. My sweater was a solid rock. A fleece that Mark threw on a rock had to be pried off. It had frozen to the boulder.
Back at the car, I broke the ice off my boots, dumped my now frost-laden pants and switched into warmer clothes that didn't have icicles growing off them. As we drove away, we accidentally left my T-shirt on the Xterra's roof. It froze to the surface in the shape of a boomerang. We pried it off 50 miles later.
Sadly, my adrenaline-filled panic kept me from shooting that final frame.