HMI Gap 2015: Final Weeks in Moab

These past three weeks have flown by and were packed with activity and adventure in Utah. After settling into the
Castleton Tower campground, we began our service project with the Front Range Climbing Stewards rebuilding and maintaining the trail up to Castleton Tower. We split into three groups and each group worked on a different section of trail either closing “social” trails, moving rocks, or building rad stairs. Though the work was tiring, everyone was psyched to improve the trail and crush some rocks. Also, the 25th was Olivia’s 21st Birthday! We celebrated by climbing at the Shady Side in Longs Canyon, practicing our pure crack climbing technique, followed by a dinner celebration at Eddie McStiff’s.

After two more days of trail crew, and moving our camp to Big Bend campground, we completed our work on the trail. The completion of the service project left us with time to focus on our climbing. Four of us were able to climb the North Chimney (5.9 crack-climb) of Castleton Tower. For some of us it was our first ever multi-pitch and first desert tower. It was incredible to be able to climb Castleton after having worked on the trail. Another team was able to climb Looking Glass Arch, their first ever multi-pitch which, apparently, had an amazing free- hanging rappel.

After climbing Castleton and Looking Glass we had a rest day of laundry, food shopping, and some down time. The next couple of days we continued to work on our climbing skills at various crags all over Moab. Some of us were able to begin lead climbing and continued refining skills such as placing gear and building and cleaning anchors. On Halloween we climbed at the Cinema, a rare sport climbing crag amongst the sandstone cracks. Much to my delight, Becca and Elena had put various candies on the climbs in an interesting twist on trick-or-treating. All of us were able to lead climb a pitch that day as well, which was a highlight for everyone in the group. That night we were able to show off our bowling skills (or lack thereof) at the Moab bowling alley.

The next day, four of us, including me, packed for a three-day canyon trip while the other students stayed in Moab to continue improving their climbing skills. We left that night and drove three hours to the Jacob’s Chair canyons area. In the morning we packed up camp and began our five-mile hike to the top of Cowboy Canyon. Upon arriving there we set up camp and explored Cowboy Canyon without our packs. The next day we rappelled into the canyon with our packs (a method called “riding the pig”) and began our journey. There was a bit of scrambling and gear passing as we made our way down the canyons. We all wanted an “authentic” canyon experience, so we were hoping to get our feet wet. We continued into the canyons and rappelled down into Gravel Canyon. At this point we got the authentic experience we had hoped for. We had to swim through a ten-foot long pool of icy canyon water. After surviving that we discovered another even longer pool of canyon water. After managing to walk through about 20 feet of waist deep water, pushing our packs in front of us, there was another section that we had to swim before getting out of the water. We were all freezing and carrying wet packs but it was one of the most amazing experiences I have had. In celebration of our survival, the next night Caitlin and I made a three-layer funfetti cake with pink frosting. It was delicious.

The final days of our Utah section included completing a WFAcertification. We acted out various scenarios such as broken femurs, hypothermia, altitude sickness, and a scenario that involved the entire group carrying me, wrapped up like a burrito, 200 feet. After getting certified we celebrated by putting Chris, Elena, and Becca’s kitchen on top of the bathroom, one of the better pranks the instructors had ever seen. The finale to Utah was the Moab trail half-marathon and full marathon. Caitlin, Elena, and I ran the half marathon while Chris and Becca ran the full marathon. The rest of the group volunteered at an aid station, cheering on the runners as they started their final mile of the grueling 26. Elena had the best time in her age group and got a beautiful trophy! We were all psyched to have completed the race. That night we packed and the next morning we headed back to Leadville. We will all miss Moab and all of the good times we had there. We will also miss Elena terribly as she leaves us after this section. However, we are all excited to head down to Patagonia on Tuesday and to have Justin join our group!

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