HMI Gap: “Adios Estados Unidos! Nos vemos pronto!”

Backpacking Group

Written by Ally Edwards and Caitlin Murphy

These past few weeks we’ve been enjoying perfect weather and new adventures in southern Utah. We began our time base camping (glamping), spending our days either climbing or doing service work with Trail Mix, a local nonprofit that provides volunteer stewardship for public lands. While climbing, we learned the necessary technical skills we would need for our canyoneering trip, which we eagerly anticipated.

After a three hour drive from Moab, leaving our glamping life behind, we arrived at Soldier’s Crossing trailhead, just south of Jacob’s Chair. Saying goodbye to our trustworthy passenger van, Lil’ Sendy, we descended into the first of many canyons. The first few days, we hiked through White Canyon, camped on the mesa, and profusely searched for pothole water that wasn’t brown. The lack of winter and the wide open skies of the canyonlands drew many of us to sleep under the stars each night.

Our first test came on day three: Fry Canyon. As Leaders of the Day, Caitlin and Ally fearlessly led the group to run our first canyon. Within the first hundred meters, a pothole filled with water greeted us. After the first person jumped in, shouts of “it’s deep, it’s cold!” echoed through the canyon. Not long after, everyone else followed, doggy paddling to the other side of the pothole while others who had finished cheered them on. After a few hours of hiking and taking some group selfies in the canyon, we came to our first rappel. With Emily leading the way, we dropped into our first slot canyon (a narrower part of the canyon) and soon encountered the second swim. What the guidebook referred to as a 20 foot swim with some wading was actually a sharp drop off into a pool with no end in sight. Braving it in groups or solo, we all made it safely to the end of what turned out to be a 200 foot swim to the end of the slot. The sun was filtering through the sand-colored slots, giving us one of the most breathtaking views of the canyons we would have.

The second canyon we ran on day four proved even more adventurous than the first! We were the first HMI group to ever run Hideout Canyon, which meant it was full of new challenges at every turn. Walking for miles along the mesa to the start of the canyon, we finally started in the late afternoon. As we made our way through the canyon, we came to our first rappel. Nightfall slowly crept up on us, and we were soon using our headlamps to navigate the last two rappels and the rest of the canyon. One of the most breathtaking moments was our last rappel where we lowered ourselves into a pool of water as the moon was rising.

On day 6, half of the group remained at camp for a layover day where we woke up to the sun shining on us for the first time during the expedition, since we usually woke up before sunrise. We spent the day journaling, taking photos, and having sing-alongs to Hamilton and Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. The rest of the group was out of camp by 6 am in the dark to hike the 5 miles to the top of Cheesebox Canyon. Our first challenge came as we tried to figure out how to actually get into the canyon and ended up rappelling through a hole! It only got more exciting after that. The next few hours and miles presented us with seven rappels and way too many potholes in the slot canyons filled with water. When we finally got to the “swimming pools” as they were labeled on the map, we were truly tested. The swims were not only through freezing cold water, but without an end in sight. Some of the swims had sharp drop offs into water that we did not know the depth of. Alternating between brave leaders, one person led the way, yelling information on the depth and length, and giving advice for the swims. After coming around the corner to the end of a particularly long swim, we truly learned the benefits of teamwork as Nick, who had led the way on that swim, threw each of us a rope to pull us the last 20 feet onto dry land. Once again, as night fell upon us, we donned our headlamps to finish the canyon. Hiking through our last slot, we came across another pool of water to be presented simultaneously with the most foul smell ever smelled. With no other way out but through, we fell into a dead quiet just trying to make it to the other end. We finally made it back to our campsite at 10 pm, greeted by the rest of our group who quickly made us hot dinners and helped us to get warm. Falling asleep under the stars that night (and smelling slightly better), we went to bed quickly, still in awe of what we had just done.

Following the canyons expedition, we set up our final basecamp at a place called Moonflower Canyon and much to our delight, finally found fall in Utah! The towering trees around our campsite showered us in yellow and orange leaves throughout our stay. Halloween quickly came upon us, and we all celebrated in style. Some of us got creative with our costumes, dressing up as devils, Scooby Doo and Shaggy, and even each other. During the day, we climbed at a crag called the Ice Cream Parlor. As they were setting up the top ropes, our instructors hid candy along various holds and so while climbing, we were able to “trick-or-treat.” That evening, our group went bowling and had a blast competing against Chris and Becca.

During the first few days of November, we finished our work with Trail Mix completing a climbers’ approach trail to Maverick Buttress in Longs Canyon. It was so satisfying to see the completion of this trail from start to finish after the many big rocks moved, stairs built, and new skills learned.

The morning of Nov. 5, we woke up (some forgetting about Daylights Savings) ready for Race Day! Seven of us competed in the Moab Trail Half Marathon covering 13 miles of 4×4 road, single track, canyon rim runs, and stream crossings. Everyone finished in under 3 1/2 hours. Caitlin finished fifth in her age group, crossing the finish line with Emily. Minnie and Janet finished hand-in-hand, and Leo and Nick battled it out finishing within minutes of each other. Isabel impressed us all by sprinting the last few yards across the finish line. After dropping the marathon runners at the start, Ally, Christina, and Brad headed up to Looking Glass Rock in Monticello to learn how to multi-pitch rock climb. After successfully climbing all three pitches, they reached the top, which had a 100 foot free rappel to descend. They rappelled down through a small hole looking out onto the beautiful landscape. The highlight of the climb was a rope swing through an arch!

As our time in Moab comes to an end, we are all sad to leave the wide open skies and warm weather of the desert. With new Patagonia adventures on the horizon, however, we are all excited for new challenges and a new environment. Adios Estados Unidos! Nos vemos pronto!

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