HMI Gap: Why we sleep under the stars

F-Trek 2 describes a typical day at their climb camp in Snow Canyon, Utah. Written by: Emma and Lily.

Our cozy basecamp. We hardly ever sleep in the mid-tents we set up, preferring to risk frost on our sleeping bags to be able to get a full few of the stars. 

There is hardly anything more fun than “sending” (climber slang for doing a great job) next to your friend.

For early risers such as ourselves–a healthy layer of frost is the first to greet us in the morning. It coats the outsides of our usually empty mid tents. The wait for the warmth of the desert sun is also the wait for a dry sleeping bag. Sleeping under the stars has been our nightly routine for weeks now, but it has its extra perks on this expedition: midnight scampers from the rain, burrowing from the strong wind gusts, and waking up to a fully frosted sleeping bag. In our opinion, sleeping out underneath the stars is always worth the risk that we might be greeted by a frosty bag. Have you ever experienced a night sky in the Utah desert? Until you have, you won’t understand why we choose to take this risk. 

The first few minutes before dawn test even the morning people in our group, but soon, the sun begins to rise over the red walls of Snow Canyon, flooding our campsite with a warm glow. By 8:00 am the smells of tofu scramble, pancakes, avocado toast, poached eggs, or whatever our three cook groups have decided to make that morning waft around. The breakfast chef for the day prepares a meal for the other three members in their cook group, creating a smorgasbord for our family of 12. 

It is the second to last day of climbing on this expedition. We wait around camp for a few more hours this morning, as the canyon walls dry from the rain earlier in the week. After three days of rain, the sun is back again. We arrive at the crag in the early afternoon, later than our usual start, to ensure safety on the rock. Three beautiful top rope climbs have been set up by our instructors as well as a rope to practice our anchor building skills. We climbed well past our usual 4 pm and onwards through the sunset. Golden light like we’d never climbed in lit up the handholds and footholds as we climbed. The consensus formed — we would attempt our dream of night climbing. 

Stars began to poke holes of light into the sky and the distant highway traffic slowed as we ascended up the dark rock, illuminated only by the narrow beam of our headlamps. The range of focus is narrowed in the night. During the day the whole cliff is in sight, and every nook of the valley can be seen as we climbed the 140 ft ascent. But as the moon rises, all we can see is the rock right underneath our hands and the little shoes that we trust so much.  

“on belay?” 

“belay is on.” 

The rope loses slack and climbing shoes hit the wall. 

An instructor rappels with the backdrop of the red rock in Snow Canyon, Utah

Snack time at the climbing crag: arguably the most important time of the day! 

Students planned a day of exploration at Zion National Park on a rainy day when climbing was not possible. 

Night climbing serves as a true test of a climber’s skills. 

We love a good group photo!

Multiple students scale the sublime red rock at Snow Canyon.