7 Days in Utah, 2003

TRAVEL DAY

We make an alpine start to catch our free first-class jet ride, away from the foggy east coast. Landing in Utah at midday, we rent a car, find a motel, and drive to American Fork to shake off the blahs. The scene at Division Wall is amiable and gymlike. Fitting in between parties we flash Physical Therapy and Black Hole for warmups, our first climbs in months. Over on the sunny side a large group attempting Les Is More pulls their rope to give us a turn. Later it's dinner at Wendy's, because all the real restaurants are closed.

SPORT DAY

Leslie and I are counter-seasonal travelers, visiting Iceland when it's cold and Utah when it ought to be hot. This turns out to be a cool, stormy week in Utah, however. At Maple Canyon, we start out in the sun with an unnamed 5.10 on Petroglyph Wall, getting tired when its steepness goes on. Next we do a better-featured, worse-named route -- Monkey Duodenum, 30 meters of 5.9 cobble fun. Four more routes and we're fried. Note to self : Train for trips. It wasn't possible this time. Lucky for us there's a Jacuzzi back at our motel.

TRAD DAY

Les is psyched. We get up early and scramble to Beckey's Wall in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Another party has beaten us, so we turn to Satan's Corner instead. The guidebook sounds excited: "Mega-classic, must-do.... This is real-life jamming.... 'Crack climbing skills or pay the coroner's bills!'.... people have taken long falls and died...." Duly forewarned, I start up loaded for bear, but don't meet one. Satan's Corner feels solid enough to stop anywhere and hang off a jam, then slot in a hex that would hold a truck. At the top comes a lieback to reach a handrail flake. I'm thinking, what a great finish, although Les finds an easier way.

We rap down to run up Beckey's Wall, then break for a picnic in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Hours later, rested and refueled, she wants one more climb. The sky is darkening, the wind is rising, and Steort's Ridge is calling.

Distant thunder grows closer as we race up the climb. The exposed third-pitch arete, wind gusting across it, gives a thrill. Thunder rolls continuously as Les tops out. We rap quickly, and back at the base we're all smiles -- beat the storm. Celebration time. Teru Sushi, a tiny restaurant on Fort Union, provides our favorite food of the trip.

REST DAY

We make a scene-change to Price, then go for a drive to view petroglyphs in 9 Mile Canyon. Thunderstorms mutter in the distance. Late afternoon, heading back to town, I'm thinking Jacuzzi, but Les says let's climb. So we zip up to Spring Canyon by Helper. I lead Headliner, fighting not to barndoor on an unexpectedly awkward lieback-to-face transition. Leslie samples the entry moves and requests something with footholds. Blister in the Sun is more to her liking. As she follows, it starts to rain, and thunder closes in once again. I count flash-to-boom: three miles away, now just two. She solves the moves quickly, reaching the anchors just ahead of the downpour. Dinner at Greek Streak, which Lonely Planet rightly calls the finest Greek restaurant in Price.

CRACKS DAY

Our first visit to the San Rafael Swell. We start off with pitch one of Scenic Byway. The offwidth on pitch two doesn't look too bad, except maybe it wants to fall off. We drive deeper into the Swell, and climb some even better cracks. A few vehicles pass by, but none stop. No planes fly overhead; the only sounds are from insects and wind. Towards day's end we untape and soak in the big view from Wedge Overlook.

NO CRACKS DAY

Following Layne Potter's beta, we find face climbs on the Navajo Wall. Tastes Like Chicken, the little edges of Blue Shifting and the big huecos of Expanding Universe are relaxed fun in the shade. Again we have the canyon to ourselves. After a lunch spent contemplating the amazing pictographs of the Buckhorn Panel and discussing deep thoughts, we decide that our trip needs a summit. Chopped Sand must be among the easiest of all desert towers, but it's nearby and fun. Getting down with one rope is a trick. Later we tour the Allosaur graveyard at Cleveland.

LAST DAY

We reach Little Cottonwood Canyon around noon, looking for one last climb before we fly home tomorrow. The sky is dark, clouds wrap the crags; the Gate parking area is deserted. Scanning guidebooks, we think The Hook sounds like the right mix of ease and adventure.

To start, I link the first two pitches of Schoolroom Direct. As Les leaves the ground it begins to rain hard. Crack lines form rivulets, then waterfalls, converging on my belay. The ledge becomes a pond, soaking our everdry rope and my butt. Les yards on gear as she works up through the runoff below. Wet and cold, she arrives in good spirits, still able to laugh. One more pitch of watery jamming leads up to a fixed rappel route. Les follows to find me studying the crux friction pitch above, wondering whether it might have enough texture to go in the rain. Her don't-be-stupid look snaps me back to reality. Good thing. As we rap off, our ATCs wring black water from the rope. "Hey, great adventure!" I sound like a happy kid, as we both arrive drenched on the ground. Remarkably, she's smiling too. On this trip nothing goes wrong.

Later, in dry clothes, we revisit Teru Sushi. Phi the chef suggests a Mars roll, a marvel we've never beheld. Les and I toast sake, to us. Then high-five. Thirty years ago to the day, we got married.

Larry Hamilton, 2003