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OUTDOORS: Best Drives for Enjoying Fall Colors

Written by Tristan Higbee on . Posted in Sports

It’s a beautiful time of the year! Sure, the sudden cold front has caught us all a bit off guard, but there are some benefits. The fall colors are out in full force right now and it would be a shame to miss them. And while it’s fun to go out hiking and be one with nature and recharge your zen batteries and all that good stuff, the fact of the matter is that it’s cold outside and we’re not entirely used to it yet. So here are some scenic (not to mention romantic) drives that you can go on to get your full fill of fall without freezing.

Hobble Creek Canyon — This is a beautiful, quiet canyon east of Springville. From Provo, head south on State Street until you get to 400 South in Springville. Turn left/east (there’s a Chevron at the corner) and head toward the mountains for 1.3 miles until you get to a four-way stop. Turn right and stay on that road until it takes you into the canyon. You’ll pass by a little reservoir and a golf course. After the golf course, there’s a fork in the road. The right fork is more scenic and less developed. The left fork is more wide open and there are some nice houses to look at.

The Timpanogos Alpine Loop — This drive will take you up Provo Canyon, around the back side of Mt. Timpanogos, and down to American Fork Canyon. Heading east through Provo Canyon, you’ll pass by several waterfalls (of which Bridal Veil Falls is the most famous). Several miles into the canyon you’ll go through a tunnel. After the tunnel, look for signs that point to Sundance Ski Resort off to the left. Follow the signs to Sundance and then keep going past Sundance. Shortly after the resort, you’ll have to pay a $6 fee for entering a wilderness area. It’s worth it though! Pass Aspen Grove and keep going up and and up, enjoying stunning mountain vistas in the process. Eventually you’ll make it down into American Fork Canyon. Turn left (west) and have fun gazing up at the amazing cliffs. American Fork Canyon is home to the Timpanogos Caves, so give those a look if you’ve got the time. Eventually you’ll exit the canyon. Keep heading west and you’ll make it back to I-15.

The Nebo Scenic Loop — Similar in spectacular scenery to the Timp loop, the Nebo Scenic Loop is a bit further away and a bit longer, but there’s no entrance fee. Head south from Provo on I-15 and get off at exit 250 in Payson. Head south through town for about 0.8 miles and turn left on 100 N. After 0.2 miles, turn right onto 600 E. Follow this road up into the mountains for 40 miles of jaw-dropping mountain awesomeness. You’ll eventually emerge on Highway 142. Heading west on that for about 5 miles will get you back to the interstate.

There’s no better time than the present for viewing Utah’s stunning fall colors. Get out there and experience one of nature’s greatest shows!

Tristan Higbee is an outdoors correspondent for Rhombus. You can read more about his outdoorsy adventures at his blog.

Mona Rope Swing

OUTDOORS: The Mona Rope Swing

Written by Tristan Higbee on . Posted in Sports

I’m starting my final year here at BYU and somehow I managed to never learn of the Mona rope swing until just about a month ago. As soon as I mentioned it to my friends, they all said something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, that’s a lot of fun! I went there over the weekend.” For my fellow water enthusiasts who have heretofore been deprived of said rope swing, permit me enlighten you.

The rope swings (there are actually two of them) are located on the Burriston Ponds in Mona, about half an hour south of Provo. The ponds themselves aren’t the most scenic things in the world, but they’re pretty clean. From the parking area (see directions below), the first rope swing is about a one minute hike away. It consists of a fat rope with one end fixed to a tree. With the rope in hand, you’ve got a few options: you can jump from the bank of the pond, you can climb a short ways up the tree and launch from there, or — if you’re feeling brave — you can climb twenty feet up into the tree and get some serious air. My one tip to you is this: be sure to let go when you reach the end of your swing! If you don’t, you face a return pendulum into the tree that probably wouldn’t end too well for you. There are a couple other trees nearby that you can climb and dive off of too. The water is deep enough that bottoming out isn’t a problem.

If you keep walking along the gravel path from the parking lot past the first rope swing, in a couple more minutes you’ll get to the second rope swing. This one isn’t as big and, as a result, usually isn’t as crowded. Give both of them a try and see which one you like best. Once you’ve mastered your basic swing-and-let-go technique, see if you can get a bit fancier. Maybe try some flips or spins or the ever-popular belly flop. Your friends will surely be impressed.

Summer vacation might have ended, but I’m not letting go of it that easily, and neither should you! Before it gets to0 cold, make sure you make your own pilgrimage to Mona’s famous watering hole.

Directions: Mona is located about 35 miles south of Provo. To get there, go south on I-15 and take the Mona exit, number 233. Turn right (west) after getting off the freeway and then turn left at the first stop sign in town. Follow this road south for 1.7 miles (at first you you won’t be able to see the ponds themselves too well, but eventually you’ll see the trees surrounding the ponds) and turn right onto a small road. This will lead you straight to the ponds. Park and follow the obvious gravel path that skirts the bank of the pond. You’ll come to the first rope swing in less than a minute.

Tristan Higbee is an outdoors correspondent for Rhombus.

OUTDOORS: Climbing Mt. Nebo

Written by Tristan Higbee on . Posted in Sports

Everyone has heard of Mt. Timpanogos, but few are aware that it’s not the tallest mountain around. That honor is given to Mt. Nebo, a peak that lies about 30 miles south of Timp. With an elevation of 11,928, Nebo is 179 feet taller than its more famous brother to the north. While Timp dominates the skyline of much of Utah Valley, Nebo is the hazy giant off in the distance beyond Payson and Spanish Fork.

The trail to the top of Mt. Nebo is a little bit steeper than the trails to the top of Mt. Timpanogos, but Nebo’s  is shorter (five miles versus Timp’s seven) and requires less elevation gain (3,400 feet from the parking lot; Timp’s Aspen Grove Trail climbs up 4,900 vertical feet.) Nebo is also less crowded. I hiked Timp a few weeks ago on a Thursday afternoon and saw at least 30 other people on the trail. Last Friday on Nebo, I shared the mountain with only two other hikers.

Before you start, you need to know what you’re getting into. Climbing mountains is hard work, but is extremely rewarding! Take lots of water (I’d recommend at least four liters on a hot day) and food. Wear comfortable shoes that won’t give you blisters. And remember that getting to the top is only half of the work! Make sure you’ve got enough food and water to make it down too. Since the weather can change rapidly in the mountains, bringing a jacket is always a good idea. Since UV rays are more intense at higher elevations, sunscreen is a must. A hat and sunglasses help with the sun, too.

There are several trails that go up Mt. Nebo. Here I’ll describe the quickest and easiest way to the top, the North Ridge route. Access to the trailhead is provided by the Nebo Scenic Loop Byway. Even if you’re not into climbing mountains, following this road makes for a beautiful and relaxing Sunday drive. To get to the Nebo Scenic Loop, take Payson’s exit 250 from I-15. Head south through town for about 0.8 miles and turn left on 100 N. After 0.2 miles, turn right onto 600 E. Follow this road for about 25 miles through some beautiful mountain terrain. After the 25 miles, you’ll see a sign on your right for Monument Trailhead. Turn right there, and then take the next right onto Mona Pole Road (there will be a sign for this dirt road.) Drive along this road for 0.3 miles until you drive over a cattleguard. Park in a pullout/parking area on the left side just after the cattleguard.

From the parking area, the trail parallels a fence. Follow the trail up and down some minor bumps. The well-defined trail eventually goes through shaded stands of trees and then starts climbing up the left side of an open valley. Halfway up the valley, the trail cuts sharply to the right and then gets a bit steeper. It switchbacks in and out of trees and eventually you’ll get to the top of a ridge with great views off into the Utah Valley. Take a rest here; you’re at about 10,000 feet and halfway (about 2.5 miles) there!

The trail continues up the ridge to the south and will eventually cut right across the west face of the mountain. This will take you to a pass called Wolf Pass at about 10,600 feet. The trail continues steeply up the slope to the south (the trail is obvious) and to the top of a sub-peak. The way to the top is clear from here. Catch your breath and keep following the trail (though it gets faint in spots, it’s usually easy to find again; just continue along the ridge crest) to the top. The top is marked by a small metal box with the summit register in it. Sign your name and enjoy your views from the top of the mountains!

Tristan Higbee is an outdoors correspondent for Rhombus.

utah_county_upper_falls

OUTDOORS: Provo Canyon’s Hidden Gem

Written by Tristan Higbee on . Posted in Sports

How does a short, fifteen-minute hike to a beautiful waterfall sound? Oh, and to get to where you start hiking requires only a pleasant fifteen minute drive from Provo. Oh, and you’ll probably have the waterfall to yourself. Sound too good to be true? Provo Canyon’s Upper Falls is all that and more.

Overshadowed by its admittedly more impressive and better-known brother, Bridal Veil Falls, Upper Falls basks in the glory of its own obscurity. On a recent foray to the 40-foot-high cataract, I drove past dozens of people swarming around Bridal Veil Falls. A mile down the road at Upper Falls Park, there was only one other car. I saw no one else on the trail to the waterfall except for a man and his dog who were leaving just as I arrived. I spent a good half-hour up there and still saw no one. I passed nobody as I hiked back to my car, and the other car that had previously been in the parking lot was gone. Not bad, not bad at all.

Here’s all the info you need: To get there, turn east into Provo Canyon by either heading north on University Avenue or east on 800 North in Orem. About 2.5 miles into the canyon, you’ll see a sign on the right side for Nunn’s Park/Bridal Veil Falls; Take that turnoff. You’ll come to an intersection where there is a parking lot to the right for Bridal Veil Falls and the road leading to Nunn’s Park on the left. Continue straight through this intersection and drive for another mile until you get to Upper Falls Park. This park, which will be on your right (south) side, consists of a lot of parking spots, some flat grassy areas and a handful of picnic tables. You actually can’t see Upper Falls from most areas in the park, but I assure you it’s there.

Park anywhere your heart desires and head straight between the second and third (when counting from the left) picnic tables to a narrow bridge over the river. Cross the bridge and you’ll end up on the paved Provo River Parkway Trail. You’ll see some derelict concrete structures in front of you. Follow the trail that is visible on the right side of these structures. The trail is a little bit steep in one or two places (though no steeper than the trail to the Y) and is well-trodden and doable by pretty much anyone. After a few minutes you’ll come to a spot where a trail forks off to the left, but keep heading straight up the hillside on the main trail. It shouldn’t be too long before you hear the roar of the waterfall and a couple minutes later you’ll be staring it in the face.

Take a picnic, play around in the freezing cold water and enjoy your time and solitude at one of the area’s most underrated natural gems!

Tristan Higbee is an outdoors correspondent for Rhombus.

OUTDOORS: The Subtle Art Of Slacklining

Written by Tristan Higbee on . Posted in Sports

“Are you training for the circus?” the woman asks with a guffaw. Good one, lady. Like I haven’t heard that one a million times already.

I continue staring at the tree in front of me, trying not to break my concentration. Despite my best efforts at being antisocial, the woman proceeds to tell me that the circus could actually be a viable career option for me. More guffaws. As my new friend starts to tell me her life story, starting with how she just loved going to the circus as a kid, I lose my balance and end up sprawled on the grass, thinking about how odd this activity really is.

No, I don’t have any desire to jostle with the bearded lady and dancing bears for attention. I’m just one of a growing number of people who enjoy the sport of slacklining. If you’ve never heard of slacklining, maybe you’ve seen someone do it at some point. This is how I usually explain it to people: It’s like tightrope walking. But instead of a tight rope, you walk on a… slack line. Oh, and it’s usually set up between a couple of trees. And most of the time you’re only a couple feet off the ground.

OK, so it sounds pretty lame when dumbed down like that, but I promise that it’s actually a lot of fun. Slacklining was started by rock climbers in California who wanted something to do when they were too tired to climb or when the weather was crummy. They started out by walking on the chains and cables that encircle parking lots. The next logical progression was to walk on climbing webbing. Webbing is “a strong fabric woven as a flat strip or tube of varying width and fibers often used in place of rope.” (Thanks, Wikipedia.) Walking on the webbing provides a unique experience because it actually stretches and bounces under body weight (unlike a tightrope, which is usually a steel cable), allowing for more dynamic movement and tricks. And just like that, slacklining was born.

The slackline itself is made from 1” webbing at least 30 feet long. In a nutshell, here’s how it works: One end of the webbing is attached to a fixed object (usually a tree) and the other end is threaded through some sort of pulley system that is set up on the second tree. You pull the webbing through the pulley system and then lock it off when it’s really tight. Yes, a slackline actually has to be pretty tight. The “slack” part comes into play when you actually step onto the line and it groans, stretches, and bounces under your feet.

Luckily for us all, slacklining is a pretty simple and inexpensive hobby. You can get all the gear you need for $30 or so. Here’s a YouTube link to a simple setup that uses just webbing and carabiners, all of which can be purchased at the Mountainworks climbing shop near the Provo dollar theater. (Out-n-Back on State Street and even BYU’s very own Outdoors Unlimited also might have the requisite gear.) Web sites like slacklineexpress.com offer ready-made kits that include more advanced (and more expensive, though easier to set up) tightening systems with ratchets and other fancy gizmos. Then all you need to do is find a couple of trees (Kiwanis Park or the area around the duck pond at the southern end of BYU campus are great areas for this) and you’re good to go!

Slacklining will feel really unnatural at first, so here are some pointers: Start off by lightly resting the foot of your stronger leg (it’s easiest if you take your shoes and socks off) on the line and then just trying to stand up. Stand up in one fluid motion, with all your weight quickly shifting onto the line. If you’re anything like the rest of us, your leg will pull an Elvis (think lots of shaking) and you’ll fail miserably. Keep at it, though, and eventually you’ll be able to stand on the slackline with your arms outstretched at your sides and your other foot out in the air for balance. It helps if you keep your eyes fixed on the tree in front of you instead of down on your feet. It can also be beneficial at first to rest your hand on the shoulder of someone standing next to you, just to get a feel for things.

Once you can stand and balance comfortably (and that can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple hours of practice), try taking a few steps. Again, you’ll probably fail miserably and spectacularly. Just keep working on it and eventually you’ll be able to walk back and forth along the line like a champ. If you’re feeling confident in your abilities, there are all sorts of nifty tricks to try. Do a quick YouTube search if you want to see some of them.

Slacklining has it all, baby. It’s fun, it’s cheap, it’s good exercise (tighten those abs!), it’s relaxing, and it’s a great date idea. What more could you want in a hobby? Get after it!

Tristan Higbee is an outdoors correspondent for Rhombus. He likes slacklining and… stuff.

OUTDOORS: A Rock Climbing Primer

Written by Tristan Higbee on . Posted in Sports

You live in one of the best places in the country for rock climbing, and you probably don’t even know it. Sure, you’ve been to The Quarry climbing gym and gone climbing outside in Rock Canyon once or twice. Maybe you even have your own harness and shoes. Bully for you. It’s time to take the next step and realize what huge, untapped recreational resources we have the privilege of being surrounded by.

The Wasatch Range (the mountains that run north to south, along the east side of Provo, Salt Lake, Ogden and Logan) is the western-most edge of the Rocky Mountains. It is also heralded as one of the greatest mountain ranges that is so close to major population centers. Widely lauded for its world-class skiing, the range also harbors world-class rock and ice climbing. Whether you’re into (or want to get into) bouldering (climbing ropeless on large boulders with foam pads for protection), sport climbing (roped climbing where preplaced steel bolts in the rock are used for protection), trad climbing (placing your own specialized protection in cracks in the rock; short for traditional climbing), or even ice climbing (climbing frozen waterfalls with ice axes in your hands and spikes on your feet), the mighty Wasatch’s mountains and valleys have something to tickle your fancy.

Within one hour of Provo are enough canyons with established climbs to keep you busy for several lifetimes. No other place I can think of boasts such a wide variety of climbing in such a concentrated area. There are climbs on no less than five different types of rock (limestone, quartzite, granite, sandstone, and conglomerate), and each type of rock has its own distinct character and requires a different style of climbing. Each is unique and fun in its own way.

Here’s a rundown, with driving times, of some (though not even close to all) of our local areas:

Rock Canyon (5 minutes) — This is our home turf. With a large number of easy, accessible climbs, it also happens to be one of the best areas in the Wasatch for learning the ropes (pun very much intended). The red rock in the lower part of the canyon is quartzite, which lends itself well to low-angled sport and trad climbs. Flat edges and cracks for your hands and feet are plentiful, though the rock can at times feel slippery and polished. The gray limestone rock higher up in the canyon requires a bit more hiking to get to, but is well worth the effort. The climbs there tend to be steeper and harder sport climbs, but there are some beginner areas too. Soon this canyon will also have the longest sport climbs in the country, clocking in at well over two thousand feet! These routes are currently still in development, but should be completed by the end of the year.

Provo Canyon (15 minutes) — Not to be confused with Rock Canyon, this is the canyon that contains Bridalveil Falls and the canyon you take to get to Sundance. There’s not a whole lot in the way of rock climbing, but this is the Wasatch’s premier ice climbing venue and is a world-class destination for many. One of the longest pure ice routes in the lower 48 (the aptly-named “Stairway to Heaven”) ascends more than one thousand vertical feet of frozen, terrifying goodness up the canyon’s walls. If you have high pain and cold tolerances, ice climbing can be an incredibly beautiful and rewarding experience.

American Fork Canyon (30 minutes) — This is one of the areas where the American sport climbing revolution was born. The pocketed limestone cliffs were too broken to accept traditional protection, so the first ascentionists placed bolts instead. The approaches to the cliffs are generally short (you can drive all the way up AF Canyon, which is prohibited in Rock Canyon), and you can always find walls in the shade. There aren’t as many good beginner routes or areas as there are in Rock Canyon, but steep and hard routes abound. There are more than 500 routes in the canyon.

Little Cottonwood Canyon (45 minutes) — LCC is the shining granite jewel in the Wasatch’s climbing crown. With several cliffs over a thousand feet tall, climbers aren’t the only people who have had their eyes on the rock. This is where the LDS Church quarried stone for its Salt Lake City temple and conference center. Containing the Alta and Snowbird ski resorts, along with great mountain bike trails, this canyon is truly a multisport paradise. The climbs here tend to be slabby (less than vertical) and traditional, though there are some bolted sport climbing areas. There are also some limestone and quartzite walls with climbs on them. Close to a thousand climbs and a ton of boulders are housed in this beautiful, glacier-carved canyon.

Big Cottonwood Canyon (1 hour) — North of Little Cottonwood and directly east of Salt Lake, this canyon has a wide variety of climbing. There are hundreds of climbs, ranging from 30-foot sport routes to thousand-plus-foot traditional climbs. The quartzite cliffs suit the beginner and advanced climber alike.

Maple Canyon (1 hour, 15 minutes) — Okay, so this one is a bit more than an hour away but, man oh man, is it worth it. Maple Canyon is unique in the country for its climbing on funky conglomerate stone. Imagine some potato- and melon-sized quartzite cobbles sticking out of the hard standtone, and you’ve just imagined Maple Canyon. It’s like climbing on a bunch of petrified bubbles. The plethora of bolted sport climbs here run the gamut from easy beginner stuff to routes of world-class difficulty.

So, now you’ve been converted. At least, you want to believe. Your eyes have been opened to the wonderful, sublime truths that are rock climbing in the Wasatch. You want to immerse yourself in it and fully partake of the blessings, but you don’t really know what you’re doing and you don’t want to kill yourself on the rocks. Understandable. Here’s what I would suggest: Learn as much as possible about the rope systems involved with climbing. Climbing is a safe activity if you know what you’re doing, but it’s also an easy way to get yourself killed if you’re clueless. Read up about it in books like John Long’s How to Rock Climb! Watch climbing and how-to videos on YouTube. Go to Mountainworks (the great climbing store by Movies 8 that is attached to The Quarry climbing gym) and talk to their friendly and knowledgeable staff. Find someone who is more experienced and start your apprenticeship. Mountainproject.com is essentially an online guidebook for many of the areas in the Wasatch and beyond. Rockclimbing.com has extensive forums where you can ask questions and find answers. Learn as much as you can before you go and you’ll be sure to get the most out of your climbing experience.

I climb because it’s fun. I climb because I enjoy being so close to nature. I climb because I love the rush of dangling off a cliff by my fingers and toes. I climb because it gives me an escape from the headaches of everyday life; the higher I go up, the further away those problems seem to get. But that’s just me. That’s the beauty of climbing — it’s such an intensely individual and personal pursuit. You can get out of it whatever you want. You can climb only once a year or every day. It can be just a fun thing to do every once in a while or it can take over your life. With such beautiful and accessible surroundings, it would be a shame not to try it at least a few times. Give it a shot and, who knows, you might even find yourself joining the ranks of the true believers.

Tristan Higbee is an outdoors correspondent for Rhombus. He is apparently well-versed in rocks.