One year ago, Alyssa and I were wed in a small backyard ceremony at her parents’ home. Now on our anniversary, instead of buying each other gifts, we would be going out with a tour company to hike, climb, and rappel our way through a few of Moab’s many canyons. In what would later be described by our guide as “a natural Tough Mudder,” our first obstacle would be waking up early enough to arrive by 7:30am.
That feat accomplished, we met up with our guide John and sized up our harnesses. Minutes later, we were on a bus headed to the outskirts of town with another group of hikers. They had chosen only to cannoneer through a single canyon, while Alyssa and I were doing two. What we didn’t realize was that we were the only ones signed up for the two-canyon package, meaning we’d have a private trip for our anniversary.
A short time later, we all piled out of the bus and began to hike along the slickrock towards our first rappel. Along the way, our the guides stopped and explained a key feature of the landscape to us. For me, crypto was a way of encrypting communications. Out here however, crypto was a bacteria buildup that provided nourishment to sustain a majority of the life we saw, preventing the area from turning into a barren desert. Most importantly, they explained, it would take hundreds of years to recover once disturbed.
We continued onward and quickly reached the first rappel. One of the guides went through a detailed briefing of how the system worked and how we would lower ourselves the 80′ to the floor. Because we had a second canyon ahead of us, the group let John, Alyssa, and myself go down first.
There were two ropes, side by side, which allowed for Alyssa and I to rappel down together. John checked my harness, insuring I was clipped in securely. I leaned back, applying weight to the rope, and began backing up to the cliffside. A moment later, was feeding the rope through my belay device to lower myself to the ground. I unclipped from the rope and called myself clear so that John could pull up the secondary rope. Alyssa joined me a moment later, followed by John.
A few hundred yards later, after a small scramble over some boulders lying in our path, we were at our second rappel point. John went began to set up the ropes while Alyssa and I enjoyed our view from the top of Morning Glory Arch. Minutes later, John was ready for us, and we walked over.
At 120′, this would be a much higher rappel than our first and, with only a single rope, we would go down it one at a time. Since I had seen videos of this rappel early on, I had an idea of what the view from the bottom looked like, so I chose to go down first to get a good shot of Alyssa on her turn.
Clipped in, I began towards the ledge, and within seconds of starting the rappel, the cliff fell away from my feet leaving me suspended by my harness. I began to feed my rope through the belay, but quickly realized it’d be easier to keep it looser and let it slide through both my gloves and the device as gravity pulled me down, tightening it only if I picked up too much speed.
I became aware of another group that was watching my descent, applauding as I neared the bottom. I touched down and fumbled to unhook the carabiners. A couple of moments later, after I disconnected and called up to John, Alyssa began her descent, landing to a second applause.
The next few hours were spent hiking through the foliage at the bottom of the canyon, our trail crossing back and forth over the stream that would eventually drain into the Colorado River. We passed in and out of the shade from trees growing overhead, contrasting from the typical desert expectations. Occasionally we would pass hikers traveling the other direction, from the canyon’s entrance toward’s Morning Glory Arch, or even the random runner, speeding along the trail. As we walked, John would point out small landmarks, or tell us facts or stories spawned from what we saw.
We made it to the canyon’s entrance where a minivan was waiting. We climbed in and John drove us into town for lunch at Milt’s, a 50’s styled diner that claimed to be the oldest restaurant in Moab. Ordering burgers and shakes, we enjoyed our meal, as more people began to arrive. Clearly we had shown up at the right time.
Lunch over, we got into the van once more and headed off towards our second canyon, taking a road that was far more rugged than I’d have expected a minivan to travel. We parked in a small pull off, and climbed out to begin our second trek of the day.
This canyon would prove to be more technical than the earlier one, starting a short distance after we started. Facing a climb of roughly 200 feet, we slowly pulled ourselves up, taking the natural staircase where we could, and wedging our feet into crevices for leverage where we couldn’t. After hiking roughly seven miles in the morning, I could see why the two-canyon experience wasn’t one that many people signed up for.
One of the things we found we liked most about John, aside from his casual and laid-back “hippy”-like demeanor, was his way of adjusting to our skills and abilities. When we caught up to a different group making their way through the slot canyon in front of us, rather than finding shade for us to relax and wait, he led us up to the top of the slot where we’d have to work our way back down again, knowing that we could handle the extra exertion. It also proved to be a chance to practice some of the technical maneuvers we would need later in the canyon.
By the time we returned to where we had run into the group, they had moved on, leaving the three of us on our own once more. We pushed our way down from one pothole to another, never knowing if the water it contained was inches deep, or would be over our heads. We did another rappel, linking through two of the canyon’s rooms, before making our way towards our first starting point.
One final rappel stood between us and the van and, while it looked easy with the cliffside angling enough that it would almost be like walking down, it proved to be one of the more challenging ones. At one point, since I was walking where I felt I had the surest footing instead of the straightest rope, my rope jumped, twisting me and tossing me into a crevice. Alyssa too had trouble, nearly inverting herself at the start and having John pull her back up to let her try again. Eventually we were both at the bottom, and watching as John effortlessly descended to us.
We headed back to the van where he drove us back to where we had started our day. We thanked him for our trip, and hoped we would be with him again during our rafting trip the following day.
Back at the tent, one of the camp’s maintainers was inside, working to install an evaporative cooling mist system. While he worked, Alyssa and I cleaned up and left to go explore more of Moab, specifically Arches National Park.
I renewed my NPS annual pass, and parked at the visitor center. We walked inside and explored the various displays and placards they had before walking into the gift shop. Browsing through the shops many stands, Alyssa found a set of scrapbooking kits and thought it’d be a great way to save memories from the trip. I found a cool looking magnet with a picture of a lightning bolt flashing over the canyons.
We paid for our objects, returned to Fusion, and drove into the park where we stopped a mile or two later to hike down a small trail. I took some pictures as she walked along, and then we turned around to continue our drive.
We passed by the turnoff for the Windows arches, that included the visually striking double arch that I had photographed last year. Instead, we drove on, heading towards Delicate Arch, which we had learned was originally named Landscape Arch, but due to a misprint during the grand opening of park, Delicate and Landscape arches were switched.
After short walk to an area below the arch, we returned to the car. Low on fuel, we chose to leave the park, fill up, and make our way back to the tent.
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