Updated: Apr 18, 2019
Clouds pulled down, as lightning cracked open a purple sky.
We scurried into a nearby alcove, enough to shelter us from the impending storm. Even as we darted in, sheets of rain bled from heavy clouds and thunder shook the ground beneath us. More now than ever, I felt the vulnerability of where we were- thousands of feet off the desert floor on the edge of a sandstone cliff.
We were the only souls on this mountain, despite thousands of tourists in the valley below. Being adventure seekers, we shared a desire for route finding, vertical sections we could climb without ropes, and places with little visitation from other people. This forgotten hike in Zion National Park was the perfect pick and would condition us well for a true rock climbing adventure in two days.
I looked over at Mason, he was the epitome of athletic: strong, lean, unaffected by extreme heat or extreme cold, boundless energy and the tanned skin of someone who lives in the dirt and the sun.
We had just spent the last several hours in an uphill battle through cactus, rock fields, sheer drop-offs, and a snake-infested vertical chimney. Ascending 2,650 feet was a challenge when it was essentially class 4 scrambling, a term used for climbers to identify sections of rock that are semi-vertical but likely don’t require ropes to climb. While I considered myself athletic, twelve bouts of bronchitis in the past four years, a heat stroke, and Lyme’s disease meant I really had to work for things like this, but for Mason, it was an average hike.
Passing me an electrolyte gel with strong and callused hands he voices my thoughts, “Wow, this is wild.”
“I’ve been here so many times, and still Zion is a mystery." I squeezed the gel into my mouth and amuse him with a shudder and pinched nose. “Ugh, I HATE these.”
Minutes later the danger passed, the sky broke into a brilliant blue, a classic desert storm. Re-packing our bags, we set out on the path to the summit plate. It laid flat like an oversized penny on a pile of tan boulders feet from the cliff's edge. Engraved were arrows pointing to other summits and an elevation marker indicating 6,940 feet.
Mason and I sat for a moment next to the plate looking out over the canyon taking in its iconic views. From this vantage, I could see the desert extend for hundreds of miles. I could look down and see the virgin river making its journey through the sandstone canyon and ponderosa forests, gullies, and caves in all directions.
The desert had come alive in the rain. The reds of the cliffs intensified in color, desert cactus opened up, waterfalls cascaded down thousand-foot canyon walls and the scent of sagebrush was thick in the air.
Across the canyon, I located the monolith we’d scale in 48 hours. It would be my first big wall climbing experience, one where we would camp 800 feet up at the halfway point and truly surrender to the mercy of mother nature.