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tent under a bare tree in Utah

5 Camping Mistakes I Made in Zion and Why

trees framing the outlook to Kolob Canyon

Kolob Canyon overlook

Not every trip is full of sparkly images of you living your best life. Flights get canceled, surf or snow doesn’t show up, we mistime, we plan too far ahead or not enough, oh and this pandemic thing…we fuck up, we make mistakes and rarely do we admit it publicly…and we should more often because our lessons might help others.

What normally I reveled in for the past several years (camping, nature, snowboarding, etc.) became a trip full of “damn why didn’t I think of thats!” In case you haven’t noticed, for the past couple of years, I’ve been camping at Zion National Park and have been soaking up the challenge of conquering my fear of heights by hiking Angel’s Landing and recently made it a point to stop by Brian Head for a snowboarding session.

I think in between the recent death of someone falling off of Angel’s Landing on the same day and getting bad dizzy spells while hiking Angel’s Landing for my third time, I began to realize…I need to calm down. :D

But don’t worry—I’m not going to quit adventuring, I think this is one of those trips where there are lessons learned as opposed to goals achieved. I’m confessing my mistakes so you don’t do the same things I did:

girl with braids and a beenie holds camera in front for a selfie

Quite literally-NOT a happy camper.

1.Sleep is essential. Get some at all cost!! I am the world’s lightest sleeper. A pin drop would wake me up. So when 40 mph winds came tunneling through the canyon, shaking and jostling my tent All. Night. Long, every night… I had a hard time with everything I did. It didn’t help that I forgot a pillow, so I bundled up my puffiest gear, but guys—a zipper or button on the face all night long doesn’t exactly feel or look grand the next day. Not mention my neck was tweaked all six ways of something special. The next day, I woke up and rode my bike 6 miles up hill to the Angel’s Landing trailhead and on other days, went hiking and driving to Kolob Canyon and drove for 1 1/2 hour to snowboard. I can say-because of lack of sleep, my motivation and patience was at an all time low, like I had never seen before. Not a good feeling to have.

bike, firewood, snowboard and camping gear all piled in the back of a car

If you look close enough, you can see a kitchen sink.

2. Check your gear. The normally free Zion shuttle was charging $1 for rides and you have to book in advanced to get a ticket. Each day was completely booked and full, but I will add that you can find tickets at the last minute, but my phone didn’t have a great signal, so I brought my bike.
I didn’t know until I was about a mile biking into the canyon on the Pa’rus, but my tires were flat and I was beginning to wonder why I felt so out of shape. Fortunately, I met this nice couple on the trail & they kindly filled up my tires and, already winded, I was on my way a lot faster. It really is a beautiful ride, I highly recommend, but make sure to bring proper gear, like a bike pump.

3. Hydration. Hydration. Hydration. Sometimes when it’s colder, we might forget to drink water, but it’s imperative to do so, especially if you plan to do a strenuous bike/hike and it’s a desert climate. I was so focused on getting to the trailhead, I also forgot to drink water.

It was late in the day when I finished my 6-mile bike ride & started at the trail (around 11:00 am) and there were a crapton of people. No sleep combined with minimal water and beautiful nature distractions and my literal insatiable determination had me sending one foot in front of the other up the trail. I wanted to get to the top of Angel’s Landing around 1:30 so I could eat something. Why didn’t I eat something before hiking? The crowds + stupid COVID were making me nervous, so my mind was focused on completing the trail and catching the views…and eating my tasty sandwich at the peak, of course.

waterfall and a tree hanging over the water

Don’t drink the water! The beautiful Virgin River ain’t too pure, lots of signs everywhere warning you why.

By the time I got to the beginning of Angel’s Landing (the last quarter mile of the West Rim Trail), I heard that someone had fallen off that morning and died and they just reopened the trail. I still went for it. Fuck it. I thought. I think my mentality wasn’t all there because I was pissed off at the world for the unimaginable crowds, the pandemic and the poor person who fell off that morning. Fuck it fuck it fuck it. I’m going.

Mindlessly, I proceeded down the spine and clasped the chains. Not shortly into my climb, I slipped and went a-sliding and made a family totally panic. (Sorry, guys) and still thought -fuck it. I continued to go forth, my nerves making me forget to drink water. Even though my stare was mostly straight forward, I still got dizzy with head rushes. By the last couple hundred yards before the official peak, I got so dizzy, I had to sit down. And yea, I was in between hyperventilating and tears when this lovely gal from LA who was climbing behind me, immediately came to my rescue. She sat with me and gave me some electrolyte powder, which I straight shotgunned into my throat and immediately felt like I was foaming at the mouth. Her and her group adopted me and I was so thankful they did. So, nice folks in LA DO exist. :) Before my 6-mile bike ride back to camp, we all shared some margaritas and stories, hydration be damned.

rocks in Utah

Rocks stand high in the sky, you know how I feel…

4. Eat real FOOD. Maybe I haven’t gotten this camping thing down 100 percent, but I brought dehydrated meals to save on space and to get what I thought was adequate protein. I also brought fresh fruit and snacks for daaaays and plenty of protein bars. After day 2 of dehydrated meals for dinner as well as snacks, sandwiches and fruit, my body wasn’t having it anymore. I couldn’t make myself eat any of my stuff, honestly because all I could think about were eggs, hash browns, bacon and toast with tea or coffee. As I left Zion, I got exactly that at Oscar’s Cafe in Springdale and I could feel my body doing a little happy dance in between bites.

girl with sunglasses and a backpack smiles under red rocks

Don’t ask how I mustered that smile. All along the Watchman Trail.

5. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. With closures far and wide and the confines of stay-at-home orders, businesses biting the dust and extra safety protocols for public spaces, people are longing to get out and literally breathe fresh air …without contracting covid, of course. With all this pent up energy, I think I got ahead of myself and forgot to pause and check my mentality before pursuing my annual Zion + snowboarding trip. I was so focused on getting away and getting out…just like everyone else. And my expectations of low crowds, beautiful scenery and adventure did not match the pandemic reality. Crowds were aplenty and I’m trying to learn patience with people and the pandemic times while also looking at what I want out of trips versus what I will actually get.

My normal positive mental attitude wasn’t 100 percent there, in case you can’t tell. :D Signs of the times were everywhere, including not only the one death but another suicide at Angel’s Landing earlier that week, crazy crowds like I’ve never seen and constant roadblocks that never used to exist. In hindsight, which, ironically, is always 2020 (haaaa), I should’ve just hiked past Angel’s Landing, found a way to get better sleep and made more of an effort to hydrate myself and eat real food.

mountain slopes covered in snow

Brian Head Resort in Utah cooled off my hot head.

Snowboarding, on the other hand, was my one saving day and had me leaving southern Utah with a very tired smile.

Hindsight…Maybe we can change that “hindsight is 2020″ thing…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t ALL camping mishaps. Check out a few more photos from Zion, Kolob and Brian Head in my album below!

Utah 2021

And a long compilation of my videos from Zion to Kolob Canyon and Brian Head, too:

 

Facing Fears Solo in Zion National Park

Timing is everything.

And it just so happened that minutes after I gushed to my boss about wanting to do a solo camping trip, my co-worker messaged the team saying that he had an extra camp site at Zion National Park. Instantly, I responded with “mine…please.”

Watchman Campgrounds picturesque peaks.

Watchman Campgrounds picturesque peaks.

It has been 10 years since I’ve camped by myself…Big Sur in 2009, right around the same time of year, was the first and last time I had pitched a tent, lit a fire and truly struck out into a space with zero cell phone reception. I toggled with the idea of bringing someone along, but my mind immediately screamed: NOPE. There were times where I’d view the estimated air temps for that week and it mostly read in the mid 50’s for the high and the upper 20’s for the low. Again: still going.

I got yelled at by both parents and most co-workers were in disbelief.

Still.
Going.

Of course I began to question myself: Could I still light my own camp fire? Build my own tent? Cook my own food? Protect myself from predators in and out of the park? YES.

The first time this tent has seen the light in five years. Sad, but true.

The first time this tent has seen the light in five years. Sad, but true.

After staying Thursday night at the disgusting Rio resort/hotel in Vegas, I powered through Sin City’s dust, desert and debauchery for a couple more hours to Zion and arrived (after many photo stops) Friday afternoon. I could not wait to escape that blasted hotel room that reeked of smoke. Despite it’s salacious  party-hardy reputation, Vegas has never been interesting to me. In fact, it makes me want to run far far away every time. Funny enough–I got more bug bites in the hotel room than I did camping.

When I arrived to my campsite, the beautiful landscape jutted towards puffy white clouds that swiftly blew past the peaks of the park’s beautiful precipices. I was in utter shock and awe having done zero research (naturally) before my solo adventure outside of consistently bugging my co-worker for info. I immediately began to set up my more than 10 year old tent–it’s previous adventure was five years ago in Baja with six wave-hungry boys and myself. The Baja dust and dried mud still sifted around the tent’s interior and, as I opened it up, I let out a big “AWWWWE” remembering that epic surf trip five years ago while, in the same breath, scoffing in shame as it was the last adventure this tent had seen.

After the tent was set up, my co-worker and his wife stopped by to say hello. I also got to know my fellow semi-solo female camper neighbor, who helped me pull up my tent. I later spied her chopping firewood with an ax, which made me feel oddly proud that I asked for her help. Shortly after the set-up, I hopped onto a free shuttle that takes people into the park. I decided to check out the Upper Emerald Pool Trail, a small half-mile trip to a water fall, stocked with crowds, kids and strollers. YAY. So after the brief stroll, I made my way down Sand Bench trail, which had no one. As the sun started to set, I turned around and headed towards camp, where I successfully lit a camp fire and cooked freeze-dried soup and paired it with a salad I picked up from the grocery store earlier.

The night came quickly and after my fire died, I huddled in my tent equipped with quilts, two sleeping bags, beanies, gloves and a solid book. But, I never sleep well when it comes to camping. I woke up at 3-ish a.m to the distant sound of coyotes barking. As I stirred in my sleeping bags, the frigid air felt numb against my face and proceeded to sneak through any available crevice.
In short: brrrr

The first portion of the Angel's Landing hike, right before you get to Refrigerator Canyon.

The first portion of the Angel’s Landing hike, right before you get to Refrigerator Canyon.

My 7 a.m. wake-up proved even more difficult than sleeping as getting out of the warmth of my sleeping bags was especially challenging.

Wellll, I’m up! Time for breakfast and the infamous Angel’s Landing hike. No big deal, I thought, as I scarfed my oatmeal and green tea. I will do as much as I can and there’s zero pressure, despite my dizzying fear of heights. But–I often push through because am also very stubborn and goal-oriented. I knew I had to do the hike that has a reputation for treachery. Six people have died attempting the last half-mile and the park makes sure people are aware of that and recommends anyone with heart or lung problems and anyone afraid of heights to not attempt. Of course, I had to at least SEE this beast of a climb.

This hike certainly ain’t no Angel…in fact, she’s a real bitch.

"The Spine" looking nice 'n spiney.

“The Spine” looking nice ‘n spiney.

The first 2 miles of the Angel’s Landing follow along a paved road of the West Rim Trail and I will mention, you really start to feel the 1,500 elevation gain towards the top of the longer switchbacks. Try not to get too dizzy because it might not be the highest point of the trail, but it’s still a long way down. After this portion, you come to the only shaded part of the trail known as “Refrigerator Canyon,” which has a small creek and hanging plants and trees. I recommend doing some calve stretching because shortly after this section, you arrive at “Walter’s Wiggles,” which are 21 switchbacks named after the park’s first superintendent. This, outside of the climb, is the most difficult part of the trail as it will wear you down.

If you make it through Walter’s Wiggles, you come to what looks like the top, but no. It is merely a resting/lunching place before you (or should you) take on the last half-mile of Angel’s Landing known as “The Spine”–duly noted for it’s narrow shape and sheer drop-offs. When I tackled this part, there was a hefty line of people (somehow) going both ways on the very narrow path that is, YES, mostly lined with chains for grip. I stood in line and the first third of the half mile climb (not really hike), was what I thought to be the peak, but no–my mouth agape as the rest of the “spine” came into view.

I thought, well I’ve come this far, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought, maybe I’ll just keep going. 

Thank you for being my model, fellow photog, because I really didn't want to take a selfie. No fear at the peak of Angel's Landing.

Thank you for being my model, fellow photog, because I really didn’t want to take a selfie. No fear at the peak of Angel’s Landing.

A small part of my stomach was doing loop-de-loops as I climbed up and down, over and out very VERY carefully. One step in the wrong direction, one trip over a jagged rock and you fall to certain death thousands of dizzying feet below. The people in front and behind me became my best friends as I climbed with an 15 extra pounds on my back. I think I would’ve felt a little safer without my 15-pound backpack, but I wouldn’t have been able to eat my delicious turkey avocado sandwich at 5,790 feet. No, I wasn’t having that.

So, I committed to the rest of The Spine and eventually made it to a very unobstructed 360-degree view of Zion National Park. As  I got to the peak, my heart bursted with excitement and fear all at once. I dare not test my balance coupled with my tired legs and quickly found a lunch spot. My turkey and avocado sandwich never tasted so good. I sat for a moment, took in the beauty that is Zion and then decided to go back down since it was, at this point, past noon. I felt the sun fry my cheeks as I carefully stood up to hike down. Despite the fact that I was still shaking in my hiking boots, I was so proud that I made it to this place and didn’t give up.

Not too close to the edge. Yay conquering fears!

Not too close to the edge. Yay, conquering fears!

The climb back down, however, felt scarier than climbing up. For you climbers/hikers: capitalize on SQUATS because you gonna need ’em. No matter how much my thighs trembled, I forced myself to keep moving despite my semi-lighter backpack falling around my shoulders with each steep descend. At the Spine’s final third portion, there were some rude people who decided to not wait for oncoming traffic on the narrow one-way ridge, and some other folks had to literally grab me and hold me so those rude people would not push me over the edge. I am very grateful for those who were keeping me and the two girls behind safe.

Once I got to the resting space, I felt a wave of relief wash over me as my thighs continued to tremble.

I did it, I thought. I fucking did that shit.

As cheesy as this might sound, a special feeling remained in me for the rest of the day. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I continued to hike more of the West Rim Trail, Weeping Rock and a small portion of the Narrows. I absolutely HAVE to come back here–no question in mind.

My only real question that remains is: will I attempt Angel’s Landing again? Maybe or maybe not, but, not gonna lie: hang gliding, sky diving, rock climbing…these activities have a little more potential for future fear conquering.

Five things you NEED in Humboldt:

Humboldt Redwood forests galore! Try to find the hobbit in this picture.

Humboldt Redwood forests galore! Try to find the hobbit in this picture.

Ah, the land of beards, flannel and weed connoisseurs! Humboldt, Calif. is an area of the golden state that is anything but dry and brown.  Noted for it’s beautiful temperate rainforest, rocky coastline and, well, all different types of greenery, Humboldt is not a place to pass up …or puff-puff-pass the day away. Go outside.

All rain and stoners aside, I drove the 950 mile stretch solo to visit a good friend, score some waves and hug some trees. It didn’t take any THC-induced revelation to figure out the five essentials you can’t go without. Ladies and gents, other than your paraphernalia, don’t forget to pack these:

Waterproof Patagonia Jackets rock!

Waterproof Patagonia Jackets rock!

1.)    Waterproof Jacket:

Despite the fact that the ocean is chilly and chances of a swim/surf or (whatever your fancy) are less than that of Hawaii, you will get wet. Loosely considered the Pacific Northwest, Humboldt is rainy place. The coast varies only 10 degrees summer-to-winter and has an average rainfall of 40-100 inches per year. Coupled with humidity, this can create some wet (and not too cold) conditions. I was recently converted to Patagonia’s down jackets. To an extent, most of them are waterproof, but can be costly–trust me! I was hunting for months for one to go on sale! If you find one on sale, go for it. It’s well worth the bucks. If $$ is not an issue, put your chump change to the test and buy one–Patagonia is a solid company and does great things for this planet. If $$ is an issue, there are several comparable brands that are decimal points less than the pricey “Patagucchi.”

Laughing about a lack of skivvies.

Laughing about a lack of skivvies.

2.)    Hiking Boots:

To state the obvious: there are beautiful trails you NEED to explore in Humboldt. However, rocks, mud and rivers are aplenty, so hiking boots are nice to have to climb over trees, boulders and gravel. If you’re like me (semi-hippy-ish) and you like playing in the mud, try trekking a muddy trail barefoot! A lot of people walk about Humboldt without their shoes…and, apparently, skivvies! I met a fellow hiking in a kilt, traditional style….meaning: no undies. How I found out? When he squatted down to take a picture of me and my friend, all of his glory flashed before my eyes. It’s safe to say this shot was a candid one.

But— If you do nothing else, go for a walk in the woods. You’ll thank me later.

He thought I was going to steal his dinner.

He thought I was going to steal his dinner.

3.)  Camera:

You will see trees wider than your walls and beautiful scenic forested areas that are thousands of years old…coastlines engulfed in fog, huge waves, majestic Elk…and banana slugs. Tell me you don’t want to recall the time you ventured into the Humboldt “shire” and have beautiful emerald green images! Again, rain was a factor for me and my camera lens, so it would be wise to bring a lens-friendly wipe.

 

Some hiking spots might look familiar, too…Jurassic Park/Star Wars ring a bell? Ewoks/Hobbits/Aliens/Dinosaurs…a director’s wet dream for fantasy land should be on your photo priority list.

4.) Gun

I’m not part of any NRA…In my world, a gun is: a big board for riding big waves…Small by Humboldt standards is six feet. The day I got there, it was maybe two-to-three occasional six feet…winds and high tide made conditions a little wonky, but the next day, the surf climbed to staggering double-to-triple overhead heights. This translates to: 10-to-18 feet. If you plan to surf: bring a gun.

5.) Five millimeter wetsuit/Hood/Booties

My friend Sean told me: “If you don’t have a hood, you might as well not come up here.” The water temperature can range between 48 and 52 degrees, on average. It may not be Alaska, but it is pretty cold. Obviously, when you are in cold temperatures, it behooves you to have something to contain the heat that will escape through your dome. This worked like a charm, although I will add: the 5 mil wetsuit was also a great help! And as much as I dislike booties, I wore them…with much gusto.

Sean can't believe I'm sitting across the room, with camera in one hand and beer in another.

Sean can’t believe I’m sitting across the room, with camera in one hand and beer in another.

All things in this picture are necessary in Humboldt, Calif.

All things in this picture are necessary in Humboldt, Calif.

OH AND… 

Don’t hesitate to buckle up, suit up and strap in for fun times up there. Be wary of road ADD once you hit the forested areas and don’t touch the banana slugs. Apparently their slime is very hard to wash off.  One thing you absolutely MUST try is their local lager, Eel River IPA. It’s freakin’ amazing!

Amazing Baja…Round Two

That’s right.

Only a day after I flew back from Cabo/Baja Sur, a couple of buddies and I turned right back around at 4 a.m. on New Year’s Eve to score more epic surf sessions somewhere VERY south of the U.S./Mexico border.

This time we took a very well-endowed truck and ended up in one of the most desolate areas in the western hemisphere. Nothing for miles, not even a single person in sight.

I'm SO not telling...

I’m SO not telling…

I’m not going to elaborate too much, as there are a few article possibilities in the works. I did, however, create an extremely cheesy but fun video about my trip.

You can watch it here.