In Utah, where 99.9% of all trails head directly UP, and switchbacks are scarce, getting into trail running can be, well, exhausting. If you’re hard-pressed to find a moderate trail to begin on, is it even worth “running” at all if you spend the majority of the time speed-hiking?
When I talk to people about venturing into the world of dirt and scraped knees, the most common, and almost immediate, response is this:
I don’t think I can run the whole thing.
My dear, sweet friends, I have good news for you!
The majority of trail runners walk the uphills.
You read that right! When I first started trail running I had no idea that even the elitest of the elites will hike the uphills and run the downhills (granted their uphills are literal mountains, but still).
So when we’re talking about how fast or slow you should be trail running, the best answer I can find is to do what feels right for YOU and YOUR BODY. It’s easy to get so caught up in what we think we should or shouldn’t be doing, that we make it impossible for ourselves to even start. That’s a nasty trap to get caught in.
In Salt Lake, there are some great, moderate trails for beginners. The Pipeline Trail in Millcreek Canyon, and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail near the Avenues and the University, are both great options. And as you move on from there, give yourself grace, and a high-five for getting out in the first place.
The outdoors can be intimidating, I know from experience. It’s even more intimidating when you live in a place that professional athletes use as their training ground. However, I suggest we use that as motivation to get out and get after it.
Who knows? After a few years of training you could be running laps around the Wasatch.
A couple weeks ago, after the devastating news of what our new president has planned for our environment, I decided to take action. The SLCA (Salt Lake Climber’s Alliance), along with the Access Fund and the Forest Service, are developing the largest trail network on Forest Service land. Pretty cool, right? It’s called The Grit Mill Project and you can check it out here.
Except, at first, I didn’t think it was cool. My knee-jerk reaction to trail work was negative because I viewed it as:
A disturbance to the natural environment
A money-suck, especially in labor
Making approaches unnecessarily long
Making access easier (and could bring in graffiti artists *anger, anger, anger*)
And, of course, it pissed off die hard climbers who want to go back to the 1960’s when LITERALLY NOBODY ELSE was out climbing. (I feel you.)
But, I wanted to volunteer with an open mind, so I strapped on my work boots and hit the trail.
I hadn’t known much about the Access Fund. I’d heard their slogan to “Protect America’s Climbing,” but I didn’t know how they achieved that. What does sustainable trail work look like and how are they advocates?
They are advocates by supporting local initiatives through grants and loans. They use their platform to rally signatures for petitions. They organize adopt-a-crag events and help other passionate, local climbers do the same. They spend their workdays literally protecting America’s climbing from getting snagged up in public and private land swaps and sales. On top of all that, they also create sustainable ways to access the crags we love so dearly.
I’m going to take it back to high school and throw down the actual definition of sustainable:
Sustainable: (adjective) capable of being supported or upheld, as by having its weight borne from below.
Trail work employs natural elements to create a trail that can withstand the weight we stress on it every day. Through trail building, volunteers help make crush that fills in gaps between rocks to form stairs and solid retaining walls. They widen already existing trails or clear the way for new ones. They remove root systems that would eventually impact the trail. It’s a process of reinforcement that maintains the trails for years.
The trails that snake their way up Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons (as well as hundreds of other climbing areas) don’t have the capacity to support themselves with the amount of force we put on them. Think about it! A rope alone weighs about 10 pounds, add to that draws, food, water, and god-forbid a trad rack, PLUS your body weight—we’re easily packing up hundreds of thousands of pounds on these little deer trails. No wonder the Access Fund and other sustainability groups are worried about erosion. With the amount of weight we’re pushing down on the soil I’m surprised we haven’t destroyed the trails and mountainsides sooner.
I learned that I am undereducated about sustainability and the environment. I am, however, excited to learn more and become a better advocate.
As a concessionary note—trail work shouldn’t (and I don’t think it will) become necessary in more remote, alpine environments. We all want those places to remain wild. But, if I’m going to my local crag, and I know there are going to be a bunch of people with their dogs and their beer and their boomboxes, then I want to know, that as the sport grows, we’re doing our best to protect the places we love.
Salt Lake City is a hidden gem for the outdoor enthusiast and it blows my mind I didn’t find it sooner. Because of the stigma surrounding Utah, many people (previously myself included) grow weary the second the Beehive state is mentioned. While this is unfortunate for those tee-tottering over the idea of moving out West, the growing number of us who have found this mecca of outdoor sport are reveling in our adventure filled backyard.
Thirty minutes south of downtown, American Fork Canyon snakes it’s way up the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. It brings in tourists wanting to explore the Timpanogos cave, enjoy a picnic at one of the many picnic areas, or camp at the various campgrounds. For me and my friends, it’s a limestone playground.
According to Mountain Project, American Fork boasts 475 routes, the majority being sport, which makes sense as American Fork was the birthplace of steep-overhanging sport routes back in the 1980’s.
While I’m not typically one for steep-overhanging sport routes, I’m slowly beginning the enjoy getting physical with routes like Helix (5.12b at Black Magic Cave), and Naked Nebula (5.12a at White Wave Wall).
The area is great to explore in the summer months since the elevation keeps temps at a comfortable level. However, be prepared to keep some hand warmers in your chalk bag if you decide to head to any crag on the south side of the canyon in mid-late October.
What’s even better? For those of us looking to not bust our lungs on a long approach, the majority of crags are only a few paces off the road. Though, don’t let that fool you, as nearly every trail in Utah heads straight up.
Guidebook: Climber’s Guide to American Fork Canyon—In Salt Lake, pick it up at IME or the Gear Room. From the South, check out Mountainworks in Provo for a wealth of information. If you’re looking to add to your Dividend, REI keeps the guidebook in stock. Also check it out on Mountain Project for more up-to-date information about the newer, shiny-bolted routes.
Camping: Six campgrounds, all running at a rate of $21/night for 8 people. I’d suggest bringing seven lucky friends to cut down the cost.
Getting there: From Salt Lake: 1-15 down to exit 284, then take a left on Highway 92 which takes you straight into the canyon. From Provo: 1-15 N to exit 276, left on State Street, then right on Highway 146 which takes you straight into the canyon after joining with 92.
**If driving into American Fork just to climb, you can circumnavigate the fee by parking in the gravel pullout areas. Otherwise it’s $3 a day to access the canyon.
Other things to keep in mind: Utah is very protective of their watershed and asks all visitors and mother-nature-enjoyers to keep their business at least 200ft away from any body of water. Unlike the Cottonwood’s, your pups are allowed to enjoy American Fork Canyon. And, as always, Leave No Trace, people. If you packed it in, please pack it out.
Have you visited American Fork? Let me know your favorite route so I can check it out!
A couple months ago I summited a peak, all by myself, for the first time in my life. And let me tell you, it felt amazing.
There are a few things many people don’t know about me:
I am constantly anxious. As in, my mind continuously comes up with the worst-case scenario in each situation and runs through it over and over and over again until I’m essentially a basket case of nerves and emotions.
For a long time I’ve let this anxiety rule my life. I’ve shied away from climbing, hiking, taking risks. I’ve worked myself into a panic when I didn’t hear back from a loved one for a few hours. I’ve been overwhelmed with negative possibilities time and time again.
However, generally speaking, I’m an optimist.
I know. It’s confusing, even to myself. I’m a positive person. I believe in the goodness placed in the souls of humanity. I believe if we continue to better ourselves we can become the stewards of this planet that we’re capable of being. I believe that kindness, conversation, and perspective can overcome the evils continuously presenting themselves in our world. With my heart, I genuinely believe all of these things.
But then my brain goes to the dark side. The fat-chance side. The one-in-a-million side. Like getting mauled by a cougar. Or losing any member of my family to any number of diseases or devastating circumstances like murder or car accidents. Or coming across a crazy in the woods. Or my bolt pulling. Or triggering an avalanche. And for the longest time these scenarios that haven’t even happened to anybody I know dominated the hemispheres of my brain until I felt overwhelmed and isolated and stuck. How would I ever live my life to the fullest if I kept suffocating under the weight of my anxiety?
Then I had an “aha!” moment. I never wanted to label this for what it was. I thought I was just another worrier (and maybe I am, I haven’t seen a doctor for a diagnosis for personal reasons), but I googled anxiety and what I found honestly changed my life. Our brain is our most powerful tool, and when used to benefit our livelihood, dreams, goals, and aspirations, it can alter our lifestyles dramatically.
It’s one phrase:
“I’m going to worry about this later.”
So. Stinking. Simple.
Because what happens when you worry about it later is that when later comes, there’s nothing left to worry about. The irrational fear has passed. You’re in a new environment and whatever presents itself there will be worried about in the next environment. It’s fear-shifting. By pushing fears into the future I’m more capable of living in the present. Fully.
I will tell you though, sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes I still feel trapped under this oppressive fear and negativity. Like a few weeks ago when I was hiking in Neff’s canyon all by my lonesome, and something moved in the bushes, and I couldn’t spook it, so I eventually turned around and walked the other way. The defeat I felt weighed heavy on my sensitive soul, but this is what I knew, it was temporary and the next day would be different. And it was.
I hiked up to Grandeur Peak with just my backpack and my not-so-shiny new approach shoes. I didn’t put headphones in, and I continuously reeled my mind back in to my breathing, to the beautiful sounds of life around me, to worrying about it later. Like magic, I didn’t assume every slithery sound was a snake lying in wait, but instead I heard lizards and marmots and squirrels. The thick stand of trees I passed through didn’t have my eyeballs dodging between every narrow space, instead I stood in awe of their massive stance, of their roots stretching deep into the earth and their branches reach, reach, reaching for the sky.
When I finally made the summit, winded, sweaty, and awe-struck I couldn’t keep from giggling. Up there I had nothing to worry about besides my place in this beautiful, living, breathing, ever-changing, natural world.
And that, my friends, was pretty fantastic.
She was powerful not because she wasn’t scared, but because she went on so strongly, despite the fear. -Atticus