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Tranquility in Maple Canyon, UT

August 21st, 2008

Scrub oak and wild grass thickened into aspen groves and maples as the landscape fell away before me. Folding into itself, the valleys deepened into canyons whose ribs and fingers stood tall with ancient cobbles, orange in the glowing sunset. (at left: in the canyon, photo by ian horton)

Across the basin, criss-crossed by a few two lane highways and dappled with clustered houses, the mountain’s shadow crept. In the high desert, at 8000 feet, the air was cool and my sweat evaporated quickly, chillingly. Standing in the still dust of road #0069 I felt peacefully alone. Below me was Maple Canyon, a climbing, hunting, and recreation area two hours south of Salt Lake City where, beneath the trees, my friends were making dinner. Picking the last of the burrs from my socks, I turned and ran down the road.

The week spent in Maple Canyon, on the heels of the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show, was an intentional break from the overwhelming, though at times exciting, tedium inherent in freelance work. I relish the moments I get to spend with Marshall and Megan. I’ve known Marshall more than a decade; like an old married couple we’ve squabbled, bickered, judged, hurt, and made-up. With Megan, his girlfriend (I’m not allowed to say “fiance”), I have a relationship independent of Marshall in which she and I also struggled and learned. But, together or independently, I consider both of them some of my dearest friends. Our paths continue to diverge, further and further, but when I can, I look to them for a chance to relax, to laugh and seek peace of mind. (at right: midday at the viewpoint looking into the canyon, photo by ian horton)

The two had been at the Trade Show, staying near Kasi and Andreas’s. That Monday we set off to meet up with Ian and Leah, another set of Seattle friends, who were also vacationing in Maple Canyon. I don’t know Ian as well as Leah, who is a college friend, however as she spun off in her a tornado to climb route after route, Ian and I took our time, relishing a mellower pace. I had a chance forge a stronger relationship with him, one separate of Leah and, later that evening, we passed his tiny guitar back and forth nearly as often as the bottle of whiskey.

I found Maple Canyon strenuous, but not technically very difficult. I was unfamiliar with the rock, a conglomerate likely the result of an ancient alluvial flow consisting of large and small cobbles cemented into a matrix (think something like a massive, prehistoric river bed). The holds are predominantly open-grip and the routes steep, requiring forearm muscles I haven’t developed and core body strength I’ve never known. Drop knees, flags, kneebars, and sheer strength make some of the harder lines impressive and beautiful to see climbed. However, for myself, I couldn’t keep up a rigorous pace and didn’t have the headspace to push myself to failure; I hung on the rope a lot, avoiding perfectly safe falls, and quickly found my forearms swollen and taught with the climbing pump. Still, the temperature was pleasant, the company enjoyable, and my vacation growing more apparent. (at left: andreas on a 5.13, belayed by roger in the box canyon)

Even on the couple of rest days we took, when Marshall and Megan would secure the insides of Marge, their Eurovan, and we would drive past turkey farms into nearby Ephraim, I felt on vacation. After a shower at the local college we would settle into the library: emails checked, proposals written, phone calls made we’d stock up on 3.2 beer, groceries, and water. Concerning the latter, we learned to check around for signs after topping the van and our jugs off with unpotable irrigation water. (at right: near downtown ephraim)

In the morning, as trees filtering the sun into patchwork warmth, I would wander to the van finding Megan snuggled under the covers and Marshall lost in the winter purgatory of Siberia as he read “The Long Walk.” Since Megan’s coffee was growing cold, I’d take it and settle into my own non fiction; reports on human trafficking in Cambodia and a recently published book on labor trafficking in the U.S. by John Bowe titled “Nobodies.” Unabashed, I’d cite statistics and quotes while, equally blunt, Marshall would tell me to shut up: he was reading.

Eventually, in order to cook breakfast, Marshall would tell Megan to “go to her room.” She’d pull her three stuffed animals and the comforter to the back of the van and he’d lift the seat, making a child’s dream fort of cushions. Eventually she’d emerge to a fresh cup of coffee and eggs. (at left: megan “in her room”)

A self-professed control freak, Marshall often did all the cooking and most of the cleaning. Megan was the recipe-picker and vegetable chopper. Favoring one-pot cooking, they’d concoct masterful meals fit for dinner parties which we’d consume by candlelight in the cool darkness. Camping with the two of them is luxury.

The following weekend Kasi and Andreas came down from Salt Lake with Roger and Merridy. It was like a climbing weekend at Smith Rock or Squamish, our more “local” crags. Other friends of Marshall and Megan came down as well and our campsite swelled. Up the road, a crew from Black Diamond, where Andreas works, were also down for the weekend.

Andreas onsighted 5.12d, meaning, with no prior knowledge he walked up to one of the more difficult climbs and did it without falling. Similarly, Kasi was grunting and shouting her way up hard lines. Roger and Merridy, both accomplished climbers, were getting schooled by the forearm pump like myself but, having never been to Maple, they were visibly excited by the lines they saw. Especially in a large cave called the “Pipe Dream” where people pull themselves horizontally across a rooftop of round holes and climbing chalk, clipping their rope into quickdraws as they go. (at right: looking straight up, a climber crossing the roof of pipedream)

With a rest day ahead, and the county fair later in the week, I hoped to stay. Especially because of the demolition derby and the rodeo. But, really, it was that life was easy and I could focus on the simple things of daily living. My world shrunk to the confines of the canyon. (at left: marshall, megan, andreas, merridy, roger, kasi all eyeball another cobble-filled crag)

Yet, every couple of days I would run up the canyon–more accurately staggering up the incline–until I burst from the scrub oak onto the ridge crest. In the stillness of the evening air I would catch my breath and turn on my phone; I had line-of-sight to distant cell towers and could read my email. As I waited for the files to download, I looked west toward orange light and silhouetted mountain tops. In that open space time would float, gently hovering in tranquility. Then my phone would buzz with emails received; the tether to my chosen reality reminding me simplicity is only momentary.

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