Utah, Nevada and California - Open Spaces, Extremities and Wildlife
Out of love for the endless diversity and vastness of this country and because of our passion for backpacking, we decided to travel there a second time in autumn 2012. To refresh the memories, create new ones and take our understanding of being outdoors and adventure to the next level.
From Cologne, I (Raffael), my wife Janika and our Cave of Heimplanet to a trip we had been dreaming of for a long time. Would the trip live up to expectations? The highlights were supposed to be Zion Canyon, to which we would return, Lake Powell with an adventurous kayak tour and 2 of the most famous mountains in the Sierra Nevada: Mt. Whitney and Half Dome!
First stop: Vegas. We then lost all our money and The Cave and spent the next 10 days crying on the pavement. Just kidding. From Vegas straight to Utah in 2 days. All we did in Vegas was the rest of the shopping we needed to do, groceries and a bit of gear before heading to the Colorado Plateau in our rental jeep.
Second stop: Monumental red sandstone. Huge walls. Freezing Virgin River. Zion Canyon National Park. 4 days.
When we arrived at Zion Canyon South Campground, we first moved into our flagship tent, The Cave, and pumped, yes pumped, the beauty. Everyone who passed by had to stop to get a closer look at what was happening. We met so many people that night and told everyone about Heimplanet and the concept, which most of them found absolutely sensational. One guy who knew people at North Face couldn't get enough of The Cave and took photos from every possible angle. He wanted to know every little detail, so we ended up giving him an information sheet. A very good way to start the first night with The Cave.
The night was much louder than we had expected. The wind worked the trees in the canyon and sounded like a long, heavy and very old train going through a crossing. The tent didn't seem to mind though and it hardly moved at all. That's a big difference from our old tent, where the layers pressed on our faces or backs when the wind picked up. Regardless of the fact that we didn't use the pegs The Cave, the tent did a very good job on the first night.
The next morning we packed our things and headed for the Narrows of the Virgin River, leaving the "Temple of Sinawava" full of expectations. Here the huge red walls are so close together that it becomes difficult to walk beside the Virgin River, which is only a few metres wide and cuts deeper and deeper into the limestone every day. Because the walls are so close together and extremely high, the sun struggles to cast a few warming rays on the river every now and then. The water is extremely cold, especially in the morning, and rarely gets warmer than 18°C.
But we didn't care, because the fascinating beauty of the landscape took our breath away the deeper and further we went. When we finally reached the so-called "Wall Street", we decided to take a break, soak up the atmosphere and warm up a bit. What a magical place to take a break! On the way back, a warm breeze had found its way into the canyon and made it easy for us to quickly return to The Cave and end the day.
Rain and thunderstorms passed through the area at night, but we knew that we wouldn't have to worry about The Cave. The next morning we decided to go through the Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel and visit the Zion Plateau, which gave us a fantastic view over Zion Canyon. Back at the campsite, we fortified ourselves with a snack to be fit for the hike to "Angel's Landing". A 2,000 metre high solitaire in the middle of Zion Canyon, playfully surrounded by the Virgin River.
Since we were going to watch the sunset in the valley from the summit, we had plenty of time to eat our lunch, close our eyes and have a long conversation with two very nice but brutally conservative Utah locals about politics, Obama, socialism in Germany and the crisis in Europe in general. The next morning we set off for Kanab. We could hardly wait for our kayaking trip!
Third stop: Kanab and the jeweller who also wanted to be an arms dealer. Also: Coral Pink Sand Dunes StatePark. 2 days.
Utah here in Kanab seems like what you would imagine Texas to be like. We found a jewellery shop with the beautiful inscription "Indian Art - Guns and jewellery". Yes, that's right... besides beautiful necklaces, rings and souvenirs you had the choice between the classic Ak47 rifle or a pump shotgun, everything the normal - everyday - guy needs. Crazy ...
We spent the afternoon at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. An amazing area with sand dunes in the colours of coral. We decided to go to bed early to gather energy for the 5-day trip by kayak.
Fourth stop: Page and Lake Powell. Or: The two of us, the kayak and The Cave. 6 days.
With the double-seated kayak on the roof of our 4×4 and the Esky filled with food and water, we set off for the marina near the town of Page. When we arrived, it took us almost an eternity to get everything on board, but we managed and soon took our first steps towards endless waters and lonely solitude. We could hardly believe that our banana-yellow kayak hadn't sunk and started paddling with confidence.
Surprisingly, we got along very well from the beginning, considering that Janika was in a kayak for the second time in her life. The 5 days passed extremely quickly and were an extraordinary experience. We spent the nights in beautiful little bays where not a soul was to be seen. Breathtaking sunsets, snakes and bats The Cave and experienced the fun you can have without anything but nature.
Despite the beauty and memories we made on this part of our trip, spending the night in the motel and having a hearty dinner as the sun set over Glen Canyon was probably the best return to civilisation we could have dreamed of.
Fifth stop: On the road again. Nevada, Death Valley and the hippies. 2 days.
We got up early at 7am, passed through Marble Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs and other spectacular landscapes, and continued towards California and Death Valley with the destination of the camping area in Panamint Springs. The impressive and pristine sand dunes of Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley are definitely worth a mention. With temperatures around 43°C, we could imagine it getting even hotter down in the valley basin.... .
When we arrived in the Panamint Valley, we chose the campsite with the most shade. However, that didn't really protect us from the heat. We enjoyed the heat in our little oasis. Here The Cave was our icebreaker with a young hippie family who really liked our tent. We decided to spend the night with them and their 4 year old son who, despite the heat, wanted to build a fire to get the marshmallows going. It was late at night, when the temperatures dropped significantly, when we could think about going to bed for the first time.
Sixth stop: The Sierra Nevada and the bears that didn't show up, or the race to the top of Mt. Whitney (4,400 m), which wasn't much of a race. 3 days
We started the biggest challenge of our trip at 3am. Equipped with headlamps, we started at an acceptable pace in the darkest darkness we had ever seen. We were highly motivated to complete a total of 40 kilometres of hiking there and back.
I felt fit, but Janika soon started to struggle with the darkness and fatigue. When the sun came up, we managed a few kilometres at first, but my wife was getting slower and slower. We then found other hikers who had the same problem and were willing to split up so that Mittag had to walk alone.
We made it to 3,700 metres when Janika stumbled and then showed signs of altitude sickness. We had already come a long way, but I had to leave Janika at the 3/4 mark of the route overlooking a lake. I joined another group and continued my way up the so-called 100 switchbacks, the toughest part of the route. The last few metres were pure torture. Without taking any breaks, you can clearly feel the difference between the air on the ground and up there, in your head, in your lungs and especially in your legs. But the reward when you finally reach the summit: unbelievable! From the highest point, you can overlook the magnificent Sierra Nevada with its numerous peaks.
The way back revealed something essential: Head? Lungs? Legs? No problems at all! Picked up the wife at the lake after 6 hours of waiting, and back to The Cave. 40 16 hours later.
Seventh Station: The Crossroads. The valley. And again: no bears. A long walk and the Dome summit.
The day after was not as bad as expected. We surprised ourselves how well we got through it, but still decided to stop off at the Yosemite Valley hot springs for a rejuvenating bath in the 40° C water. What a relief for body and soul!
Then we met Janika's sister and her husband to climb Half Dome together. Another 26 km hike lay ahead of us and we knew that the biggest challenge would be waiting for us when we were almost at the finish. The last part of the climb is a very steep section, supported by metal ropes that you have to pull yourself up on. However, we all managed it well and I found myself back on the highest point there has been for many kilometres. Another highlight in my opinion and this time: Janika on board. What a legend she is! And what a way to end our adventure!
Eighth stop: Which is no longer a real stop. On the way to the Pacific to Berkley, relaxed, family, birthday and later.
We slept in The Cave one last time after the Dome experience and decided to call it our second home from now on. Three and a half weeks later, we enjoyed every second of shifting down a gear in the last two days and preparing for the journey home.
See you later adventure and hello good old Germany it was. Back here, toying with the idea of settling into The Cave, I realise that the place fully lives up to its expectations, even the second time around.