Moab, Utah: Desert Wonderland and Epic Mountain Ranges

I’m finding that, more often than not, things do not always go according to plan. Plans formulate, chaos intervenes and then the plans change. This isn’t always a bad thing though; sometimes I enjoy how things turn out differently than planned.

This weekend for instance, our plan was:

1.     Get to Moab Friday afternoon and do some trad/sport climbing on Wall Street in Moab

2.     Saturday, summit 3 peaks (Mount Tukuhnikivatz, Mount Peale, and Mount Mellenthin)

3.     Sunday, take the long way home and hit up Monument Valley in Utah and aid climb Mexican Hat Tower


In short, here’s what the weekend turned into:

1.     Friday, Car broke down in Cedar City, Utah. Got a rental car and made it to Moab late Friday.

2.     Saturday, summit 1 peak (Mount Tukuhnikivatz)

3.     Sunday, Arch Madness (hiking to a ton of arches in Arches National Park)

4.     Monday, Climbing at Pocket Rocks in Cedar City, Utah until car was fixed and head home

Roughly, we climbed the route in blue dots to the summit.

Some Stats on Mount Tukuhnikivatz:

  • Located in the La Sal Mountain Range (the mountains you can see behind the desert Moab towers) which is Utah’s second highest range
  • 12,482’ tall
  • Total elevation gain: ~2,900’
  • Total round trip mileage: 4.8 miles?? Still waiting to confirm this.
  • Steep slopes and loose scree can be expected
  • No permits required

Let’s get into the nitty gritty. As I mentioned, on Friday Michael’s car broke down (water pump valve failure or something) in Cedar City, Utah. We were on our way to Moab and then bam! We weren’t. Waiting for the tow truck to take us to a dealership, we quickly came to terms with the possibility that we may be stuck in Cedar City the rest of the weekend. 5 hours later, we learned that the part on Michael’s car was covered under warranty and so was a rental car. Game back on.

We got into Moab late Friday night and drove up to the junction of The La Sal Mountain Loop Road and the dirt road (Forest Road 71) heading up to Geyser Pass. It was snowing, which was amazing, since it’s been a pretty dry winter for Utah. We shifted the contents of our rental car to the front seats, blew up our sleeping pads, and went to sleep in the back of the jeep as soon as possible.

At an early 4am Saturday morning, we were ready to carpool up to the Winter trailhead (about 5 miles from where we camped) with those who had 4wd vehicles. About 5am, the hiking began.

For hours it seemed we weaved in and out of forests, barely making any elevation gain. There were even a few spots with softer snow where we post-holed for a while.

But then finally we hit the line we intended to take up to the summit of Mount Tukuhnikivatz, and it was steep!

I started feeling nauseous pretty early on in the day… likely altitude sickness… which persisted with me the remainder of my climb up and down the mountain. It made me a bit slower than normal, but I kept up with the tail end of the group alright.

The climb was pretty straight forward, and its only technicality was steepness (and being aware of where the potential avalanche danger was). Slowly we made our way up the steep face, step, breathe, step, breathe… repeat.

Here and there, there were patches of loose scree, which were annoying to crampon our way through. They added a certain unstableness to each step.

As we got closer to the summit, it got windier, and colder. I got more nauseous and became slower.

Collapsing for breaks every now and then to force myself to eat a bit of food and drink some water, and then back to the climb. Step, breathe, step, breathe…

There was a final patch of steep, loose scree towards the summit, but we made it to the top. Unlike the more glorious, relaxing summit at Ben Lomond a month earlier, this summit was cold, and the wind would not give us a break. I hardly remembered to take a “Summit picture” of us, in fact, I just have 2 separate pictures of Michael and I on the summit, both of us sitting down to be shielded somewhat from the wind.

It was 2pm (later in the day than we had hoped), and the majority of the club decided that it would be better to head back down the way we came up than to continue on. Internally I wanted to continue on with the 5 who were going to do the other peaks, but physically, the altitude nausea was getting the best of me so we decided to turn around too. This ended up being a very good decision.

Going down the steep scree we just came up was way sketchier, and almost instantly when we decided to turn around horrible ice winds were blowing all around us. Maybe 60mph of straight up ice wind blowing in all directions and causing confusion. It was horrible. I got blasted in the face (with my balaclava down around my neck not protecting my mouth and nose) and I breathed in this ice wind. Our lungs were not designed to breathe in this cold and fierce air, and I felt like the ice wind induced a sort of asthma on my breathing the rest of the way down.

Nausea, ice-wind asthma… not my best mountaineering day. Not to mention, I peed about 10 times total on that mountain, which is an all time record for me.

We kept up with the group headed down for a while, but with my slow, nauseated, ice wind asthmatic body I was very slow the rest of the way down. Michael was very patient with my slow ass. :)

Jen captured this shot from the other side of the mountain where her group was headed. Check out how steep the route we are going down is.

Like every other mountaineering trip, the hike down always feels like it takes forever. We reached a point where every turn we’d say, “Oh, this looks familiar, I think the cars are just around the corner”, and then we’d turn the corner and there’d be more trees, and more snow.

Any uphill made me feel like I might pass out from lack of breath and at one point when we found out that we still hadn’t made it back, I collapsed on my knees and had a short panic attack because I was so tired of not being able to take a deep breath. It was bad.

Except, I knew we’d make it back, and I knew we would be fine, I just had to keep walking. I owe any high spirits I had on the hike down to Michael, who continued to make me laugh and help me stay positive. I knew I liked him for a reason ;)

The last 30 minutes or so back to the car, it was dark, and it started to lightnining. I started to worry a bit, but fortunately we found our way back to the winter trailhead, where the cars were parked.

We had hoped someone from the group ahead of us would be waiting there to drive us the remaining 5 miles back to our car at the campsite (because walking that extra 5 miles would take a longgg time), alas, there was no one. Next we hoped one of the 2 remaining cars there (from the group of 5 that had continued on the mountain) was unlocked so we could take shelter from the coming storm in there and rest a bit.

First car, locked… Second car, unlocked. Thank god.

We got in the front seats, put on as many layers as possible and tried to get some sleep, waiting for the group of 5 to make it back to their cars. I had my nice big down survival jacket on, but poor Michael was freezing. A lot of our mid layers had gotten wet in the ice wind and were useless now to keep warm. In and out of a weird state of sleep/non-sleep, we began to worry a bit about the group still out there. If they weren’t back by morning, We’d hike the rest of the way back to camp and call for help. We figured they’d be alright though, since they were with Darren and may have made shelter somewhere on the mountain.

About 3 hours later, we finally saw their headlamps. They were startled to see us jump out of the car, but we were so happy to see them! We were stoked at the prospect of getting to sleep in our own car with warm clothes and blankets and sleeping pads. It was an all around excited fest. Their story is a whole-nuther thing, and I’m afraid I wouldn’t tell it very well, but to put it short, they had quite the epic and were glad the rest of us had turned around when we did.


Sunday, we decided to take it easy, and just have some simple kind of fun… starting with a giant feast of pesto pizza and artichoke dip at a place in Moab.

It was Free National Park weekend, so we decided to hit up Arches National Park. Then we decided we’d try and hit up as many arches as possible. We got a late start, so that only ended up being about 8 arches, but we had fun.

Sunday was a great day, and we got frozen yogurt before heading to Cedar City, Utah. Perfection.

Monday we wanted to stay close to town in case the car got fixed early, so we went to a place called Pocket Rocks to climb some “welded tuff”. We weren’t shooting for any types of goals that day, just to get on some rock and enjoy our forced vacation day while we waited for Michael’s Jeep to get fixed.

We climbed 3 different routes (repeating the same routes twice each just for more practice). The first route we both lead, a sport climb called Sabie's Eight (5.8), which was fun and pocketed (just like the area implied). Second we climbed a route called The Love Route (5.8+) which had a strenuous move around the second bolt, but otherwise was a breeze. We thought this climb was maybe a low 5.10, but come to find out it was a 5.8+… it really was only the second move that was difficult. We finished out on a route called It’s Electrifying (5.9), which was fun and switched its moves left and right… keeping you guessing. We really liked the area, and we had it all to ourselves Monday, which was awesome.

We got word the car was fixed and headed home about 4pm.

Tukuhnikivatz tested my limits with some new mountaineering challenges, but I’m glad we did it. I had another great weekend just doing what we do and spending time with the people I love and seeing our friends from the Utah Climbing club, whom I’ve grown rather fond of. :)

Although super challenging and chaotic at times, life is good.