Ok so, imagine this….. the world is finally my oyster, after all the lockdowns and travel restrictions, I’ve been perhaps the most successful covid dodger of all, im fully vaccinated and ready to do a thing, then full disaster scenario happens.
Wednesday January 12th, zoom call with the Mountain Company who are willing to open up a last minute place in the first Everest Basecamp Trek of the season in April. I’m totally shitting myself because this would be a WW (Without Willow) trip, lone ranger style, but this is it, it feels like the right time, I’m at my peak fitness, my travel account, thanks to the inability to buy flights for the last 3 years is looking reasonable, I’ve got until Friday to secure my place.
Thursday 13th January, totally and utterly smash my knee to smithereens. At 11pm I’m finding myself lying in hospital in utter shock whilst a pompous consultant who doesn’t even bother to introduce himself relocates my kneecap to a more appropriate front facing position.
I was in total shock that it had happened to be honest, I thought I might have sprained it, I tried to carry on in my dance class thinking about when you sprain your ankle, walking it off is the way, unbeknownst to me I was walking around with a pretty much ligament free knee.
I was lucky because I was able to get an MRI scan pretty much straight away, but I remember sitting in the fracture clinic feeling like a total fraud, there were people all around me who were in casts and these huge braces and crutches, and I was sat there with a tubigrip on my knee, I felt for sure the consultant was going to whip it off me, and tell me to suck it up and get on with walking. Instead he used the words ‘catastrophic knee injury’ full ACL rupture, partial MCL and meniscus tears, he called it the unhappy triad. When you hear ACL you can also hear the sharpening of the sugeons knives. Just 24 hours ago I was contemplating Everest and suddenly I found myself in a full immobilising hip to ankle brace, crutches and a no weight baring instruction.
I’m not going to sugar coat it, I went dark, to be honest I’m only just seeing some light, it could not have been worse timing, I had so many plans this year and I just couldn’t and sometimes still can’t see how I was going to do any of them. I felt like my life had been put on hold for the last 2 years and now this, the sickest joke of all.
The people in my life are amazing, im not one to accept help willingly, but it was made so easy for me, it wasn’t a choice, from dropping in meals and treats, to driving me to hospital and physio appointments, letting me shower in their walk in showers and rescuing me when I was adamant I could make it on crutches, when in the middle of winter I definitely couldn’t. I’m not an easy patient and I’m so appreciative of everyone’s kindness.
Enough of the darkness, fast forward several months, I’ve been an exemplar physio student, and have been deemed a good candidate for non surgical treatment, which seems ludicrous that I can just go about my daily business with no ligament in my knee but I have to believe. Surgery would put me out of the game for over a year, but without it I could be back to fitness in months, so I’m going full out with rehabilitation.
Meanwhile…….started to hatch some alternate plans for an adventure. I have this long long list of things I want to see and experience in my lifetime, but I’m beginning to realise that the list is not vertical, it’s not first place, second place, third etc, it’s horizontal, everywhere is number one, there might be a few 1A or 1Bs but essentially I want to do it all, nowhere holds more value than anywhere else.
Way Out West!
Saturday 26th March
10 weeks after said catastrophic knee injury I find myself landing in the Las Vegas Airport. Willow waiting for me in an airport hotel. Nope we absolutely are not going to the strip, the lights and the glamour are not for us, we are more smell your socks to see if they will do another day type girls. More on that later.
We are doing the Mighty 5 National Parks of Utah. A 10 day jaunt around the enormous wild west state, and we are ready to walk some walks and view some views.
We picked up our rental car and tried to get out of Vegas as quickly as possible. I’ve passed on the driving this trip, this is Willow’s country after all, but I didn’t envy her, no-one likes driving a different car out of a multistorey car park in front of people, it’s like you immediately forget everything you know about driving!
Within an hour we are in full desert, full sun, full 90* heat and it’s everything. We have a few longish drives but we have tried to limit car time, after all this is the USA, a short drive to meet friends is often 4 hours each way!
ZION NATIONAL PARK
We hit Zion later that afternoon, and immediately wanted to stretch our legs. You cannot drive through the park it’s a shuttle bus only situation and we made it just in time for the last departure of the day. We did a short Riverside walk to get our bearings and caught the golden hour just right.
We are not quite ready to allow ourselves full vacation luxury, we don’t want to get too accustomed to the high life then have to feel like we are slumming it again in our one person tents, so we’ve settled on a variety of places to stay including some glamping situations. To us it was total 5* boujie, chandelier above the bed, and a little fire heater, bliss. Just to keep us down to earth and not get swept up with being Mariah Carey we ate cold tuna sandwiches on the floor and had to walk to the shower house.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
Up bright and breezy. It’s pretty chilly over night, definitely below zero, so getting dressed needs to be a sport, a cardio activity to get going. It’s a poptart breakfast of champions obviously and back to Zion for our full day itinerary.
Our early start was to get going on one of our hardest trails of the National Parks. Angels Landing is a 6 mile hike up to the top of what is a called a fin, a narrow and pretty much vertical climb and then decent, gaining 1500 ft in altitude. It’s solely reliant on chains and posts to assist the climb. This was the first time putting my knee under any great stress, but it was a head down and focus kind of activity. The picture below is our first view of the fin, after hiking up 23 switchbacks I hilariously thought at first, I was at the top, I couldn’t really believe there was a trail any further.
Going up was nearly type A fun, the trail was packed and the pace was slow. But the challenge was perfect. The views from the top were magnificent, with the canyon opening up all around. At one point I said to Willow, ‘I’m never doing this again” and I think I must have got the intonation wrong because it sounded like I was having the worst time but what I meant was, the likelihood of me ever standing up here ever again I my life was slim, I was reminding myself to look really hard at it so I could remember it forever.
Snack of an absolute winner consumed at the summit.
Now, I always remember watching mountaineering documentaries and them saying the summit isn’t the end it’s half way! The saving grace for the descent was that it was so dangerously busy the we went at a snails pace, I had a lot of concerned comments about my knee because of the bionic brace, but it was surprisingly OK (later that night it was quite enormous, but we’ll just skip that). We passed lots of terrified hikers going up as we decended, but most memorable and I still can’t get it out of my head was a women hiking up the chains with a 2 month old baby in a front carrier. We are experienced hikers and this was super challenging, one false move and there’s a sheer 1500ft drop on both sides of you, trying to not mum shame by any means but this was a really bad choice and made me feel immediately queasy. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a hike like this before where the next day my arms hurt way more than my legs.
We spent our afternoon on the Watchman Trail, a short 3 mile loop which ended up being fantastic, we were slight creepers and followed a guided hike so we could hear some fun facts about rocks, the first of many on this trip.
Does anyone else get big fat sausage fingers when they hike? Mine were particularly bad today. They don’t do it when I use my trekking poles, anyone got any other tips?
A chance encounter with a Park Ranger changed our total game plan for our trip. We over heard that all National Parks have a junior ranger programme with no upper age limit and if you complete the workbook you get sworn in and a badge, this kind of offer was completely irresistible to us. With just 20 mins to complete the book we ran to the nearest bench, and started our assignments, raced back and took our first junior ranger pledge. There’s nothing you can say to discourage this behaviour at my age, I’m a proud outdoor nerd with a passion for fun facts!
Our last hike of the day was a short trail to the Rim Overlook. The golder hour was just glorious and what a way to end our Zion adventure and lead us to the next.
I almost feel guilty for mentioning this, but there’s a hot tub at our glamping site, I honest to god did not know that until we checked in, I feel guilty about saying it because we are hard-core adventurers, but nowhere near guilty enough to not use it, obviously. Would it be more balanced if I mentioned we had to eat cold tuna sandwiches on the floor again for dinner?
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Just a short car jaunt to the next park on our list, we climbed up and up and ended at 8000ft above sea level and full snow. Very unexpected for me, I should have done slightly more weather research, you hear desert and think cycling shorts will be fine right?
Straight to the visitor centre to collect our Junior Ranger packs.
We drove to the trail head and got our first glimpse of the famous amphitheatre and Hoodoos, no joke I have genuinely in life never seen rock formations like it.
It was vast, as far as the eye could see, ombre orange stacks, some uniform some taking on their own personalities.
I cannot begin to tell you how many times I said wow, it was unreal, we both kept asking each other, are you seeing this? It was otherworldly. We did a short 3 mile hike all the way to the bottom of the basin and up the otherside, mingling with the hoodoos. I feel like this blog isn’t the time or place for full rock facts, but please see me for more details should you want them, spoiler alert but as a fully qualified junior ranger I feel correctly positioned to perhaps run a short power point presentation for you should the need arise. For now the basics are, water, wind and time created these formations called Hoodoos.
After our hike we decided to drive the scenic road through the park to the highest point. We were not prepared for the onslaught of cold. We stopped at every viewpoint but it felt teeth shatteringly frosty. I actually do love a bit of snow, but this was cold and high, some people have said they have suffered altitude sickness in Bryce, but after experiencing real altitude in the Andes I can safely say they were in fact probably in need of a drink of water and to pull up their big (insert gender) pants.
Tonight we would be staying in a very primitive Yurt. Not camping but definitely not glamping. No electricity or bathrooms, only a log buring stove. Because we had been so cold during the day we totally panicked about not being able to light the fire and get warm. We drove to several gas stations to make sure we had something we could light the fire with but ended up with the best purchase of cheesy jalapeño bread to keep us warm instead.
But worry not, we girl scouted the heck out of the fire and got it lit in seconds. Cooked our bread on the top and completed our Junior Ranger books by headlamp light. We may have been too good at the fire because both of us ended up outside of our sleeping bags in just T-shirts to sleep, we boiled ourselves.
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Great night in the Yurt, apart from everything smelling like a campfire from here on out it was glorious, 10 out of 10, highly recommend.
Being so close to the park we were back nice and early. We had chosen to do the Fairlyand Loop trail, mainly because the name just spoke to my heart. It was an absolute gem, 8 miles that basically swooped down to the bottom and then swooped back up again. A record number of wows! were said. We had relative solitude for the first part of the trail, just the sound of us nattering away. Sometimes we talk about serious life stuff and sometimes we walk in total silence, I like both. What I love the most is when we start ranking our favourite things, it’s an endless debating game that just fuels our fire. We are a special kind of people.
Sometimes I like to take ‘Hi, my name is Sophie and my hobbies and interests include, hiking, being outside, dogs and snacks’ type photos, just in case the need for a profile photo arises. See below.
We stopped for an incredibly leisurely lunch, we ate pringles and tuna with sun on our faces and for a small window of time it felt like the world outside our canyon didn’t even exist.
Now picture this, we haven’t seen anyone for several hours, but we casually pass a couple hiking the same way as us, a few steps, miles, minutes later it’s hard to tell, Willow decides now is a good time to do a (at least) 10 second long fart. Now what she failed to do was A. Check behind her and B. Look at my horrified face looking at both her and the hiking couple stood directly behind her. I wouldn’t normally tell a story like that, but it seriously made this hike all the more memorable and also, I fear our trip might be a bit too dry without our usual sick jokes, it’s to counterbalance the knee situation, which so far, apart from some sizable nighttime swelling, has been on the good list.
We had a bit of a drive to get to our next accommodation, so we couldn’t dilly dally, it was Junior Ranger pledges and on the road we go.
Our accommodation for the night was the Aquarius Inn. I wished it was trying to be retro or ironic in it’s decor, but the damp bedspreads and lingering smells of smoke from the last point in time you were able to smoke indoors said otherwise. Bonus points for the 2 king size beds, TV and heated pool though. On the way in we had spotted a roadside sign for Curry and Pizza at a little diner. It was unclear at the time if it was a curry house or pizza place, but I can now confirm it was infact a curry on top of your pizza kind of place. I’m not selling it well so far but we absolutely annihilated it, best food so far, think chicken tikka on a pizza base with a curry as the sauce and a load of cheese on top for good measure.
CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
Poptarts and go!
We only had a day to explore this National Park. Although size wise it’s not smaller, the accessible areas without an off-roading vehicle are. If it was my little mitsubishi I probably would declare it off road worthy but the rental car would cost the value of my house to replace so we stayed pretty firmly on the roads.
Today was a day of lots of short hikes, we started with the Cassidy Arch, named after the famous Butch Cassidy who was said to have a hide out in the rock formations.
Capitol Reef is home to some historic fruit orchards and also pie, delicious fruit pie. So it was an obvious choice where to do our Junior Ranger homework today.
Fun fact of the day, Capitol Reef is named for the white dome like rock formation that early settlers believed looked like the Capitol building in DC, and the Reef part is because of the 97 mile long ridge line. I would not have known that without our diligent participation.
The afternoon consisted of short drives to lookout views and one final hike with some beautiful immersive scenery. I don’t want you to get the wrong impression here, we had a fantastic day, and really saw some fascinating rock formations, and the general scale was pretty indescribable, but it definitely felt like the underdog National park, Zion and Bryce felt like Disney with it’s infrastructure and visitor numbers but Capitol Reef had some much lower key vibes.
Can I just take a minute to talk about my feet, or maybe my trainers and socks situation. God bless Willow, because whatever combination of footwear I’ve concocted on this trip has created the perfect conditions for possibly the worst smelling shoes I have ever experienced. My guess is that because they are gortex, which make them totally waterproof, not a necessary quality needed in footwear in the desert, which clearly I did not think about, they don’t let any sweat out, but instead form daily warm sweat cocktails inside. How does one get a footwear sponsorship or at the very least odor eating insoles??
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Onwards and quite literally upwards as we are pretty much travelling north up the map. Next stop is Moab, the nearest town to our next two National Parks. We did the drive last night and arrived at our next accommodation, which I have some opinions on. I’ll set the scene with talking about Moab, totally disproportionately expensive to any other towns next to the other National Parks. A cheap and nasty motel room was 200 bucks a night, an actual hotel room was into the 300s. Imagine how lucky we felt when we found a youth hostel with private rooms available for just $32 total? At this point in our trip planning weeks ago, im certain, between us we had well over 50 internet tabs open, looking for the best option, what I don’t quite understand is how and why we didn’t question why the Lazy Lizzard Hostel was a fraction of the price of everywhere else. Now I have travelled all over the world, I have slept in hotels, motels, hostels, barns, the floor of a church, trains, buses, the list is endless but I have to say the Lazy Lizzard was at the bottom end of my of my scale of standards. Very tiny room with definitely not clean bedding, questionable damp carpet, to be fair I think we overpaid at $32. I’m probably ever so slightly more tolerant than Willow, who has a soft furnishings obsession, there was no way any part of her bare skin from her feet to her head was going to touch any part of the floor or beds. Did I mention we had booked 3 nights here?
After a jolly good word with ourselves we got on with our first day in the area, Arches National Park.
First up was the Devils Garden Loop Trail. 9 miles filled with natural arches and mind-blowing scenery. It was genuinely a pleasure of a hike, we did a lot of rock scrambles, slides, and ridge lines. On the second half of the trail we barely saw a person and had wonderful moments of deep peacefulness. The weather was just crystal clear and warm, it was the kind of hike that the further you go the more your internal batteries charge up.
Knee holding up really well, but I could definitely feel all of thoes miles. We did some car touring for a few hours in the afternoon, there are over 2000 arches in the National park, loads visible from short hikes of less than a mile each.
We saved our last 3 mile hike of the day for the very end. The hike was pretty much all on smooth slickrock on a pretty steep incline. It wasn’t demanding, it was pure joy. Delicate Arch is the most famous of arches, we had heard good things about watching the sunset there but unfortunately so did 100 other people. One complaint I have about the park is that there’s always someone in the bloody arches, but this did not distract from the raw beauty of that sunset. It was the kind of sunset I will remember forever. We sat eating salt and vinegar pringles and filled out our Junior Ranger books with the sun going down casting an orange/red light over us and the arch. I genuinely have the world’s worst memory but I will never forgot this moment.
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Island in the Sky
After such an epic day yesterday, we were far less grumpy about the Lazy Lizzard, I’d sleep in a public restroom if I had to, if it enabled me to hike thoes hikes and see thoes things.
Canyonlands is vast and very canyon-y. Deep, wide and winding gorges carved aggressively by water over time. Due to the enormity of the park we couldn’t really find one appropriate length trail, especially as our day ended up being 16 miles yesterday. We ended up doing many, many short trails instead, anything between 1 – 5 miles at a time hitting all the honeypot sites we could.
By this point I’m running out of adjectives to help convey what we’ve had the total privilege to see and be part of. We ended our day here on a hike that was totally deserted, just us blabbering on to each other ranking which midwife from Call the Midwife we would want to deliver our fictional babies (Trixie, nurse Crane and Sister Juliene came out top for thoes wondering) It was the weirdest hike because the first mile or so was pure sand dunes and I just couldn’t get over the fact the ocean wasn’t right around the next bend. Instead we sat watching the sun lower down in the sky with the canyon totally to ourselves and our own thoughts.
Epic end to an epic day was margaritas and Mexican food, vast amounts of both. Need I say more.
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
We said our farewells to the Lazy Lizzard this morning, I shall remember it not so much fondly but grateful it enabled me to afford the visit.
Canyonlands is enormous enough to have multiple districts. Our second day, just like yesterday was very canyon-y. Another day of short hikes to great vistas. Slightly less remarkable than the previous I would say but it was so much quieter. If we were able to do an over night backpacking trip this would be the place to go, it was remote and full of cool cowboy history and stories.
We set off from the park mid afternoon with a pretty hefty 5 hour drive ahead of us. I didn’t realise until this particular car confinement that I’ve grown weary of long road trips. This one in particular was H for hard and F for far. The road was so straight, we drove a hundred miles without even making a turn, surrounded by never changing desert. Willow was a champion driver and companion, trying to make the dust around us interesting, but I was suffering, especially when we passed a petrol station with a toilet and snacks and Willow assured me there would be another so didn’t stop but that was a lie, there were no other anythings for miles.
Tonight we are staying in relative luxury, a cheapish motel, but they have wooden floors which satisfies Willow’s hatred of shared carpet and crisp white sheets that have been chemically boiled. Great nights sleep!
HORSESHOE BEND STATE PARK
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Last day today and we went out with a bang. We started the day on the Navajo Reservation, bucket list item for me are the slot canyons. I think I’ve said this too many times now to be believable, but I have never seen or experienced anything like this before. It was breathtaking, the colours and shapes and smooth lines were from a different planet. To be honest the photos speak totally for themselves.
We ate a totally gourmet sushi lunch at Horseshoe Bend State Park, over looking a huge meander in the path of the Colorado River. We are pretty low maintenance, a great view and a flavoured fizzy water water is my dream day.
During this lunch a decision was made. At this point we didn’t know if it was a good or bad decision but we were prepared to just go for it. It was a 4 hour drive back to Vegas and our flight was at 1am so we had the rest of the day. Instead of driving straight there, our decision was to make a detour to the Grand Canyon, which would add an additional 3 hours to our drive. I’ve been lucky enough to visit and hike the Grand Canyon years ago but Willow has not. I tried to play it cool like, it’s OK, it’s just a big canyon, just in case we didn’t make it, but I was just as excited as she was.
We seemed to get there in no time and our first glimpse was worth every uncomfortable driving second.
We had basically an hour to look at it as hard as we could. We raced to get our Junior Ranger pack, an unexpected 6th National Park and then raced to find a spot and sit and just look. I remember my dad telling me about when he visited when he was younger, he said that you should keep looking away and then looking again because with every single change of light or position of your eye it will look different. It was overwhelming actually, maybe because it was the end of our trip or maybe because it really is just that grand.