Holiday weekends can be tough (most definitely in the “first world problem” sense of the word). On one hand, when you’ve got an extra day to play with, it’s hard to resist the urge to get out of town to places that feel rushed and tiring with a regular old two day weekend. On the other hand, everyone else has trouble resisting those urges too, so the places you venture to can be packed while your hometown crags sit empty. When you add an iffy weather forecast across the region making for the limited options with good weather, you have to ask, “Do I really want to spend six hours (each way, for a trip that would only take four hours under normal traffic conditions) in a loaded, cramped car, arrive at my destination after dark with the possibility of all the good camping spots being filled, only to spend three days throwing elbows at the crag (trying to get in as much climbing as I could probably get in two days under normal (climbing) traffic conditions)?”
As it turns out, the answer this past Memorial Day weekend was a resounding yes, because while the drives were indeed longer than they should have been, both the camping and the crags at our chosen destination (the St George/Arizona Strip/Utah Hills area) were blissfully empty. It was a shocking turn of events given that this spot had by far the best weather forecast in the mountain west--none of the rain or snow predicted for the northern areas and mere 25-30 mph sustained winds, which were a far cry from the 45-55 mph forecasted for areas to the east.
Our group of four spent two days in Dutchman’s Draw, climbing on the rectangular monolith that is the Phalanx of Will. Jutting out prominently from the hillside above a wash, the Phalanx has two sides of striking orange limestone that beg to be climbed (although one turned out to be a bit chossier than the other). The remaining two sides appear at first glance to be partially covered in black and brown lichen, but fortunately (as one of these sides contained the only warmups) it is actually rock (of some kind; I tried to figure out what exactly made up those features, but after google let me down, I’ve chosen to go with the theory that it is actually hardened ancient lichen). The climbing was fantastic--long rope-stretching pitches with a mix of features--and the multiple sides to the formation made it easy to stay cool in the shade. But with temps for Monday expected to push 90 degrees, we decided to leave our crowd-free oasis for higher pastures. After two blissful days without seeing anyone else, heading into the Utah Hills seemed chancey--surely we weren’t the only ones who’d looked at the forecasts and realized that the St. George area would offer the most climbable weather in the state, right? The Utah Hills crags had to be crawling with people, right?
Nope. I’m still not sure WHY there weren’t more people down that way, but I was perfectly happy to share the Cathedral cave with only two other climbers (especially when they offered up crucial beta as I flailed away with third-day-on tired arms). All-in-all, we couldn’t have asked for a better holiday weekend. Especially after returning home to a slew of Facebook posts, texts, and emails from friends who’d risked the winds in the southeast deserts or rain and snow to the north, only to flee back to SLC before their weekends had even truly begun. I wasn’t really sure what to say when one friend asked, “why didn’t you tell us St George was the way to go?” Um....I assumed you’d check the weather forecast just like I did? Always, always check the weather...and never, never tell anyone else what you plan. Empty crags are priceless on a holiday weekend. (Unfortunately, I don't have any more interesting pictures--you know, the kind with people doing things in them. With no crowds and an even number, it was all climb, all the time.)