Sometimes you have to endure some sour to enjoy some sweet.
That was the case with last week’s trip to some of Utah’s fun backcountry haunts. We had to pass through lots of urban sprawl to get to the wonderful outdoors.
Our excuses for driving down to Utah Valley last week where we once lived about a hundred years ago include: The weather was a bit better (at least it wasn’t snowing down there), we had friends and family to visit, there were two fun canyons filled with rock climbing routes and we had a wedding anniversary to celebrate.
At first we thought about staying at an Airbnb, a bed and breakfast or a motel, but we didn’t realize that it was graduation week at Brigham Young University and the pickin’s were slim. So being the cheap rascals that we are, we crashed at my brother’s house. It turned out to be a type of bed and breakfast after all.
The first day we drove up American Fork Canyon toward the north end of Utah Valley. This canyon features dozens of hiking trails, Timpanogos Cave National Monument and nearly 1,000 bolted rock climbing routes.
The narrow winding canyon is mostly National Forest land featuring several campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads. A fee is charged to use the facilities, similar to a national park. We avoided the fee areas and parked at a pullout alongside the road and hiked up to one of the limestone cliffs. The canyon is also popular with cyclists.
There is a guidebook for climbing in the canyon but it is not up to date. It was printed in the late 1990s and climbing route development has nearly doubled since then. The only up-to-date guide is the online information found on Mountain Project. Warning: Download the information to your phone or other device before entering the canyon because cell service is spotty once in the canyon.
Despite it being the middle of the week, and the middle of the day, we were not alone at the crags. We chalked that up to it being a rare nice spring day and the fact that, like us, Utahns would rather play than work.
Because we lacked specific info about the climbing area, we used the iffy method of finding fun rock climbs: We winged it. We walked past the routes and said, “That one looks fun, let’s give it a go.” A couple of local dudes (a technical name for rock climbers) showed up at the wall we were climbing at and climbed a nearby route they said was named “Platinum Blonde” and recommended it. In my book, platinum blonde are a bit suspicious but this route turned out to be the best climb of the day.
The second day of our Utah Valley adventure was spent in Rock Canyon. This narrow canyon winds up into the Wasatch Mountains just behind The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Provo Temple. That landmark makes it an easy canyon to locate. It features popular hiking trails and hundreds of rock climbing routes — many of which have been developed in recent years. Once again, the online Mountain Project is your best guide, unless you have a local “dude” to show you around.
We found a couple of walls to climb on not far from the trailhead to occupy us for several hours. Looking around we realized that we barely scratched the surface of things to explore in this canyon. Some climbers we met were launching into some tall, multi-pitch bolted routes in the canyon, while others, like us, were sticking to single pitch climbs.
If you go here, expect to see people. Because of two nearby universities, people have a variety of schedules allowing them to get outside at all times of the day and during the week. We noticed a steady stream of people entering the canyon during our Thursday morning visit. Plus, Utah Valley has lots of people. Expect some company.
Jerry Painter is a longtime East Idaho journalist and outdoorsman.