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Kirby: There's steep, then there's Moab slickrock steep

Published April 23, 2013 9:54 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Moab • You know those moments when you suddenly realize you're getting way more than you bargained for and there's nothing you can do about it? I had one while hanging upside-down in a Humvee on a hill called "Oprah's Butt."

What my wife and I thought would be just a relaxing tour of slickrock country turned out to include vocal/scream lessons for her and a frantic renegotiation of my life contract with God for me.

It began innocently enough. We had a few extra hours in Moab Friday, so we decided to book an off-road tour. We contacted High Point Hummer & ATV Adventures (Main Street across from Wendy's).

High Point's brochure is filled with pictures of wholesome people having safe, relaxing fun in the great outdoors. And all of that is true.

Missing from the brochure were any mention of 75-degree sandstone inclines and bottomless drop-offs called "Snaggletooth," "The Wall," "Tail Bone," Hang On," and "No Brakes Hill."

Our guide and chauffeur was Kyler McDonald, a pleasant 20-something death-wisher in love with outdoor extremes. We climbed into a military-grade Humvee painted bright red for possible search-and-rescue purposes and set off to see the sights.

As we drove out to the Slickrock Trail, Kyler told us a little about himself. An adrenaline junkie, he had come to Moab to pursue interests in BASE jumping, slack-roping, parasailing, ice-climbing, panther-neutering and any other sport where chances of serious injury are intentionally increased for no other reason than because you're nuts.

Note: These are not goals you discuss while at the wheel of a vehicle in which my wife is a passenger.

We went east of Moab, past the pioneer cemetery and past what Kyler claimed is the second-most-scenic landfill in the United States. The first is in Alaska, where presumably snow covers it nine months of the year.

We turned off the asphalt near Lion's Back Campground and pulled into a parking spot and up against a huge boulder. This turned out to be the road.

With the yank of a couple of levers and a crazy grin, Kyler drove up the wall at 1 mph.

Kyler knows his slickrock country. He showed us Indian mailboxes (holes weathered into sandstone), dinosaur tracks, old movie sets, and a Toyota 4Runner somebody drove into a 50-foot gully several years ago.

We saw wild rhubarb, the fragile ecosystem of cryptobiotic soil and an ephedra plant known locally as "Mormon tea," but which Kyler referred to as "Red Bull for pioneers."

All of the sandstone formations are categorized into shapes slickrock riders call fins, domes, towers, bridges, arches, pancakes, buttresses and screams.

"Dude, you can cross this fin to that tower and get to the far scream under the pancake."

Translation: "You can get there from here, but it's going to hurt."

Of great interest to me were the non-natural items along the trail: lug nuts, brake-pad parts, washers, screws, wires and dental fillings.

It's amazing where a Humvee in the hands of a nut can go. It's hard to describe just how steep some of the hills in slickrock country are. Technical off-road terms such as "45 percent grade" and "&%#@%! that's steep" simply can't do them justice.

Here's what I figured out: If you can see the trail ahead of you through the sunroof without undoing your seat belt, that's steep.

My wife didn't find that particular view encouraging. She said driving up a hill so steep that all she could see was the sky and the hood of the Humvee scared her.

Considerate of her feelings, Kyler turned the Humvee around and went up the mountain backward. We literally hung in our seat belts over the windshield.

"It's harder to see where I'm going this way," Kyler said without a trace of guile. "But maybe it's easier for you."

Judging from the screams, it wasn't. But it did get him a bigger tip at the end.

Next time you're going through Moab, take time to stop and check out the slickrock country. One way or another, it will take your breath away.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.