The Freezefest

It was that time, when the weather in your town is totally normal for December, and you’re looking for ways to suffer.



Oh just me. Ok. Well anyway..

The FrEeZeFeSt. 

-Noun, where a group of hooligans between the ages of 7-mentally 7 get together and bring in the new year with the best kind of festivity possible: canyoneering.

Southern Utah got socked in with snow, so why enjoy the northern skiing when I could enjoy the suffer of snowineering? Great question. South it is.

Waking up is a struggle. Getting into bed is a struggle. Drinking water is a struggle. Feeling your toes is a struggle. Some pals setup a cooking tent with space heaters, others cooked in their souped-up trailers, others in the windy.. barren.. cold.. I’m not complaining. I’m fine. Everything’s fine. This is fine.

I ran around the fire my first night, anxious to hear how everything had been, conditions, life updates, canyon plans. The leprechauns had been thrown around as mild options. Perfect.

My goal was to get to 100 canyons by the end of the year, so linkups were the plan. Northwash has a variety of linkups that go, yet the amount of ice that formed on upclimbs, and snow and potentially melted snow had me second-guessing my proposed amount of volume within each day.

The Leps were wonderful, with West being my favorite.

Sometimes freezefest is about hanging out. Other years it’s about really getting after it. This year was more the former, as few wanted to get snowed out of canyons, and even fewer wanted to get wet, so the options were few and far between.

Tom Jones and I bailed out of the East fork early as water was to be expected. Phew. The next day, a huge group of us did the Shillelaghs and Tom and I did the second one just the two of us. Thanks Tom!

We stemmed through cinnamon-sugar snow (snow+sand) and kept warm on the rappels. I could finally feel my feet by the end of the day. Back to camp to replenish and chillax. Oh Northwash. What short trip, and only had me itching for more. 

Scenic Slots of Southern Utah Canyon Country

Famed for a movie named after hours spent in suffering. A location you’d stumble upon only if lost. A canyoneer’s home for a solid weekend. Robbers Roost. 

Why the ominous title? Some history according to le wiki: The hideout was considered ideal because of the rough terrain. It was easily defended, difficult to navigate into without detection, and excellent when the gang needed a month or longer to rest and lie low following a robbery. It was while hiding out at Robbers Roost that Elzy Lay and Butch Cassidy first formed the Wild Bunch gang. The Wild Bunch gang, early on led by Cassidy and his closest friend Elzy Lay, developed contacts inside Utah that gave them easy access to supplies of fresh horses and beef, most notably the ranch owned by outlaw sisters. The gang constructed cabins inside Robbers Roost to help shield them from the harsh winters. There, they stored weapons, horses, chickens, and cattle.

Okokok so fast forward from the 1890s to the 2019s and you’ll find an equally vibrant and eclectic band of hooligans up to no good.. 

Day 1: reports of dry canyons had the photographers itching to check out one of the more gorgeous canyons in the area. You want tight corridors, swirly sandstone, AND beautiful reflected light? Done

What about stemming? Oh ya.. 

Arches in canyons? It happens. Do you know the difference between an arch and a bridge? According to the Natural Bridge and Arch Society (yes yes you read that correctly..) “a natural bridge is distinguished from other types of natural arches by having one or more of the following attributes: a current of water, such as a stream, clearly was a major agent in the formation of the opening.” So, an arch formed via water is a bridge. Ok. Enough science. 

I was able to practice my 3 main concepts of canyoneering photography: leading lines, layers, and light. Photographing while leaning to the side, crouching down to capture the ground as a foreground, and taking advantage of reflected light, or the soft glow that’s sources from farther up or down-canyon.

And then.. POOF! Canyoneers appear from the sky!

A hike out and halloween fest were in order

Next day was more technically challenging. No bolts for anchors? Ghost it! Use rocks! Sticks! Go! 

It can get a little hectic: the organization, the yard sale of gear that occurs at most rappels where anchors need rebuilding, the sequencing of human bodies in tight spaces, the coordination of gear that these humans possess. It makes me so happy. Sometimes it’s a well-oiled machine and everyone knows their place/strength and other times it’s a mad dash and intense combination of opinions and techniques. Either way, it’s a joy, because it’s all within the watchful walls of ancient dunes and seabeds that we now explore. 

Favorite Desert Landscapes

Living around Zion National Park is where I’ve been able to ‘cut my teeth’ in landscape photography. Basic principles, composition, lighting, all rules I’ve learned how to bend. Below are some of my favorite and why. 

Rule of thirds. Broken up by trees, broken up by color, with a lack of contrast that blends it slightly together.. making it that mash-up of deliciousness like your plate on Thanksgiving.

If I could summarize the area geologically, this photo would be it. Those iron-rich reds, stark whites with pointy trees, streaked walls, and dark brown sugar stone. Yet they’re all the same Navajo formation.

I think this is what Adele meant when she sang “and I set fire.. to the raiiiiiiin!” There are two facts about photographing landscapes in the park: clouds are best, and snow is even better. This was an evening when my intuition was spot on. I fumbled with filters as fire-clouds crept behind the towers and the sky burst into a psychedelic rainbow of a sunset.


That’s 7810 feet my friends. The West Temple (I’m sure the Paiutes had a majestic name for it) towers over Springdale, is the “head” of the towers of the virgin, and is the tallest peak in the main canyon. Here’s it’s cap! The rock on top is actually different: it’s the Temple Cap formation (betchya can’t remember that!). This counts as my ‘intimate’ look at a peak that’s always felt, seemed, and is, so very far away..

Moonlight Buttress. Climbers. Autumn. It’s a love affair. 

Keyhole Canyon is one of many visitors’ first experiences in the deep slots in Southern Utah. It’s also stunning, and keeps us coming back for it’s convenience, friendly squeezes, and.. interesting.. water..

Okokok I know I’m transitioning slightly to ‘adventure photography’ BUT who gets to see this perspective that often? The switchbacks, part of the East Temple.. C’mon.. give me a pass..

You can almost hear the silence.. You can almost feel the sound.. Solitude in Fat Mans Misery Canyon. If you haven’t done it, get some skilled friends, cold water pro, and for everything that is good and fuzzy in this world, a map..

Lesson learned: just bring everything. I was hired to do a portrait session and got caught without a wide angle and THIS. Gah! Silly Rachel.. 28mm lenses are for kids.. Remember what I said before: clouds and snow.

..and waterfalls. And if you can work the magic and get clouds and snow and waterfalls.. you’re a wizard. There are a few places that will definitely run with each heavy rain: Telephone drainage by the Riverside Walk, Birch Creek (this), the Refrigerator drainage by Angels Landing, Echo Canyon, Heaps Canyon that overlooks the upper emerald pools.. the emerald pools themselves.. just to name a few..

And last but not in beauty.. Mars. Basically. A cotton-candy-sugar-plum-fairy-colored land of lavender crust that fades between pale and rust. It’s stunning. 

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