It’s at 28 years old that I finally had my first solo travel journey. And while it was short excursion, it left a lasting impact on me and is one experience I won’t forget. Remember that trip I took to Utah, where I experienced the magic of the salt flats? Well, it was also on this trip where I met two strangers and ended up scaling the side of a mountain in snow. Let me elaborate…
I was in Salt Lake City for a conference, and when I arrived from the airport, I was immediately struck by the natural beauty of Salt Lake City. The snow-capped mountains surrounding the city make anything and everything look a thousand times more dramatic. However, because I was there for work, I was stuck inside all the time. I was dying to explore, but I also had no one to go with me. Finally, I decided to say f-it, I’m going to catch the sunset and I’ll go by myself. I scoured Yelp, Foursquare, and Instagram to find a picturesque spot to shoot the sunset. I settled on Ensign Peak, a small, but dramatic mountain peak above the State Capitol Building. From the few reviews I read, it would be a bit of a hike, but totally worth it to see all of Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake.
I called an Uber and we headed up windy hills, suffered incorrect driving directions, and finally made it to the trailhead. I looked at the bottom of the mountain and thought, “They weren’t kidding when they said it was steep.” I also felt
a little really unprepared. I was wearing duck boots, skinny jeans and a sherpa Top Shop coat. Not quite prepared for a steep hike, but too late, right? I had a few qualms entering the park, especially considering how much snow was there and the fact that I only saw about four other people. Yolo, as they say. As I trudged through the snow, I spotted two girls, both of which were holding cameras. I’m naturally introverted, and inside I was debating whether or not I should talk to them. My fear of dying alone from slipping of ice won out and I and asked them if I was going on the right path, and which way they were going. One of them told me they were going off the beaten path, which would be steeper but shorter and less dangerous due to lack of snow. She was super friendly, and I asked if they would mind if I followed them. I didn’t want to bother them, and so I sort of pictured myself trailing awkwardly behind them as they continued to chat and hike. It wasn’t like that at all. I asked them a few questions, and we ended up chatting the whole way there. Turns out, both of them have lived in California before (one still does) and one of them, Mandi, was thinking about being an adventure guide. If this isn’t serendipity at its best, I don’t know what is.
It was slightly embarrassing because I was practically gasping for breath by the time we reached the top of Ensign Peak (the elevation is pretty rough). On the top is a giant obelisk and a jaw-dropping view of the city. Epic mountains flank both sides of the city, and you can see the two main streets of SLC span the city. After enjoying the view for a bit, Mandi decides to take us to a cave on the side of the mountain. “You can’t come to the peak without seeing the cave,” she explained. Little did I know that the cave is not part of the hike, but a random cave she found from when she last explored.
Well. This was cool and all but I was not ready for adventure. I was wearing a sherpa Top Shop coat, of all things, and lugging around a tripod. But at this point, I was all in. Plus I didn’t know my way back anyway. I got a little nervous when she peered over the edge of the mountain and said she couldn’t quite find the landmark she was looking for… but eventually she found it. And so, we began scaling the side of the mountain. LITERALLY.
We clambered down the edge and slid around. I can’t really describe it besides the fact that there were parts where we couldn’t even stand and had to do some serious climbing with our legs, arms, and butts. I vividly remember Mandi saying, “This is completely safe. It can be totally dangerous but it can also be completely safe.” Obviously, for someone as risk-averse as me, it wasn’t totally comforting, but I was in too deep. What really struck me during this whole time was how encouraging and cheerful these two strangers were. I was literally scared to death inside, but trying to play it cool. They continually cheered me on when I hesitated during an especially narrow section of mountain, and were nothing but motivational. I had no need to be self-conscious— there was no judgment here. Amazing.
Finally, we arrived at a cave in the side of the Ensign Peak where we got another epic view of the city and its rolling hills. Deer were prancing in the field. It was unbelievable how picturesque it was.
It was one of those moments where I realized a few things. How amazing it is that photography and a love of exploration can bring together three random strangers. I realized during the hike that the two girls I had met had actually just met each other as well. This may sound trite, but this experience was literally something I will remember forever. Furthermore, it wasn’t just this single point in time that has changed my life. I’ve met so many amazing people through photography and art that continue to inspire me and fill my heart with gratitude that we can connect in this way. So yay for passion. Yay for going out of your comfort zone. Yay for meeting kind humans. I learned to follow my passion, even if was leading me down a scary ice cliff.
The cave was the worst of it, after that it was just steep downhill walks, but I could definitely handle. Just like going down a hill in San Francisco. We chatted about the city, photography, and ourselves and got to know each other a little better as dusk fell onto the city. During the last leg of the walk back, a full moon appeared right over Ensign Peak. The night couldn’t have ended any better.
To visit Ensign Peak, park at the trailhead and make your way up the trail. We went off the path and directly up the mountain from the trailhead. I wouldn’t recommend searching for the cave unless you’re with a serious pro!