Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Past Few Days

The past few days have been relatively uneventful in Nazareth, which is cool. I've had plenty of time to read, which is great, but English language materials are hard to come by, consequently, I've been reading books from the Church library. Today is rained, but tomorrow I am headed to the Mediterranean city of Akko.

But I have plenty of time to think. Increasingly, my thoughts have turned to what to do after Zion and Springdale, as someday I will have to leave. Lately I've felt that I will end up in New York City, which is so opposite of Springdale. Canyons of steel and concrete, not Navajo sandstone. But I do not think that will be anytime of soon. I found a volunteer position in American Samoa that looks promising, but that will be in about 18 months, if it works out. But where ever I end up I feel that I will end up overseas in some sort of service capacity. Now that I have had a taste of living overseas, I want to keep that up.

This Sunday I have been presented with an amazing opportunity. I've been invited to an international eco-tourism conference at Haifa University in Haifa, and on the Mediterranean! How cool is that? I'm going with Maoz, the owner, and hopefully I can make some good industry contacts. I'm glad that I brought a stack of my Zion Adventure Company rookie trading cards to give out. Hopefully I will have some good industry insight when I return. I'm feeling much better about my time here, and that I am actually making a difference with my service here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nazareth AP Article

Here is a link to an AP article about Nazareth with mentions the Fauzi Azar Inn. The boxer mentioned is the guy I buy fruit from, and sometimes he throws in an extra piece for free. The owner of the Cactus gift shop that is mentioned is not very friendly. My friend Leanne saw it in The Deseret News, and sent the link to me.

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Time Here: Is it Worth it?

I am really questioning whether I should stay in Nazareth at the FAuzi Azar Inn until January 20th. I came to aid in building a business, not to do mediocre tasks like moving chairs and refill a coffee urn with water. That is not business building at all. The things I see go on here at the Inn should not happen, especially for a business that wants to grow. Maybe the views of professionalism are different because of culture.

I just needed to vent, because no one here seems to care about how I see things. An outsider's perspective can add a great deal. The owner says he values what I have to say because I have a tourism background and graduate education, but I doubt that because I have yet to see that.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Greetings from the Holy Land

Christmas is about an hour away for me. I hope that your holiday season has been filled with light, love, and laughter, and that your new year brings renewed purpose, meaning, and opportunities for growth and to love.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kosher Food Article for The Spectrum

I have 2 comments on this one!

The Sea of Galilee

What was going to be a big weekend in Tiberias, the main city on the Sea of Galilee turned into just one day. I quickly realized that:
  • The rain would hang around for awhile.
  • That all of what there is to see in Tiberias can be seen in a couple of hours.
  • The sea is not that exciting, especially up close. It is really dirty, and the one beach I visited had a storm sewer emptying into the sea right next to it. Scenic.
I also learned that McDonald's ice cream cones taste the same regardless of whether it is Utah or Tiberias, but Snickers bars are much better in the Middle East. I cannot figure out why, I think it is the peanuts. Also, for a hostel that costs NIS 70 (about $20.00) a night, one must have very low expectations. It was more hostile than hostel, but at least I had a private room.

So I returned to Nazareth early, which was good. I met a group of German artists, and we went to dinner together. I think the invitation came because one of the guys and I had similar Timbuk2 messenger bags. Everyday I meet such intriguing people. I'm glad that I live in Springdale where everyone seems to have an interesting story. One of the guys I work for at Simply Birkenstock has had this amazing life, and I am continually learning new things about him. Sometimes I feel lame in comparasion to other Springdale residents; so many have accomplished so much more than me much younger than me. At least when I return I can say that I lived in Israel, but other people can say that too.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Bit of Randomness

Yesterday I found out that the big thing with middle-class and upper middle-class women here is (of all things) TUPPERWARE parties! That just sounds so 1985 to my American ears. That will be the topic of next week's article for The Spectrum. There was a problem on Sunday so the article on the exciting world of kosher food will be published on the 20th.

The Walmart Crib (Black Friday Edition)

A sad reflection of American society.

The Walmart Crib (Black Friday Edition)

Christmas in Israel

I keep forgetting that Christmas is next week. It is easy to do in a predominantly Muslim community in a Jewish country. In Nazareth, the population is about 30% Christian, so there is some Christmas stuff going on, but not nearly the amount that is customery in the United States. A few shops selling tacky Christmas ornaments made in China, and a few businesses with lights. That is it. The Fauzi Azar has some decorations, but even with that is it still a bit surprising when I remember. I have been told there will be a parade on Christmas in town, so I will have to check it out. On Sunday I will attend a Christmas concert at the Basilica of the Annunication. It will be in about 6 languages, so that should be cool. I recently learned that the Basilica is the largest church in the Middle East. Interesting.

It has been great to not have to deal with holiday shopping, however. As I won't be back to the US for 6 weeks, I still have plenty of time to accomplish that. Awesome. (Not to ruin the surprise, but the gifts will be Israeli souvenirs). Before I left I saw the most horrifying picture concerning holiday shopping ever. It was from the People of Walmart website, perhaps the most disturbing site I have ever seen. I am from Minnesota, hence, being a Target shopper is in my blood, and this is the sort of thing one would never see at a Target. The link is posted below. Fortunately, I have yet to see a Wal-Mart in Israel. They do have IKEA here; it is in suburban Tel Aviv. I know that everything there is exactly like I can find in the US, but going to it is still on my To-Do list.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Laundry in Israel

I broke down last night and I did laundry by hand. It took almost 2 hours, but when you can only fit about 5 articles of clothing in the bucket at a time, it takes a while. Then rinsing, wrining, and hanging up to dry. I'm not sure how clean they actually are. They all smell like Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap in Citrus, so I guess that is a good thing. Unfortunately, with the humidity here, things take FOREVER to dry. I'm still not done, and get to do more tomorrow, or I just might wait until next week.

However, there was motivation in washing my clothes by hand. The money I saved by doing this will pay for 1/4 of a day trip to Masada and the Dead Sea from Jerusalem. I sincerely hope that the promised washing machine arrives this week as promised. I will never again complain about having to go to the Zion Park Laundry in Springdale or the cost associated with it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Visiting Biblical Sites

Being in the Holy Land, visiting Biblical sites is what one does. Visiting every site would be nearly impossible considering the sheer number of time. I am already having to decide which sites to cut out because of lack of time. It does not look like I will get to the Dead Sea this trip to Israel, but I have been invited to come with a friend in 2011 for her birthday. Maybe then.

What I have noticed at these sites is that I do not really feel anything. I look at them, think "That's cool," and I go on my way. This morning I went to the Greek Orthodox church near Mary's Well. There is a spring which has been flowing since Biblical times and is the reported place of where Mary would draw water. (Hence the name). The Greek Orthodox church was built over the spring, and while I was there all the members of a Russian or Ukrainian tour group wanted to drink the water and wash their hands and faces in it. I was not inclined to do that in any fashion. They also were kissing a lot of the pictures in the church, which probably is not a good idea.

I am starting to think that something is wrong with me that I feel nothing at these places. Here I am visiting sites that are key to religious traditions worldwide (my own included), and I do not feel any different. I feel more spiritual in Zion National Park than in this Zion. Maybe there is something wrong with me. I spent the last week here with my friend Karina from Zion and Springdale. She had been here for almost 5 weeks before she said she really felt anything, and that was at Mount Tabor. I'm trying to figure out how to remedy this situation, as there is great potential for spiritual growth in the place central to 3 major religions.

Life at the Fauzi Azar

I've noticed a few comments asking what it is exactly I do here at the Inn. My responsibilities as a volunteer are minimal. I check people in, answer the phone, help people find their way around Nazareth (which can be tricky), ensure that there is hot water for tea and coffee, that there are baked goods available, and I chat with guests. Really it is very similar in many respects to what I do at Zion Adventure Company on a daily basis, except here my days do not involve washing muddy 5.10 Canyoneers, stinky neoprene socks, and Kokatat dry suits from the Narrows or the Subway in the cold at the end of the day. I am enjoying it very much. Because of my tourism and business background I also help with some special projects the owner has. Presently I am working on creating a guest feedback survey, updating the volunteer documents, and reviewing a multi-day package that is offered.

I only spend 4 hours or so a day with my volunteer activities, which allows plenty of time to explore. I spend a lot of time writing in my travel journal at the Basilica of the Annunication about 3 minutes from where I live. I recently discovered that it is the largest church in the Middle East. Interesting. Tomorrow I am tackling the task of washing clothes by hand. The promised washer has yet to arrive and I am in dire need of clean clothes. I had debated taking it to the laundry, but as the laundry charges by the kilo, it would have been about 80 shekels or $27.00 for clean clothes. That is more than I am willing to pay. I never thought that in 2009 I would be washing clothes by hand...actually never in my life did I think that would be doing something like that.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Past Few Days

Not much of note has happened here the past few days. I am enjoying very much simply living. My schedule is: sleep, yoga, eat, explore, write, eat, write, hang out. It is great. Being here has made me realize that I can live even more simply than I do bake in the States. One of my biggest realizations is that I can wear the same pair of jeans twice and nothing bad will happen.

Wednesday the owner of the Inn commented to me that he liked my blog. This was shocking to me as only about 2 people here not including him knew about it. He has Google Alerts or something set up for any mention of Fauzi Azar, and I mention that pretty prominently in the blog. Anyway...because of my blog post about the laundry quandry, the volunteer house is getting a WASHING MACHINE this week! How exciting is that? Life has just become so much easier. I just hope it arrives before I leave for my weekend at the Sea of Galilee. Toda Maoz!

Friday I got to visit the neighborhood mosque for a special tour. I had to buy a head covering so that I could even visit. I am no closer to understanding Islam after that visit, however, I need to make remedying that a priority. There is still so much that I do not understand even about Judaism or my own religion for that matter.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Cookies

One of my responsibilities as a volunteer is to keep the baked goods stocked, a task to which I am most amenable. However, not everything that is readily available in the US can be found here, like Cream of Tarter. How odd is that? Anyway...we are fully booked for Christmas, and we will need to make lots of cookies for the guests. My beloved Cooking with the Choir cookbook is obviously in Utah, so if anyone has a cookie recipe they could share with me I would greatly appreciate it. Of course, I could go to some website for something, but I would prefer something from those I know and love. It would also be appreciated if these recipes 1) included chocolate in some fashion and 2) do not include marshmallows.

Recipes can be emailed to me or posted as a comment on the blog.

Toda! (Hebrew for "Thanks!")

A Moment at the Basilica

At Zion Adventure Company a big thing is noticing moments or times of importance throughout the day. These can be big or small, but times of great significance. Over the season noticing moments was something I struggled with greatly. But this morning at the Basilica of the Annunciation I had a poignant one. The Basilica is about 1000 feet from where I live, and this morning I was there to write postcards. It is a popular stop for tour groups, and this morning I stated speaking with a man, Emmos, from Nigeria. Out of nowhere several members of his tour group sat down next to me, wanting their pictures with taken with me. It was rather surprising. About 10 minutes later I spoke with some of the other group members, two men Tony and Mike. After about 2 minutes, Mike told Tony to take his picture with his "new friend," which was obviously me. It was humbling to be thought of his friend after such a short interaction, and there was obvious sincerity in his comment. After Tony and Mike left, it took a lot for me not to start crying in the middle of the gardens at the Basilica.

A lot of my faith in humanity was restored this morning. I just wish that there was more of what I experienced this morning in Israel between Israelis and Palestinians. This afternoon, I watched some of the neighborhood kids play in the lane. Their games involved toy guns and a lot of hitting, and I thought a lot about how much hatred is perpetuated from generation to generation here. Those children are the next generation of leaders in Israel, and one must ask what their legacy will be and how will they address the Israel they have been given.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Spectrum Article for Sunday, December 6th

I forgot to post this on Sunday. It is the link to my first article in The St. George Spectrum about life in Israel. This week's topic: Kosher food.

Mount Precipice

This morning's excursion took me to Mount Precipice, about a 30 minute walk from the Inn. Mount Precipice is the site where people attempted to throw Christ down into the valley when he asserted that he was the son of God. It bothers me how weak I have become in the hiking department. Hiking at near sea level should be no problem, but it is killing me. I kept asking my friend how much farther it was, which is very unlike me.

After I went to my first Israeli grocery store. Not reading Hebrew or Arabic, I have to rely solely on pictures to buy food. Fortunately, Nutella seems to be universal, and I am glad that I have recently started liking Nutella. (Thanks ZAC co-workers!) Being searched by armed guards before entering was unusual to say the least. The day that starts at the Sol Foods Market in Springdale is the day I have to move.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hiking in Zion

This morning I hiked a portion of the Jesus Trail, a trail that the owners of the Inn have been working on for quite some time. The trail goes from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee, as the name implies, following the route Jesus may have taken while travelling that direction. Angels Landing it was not, but the mud was something to contend with. The trail this morning went past Cana where the miracle of turning water into wine occurred. As with many of the Biblical sites here, a new church has been built over the ruins.

Yesterday I visited the neighborhood mosque. The tour guide from the Fauzi Azar Inn asked me if I had a head covering with me. No, sorry, that is not something that I just happen to have in my Timbuk2 bag. But as the mosque is having the volunteers back on Friday for an indepth tour, I need to purchase something. On this trip I really hope to come to a better understanding of Islam, considering its prescence in the the US. There is so much about that religion that I just do not understand, but I really want to, especially the place of women in society, considering my experience yesterday.

Picture uploading has been weird; it seems to take way too long. I will have to work on that some.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pita Bread

Until now, I had not been a fan of pita bread. I guess I was sort of ambivalent towards it. But having it fresh is something new all together. Yesterday I was introduced to perhaps the most hole in the wall restaurant I have ever been to: Pita Pizza. The entrance and ordering area is maybe 4 feet wide, but the pizza is heavenly, and a mere 6 shekels, about $2.00. Added bonus: the guys the run it are very nice to look at. I also have a souk (market) maybe 100 yards from where I am. The prospect of eating fresh fruit, fresh bread and hummus for the next 2 months sounds excellent. Another added bonus: it's cheap.

One thing I am struggling with is the lack of laundry facilities. You can send laundry out and they wash it for you, but they charge you by the pound. But the prospect of washing in a tub by hand is thoroughly unappealing. Before I left I practiced wearing the same pair of pants twice. Maybe I should I tried 3 times. My roommate found my practicing hilarious.

I have an hour before I need to be back for training. Off to do some journaling. Pictures will be forth coming. I just need to find my SD card reader with the USB port.

Some of you have asked for my mailing address. I can be reached at:

Charlotte M. Vaillancourt
Fauzi Azar Inn
2606 Nazareth
16125 Israel

Sunday, December 6, 2009


After 3 days in Tel Aviv, I finally arrived in Nazareth. One thing that I have found disheartening about Israel is how run down and filthy everything is. For a country that is only 60 years old, I would expect a little more from it. Also dealing with being around people who smoke has been an issue as well. Today has been tough as I really, really want to go back to my Zion. Right now the prospect of 2 months here bothers me.

This morning was perhaps the most unsettling experience of my life: the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. Technically it is the "new" bus station, but using "new" to describe it is quite a stretch. It was new like 30 years ago. Supposedly this bus station is the largest in the world, but that did nothing to help ease my fear of being there. For me the most unsettling aspect was the military prescence there. The Israeli bus system, Egged, began as a way to transport troops, and it still does that in a big, big way. Israeli military people were everywhere, including their loaded AK-47s and cases of extra rounds. When one of the military guys was behind me as my luggage was searched, the second I saw his gun, mere inches from me, I thought I was going to be sick.

The Fauzi Azar Inn is quaint by American standards, and my living space is something that one might find in Middle Earth, very Hobbit-esque. I half expect Frodo, Samwise, Pippin, or Meri to pop out at any moment, though I would prefer Legolas. Fortunately, my friend Karina from Zion National Park has been here a month, and will be here a while more. I have someone to show me the ropes.

The Most Surreal Experience of My Life

Yesterday I attended the LDS Branch in Tel Aviv, which meets in a bomb shelter/conference room (which the desk attendant from yesterday thought I would be impressed with as it was "a real Israeli bomb shelter" and this being his second attempt at flirting which was even worse than the first) and one of the members in the Branch began talking about Bumbleberry Pie when I mentioned I was from Zion.

Never in my life could I conceive of a time when those 3 things would ever come together in such a fashion.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Last night the Sabbath began, and I am still not sure what to make of a lot of what goes on. I spent the start of Shabbot with a family I had met ironically at Zion Adventure Company over the summer. The food and company was excellent, and I learned a great deal about kosher food. There were even some arguments about what exactly constitutes kosher food, much like the discussions at university amongst my friends as to whether or not non-caffienated Coke was okay. After last night I know what my next article for The Spectrum will be: kosher food.

Moreover, everything basically shuts down for 24 hours. The desk attendant at the guest house actually said that using the Internet was forbidden for Shabbot. It was his attempt at either humor or flirting, but whatever it was it failed miserably. Fortunately, I am able to use it. As for the elevators, I guess they run automatically. I have been avoiding them and using the stairs so as not to offend anyone.

Jet lag fortunately has not been a problem, but taking 3.5 hour naps probably helps. Israel is shockingly expensive. I'm regretting my decision to buy shampoo and soap here. Oh well.

My internet for the day is almost up. After 2 days in the country, I can say that my Zion is definitely cleaner, prettier, and friendlier than this one. I miss Springdale a lot.


15 Hours in Israel

About every 5 minutes I ask myself, "What have I gotten myself into?" Craziness that's what! Thankfully I decided that I wouls practice my French at Zion Adventure Company this summer, because that has been very useful, perhaps moreso than English. Some quick notes on my time here this far, as I only have 10 minutes of typing time left before I have to search for directions to the home of a family I met at Zion Adventure over the summer. They are having me over for the start of the Sabbath tonight.
  • Turn signals are more of a suggestion than anything here, and crossing 4 lanes of traffic without so much as checking ones blind spot is common too.
  • I stick out in a big way: blonde hair and very fair skin just scream, "FOREIGNER!"
  • Air Canada did not show A Christmas Story as the website promised. Sadness.
  • Things are really expensive here. The dinner I got last night for the price of something at the Bit 'n Spur was pretty sad.
  • I received welcome to Israel text messages when I turned on my cell phone to check the time.
  • There is a mezuzah on my door frame.
  • The elevator kindly reminds people not to touch the buttons on the Sabbath.
  • Everytime I see a LandCruiser I think of Zion Adventure Company.
  • Not one person has asked about my ZAC jacket yet. Weird.

And a special note to Frank and Charlie: They have Crocs here! I saw 3 pairs at breakfast alone! (To everyone else, I have received a lot of grief about owning Crocs and working at a Birkenstock store. My Crocs have come to Israel, but will not be returning to the US.)

On the agenda for this morning: visiting the Mediterranean Sea.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Zion Adventure Begins!

In exactly 15 minutes I leave for the beginning of over 28 hours of travel to get to Israel. Fortunately, Air Canada has a stellar line-up of TV and movies to choose from, including A Christmas Story. I had been sad that this might be a holiday without seeing that movie, but fortunately it won't be.

But leaving Zion won't be easy, but I really am not. I'm just headed to another Zion half-way around the world. One thing I am looking forward to is the reaction from people when I say, "I'm from Zion" when they ask me where I am from. Coupled with the stockpile of Zion Adventure Company shirts that are in my suit case, I'm sure that several conversations will arise from it.

I'm sad that I have to leave in the dark this morning. I would have liked to see West Temple from my kitchen window one last time.

Frank will be here in a few minutes to take me to the airport shuttle. Next stop: Tel Aviv.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Something I Never Thought that I Would Do

I broke down: I finally set-up a Facebook page, something I swore for years would never happen. Recently I had received several lectures from my friends, co-workers, and employeers about the benefits of Facebook. The strongest argument came from my elementary school friend, Erin, who reminded me, "Charlotte, you said that once you finished grad school you would get a Facebook account." She was right, and as I finished grad school 7 months ago, it was not something I could avoid much longer. Moreover, yesterday at Church when the people who are grandparents were discussing Facebook, I felt really out of place.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Trip Report - Pine Creek Canyon, November 16th, 2009

Video and photos from the Pine Creek descent will be added next week.

Trip Report: Pine Creek
Monday, November 16th, 2009

The Background

Eight months ago at the beginning of my tenure at Zion Adventure Company, I never would have imagined where this job would take me. Dangling over a rock fall 85 feet above the ground on a free hanging rappel was probably the last place I would have expected to end up.

For me, Pine Creek was a big deal, and even days after completing it, it remains such. Shortly after I received my ZAC Notebook in the early part of the season, I made a list of things to accomplish for the season. Pine Creek, ironically, was included, and the entire season it remained the least likely to be accomplished. It was amorphous, undefined, and something I was not sure that I even wanted to pursue. However, as the season progressed, several staff members each said that when I was ready to go, that they would be willing to accompany me through Pine Creek. I’m glad that I was able to set my own timeframe for this endeavor, and that no one pressured me into doing something for which I was not ready.

As I have been preparing to leave for Israel, “Do Pine Creek” ended up on my list of things to do before I leave, along with such exciting things as “photocopy passport,” “buy an adaptor,” and “clean the bathroom.” Over the past few weeks, I came to the realization that Pine Creek probably was not beyond my current (and limited) canyoneering abilities, especially if I considered all the Boy Scout troops that I had outfitted over the season who successfully completed it. Moreover, having some of the most experienced canyoneers in the United States as co-workers, I felt that with whomever I went, I would be in good hands.

Ultimately, things came together in such a way that Jonathan, Rob, and I were able to go to Pine Creek Monday morning, for a day that would become the best day of my life.

The Canyon

After the rains of over the weekend, I knew to expect exceedingly cold water. On Sunday, Jonathan did some reconnaissance work, and at that time there was ice on the first pool. Thankfully by Monday morning it was gone, however, that did not make the water any warmer. After what seemed to be an eternity spent simply putting on gear, we were able to begin the day. Sunday afternoon I saw Rob, and I commented on how I would probably feel much like the younger brother in the movie A Christmas Story the next day. In one scene Randy has so much winter wear on that his arms stick straight out. It’s great, and I did feel exactly like that. At one point I dropped my Burt’s Bees lip balm and because of the 2 fleece jackets, long sleeve wicking shirt, fleece pants, hiking pants, dry suit and protective coverall, I could not reach the ground to pick it up. Embarrassing.

In the days prior to my first Pine Creek descent, I started thinking about two mantras to help me basically get through the day. My mantras were:

I will not let fear and anxiety hinder my progression.

And to a lesser extent:

No tears.

Having those thoughts to guide the day worked well, especially the second one at the first rappel. After jumping into the first pool and ending up over my head in ice cold water, the sketchy first rappel was not what I was expecting. On Sunday while working at Simply Birkenstock, a guide with Paragon from St. George was in. (Interestingly, his wife was wearing a Zion Adventure Company fleece jacket). He mentioned how unnerving the bolt for one of the rappels was, and when I saw the bolt for the first rap, I knew instantly what he meant.

Once I saw the start of the first rappel, I was eager to turn around while I still could. Inhibited by the layers of clothes, cold from total submersion, I slowly approached the rappel, telling myself, “If I slip, I have to slip to the right into the pool.” As I stood with my safety attached the prospect of getting to where I needed to be seem a complete impossibility. Jonathan’s effortless move to get on rappel almost sickened me. As I disregarded his suggestion to sit down to start the first rappel, the second mantra kept coming into my head. I do not think I ever actually shed tears, but the water in my eyes I attribute to my hair and hat dripping onto my face after my frigid plunge.

At this moment, Jonathan was not my favorite person. I was upset that he seemed to not be giving me the space I needed to do the rappel on my own terms. Having never been out with him I began to wonder if Jonathan was like this on all trips or just with me. I must admit I was a little taken back at his, as from my perspective, he seemed incredibly impatient with me. Since Monday this has been something that I have pondered considerably. The conclusion I have come to is that Jonathan knew more of my abilities than I did. In the moment, I was a little upset, perhaps even hurt, but I am glad I was not given the choice to turn around. Had that occurred I would have always wondered if I could do Pine Creek. After the hike out while driving back to the Land Cruiser I commented about how seriously I considered ended the day at the first rappel. Jonathan’s response was, well classic Jonathan. He said, “I never considered that to even be an option.” Well, I am glad that one of us did not.

After I overcame my hesitation and anxiety of the first rappel, the rest of the day was absolutely amazing! I am humbled beyond words with what I experienced. The rappels, the scrambling, the down climbing, seemed to come with such ease. The rappel in the Cathedral section was perhaps the fastest of my life. Not that speed is important, but for me it illustrated that I have more competence than I give myself credit for. Besides the tumble on slick rocks that Jonathan warned me, I ended the day unscathed. I was told that I hit my head as I rolled, but I have no recollection of that, though I have bruises from that tumble. At least they came from doing something AWESOME!

Until Monday one thing that I had been terrified of with canyoneering was free-hanging rappels. Rob had repeatedly told me over the prior months that such rappels were “fun” and “easier” than rappels where one’s feet are on the wall. Whenever he said this, I just looked at him with intense skepticism. After Monday I realized that such rappels are not bad. I just need to work on not grasping the ropes so tight that my arms and shoulders ache for days afterwards.
After the last rappel, it was oddly surreal to look back at the canyon and to think that minutes prior I was there, that I did something I previously thought nearly impossible. During the hike out it was hard for me to comprehend what I just did, and even days later it still seems unreal. Driving back to Springdale I commented on how I felt as though the whole morning had been a dream, but I knew it was not because I still had Canyoneers on. Any dream involving Canyoneers would be more like a nightmare.

Final Thoughts

Canyoneering is an incredibly empowering activity. I am grateful for Rob and Jonathan’s willingness to lead me through Pine Creek. Monday was a gift to me; one which will not soon be forgotten. Every time I complete a canyon, I realize how much that environment means to me, and that I want to be back in a canyon as soon as possible. After each canyon, I resolve to go more, but that never seems to happen. Next year, I intend to make canyoneering a weekly or bi-weekly event. Ultimately, for next year I would like Mystery Canyon to be my goal. If I were to do it, it would have to be on a busy Saturday in the summer, so that the Narrows would be full of people to watch me come out of the canyon. Shallow, I know, but something about that admiration and awe from Narrows hikers in the Narrows Footwear Package is appealing.

I am not sure how I will go about making this goal a reality. Adding on to ZAC trips would be the obvious solution, but I am not sure that is the right one. Scott and I discussed this in some length last night. This season I was hesitant to add on to trips as I did not want Zion Adventure to look bad because of my inexperience and ineptitude. Now I wonder if adding on would diminish the experience of the clients involved in some capacity. Over the winter, this is something I am going to have to ponder. Hopefully, other staff members can provide some insight into this situation as well.

One simple action Monday night while I was working in the shop brought about a fantastic finish to an already amazing day: Tom gave me a high-five and congratulated me on doing Pine Creek. Something like that coming from the reigning canyoneering king meant a lot.

Other lessons from the day include:
  • Always make sure the neck gasket on your drysuit is tight before jumping into exceedingly cold water.
  • I do better in canyons when I do not know what to expect. For me not reading Zion: Canyoneering (sorry Tom) before I go out works well, as then I do not have any expectations. I simply have no choice but to say, “Bring it on!”
  • Listening to Jonathan is always a good idea.
  • The mental component of canyoneering cannot be understated.

Monday was the best day of my life…I truly lived that day.

Trip Report - Copperhead Canyon, July 15th, 2009

At Zion Adventure Company, staff members will often write reports of trips to enlighten other staff members about conditions, learning experiences, trials, etc. This is my trip report about the first major canyon I descended.

Copperhead Canyon – July 15th, 2009:
A Trip Report

Charlotte M. Vaillancourt
To put it mildly, the canyoneering trip for me this past Sunday was a very big deal. My first canyoneering experience in March during training ended poorly. I was in tears, and never completed it. Until that time in my life I had never done anything involving ropes, harnesses, helmets, and the other accoutrements needing for a successful canyoneering endeavor.
For the past several months I had wanted to go again, but I had yet to build up the courage. The Charlotte M. Vaillancourt Baby Steps to Canyoneering program helped immensely to get me to the point where I could even consider canyoneering as a possibility. First, rappelling off the ladder while hanging from the rafters in the ZAC basement with Scott Williams, then the trip to Lamb’s Knoll to practice rappelling with Scott both helped immensely. However, I still had trouble believing that the equipment was actually designed to withstand the thousands of pounds of force placed on it. It was that I questioned more than anything. Furthermore, I needed to know if I could be successful in doing what we take 5 year olds to do. Also, it has always felt rather hypocritical to me to be selling a product and discussing it when I had no personal experience with it.

Anna and Calvin accompanied me to Lamb’s Knoll, where it was our intention to do Snake Alley, a decent, beginning canyon, and one I personally felt that I could manage. When I asked Calvin to accompany me I said, “Calvin, the thing I fear most is that I will realize how much I like canyoneering, and will have a new addiction.” Calvin responded that canyoneering was an okay addiction to have. Also, it was on my Summer 2009 To Do list, and crossing things off of that list is something I try to do often. When we arrived, Z-Rock already had a sizable group there, a loud, Spanish-speaking one at that. We could here them from Snake Alley at the parking area. Calvin and I learned later that day that the group arrived at Z-Rock anticipating a day of canoeing, not canyoneering. Just a little different.

The day almost came to a tragic end at the small grotto where we put gear on. Calvin told me to grab a certain harness from the staff gear in the basement. I took it trusting him it was the right size. Only once we got to the grotto did we realize it was not. Oops…our bad. Fortunately, Anna’s personal harness fit. There were a few moments when I was secretly hoping that we could turn around at that point, however, I did wonder at the same time when I would have the courage again to go.

On we went. Arriving near the Snake Alley descent, we realized that Snake Alley might not be the best choice. The Z-Rock group was 1) large and 2) slow-moving. Much like the classic Robert Frost poem, we took the road less traveled and it made all the difference. We headed up to the right to see what we could find there.

During the next 30 minutes of scrambling, the one thing I kept thinking was how my Montrail trail shoes were comfortable, but severely lacking in the traction department. (Ironically, my shoes also had the best traction of any of the group’s). I also lamented the sand gathering ability of the shoes, for which it gets gold stars all-around, but which is not something I was unaware of. I learned that lesson on the disastrous November 2007 Hop Valley hike. Worst. Hike. Ever. Focusing on my shoes kept me from over analyzing, and subsequently, talking myself out of actually canyoneering.

I will not say that everything went perfectly. Some tears were shed by me when the rappelling became real and eminent…okay, a lot of tears. Until that point I focused on the individual steps I needed to make, not the big picture. I once found a line in Outside magazine that said, “Sometimes I want to simplify my life to the point where I think about the next 20 feet, not the next 20 years.” That is what I did, but that was hard when the next 20 feet were straight down.

During my tears I could only think about how far I had already come, and how the not knowing if I could do canyoneering would continue to haunt me. When I considered my options, rappelling was the lesser of two evils to get me back to my trusty Saturn Ion, Jackson, named such after a road trip which resulted in it looking like a Jackson Pollack painting because of all the mud. I could go and do all the down climbing, scrambling, the Carousel of Death (named such by Anna’s sister), etc. again, or just go 80 feet. Hmmm…decisions, decisions.

Long story short, I chose to rappel, and I am glad that I did. I definitely was not keen on the times when my feet did not touch the canyon wall, but I did not let that stop me. I also rappelled without an auto-block. For whatever reason, I could not wrap my mind around Calvin’s explanation of its purpose or how it works. That was just confusing me, and raising my anxiety level at a time when that would simply hinder my progress further.

As Anna said after my first rappel, I rocked it. A lot of fear was gone at that moment, and my original fear of realizing that I would like canyoneering was realized. I enjoyed myself immensely, and the second rappel was a total piece of cake after what I had just done.
Ultimately, I learned several important lessons from my few hours canyoneering Sunday morning:
  • I need to invest in shoes with better traction and that keep sand at bay
  • Having my own harness is vital, so that I never arrive at the beginning with one that does not fit.
  • Petzl helmets make one’s head look unsettlingly large.
  • I need to learn the mechanics of canyoneering: the ropes, the knots, the hows, the whys, etc.
  • Some fear is always needed to ensure one’s safety, but I cannot let it control me or prevent me from experiencing new things.
  • I am ADDICTED to canyoneering, and I find myself searching the calendar in SO for potential trips to add on to.
  • A new lifetime goal: To go canyoneering on every continent. First up: Israel this winter; a true Zion adventure!

I cannot wait until July 26th when I get to go and do Keyhole Canyon. Four months ago if someone said that I would eventually say something like that, I would have thought they were certifiable.