MIDVALE — A Utah adventure vacation company is helping outdoor enthusiasts parched in the desert of coronavirus self-quarantine to quench their thirst for exhilaration by discovering the scenic landscapes of the Beehive State.
Dean Cardinale, a ski patrol director and avalanche forecaster for Snowbird Ski Resort in the winter, operates World Wide Trekking, where he usually guides clients on summer treks to places like Nepal, Patagonia, Peru and Tanzania among other adventure hotspots. But in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has stifled air travel worldwide, he has had to pivot and create new excursions that satisfy his clients’ desire for outdoor excitement without sacrificing their health and well-being.
So rather than taking on the world’s highest peaks like Mount Everest or Mount Kilimanjaro or journeying through the desert on an African safari, he developed an itinerary that offers the chance to experience every one of Utah’s five national parks in just over a week’s time. While the trip may be domestically based, it still provides adventurists with the ingredients for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, he says.
“It’s really about getting the word out to people, getting them to know that there’s an option to go and do something privately, safely and really fun and exciting — Utah is amazing,” he said. “I’ve traveled the world extensively for a very long time and I go down to southern Utah or national parks or state parks and other sites — there’s no place like it.”
“When we do the Mighty 5, we go to the five national parks and I tell (groups) when we finish up that we can stay in the same hotels and do the same lap three more times, and they would still have new stuff to see every single time,” Cardinale said. “There’s a lot to see down there.”
He added that the eight-day trip also includes visits to three state parks, the Escalante area and other natural sites unique to Utah. There are also shorter options that spend time in southeast Utah near Moab at spots such as Arches and Canyonlands, as well as southwest focusing more on Zion and Bryce and other nearby landmarks.
With health and safety at top of mind, Cardinale said strict protocols have been instituted to ensure each participant’s well-being.
“We do the medical check when they first arrive and every day we take their temperature and their basic stats, making sure that they’re healthy and good,” he said. “(Also) making sure that we socially distance ourselves.”
He noted that being in such open spaces helps people avoid close contact. For now, groups are typically limited to fewer than six people, he said.
“We’re hiking on trails (and) we pack all of our own picnic lunches. We’re actually doing picnic breakfasts and dinners most of the time,” Cardinale said. “We’re checking-in for our guests (so) they don’t have to navigate reception in the lobby. They can stay in the vehicle while we get their room keys.“
“Like any outdoor outfitter, sanitation and cleaning is important,” he said. “We always have hand-washing stations, just making sure that all of our guides wear food handler gloves and a mask when they’re serving food and all those proper precautions.”
All equipment, food and necessities are transported in 10-foot cargo trailers towed by 15-passenger vans that have plenty of room for physical distancing, he added.
For Colorado resident Mike Sanders, the Utah trek will be a welcome diversion from the monthslong tedium brought on by the novel coronavirus outbreak. He and his wife, Michaela, are from Denver and were set to join the maiden journey of the Mighty 5 excursion over the weekend.
The couple has been on two previous excursions with World Wide Trekking — Everest Base Camp and Mount Blanc in the Swiss and Italian Alps. That prior experience and the cancellation of a planned family vacation prompted him to contact Cardinale about the Utah trip. And despite an underlying asthma condition, he is not particularly concerned about health or safety issues, primarily because he wears a mask in most public spaces, practices social distancing and puts a lot of faith in his trek leader.
Sanders said he and his wife rescheduled a planned trip to Africa this year to 2021 because of coronavirus concerns. But this trek to Utah’s national parks pose a much lower “risk profile” than international exposure potentially might present.
“First of all, it’s a very, very low number of people. No. 2, Dean is very health conscious about his customers. When we went out to Everest Base Camp, he would take our temperature and blood oxygen ratio every morning to make sure we weren’t (at) any risk,” he explained. “(Third), my wife’s a doctor and the percentage of people that have COVID-19 statistically are low and we’ll be out in the middle of nowhere. So I feel pretty relaxed about it.”