To say that I was nervous might be the understatement of the century. I couldn’t sleep the night before and my hands were shaking the entire hike leading up to the moment. Little did I know that the hard part wasn’t going to be asking Courtney to marry me, rather the descent through Dang Canyon turned out to be 10x more difficult. All said and done, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Some background information that makes the surprise even better. I told Courtney, since we just bought a condo together, that I wouldn’t be able to propose to her for another 4 years (to save up for the ring). Little did she know, at the end of August, while home for her best friend’s wedding, I asked her parents for their permission to marry her. Shortly after that, I went into a jeweler in Salt Lake to pick out the ring which took about 3 weeks to make/get. My plan was for us to go down to the desert one weekend before we went on vacation with her family at the end of October.
Fast forward to Thursday, September 26, 2019, the jeweler call me to say the ring was ready to be picked up. That night, we scrambled to make plans for the weekend to escape the cold and rain here in Park City. Like usual, we decided to head down to the desert even though they were calling for 50mph winds. This was going to be my only opportunity. And she had no idea.
After work on Friday, we loaded up the truck and headed down south like any other, normal trip. But this one was going to be far from normal, especially since we got hit with a hail storm 10miles away from where we were going to be camping outside of Goblin Valley. “Off to a great start”, I thought to myself. But luckily, we never got hit with any of the storm at camp and were able to spend our night, not around a campfire, but watching a lightning storm cross over the desert.
The next morning we woke up and headed right for the trailhead. Just a few miles down the gravel road from where we camped, we started our hike up the wash towards the entrance to Ding Canyon. I was already so nervous. With the ring hidden in the bottom of my pack, underneath my camera gear, I could barely focus or make normal conversations with Courtney. But we still had a canyon to hike up.
At first, it was no big deal. The walls got narrower, but the hiking was smooth. Then came a few obstacles that Gregor couldn’t climb, requiring us to lift him up and over. At about the halfway point, when Ding Canyon opens up again, I felt like it was as good of a time as any to ask her. The canyon in the background was beautiful and the wind had subsided.
I had her wait in a spot for the photos while I went to set my camera up on its tripod. Meanwhile, I fished through my bag to find the ring and discretely tucked it into my right pocket. Then I put the right camera lens on and setup the camera and hit record. She thought we were going to be taking photos like we normally do, with the camera on a timer. Instead, I had us posing and pretending to take photos. The whole time, she kept bumping into the ring box that was in my pocket and I surely thought she would realize what it was. This only made me more nervous.
Side note: because it was so windy out, and I wanted to make sure I captured her reaction, I put my phone in my pocket recording a voice memo. This worked out perfectly!
After our last “photo”, with my heart beating out of my chest and my hands shaking, I reached into my pocket and dropped down onto my knee. From here, I pretty much blacked out from being so nervous, but luckily I had the video to remind me how amazing Courtneys reaction was. She was beyond surprised and had no idea this was going to happen so soon. She said, “Yes!” And the three of us got to celebrate our engagement in our favorite place in the world… the desert of Utah. Gregor wanted in on the kisses too.
As it turns out, the engagement was the second hardest part of the hike. As we descended through Dang Canyon, the drops and obstacles became harder and harder to do with a dog. Most drops had a piece of webbing anchored in and used to rappel down the drop. Easy for a human to do, but quite difficult for a dog to navigate 10-15feet down. For most of these, I would drop down first and Courtney would lower Gregor over the edge while he was attached to a piece of rope we brought. Most of the times this did not go smoothly, as you could expect. Gregor did not enjoy being nudged over the edge and dropped into my arms. But obstacle by obstacle, we maneuvered our way down. Even once having to free climb up a slab section in order to walk down the side with Gregor to avoid a steep, 30ft drop section. Thankfully he wore his harness on this day and became a canyoneering champ by the end.
After a few hours, we emerged from the narrow slot canyon with my Fiancé by my side. But the surprises weren’t over. On Friday, before we left, I snuck out to the liquor store and picked up two bottles of of Champagne. One that is her favorite to drink, and the other one to spray to celebrate! Still not sure which one she was more surprised about, the champagne or the ring.
We jumped back into the truck and pointed it towards Moab where we planned to get a big dinner to celebrate, followed by camping at one of our usual spots. Well, the wind had different plans for us. The 20-30mph wind gusts turned into 50mph and would have made it impossible to enjoy a night in a tent. We called every available hotel/motel in Moab trying to find a room, but nearly everyone had the same plan as us. The wind drove everyone from the surrounding campgrounds, into town for the night. Luckily, we were able to score one of the last rooms at a hotel on the edge of town.
Everything this weekend was an adventure, from start to finish. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with this woman. I love her so much.
See the whole video, and how nervous I was here:
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.