Idaholds

I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous that the Hailey area was going to be lacking in the all important climbing category when it came to our perfect location checklist. Needless to say I was stunned to see Jonathan Siegrist, one of the nations top climbers at The Fins over the weekend putting up new routes. You can read more about what he thinks of the area here.

So far between the 3 crags we have visited, 2 of them (Cedar Creek and The Fins) are sleepers on the west coast climbing circuit. What makes them especially good is their high altitude and afternoon shade. This makes both these crags great summer climbing areas that stay cool when the temperatures in the Snake River Basin soar into the 100’s.

Jonathan Siegrist bolting a new line on the Discovery Wall at The Fins.

Our first weekend trip from our new home couldn’t have been more encouraging and motivating. Along with Jonathan we met two local hard climbers Beau and Steph that call Ketchum home. They clued us in on the Tuesday after work crag scene at the lava tubes and were super approachable and nice. Aside from being cool people they both crush to the tune of a number grade harder than both Robyn and I. I haven’t really been around climbers pulling down this hard with any regularity since climbing at The New with Doug 3 years ago. The motivation that comes with climbing with climbers stronger than you is impossible to duplicate and Robyn and I are psyched to feed off their energy!

And feed we did as it seems. Robyn got on a 5.11d yesterday and by the end of the day linked the whole route and sent it clean on top rope!! She had never seriously worked a route of this grade and with each top rope attempt she unlocked the moves higher and higher up the wall. We plan to head back to The Fins this Friday so she can give the route some lead burns! I also had arguably my best two days climbing in some time as well. The crazy part about The Fins is there are only a few 5.10 and low 5.11 routes and then the rest of the routes are heavily stacked at the 5.12a and 5.13a grades. When you climb here there are only really two choices – climb hard or don’t climb. Over the two days I was able to redpoint an 5.11d (Robyn’s project) flash my first 5.12a of the season and redpoint a bouldery 5.12c which marks my hardest redpoint of the year as well! There are still plenty of 12’s to check out and a whole host of 13’s as well so The Fins will be on the summer menu for quite some time.

With the overnight temps cooling off our destination may soon shift to The City of Rocks, Idaho’s most famous area comprised of dozens of crazy granite towers and blobs of all kinds. As winter approaches we will likely still have bouldering to scope out and a basalt sport area called Dierkes Lake which we climbed a few routes on over Christmas break last winter. There is certainly no shortage of rock to explore and so far the climbing community seems tight knit and dedicated to staying strong.

4th and Galena.

This last week has zipped on by; incredibly fast with lots of good things happening. We’ve moved all of our special belongings to Hailey, Idaho, and found a sweet little place on 4th and Galena (a charming street full of more good things and good people) to call home. We are still in disbelief of our cozy abode and quaint, little town. It hasn’t quite settled in yet, but it will soon. I just know it.

As we get to know Hailey a bit more, photos and stories of our favorite places will be sure to follow. Until then, here are photos of the new pad.

The stairs leading to our spot above the garage. We will have to put up a photo of the whole place later on (forgot that one).

Our mini porch is perfect for morning coffee and early sun. Its been down in the low 40’s here already overnight.

Empty entry.

Kitchen before.

Kitchen after.

Ethan making a mess. The bedroom is attached to the right.

The first magnet we put on the fridge. Guess who!?

Fresh garden herbs from our landlord and buddy Dave.

First breakfast before a day climbing at The Fins. We can have eggs again!

Robyn took all these pictures. She was just so damn excited.

Our place is small and cozy, similar to ol’ Vincent (who is already missed, terribly). Like Vincent, this place emits good vibes and energy, and feels really good. We think you’ll like it. Hurry on now and come visit. We would just love it.

HOLY SH*T WE’RE MOVING TO HAILEY

So that happened. 6 days after completing her job application to the Blaine County School District Robyn landed the job! We decided the position was worth the move regardless of the outcome of my forecasting application and Robyn just accepted the position! Back in Idaho! Time to celebrate!

Been saving this big boy for a special occasion. WAHOO!

The position starts the 27th so the following week will be a whirlwind of driving packing and moving. Here we go!

Over the Moon..

Yes, I am. I am over the moon for Idaho. Idaho was coined the ‘Gem State’ for good reason. It is loaded with thousands of incredible treasures, including some of my favorite people and memories. I am just a sucker for it.

Most of Idaho (especially southern Idaho) is dry and arid. One could find plenty of sage brush and farm fields to last a lifetime. Idaho even hosts America’s favorite comfort food; semi trucks and train carts exporting the famous Idaho ‘spud’ from door to door daily. It’s pretty awesome and we were tickled to finally arrive. We snuck in on the eastern side near Victor, and after mountain biking our brains out, we headed straight for Rupert – my hometown and where most of my family lives today. I love Rupert. It is not at all quaint, but it is home. It is cozy and familiar. Whenever we visit, we are always greeted with big hugs and to-die-for breakfast burritos. In fact, food is usually the main topic of discussion. ‘Are you hungry?’ ‘What should we have for dinner?’ ‘Let’s have this or let’s bake that.’ ‘Should we grill?’ It’s ongoing and it’s wonderful.

Our stay in Rupert was nice. My brothers came over every evening for campfire stories and of course, all you can eat dinners. We snuck in block walks, the London Olympics, animal watching at the Minidoka County Fair, niece time, a game of bocci, and an afternoon of chores. We stocked up on fresh groceries (and leftovers) and enjoyed a mega bus-cleaning party. I must say, Vincent is looking rather dapper.

Minidoka County Fair. Who wants to stare at some huge sugar beets!!?? Well I suggest you hightail it down there.

The latter part of the week had us traveling toward the Hailey/Ketchum/Sun Valley area. Ethan has applied for an Avalanche Forecasting position in Ketchum and because he has never been, I felt it my duty to give him a tour. We strolled through each town, walking shoulder to shoulder discussing the possibilities and what-ifs of moving, jobs, and living in Idaho. Of course, this conversation doesn’t happen without sampling some of the climbing in the area, too. Winding down Deer Creek Road we found some of the best camping of the trip. Crystal clear streams, plenty of tree coverage, cool breezes, and a picnic table (all for free). The climbing wasn’t nearly as good as the camp site, but after a two week hiatus, climbing on chossy limestone was just what we needed.

Beers with Blase, the Lead Forecaster of the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center, made for another awesome night in Blaine County. Frosty beverages came sweeping across the table at Powerhouse, Hailey’s funkiest and delicious bike and bar shop. Our meeting lasted well over two hours and after bidding adieu to Blase, we topped the night off with a large basket of Idaho fries, a goat cheese oat burger, a grass-fed beef burger loaded with sautéed veggies, and a mega high five. And if that didn’t make your mouth water, fresh Idaho brews will.

This is where we met Blase for food and beer.

Mmmmmm Good vibes, food and outdoor seating.

That very evening, we got word that Cedar Creek, a high-alpine climbing crag tucked in the shadows of Mt. Borah (Idaho’s tallest peak), has some amazing routes and could quite possibly be Idaho’s best kept climbing secret. Our fingers itching with excitement, we couldn’t resist. We just had to check it out.

Camped beneath Cedar Creek Crag as well as the massive Mount Borah.

The hike in was stunning and on par with that of Tuolumne Meadows. The newly developed cattle trail and cairns led us through open sage fields, zig-zagging us between fragrant juniper trees and pine. Nearby, a creek of icy mountain water flowed loudly over rock boulders and between grassy patches. Mother Nature was definitely saying ‘hello’.

Hot in the valley? It was a shady 70F next to the creek and made for an excellent summer crag stop.

An hour or so later, we were kindly greeted by the best limestone we’ve ever climbed on. Cedar Creek only has 30 routes, but each with unique movement and beauty all their own. We spent two days at this fine crag, ticking off route after route. I was able to flash my first 11a and E onsighted multiple 11s with a pain-free finger! The rock heroes, legends and climbing gods were definitely looking out for us, and like us, I bet they liked Idaho, too.

Robyn flashed the 11a just to the left of this tree!

Our IDadventures didn’t end there. A pit-stop at Craters was a must… and a new tat for Vincent, too.

Once an artery pumping lava from the hot spots into the Snake River Basin, this lava tube drained and solidified. This was in Craters of the Moon National Monument. Our new Southern Idaho climbing guide gives the scoop on a place where there are some developed routes in similar caves. Road trip!

More lava.

A frosty beverage, accompanied by dinner and family time was the perfect way to wind down after three very stimulating days. I love it here.

I am just a sucker for it.

 

A bit of everything

One thing we have come to embrace on this trip is our ever-changing itinerary.  Each day dawns new adventures and the promise of the unexpected. In the past few months we have traveled well over 6,000 miles through 9 states, 3 provinces and 30 climbing crags. Nights are spent scanning maps for National Forest land and bumping down gravel roads, which present the occasional “I think I’ll get out for this one” moments.

One of out last days in Valdez and the weather couldn’t have been better.

Leaving Chalet for the last time. Trixie loaded to the gills.

We have watched reindeer cross frozen lakes in the Yukon, embraced the first leaves of spring in the Canadian Rockies, and fought rattlesnakes in the scablands of Central Oregon only hours before crossing snowy passes through the Cascades. We hiked sections of the Pacific Crest Trail in California, crossed vast sagebrush plateaus and climbed thousands of feet of mountain passes. We have stared in wonder at several of our nations most unique parks, climbed alpine domes in Yosemite and desert sandstone in Utah. We’ve crossed the most barren of deserts complete with mirages, dust devils and brush fires, all the while dreaming of our next mountain salvation.

One of the best camps of the trip. This one was along a frozen Kluane Lake near White Horse, Yukon Territory.

The first real crag of the trip. Lost Boys Crag in Jasper Alberta, Canada.

Most recently our path crossed once again with Jerrod down in Victor, ID home to the WYDAHO bike festival. In its fourth year, WYDAHO was an impressive event. Each day was packed with group mountain bike rides and competitions while the bike shops in Victor and Driggs provided the night venue for live music, beer, food, bike demonstrations and raffles.

A highlight of the weekend was getting to catch up with my good friend Emily from high school, who I haven’t seen in years. By the wonders of facebook I learned she lived just down the road from where I sat at the Victor library. We got to hangout Friday night and again on Sunday when we met her adorable daughter Avery. Catching up with friends has been a highlight of the trip. Something about living on the East Coast for three years directly followed by Alaska for the next two seems to have made it hard to keep in touch, but recently we have been making up for lost time.

Gearing up to climb at Blanket Creek near Revelstoke, British Columbia.

A mini dino dude we found perched on a hold near Penticton, British Columbia.

We had such a great time catching up with my mom in Republic, Washington and hearing all of her stories about the biblical number of ticks Jimmer picked up and then proceeded to bring back to their camp.

Smith Rocks brought us Cora (our first house guest) and her delicious Northwest micros and homegrowns. This visit was followed shortly by a visit from Shaina our friend from Penn State (now living in Seattle) and her awesome crew of friends. On to Bend and we had a ROCKIN good time hanging with Angie, seeing her new house, and getting the insider scoop on Bend that I am convinced only Angie could provide.

Cora holds the honored distinction of our first house guest, and who could be better?

Spending an afternoon with friends new and old at Deschuttes Brewery.

Although Alaska reigns supreme when it comes to snowfall, Crater Lake, OR is no stranger to heavy winters averaging 530 inches of fluff a year!!

Lake Tahoe saw us running into Phu AND Heidi (Univ. of Idaho friends) at the same crag on the same day! Boy, were we glad for this meet-up because it led to one of the best days and nights of the trip spent climbing at Lover’s Leap and barbequing the night away at Heidi’s new house.

Our crew (minus Heidi) after completing the first climb of the day at Lover’s Leap which still holds its own as one of the most incredible days of climbing yet.

Robyn at the summit of Cathedral Peak (10,912 ft).

Along with the reunion of old friends came the unexpected bonding with strangers along the way. We had an incredible time climbing with a small group of climbers at the Trinity Aretes in Northern California and then experienced selfless hospitality from our new friends Nick and Hanne in Mt. Shasta.

Of course Falco wouldn’t be denied, and even as the southern heat held us from meeting him in his town of Ridgecrest. He made the trip to Bishop to meet us for an awesome weekend of backpacking in Bishop Pass and rock climbing at the Owen’s River Gorge. As always we had a great time catching up and adventuring. Can’t wait to see where we end up, hopefully within striking distance of more weekend trips!

Robyn and Falco hiding from the wind and soaking in the sun at 11,500 ft in Bishop Pass, California.

On to Salt Lake and we made a slew of plans to meet up with all of our friends who call Utah home. In two weeks, we would climb at Maple Canyon, Big Cottonwood, American Fork and Echo Canyon with appearances from professional badass Adrienne and our new climbing buddies Jeremy and Dana. During the week we got to have dinner at Pudd and Gemma’s which marked the first time Puddy, Doug, Benny and I had hung out on our own since 2010 – long overdue. Following dinner we got to explore Liberty Park on a fleet of Puddy’s sweet bikes. Zigging and zagging all around the park there were drum circles, bums, runners, zoos, ponds and the world’s quota of rollerbladers. Hopefully if all goes well the Puddy’s will be moved in and off to Spain and England for an extended trip by the time this post gets out!

Ben taking his turn on his project Zoaster Toaster 5.11d at Maple Canyon, Utah.

Ethan flashing Zoaster Toaster (5.11d) at Maple Canyon, Utah.

Mia is a great crag dog. I think three different parties tried to take her home.

It was awesome to get to see our east coast friends Rob and Tamara for the first time in years. Here is Rob on the Maple Canyon classic Groundwork (5.11c)

Rob and Tamara back at out camp near Mt. Nebo.

Robyn working an 11a/b at Echo Canyon which she would later red-point marking her hardest climb on the trip.

Jerrod joined the SLC party and made the trip down from Pocatello to meet us at Doug’s for a foray into the Uinta’s in Doug’s jacked up Land Cruiser. The last time I saw Doug’s truck it smelled of dead animals and looked like any other SUV. This time I barely recognized it! He has it jacked up with huge ass tires and other badassery that transformed it into an off-roading machine! We were able to go back, WAY-back into the Uinta’s on 4X4 trails and had a beautiful lake all to ourselves.

Ben, Robyn, and Adrienne enjoying breakfast in Salt Lake City.

Always entertaining. A lively game of stump on fourth of July.

Ben crushing at Craggenmore. Don’t act like you’re not impressed!

Doug, Jerrod and Ethan hiking in the Uintas.

More from the unique range of the Uintas.

With time to kill as everyone headed back to work during the week, our marathon trip to Moab may have been the best stretch of the trip. The weather was not in our favor and the heat took its toll, but Heidi and her friends down there showed us a great time. Moab is certainly a place we could call home.

Ben and Heidi on a tranquil evening along the Colorado River.

After an all too short visit with Steve at Wild Iris, my finger injury stunted our Wyoming climbing plans and sent us off on yet another unexpected journey to Big Sky. Ahead of schedule, we had plenty of time to make it to Yellowstone and found out that Mary had the next 48 hours off WOOHOO!! Mary of course showed us the most epic multi-sporting of the trip with horseback riding, climbing, hiking, disc golf, knife throwing and softball, all in two days!

Indie chillin after a long afternoon of chasing beavers in Quake Lake, MT.

We had a great fire at this camp with Mary and Chris at Quake Lake, MT.

Robyn heading up another short and pocketed route on the 5.10 wall at Wild Iris. Steve with the belay.

Sunflower Market in Salt Lake City makes the BEST sausages!!

Steve on a wicked cool looking 10c at the OK Corral, Wild Iris, WY.

Apollo likes Wild Iris.

Wild Iris, WY is pretty stellar.

One of the amazing sunsets from our camp at Wild Iris. If this place wasn’t so hard on the fingers we may still be there. Our camp was walking distance from the crag, beautiful and free!

Lander is one of the most climber friendly towns we have ever been to.

We had a night out at the Cowfish bar in Lander. YUM

Cowfish beers.

Aiming for Idaho we called ahead to Jerrod and our good luck continued as we again enjoyed his company along with an awesome bike fest that planted the seed for mountain biking…

BMX dudes flying high in the streets of Victor, Idaho during the WYDAHO festival.

I made it to the semifinals in the keg tow, guess who I knocked out in the first round?????

Robyn won us a two night stay at Targhee Resort!

Jerrod mid poker run. Cards were laid out at 5 different bars in Driggs. Riders coast to each venue grab a beer and a card and the best (and worst) hands at the end of the night win prizes.

Robyn and Jerrod after our first mountain bike ride.

Jerrod crossing some wide open terrain. Had a great ride on this day!

Victory shot from the summit.

Now in Rupert for a few days we are planning to head to Ketchum this weekend to meet with prospective employers. Robyn could hear back about her application with the Blaine County Drug Coalition any day now, and my position closes on August 6th. All told I am guessing we will have to make a definitive decision on where we plan to spend the winter come the end of the month. One month. Looking forward it seems so close, but the amount of living we’ve done in the last 3 months makes it seem like a year has passed since packing Trixie in Valdez. We are certainly at an exciting crossroads, but it’s reassuring to know that great friends and a supportive family always seem to wait just around the bend.

‘Settle down there, Fuzzy!’

In lieu of a knuckle-popping, no good finger injury, we decided to shift gears a bit, steering Vincent through tiny Wyoming towns and highway traffic toward a familiar and favorite place: Yellowstone National Park. Without a doubt, however, we will one day return to Wild Iris and send more rock routes on the fingery, ‘bone-white dolomite’, that attracts hundreds of climbers to this high desert climbing mecca each year. Although slightly sad to cut our Wild Iris stay short, Ethan’s finger injury has given us a healthy excuse to rest our minds, bodies, and psych-something that is undisputedly really good for transient climbers like ourselves.

Alas, our visit to the world’s first ever National Park came to fruition.

Entering Yellowstone from Cody, WY.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Way cool!

Yellowstone is a magical place. Even the great Houdini would’ve thought so. Until three days ago, I had never set sight on such magic and I am not alone. Millions of travelers, backpackers, car campers and families visit the park every year to gawk over the beauty and wild landscape that is Yellowstone. Geyser after geyser, gurgling mud pots and grassy meadows, and boiling sulfur baths-the smell of rotten eggs tickling their senses-brings people near and far. Even the pungent smell of sulfur, though initially disturbing, is intoxicating and without it, the Yellowstone experience would not be the same.

Upper Yellowstone Falls

OMG Billy got burned.

Chugging along, Vincent’s methodical pace took us up and over hillsides, across open meadows sprinkled with rainbow colored wildflowers, and to every geyser basin we could enthusiastically visit without feeling like the quintessential park tourist. We scoped scenery, fumaroles, and scorching baths from each quadrant of the park, spending several hours loitering in bumper to bumper traffic with several other sight-seeing, picture-taking peeps.

People were everywhere, thick like Mosquitos near stagnant pond water. It was exhausting and almost painful to be a part of. We were tired of park tours and craved a bit of solitude (or something…. anything away from the crowds).

Thankfully, a quick phone call and some tentative plans later, we were hightailing Vincent out of the park – heading north to visit the one and only, Mary Uravich. Mary has been living in Big Sky, Montana, for a year or two now and if you ask me, she has it all figured out. Working as a Horseback Guide in the summer and Snowboard/Ski Instructor in the winter allows Mary to live in the heart of beautiful Montana country and participate in outdoor adventures everyday. With Mary’s help and some spontaneous planning, our time in Big Sky evolved wonderfully. The first afternoon, we saddled up  for a two hour horseback ride. My horse, a blonde, dainty lady named Marilyn (as in Monroe), trotted comfortably through an open river and grassy meadow, sneaking in mouthfuls of wild grass as we went. Much like riding a bike, a horseback ride provides the finest seating for nature viewings and very sore inner thighs. It was totally worth it.

This was mega-fun. Mary took us on a ride around the valley, A $56 value!!!

Robyn’s horse Marilyn.

Robyn and Marilyn getting acquainted.

The river crossing only kinda scared the shit out of me.

Headed back to the ranch.

How can you go wrong with kitten shots?

Later that evening, we attended our first softball game of the trip. Beer in hand and spewing witty banter toward the opposing team, Ethan’s heckling proved to be successful, as one team member got flustered and had to slide in the comment, ‘Settle down there, Fuzzy’. Climbing at a new crag, a zesty BBQ, a game of disc golf, and cozy camping near Quake Lake also made it in to the Montana mix; a mix much more pleasant than following hundreds of tourists through Yellowstone.

Attack swallows, +1 number grade.

Mr Leo looking for shade as I toprope at Red Cliff.

Yellowstone National Park is magical and like the rotten egg smell, without all of the eager travelers and tourists, the Yellowstone experience would not be the same. However wonderful and dreamy it is,  it doesn’t compete with friend time – spending priceless moments with the people you love.

Mary and Indie

Pop goes the pulley?

After a day of warmups at Wild Iris and a few moderate routes to start the morning Robyn and I moved to the “Rode Hard Wall” which contained a nice group of mid elevens and twelves.

Midway through my onsight attempt I was unknowingly gearing up for a crux on the wrong climb. I had seen draws hanging from what I thought was the classic Wind and Rattlesnakes but was instead a one move wonder called Tomahawk Slam that used a shallow 2 finger pocket and tricky feet. Adjusting my weight left, then right, and back to my left I gritted my teeth and pulled down on my middle and ring finger. Just then I heard a POP! and slunk down from the crux grasping my hand. At first I thought it was my knuckle but soon my finger went temporarily numb and weak. Without knowing the seriousness of the pop, I lowered, pulled the rope, and sent the route after shifting the crux move to my pointer and middle finger. Unbeknownst to me at the time it will likely be my last climb for at least a month.

The pain I have is in the A4 region.

I have never had a finger injury before, at least none as pronounced as this, so I really have no idea what to expect or even how to diagnose my problem. A quick online search from the library brought up some images of the ligaments and pulleys in the hand. From what i gathered, pulleys are involved in stabilizing the ligaments in your fingers. A common climbing injury is to damage the A2 pulley between your first and second knuckles near the base of your hand. In my case the pain is more located on the A4 pulley between my second and third knuckles. Although I can’t offer a full diagnosis of the problem, I am in the odd position of being able to live this moment over and over through video which I can share if you guys are in to that sort of thing..

Symptoms:

1) Loud crack or pop in left ring finger at knuckle nearest the finger nail.
2) Sore and stiff the next day. Pain in knuckle has gone away but a general feeling of weakness and soreness prevails between my second and third knuckle. No noticeable swelling or bruising occurred.
3) After a days rest I tried taping my finger between the second and third knuckles. This didn’t seem to do much and I was still feeling weak and having to avoid pulling with the finger in any way. After two climbs on top rope I decided to throw in the towel and let it rest for the foreseeable future.

Here is a good summary my mom found. Looks like we will continue on our Wyoming tour and head to Ten Sleep to get Robyn on some climbs. She is climbing stronger than ever and made some amazing onsight links on an 11c yesterday. With some rest and more attempts she would have had this one in the bag for sure. I will shift my focus a bit more toward pictures and books, or maybe just picture-books. We are joining forces with Steve and some of his friends in Ten Sleep so Robyn will have plenty of people to keep the climbing psych up!

The Desert Unknown

Hatching May Flies billowed from the Colorado River in a desert snow storm. Our new friend Mark a local Ichthyologist was amazed at their numbers. Beez, a fast looking dog with endless energy, raced up and down the banks of the river snapping and twisting after the swarm of powder white bugs. Robyn and I sat with Heidi and her friend Ben  nursing a cold growler of Moab Brewing Company Pale Ale as the evening sun lit up the red rimrock bluffs to our North. Ben pointed out some of his favorite rockclimbs, pinnacles and desert towers soaring up several hundred feet from the canyon floor. All Robyn and I could do was stare in awe – neither one of us had seen a landscape like this before.

A perfect night along the Colorado River.

Sunset in the Colorado River Canyon.

“You guys should climb Owl Rock before you go. You can’t come to the desert without bagging a tower” Ben said. “I’ll give you doubles between #1 and #2, you guys will do awesome. Just turn right at Balanced Rock and drive a mile to an overlook. The route is right there, you can’t miss it!”

Robyn and I finished the growler and sat sporting underwear in lawn chairs as stars came out and the heat of the day’s sun lingered in the canyon. It was far to hot to sleep so I amused myself with long exposure shots on our camera. Only after the 5th or 6th car went by illuminating me standing on the side of the road in my underwear did it occur to me that I might actually be scaring the shit out of people.

Stars in the desert.

Messing around with cars.

I looked at the clock, 4AM and it was finally cool enough to fall asleep, just two hours later the alarm went off. If we were going to find this tower and make an ascent, we needed to get up early to beat the heat. Word-of-mouth directions and route descriptions led us to the base by 8AM and I found myself pulling on the starting holds of our first desert climb. Owl Rock is a one pitch 5.8 tower in Arches National Park. The tower rests on a relative high-point and although it can be done in one pitch the summit and exposure of the climb were quite surprising. The stone was red and smooth at first, but with a fine grained sand paper feel. The moves were between large bread loafs and hand jams to a perfect mushroom top summit. The view from the top was vast including several arches and red rock domes. The landscape here is so unique to us. Fields of cactus meet scrubby forests and river canyons streak away for miles lined with red rock cliffs.

Starting up our first desert climb.

Robyn on the summit of Owl Rock on a beautiful morning in Arches National Park.

Arches National Park

Near Sand Arch in Arches National Park.

We spent the remainder of the day touring the park before retreating from the heat back to the beach along the Colorado for a refreshing dip. Before arriving in Utah we had an idea we may like to climb at an area called Mill Creek. Essentially all we knew about Mill Creek was that it existed somewhere in Utah and was supposed to have amazing rock. Hand drawn map in my pocket we left Salt Lake, over the Wasatch and into the desert interior toward Moab. Driving to the desert when Salt Lake was hovering near 100F seemed like a death wish, but rumor had it that Mill Creek’s higher elevation and shaded slot canyon remained cool even when Moab was boiling.

After an exhausting drive we arrived at Mill Creek and proceeded to hike a half mile down the wrong canyon before catching a view of the crags the next drainage over. Bushwhacking our way to the top we fought briar patches and dusty cattle trails till our exposed arms and legs dripped with blood and stinging sweat. This mistake set the tone for our afternoon. The climbs at Mill Creek are held behind some mysterious veil for out-of-towners. Somewhere along our bushwhack we lost our hand drawn map to the briar bushes and were forced to navigate by vague descriptions and memories of online photos. The routes seemed hard, the air was muggy and bolts were used sparingly. In short, we were exhausted, flustered and intimidated. The climbing was beautiful, but ground-up onsight climbing was not to be taken lightly.

One of the most amazing lines I have ever seen. Prosthetics 5.13d

The following morning, rested and with no doubt where we needed to go, we felt much more relaxed. The morning temps were cooler, and we ran into a local who pointed us toward some tens and elevens to try along with this wisdom “When you know all the beta the routes can seem like 5.10, but if you don’t it seems fucking impossible.” With more realistic expectations akin more to trad climbing than sport climbing we set out and completed 3 excellent routes. The rock is minimally featured for large stretches broken up by flat crimps and occasional ladders of  featured pockets.

Limited online research before arriving had Robyn and I drooling over a photo we had seen of a 5.11b/c route called “Ferns Have Feelings Too”. After a morning of confidence builders we were ready to step it up a notch, so I waited for a cloud to roll over before setting to it. A smeary dihedral led to a thin face up to some nice in-cut crimps and a small rest. High stepping and arching my back under an awkward bulge I felt the ground tugging at me from my precarious clipping stance. Safely clipped, I continued on to a better hold before the feet disappeared and I was forced into an off balance high step which put the kibosh on my onsight attempt. The day prior I would have finished the route off and brushed it aside, but with a bit more confidence and patience I pulled the rope, rested as Robyn worked the route, and sent it second go!

The crux section of Ferns Have Feelings Too.

Robyn flashed our first two routes and cleanly top-roped a third before making some impressive links on Ferns. Feeling accomplished, we had regained our confidence and decided to celebrate with a shared Vincent car wash shower and a sampler from the Moab Brewing Company.

Possibly the most VW’s I have ever seen in one spot.

2,000 year old petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock.

Some wildflowers we picked in the La Sal Mountains.

The endless cracks of The Creek… We will return.

Robyn overlooking the endless backcountry hiking potential at Canyon Lands National Park.

For an unexpected plunge into the desert unknown, our swing through Moab turned into one of the most enjoyable stops on the trip. The scenery was incredible, the access to recreation was top notch and the town was really just a pleasant place to hang out in. Moab had friendly people, a bustling but not overbearing main drag, a skatepark, ballpark, swimming pool, and Chinese food by the scoop! What else does a small town need? Our last day in town was spent touring Canyon Lands National Park and then catching a late movie to wait for cooler temps before setting out across the desert back to Salt Lake. With Maple Canyon ablaze and plans with friends changing left and right, our minds are again wandering to the next destination of our trip – Lander, Wyoming. One more weekend here with friends and it’s off to the wild west.

Bishop, California.

Leaving Bishop and entering new territory (insert fist pound here), I can’t help but look back on our time spent in the dry, desert country of central California. Upon first glance and unenthusiastically so, we were a bit disappointed in our surroundings. Bishop has been a lumbering idea in the rear of our noggins for months, now. We’ve been anxiously anticipating our first visit, fabricating all sorts of ideas as to the looks of this place. Unfortunately so, we arrived to find nothing too exciting or appealing. The overcrowded 395 divided this seemingly unique town in two. Coasting down Main Street, we were greeted by convenient and thrifty pit stops: McDonalds, Subway, and Starbucks; these mega franchises built to please the weekend traveler and trailer maggot. We also couldn’t escape air so hot and dry to fry even our roughest elbow skin (all at first glance).

The commotion and heat was exhausting. All I could think about was re-fueling Vincent and taking the nearest exit out of Inyo County.  Certainly, first impressions can be rough.  I will be the first to admit, I wasn’t impressed with the town, at all. Yes, the mountains were spectacular, glowing in cool hues of evening light, and there were vast acres of dry landscape, rich with sage and sand at every turn, but to me, the town lost its quaint, curb appeal to convenience and cheap gasoline. With wavering emotions, we wanted to escape the desert and fast-forward through this leg of our trip. Instead, we convinced ourselves to hang around for a few days, climb the acclaimed sport routes and Buttermilk boulder problems, and try to meet some of the locals. Maybe, just maybe, our first impressions would evolve in to something greater and more memorable.

Much to our surprise, we lingered around the Bishop area for nearly a week! The variety of climbing routes and accessible boulder problems were much too good to skip out on, and thanks to our Bishop-specific, daily routine, we found some delight in Bishop (even with outrageous temperatures). To beat the heat, we would wake early and devour our breakfast, usually fresh pressed coffee and chalky oats. Then, we would immediately wrap up our belongings and coast in to town, where we would fritter away with mini household tasks, like laundry, website updates, email replies, editing photos, car washes and more. During this time, the unrelenting heat finally gave in and a pleasant, gentle breeze arrived to whisk it away. By 4pm, we were hiking some sandy trail to a new crag. This was exactly what we envisioned Bishop to be (and hoped for), a mecca of intoxicating rock routes to satisfy all of our climbing desires. And that’s just it. A place where the rock and routes are undeniably beautiful and inspiring, a place to send hard problems, and a place that is a gateway to other exceptional climbing crags, like Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite, and Clark Canyon. Bishop is a good place to visit and for 3,600 residents, it’s a place to call home. We will soon discover our own ‘home-sweet-home’ and hopefully, we will get to frequent one of the best climbing meccas in the world: Bishop, California.

Vincent showing off his new tat.

We liked exploring Bishop and the surrounding areas. We met wonderful people and laid eyes on Mother Nature’s finest creations. We had an amazing weekend with our great friend, Falco, hiking through some phenomenal, high alpine terrain. We laughed until our bellies ached, climbed copious amounts of solid rock, and learned a great deal. Overall, our experience was a positive, happy one. First impressions can be rudimentary. I know mine was.  I am very thankful to have spent some time exploring the area and will positively visit again (insert fist pound here).

Robyn eyes up our first climb at Owen’s – Nirvana 5.10a

Psyching up for the upper section of the 135′ 5.11c Tsunami.

Climbing chalk is a must on hot, Bishop days.

Ethan on his send of the Roadside Rail Problem V3.

Robyn topping out in the surreal boulders of the Buttermilks.

Hiking into Bishop Lake.

Our camp at Bishop Lake.

Although Bishop was 90F it was windy and in the 50’s here at 11,000ft. We found a nice protected rock shelf and soaked in the last of the evening sun.

Falco casually crushing.

Dinner in the Inyo National Forest just above the canyon rim.

Tacos with all the fixins.

A viewpoint in Great Basin National Park made for a peaceful lunch stop.

Stella Lake – Great Basin National Park, NV

Skunk flowers

 

The Mecca

No one can argue the importance of Yosemite to rock climbing.  This is climbing’s greatest stage, and while some places go in and out of fashion (France and Spain come to mind) Yosemite’s colossal granite walls and central location in an area teeming with talented climbers assure it will remain at the forefront for decades to come.

Dropping a dizzying 6,000 feet from Tuolumne Meadows we darted out to the small town of Groveland, CA for a resupply before entering Yosemite’s most famous valley. Although I had been here once before with my folks when I was younger, the granite walls now told a story of climbing history around every corner.

Astroman, The Sentinel, Half Dome and of course El Cap, soared above the bus in dramatic fashion.  Only days before the meadow had been filled with cheering onlookers as a new speed record had been set on “The Nose” of El Cap. A route, which once took 45 days, has been rehearsed and climbed in only 2hr 23min!!

Vincent sits below the tower of The Sentinel.

Yosemite Falls (2,425ft) is the 6th tallest waterfall in the world.

Working in the Whitney Museum at PWSCC in Valdez one afternoon I scoured the Internet for climbing news as an older couple strolled in to have a look around. The woman seemed interested in the exhibits, diligently reading every sign and carving her way through each display. The man, a quiet and stout looking guy with stark white hair and a pleasant face, paced the exhibit and returned to the desk to strike up a conversation. We made the usual small talk but my mind wandered slowly back to climbing. In a roundabout way I was able to turn the conversation such that I could mention rock climbing, desperate to talk to anyone about my fading pastime as the rain continued to pummel the crumbling Chugach stone out my window. To my surprise the man lit up. He was a rock climber too and casually mentioned Yosemite and some first ascents in the area. “Oh yeah? Where at?” I asked. “You heard of The Nose on El Cap?” he replied.

Asking a climber if they had heard of The Nose was like asking a guy shooting hoops if had heard of Michael Jordan. Turns out I was talking to Wayne Merry who accompanied George Whitmore, and shared leads with Warren Harding on the 47 day first ascent back in 1958. When he slipped away to find his wife, I quickly googled him, printed a picture and asked for his autograph.

The iconic lightning bolt and boulder problem “Midnight Lightning” sits among the tents of climbers at Camp 4. This is likely the most documented boulder problem in the world.

El Capitan. Home to the most famous climbing route in the world “The Nose”.

Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore.

Now in The Valley, looking up at El Cap and hearing the yells between climbers as they followed in Wayne’s path I wondered what it would be like setting up a port-a-ledge for the night. Hanging in a hammock, wearing your harness to bed and then swinging your feet over the edge to watch the sunrise the following morning. Most groups these days take about a week to complete the route and for most it will be their crowning achievement.

The weather in the valley was much hotter than up in Tuolumne. The crowds were thicker, and in the heat of the day the walls seemed to focus the sunbeams down on the small roads below. We found ourselves yearning for the open meadows, cooler temperatures, and expansive views we enjoyed the week prior, and decided to bid The Valley farewell knowing we would return someday. Yosemite offers more than classic rock climbs. Yosemite offers a feeling of history, a sense of pride in the accomplishments of fellow climbers, and undeniable tangible challenges on either side of the road. At this point in our climbing careers we don’t feel the urge to drop everything and train for a push on El Cap, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind.