Well hello there, strangers. Our blog has become somewhat of a quarterly newsletter, it seems. But, that’s OK – I think we post, share and #hashtag enough on social media that most family and friends are up to speed.
Breckenridge is now looking lush, green and full of wildflower color. Summer is in full swing with seasonal tourists, locals and wildlife alike enjoying the sunny days and mild weather. Summer crept up on us, and it will pass us by just as fast, I am sure of it!
Our trip to Europe in May allowed us to skip what is called ‘mud season’ in the high country. Mud season, well…it’s muddy, wet, and slow. By the time May rolled around, I was ready to start running on dry trails (which were non-existent here). Instead, we hopped on a plane to northern Spain to hijack our friends’, Brad and McKenzie’s, honeymoon. It was an absolute blast seeing them, not to mention enjoying $3 bottles of wine and an endless flow of bread. Eric asking me to marry him wasn’t so bad either.
Yes, folks, we are getting hitched!!!!! For the romantics out there, the man did well, 10 out of 10. The day in his own mastermind words:
“While I traveled overseas and wandered around Spain for two weeks with the ring in my pocket, I knew I wanted to propose on the trip, but didn’t really know how or when it would happen. I just knew I would know when it was right. And then it came to me…a sunset sail on the Mediterranean. Over a couple of days, I made calls and sent emails looking for the right boat and timing. And then it was set – we’d go climbing on the seaside cliffs of Ibiza, have dinner and head out on the boat.
The day couldn’t have been more perfect. We spent the morning climbing on pristine seaside limestone and then enjoyed the afternoon on a gorgeous beach. For dinner, we headed into a nearby town (also where our boat was!). It was all in place, except for one thing…I was yet to connect with her dad and ask for permission. I had previously talked to her mom on our last trip to Iowa but three days of texting and calling were unsuccessful. The call came just as our dinner was getting served and let’s just say, the look I got when I told Heather I had to leave and take the call wasn’t one of appreciation. 🙂 We ate dinner…then I told her the plans to jump on a boat for sunset. We loaded up with wine and snacks and headed to the dock.
Jump ahead an hour into the boat ride – staring at a magnificent sunset over the Mediterranean. We were laying on the large net common to the front of Catamarans when I reached into my pocket and pulled out the ring. I had a whole speech planned, but I was simply too nervous and excited. All that I managed to get out was “How about a lifetime of sunsets together?” She said “Yes, yes!”, the ring went on her finger, and then very little was said…we simply laid there together, laughing, crying so happily, knowing how perfect our futures together would be.”
Like I said, he did well. 🙂 After Spain, we flew to Paris and enjoyed more wine and bread to celebrate. Check out the “Photo Highlights” page for a few photos from our travels.
After Europe, life settled into what many would call adult normalcy. We ran or biked in the mornings. Worked the typical eight to five. Enjoyed weekend adventures and climbs. I even completed my first mountain bike race, teaming up with Eric to complete the Firecracker 50 miler in Breckenridge. To be honest, it all was a nice change of pace. I, especially, enjoy what I do for work and a good balance between work and play helps me stay motivated and focused.
But, only a short time after establishing ‘normalcy’, we had the itch to get on the road again with our van. “How about somewhere in Idaho?” Eric asked one day as we brainstormed where we would call home for a few weeks. “Possibly,” I replied. “How about…” Then Eric eagerly jumped in. “WAIT. Truckee!! Let’s go to Truckee! We wanted to go there last summer but we changed plans. Truckee is the perfect mountain town, you HAVE to see it!!!”
Eric, if you can not tell, is OBSESSED with Truckee…and he has only been there once. Sitting at about 5,800 feet, this once wild logging hub now serves as a gateway to Lake Tahoe, only a stone’s throw away. It is also home to stellar climbing, mountain biking and trail running. The skiing here is mediocre in comparison to Colorado…yet, this place clearly still entranced Eric. Within two days of being there, I understood why.
Less busy. Friendly people. Phenomenal, accessible High Sierra climbing (not to mention only being 4ish hours from Yosemite). Beautiful landscape and lakes. It was an incredible place to explore and maybe, just maybe, will be a future planting spot for us.
We enjoyed being settled – working, running, and climbing – in Truckee for two weeks before another long drive ensued to Seattle for an Alaskan cruise with Eric’s family. Cruises…well, they are not exactly our thing. When I lived in Alaska, I remember cringing at the huge cruise liners pulling into port and the thousands of people raiding the streets.
But, I will admit it was fun! The wildlife, views, kayaking, running, and time with the family was fabulous.
Then…Seattle to Ten Sleep, Wyoming for a climbers’ party. By the end of this venture, we had driven 3,200 miles over four weeks. We were ready to be home and I, on another note, was ready to be healthy.
The extended amount of time in the car had caused a nagging back injury to flare up again. Due to a backcountry ski fall in March, I have experienced on-and-off-again pain in my lower back. Sometimes so intense, I cannot support myself sitting up for a day. Then, wahlah! I would feel better and continue my running, biking and climbing without a thought. But, after this recent flare up, I lost it. Months of pent up frustration from not being able to do the things I love to the capacity I want and need came pouring out in tears. Eric ever so graciously comforted me and said, “That’s it, you’re going to physical therapy…time to get you healthy.”
It turns out I have a slight disc bulge, which has caused intense inflammation around my L5 nerve and, sometimes, numbness in my left leg from that inflammation. The physical therapist is extremely optimistic, saying “…we simply need to tap that little guy [disc] back into place over the next few weeks!” It feels good to have a plan, and I am hopeful that it will work.
While I realize it is not the worse of injuries or ailments, there is also someone out there reading this who loves the physical feats they partake in as much as I do. He or she knows that you become addicted to those feats, in the best possible way. They define who you are. He or she understands that, no matter how big or small the injury, being unable to do what you love as you normally would, and the mental toll that comes with it, can eat you alive. You understandably become lost.
And man do I get cranky when I cannot run or climb. Eric has had to deal with my up’s and down’s and left’s and right’s more than anyone – and he has done so with so much love and compassion. It is because of him I am validated in the way I feel, in the way I am struggling. He has always been my rock through my most vulnerable times.
Eric is one of the few people who has seen me down to my very core, stripped of all the self-protecting layers that have blanketed me since I was a teenager. Me, at my core, am insecure and confident. Scared, but bold. Complicated, yet simple. Beautiful and ugly. Light and dark. I am perfectly imperfect – and Eric accepts all that is me.
Because of Eric, I have ever-so-slowly begun to peel back the hardened layers for other people, allowing me to deepen relationships or start new ones. His wholehearted acceptance and love for who I am is the reason I said “yes”. He completes me. He makes me better.
Some of you may or may not know, but both Eric and I have been married once before. We are not embarrassed by this fact, nor do we feel a sense of shame or failure. We both married younger, before we really figured out who we were, and exactly where life was going to take us. We learned a lot in our first marriage, but above all, I learned the importance of being the ever open and vulnerable me.
Love is not about compromising who you are to your core for the sake of someone else. It is, to me, about accepting, loving and embracing one another as that core being. From day to day obstacles to alpine climbing pursuits, Eric and I were, almost immediately, vulnerable with each other. It makes us one hell of a team and proves the crazy connection we have. Life is complex, full of happiness, hurt and wonder. I believe you cannot fully experience life if you do not allow yourself to be vulnerable, be human. And I hope, for all of us, that we find someone to be vulnerable and experience life with.
While we do not have a wedding date yet (ironically, given the name of this post!), I cannot wait to spend my life with my very own, completely human Eric. I am sure he cannot wait to marry his often blubbering mess, either.
Until next time, folks.
Not only has it been FOR. EH. VURR. since our last blog post….but, do you remember this iconic scene is the movie Sandlot? Character Michael “Squints” Palledorous tells a story about a neighborhood man and his dog, the BEAST, who lived in the junkyard and ate people. This scene always makes me laugh — Squints’ wild imagination, imitation of adults, and larger-than-life story. To Squints, everything is big, bold, dramatic, and fascinating. I think we all can relate to this, looking back at how we perceived the world, people, and experiences we had when we were kids.
But remembering this simple, yet unforgettable movie scene got me thinking. Why can’t we practice that big, bold, sometimes goofy imagination as ‘grown-ups’?
The last two months, Eric and I have been relatively normal, working, life-balancing adults. Sure, we look like we are always having fun to family and friends, like we never touch work or punch a timecard. But, time is truly limited with Eric traveling great amounts nationally and internationally…and when he gets back, I typically work weekends. While both of us tend to be big, ambitious dreamers, our bold imagination has been put on hold thanks to the pushes and pulls of, as they name it, “adulting”.
With all of this adulting, we have had to learn how to truly BE adults together. As you know, the first six months of our relationship was full of adventure and a road trip that allowed us to live in a climbing-running-venture-seeking-only reality. Now? We share a home office, have a property to take care of, both of our schedules to balance, two dogs that beg for exercise and attention, a refrigerator that needs constant restocking (we eat a lot), and other adult-like priorities to attend to.
Regardless, we work hard to squeeze in a ski, a tour, a run, a ride, a climb, a dog date with our pups, a nice dinner, or a movie night – and when we do, no adulting is allowed. No financials, no house cleaning, no work, no grocery shopping, no worrying, no stressing. Just us — and the fun we always have together. It is in these moments that we realize how terribly easy it is to get sucked into the vortex that is adulthood. How easy it is to limit ourselves while trying to be responsible grown-ups. As Eric puts it, there is always an ‘adult’ reason as to why we should NOT do something, but is that ‘adult’ reason truly valid?
So, in these moments, we allow ourselves to let go. We allow ourselves to stop making excuses for not taking a quick road trip, camping under the stars in our backyard mountains, or tackling an epic weekend excursion. We get bright-eyed, bold, big, and imaginative. “What if we climbed that?” “Let’s run this trail over four mountain passes!” “Wow, let’s explore there.”
It seems that, after last summer’s road trip, we felt like we needed to catch up as adults. We needed to reestablish our reality as two working professionals and contributors to society. Coming from two mid-western states, we were taught the values and respect of hard labor and work-centered life. Eric and I love our professions and are contagiously passionate within them…so, naturally, we would go all in when we got back. But, why did we feel like we needed to catch up? Did we miss anything? Should we feel guilty for not being the stern, business-like and boring adults that Squints imagined?
Of course not.
Over the last few months, in-between the waves of work, we have re-found the ‘Squints’ in us. Especially now, as the alpine sun is unthawing Breckenridge and the Front Range trails and crags are so very enticing, we have started a list of climbing, running and adventure objectives for the summer. We know the list is long and very pie-in-the-sky, but that’s OK. We want to always be big and bold. We always want to imagine and dream. Because, why not? My hope is, for all of us, to find time to be big, bold, and imaginative between the moments of adulting. Find that kid again who, literally, believed she could fly, travel through time, or walk on the moon.
Eric and I hope you are doing well, friends and family. Check out more of our adventure photos in the Photo Highlights, Winter Adventures page. Until next time!
Happy New Year, folks!!
New Year’s represents a new beginning for many. A fresh start. Reformed goals. Reenergized ambitions and targeted resolutions. It is an exciting time and can serve as a fresh slate. It is also a time to reflect on the past year.
2016 was a phenomenal year for us. As to be expected, we experienced the ups, downs, and quick twists and turns that life throws at us to keep things interesting. As I reflect on it all, however, the last 12 months carried an evident theme. A theme of learning. I love trying new things and mastering a variety of different skills. But this year was especially loaded with “new” for me. From mastering my trad and alpine climbing technique, to learning to fly on a mountain bike, I have enjoyed reflecting on my progress in these pursuits — and then giving myself a few pats on the back.
Frankly? I am not good at high-fiving myself. My bar is always rising, my goals always lofting above. Now, I believe it is good for goals to change as skills/ambitions/progress are made. But, these goals must be attainable and little victories celebrated. As both a blessing and a curse, I have always had high standards and expectations for myself. I have always tried striving for BETTER. Yet, little victories in my climbing, running, biking, skiing? Sometimes have just not been enough.
With this year being full of new and rediscovered experiences and skills, I have had to reacquaint myself with the process of learning and celebrating little victories. After nearly five years of mastering trail running, training, and racing hard, I, in many ways, forgot how to enjoy the process. The process of taking longer to prep for whatever activity, losing skin, bruising, falling, crashing, shedding tears, making sloppy turns, and just trying to keep up.
It was damn hard reunion with ‘the process’.
Over the holidays, Eric and I traveled to Puerto Vallarta where I had the pleasure of being out of my element once more before year’s end — we went scuba diving! Growing up on shallow creeks, rivers and calm lakes in Iowa did not help in preparation for this. Submerging myself 40 feet underwater was, ugh, slightly unnerving for me! Eric has dove over 150 times, being a certified diver. He reassured me it was easy and that I just needed to relax, relating to how I calmly breathe when I run up mountain passes. I did just that, and what I saw was incredible. While the water was slightly murky due to rough tides, the huge school of fish, stingrays, starfish, and many other species from Finding Nemo, were enchanting and brought me back to the days I wanted to be a mermaid and dance with dolphins. It was a blast! I was having so much fun trying new things in PV, that I thought I would also try food poisoning out for good measure.
Our return to Breckenridge was short-lived. With the massive winter break and tourist crowd overrunning our home, we decided to head to Crested Butte, located about three hours southwest of Breckenridge, for a New-Years-backcountry-skiing-extravaganza. Four days full of fun, friends, touring, beautiful weather, and soft, amazing powder!
But, don’t let me fool you. I am far from an expert when it comes to the backcountry, and skiing for that matter. It only took Eric and I skiing together once before I realized I had been taught to ski entirely wrong. And then throw in the backcountry skills you must know – how to read terrain, mitigate and analyze avalanche risk, use your beacon, probe, slope meter, avy shovel, and more.
And so continues the process of learning.
The process can be trying at times. After a few days of touring and skiing in powder, the last day was most tiring. As Eric and I traversed through some tight trees and slopes, my exhausted and clumsy legs gave out. I carelessly caught my ski tips in hard snow, falling, and landing in a tangled mess. I laughed at myself before trying to stand up again. Eric laughed too, before he realized I was having a very hard time getting my drained body back on its feet. I got frustrated, saying, “Wow, this is embarrassing”. Eric responded in a loving and caring way, “Babe, why should you be embarrassed?”
I stopped, looked at him and said, “I mean, look at me…I’m a pretzel!”
That made us both laugh hysterically. With Eric’s help, I was able to return upright and out of my mess, smoothly skiing back to our van.
As I have been reminded – when learning something new, everything is hard, sometimes harder than it feels like it should be. Many times this year I have felt clumsy, weak, tired, slow, or simply incapable. But with every day out and every continued ounce of determination, I got better at whatever I was working towards. I improved. I even had fun through moments of frustration, later telling humorous stories about that time I fell over standing still or turned myself into a human and ski pretzel. The process is an adventure and certainly a journey.
My steady and unwavering constant in all of this year’s new adventures has been Eric. Eric is my best friend, companion, teacher, and cheerleader. He, most of all, has taught me to hug the hell out of that newbie frustration, and helped me rediscover the love of the journey.
It feels oh-so-good to be back in the thick of learning. Goodness gracious, it is messy sometimes. But it also is enlightening, helping me discover my strengths and new, unlimited possibilities. Thanks, 2016, for throwing me back in the game. After reflecting on all that we have accomplished and learned, Eric and I are very excited for what 2017 has in store. The learning and adventuring is not stopping here.
Happy 2017 to you. Here’s to lots of falling, crashing, bruising, bleeding, laughing — and dusting off and doing it alllllll again.
*Our ‘Photo Highlights’ page has been updated, watermarking at all! Check the page out for additional photos of our fun.
Here we are. December – nearly the year 2017. Quite some time has passed since we last published. Time flies!
We both have been working and playing hard since October. Eric has traveled to Singapore, Tokyo, and more, working long hours both at home and overseas. I have helped orchestrate a 1,000+ person international snow and science conference (ISSW), the Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop, and the largest fundraising event for Friends of CAIC, the Benefit Bash, raising $100,000 for our state’s avalanche center.
October was a month full of van weekend-ing, climbing, mountain biking, and running, wrapped up with a simple policemen and pirate wench Halloween. November, we climbed and biked some more, enjoying the “Indian Summer” (it is rare for dry trails to exist in Breckenridge mid-November!). Eric met the rest of my amazing family in Iowa. We celebrated my 29th birthday with 29 pitches of climbing in a day. We had Thanksgiving next to a campfire following a day of warm climbing with old and new friends – then proceeded to ski our first runs in cold snow.
And now, here we are. In December. We have received nearly six feet of snow since the month’s start. Six feet! The skiing has been phenomenal and we have enjoyed morning skins* at the Breckenridge Ski Resort and a few outings into the backcountry, skiing snow up to our waists (that’s hard work). With that six feet of snow, we have dug and pulled out three cars (including our beloved van) and shoveled/snow-blowed every last inch from our driveway and stairs. Sound like a lot of work? It is. But what a small price to pay for living in such a dreamy place!
*For my friends and family that are not entirely sure what ‘skinning’ means when it comes to skiing: Skinning requires alpine touring equipment; meaning, different boots and ski bindings in comparison to what you would see on a normal ski at a resort. Alpine touring bindings and boots allow you the ability to ‘hike’ with your skis attached to your feet. The term ‘skinning’ refers to the act of placing a gear piece, called skins, to the bottom of your skis, which allow you to hike uphill. Skins are simply a piece of equipment that stick to the bottom of your skis to provide traction and prevent slipping.
This time of year always gets me thinking. Folks get together, enjoying holiday drinks, food, stories, and laughter. People exchange gifts, write letters and cards of appreciation, joyful wishes, and good tidings. Charity becomes a hot commodity, and everyone seems excited. The holidays certainly prompt, for certain or most people, a religious celebration, nostalgic feeling, personal traditions, giving mood, and/or genuine connection to others. It is a beautiful time, and I personally eat the holidays up in December.
Most of all, I find the holidays are a time to revisit our relationships with others and ourselves. What I find, see, and hear most? People become more open this time of year. It is a phenomenal thing to experience first-hand, or even as a simple on-looker. There seems to be more laughter, help with doors and loads, and small and large giving amongst strangers. Families come together and old friends reconnect.
What makes me pause is – why now, during the holidays, does this become a more often occurrence? I am certainly not suggesting this a terrible thing, not in any way. What I simply reflect on is — how can I carry this openness, genuine care and giving to others (strangers and not, alike) throughout the year? At today’s quick pace, it is all too easy to get caught in the whirlwind of our homes. And then, it is all too hard to admit when we have failed a friend, forgot to call a loved-one, ignored a homeless person on the street, or were rude to our grocery checker because you were having a rough day. All of us (including myself) legitimize excuses for why we are not more open – more open about our mistakes, feelings, cares, and wishes.
The holidays open us. We reflect on our mistakes, feelings, cares, and wishes. Sometimes we act on them and sometimes we do not. What I am wishing for myself and others this holiday season is the willingness and determination to carry the love throughout the next year, until the next winter holiday season. I truly believe we will discover and/or rediscover the people, moments and things that matter…and most of all, human connection.
So – this holiday season (and throughout next year), when you pick up your phone? Text a loved one or friend instead of surfing Instagram or Facebook feeds. When you grab a coffee? High five your barista and buy the guy’s coffee behind you, just because. When you go to the grocery store? Compliment your checker. When you see a stranger needing help with a load? Offer a hand, open the door, tell them…have a nice day. It can start with efforts as simple as these.
Eric and I are wishing everyone a happy holiday season and exciting new year. No, we will not be in picturesque Breckenridge for a white Christmas. Instead, we will be heading to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a few days of sun bathing, diving, surfing, and exploring. Originally we were planning on traveling to a climbing area called El Potrero Chico outside of Monterrey, Mexico for five full days of rock-fun. But, life had other plans – I currently have a strained pully in my left index finger, a common climbing injury, and only rest will help its healing. We both are bummed but, heck – with this life’s lemon, we will be making margaritas on the beach!
Happy holidays, all – until next time – ¡Feliz Navidad!
That is how long it has been since we returned to Colorado. Can you believe it?! Either can we!
We have been repeatedly asked the past nine weeks, “How’s real life?” Well, folks, real life is not so bad…and who is to say our ten weeks in a campervan wasn’t real life?
We have settled back into our home in Breckenridge, one of Colorado’s ski towns. Eric has lived in the area, Summit County, for nearly four years. I had the pleasure of joining him here in May from Colorado’s Front Range and never looked back. As the colors rapidly change around us, it reminds me of how much has changed since we returned. Eric started his new position and has already traveled numerous times, both within the states and overseas. Within the first week of returning, I had three job interviews, three job offers, and one very tough decision. And there’s more – read on.
Options are awesome, but stressful too. After a few mind-numbing-what-do-I-do days, I finally made a decision and accepted a great position with an organization called Friends of Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). Friends is a non-profit that supports CAIC in their efforts to educate and raise awareness in regards to avalanche safety and practices. As only the second paid employee of the organization, I have a big job at hand – further the organization’s reach, exposure and fundraising. I am excited, nervous and overjoyed to truly combine my non-profit experience with my education in parks and recreation. Wahoo! And now both Eric and I work from home, easily clocking 10 hour days – almost too casually done when your work is steps away from your kitchen and bedroom. Regardless, we are both very excited about our new positions and enjoy that excitement side-by-side in our shared office.
Upgrades are appreciated because it’s, well, an upgrade. You guessed it! We upgraded our campervan. Do not get us wrong, it was a bit hard to say goodbye to the memories and nostalgia that was our ’99 VW campervan. The rickety machine made it 6,000+ miles without too many hitches and was truly home for us over the summer. But, once we both officially were working from home, we knew we wanted to make the road a lifestyle. The Winnebago Travato that we purchased is incredibly more ‘cush’ than it needs to be – however, it rocks. Shiny, new, reliable, spacious, and STORAGE for days!
Most important of all – We will not allow adventure to stop and go. Regardless of returning to a mountain town with hundreds of single track and peaks in our backyard, it was still an adjustment returning to work, taking care of a home, and managing our time so that we had time for each other, the dogs and ourselves. However, you will not hear Eric and I complain about it. We love how we live because we guarantee the adventure is continual.
Since returning, we have climbed, run, biked, and partied. We celebrated Eric’s best friend’s wedding in a beautiful Ohio backyard. We treated our finger tips to razor-sharp limestone, transitioning from trad climbing to sport as we prepare for a Christmas climbing trip to Mexico. We stretched and strained our lungs on bike and foot, adjusting to the 10,000 ft. of elevation we live at. We tried new ventures and returned to some others.
Over Labor Day weekend, we battled the urge to climb vs. the urge to try something new. We had found an event on the ski resort of Grand Targhee, Idaho, which can be found up and over to the west side of the Grand Tetons of Wyoming. This event involved mountain biking. Mountain biking is something I have always wanted to try, after many miles of road, tri and cross riding. So, after much deliberation, we went for it and it was a mighty good decision. Beer, bikes, mountains, AMAZING people – win, win, win.
With our two dogs in tow, we drove to the Wydaho Bike Festival and spent three days demo-riding gorgeous bikes cross country and down-hill from the top of the ski lift. Through changing fall colors, rain and a few ‘oh-shit’ moments, I rode into a new passion, a new channel of enjoying all things outdoors. The first ride Eric took me on was in Breckenridge on a friend’s bike. Yikes – the bike felt weird, not a part of me. I thought the rocks were going to flip me over and the switchbacks pin me on my back. Ever so slowly, I got more comfortable over the course of our two hour ride. But then came Wydaho. I will let Eric explain:
“I will start out by staying there are so few people like Heather that are always so excited to try something new, a different challenge, even it could result in a crash, blood loss and even broken bones. But, like everything else she goes after, it was with eagerness and a big smile that she grabbed her first demo bike and jumped on the chairlift. We unloaded at the top, Grand Teton in view, and without hesitation, she jumped on the bike and headed down the single track. Now that first lap was, well, understandably slow. Walking switchbacks, dismounting even the smallest drop, and maintaining a slow, downhill pace that required her to pedal up hills that normally others would jump. Fast forward two days and she’s dropping her shoulder and bike deep into bank turns; allowing, if only a little bit, some air between the tires and the ground over drops; and catching people on the downhill. I am so looking forward to more two-wheeled, dirty, muddy adventures with her!”
Eric would know – he is down-right good at mountain biking (and everything he does, really). Expect a Heather-sized mountain bike to join our gear-garage in the near future!
And now, a couple of weeks later, with some running, biking and sport climbing in-between, we are making the drive back from Indian Creek. Here, we got back to trad climbing again, placing gear in the Creek’s iconic splitter, sandstone cracks. We described this place in one of our first blogs when we visited here in June – there is something very, very special about this desert, where no one has cell reception for miles and no civilization, besides a historic ranch, resides. The desert has a calling…similar to the alpine, it is a place where nothing else matters. It is just you, the climb, the moment, the place.
It was a blast to be back. Star-studded skies above the campfire, clean rock to climb, friendly-as-all-friendly of people. Excitement as both Eric and I pushed the grades and difficulty of the climbs on lead! Just us, the climbs, the moments, and the place.
With scuffs, bruises, swollen hands, and aching feet from the constant cramming and contorting that is crack climbing – we finished the weekend at Red Rock Café in Moab on Monday morning. Delicious coffee and bagels topped off the joyfulness of the experience. Groups of all varieties gathered there – rock climbers, mountain bikers, ATVers, the like. As I enjoyed my hot coffee that cool desert morning, I could not help but notice the three guys sitting at the coffee bar. They looked as if they had been camping, potentially road tripping. The café’s music was blasting upbeat tunes attempting to curve the sting of some people’s Monday’s.
The next song started to play – ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”. All three of these grown men loudly sang every single lyric. It was a hilarious 8am scene and café visitors smiled or laughed. Their happiness and joy of the simple things was infectious.
I am sure you have noticed already – our blog has a new look and a new name. There is a reason for it beyond the fact that “10weeks1campervan” is no longer relevant. Throughout those ten weeks of living in 40 square feet with one another and our two dogs, enduring both flawless and stressful days in the alpine…we were reminded of something. Something we believe is pretty dang important to living a life well lived.
The new title, “10weeks1lifetime”, means a lot to us – while we certainly had many big and small adventures this summer, we have a lifetime of them left. We all have heard the sayings — “live each day like it is your last” or “live life to its fullest”. Eric and I have always strived to do many sorts of things, see many places, and collect experiences and moments, rather than things. We do not plan on stopping.
We hope you will continue to read about our adventures on and off the mountain and hope you share yours with us! Cheers and until next time.
Imagine – it is a dewy, gorgeous morning alongside a forest road in northern Montana. The sun is peeking through the tall pine trees and the roar of the river can be heard 200 feet below. Song birds’ tunes fill the air. We had found a perfect overnight spot in the company of huckleberry bushes and wildflowers.
The day before, we left Flathead Lake and headed for Stone Hill, a small cragging area alongside a county road overlooking the beautiful Koocanusa Reservoir. Our time spent there was relatively short, mostly due to the routes being stout for their grades. We both laughed and cursed at 5.9 trad routes that felt more like high tens. Had we taken too much time off at the lake? It had only been a week since we climbed! Still, we had an enjoyable day there. As typical, Eric excelled at powerful liebacking moves, while I finessed my way up using my ballerina toes (as Eric calls them) one of the hardest 5.10 starts we encountered on the trip.
Back to that gorgeous morning of ours. We had arrived the night before, cooked dinner, hiked down to the river with the dogs, and settled in for a night of good rest before we made our trek to Canada. That gorgeous morning, though, was a bit interrupted. Both of us noticed the dogs were concentrated on the front of the van, sniffing ferociously. “Do you think something is up in the engine?” I asked Eric. “Maybe,” Eric replied.
We both slowly approached the hood. I envisioned a squirrel, or something like it, flinging itself out at us as the hood opened. I laughed, imagining us with clubs and ready, stern faces for whatever came next, like two kids playing war and exploring in the woods.
Eric lifted the hood, and there sat a mama pack rat and its kiddo, a nest and all. It seemed like long seconds went by – they stared at us, we stared back, both groups not knowing exactly what to do next. Eric yelled and banged, and the rats burrowed themselves down further into our beloved engine. We had a problem. What if they chewed some of the wires overnight? What if there was more than two? We had to get the van looked at before going any further.
We packed up quickly and drove towards the town of Whitefish. By the time we got there, we were sure the rats had fallen out. But, the rollercoaster did not stop there. Two Whitefish auto shops directed us towards the town of Kalispell, 40 minutes back the way we came, to an authorized VW auto mechanic to take a look at the van.
Around and around we went it felt. I will spare you the drawn-out details of the fix-up days (yes, we were delayed by two days thanks to the rats). While the rats did not cause any actual issues (besides a few chew marks), the ignition coil turned out to be bad. Thanks to the rats…I guess…we did not break down in the middle of Canada or the middle of nowhere. When we pulled into the auto mechanic’s parking lot, there were at least five VW vans of varying years waiting patiently to be fixed. We thought this might be a sign…oh, rats.
The day the van was diagnosed and while waiting for a part to be delivered, we drove into Glacier National Park. Holy. Moly. Words cannot describe this place, as typical of many of the places we visited this summer. It was a short day in the park, and we most certainly will be back to explore it in its entirety.
Following the van repair the next day, we made our way into Canada. The drive to Banff National Park took us about five hours from Kalispell, the trip offering sweeping views of towering Rocky Mountain peaks. The Canadian Rockies are quite different than their south sister, the American Rockies. The Canadian Rockies have more vertical relief and jagged drama due to being more glaciated. This created the sharply pointed peaks and gauged-out glacier valleys you see. The American Rockies, those in our backyard in Breckenridge, are much more rounded and surrounded by V-shaped valleys carved by rivers.
We pulled into our campsite and it immediately reminded us of our home base in Tuolumne. A well-kept site, busy place but great people, and surrounded by the alpine. We settled in for the night, prepped our gear for a day of cragging and entertained our attention-hogging pups. It felt good to be back in the van after our extended break in Montana.
Breakfast. Coffee stop. Lake Louise. Lake Louise was to be our home for the day. Lake Louise is well known for its turquoise, glacier-fed water and the luxurious Chateau Hotel. Here, we walked the easy perimeter of the lake (the views stopping me in my tracks numerous times) to where we would trad climb pitch after pitch of the fun stuff. Though we were not alone at the crag, we met friendly beginners to well-versed climbers – Eric even ran into the owner of a ski hut he had visited previously in Canada. Small world!
Our great day at Lake Louise fed the fire – we were antsy to get to the Bugaboos. We camped one more night in Banff, enjoying a few beers, pup-lovin’ time and a healthy campfire thanks to all of the ‘free’ wood the park provided*.
*When you reserve your campsite in Banff, you pay a nominal $9 fee for a Fire Permit. You must purchase this in order to have a campfire, but they provide the wood…all the wood you want. Coming from the United States, where any mom and pop shop can make a buck with their ‘premium firewood’ bundles, this was a huge change of pace. Trust us – at this point in the trip, we knew the good and not-so-good prices of firewood!
Now – to the Bugaboos. Bugaboo Provincial Park is situated in the Purcell Mountains of southeast British Columbia. This area draws climbers from all over the world, thanks to its airy peaks and stellar granite. It is a place of commitment, no doubt – with unpredictable weather, even during its peak climbing months, a climber may visit for a week and only get two (or no) days of climbing in. The year 2016 is special here. The first climb in the Bugaboos was completed 100 years ago to date by the legend, Conrad Kain. Kain is considered the leading pioneer of the Purcell Mountains and also has numerous first ascents in New Zealand. I cannot imagine climbing the impressive spires we saw with the equipment, clothing and gear they had 100 years ago!
We dropped off the dogs for boarding and jumped on the 30 miles of twisting, rough road that took us to the trailhead. Even at the trailhead, we felt far removed from the modern world. Throughout the drive it had been raining hard. The Bugs could barely be seen through the low clouds, mysteriously looming above us. With it being almost dinner time, we decided to cook grub and camp at the trailhead for the night. We watched it rain and avoided the swarm of mosquitoes and gnats outside our van. Before going to sleep, we had to prep the van with two things – chicken wire and rocks.
This idea is standard here in the Bugs. The nemesis? The porcupine. Who knows how long ago, some poor group of climbers returned to the trail head to discover their vehicle’s wires chewed to heck by porcupines. Thanks to them (and I am sure a few other stranded climbers), the park began supplying chicken wire to all vehicles.
The next morning was stunning. The sun warmed the foliage as we hiked, releasing steam that filled the air. Three miles – beautiful landscape – gaining 2,200ft – we had heard about how strenuous this hike was. However, we thought the trek to base camp under Mt. Whitney was much more difficult. Not to mention, Canadians know how to groom their trails. While still rugged, steep climbs hosted natural stone steps, cables and even a ladder.
Eric and I originally booked this week to the Bugaboos well before we knew the campervan life was even an option. Snowpatch Spire sat on my desktop background at work for months. But, the picture did not do justice as we crept closer to the base of the park. I cannot even begin to describe what we saw once we reached the Conrad Kain Hut, our home for the week. Dramatic, surreal landscape at 7,500ft. Fields of wildflowers and waterfalls surrounded us and the Kain Hut. The ginormous Bugaboo glacier was unreal. Snowpatch and Bugaboo Spire soared above. Everything about the Bugs was incredible and dreamlike.
We checked-in and settled at the hut. The hut had everything we needed, the first floor consisting of a kitchen fully stocked with pots, pans and dishware. The walls were covered with historical photos, as well as route maps and descriptions. The second and third floor is where all thirty of us would sleep.
Our first day in the Bugs led us to McTech Arete, a 5.10-, six pitch beauty of a climb on Crescent. Finger locks, hand jams, toe jams…it had it all. Each pitch, with the exception of one, offered sustained, aesthetic crack lines. We had a blast on this route, climbing efficiently despite being sandwiched between two parties. The raps went quick too, thanks to the collaboration and shared ropes amongst the other climbers who completed the route that morning. We could not have asked for a better kick-off. We hiked the quick hour back to the hut, enjoying the snow and sights.
The next few days offered unpredictable and lingering weather. We knew, with plenty of alpine pursuits under our belts, you have to get up and go if it is dry…even if it may rain later in the day. Two mornings in a row we decided to play on shorter climbs instead of bigger pursuits due to the weather forecast and questionable skies. Both days, we could have gone for more.
Something was up.
The third morning, the hut community was startled awake by thunderous booms and flashes of lightening. A severe storm was right on top of us, pounding rain and hail into the hut. This particular morning we were going to do an easy, but exposed traverse on Pigeon Spire. Due to the weather, though, we opted out once again and made our way to Crescent Towers for a few pitches of fast, easy grades. Easier routes are sometimes harder to navigate due to the multiple variations and features on the wall. Harder routes are typically on a wall where the specific climb is obvious. This particular morning we were struggling to find the route. Unlike sport climbing, trad does not have placed bolts to help identify the route. We both got frustrated. And I, admittedly, got upset. I wanted to climb, but I didn’t. I wanted to push, but I didn’t. I was mentally exhausted – the last two months were no joke with so few days of rest.
Eric comforted me. He, too, admitted he was struggling to keep his psych high. It was not that we were ready to go home. We. Were just. Tired.
We did not climb that day. It was hard to be honest with ourselves while others around us were getting after it, psyches high. This was their vacation, this was THE trip of the year for many of the folks we met, we reminded ourselves over and over. We met people from all around the world, once again, bagging as many climbs as they could. It was neat to be immersed in our own little climbing community for the week, even when our psych was waning.
We discussed a plan, as our food was getting low and a trip down to the van and back would be necessary soon to restock fuel. Did we have one last big day in us? That is what we came for, isn’t it? We both had been eyeing Snowpatch Spire all week…could we make it happen, be safe and efficient, and have fun with it? We decided to stretch our food* and go for it the next day. If it did not happen, we would restock and try once more. If it did? Time to go home.
*Throughout our backcountry trips over the last two months, we ate primarily freeze dried meals and easy, on-the-go food. We both will refuse peanut butter sandwiches, sausage and cheese, oatmeal, and granola bars for the next few months!
Last day, last chance – we wanted to make this work badly before our psych completely ran out. We were out the door by 5:45 AM. Once again, there was a chance of storms that day, so we played it safe by hopping on a route called Wildflowers (5.9) on the west face of Snowpatch. We made quick work of the approach, including the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col. A col is the lowest point or saddle between two peaks, which usually affords you a passage to the other side of the ridge. The col was steep and east facing – this is the sight of many accidents, specifically in the afternoon after the sun has warmed the snow and rocks come loose. Three times while in the Bugs, we heard/saw rock slides and even witnessed a helicopter rescue. Sometimes human error is to blame, sometimes you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. With my limited experience climbing cols, Eric roped up with me and led the way after we put our crampons on, ice axes in hand.
We reached the base of the climb in roughly 90 minutes. Wildflowers was a dirty, adventurous, eight pitch climb that flowed in so many spots, while worked us in others. What I mean by dirty is – the crack where you place your gear forprotection, as well your hands and feet to climb it, is wet, muddy and even requires a bit of gardening (hence the name of the climb, Wildflowers)! Wildflowers were growing out of the route and surrounding rock throughout the way up. What an incredible scene!
The route started out with two pitches of sharp class 4…then, the climbing was sustained and enjoyable. As we approached the last pitch, the clouds began to build. We made it to the top just in time! Due to those clouds, though, we immediately started the descent down. Instead of traversing the summit ridge to the actual rap route, we decided to save time and use the rap rings on the route itself*.
*Wildflowers’ rap slings are primarily used for bailing off the climb due to weather or not being able to finish the climb….this meant the raps were not the cleanest. When raps are not clean, there is increased risk for your rope to get stuck in a crack, on a ledge, etc. This could leave you stranded hundreds of feet in the air. It was the smart decision to use these on this day, but we knew the risk behind the unclean raps with our twin 70 meter ropes.
As Eric took the first rap down, I felt sprinkles. I looked up and accepted our reality. We were going to get rained on. No big deal, though, I thought. Thunder had not cracked yet, and we just needed to get down and down quick. Then, of course, thunder struck. It started hailing. It started raining.
At this point we were into our second rap. Throughout the next three raps, our rope got stuck twice as we pulled it down, a stressful event. As we attempted to pull the rope again for our last rappel, the rope would not move. The rope was so incredibly wet that the friction between the wet rope and frankly cruddy rappel rings, prompted us to get creative. Eric tied himself in to the appropriate end of our twin ropes and used his body weight to help pull the rope through – literally letting himself fall down the rock face to force-feed the rope through up high. On the other end of the rope, I put Eric on belay.
Finally, we got down. We changed out some wet clothes for dry ones, shaking a bit from the cold, and laughing at this one last big day of the trip, a success. It is the alpine after all. We hiked down the col and returned to the hut, getting kudos from fellow climbers for attacking the not-often-climbed West Face and enduring the rain. We were overjoyed with the day, the climb, the adventure. We could go home now.
We ate an unsatisfying freeze dried dinner, slept well and hiked out the next morning. We will be back, Bugaboos.
Oh, but the adventure continued! The porcupines did not get our van’s wires but, oh rats…a flat tire. Thanks to the generosity of our Canadian friend, Woody (from the Bugaboos Lodge only a few miles away), we were able to get a spare tire on (we needed a heavy duty lift for the van…what a beast!), and drive safely to an auto mechanic. Here, we discovered the wheel frame was cracked, leading us on a chase to a welder and ANOTHER auto mechanic to help get us home. What a day, but we were blown away by the kindness of all those we came across. They were excited to help us get home and happy for our last two and a half month adventure.
Now here we are – late August already, back home in Breckenridge, Colorado. Three interviews and three job offers later, I took a job I am very excited about (more on that later!). Eric has started his work and has already traveled twice for business. Things picked up right away!
I have written this before, but more often than not folks reacted with, “Wow, how lucky are you guys! Not enough people do what you are doing!” and “What an awesome, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” when discussing our travels. Some did not understand or thought we were being irresponsible.
As I look back on the last two and a half months, I stress that we do not think we are special for the miles we traveled in the van or on foot, nor the thousands of feet we climbed. Yes, we are extremely grateful for the opportunity to do something like this. Yes, we created memories that we will remember for a lifetime. The trip itself is only a small piece of who we are, but a monumental showcase of how we want to live. We want to explore adventure’s limits, not limit ourselves, in all things work and play. We want to live, not just be alive. This seems to be a common theme in today’s world – more and more individuals are shifting their desire for status and money to experiences and simplicity. All of us make choices, day in and day out, in regards to how we want to live. That is the adventure of living. It would be no fun if we never came across forks in our roads. This trip certainly affirmed the choices we make in regards to how we want to live and, frankly, we cannot keep our psyches at bay for what may come next, no matter what direction the fork takes us. Every day, every moment is an adventure if you make it one. I encourage you to find an adventure in each day, big or small.
So, back to work we go…’real life’ as some call it. We will have to ‘adult’ 40+ hours a week now.
But, oh rats – what an adventure that could be if we make it one?
We plan on continuing our blog to keep our friends and family up to speed, as we do not plan on slowing down. Cheers to everyone who has followed us these past few months, and let the adventure continue!
*More photos from our Canada venture can be found in Photo Highlights.
From California, through Nevada, to Utah and Wyoming. We could not help but sing the song ‘On the Road Again’ as we drove miles and miles of road on our way to the Cirque. The open road once again felt free as we cruised endless highway, windows down.
Cirque of the Towers or “the Cirque”. Abbreviated because any climber in North America, and maybe beyond, knows exactly what and where this place is when one says “the Cirque”. A high-alpine lake surrounded by thousand-foot granite towers on nearly all sides, it is considered yet another premier alpine climbing area in North America. It also remains one of the most wild.
To get there one must first make it to the tiny town of Boulder, Wyoming. Here, the dogs went to boarding, and we continued our trek east for 40-miles of dirt road travel. This long, but beautifully remote road landed us at the Big Sandy Trailhead which is the gateway to the wilds of the Wind River Range. We camped for the night in the parking lot rather than the campground. We organized our gear, packed our bags and slept well in prep for our early start.
The Cirque is certainly not the only climbing area in the Wind River Range, host to numerous big alpine climbing targets. For access to specifically the Cirque however, at 7 AM we started up the Big Sandy trail for 13-miles of mind blowing terrain, wildflowers, alpine lakes, and peaks. The Cirque area is up and over what is called Jackass Pass, but along the way we trekked by three glass-like alpine lakes and multiple other peaks that hosted numerous climbing lines of their own. It is not until you reach the top of Jackass Pass around mile ~10 that the Cirque comes into view. Then? In-your-face, massive and dramatic towers everywhere in sight. As tired as we were from hauling the 60-70-lb packs and out-running the bird sized mosquitoes*, seeing those towers put us into a sprint for the finish.
*One of the most repetitive warnings we received and read about were in regards to the mosquitoes. No, not that climbs, loose rock and potential snow/ice falls…the mosquitoes. We read numerous trip reports that stated the insects were unbearable, especially the time of year we were to be there. ‘DANGER, DANGER’ the trip reports read. ‘Bring GALLONS of mosquito spray, a head net and pray you make it out alive!’ I am being dramatic here, but we were genuinely concerned about our experience from all that we had read! Honestly? If you are reading this and are considering a visit to the Cirque, have no fear. The mosquitoes, while pesky at times, were not near as big and bad as those in Minnesota or the Midwest. Just bring your grit for tolerating bugs, not your whine and cheese. : )
Unfortunately, it had been raining most of the day with periodic thunder so other than setting up base camp, our adventure for the day was limited. But, we were not terribly disappointed as it forced us to rest after the 13 mile approach, and the weather report looked good for the rest of the week. So, we set-up our new Big Agnes Shield 2 tent (which we LOVE!, 4 season tent, built bomber), explored the area, scouted out the next day’s climb from below, and cooked dinner. On the hike in and throughout our days there, we met folks from Arkansas, British Columbia and many other places. While there were a fair amount of backpackers and climbers also calling Cirque home this week, the area was so expansive, we felt alone. We curled up for bed.
The alarm was set for 5 AM. We hoped for an early start with the goal of climbing a four pitch 5.9 high on Pingora Peak. However, as the alarm sounded its tone was drowned out by the sound of rain on the tent. Another delay, but the rock tends to dry quickly – the plan was to sleep a little longer and see where things were at an hour or two from now. We woke again at 7 AM to sunshine, a dry tent, and dry grass. Dry grass = dry rock! We quickly ate something and started the 90 minute approach to the climb. We quickly realized, however, it was not going to be our day.
By the time we arrived at the base of the climb the temperature had dropped, the wind had picked up its pace and dark clouds rolled our way. We sat roped up for nearly 30 minutes watching the clouds and struggling to decide whether to go for it. It was the kind of weather that just as easily could do nothing as produce a heavy rain or storm. It was clear other parties were debating the same both on our peak and others. Some were deciding to bail and head down, others pushed on. We decided to head down – a conservative and safe decision. It is never easy to walk away from a climb due to such a relative unknown, but, as the saying goes…safety first. It was early in the day and if the weather broke we could make the approach again and climb the route in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it teased all day with spitting rain and staying just dark enough to make us weary of another attempt. Could we have made the climb in those conditions? Sure, but maybe because it was not our “one” climbing venture of the summer, or because we were tired and not motivated enough, or maybe acting on the very conservative end of the spectrum….regardless, we spent the day napping and playing cards. Tomorrow we would try again.
The third day granted us a blue-bird day. We got another early start and arrived at the base of the climb once again (Pingora Peak, Southwest Face) at about 7:30 AM. It was a four pitch climb that proved each pitch to be truly on classic level. Only one pitch threw our not-so-favorite style at us…involving off-width groveling (when a line is off-width, the crack is wider than your fist, but too small to allow your body to fit inside, making hand and foot jamming a bit harder). We finished the pitches in three hours, enjoyed the summit, and rappelled back to the base. Once at the base, we discussed whether to squeeze in another route, but, with another party just about to start the same climb ahead of us, we decided to call it a day. We hiked back to camp, packed up our gear and started the hike up and over Jackass Pass. Our plan was to hike six miles out and camp just below Sundance Pinnacle. Our sights were on the five pitch Right Crack (5.10b/c) in hopes of climbing the route in the morning before hiking the rest of the way out.
It was a gorgeous night with stars so bright that headlamps were not needed and the Milky Way so incredibly present it was tough to force ourselves to bed. As we talked more about the Sundance climb, the more and more we became conflicted. We could not place our indifference. We felt desperate to get another Cirque climb in. We were there, at the base of such impressive rock. We HAD to. On the flip, we were tired. The last two months of climbing with as little as ten days off were starting to take a toll, physically and mentally. What was wrong with us? We both did not want to say it.
Finally, we both agreed out loud. The route could potentially take over four hours + a two hour hike out + a two hour drive to pick up the dogs from boarding before business closing = a decision to skip the climb. We hiked out the following morning and reached the van craving real food, quality pup time and the time off ahead. We were Montana bound to a family cabin, lakeside to Flathead Lake for a well-deserved week of rest.
Reading this one might think that we would be filled with disappointment and frustration. We only were able to enjoy one day of climbing out of four in this wild backcountry. Yes, of course, we wish we would have climbed more. But, to simply see such an incredible place was worth every step, effort and mosquito swat. To be so far removed and see such stunning beauty is life changing, every single time. While climbing is the ultimate goal of our travels, it really is just the vehicle of which allows us to explore and truly experience new places. A well-known quote that resurfaced as we pondered our last two months resonates: “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
Two months in. We have traveled five states, three national parks, five national recreation/forest areas and so many other phenomenal places. We have climbed sandstone, volcanic rock, granite spires, and granite domes. We have stood at the highest and lowest points of the lower 48. Our dogs have lived a dog’s dream-life. We have met people that made us laugh, made us think and have inspired. We have been moving non-stop. For two months. Boy, we are tired.
As we drove to the end of the dead end road to Eric’s family cabin on Flathead lake, we sighed with a bit of relief. We were ready to be settled for a bit, in a real bed, unpacked, and with real food options beyond oatmeal, peanut butter sandwiches, and what had become rather standard and limited dinner tendencies. We were ready to fully rest and reignite the mountain-stoke. At Flathead, we enjoyed a few visits to Tamarack Brewery (YUM!), time with family, skiing, running, swimming in crystal blue water, and plenty of dock sunbathing. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. On to Canada, eh?
Once again, check out the Photo Highlights page for more photos of our Cirque and lake time!
The rock here inspires and attracts climbers from all around the world. Long crack lines and big wall routes make this place a mandatory visit for any wandering climber. Yosemite serves as the birthplace of North American climbing and is rich in history. Native Americans, explorers, gold seekers, naturalists, presidents – all had their place in Yosemite.
In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed and passed the Yosemite Grant, protecting the 747,956 acres that is the park. This was monumental in itself (way to go, Abe) being the first time the U.S. Federal Government set aside land for preservation and public use. However, Yosemite was still not yet a national park. In 1903, the legendary John Muir took President Theodore Roosevelt camping for three days in Yosemite near Glacier Point. Within those three days, John Muir showcased the magnificence of Yosemite to Roosevelt, and, in 1906, Roosevelt designated Yosemite a national park. Teddy, you are my hero.
Most have heard of Yosemite Valley – home to Half Dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, and more – it is certainly the most popular for climbers and tourists alike. However, the national park is also home to Tuolumne Meadows, a beautiful landscape on the eastern side of the park. This was my first time to the park. Eric has climbed in the Valley before, but had never stepped foot in the meadows. Shortly after arriving, I think he wondered why the heck not. Tuolumne, from our observations, is like Yosemite Valley’s quiet younger sister. Sitting at approximately 8,600ft and over an hour and a half away from the Valley, this place offers multiple granite domes to climb and explore, the crystal clear Tuolumne River for fly fishing and swimming, hundreds of trails and alpine lakes for hiking, and sweeping green meadows full of wildflowers for finding peace. Even so, the tourist crowd was less in number and the place was far more quiet than the park’s main attractions. Tuolumne, unexpectedly, became home.
Our plan was to be in Tuolumne a few days and then move camp to the Valley. But, as you probably have already gathered, we are not much for sticking to our original agenda. First and foremost, we were worried about where our base camp would be set. National Parks like Yosemite fill up almost entirely with campground reservations months in advance before the season begins. We had done our research prior to departing Breckenridge and knew that we would have to gamble with the first-come-first-serve campsites. Yikes.
We entered the park late on a Sunday afternoon after climbing Cardinal Pinnacle and luckily scored a perfect campsite in the Tuolumne Meadows campground (the campground had JUST opened the day before!). At a higher elevation, the temperatures were much more moderate than the 90+ degrees the Valley was experiencing. It was quieter. The stars were clearer. And we were quickly convinced there was little reason to spend any time in the Valley…at least on this trip.
Coming off our great climb on the Cardinal Pinnacle in the High Sierras, we were ready to get started as soon as we arrived in Yosemite. Yosemite is known for old-school ratings (sandbagged climbs or climbs that are rated easier, but feel harder) so we wanted to start on something mellow and cruiser. Our first climb was West Crack (5 pitches, 5.9) on DAFF Dome, considered a meadows classic, must-do climb. With an earlier start and 20 minute approach, we jumped on the rock – a must-do it is. West Crack lived up to its classic reputation! Pitch after pitch offered clean, perfect cracks (except for one spot of very run-out slab section that made Eric, who had led it, glad he had had a small breakfast).
We finished that climb feeling strong and overwhelmed with excitement to be in Yosemite. With another classic climb planned, we decided to take the following day to ‘rest’ and throw on our trail running shoes. And, so began a cycle of magnificent climbing, running and rest days in our new home.
The most notable climb of the trip was undoubtedly Eichorn Pinnacle. Eichorn Pinnacle (10,680ft) stands tall next to Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne, being one of the most prominent natural features all parks visitors see. I had been borderline obsessed with this rock since I saw a picture of it months before, prior to this trip becoming a tangible thought. We had three options to get on. We could a) climb the moderate line of Cathedral Peak (5.6) and traverse 4th class over to the pinnacle, b) climb the West Pillar line (5.9), or c) climb the West Pillar Direct line (5.10b). With the way we have been climbing, together and individually, we were ready to test ourselves a bit more on the grade. So, we opted for the West Pillar Direct.
The approach to Eichorn was no short hike in comparison to most Yosemite climbs. One of the benefits of Yosemite is that pristine, world-class climbing is usually a 30 minute hike away, if not less. Eichorn, however, took us approximately 90 minutes to approach, not counting our few mile bike ride to the trail head. The longer approach was worth it – not only is it excellent training, but we had the place to ourselves. We roped up and started to climb. All of Eichorn’s five pitches were a blast. Some off width here, perfect crack there and one cruxy move. The West Pillar Direct line turned out to be a one-move-wonder, but we kept asking the question, “Why are not more people doing this climb?!” We topped out and enjoyed the views on the peak’s roughly 6x6ft top. There was a summit register that we added our names to before heading down.
Throughout the next nine days, we basked in Tuolumne. We climbed and cragged. We chatted with through-hikers and other climbers. We became best-buds with the rangers as we visited them numerous times to extend our stay. And, for the first time on the trip, we felt settled. Oh…and we took a trip to the vet.
Turmoil struck when we returned from a few hours of cragging one day. We opened the door to our van and out jumps our happy dogs. But, something was off. Madi, our energetic, three-year-old Vizsla, had a funny looking nose. I looked closer and quickly realized that the top of Madi’s nose was swollen, bleeding, and pussing in spots. Her snout looked like a zombie dog’s.
Eric took a look, and I started worrying as any dog-mother would. We cleaned her nose with water and decided to wait until the following morning to see if it would improve. Throughout the night, though, you could hear Madi licking her paw and rubbing her nose with it in attempt to itch and remove whatever was causing her nose to explode in inflammation. The next morning, it was not better…the more she scratched, the more it bled and pussed. So, to the vet we went. The nearest vet was in Oakland, California – a two hour drive from Tuolumne. The drive took us west through the entirety of the national park, passing through the Valley. Seeing Half Dome and El Capitan in the early morning light was incredible, but short lived.
Long story short, the vet report suggested Madi was bitten by some sort of insect or spider, leading to an immense allergic reaction. Madi got a cone, antibiotics and lots of love (and laughs…it is hilarious to watch a dog do anything in a cone). We drove the two hours back, but not without a stop in the Valley.
Our second visit of the day here was again short lived. The Valley was nearly ten degrees hotter than Tuolumne and people….were…EVERYWHERE. This was my first time to the Valley and Eric, who had visited in October, was in as much of a culture shock as I was. We described it as the ‘amusement park’ of Yosemite, which is certainly not a compliment. Both of us are extremely passionate about getting outside and find it encouraging when we see people exploring the natural world. But, the Valley was something else. Folks walked around with lattes from the food court. Parking and traffic in the Valley village felt more like a small metropolis than a nature center. People asked rangers where they could find the easiest paved hike. Kids ran wild. In 2014, over 4 million people visited Yosemite. I felt like all of them were there that day.
We checked ourselves on the drive home, despite our crowd-induced crankiness. We both quickly realized that we have been in essentially seclusion for a month. Nothing but wild places, wild climbs, wild trails – just the van, the dogs and us. We have led a peaceful life up to this point, slowed down and felt far away from the hurry of modern day life. That is what the Yosemite Valley felt like that day. Hurried. Busy. Overwhelmed with visitors from all over the world trying to squeeze every last drop out of their vacation. I do not blame them.
It causes me to pause and wonder when we lost the battle in balancing our work, family, friends, recreation, health and well-being. Vacations, or the activities we enjoy doing, should never feel stressful, hurried or tick-list crammed. I, certainly, have lost that balance before and will again. One of my biggest challenges is spreading my all-out passion for things I do evenly across the board. Both Eric and I are, not worried, but curious to see how settling back in Breckenridge will unfold. We will find balance? It is even possible to still live ‘slow’?
As we rolled back into our campsite in Tuolumne that afternoon, we saw happy families returning to their own sites, fishing poles in hand, climbers returning from a long day on the rock, hikers and backpackers carrying their hefty load, laughing, beer in hand. Every day we are reminded that this trip is monumental and special. We have been reminded of the importance of our passions. We have been reminded that balance is not only a goal, but a requirement. It keeps us physically and mentally healthy, and with that, keeps all other things in our life healthy.
Many have told us that this is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience. But, when we look at the big, wide open reality of what this trip has taught us so far…we are not so sure it has to be.
More photo highlights have been uploaded – check them out!
After Whitney…we were ready for more. Ready for more of the backcountry. Climbing. Running. More of feeling strong, swift and efficient no matter the climb. But first, we needed some rest.
We took a day of rest following our hike out, as well as numerous catch-up meals. We then landed in Bishop, California. Bishop originally was not on our list of places to pit-stop, but many locals highly recommended a short stay and climbing in Owens River Gorge, home to over 700 routes on beautiful volcanic rock. The area included everything from Yosemite quality crack to fantastic face climbing. Only 30 minutes from town, too, are High Sierra climbs like the West Face of Cardinal Pinnacle. This all sounded great to us!
The town of Bishop is a short drive north of Lone Pine – Bishop is bigger in size and host to many more conveniences than Lone Pine, but still a quaint and quirky mountain town. It had a “real” grocery store of which we had not seen in about two weeks, as well as a fully stocked climbing shop that finally had materials we needed to repair and replace a few pieces of our gear. Bishop also is home to a ‘world famous’ bakery – Erick Schat’s Bakery. We had noticed it a few times as we drove by its cute, outdoor patio, packed with people and always busy. With one stop we quickly realized why it was so popular! Everything from the baked goods to the deli sandwiches were delicious (the bakery produces upwards to 25,000 loaves of bread a day). With this one stop, however, we also realized that we have been living in the woods, so to speak, for quite a while now…the crowded bakery full of tourists tested both of our patience!
The first two nights in the area we camped in Bureau Land Management (BLM) land just outside of our initial destination, the Owens River Gorge. Our camp sat at over 6,000ft, providing airy views of the High Sierras and a cool place to escape the heat below in Bishop. BLM land has been our go-to on this trip – the camping is free, dispersed, quiet, and allows us to have a private sanctuary where the dogs can meander and point at everything that moves. The gorge, we learned, is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water and, technically, it is trespassing to climb there. Thankfully, since the development of the rock surged in 1989, that rule has not been enforced! We spent two days climbing in this unique place. The approach took us over 300ft down into the gorge where we found an oasis of green along the flowing river. The first day we worked our trad, pushing the grades, while the second day we returned to sport climbing. We quickly realized that we had been crack climbing for so long that the vertical and sometimes overhanging sport walls felt foreign and not near as secure. Overall, we started realizing what the few weeks of continuous climbing and running has done to us – we felt strong, fit and confident. We will be back to visit Owens River Gorge again!
It just got better from here. We headed 30 minutes west of Bishop towards the High Sierras once again. We found a perfect campsite (luckily) called Bishop Park. We parked, set up camp, explored the riverside below our site, and gawked at our next venture. Cardinal Pinnacle (4 pitches, 5.10b, 550ft) stands above the small settlement of Aspendell and was clearly visible from our new home. The sun lit the tower as it set. We could not wait to get on it.
But………..the following morning, the alarm went off. We stretched our tired bodies, looked at each other and silently agreed, “rest day”. At this point, we had climbed nearly 20 days with only four days off. We were mentally and physically spent.
For the record, we both are terrible at rest days. We get antsy, bored and just are not sure what to do with ourselves. This day was different, however. We set up our double hammock next to the clear running river. Read. Napped. Played with the dogs. Played with my camera. Casually rode our bikes. And simply enjoyed the scenery around us. Cardinal Pinnacle still loomed in the distance. By the end of our rest day, we were excitedly organizing gear and preparing to saddle up once again.
Cardinal Pinnacle is a popular rock. It offers stunning views of the Sierras, excellent granite crack lines and pitches of freaking fun. With all of this in mind, we opted to start early, hiking and scrambling up the talus (boulder) field to the base of the climb, racking our harnesses and climbing by 8:00 AM. The route was to be in the shade in its entirety, but the temperature was the perfect chill – cold enough to keep your wits, but also the feeling in your fingers. As we climbed, each pitch got better and better. The first pitch involved one very exposed move over an arête (a small ridge-like feature or a sharp outward facing corner on a steep rock face). The arête was taller than me, making the move a blind one. Eric had led this pitch and, while I could not see him on the other side, he assured me the holds and footing were there. The second and third pitch consisted of outstanding clean cracks that flowed perfectly for us both. Move after move was flawless, each of us finding solid hand and toe jams. The climb was an absolute blast. We made two open air rappels to the base again and by this time there were four other parties working their way up the climb or to the base. We bagged Cardinal before breakfast. Early bird gets the worm they say.
We giddily made our way back to the campervan and enjoyed a meal at Cardinal Village, a small and charming cabin resort we had discovered on bikes the day before. Cardinal Pinnacle sat, once again, impressively above us. The sun warmed our faces. And gosh, we were content, overjoyed, ecstatic, and every other word in the book you can think of to describe life’s highs after doing what you love.
A visiting resort family and park ranger were strolling by and noticed us climbers, looking dirty and elated as you would after a fun adventure. They asked, “Did you climb that rock this morning?”
We replied, “Yeah!”
The ranger said, “Awesome!! We were watching you guys from down here the whole time!”
The family asked us questions about what it takes to climb something like that, joking with us that even the hike up to the rock would have killed them. They mentioned that it was clear we are passionate about climbing and how cool that was. With a few congrats, they all continued on their way.
This climb, and all to follow, got me thinking. Not only are we lucky to have this opportunity to travel and do what we love for almost three months, but what a grand thing to have the chance to reconfigure what matters in our lives.
While climbing, running and skiing are important to us and are certainly the activities folks see us doing most, I have had a chance to understand our ambitions behind these things, and life, with clarity. Both of us love the things we do in both work and play. We are passionate go-getters who do not settle for the mediocre. What I have realized is that the passion for our climbing, running and skiing should be (and is in many ways) applied to every aspect of our lives. Work. Family. Friends. Our dogs. Our environment. Volunteering. And so much more. While this blog, social media posts and pictures shared with family and friends are focused around what we are climbing and conquering, there is so much more to it. We want to approach all parts of our life with the same passion and energy that we do with climbing. We want every ounce of our energy to be spent in feeling full.
Certainly, there will always be an unbalanced piece of the pie, and there will certainly never be an end to the attempt to pour passion into every part of our existence. But, it does not mean we should not try. Never do we want to stop testing limits, working hard and strengthening our relationships with others and ourselves. We have had dirty fingernails since we left Breckenridge, applying that such passion to climbing walls. Literally and figuratively, I hope we always have dirty fingernails.
More to follow about our extended stay in our next destination, Yosemite. Wishing you all a Happy 4th of July and dirty fingernails.
FUN FACTS: One month in, what have we learned about each other?
What Heather has learned about Eric:
1. Eric loves to sing though he is almost always off-tune. But he does not care…he belts out everything from country to rap at the top of his lungs.
2. Ketchup + Doritos = Deliciousness. For him anyways. I tried the combination and believe my expression was similar to his when he tried coffee.
3. Milkshakes. The man loves his milkshakes.
4. Alright, are you ready for sappy? Eric will often stop what he is doing, grab me by the shoulders and ask, “Have I expressed enough to you today how much I love you?” I think I have a winner.
What Eric has learned about Heather:
1. She loves lizards, A LOT! As in I’m 10-ft above my last piece, scrambling through a crux and all I hear from below is giggling and ‘Oh look, a lizard dancing on the rock!’
2. She sings when she’s happy and will break out at random times and start dancing in the passenger seat to any kind of music whatsoever.
3. Heather is the strongest (physically and mentally) and funniest friend, climbing partner, road-trip sidekick that I’ve been fortunate enough to have in my life.
4. She is absolutely as beautiful after 3-weeks absent a real shower as any other time. And nothing is hotter than a girlfriend taping and racking up to attack a pitch!
*Pre-Read Note: Unfortunately, due to poor connectivity, photos could not be uploaded in best quality to this post. We will load more pictures as soon as we are able to the ‘Photo Highlights’ page!
After approximately 15 days in the desert, we were ready to high-tail it to the alpine. Our next destination was California, specifically the High Sierras. Following Kolob Canyon in Zion, we packed up our home and drove five hours through…you guessed it…more desolate desert, including Death Valley National Park.
Death Valley’s stretch of highway spans roughly over 100 miles. Desolate it was, but not without its own way of beauty. Dark, towering peaks with fields of cracked soil below, the sky was hazy from the boiling air and wind. It was so hot there that illusionary lakes could be seen. It was a very barren, but beautifully dynamic place for being the lowest, hottest, and driest place in North America. We made one pit-stop at the Mesquite Sand Dunes. We were out of the car no longer than 15 minutes – long enough to snap a few photos before the wind picked up and a sand storm moved in. Quite a few camera-happy and without-water-tourists hiking the hot sands of the dunes were not so lucky to escape!
As we dropped out of the park, the High Sierras came into view. It was nearing early dusk, creating extraordinary lighting through the peaks and Sierra valley. We got excited and picked up the pace (as much as you can in the campervan) to Lone Pine, CA. Lone Pine is sort of a sleepy tourist town, but over 100 old-time and modern Western movies have been shot there. Photos of old-Western movie stars covered the walls of many restaurants and building-side murals. Even the old show, Bonanza, one I used to watch with my parents, was set here!
We grabbed some dinner and drove to ‘Movie Road’, which took us to an area called Alabama Hills (Alabama Hills is littered with climbing, bouldering and FREE camping!). The stars were starting to shine – the air was cool – and the silhouette of Mt. Whitney was in sight due-west. The dogs jumped out of the van, reinvigorated by the temperate air. Each of our dogs wear red nightlights that we turn on when they are scampering around in the dark. I turned Madi’s on, and the energetic Vizsla ran speedy figure eights throughout the brush, creating a hilarious light show for Eric and I. All of us slept well that night.
The next day was preparation day for our alpine feat. We had a one-day permit (which was all that was available to us at the time of booking) to climb Mt. Whitney (14,508ft), the highest 14,000ft peak in the lower 48. We knew a one day push would be long and hard, but we were psyched to do it! In prep for this adventure, we visited the ranger station to pick up our permit and ask about peak conditions (Whitney had gotten 8 inches of fresh snow about a week before we arrived…yikes). Lo and behold, we were able to claim a two night permit, which would end up being a God-send (you will understand why soon!). Then, we visited the local gear store (Elevations), picked up backcountry meals and supplies, organized personal gear, figured a boarding plan for the pups, and dialed in route details for the climb.
Our plan? Hike in late afternoon. Camp. Climb the technical East Buttress route (IV, 5.7, 11 pitches) of Whitney. Descend via the Mountaineer’s Route. Camp. Climb the Mithral Dihedral (IV, 5.10) on Mt. Russell. Hike Out.
That is, if everything went as planned. But, with alpine climbing one must be prepared for an ever-changing plan.
We packed up the trad gear, rope, ice axes, crampons, food, water, tent, and sleeping bags into our backpacks. With everything in our packs, our bags weighed roughly 50lbs – not bad, but certainly enough to make you feel the 3,700ft elevation gain over the three mile approach to Upper Boy Scout Lake. Upper Boy Scout Lake was a mile and another 1,000 + ft from the base of Mt. Whitney and our climb. We hiked up Tuesday, late afternoon, set up camp, made dinner, and settled in for a WINDY night of little sleep.
The alarm went off at 4:00 AM. Neither of us slept well, as with being at higher elevation and our tent sounding like it was going to blow away all night. When the alarm sounded, the wind was still howling. We had two options – get up, hike to the base and hope the wind dies down. Or, wait out the conditions in the tent for another hour. We opted to wait. The wind calmed slightly, and we decided we were clear to go. Two hours and all uphill later, we made it to the base of our climb. The Sierras are incredible. We were surrounded by such dramatic and rugged peaks, as well as pronounced, jagged spires. These sights are very different from the gentle Rocky Mountain scenes we are used to.
As we approached the base, another party of two was getting ready to start the same route. We knew we had about an hour to wait. The sun was shining, the wind was calm (for now)…so, we made no big deal of it. With the route being rated 5.7, too, we figured we would make quick work of the 11 pitches anyways. Oh boy.
We started up the rock. Even with some spicy sections of ice and snow covered rock, the first six pitches went smoothly with only one route-finding issue that set us back about 45 minutes. What was apparent, though, was that the wind had returned. Gale force winds, 50 mph + gusted the rock, pulling us off balance while we climbed. It was getting cold – very, very cold. By the fourth pitch, even with Eric lending me his jacket (gentleman), I was shaking uncontrollably. Both of our feet were already wet from climbing in snow, and climbing shoes are far from waterproof or insulated. Eric was concerned about my overpowering shivers. What was happening? Because my feet had gotten so cold, my body was working hard to send warm blood to my toes…leaving my core body to fend for itself. It did not take long for my body temperature to drop. Since we were close to halfway, I opted to push on, especially since Eric was not feeling the cold (yet). Then, at pitch seven, we got off route. For some unknown reason, we decided to follow a different route description than the one that had allowed us to perform perfectly to this point. However, we had researched the details of the entire mountain well enough to know what lay ahead. We were certain there was only easy terrain above us, no harder than 5.9. With one sketchy (and frankly, frightening) ice/snow covered, airy traverse and an additional pitch, we summited at about 5:00 PM. The route finding, conditions and my fierce fight with the cold, kept us running slow, and we needed to get down the mountain…we still had a long ways to go.
At this point, on summit, we both were shaking – neither of us could feel our feet. So, with a very quick summit snapshot, we put on our boots and crampons (essentially spikes you attach to your boots for traction). Ice axes in hand, we started our way down the Mountaineer’s Route, an 1,800 foot steep snow gully. The Mountaineer’s Route is where many folks will hike up and back down, of course, with boots, crampons and ice axe. We would much rather ski down something like this than hike down…it was a brutal, knee aching hour of constant downhill. The gully brought us to Iceberg Lake at 12,600 ft and an hour hike from our tent.
Fast forward that hour to our campsite…and our tent that was no longer there.
The gale force winds that we cursed all day and night had ripped our tent from its secured place and carried it away like a kite. We were already close to a 16 hour day, it was getting dark and the thought of hiking back to the car at this point was less than appealing. We decided to search for the tent no longer than 30 minutes. If it was not found, we would hike out. Luckily, though, we found it sitting 300ft below us in a brush patch. More importantly, our sleeping bags and pads were still in the tent. The tent was not functional, forcing us to an open-air bivy (sleeping outside) for the night. Normally, a bivy is fun and can be quite comfortable but – that wind. We examined what seemed like each and every boulder around Upper Boy Scout Lake for its wind-blocking qualities (Eric is now terrified of house shopping with me). We finally settled for the boulder with the white-picket fence and flower garden.
We jumped into our bags without eating dinner. We were exhausted and, oddly, we both slept incredibly well, despite the wind and no shelter. Around 3:00 AM, the wind finally calmed. I remember waking up and peaking my head out of my sleeping cocoon. The Milky Way smiled…and I smiled back.
The best part? I awoke again to the most beautiful sunrise. I poked Eric awake. Still wrapped up in our sleeping bags, we leaned our backs against our perfect boulder and watched the sun rise for over an hour. It was extraordinary and one of the many unforgettable moments of the trip.
Finally, we forced ourselves to pack up camp from this gorgeous venue. We loaded our packs and made the two hour hike back to the trailhead where we promptly ordered burgers and fries from the small concession at the parking lot.
We were tired, bloody and bruised from this epic of ours. We laugh at it, learn from it and cherish it, even with my tingly, frostbitten toes. We like to call this ‘Type 2’ fun…the type of fun and adventure that, while you are doing it, is rather miserable. But after? You are ready for more. Now on to Bishop and Yosemite…because we are ready for more.