Some of the most enjoyable trips I’ve had are pulling into to medium-small climbing areas where I have no expectations and being blown away by the rock and route quality. The availability of camping and access. The lack of crowds. Places like the crystal crusted granite Needles of South Dakota, the steep North Shore cliffs of the Palisade Head in Minnesota and splitter gray cracks of Woodfords Canyon in East Tahoe. On my pilgrimage out to the Great Salt Lake for the Thanksgiving holiday, Sadie and I discovered a new such area in Saint George. Choosing to leave the lines behind at Red Rock for exploring the mysterious 1000+ routes around Saint George just two hours away.
I live my life in nature, with the environment, so I’m especially invested in conservation, keeping things wild and #protectpublicland. I bicycle everywhere, eat mostly vegetarian, don’t fly that much and only rely on a car to go to the mountains so I have felt particularly good minimizing my climate impacts. However, driving tens of thousands of miles and flying tens of thousands more over the last year made me start to worry I had unbalanced this equation. People who earn more, produce more carbon and by taking a sabbatical with so many flights, I definitely felt like I was #livingThatLife. What to do?
The Rae Lakes Loop is a 38 mile, ~8,000 ft elevation gain loop that, even with those statistics, makes it maybe the easiest loop in SEKI. Not only that, it hosts strikingly wide valley views of lake filled meadows contrasted with high sierra alpine. Finally, the whole loop is abundant in water either from large rivers or larger lakes 90% of its length. I discovered, on trail, these are the reasons the Rae Lakes Loop is a common name among outdoor enthusiasts who are often used to the steep High Sierra in a water starved California.
“I could actually die or get seriously injured out here”, plunged into my brain stem at 12,500 ft, six hours into my climb of Temple Crag on Moon Goddess Arete. I had just lifted my foot off a refrigerator sized block that had shifted and nearly tumbled 1000 ft down the mountain. I also didn’t love the single cam in a short horizontal crack laid 30 ft diagonally to my left as the last piece of protection I had placed. This was what the last hour was like as I searched on lead to find a long ‘4th class ledges’ traverse using conflicting information among deteriorating rock quality. Things had changed drastically since my emboldened attitude that we could probably link neighboring Celestial Arete Venusian Blind with a scramble or traverse up Mt. Galey.
The California Needles can be described as alpine cragging. A mix of Lover’s Leap style multi-pitch and Toulumne Meadows dome extrusions with decent approaches. Most climbs are on splitter cracks 5.9 or above. The cracks vary more than Indian Creek or Yosemite, sometimes widening out into slab sections. Fist or wider is not uncommon on a ‘splitter hand crack’ and we used our #4 more often than not. Over the course of three days I was thoroughly tired after climbing a total of 3000+ ft of 5.9+ classic routes. Definitely a place for any 5.9 and especially 5.10 climber to check out.
Shuteye Ridge is a place I love sharing with people. It has crazy interesting granite unlike I’ve seen anywhere else with its dark runnels and plates of knobs. It is also the place I lead sport for the first time, went on my first multi-pitch and placed my first trad gear (all in one trip!). On a Memorial Day weekend when you cannot seem to get away from traffic and people, even one of the most popular areas of Shuteye (Big Sleep) was a respite. Yes, there was a ten car group of 4×4’ers and a few other groups out on the big sleep slab camp area. However, we never waited in line and most of the time were completely on our own or only ‘near’ one other party.
This last year I’ve been trying to break into 5.10- trad. Being the stronger climbing partner of my team, that often meant pushing myself on lead. However, decking from blown gear last August lost a lot of my lead head and confidence to climb, even at the levels I was previously confident. However, I’ve had a resurgence over the last month of not only getting my confidence back but pushing into 5.10 trad. I’m really proud of myself and feel empowered by what I’ve learned.
Leaving Las Vegas after four full days climbing on abnormally bomber red, black and tan sandstone, I found myself contemplating how special the climbing community really is. This trip centered around a meetup hosted by Mountain Project for Admins of their climbing areas. Here, I met climbers from the Gunks, Devil’s Lake, SoCal, Oregon and Quebec, route bolters out of Idaho, traditional first ascentionists from Red Rock, boulderers from Grand Junction, gym owners in Missouri and the people who started Mountain Project and Mountain Bike Project. I also climbed one day with a person sporting a Senior’s National Park pass and another with an existing friend I originally met online, trying to climb near Mt. Rushmore.
Interactive map of my last 270 days of travel.
Going full time traveling to visit all the national parks, live simply, seek wilderness and travel the world has been sold as the ideal dream and fully living life in many a social media account. I too was allured towards these ideas and ten months ago decided to try it out. I had a clear idea of all the amazing things I would do and see but in retrospect less of an idea about the true costs. Both financial and personal. Let me give you all the details…
Image: On camel safari in Jaisalmer
Tired, frustrated and probably confused are how you will feel many times in India. Either from interacting with the complex culture formed uniquely and richly over thousands of years or from some modernity struggling to integrate within that context. Of course you will feel happy, delighted, surprised, welcomed, curious and a plethora of other positive emotions too which is why India is sooooo worth traveling.
I spent six weeks in India over winter in late 2018 and early 2018. Over which I visited Rajasthan, the Kashmir Valley, hill stations such as Amritsar and Dharmashala, Agra and the two big cities of Mumbai and Delhi. This is like 5% of the main attractions of an area so large and rich as India so this information might not work everywhere but most of it will. In an effort to ease frustrations and set expectations I want to share several of these essential learnings.
(To get a more cultural insight into my experience read this)