Wild, Wild Iris

The past couple of weekends I’ve spent trying to get back into climbing for the all-too-short summer season up in Wyoming. And by short, I mean it snowed on us the weekend before last, and I had to come down from a climb because my fingers were too numb.

Aside from the snow and all that, little signs of summer are popping up everywhere. Big orange poppies around Laramie just bloomed and the roses are budding; my vegetables are moving beyond sprout-stage; the farmer’s market is in operation (though without much in the way of fresh produce); there are baby birds in my backyard.

Their little faces are all beak

Their little faces are all beak!

The weekend before last Matt and I drove up to Lander, WY, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and has a population of just over 7,500. NOLS (The National Outdoor Leadership School) is based in Lander. There are several extensive limestone sport climbing areas outside of town, including Wild Iris and Sinks Canyon, in addition to the Wind River Mountain Range, home to the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Since it was still pretty chilly up in the mountains outside of town, Matt and I camped in Lander City Park, which is a beautiful grassy piece of paradise among old cottonwoods, which resemble pin oaks, with little streams running through. The park has a great policy that allows anyone to camp for free for up to three nights, so it’s a great option for weekend travelers like us.

The Wild Iris climbing area is a little over a half hour’s drive outside of town, and several miles up dirt road switchbacks on Forest Service land.

Matt's Subaru in the "parking area" of Wild Iris. You can see the Wind River Range on the horizon.

Matt’s Subaru in the “parking area” of Wild Iris. You can see the Wind River Range on the horizon.

Prior to embarking on our weekend climbing adventure, Matt and I had been warned via the internet about Wild Iris’s resident grizzly bear, who has been affectionately named Waffles. This naturally led to Matt referring to the bear mace I procured as “syrup.”

Abe at the trailhead for Wild Iris's Main Wall climbing area

Abe at the trailhead for Wild Iris’s Main Wall climbing area

For our first weekend, we spent a lot of time at the Main Wall, where most of the climbing routes at Wild Iris are located. Since it was my first climbing trip of the season, I felt pretty out of shape. There was a lot of falling and me yelling things like, “It’s too cold!” and, “I suck at climbing!” and, “Auughhhrghhh!!!”

On the bright side of things, many of the wildflowers were blooming, which made for lovely hiking.

Matt at the base of the limestone cliff, and wildflowers

Matt at the base of the limestone cliff, and wildflowers

I wanted so badly to pick some! I also alternated between singing and humming Sting’s “Fields of Gold.”

As we walked in fields of gold [wildflowers]...

As we walked in fields of gold [wildflowers]…

One night my friend Larkin, whom I met during yoga teacher training in Laramie, had us over for some homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes, local salad greens, and rhubarb strawberry crisp with just-picked rhubarb. YUM. Having friends around Wyoming is pretty much the best. Larkin works for NOLS and lives in Lander. She also teaches yoga at their local studio.

The day it snowed was the day it got so cold and windy I had to bail on a 5.10d. People could see from the top of the cliff that a storm system was coming down from the Wind River Range. Sure enough, right as we arrived back at the car, it began snowing.

Bye bye, blue sky!

Bye bye, blue sky!

Then it was back to another week at work in Laramie before more rock climbing (isn’t that how life always is?). Last weekend we drove up to Wild Iris again after I got off work Friday afternoon. This time we met up with our friend Andrew, an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming, and camped up at Wild Iris instead of in the town of Lander, meaning I kept the syrup aka bear mace with me at all times.

Last weekend went much better. I redpointed (meaning climbed with no falls, but after having climbed it before with falls) a really fun 5.11a (Mountain Project gives it 5.11b) at the OK Corral area called Winchester Pump on Friday night. Saturday we went to the Aspen Glades area, which is part of Wild Iris but a 2-or-so-mile drive away from the main parking area and another 2 miles or so on foot.

We warmed up on a tricky 5.10b called Sweaty Bully and proceeded to get serious. The weather was glorious: warm, slight breeze, sunshine. It actually felt like summer!

Andrew on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b

Andrew on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b

There was a blank-looking face at the wall with three 11d’s that I wanted to work, but they looked… hard. After failing at a long move on Fist Full of Quickdraws (5.11d), we moved on to Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump (5.12a). That route was particularly fun, but I was too tired to get to the top. Story of my life!

We had a campstove dinner and went to bed relatively early under cloudy skies. On Sunday we went back to OK Corral since it was close to our campsite. Matt had just finished putting up Tribal War, a really excellent and classic 5.11b, when it began thundering. I raced up the route on toprope and cleaned it before the storm blew in. We parted ways with Andrew and walked back to the car as the downpour began.

Matt on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b

Matt on Sweaty Bully, 5.10b

We threw everything in the car (including Abe, who was a little wet, but more terrified by the thunder) and drove down to Lander to refill on gas and for some burgers with guacamole at the Gannett Grill, which is adjoined to the Lander Bar. Abe was allowed on the porch.

Abe doesn't appear to be sad about not getting a burger

Abe doesn’t appear to be sad about not getting a burger

I picked up a chokecherry milkshake to make me feel better about the fact that there aren’t any CookOut (an amazing NC-based fast food restaurant) milkshakes available out here, which we used to get all the time after climbing at Pilot Mountain in North Carolina. Then we made it back to Laramie through some thunderstorms for another week in the office.

This weekend I’m headed to the beach back in North Carolina- can’t wait to see my family! I hope I can survive the heat.

Love to all.

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Visits Facilitate Adventures

A couple weekends ago Matt’s cousins came to visit us from California. His cousin Kelsey was passing through on a roadtrip with her boyfriend David, and Kelsey’s brother Chris flew in just for the weekend. Obviously we had to throw down and show them the best of Mountain West! (Take note, Mom & Dad!)

Friday night we had people over to celebrate Matt finally finishing his exams (which he passed, by the way)! I made some homemade ginger beergaritas and set out snacks. Afterwards, at their request, we took Kelsey and David to the Buckhorn, a historic downtown Laramie establishment with a real live bullet hole in the mirrored wall behind the bar.

The next morning we had some breakfast burritos and made our sleepy way out to Medicine Bow National Forest for some snowshoeing. Matt had rented us snowshoes the day before. And yes, there is still snow on the ground up there – like, deep snow.

From L to R: Kelsey, Matt, and David on the ascent

From L to R: Kelsey, Matt (our fearless guide!), and David on the ascent

We parked in a pull-off next to some snowmobilers and cross country skiers, about 45 minutes from our house, strapped on our snowshoes, and headed waywardly toward Medicine Bow Peak.

View of a frozen lake on our way up

View of a frozen lake on our way up

The snow’s consistency alternated between icy in the shade and slushy in the sun, which is why we were there in the morning, before the snow turned entirely to slush. Even snowshoes can sink in snow like that.

Matt, David, and Kelsey taking in the view

Matt, David, and Kelsey taking in the view

As you can see by our outfits, it wasn’t particularly cold; the snow is still there because there’s so much of it, though the temperature does drop to below freezing at night up there.

We did it!

We did it!

After the somewhat treacherous descent (snowshoes aren’t really designed to go downhill), we had lunch at the Beartree Tavern in Centennial on the way back to Laramie. Kelsey and I had their famous “bestest ever” green chili, and we all shared some pie a la mode for dessert.

Chris flew into Denver, rented a car, and met us at our house in Laramie that afternoon. With a bad weather forecast looming, we drove about a half hour up to a small sport climbing area off Happy Jack Road near Vedauwoo affectionately called Beehive Buttress.

We got rained on almost immediately, but we stuck it out through the scattered showers to do some climbing. It always surprises me how much colder it is up on the mountain than in the Laramie valley. The wind is usually worse once you’re on an exposed, rocky mountaintop too.

Kelsey and Chris had done a little climbing when they visited us in North Carolina a few years ago, so they made all the climbs we put up for them look easy. (Also I’m convinced Matt’s genetics make him and his cousins predisposed toward climbing.) Abe didn’t do any climbing, but he found some mud and promptly sat in it.

Back in town, we rushed to Jeffrey’s before they closed at 9 (on a Saturday night, yep. Welcome to Laramie!) to get some dinner.

On Sunday morning we drove up to Vedauwoo to show our visitors the classic climbing areas. We hiked around a little, met up with our friends Meredith and Bart, and convinced them to put up a fun 5.8 crack climb called Captain Nemo for us.

Meredith belays Bart as he places gear up Captain Nemo, 5.8

Meredith belays Bart as he places gear up Captain Nemo, 5.8

We got rained on a little at Vedauwoo too, but it blew over shortly and the sun came back out to keep the Californians semi-warm.

The view from the bottom of Captain Nemo

The view across the valley from the bottom of Captain Nemo

Kelsey and David had to drive to North Dakota that afternoon to continue their roadtrip, so they left Vedauwoo around noon. Chris, Matt, and I started to get hungry (we hadn’t packed lunch, oops!), so we drove back into town to get burgers at The Crowbar & Grill.

Chris at the bottom of Captain Nemo

Chris at the bottom of Captain Nemo

After lunch we went back up to Vedauwoo and did a two-pitch 5.7 called Edward’s Crack. “Pitches” is just an indicator of the length of rope. So if a climbing route is longer than a single pitch, you can’t get all the way to the top with a single standard 60-70m rope. Instead, the climbers have to stop at some point on the way up, set up an “anchor” from which to belay, and inchworm their way up the mountain; the leader climbs up first with the rope, and the other climber follows, bringing up the rest of the rope, and this pattern continues up each pitch of the climb.

Doing a multi-pitch route with three people is a little complicated and time-consuming, so we all had lots of time to check out the view from the middle and top of the climb.

We watched the sun set from the summit, and rappelled back down in time to hike back to the car at dusk. Sufficiently worn out from all that climbing and hiking, we crashed on the couch and watched half of a movie while eating some shaved asparagus pizza, yum!

I had to work on Monday, but before I woke up at 7, Matt and Chris were already gone snowhoeing up at Medicine Bow Peak since Chris missed it on Saturday morning. Needless to say, Matt was pretty exhausted when I came home at lunch to walk Abe. He basically lived on the couch for the next couple days.

If the weather chooses to be agreeable, you really can pack a lot of adventures into one little weekend here in Laramie!

Love to all.

Lately, Keeping On

A few things have happened since my last blog post. First, it’s legitimately springtime in Laramie! The seasonal change was much more dramatic and sudden than in the southeast. We had over eight inches of snow on the ground for Mother’s Day, during which time I refused to wear an actual coat. I’d just packed away my bulky ski gear, snow boots, etc., so I was a little upset with yet more snow.

Another thing that happened was my graduation from yoga teacher training. I’m officially a certified yoga teacher, and you can learn more about my approach and where I’ve been teaching here.

Many of my fellow trainees aren’t from Laramie, so it was a weekend of goodbyes as they returned home to towns across Wyoming and South Dakota. Though I’m pleased to be done, I’ll miss our monthly pow-wows and discussions of all things yoga.

During that final training weekend, I learned that my grandmother had passed away. She’d been ill with cancer for a long time, and entered hospice earlier this year. I kept it together for a little while, and then our flow yoga class began. I moved through the first few sequences, and had to stop. Generally my crying is not the silver-screen-appropriate rolling tears and bit lip, but more of the snot-nosed, red eyes, puffy face, constricted wind pipe breed.

The theme of our weekend was “surrender,” and, being a good teacher, Stephanie was incorporating it into this yoga class as well. Unfortunately, I really was not connecting to the concepts “let what is, be,” and, “accept this moment as it is,” so needless to say I sat prostrate in child’s pose breathing loudly through my mouth, waiting for everyone to go into downward-facing dog so I could slip out largely unnoticed.

My Oma practiced yoga regularly before her cancer and, on hearing I was beginning yoga teacher training, mailed me several pamphlets about yoga that she had acquired while touring Nepal, along with a necklace with a silver pendant resembling a figure in tree pose, hands raised above the head, arms extended. During training I had corresponded with her often via email and she avidly read my blog. Yoga, at that moment, was too sad an endeavor for me.

Oma in 2008

Oma in 2008

After retreating to the lobby of the yoga studio, I made myself a cup of tea in hopes it would help to clear my nasal passages. It was one of those tea bags with a quote or saying attached to the string’s end, and this one said something along the lines of, “Live like you’re dying, because you’ll die soon enough anyway.” Least inspirational quote ever. I started crying again, and then laughed. Too good, life. Way to go.

I feel very blessed to have known a woman as incredible, adventurous, and generous as my Oma for 24 years, and to have seen her, hugged her, and said goodbye in March.

My siblings, cousins, and Oma this spring

My siblings, cousins, and Oma this spring

Before she passed away, I sent her a greeting card wherein I wrote in German about my little hopeful garden. The weekend before last, I was finally able to plant seeds outside – a raised bed of kale, and another with golden and chioggia beets, kaleidoscope carrots, sugar snap peas, and zucchini. The sweet pepper and tomato sprouts are in containers so I can move them inside and out at will. I had to look up several vegetable names in German while writing.

I wish she’d been able to visit me in Wyoming. She would have loved our cozy century-old house, its long backyard, the impressive hikes through arid pine forest, the vegetarian restaurant in town that overlooks the railroad. I guess what I’ve been trying to do is carry the memory of her gentle soul with me. So much of her is around me daily – my wall calendar at work overlooking  my desk, my car which belonged first to her and Opa, many of my warm socks and scarves and jackets, the brand of Chai tea I drink every morning, a watercolor painting of spring tulips hanging in my living room. She  has surrounded me with reminders of her love.

Oma on Christmas, 2007

Oma on Christmas, 2007

Oma: wherever your soul now resides, may it do so in piece. Immer Liebe.