Desert Abundance

Over Thanksgiving break, Matt and I visited Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks in Utah as well as Antelope Canyon on the Navajo Reservation outside Page, Arizona, and Horseshoe Bend (of the Colorado River) there too. I’ve never been any place that dry before, that red.

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Puddles at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, Arizona

North Carolina clay is notoriously red and dense, but that’s all disguised by layers of roots, worms, sloughed needles and leaves, thickets of thorn and vine.

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Sagebrush in Zion National Park

The abundance of the desert is different. Desert comes from French, then Latin—desertus for “left waste.” In English, the word desert is also a verb—to abandon, to leave a place, causing it to appear empty; to fail someone, especially at a crucial moment when most needed. A desert landscape is one with high stakes, where the smallest actions are amplified by emptiness. A horizon unscuffed by silhouettes of trees, left yawning open to dawn and dark alike. It is like the prairie in this way, “big sky country” —weather approaches like an oncoming train, openly. Its plans laid bare as plains. This is like what happens when someone deserts us, isn’t it? Their plans, their feelings and intentions are all laid bare, made plain.

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Mule deer at Watchman Campground, Zion National Park

Only the wily can effectively hide in the desert—the gray fox we saw skim the road at Watchman Campground inside Zion National Park, the chipmunk who approached us atop Angels Landing, the rabbit among the sagebrush near Moab. Mule deer were unabashed in their hunger, making meager meals from fallen cottonwood leaves gone to almost dust in their mouths.

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The roads in Zion are paved with maroon asphalt, presumably to blend into the landscape, which reddens fiery at dawn, then fades to rust at dusk.

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Canyons are the hiding places of the west, the shadowy forests and warren bungalows of the desert. Rivers don’t always run year-round, leaving behind dry “washes,” but when they return each spring, new snowmelt or runoff sand sediment, we allow them to do so under the same name as before. In that way, the name seems to mark the bed—a ditch, a crease in the fabric of the landscape—rather than the water.

Folksongs sing of the “rolling” Shenandoah, the “falling waters” of the Mississippi (the National Park Service has a whole webpage dedicated to “Songs of the Mississippi River”). The silence of a wash, a dried bed, doesn’t lend itself to rhythm, to song. What does it lend itself to?

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Cerberus Gendarme area of Zion National Park

When songs insist on the desert, I feel they then concern themselves with liminality—waiting to get to one place, leaving another. The desert isn’t a place in which we can stay for long. This makes it sparkle with an ancient mystery, the mystery of existing in a timeline so outside of our own.

The river that formed Zion National Park’s main canyon is the Virgin River. I’m still working on a way to formulate the following fact into a joke: the Virgin River is what cut through layers of sediment to form the cliffs now known as the Court of the Patriarchs. These are all Mormon-assigned names. The Paiute people originally called this area Mukuntuweap, purportedly meaning “straight up land.”

We spent our day in Zion climbing at the Cerberus Gendarme area, which is named after the multi-headed dog monster from Greek mythology, and then hiking the famous Angels Landing trail. Each time we went into the park we took the shuttle, which is the only way to park in Zion unless you’re willing to pay for a permit in addition to the entrance fee.

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Matt flaking out the rope before climbing in Zion National Park

The climbing was a fun, varied introduction to the splitter crack sandstone we’d be visiting in Indian Creek south of Moab later in our trip.

Angels Landing isn’t a particularly long hike (2.4 miles one way), but it gains quite a bit of altitude (1,488 feet) over its relatively short distance, resulting in a couple stone staircases and many cement switchbacks.

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Matt on a flatter section of the Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

The last half mile or so is very exposed, meaning an accidental slip could result in a deadly fall.

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Matt approaching the steep, exposed section toward the top of Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Every so often there are metal posts bolted to the rock with chains strung between them for you to grab as you walk.

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Matt clinging to the chains for dear life! (Angels Landing Trail, Zion National Park)

The view from Angels Landing is spectacular, allowing you to see down each end of the canyon the Virgin River has carved over many thousands of years.

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We made it! The view from Angels Landing, Zion National Park

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Another view from Angels Landing, Zion National Park

After Zion, we drove to Page, Arizona where it rained all day. The weather prematurely ended our Antelope Canyon tour for fear of flash flooding.

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The sanctum of Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Water streamed down the canyon walls, carrying with it little red grains of sand. Matt and I stood underneath a temporary waterfall in our rain jackets.

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In the car I found red particles of sandstone crystallized to my jacket like salt.

Right before sunset it stopped raining. We spotted a double rainbow through our hotel room window and drove out to the Horseshoe Bend overlook.

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The desert sand had congealed itself into a mud, and puddles were everywhere, signals of the ground’s inability to absorb so much water so quickly. We passed many other tourists and photographers on our way up the short trail to the overlook.

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The pale colors of the cloudy sunset reflected off the surface of the Colorado River.

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Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River, northern Arizona. Ignore the human hand 🙂

I wish I’d had a fisheye lens to better portray the huge, prehistoric bend of riverbed.

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Horseshoe Bend

More temporary waterfalls streamed down from the desert surface into the canyon.

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All smiles, all orange at Horseshoe Bend

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From Page we drove through Monticello, Utah and out to a tract of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land known as Indian Creek, famous among rock climbers for its beautiful sandstone cracks sized almost perfectly for hands and fingers.

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Indian Creek, Utah

We luckily found one unoccupied campsite at Hamburger Rock (with a pit toilet, hooray!).

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Part of our campsite at Hamburger Rock in Indian Creek, Utah

We spent a couple days at Indian Creek—Matt leading some hard and impressive routes, me starting to come to a sort of understanding with the way I would need to position my hand inside a crack in order to pull down on it like gripping a rung on a ladder, reset my feet ever higher, and do it again, and again, and again.

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Splitter cracks! All the gear!

Climbing, ladies and gentlemen. Tackling infinite variations of rock formations with the same square pegs—hands, feet. Not simply admiring but analyzing, utilizing. How can I lean against this? How can I stand atop it? How can I twist and contort my body such that I find a shape against the rock that feels almost like a rest? How, then how? The landscape a puzzle.

One of the highlights of the trip was undeniably the hike we did in Canyonlands National Park on Thanksgiving Day.

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Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

When I’d told people about my plan to go to Canyonlands, I kept hearing recommendations to go to this particular area—Chesler Park, which is accessed via the Needles District of the park. Its remoteness drew us, too.

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The Needles of Canyonlands National Park, Utah

We began at the Elephant Hill trailhead, then took that out-and-back trail to a loop (I like to call this style of trail a “lollipop”) through the Chesler Park area. The out-and-back section of the trail gave us some beautiful scenery of the “needles,” sandstone formations.

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Walking amid the Needles, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

It took us through an eerie slot canyon, too, another dried-up crease in this landscape’s fabric.

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Matt in a slot canyon (on the trail!) in Canyonlands National Park

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Matt took this one of me- same slot canyon, all the awe

In the meadows and open spaces we walked among cactus, pinyon pines, and warped junipers.

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Matt can’t *not* climb

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In the grottoes of the wider canyons there were yellowing cottonwoods, and Russian olives and shinnery oaks gone brown. I was surprised to see so many deciduous trees and bushes.

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More needles! Canyonlands National Park

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Armed with jackets, trail mix, and enthusiasm in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The rock formations felt otherworldly, enigmatic. Perhaps this is because their histories, though still mostly unknown, are worn visible on their surfaces. The layers of sediment, proof of years and years, are outwardly visible. Their shape, sculpted by weather’s wind and water, speaks to their experience. We cannot entirely know this history, but we are invited to know by the unlayering made visible—we can start to know.

The final day of our trip (not including driving back to Laramie) was spent in Arches National Park, just outside the town of Moab. The contrast between Arches and Canyonlands was immediately apparent. A long line of cars with out-of-state license plates waited at the park’s entrance to be admitted. The parking lot for the Delicate Arch trail was nearing capacity. A park ranger worked to empty the overflowing trash bins nearby. Children cried and argued noisily. There were lines for each pit toilet, and above each toilet was a sign instructing visitors, among other things, to please go in the toilet rather than on the floor.

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Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Due to the recent rains (it had rained here as well as in northern Arizona), the upper road to the Delicate Arch overlook was underwater, so we parked at the trailhead and did the 3-mile out-and-back hike. The trail was reminiscent of Angels Landing at Zion National Park with practically no shade and lots of hiking directly on slick sandstone, but significantly less steep and exposed this time around. The trail was cut out of the rock in places, but those sharp corners had been smoothed over by years of foot traffic.

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Maybe it was the crowds, the two hikers I’d seen shuffling down the trail in their Uggs, or the iconic image of Delicate Arch (it’s the one on all the Utah license plates), but I just wasn’t impressed by Arches, and certainly not in the same way I’d been impressed by Zion and Canyonlands. Was this eerily red and open landscape (an earth-wound) becoming familiar already? Maybe I’d arrived with unrealistic expectations, or I’d let myself be bothered by the presence of hundreds of other people who were also there for the same reason (so hypocritical), allowing a minor discomfort subsume the odd and fragile beauty of this place.

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More Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Hiking back down from Delicate Arch, we took a quick detour to see some petroglyphs believed to have been carved by members of the Ute tribe, after whom Utah is named, in the late 1700’s since the people depicted are on horseback.

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The petroglyphs in Arches National Park, Utah

So maybe my characterization of this desert land being one that only experienced in passing is false? How would these people have survived? The National Park Service says the Ute and Paiute were nomadic peoples at that time, traveling seasonally as needed for food, water, and shelter.

This red, sparse land gives the impression of openness—open to curiosity and exploration just as to death and slow, methodical destruction. But inherent in the brutal openness of desert is a threat, some lurking danger. The ground beneath you may shift to sand, may collapse to canyon, may flood instantaneously. The surrounding air burns you all day and chills you all night. These extremes constitute a radical abundance, one both delicate and fierce.

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Yours truly, dizzy with joy in the Devil’s Kitchen area of Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Rest & Relaxation + Nature

I love it when people visit us in Laramie, Wyoming. I love to show them our little house (on the prairie? almost), our fun frontier town, the mountains that surround us, the stark and undeniable beauty of the West.

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My parents waving from the pedestrian bridge to the oncoming trains that run right by downtown Laramie, just in the distance

Most of my family came to visit me this summer after a long roadtrip or flight/s. We explored Laramie as well as Fort Collins, Colorado (since that’s where I’ll spend much time next year). Thankfully the weather stayed sunny and warm for most of their visit, unlike the last time.

We went back to Vedauwoo (pronounced VEE-dah-VOO) for a little hike on the Turtle Rock Trail. My mom was impressed by how lush everything was. Most of Wyoming in the summer is like dried herbs on a cracker crisp- sagebrush, dust, sun, wind. But because the granite in Vedauwoo leads the rainfall into certain pooled areas, through June and July many wildflowers bloom in the shade of lovely aspen groves.

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Libby took this photo of my dad on the Turtle Rock Trail through quivering aspen leaves

The granite at Vedauwoo is unique for its roughness (local climbers don’t call it “Bleed-auwoo” for nothing) in addition to its unusual shapes. The Sherman Granite is thought to be 1.4 billion years old.

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Sam and Boone enjoying the hike through sagebrush and wildflowers

I kindly allowed Sam to struggle with walk Boone the whole hike. They both seemed to enjoy it.

Matt and I also took everyone on a more intense trail in Medicine Bow National Forest which we’ve dubbed “the ridge hike.” We originally scouted out the trailhead via online maps of the area, but it was very difficult to spot from the dirt road you take to get there. The trail eventually emerges the further you walk up the very steep hill and into the woods, and is occasionally marked by helpful cairns.

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Parents enjoying a break from hiking while the kids take selfies and contemplate life

We refer to this trail as a ridge hike because, at several points, you get an almost 360º view- from the Rockies down in Colorado to the Snowy Range west of Laramie, and out toward Nebraska to the east.

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In the distance, Sam, Libby, and Boone enjoy the eastern view

It’s also a fairly exposed hike, with few trees to cover you, despite being in a national forest. You wouldn’t want to be up there if a storm rolled in.

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Introspective Ben on the right

After living in Wyoming for 3 years, I still can’t get enough of its beauty. I am continually surprised by the openness, the almost silence, the skies, and- let’s be honest- the wind. I am afraid I’m now used to the practically empty trails (I’m told this is not the case in Colorado). I believe we saw one other person the entire couple hours we were hiking.

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Even Boone, a Kansas native, prefers Wyoming hikes

Each year Laramie celebrates Wyoming’s anniversary of statehood, July 10th, 1890, with a week-long series of events it calls “Jubilee Days.” There are concerts, a parade, a carnival, a local beer festival, and- you guessed it- multiple rodeos.

I hadn’t been to a rodeo since I moved here but, what with everyone visiting, it seemed like as good a time as any to experience the cowboy side of this state. I took my folks to the ranch rodeo which, unlike your typical rodeo, isn’t full of professional bull riders and events like barrel racing, but is instead made up of local ranch cowhands (both men and women).

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Almost got ’em!

They were all trying to do the same thing within a six-minute period: rope steers, get one into a fenced-in pen, and another into a trailer behind a shiny new truck which was provided somewhat riskily by a local car dealership. The announcer jokingly asked if there was anybody left in the town of Walden- a small ranching town in nearby northern Colorado- that day, and dozens of people in the audience whooped and cheered.

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Got ’em this time

At the beginning of each round, one participant had to stand without her or his horse on the side of the ring opposite the rest of their teammates and horses. When the timer began, another teammate on their horse had to gallop across the ring, pick up the horse-less cowhand, and they both had to ride back across the ring so the first person could get their horse. Most of the horses were okay with having two adults on their backs for that short of a period of time, but one horse wasn’t so sure. The audience began to giggle as the horse refused to go forward. Then, very slowly, the horse stepped forward in lurches, eventually bucking its way across the ring, making for a very bumpy ride for the cowboy sitting on his haunches, and uproarious laughter from the crowd.

Though the roping was of course entertaining and impressive to watch, my family was slightly traumatized by the treatment of the cattle. Sometimes the poor animals ran face-first into the metal fencing at high speeds, which resulted in nosebleeds. Despite their black fur, you could still easily see the red blood dripping from their nostrils as they fled from the horses.

After Margaret, my older sister, flew up to join us, we drove down to Fort Collins for the fourth of July.

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Old Town of Fort Collins on the 4th of July. Photo by Libby.

We walked around downtown and Colorado State’s campus, ate burgers and sandwiches at Choice City Butcher & Deli, and tried local beers at Funkwerks Brewery, which specializes in refreshing sours, saisons, and Belgian ales.

The next day everyone but Margaret departed, so we began packing the car for a trip to Ten Sleep Canyon, a rock climbing destination in the western part of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. It’s about a 5.5-hour drive, though a pleasant one, from Laramie. We were able to reserve a nice campsite (nice meaning with a picnic table and near a well-maintained pit toilet) at Leigh Creek Campground, which is at the bottom of the canyon on the banks of Tensleep Creek, for the first two nights of our trip. Though we’d never seen any poison ivy in the canyon before, the plants seemed to really enjoy living right by the creek. I’m actually surprised none of us ended up with any rashes. Anyway, after setting up camp, we went CLIMBING!

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Margaret on her FIRST EVER outdoor top-rope rock climb!

Ten Sleep is known for long, sustained, and really fun limestone sport climbing routes. This is kind of the opposite of what Margaret was used to climbing- short, powerful boulder problems. At first it was hard for her to get to the top of several climbs, even though she was strong enough to do every move of the route separately, but by the end of the trip she easily got to the top of a 100-foot climb. I hope we successfully convinced her that roped climbing is SO FUN!

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Me belaying Matt in the Lake Point area of Ten Sleep Canyon, WY. Photo by Margaret.

The approach trail to the Lake Point area, which crossed over a small CCC-built dam above Meadowlark Lake, was stunning.

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Boone on the trail toward Meadowlark Lake, through sagebrush and wildflowers, with the Big Horn Mountains in the distance

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Matt and Boone at Meadowlark Lake in the Bighorn National Forest

On our second full day in the Big Horns (our third day climbing), we decided to take a break and go for a hike instead. I’d only ever been climbing in this part of Wyoming, so I was excited to see more of the area.

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Margaret in front of a small waterfall just off the Lost Twin Lakes Trail

Matt decided on the Lost Twin Lakes Trail, just the portion that would take us to Mirror Lake, which was about 7 miles round-trip. We started at the West Tensleep trailhead, which is adjacent to a campground and picnic area at West Ten Sleep Lake.

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At two points, the trail crosses creeks in lush meadows surrounded by lodgepole pine

We didn’t start hiking until midday because we had to change our campsite to an area higher in the canyon that didn’t require reservations, but the skies were clear and the trail was practically empty. We passed a few people in the first mile, and then ran into two more on our way back, but that was it.

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Margaret and Matt on the Lost Twin Lakes Trail

Our hike was very quiet and peaceful, except for our run-in with a marmot. He stood on his hind legs atop a rock pile and chirped loudly to alert his fellow critters that we were entering their territory.

It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to spot Mirror Lake from the trail; it was somewhat hidden behind a low-lying area of pine trees. At first we weren’t sure that was the right way since there wasn’t a distinct trail down to the shore, so we kept walking for another half mile or so. We never once saw the lake again, so we turned around and walked toward the lake through the trees, away from the trail.

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Margaret at Mirror Lake

Here we drank water, ate a few Clif bars, swatted away a few mosquitoes, and basked in the cool air coming off the lake’s surface. Then we headed back for the car and to our new campsite for dinner.

There was another day of climbing and camping, and an evening of visiting the town of Ten Sleep as well as the Ten Sleep Brewing Company to escape a brief thunderstorm in the canyon. This microbrewery opened almost three years ago, and their beer is really terrific. In the summer, dirtbag climbers drive up in their dusty rigs to pay for a shower and a beer, which they drink under strings of lights and stars at outdoor picnic tables. I honestly cannot recommend this place enough. Should you find yourself in this part of western heaven, get thee to the brewery.

After driving back to Laramie, Margaret and I showered and went out for dinner in downtown Laramie during the height of the Jubilee Days festivities. Streets were blocked off for live music, dancing, drinking, and the carnival. We walked around for people-watching purposes, but were too tired to join in.

The next morning we met up with several friends to show Margaret the bouldering in Vedauwoo. Before this, she’d asked us why we don’t just go to Vedauwoo every day to climb, why we bother driving to places like Ten Sleep. After trying it herself, I think she understood why.

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Our friend Bart Cubrich on “Bombay Hooker,” a crazy-looking and very hard V6 boulder problem in Vedauwoo

Not to say that Vedauwoo’s climbing and bouldering are bad- they certainly aren’t. They’re just- well, different. They take some getting used to, both mentally and physically. Callouses help. Physical callouses. Although if you’ve built up some mental callouses, those could quite possibly help here too.

We especially enjoyed the start to “The Hatchet,” another V6, which was seemingly made for campusing, meaning only your hands are on the rock while your feet dangle beneath you. Yes, we do these things for fun.

After a quick shopping experience in downtown Laramie, I took Margaret to the Denver airport for her flight back to North Carolina. This past week has mostly consisted of me sitting inside at work and putting off cleaning and organizing our kitchen. It’s hard to be productive inside when the weather where you live is only this good for four months a year. Live on, Wyoming summer! Live on!

Love to all.

Banff National Park, Canada

We got to Banff by driving up the west side of Glacier National Park, through the Canadian border, and up through Kootenay National Park in Canada. The highway that runs through Banff National Park is called the Trans-Canada Highway, or AB-1 (the “AB” is short for Alberta, the province).

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Driving through Banff National Park on AB-1

We stopped for dinner at the Juniper Bistro just outside of the town of Banff, which is located in the east-central part of the national park. The cafe is inside the Juniper Hotel, and has excellent views of the park thanks to a whole wall of windows. I’d say the food deserves the hype; my crispy duck was delicious. Plus our waiter was really helpful in telling us how to locate the climb Matt and I planned on doing while we were visiting the park, a multi-pitch sport 5.7 called Aftonroe.

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Another drive-by photo from AB-1

We stayed at the Grande Rockies Resort in Canmore, a town just outside Banff National Park on its eastern side. This place had a mean waterslide, and a very nice hot tub to boot.

The next morning, Matt and I awoke early to eat breakfast before our climb. In doing some additional research the night before, Matt had learned that the portion of the road you drive to get to the approach trail to the climb, Bow Valley Parkway or AB-1A southeast of Johnston Canyon Campground, is closed from 8PM to 8AM every day to protect wildlife. This meant we didn’t have to wake up super early since we couldn’t get to the approach trail until 8AM anyway.

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The view from the hike up to our climb, with Bow River in the foreground

We drove toward Banff, then got on AB-1A just north of town, and parked at a small pulloff to the left after driving about 8-10 minutes on AB-1A. A little overlook of Bow River was to the left of the pulloff. The approach trail started on the right side of the road, eventually crossing underneath some powerlines. It was a short hike (maybe 20-25 minutes), but very steep. We joked that Canadians must not approve of switchbacks. Already the view from the hike was pretty incredible.

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Matt on the hike up to Aftonroe

The last five minutes or so of the approach were filled with scrambling up scree. Finding the route was fairly easy since it’s the rightmost one on the wall. The rock in this part of the park is a very featured limestone, though in other areas it transitions to granite.

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One of the middle pitches of Aftonroe- slabby, heavily-featured limestone

The skies were mostly cloudy that morning, which didn’t bother us at all since that meant we didn’t have to constantly reapply sunscreen. We were the first climbers on the route, but three other parties began climbing after us. Aftonroe is popular for its scenery, accessibility, and easy climbing.

The rappels down were a little annoying; they took us almost as long as climbing up. Once when I pulled the rope, it coiled itself around a tree. Matt had to climb out to fetch it. Constantly pulling the rope also knocked off some loose pebbles, which tumbled past us and the other climbers to the ground, sometimes bouncing off our helmets on the way down.

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Spectacular views the whole way up!

At one point Matt had begun to rappel down another pitch while I was still at the anchor, and I saw what I thought was a large hawk coasting towards us. As it approached, I could just make out its white head and bold yellow beak. I shouted to Matt, “Look! Turn around! It’s a- a bald eagle!” We watched in awe as it soared past on some invisible current. Even from 40-ish feet away we could tell this eagle’s wingspan was enormous. It rested in a faraway pine for a minute or so, and then flew back past us, this time overhead, and then out of sight.

Afterwards I joked that this bald eagle probably didn’t understand its prominence in the country just south of its homeland. Do Canadian bald eagles have egos?

Eventually we rappelled all the way back to the ground, hiked to the parking area, and waited for Matt’s folks to pick us up. We got a late lunch in Banff at a little Cajun restaurant called Tooloulou’s, where Matt had the best catfish sandwich of his life, and John tried his first sazerac since the legal drinking age in Canada is only 18.

The next day we checked out of our hotel in Canmore and drove all the way to Lake Louise, which is on the west side of Banff National Park, west of the town of Banff. Lake Louise itself is an icy blue color thanks to the glacial silt in the water.

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Lake Louise & looming snowy clouds

From the lake, you could see the downhill ski runs in the trees above the Fairmont Chateau, a huge and fancy hotel on Lake Louise’s shore.

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John and Matt on the trail with Lake Louise, the chateau, and the ski area in the background

I planned for us to do the Plain of Six Glaciers hike, which begins on the paved trail that wraps around the shoreline of Lake Louise just in front of the Fairmont Chateau. We parked in a public lot and followed the flow of tourists to the lake. There were many signs for cross-country ski trails, which we saw before the signs and maps for hiking trails.

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Matt’s family on the trail before it splits off from Lake Louise

The Plain of Six Glaciers trail takes you up to the aptly-named Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse, which was built in the 1920’s by Swiss mountaineers who had been hired by Canada’s Great Western Railway to guide tourists on expeditions through the Canadian Rockies.

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Matt in front of the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

The Teahouse, surrounded by pine forest, doesn’t have any electricity or running water, so their supplies are flown in once or twice a season by helicopter. You can sit in their unlit rooms or out on the porch and order tea and biscuits, like we did, as well as other fare like soups and cakes.

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Inside the teahouse

They accept both Canadian and US dollars (there is a $2 fee for using a credit card since they have to manually write down your information, then run it once they’re back down at Lake Louise at the end of the day), so I paid with US dollars and received Canadian change.

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Our tea!

The well-marked and highly traveled though fairly rocky trail up to the teahouse is 4.3km long, with pretty steady elevation gain after the trail parts from the shoreline of Lake Louise. Horses are also allowed on the trail, though the horse trail splits off from the hikers’ trail a few times as the hikers’ trail narrows up against several steep rock walls, which can get slippery from snow-melt and rain. For the best views, or so we were told, you can continue an additional 1km to talus fields from which you can see Abbott Pass, in addition to those famous six glaciers.

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Socked in & snowy

Unfortunately for us, the weather hadn’t exactly been friendly that morning, and it began raining, then snowing as we finished our tea at the teahouse. The snow and clouds made it impossible to see any one of the six glaciers, but just through the fog we could get a sense for how massive the mountains around us really were.

A couple times on our way up we heard very loud, booming, echoing crashing sounds from the peaks to our left and in front of us. We could tell that the first one was an avalanche, with that telltale sound of cracking compressed snow, but the second one sounded more like thunder. After speaking with the waitress at the teahouse, she assured us there were almost never thunderstorms in that area of the Canadian Rockies, so it was definitely another avalanche. Because of where the trail travels, hikers are protected from avalanches, at least according to posted signs, from May to October each year.

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Matt’s parents and Matt hiking back down

The whole of the Plain of Six Glaciers hike, from the trailhead to the overlook and back, adds up to 10.6km with 365m of elevation gain, or just over 6.5 miles with just under 1200 feet of elevation gain. Next to the teahouse is a pit toilet and several benches and informational signs, so it’s a very well-developed area.

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John taking in the foggy view in front of the teahouse

After our hike, we drove to nearby Moraine Lake, which is south of Lake Louise by way of Moraine Lake Road. I had heard excellent things about Moraine Lake, so I wanted to make sure we stopped there quickly before leaving the park.

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Part of the view from Moraine Lake. See that icy chunk thing on the left? That’s a GLACIER!

The parking lot again was near the shoreline of the lake. There was also a restaurant, gift shop, and lodge all at the lake, so it was a pretty busy area. We didn’t have time to do any of the trails here, but we got out to take some spectacular photos, SAW A GLACIER (finally, right?), and bought some chocolate and matching t-shirts at the gift shop.

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Moraine Lake

Matt and I wore our Moraine Lake t-shirts (as well as our matching Deuter backpacks) to the airport the next day- it was adorable. We also think the t-shirts are kind of funny because they prominently say “ELEVATION: 6,183 FT.” which is actually more than 1,000 feet lower than where we live in Laramie.

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Matt at Moraine Lake

We had dinner in Banff on our way out of the park at a little restaurant next door to Tooloulou’s called Coyotes Southwestern Grill, and it too was delicious. I had sweet potato polenta with ratatouille, John had a thin-crust pizza, and Matt ordered the most tender of all beef tenderloins with fresh chimichurri sauce- yum!

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Crazy cloud formations in Banff

That night we drove back to Calgary, had some more doughnuts at Tim Horton’s, a Canadian institution, and went back to the hotel at which we’d previously stayed. Matt and I woke up super early (like before 4AM) the next morning to catch our flights, both of which ended up being delayed by more than two hours, but we eventually made it to Denver, and then back to Laramie.

Final thoughts: it is my destiny to open a teahouse somewhere. I’m open to location suggestions. Banff is one of the most beautiful places to which I have ever been and I can still hardly believe that it exists on this earth. If you even remotely feel an affinity for mountains, GO. NOW, before all the glaciers melt. Bring some warm jackets though, and maybe gloves. The next time we go, Matt and I would like to spend some more time climbing (no surprise there), maybe at Lake Louise.

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Majestic Banff

Love to all! Until the next adventure…

A Brief Stay in Glacier National Park

Last week Matt, his family, and I flew into Calgary, Alberta (Canada), drove down to Glacier National Park in Montana, and then drove back to Calgary via Banff National Park (also Canada) on one big tour of some of the west’s most picturesque snowy peaks. We only had a week to see these two beautiful places, so I tried to select some of the best hikes, climbs, and overlooks.

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Driving into the park

First major thing to note- this is still early season for Glacier National Park. The only road that runs through the whole park, Going to the Sun Road (an amazing name as well as one of the world’s most amazing drives, apparently), was not even completely open yet. We drove as far as we could on the park’s east side, to the Jackson Glacier overlook, which was still quite snowy.

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Jackson Glacier, hiding under some snowpack

Thankfully the hike I had chosen beforehand, the Sun Point Nature Trail, was still accessible. We parked along the narrow Going to the Sun Road, grabbed the bear spray, and began the relatively flat, easy hike, which approached three waterfalls and hugs the edge of St. Mary Lake.

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Matt next to St. Mary Lake

The trail gets a little rocky at times, though it’s also very well-maintained. Each fork is marked with easy-to-read signs. Many of the charred pine trunks surrounding the first part of the trail are what remains of last year’s huge forest fire.

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Wildflowers + dead pines

Though much of Glacier had yet to be opened, June is prime time for waterfall-chasing because of the increased levels of snow- and ice-melt. Montana’s rivers and lakes are all about as high as they get year-round, which made the waterfalls audible from even significant distances.

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St. Mary Falls

Most of the wildflowers were just beginning to bloom- beargrass, Indian paintbrush, columbine. Everything beneath the trees was superbly green.

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Matt’s mom walking through wildflowers

Our trip on the Sun Point Nature Trail culminated in that trail’s highest waterfall, Virginia Falls. Standing near the nadir supplied us with a continuous spray and breeze.

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Virginia Falls

Though our hike had thus far been interrupted by occasional rainfall, after turning back towards the rental car, the weather escalated to thunder and lightning. Since the Sun Point Nature Trail is located between St. Mary Lake and Going to the Sun Road, there are multiple places where hikers can start on the trail. Matt’s family took one of these sooner exits back to the road while Matt and I jogged back through the more exposed parts of the hike to get to the car.

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Matt on the Sun Point Nature Trail just below Virginia Falls

That afternoon we drove around the park (since we couldn’t drive through it) to get to West Glacier and Apgar Village, where we were staying that night, at the edge of Lake McDonald. It rained during most of the drive. We ate at a typical little national park restaurant in West Glacier, then checked into the hotel and sat slackjawed at the edge of the lake.

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Lake McDonald

The Apgar Village area of Lake McDonald is enveloped in tall cedars. The lake is perfectly clear, then turns to a deep blue the further out one goes on its surface.

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Cedars over Lake McDonald

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the nearby diner, Eddie’s (whose confidence-instilling motto was, “Almost Everyone Eats at Eddie’s”), Matt’s parents rented a 2-person kayak, Matt’s younger brother John a single kayak, and Matt and I a canoe. The morning began sunny and promising. We circled the west side of the lake, hoping to see some bald eagles. The boat company told us a small part of the lake was closed off by three white buoys on that side due to the eagles’ nests.

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Matt’s parents in their kayak

Most of the trees along the lake were aspen or pine.

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Matt paddling with excellent form & technique

We didn’t see any eagles, but we could make out their nests in the treetops. Matt’s parents decided to turn back, and we remaining three made our way out toward the center of Lake McDonald. The further toward the center we went (why is this reminding me of Heart of Darkness?) the less forgiving the previously glassy surface of the water became. The wind picked up, and gray clouds rolled over the southern mountaintops. We tried to pick up our paddling pace, but the canoe wasn’t having it. John’s kayak, on the other hand, crested smoothly over each wave. I shouted over the sound of the wind from the back of the canoe in a threatening tone, “Matt! Morale is low!”

Once we reached the east side of the lake and found a relatively sandy spot, I requested some shore leave. As Matt stood up out of the canoe to tug it to shore, the rocking of the canoe combined with some unlucky wave soaked his already damp pants. I, in search of a cheap morale boost, laughed. We took some photos. John stayed in his wave-worthy kayak and paddled in front of us, back and forth, easily.

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John making it look so easy

We eventually made it back to the dock, reuniting with Matt’s parents. Shortly after we stood back on dry land, it began to rain those moody, fat raindrops the mountains sometimes like to sputter.

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The boat rental shop on Lake McDonald

I spent the cloudy but dry afternoon sitting in front of the hotel room at the edge of Lake McDonald, still flabbergasted by the view, drinking a beer and reading. Yay vacation!

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Are you tired of photos of this lake yet?

For dinner we drove 45 minutes to the small but charming town of Whitefish, Montana, which is located outside the park. Two of our Laramie friends, Ruthanne and Ryan, who are also originally from North Carolina, recently moved to Whitefish, so we met up for beers at The Great Northern Brewing Company, their local brewery, and Cuban fare at Mama Blanca’s. The carne asada fries were a highlight.

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Inside The Great Northern Brewing Company, L to R: Matt, Ryan, Ruthanne, and me

That night, Matt and I adventurously had drinks at the West Glacier Bar, where we tried mostly unsuccessfully to chat up all the seasonal employees- raft guides, park rangers- folks our age but slightly grubbier and more tan. The atmosphere was tinged with awkwardness; it’s so early in the season there that all the workers are still getting to know one another too. We got some hiking recommendations, commiserated about the pouring rain, and eventually turned in for the night.

The next morning we slept in while Matt’s parents rented bikes and rode some of the nearby gravel bike trails. We again had breakfast at Eddie’s, I purchased some pinecone earrings, and we hopped back in the rental car for the long drive up through the Canadian border to Banff National Park.

On our next trip to Glacier (because there will be another), I’d like to go sometime later in the season, maybe August, and backpack through the park. One friendly park employee at the bar told us the best camping was in the center of the park, away from roads and RV’s and noise. One thing is for sure- wherever I go in Glacier National Park, I’ll be sure to bring bear spray!

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Stay tuned for my next post to learn what we did in Banff.

Love to all!

California Trip, Part II: Big Sur, Yosemite, and Santa Barbara

This post is a continuation of my last post, California Trip, Part I: San Francisco, about Matt’s and my trip to California a couple weeks ago.

On Monday morning, we left San Francisco and drove down to Big Sur, of which I’ve seen beautiful pictures and heard wonderful things.

Big Sur, view from Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park overlook

Big Sur, view from an overlook. Do you see the skinny waterfall in the middle of the photo?

I’d read (thank you, internet) that two of the best day hikes were in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park just off of the renowned Highway 1, so we drove there, paid the $10/vehicle day fee in the parking lot, and went for two brief hikes.

Matt at the overlook

Matt at the overlook

One was not even a mile long round-trip, appropriately called the Waterfall Overlook Trail, just out to a wonderful overlook and back to the parking lot. The water was an amazing azure-to-turquoise ombré, and the beach’s sand was untouched and serene.

Hello, Pacific Ocean!

Hello, Pacific Ocean!

There were many other tourists at the overlook too, even though we were there in the morning on a weekday, which speaks to both the popularity of Big Sur and the accessibility of this particular overlook.

One last overlook photo

One last overlook photo

We then went on a longer, five-mile loop hike through the redwoods just off the coast, called the Ewoldsen Trail. The redwoods were pure magic.

Redwoods in the magical morning mist of the Pacific

Redwoods in the magical morning mist of the Pacific

The trees felt prehistoric, ancient.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California

Matt in the redwood grove

Matt in the redwood grove

The trail followed a stream, then broke away up a long, dusty incline. We had the trail practically to ourselves. At the top, we were greeted by yet another dazzling overlook.

This photo sponsored by well-positioned rocks and a self-timer

This photo made possible by well-positioned rocks and a self-timer

The morning mist hadn’t quite cleared from the coast.

Matt on the trail

Matt on the trail

Matt and I attempted to make this hike a sort of trial run for the more intense hikes and climbs we anticipated doing in Yosemite National Park, so we rushed back down the trail toward the car to make time. On the way down, I managed to lose my footing (a theme, now?) and scraped up my left knee and the palm of my left hand pretty badly. I’m sure the other tourists in their sundresses and flip-flops were at least mildly alarmed at the sight (and smell) of me dashing down the trail, covered in dust and knee dripping with blood.

Admiring the coastal scenery

Admiring the coastal scenery

I took fewer photos on our Yosemite leg of the trip since bringing my camera along on the long hikes and climbs wasn’t practical, so many of the following photos are from Matt’s phone instead.

We continued our drive to Groveland, a small town outside of Yosemite National Park, to stay at the historic Hotel Charlotte, which was built in 1921. Each of the rooms has its own bathroom, which includes an adorable clawfoot bathtub. The owners were very kind and helpful, providing us with maps and advice for our trip to Yosemite. I was a disappointed that the adjoining restaurant was closed on Mondays, especially since the reviews are so stellar. The owners just completed renovations on the restaurant and bar, and it looked beautiful- lots of soft metals and reclaimed wood.

Our plan for Tuesday was to wake up super early, book it toward the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite, and climb Cathedral Peak. Matt had reserved a campsite for us for that night in Tuolumne Meadows, which is at a higher elevation than the famed valley area of Yosemite, so it stays cooler in the summer and has more of an alpine feel.

In reality, we woke up semi-early, in time to swing by the local coffee shop in Groveland and pick up breakfast, drove the steep and winding (and slightly terrifying) road up into Tuolumne Meadows, and arrived at the Cathedral Lakes trailhead at about 9:30AM. We stored all the food we wouldn’t be eating that day inside big, metal, locking bear-proof boxes that sat on the ground at the trailhead, and embarked with our packs full of climbing gear, food, water, and sunscreen- the essentials.

Matt & my helmet hair at the base of Cathedral Peak (behind us)

Matt & my helmet hair at the base of Cathedral Peak (behind us)

Relatively early in our trek we diverged from the main trail onto the climber’s approach trail, which was less traveled and hard to discern at points, especially when it meandered on top of some very large, flat granite features. Cairns lit the way like lanterns. The trail eventually evolved into step after granite step. I felt exhausted from the combination of uphill and heavy pack, uncertain about our success. When we reached the bottom of the peak itself, the start of the climb, we stopped for some water and a snack.

One of my favorite pictures of the trip- Matt took this of me hiking back down from Cathedral Peak, the setting sun coloring the granite peaks pink in the distance

One of my favorite pictures of the trip- Matt took this of me hiking back down from Cathedral Peak, the setting sun coloring the granite peaks pink in the distance

We climbed the Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak, which is a 5-pitch trad (short for traditional) climb rated at 5.6. Matt led each pitch, placing gear, and I followed, cleaning it. We deviated a little from the main route in order to follow a really fun hand-size crack section up the face of the peak. There were a couple of parties ahead of us, and a party of three behind us, so we had company the whole climb, but we didn’t feel rushed.

Our matching helmets make us look pretty cute, eh?

Our matching helmets make us look pretty cute, eh?

The summit of Cathedral Peak was quite small, maybe the size of a large dining room table.

Almost at the top!

Almost at the top!

We had expected a rappel station at the summit to assist in the descent (the climb up is just half the battle), but there was none. We searched around for several minutes, and found evidence of chopped webbing, maybe some chopped bolts, but nothing else. So I began to place my FIRST TRAD GEAR EVER ON LEAD while gingerly down-climbing from the summit of Cathedral Peak. Eventually the angle backed off and we were able to hike down.

On the descent. Cathedral Peak in the background, as well as a controlled burn in the forest

On the descent. Cathedral Peak in the background, as well as a controlled burn in the valley forest

John Muir completed the first ascent of Cathedral Peak via the Mountaineer’s Route (which we used to descend), about which he famously said, “This I may say is the first time I have been at church in California, led here at last, every door graciously opened for the poor lonely worshiper.” Thus the name- Cathedral Peak.

By the time we got to camp, set up the tent, and made dinner (ground beef, instant rice, taco seasoning, water, diced tomato, and cheese), the idea of waking up at 3AM to climb Half Dome seemed ridiculous. We decided to take Wednesday as a rest day, camp in the valley as planned on Wednesday night, and then climb Half Dome on Thursday instead. Our friends, University of Wyoming geology students, happened to be doing field work in Yosemite National Park at the same time we were there, so they met up with us at our campsite in Tuolumne Meadows to share a couple drinks before bed.

We had a leisurely breakfast at the picnic table, then parted ways. Matt and I went to a resupply/gift shop to stock up, then drove to our next campground to get set up early. It was considerably warmer in the valley than it had been up in the alpine meadows. We made lunch- mostly salami, cheese, crackers, and local beer- sat around, tried to jump start a fellow camper’s minivan (no luck; he called AAA), and reviewed our various pamphlets and maps. A little too buzzed to safely drive (hey, this was our vacation, after all!), we decided to hop on the park’s free shuttle to see some low-key (read: NO REAL HIKING) sites. We stopped at another store, hit up the Ansel Adams Art Gallery and gift shop, and did a slow-paced, relaxing one-mile loop hike on a paved “trail” to see Yosemite Falls which, at 2,425 feet, is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. Unfortunately, on the shuttle ride to the trail, the bus driver informed us that, due to the drought conditions in California, there was no water to supply the Falls, and thus no real waterfall to see. It was kind of eery to watch tourists take photographs at the base of this nonexistent waterfall, pretending there was still something to see.

We went back to our campsite, made a quick dinner, and were in our sleeping bags before 9PM. Matt’s alarm went off at around 3:45AM. We broke down camp, packed up all of our gear, drove to the parking lot nearest the Half Dome trailhead, filled up another bear box, and began hiking at about 4:30AM. This was a little later than we had anticipated, but we had plenty of company on the trail.

Nevada Falls, one of the waterfalls (with water still flowing) we passed on the way up to and down from Half Dome

Nevada Falls, one of the waterfalls (with water still flowing) we passed on the way up to and down from Half Dome

A word about the trail- it was MOSTLY STAIRS. And not nice, carpeted stairs- but granite ones, with steps designed for a 6-foot-tall man with appropriately long legs. In a series of several moments (of which I am not proud), I *allowed* Matt to take some of the weight, in the form of water and climbing gear, from my backpack, which added weight to his. Something about getting moving that quickly and that intensely before sunrise made me want to vomit. I am sure I’m not alone in knowing this sensation, no?

Gotta love those redwoods!

Gotta love those redwoods!

Eventually the climbers’ trail deviated from the main Cables Route hike, so Matt and I split off left from the pack of hikers who had accompanied us thus far. After hiking about six miles with several thousand feet of elevation gain, I was tired, but there was still scrambling to do before the roped climbing could begin. As Matt can attest, I am the slowest at scrambling up rocks- not climbing, which is different, but scrambling, especially if the rocks are large, wobbly, and nerve-wracking. I believe that this was the point at which Matt seriously doubted whether we’d successfully complete the climb.

The climbing route we took up Half Dome is called Snake Dike which, according to Mountain Project, is 8 pitches of 5.7R. Matt again led each pitch, and options for placing gear grew fewer and farther between as we climbed. Toward the top, we chose to simul-climb. Instead of belaying Matt from a static stance like normal, in order to simul-climb, I climbed at the rate Matt did, keeping the rope relatively taut between us as Matt placed gear and I cleaned it. Simul-climbing is risky, but the climbing itself was easy (the angle was low), so we felt pretty comfortable with our choice.

Tiny me, big Half Dome

Tiny me, big Half Dome, lots to climb

The place at which the climbers summit is kind of on the opposite side of Half Dome from the hikers. After taking pictures, eating lots of beef jerky, and reapplying sunscreen, Matt asked a hiker, “Where is the Cables Route?” She looked at us like we were insane (we’d already taken off our harnesses and switched back into our hiking shoes) and pointed down at the way she’d come up.

HALF DOME SUMMIT.

HALF DOME SUMMIT.

The cables assist hikers up the last 400 feet of their ascent of Half Dome. Gloves are, understandably, recommended. After coming down the cables, I was so thankful we’d climbed the thing instead.

Yay for gloves! Cables to the summit of Half Dome in the background

Yay for (pink) gloves! Cables to the summit of Half Dome (and shirtless British gents) in the background

It was a 9.5-mile hike back to the car. The trail felt like it went on forever, especially the last couple of miles. Your knees grow numb from the incessant pounding. The fact that the last bit of the trail is paved, and packed with fellow hikers, didn’t really help. As an encouraging mantra, and looking forward to the end of our vacation, we kept saying to each other, “Beach and margaritas. Beach and margaritas.” We got back to the car at about 6:30PM, approximately 14 hours after we’d begun.

The plan from there was to drive to Santa Barbara, but we only made it to Fresno before stopping at a Holiday Inn Express and taking advantage of both their nice showers and their free-pancakes-until-midnight promotion. Upon walking in the front door, the man at the front desk immediately said to me, “Yosemite?” That obvious? Yep.

The next morning we woke up very slowly and painfully, sore and sunburned. After breakfast, Matt drove us down to Santa Barbara in time for some low-key surfing lessons with his cousin Kelsey. There is no photographic evidence of my first attempt at surfing, which is as it should be, to spare all parties of unnecessary pain.

A picture of me on the beach- NOT surfing

A picture of me on Santa Claus beach in Santa Barbara- NOT surfing

Eventually Matt and I made up for lost calories with plenty of blood orange margaritas, ice cream, and seafood- a good way to end a vacation, I think. We met up with Matt’s family and caught up on sleep. We even squeezed in some climbing at a local crag called Gibraltar Rock with Kelsey, despite our very sore muscles. On Sunday I made my way back to Laramie via the Phoenix and Denver airports, but not without flight delays and missed connections, of course.

Many, many thanks to Matt, who not only planned the vast majority of this trip, but also did all the driving and most of the motivating. Thanks also to Matt’s family for putting up with us as well as putting us up. We can only hope we were coherent and presentable for the majority of the time you spent with us.

And, finally, what a way to say goodbye to summer! Today is the first day of autumn here in Wyoming- no snow in Laramie yet, thanks for asking. Until that day, I’ll just keep remembering that California sand and sunshine.

Love to all.

Awesome Outdoorsy Women to Follow on Social Media

I love being outside, but sometimes you have to spend a little time inside, whether it’s due to an injury, a job, a commitment, the weather, or- you know- the fact that it’s nighttime. Whatever the reason, many of us outdoor fiends end up on social media, and occasionally seeing other people’s adventures can inspire us to take on our own.

In addition, yesterday (March 8th) was International Women’s Day, so when better to present to you a list of a few of my favorite outdoorsy women to follow on social media? I share these ladies’ adventures with you in hopes that their bold prowess may encourage you to get out there, try something new, and maybe even get a little dirty.

  1. From dirtbagdarling.com

    From dirtbagdarling.com

    Johnie Gall, aka Dirtbag Darling: Johnie left her full-time office job for a life of freelance writing and roaming the country with her fiancee in their renovated Sprinter van, stopping for all kinds of adventures like kayaking, climbing, mountain biking, snorkeling, hiking, skiing, camping- you name it. Her blog, which you can read here (and which I read religiously) features interviews with many different outdoorsy women, from professional athletes to weekend warriors, as well as product reviews, outdoor tourism recommendations, and inspirational anecdotes. Her Instagram is as beautiful as it is motivational.

  2. From snowqueenandscout.com

    From snowqueenandscout.com

    Liz Song Mandell, aka Snowqueen & Scout: Originally a city girl from LA, Liz hesitantly began her first backpacking trip after graduating from college, and hasn’t been able to stop since. It’s never too late to begin a new hobby! She is now a backpacking aficionado, and her website has some great resources for women interested in dabbling in the sport, including this sample meal plan for a four-day trip, as well as her standard packing list for an overnight trip. Her journal covers some other helpful information, from how to read maps to how to dry sweaty clothing on a hike.

  3. From dirtbagdarling.com

    From dirtbagdarling.com

    Brooke Gaynes grew up in Utah and now lives in Salt Lake City, working as a genetic researcher. As a new mom, she, her husband, and her infant son enjoy both hiking and skiing to get outside. When she’s not carting around her baby boy, she also enjoys mountain biking, rock climbing, and trail running. Her interesting interviews and articles are spread across the world wide web, but you can always find pictures of her stunning adventures on her Instagram. Recently she’s posted some photos of her son accompanying her on their outdoor escapades – so cute!

  4. From emilyaharrington.com

    From emilyaharrington.com

    Emily Harrington is a professional climber, sponsored by companies like The North Face and La Sportiva. In 2013, she traveled to rural Morocco to scale a 3,000-foot wall with British professional climber Hazel Findlay, about which you can read more on the National Geographic blog here. In late 2014, Emily joined a team of climbers and mountaineers in Myanmar, also known as Burma, to attempt summits of some of the tallest and most remote peaks of the Himalayas. You can read more about their attempt as narrated by climber (and Laramie-dweller!) Mark Jenkins here. Emily has proved her chops in technical climbing as a five-time National Champion, but her latest adventures into rural areas with other awesome women have been really inspiring to witness. Be sure to check out her website as well as her Instagram page.

  5. From carolinegleich.com

    From carolinegleich.com

    Caroline Gleich is a professional big mountain skier, competitive SUPer (that’s short for stand-up paddleboard), writer, and model. Living in ski capitol of the world Salt Lake City, Caroline recently graduated from the University of Utah with a BS in Anthropology- with honors, no less. Check out her blog for recent posts about ski mountaineering and videos of her cruising down mountains through deep powder, and her Instagram for some gorgeous photos of her adventures.

  6. From oliviahsu.com

    From oliviahsu.com

    Olivia Hsu is a yoga teacher trained in the ashtanga tradition as well as a professional climber, sponsored by companies like PrAna. She began climbing first, and then took up yoga after sustaining a finger injury from climbing. She calls Boulder, Colorado home, while traveling all around the world to get her climbing fix. You can watch some breathtaking footage here of Olivia practicing yoga and climbing hard sport routes in Brazil with fellow professional climber Daila Ojeda. Check out her website and her Instagram for more!

  7. Tina LaRocque, aka SLCbikergirl: As her Instagram username implies, Tina calls Salt Lake City, Utah home, where she pursues mountain biking, backpacking, trail running, and yoga in the great outdoors. Some of her most jaw-dropping pictures are from her recent trip to Patagonia, but her captures from around home- places like the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch mountain range- are equally inspiring.

If you were in any doubt before reading this post, women can in fact be badass outdoor adventurers. That means you too can get out there, dust off your old sneakers, and get moving. See the world, and have fun!

Love to all.

Mountain Vocabulary

Autumn this year is perfectly lovely in Wyoming. It’s been in the high sixties and sunny almost every day these past few weeks. Last weekend Matt and I spent the night in Denver to see a concert, but primarily to buy ALL THE PUMPKIN SPICE THINGS at Trader Joe’s. We left with pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin croissants, pumpkin butter, pumpkin cereal… you get the picture.

While reading Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire over the past few weeks, which takes place in & around Arches National Park in Utah, it occurred to me that there exists an entire vocabulary for the mountains, some of it even distinct to the high altitude – the Rocky Mountains here, the Alps, the Himalayas, the Canadian Rockies. Enjoy the quick vocabulary lesson, and comment with any additional words you find yourself hearing or using!

1. Trailhead – A very good place to start, eh? This is the beginning of the trail, usually next to a road or parking lot, and marked by a sign detailing the  name and mileage of the trail on which you’re about to embark.

2014-10 blog_trail

2. Switchback – If you’ve ever been near a real mountain, you’ve taken a switchback, which simply describes the sharp zig-zagging route a road or trail must take up a steep incline to both prevent erosion and encourage ease of accessibility, for either legs or engines.

3. Tree Line – Quite literally the “line” of elevation at which trees can no longer grow due to environmental limitations like persistent cold, high winds, and lack of moisture. Though typically associated with higher altitudes, actual tree line elevations vary widely by location. In Rocky Mountain National Park, the tree line varies from 10,700 to 11,600 feet above sea level, whereas cool summers in Chile result in a much lower tree line, at around 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level. What the tree line really means is excellent sunrise views and terrible thunderstorm conditions.

Matt and I above the tree line below Longs Peak, in the background

Matt and I above the tree line below Longs Peak, in the background

4. Scree versus Talus – [pronounced TÄ-luhs] Scree is loose rock piled up toward the base of a mountain, produced by much rockfall over a long period of time. It is by nature unstable and difficult to walk on. A talus deposit is a large area of scree. They are often used interchangeably, but “scree” is more fun to say.

5. Cairn – [pronounced KAY-urn] Cairns are used to mark trails, especially in places (like scree fields) where other trail markers, such as colored plastic stapled to tree trunks or spraypaint, is difficult. Cairns are just stacked towers of small stones to guide you on your way.

A cairn + a large stick toward the summit of Medicine Bow Peak in Wyoming

A cairn + a large stick toward the summit of Medicine Bow Peak in Wyoming

6. Summit – The highest point of any distinct mountain is its summit. Sometimes you can reach summits just by hiking without any technical equipment, but oftentimes roped climbing is required. Matt believes no hike is complete unless a summit was reached.

7. Couloir – [pronounced KOO-lawr] Often filled with scree or snow, a couloir is the steep ravine-like feature on a rocky mountain, or between two such peaks. Many backcountry skiers (and snowboarders) talk about skiing down couloirs, which I regard as highly technical and challenging!

Two couloirs can be seen to the left of this photo, in the Snowy Range Mountains

Two couloirs can be seen to the left of this photo, in the Snowy Range Mountains

8. Belay – [pronounced buh-LAY] In a rock climbing context, this is when the climber’s partner is controlling the opposite end of the rope, primarily to catch the climber (via the rope and a metal belay device) should he or she fall.

Me belaying my brother Ben up a climbing route in Medicine Bow National Forest

Me belaying my brother Ben up a climbing route in Medicine Bow National Forest

9. Anchor – At the top of a rock climb or pitch (see below), a climber can build an anchor out of specialized climbing protection gear, or can utilize a fixed anchor, if available, which usually consists of two drilled bolts in the rock, and maybe some other metal gear, like chain links or steel carabiners.

10. Pitch – Climbing routes can be single pitch or multi-pitch. A pitch describes a portion of the vertical length of a climbing route in which a typical 60-70 meter climbing rope can be used. For example, if you are looking to complete a 50-foot rock climb, that would likely be a single pitch route, since you can easily use a 60m climbing rope to reach the top and be lowered back down to the group through an anchor. If, however, you are looking to ascend a 2,000-foot mountain, there will be numerous pitches. Between each pitch is an anchor point so that the first climber can belay the second climber up behind them, and on and on.

11. Rappel – [pronounced rah-PEHL] “Rapping” for short, this is a technique many climbers use to descend from the top of a pitch or climb. Firefighters, military personnel, and other emergency workers also rappel to travel down steep terrain quickly. Usually the person rappelling wears a harness of some kind and attaches a metal rappel device to both the harness and the rope to descend.

12. Glissade – [pronounced gliss-AID] If you’ve reached the summit of a snowy mountain and you need to quickly descend, one option is to glissade, which is just a fancy word for sliding on your butt down a snowfield. If the sliding gets out of control, simply use your handy ice axe to dig into the snow over your shoulder, thereby creating friction and slowing your descent to a comfortable pace.

Get outside this weekend, even if there aren’t any snowfields or talus deposits near you! Love to all.