Yearly Archives: 2014

Trip Report: Boulder Birthday Adventure!

How to have a whirlwind weekend birthday adventure, in 20 easy steps: First, find cheap plane tickets to Denver. When the weekend arrives…..

Saturday:

Leading the North Arete on the First Flatiron

Leading the North Arete on the First Flatiron. Photo: Seth Iverson

  • Wake up at 3am, drive to airport.
  • Catch a 6am flight to Denver.
  • Once in Denver, hop on a bus to pick up your car rental, a 1996 Honda Accord from a nice gentleman you found through RelayRides.
  • Drive to Boulder, have breakfast, fill up water and pick up snacks.
  • Head to the Flatirons parking lot. Cover the car windows and change in the backseat.
  • Climb a flatiron. We went with the First Flatiron, via the North Arete route. Perfect weather and forecast, started early afternoon, finished early evening (I led all four pitches, and felt great!).
ElizBelay

Belaying Seth across. Photo: Seth Iverson

ElizovertheSun

On the Quartz Crystal Pitch. Photo: Seth Iverson

Seth high on the first flatiron

Seth high on the first flatiron

Summit Marker for the First Flatiron. Photo: Seth Iverson

Summit Marker for the First Flatiron. Photo: Seth Iverson

  • Head back to the car, then out for dinner.
  • Drive to Golden, set up camp in the dark at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
  • Fall asleep in about 3 seconds.

Sunday:

Our lunch spot, partway up the second flatiron

Our lunch spot, partway up the second flatiron

  • Drive into Golden for breakfast, then back to the campground to check in, because you got in too late the night before to do so.
  • Head back up to Boulder. Downgrade climbing plans to account for a late start… due to the aforementioned need to check in at the campground.
  • Hike up to the second flatiron, realize you’re completely exhausted from the day before. Also realize that you’re 5,000 ft. higher in elevation than you were 24 hours prior.
  • Rack up, climb two pitches, decide that’s good enough. Stop for lunch, enjoy the views. Exit off the side. Hike back to the car.
  • Head straight for ice cream in Boulder. Make sure to get sprinkles. Use your first aid kit to fix up a kid who put a gash in his leg.
  • Drive back to Golden, change in a gas station bathroom. Attempt to make hair look presentable.
  • Meet up with friends (who don’t care what your hair looks like) for drinks. Be reminded, once again, that you’re over 5,000 ft above sea level when the alcohol hits you hard. Enjoy a fun evening with great people.
  • Crash at campsite.

Monday:

  • Wake up at 5am, pack up camp, make your way to the airport.
  • Fly home, stop home for a quick shower, and go to work.
  • Fall asleep on the couch at 8pm.

Birthday weekend complete!

First Flatiron summit. Happy to get four more trad pitches under my belt!

Seth and me on the First Flatiron summit. Four more trad pitches under my belt. Happy birthday to me!

Trip Report: Wyoming 2014 Part 2 – Grand Teton

I was able to take two weeks off of work for this summer’s big trip, so after a week in the Cirque, there was an entire week left to play in the mountains before heading back home! (If you missed Wyoming Part 1, you can go back and read it here).

The Tetons, silhouetted against the night sky. Photo: Seth Iverson

The Tetons, silhouetted against the night sky. Photo: Seth Iverson

After our hike out of the Cirque, Seth and I drove into Pinedale, WY, found a nice little hotel, and spent a day doing laundry and recovering. We met two guys who were in the middle of hiking the entire Continental Divide Trail, and we saw a rodeo, complete with Mutton Bustin’, my new favorite rodeo event (tiny kids riding sheep = awesome).

Then, up to Jackson we went to meet up with our friend Fred. Our objective was the Grand Teton, via the Owen Spalding route. Seth and I actually climbed the Grand two summers ago (that report is here). That was a guided climb, via the Upper Exum Ridge. This time, we wanted to do it on our own, and Fred agreed to join us! The weather forecast showed a perfect, two day weather window that matched our summit plans exactly. A relief, after being rained out in the Cirque the week before!

The Approach – Trailhead to Lower Saddle

The approach to the Lower Saddle, where we would camp the first night, is brutal. I’m not going to gloss over it, it’s hard. I had, apparently, blocked it out of my memory. We had more weight in our packs this time, carrying our own ropes, gear, tent, etc, so that added difficulty as well.

The trail begins on the valley floor, at Lupine Meadows Trailhead, elevation 6,732 ft. Over the course of six miles, you hike up to the Lower Saddle, at 11,600 ft. That’s nearly 5,000 ft of elevation gain. There’s very little relief, and it’s a mental and physical challenge just to get to the lower saddle.

Heading up Garnet Canyon. Photo: Seth Iverson

Heading up Garnet Canyon. Photo: Seth Iverson

We were feeling good. We heard of a few bear sightings along the trail, but made some noise and didn’t encounter any ourselves. A couple miles in, I was dealing with a painful spot on my hip where my backpack was resting. It had bruised badly the week before in the Cirque and I had hoped a few days of rest would help. Seth came to the rescue and fashioned a piece of his foam sleeping pad to reduce that pressure point and it allowed me to forge ahead.

Our camp at the Lower Saddle

Our camp at the Lower Saddle

About 3/4 of the way up, somewhere around 10,000 ft, I began to feel some signs of mild altitude sickness. Nausea, weakness, headache… I had spent the entire week before between 9,500ft and 11,000 ft, so it didn’t make any sense to me. I had only been back down to 6,000 ft for a few days, so I felt like I should have been fine. We continued on, set up camp on the Lower Saddle at 11,600 ft, and hoped that some rest and a night of sleep was all I needed.

The three of us had dinner, prepped for the morning, rested up. Seth was feeling strong, so he went up and explored the couloir, our final approach to the technical climbing on the Owen Spalding route. When he returned, we were able to talk with the park rangers about the approach (the rangers have a little hut up in the camping zone, and were a great source of information). We felt that we were in a great place to start in the morning.

Mountain shadows over the valley

Mountain shadows over the valley

The Lower Saddle itself is worth the trek. I’ve camped there twice now, and it’s definitely the coolest place I’ve ever spent a night. It sits between the Middle Teton and the Grand Teton. On one side is a view of Jackson Hole, 5,000 ft below. On the other side looks out over a few smaller mountains, and Idaho stretching beyond. We had perfect weather. No wind, no clouds, not too cold… and it happened to be not only a full moon, but the *supermoon* that night. While the sun set over Idaho to the west, the supermoon rose over the Jackson Hole valley floor to the east. It was truly a sight to behold, and a magical evening on the mountain.

Supermoon rising at sunset

Supermoon rising at sunset (on the left)

Fred watching the sun set over Idaho. Photo: Seth Iverson

Fred watching the sun set over Idaho Photo: Seth Iverson

The Climb – Grand Teton via the Owen Spalding route

Our alarms were set for 3:15, with plans to leave camp at 4:15. Some parties headed up as early as 3:45, most without even turning their headlamps on, because the moon was so bright (did I mention that conditions were perfect?).

That morning I still wasn’t feeling well. Nausea, no appetite, headache, and some dizziness as well. Mild altitude sickness is what we suspected. I had been planning this climb with Seth for over a year, we had done all of the prep together, studied the route a million different ways, talked through it over and over. We had planned to share leads; Seth would lead the first pitch (belly roll and crawl), and I would lead the chimneys that followed. A big part of this trip for me was not only summiting, but leading. Leading some pitches, leading the team.. it was really important to me.

After I forced some oatmeal down that morning, the three of us had a final check-in. I wanted to climb. My symptoms were mostly just uncomfortable, and a nuisance, not severe enough to be dangerous. We decided that all three of us would climb, but Seth suggested that if I was feeling at all dizzy, it wasn’t a good idea for me to lead. It was a decision not just for me, but for the team as a whole. I knew he was right, I knew that it was the best thing for our team of three, and I agreed. That was tough. Seth would be leading all of the pitches.

We headed out of camp at 4:15 and began our ascent up the moraine and into the Col, guided by our headlamps and the bright moonlight. A couple of hours later, we were at the first pitch of the Owen Spalding route. The infamous traverse that includes the “Belly Roll” and the “Crawl.” The climbing is very easy, but very exposed as well. An unprotected fall would mean a long drop into Idaho. Seth led the way and brought Fred and I over after him. Several parties lined up behind us, and we were glad that we got an early start!

Looking NW from the start of the Owen Spalding Route. Photo: Seth Iverson

Looking NW from the start of the Owen Spalding Route at sunrise. Photo: Seth Iverson

After that traverse was a short chimney pitch, the “Double Chimney,” and then an option to either do an exposed traverse or climb the “Owen Chimney.” We opted for the latter. The Owen Chimney was my favorite pitch of the climb. Oh, how great it would have been to lead it…. Seth did an amazing job, though.

Climbing the Double Chimney

Me at the base of the Double Chimney. Photo: Seth Iverson

Fred giving me a hip belay

Fred giving me a hip belay. Thanks, Fred! Photo: Seth Iverson

Above the Owen Chimney was Sargeant’s Chimney. Most people were climbing up a chimney to the left, but we climbed the chimney on the right, which definitely had some 5.6 or 5.7 moves in it. We learned later that we had taken the ‘true’ Sargeant’s Chimney, but now days most people take the easier variation to the left.

Above this last technical chimney were some slabs meandering back and forth, and then a patch of sunlight above. The first sunlight we had seen all morning, as the whole route is in the shade (and COLD because of it!). Seth offered for Fred to lead us to the summit. Fred couldn’t believe we were there, and I distinctly remember that feeling the first time we climbed it two years ago. We made our final steps up to the summit into the warmth of the sun, and enjoyed the view. We had done it!

Fred leading the final steps to the summit

Fred leading the final steps to the summit Photo: Seth Iverson

On the summit of the Grand Teton. Fred, me, Seth.

On the summit of the Grand Teton. Fred, me, Seth.

Twenty minutes on the summit, and it was time to head back down. We roped back up and started working our way back down the slabs. One short rappel down Sargeant’s Chimney took us to the big rappel, a 120 ft. mostly free-hanging rappel. We triple-checked everything and Seth headed down first, followed by Fred, myself, and a guy we met who had just free-soloed the Upper Exum route.

The rappel was more intense than I remembered, maybe because we were on our own and not with a guide this time. I quadruple checked everything, then checked again. The first 30 ft. walk down a face, and then the bottom comes into view, and the rope ends are WAY THE HECK DOWN THERE. Then the wall falls away, and the last half is free hanging. Exhilarating is a mild word to describe it.

After the rappel, the technical parts of the day were over. We made our way back down the col and arrived back at our tent on the lower saddle mid-afternoon.

Heading back down the col to camp. Photo: Seth Iverson

EyeofNeedle

Fred at the Eye of the Needle. Photo: Seth Iverson

Seth going through the eye of the needle.

The three of us had lunch (I was finally able to eat a full meal for the first time that day), rested briefly, packed up camp, and began the long descent. We had a camping permit for the Meadows, about halfway down, but when we got there we decided to book it all the way back to the car. Our totals for the day were 2,000 ft of ascent, 7,000 ft of descent, and approx. 8 miles total. We arrived back at the trailhead at 9:30pm, making for 17 hours straight of physical activity. We were toasted.

We headed into Jackson for some pizza, and called it a night.

The wrap-up

We climbed that mountain, a two day ordeal with route finding and technical climbing. We did it on our own, and we did it well. I feel immensely proud of that. It was a mental challenge, it was a physical challenge, and it was also a challenge of confidence. Can we actually do this? Having climbed that same mountain previously with a guide, I knew I could physically do it, but having a guide makes it still seem magical and mysterious somehow. Going on our own, doing the planning on our own, making sure we had the necessary skills, the fitness, studying everything over and over again, talking through scenarios and what-ifs… and then actually putting all of that into practice and doing it… and succeeding…. was empowering. And it took a lot of the magic away. I want to do MORE.

With that being said, I grappled quite a bit with the disappointment of not leading. Because I wasn’t feeling well, Seth led every pitch. It was awesome that he took the lead when the time called for it. I am grateful to him for that, and to have such a strong leader on our team.  I had wanted to lead with him, though. And, even though I was involved in all of the prep and the decisions leading up to that morning, circumstances changed, and plans changed. I didn’t feel well, and Seth took my leads. For weeks afterwards, I struggled with a feeling that I didn’t contribute in the way that I wanted to. Instead of Seth and I co-leading, Seth led, and Fred and I followed. Even though we had successfully climbed the Grand, and we did it fully on our own, without a guide, I didn’t fully meet my personal goals. I felt that I had failed somehow and struggled with that quite a bit.

It’s been nearly a month since our summit, and I’ve had a chance to work through that disappointment and come to terms with it. I still believe that we made the right decision, based on how I felt that morning. When you’re part of a team doing something dangerous like climbing a mountain, every decision is about everybody, and not just about one person. The decision for Seth to lead wasn’t about me. It was about the safety of the team. And it was the right choice.

I’m so proud of the three of us, Fred, Seth, and myself, for our work together as a well-functioning team, and for our successful summit of the Grand Teton. It was an amazing experience, and I am so glad that I got to share it with two incredible people.

As for my personal disappointments? I’ll be heading to Boulder, CO with Seth for my birthday weekend, and I have plans to lead the *crap* out of some flatirons. Seth has already said that he will gladly follow. Wish us luck.

Summit Selfie! Seth and me.

Summit selfie! Seth and me. Photo: Seth Iverson

Trip Report: Wyoming 2014 Part 1 – Cirque of the Towers

Bags packed and ready to go!

Bags packed and ready to go!

Standing in the trailhead parking lot, I realized that I had never been on an actual backpacking trip before. I had camped, yes. Hauled heavy backpacks, yes (full of climbing gear, mostly). This time, though, once we left the parking lot, we wouldn’t be returning for five days.

Our packing had been meticulous. We had separated our food by meal, labeling each in its very own ziploc bag, to make sure we didn’t bring more than we needed (I had no idea how heavy food is!). We packed well. I used everything in my pack except for 2 items of clothing, which turned out to make a fine pillow. Still, with the addition of climbing gear, those packs were not light.

We were hiking into the Wind River Range, from the Big Sandy Trailhead. Our first destination was Big Sandy Lake, about six miles in with minimal elevation gain, so a nice easy start. We had our eyes on Haystack Mountain for our first objective. Then we’d hike back into the Cirque of the Towers. Shark’s Nose, Overhanging Tower, Tiger Tower, and Pingora were all on our list.

Here’s the report, and some pretty pictures:

Big Sandy Lake/ Haystack Mountain:

Home sweet home, at Big Sandy Lake

Home sweet home, at Big Sandy Lake

Day 1, we hiked the six miles to Big Sandy Lake from the trailhead and set up camp. It was a lovely little campsite. The lake was near, so lots of water nearby. We treated all of our water, especially here, since it’s a pretty well-used area, and a lot of folks have their gear brought in on horses. Bear precautions were taken the entire trip. We hung our food and smelly things and ate away from the tent.

From Big Sandy Lake is a beautiful view of Haystack Mountain. It’s a monolith of solid rock that dominates the landscape to the east of the lake, and there are quite a few routes on it. We had dinner, fought the mosquitos, and gazed at Haystack.

Haystack Mountain, over Big Sandy Lake. Photo: Seth Iverson

Haystack Mountain, over Big Sandy Lake. Photo: Seth Iverson

The next morning we woke up to rain, and it continued raining for most of that day. No climbing for us. Seth and I donned our rain gear, and hiked over there anyway. We scrambled up onto the shoulder of the mountain, stopping before we got to anything too technical.

Shoulder of Haystack Mountain. Photo: Seth Iverson

Shoulder of Haystack Mountain. Photo: Seth Iverson

The view from the shoulder of the mountain was beautiful, and surprisingly high above the lake. Even though it was a pretty wide area of low-angle slab, it felt fairly exposed and way the heck up there. The hike and scramble up to the shoulder was worth it for the view. Next time we’ll, hopefully, be able to climb all the way to the top.

We spent one more night at Big Sandy before packing up and heading up to our next destination.

Cirque of the Towers

From Big Sandy Lake is another 6 mile hike up to the Cirque of the Towers, our main destination for this leg of the trip. The morning rain stopped just in time for us to pack up our tent, and held off until we were set up in the Cirque. Very kind! The hike up to the Cirque is more involved than the first six miles to Big Sandy. A few sets of switchbacks, some steep sections, some pretty mellow sections, and a couple of boulder fields, especially if you take the climbers trail. That climbers’ trail is shorter, but the boulder field is kind of a pain with heavy packs. Thank goodness for trekking poles!

Mount Mitchell. Photo: Seth Iverson

Mount Mitchell and War Bonnet, covered in clouds.. Photo: Seth Iverson

The last pass before entering the Cirque is aptly named “Jackass Pass,” and after that, the towers come into view in all of their glory. What a beautiful place! We found a nice spot to set up camp, with a view of Pingora Peak and Wolf’s Head right outside of our front door.

Cirque of the Towers. Photo: Seth Iverson

Cirque of the Towers. Photo: Seth Iverson

Weather in the Cirque turned out to be even more finicky than down at Big Sandy, with the added factor of 2000 ft towers blocking any view of anything heading our way. After our arrival, for example, we headed up to scout the approach for one of our climbs. The sky was blue with a few puffy white clouds floating through. At one point about 30 minutes into our scouting hike, we turned around to see that one of the peaks was quickly being enveloped by a dark, ominous storm cloud. A few minutes earlier, that cloud had been nowhere to be seen. It was as if it had just materialized, right there. We booked it back down the mountain (I’m pretty sure I’ve never gone through a boulder field that quickly in my life!) and just as we crawled into our tent, it began hailing. *phew*!

Rain, rain, go away!

Rain, rain, go away!

The next day we woke up to low, stagnant clouds covering the mountains. We had breakfast and headed up the trail with our gear, hoping that the sun would burn the clouds off. At one point, the sun sent a brilliant spotlight from the east, shining through the greyness of the thick cloud cover in the Cirque. It was a sight to see!

Spotlight of sun on a grey mountain

Spotlight of sun on a grey mountain

But alas, the clouds were stubborn and moved back and forth like a seesaw for most of the morning.

Overhanging Tower, our climb for the day, is back there in the clouds.

Overhanging Tower, our climb for the day, is back there in the clouds.

Heading to Lonesome Lake

Heading to Lonesome Lake

 

We eventually gave up and went on a hike to Lonesome Lake instead, spending a nice, relaxed lunch by the lake. A lovely way to spend our time.

 

Lonesome Lake

Lonesome Lake

An afternoon hailstorm came through camp once we returned (again, very nice of it to wait). At that point, we gave up hopes of climbing and spent the evening drinking whiskey on a rock at our beautiful campsite and reminiscing about life, adventures, and good friends.

Cirque of the Towers, War Bonnet. Photo: Seth Iverson

Cirque of the Towers, War Bonnet. Photo: Seth Iverson

That night, the sky cleared, the moon came out, and it was a picture perfect night in the Cirque. We once again packed our climbing gear and set our alarms for early the next morning. We would head up the trail to the base of our climb unless it was actively raining when we woke. With the sky clearing up and the beautiful night that we were witness to, I thought, for sure, that we’d be climbing the next morning.

We woke to a downpour.

Seth and I cooked breakfast under a nearby tree, waited for the rain to pause, and stuffed our belongings back into our packs for the 12 mile hike back to the car. The rain, once again, was kind enough to pause for our hike.

Seth hiking out of the Cirque

Seth hiking out of the Cirque

So, we didn’t get any climbing in, but I did go on my very first backpacking trip. We spent five days and four nights in the Wind River Mountains, went on a few day hikes, and it was just plain gorgeous. Cell phones didn’t work, I got to spend some quality time with my husband, we saw some friends out there… all in all a great few days in the mountains.

The mountains of Wyoming continue to amaze me with their beauty. The Winds are rugged and raw, and it takes some work to get back there. Definitely on my list to go back and see more. Maybe next time we’ll even get to use our rope and gear.

Keep an eye out here for Part 2 of our trip, the Tetons! Camping at 11,600 ft on the night of the supermoon was a nice touch.

Trip Prep: Wyoming 2014

Just a quick post here. Our trip out to the mountains of Wyoming is approaching, and the prep has begun! We’ve been physically preparing for a few months now; practicing our trad climbing and getting into good physical shape. Now we’re close enough to start packing!

Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming

Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming (photo courtesy of Seth)

This trip presents a few challenges on the packing front. We’re heading into the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range and will be in the backcountry for about five days, miles away from the trailhead. Weight adds up quickly, especially when you add a rope and climbing gear to the mix, so we’re examining everything, looking at what can be used for multiple purposes, what we need for survival and emergencies, and what’s more for comfort. For example, we’ve opted for a tent (not a super-necessity, but awesome to keep the bugs out), but are passing on camp pillows. Rolled up clothes work just fine. Yes to sunscreen, no to dry shampoo (my hair is going to look *amazing*). Yes to coffee. Definitely yes to coffee.

The same went for our climbing gear. As fairly new trad leaders, we tend to take along more gear than we need. For this trip, we did a close examination of our rack and got it down to something reasonable. Still quite a bit of weight, but much lighter than it was.

Seth's homemade tether

Seth’s homemade tether

A bit of homemade gear innovation by Seth: he made tethers for our nut tools out of parachute cord. We like to have our nut tools attached to something so we don’t drop them off a cliff and have been using long slings up to this point, but the slings tend to get caught on stuff and tangled in the rest of the gear. Seth has fixed that. Pretty awesome.

After the Winds we’re heading up to the Tetons, at which time our team of two will become a team of three. So, we made some team prusiks for the occasion (in the season’s hottest colors, of course). Shiny new prusiks are awesome and fun, and when used correctly, they save lives.

Team prusiks. Wyoming 2014.

Team prusiks. Wyoming 2014. Not shown: two more team prusiks.

On the food front, we’re portioning out meals day by day before we pack them, with a bit of extra just in case. This will, hopefully, help us to avoid packing too much and save some weight there.

Very little in the way of clothing changes, mostly we’ll just have layers and rain gear and plan on wearing the same thing for 5 days. We’ll be a stinky pair by the time we come out of the Winds. Luckily, we’ll be heading straight up to the Tetons, and the showers of the AAC Climbers’ Ranch. Yay for showers!

We’re reading up on routes and getting beta. I’m brushing up on my weather knowledge (Seth got me a nice little book about reading the weather), and things are lining up!

On a related, but not-related note, this trip will be a step into new territory for me. It’ll be my longest time in the backcountry, completely reliant on what I take with me. It’ll be my first time camping in grizzly bear country (most of the grizzlys are in the north part of the range, but a few have migrated south, which is where we’ll be). And the climbs on our list, although in the easy to moderate range, are not small. We’ve chosen alpine trad routes, just what I like. They’re tall and exposed, and I know they will challenge me and push me. I’m definitely stepping out of my comfort zone, and I know that I’ll learn a lot as a result. I’m nervous and looking forward to it, all at the same time.

Any other pack weight advice you can offer for 5 days in the backcountry with climbing gear in tow? Gear innovations? Tips and tricks? I’d love to hear them!

Everything’s Changing.

“The only thing constant in life is change.” – François La Rochefoucauld

Everything is changing. All the time. And that includes us, as people.

An advantage of aging is that over time you get to see the parts of you that change, and the parts of you that stay the same. You get a pretty good handle on the “core” stuff; what defines you as a human being. And you begin to clearly see the stuff that changes over time; things that maybe felt like a “core” part of who you were at one time.

We’re all slowly changing, all the time. Like mountains, slowly heaving up out of the earth. Glaciers moving, ever so slowly. Even in those stretches where we feel that everything is good, that we’re settled, we’re imperceptibly changing. Evolving. Moving. Sometimes that change happens quickly and violently, spurred by a specific event. Most of the time, though, it’s slow, and we don’t realize it’s happening until it already has.

When I started this blog, I was fairly new to climbing. My life before climbing was mostly dedicated to music. I was a bassoonist, well on my way to making that my career. I had focused on bassoon since I was 12, and forced myself to march down that path far beyond when it became obvious that it was no longer the right one. It took me a long time to accept that a part of me that felt so fundamental could change. That inflexibility caused me a lot of strife.

Bassoon. Then a few years of floating…. trying to accept a move away from the only life I had ever known, looking for what was next. And suddenly, there was climbing. I fell in love with it. Hard. Climbing has taught me the importance of risk, has forced me to face fear, to deliberately move into mental discomfort and to meet myself in that place, face myself head on. I’ve learned a lot about myself through climbing, and I continue to do so.

A successful climb in Yosemite

A successful climb in Yosemite.

Even while climbing continues to be a big part of my life, I can feel my passion for it evolving and changing underneath me. Ever so slowly. At first I was climbing in the gym and at the crags, climbing hard, chasing grades, trying to be the best climber I could be. Looking back, I can see where the change started, with my first multi-pitch climbs, including a big, but pretty chill, climb out in Yosemite… I remember clearly the sound of the gear clinking as Lizzy led those pitches ahead of me. The quiet and peace of the rock, and the way it felt to climb that day. A year later, I climbed the Grand Teton. The Grand was an experience that I still haven’t been able to fully put into words. An experience that didn’t fully sink in for weeks afterwards. Since that climb, my drive to pursue hard sport routes has vanished. I’ve been dreaming of alpine climbing.

I have friends who want to climb the hard stuff; little crimpers on vertical rock. I’ve tried to get my mind back there so that I can join them, but just haven’t been able to. I’ve changed. Seth and I are heading out to Wyoming next month to tackle one or two routes in the Wind River Range, and then up to do a climb of the Grand Teton on our own. All alpine climbing, all trad. Just a few objectives for two weeks of time. A shift from where I was a few years ago.

And even while I plan and dream about this trip, I think that maybe I’d like to do some backpacking sometime, without the climbing gear. Go trek through the mountains for a few days, or a few weeks, just for the sake of being there. Maybe I’ll like it. Maybe there will be another shift towards just plain old backpacking. Or maybe there won’t. Maybe I’ll stick with alpine climbing and mountaineering for a while. Or maybe I’ll decide to sit home and knit instead. There’s no way to tell.

We’re all constantly changing. It’s the reason that friendships come and go. Why relationships come and go. Often, we form relationships based on common interests. Only the bonds that go deeper, that go to the core of who we are, survive our personal evolutions.

Change is ok. Unavoidable even. I’m still climbing, but I’m a different climber than I was four years ago. I’m still a musician, but in a different way than when I started. The stuff that’s stayed the same is deeper, and even those parts of me that feel central are slowly evolving, just at a slower pace.

We all owe it to ourselves to be flexible; to accept that we’re ever changing. We tend to identify ourselves by the things that we do, so when those interests change, we feel a need to hold on. It takes courage to accept ourselves as we morph and evolve.

This trip coming up reflects my changing goals and passions as a climber, as an adventurer, and as a person. I’m climbing to get somewhere and to be in a beautiful place, not just for the sake of climbing. It’ll be a big trip, and I have no doubt that I am going to learn a lot about myself. I can’t wait to get out to those mountains!

How do you view change? Have you noticed these kinds of evolutions within yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Mountain Training 2014 Progress Report

Seth and I will be spending close to two weeks in the mountains this August. I’ve mentioned briefly that stairs are one of our modes of training. Things started out a bit rough (see here), but are definitely improving.

There’s a set of 134 steps near our house, each step being 6 inches tall. We did a bit of math and determined that climbing that staircase 15 times equals approximately 1,000 ft of vertical distance. We’ve been heading over there weekly with packs on and adding a bit more as we go. Sometimes we’ll mix in doubles (2 steps at a time) with singles to mimic the higher steps involved in 3rd class scrambling, and to keep our brains occupied as well.

I’m hoping that all of this stair climbing with a weighted pack will get me close to where I need to be for our trip. It’s hard to know how climbing a bunch of stairs at 800 ft. above sea level will translate to hiking up a mountain at 10,000 ft. I do know that our stair workouts are feeling quite a bit easier than when we started, so progress is being made. Surely it will at least partially translate. That is what I’m telling myself.

This week will be a big one, we have four days of stair climbing planned, and then I have my kettlebells classes as well.

I’m so very excited to get back here:

Grand Teton

Three weeks and counting!

Training for the Mountains: Minnesota Style

My plans for August include, among other things, climbing a big mountain. From the bottom to the top is 7,000 vertical feet, 5,000 of those hiking with a heavy pack. So I’ve started amping up my training to prepare.

They say the best way to train for hiking uphill with a heavy pack on is to hike uphill with a heavy pack on. What do you do if you’re a Minnesotan with limited access to large hills? The next best thing:

In absence of mountains, stairs will work

In absence of mountains, stairs will work

On Sunday, Seth and I threw ropes and climbing gear in our packs and set out for these stairs. They’re 6 inches tall, so 2,000 steps is 1,000 ft of vertical gain. 134 steps … I did the math and determined that we should climb up and down the stairs 15 times. No big deal.

After the 8th trip back down, my legs were involuntarily quivering and I felt like a complete wimp. We took a break, ate a banana, and finished up our 15. Felt pretty good, patted ourselves on the back, continued on with our days.

My ‘up’ muscles felt fine. My ‘down’ muscles…. not so much. Yesterday (the dreaded 2nd day), my calves were so tight that I couldn’t walk normally (I still can’t). It’s been a physical comedy over here, trying to walk, trying to stand up from a seated position…. I resisted, but finally had to break down and explain to my kettlebells instructor why I wouldn’t be joining class. His response was sympathetic, and so perfect:

“I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve been a victim of my own zeal.  I would be a rich man” – Ron Wetzell, RKC

A victim of my own zeal. Yep.

Lessons learned:

1. Sometimes less is more. Take it slowly and figure out where you’re at *before* leaping headfirst into 2,000 steps up and down a staircase with a weighted pack….

2. Walking down a set of stairs is a different motion that hiking downhill

3. My calves need some more training before heading to the mountains

I’m hoping to be healed up enough to return to my kettlebells training tomorrow. Then another crack at the stairs on Friday. Maybe I’ll dial it back to 1,340 steps….

 

Trip Report: Black Hills May 2014

Roadside sculpture along I-90.

Roadside sculpture along I-90.

Ah, the Black Hills. Even though it’s a 10 hour drive from the cities, many Minnesotan climbers claim this area as one of their home crags. Hop in the car, head southwest through rolling farms to Sioux Falls, and then straight west across South Dakota. Landmarks along the way include a short dip into the river valley of Champlain, a roadside sculpture of a skeleton person walking a skeleton dinosaur, Wall Drug, and the Badlands. Stop in Rapid City for a bite to eat, and then head on south into the hills.

The Black Hills are beautiful; pine forests with giant globs of granite plastering the hillsides. The rock here is granite, laden with tiny crystals, making for great friction and sharp rock. Place your foot somewhere and it will probably stick. Nearly every climb is a summit.

On this trip was myself, Seth, and our friend Paul, and I’d say the main story was the weather. We spent a lot of our time dodging storms and trying to figure out where we could climb once the storms rolled in.

Day 1:

Conn route, take 1

Conn route, take 1

Our first day out, we headed up to Sylvan Lake to warm up on the Conn Route on Aquarium Rock. Paul led the first pitch, brought Seth and me up, and then Seth took the lead from there. As Seth was heading to the summit, we could see a storm approaching from the west.

Storm in the distance

Storm in the distance

Seth linked the 2nd and 3rd pitches and was on top of the climb when we saw the lightning. We had two choices: bring Paul and I up and all do the double rope rappel from the top, or bail from where we were. We chose the latter. The storm was approaching quickly. Paul set up a rappel back to the ground from our perch, and Seth set up to rappel back down the route. Some good teamwork and problem solving got us all safely back to the ground.

Soon after, the storm hit. Rain soaked the hills, and our climbing was done for the day.

Later that afternoon, we hiked up to the Cathedral Spires and scouted possible climbs for the next day.

Scrambling in the Cathedral Spires

Scrambling in the Cathedral Spires

Day 2:

Spires in the morning

Spires in the morning

Same weather forecast, so we knew we needed to get moving. Our objective was Spire 2. The Cathedral Spires are a line of granite towers higher up in the hills. I had been on Spire 2 twice before, but never actually finished it (see posts here and here). We got an early start, made the hike in, and Seth set off to lead the first pitch.

Paul on top of Spire 2

Paul on top of Spire 2

I love this climb. The climbing itself is pretty casual, but interesting. The belays are bolted, which are always nice and save a lot of time. The first two pitches climb through a fun gully with a few short headwalls. The last pitch starts up a short chimney and then steps across to exposed, unprotected face climbing to the summit. The view from the top is gorgeous, and I was so happy to finally be able to see it.

The weather was beautiful, and our team of three rocked it, finishing the three pitch climb in three hours. After a short time up top and a long rappel back to the ground, a storm rolled in.

Storm over the Spires

Storm over the Spires

We retreated to lower elevations, back behind Mt Rushmore. The storm missed us there, and Paul and Seth finished the day climbing Shark’s Breath.

 

Day 3:

Back to the Conn Route to both finish it and retrieve our gear. I led us up the first pitch this time and brought Seth and Paul up together to save time. We all had our eye on the weather, as the forecast once again called for storms. This is the same climb on which we had nearly gotten caught in a lightning storm earlier that week.

Paul took the lead to link the second and third pitches and brought me and Seth up behind. Even though this route is rated a 5.3, it’s fun climbing and worth doing. The first pitch traverses a comfortable, but fun, flake, the second pitch is up through a squeeze chimney (kind of a pain with a pack on!), and the route finishes up with a bouldery move to some easy face climbing up to the summit.

At the top, the weather was *still* perfect. We set up the rappel, but hung out for a bit to enjoy the view.

Seth and I on top of the Conn Route

Seth and I on top of the Conn Route

Five minutes after this picture was taken, Paul looked over his shoulder and said “guys, maybe we should get out of here.” A storm had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and was bearing down on us. We all rappelled as quickly as we could, and by the time we were on the ground, it was hailing. We took shelter under a rock overhang and managed to avoid getting soaked.

After hailstorm number 1, Conn Route behind us.

After hailstorm number 1, Conn Route behind us.

The tornado. Photo by Wakispe Win via Black Hills Fox TV

The tornado viewed from Rapid City. Photo by Wakispe Win via Black Hills Fox TV

Back at our campsite, storms were all around. Clouds swirled overhead, moving in every direction. It was quite a show. Shortly thereafter, we were all hunkered down in the car, waiting out another hailstorm. The storm was intense, and we learned later that the same storm had produced a tornado. Very glad we weren’t out climbing during that one, and also that all we got at our camp was a lot of hail and wind, and no tornado (our Marmot tents held up beautifully, by the way).

So… day 3, a nice, casual multi-pitch, gear retrieved, two hailstorms and a tornado. Check.

 

Day 4:

Contrary to the weather up to this point, the forecast called for ZERO PERCENT chance of rain! Zero. Awesome. We took full advantage of it.

Paul and Seth on Weird Water

Paul and Seth on Weird Water

This is the day that I was reminded of what a Black Hills 5.7 is. Friction is the name of the game. Don’t expect bomber footholds or handholds. Feet smear on sandpaper rock, hands balance on tiny crystals. Repeat.

We started the day on Weird Water. Paul led the trad variation of this start. He set up a belay at the top of the crack, turning this into a two pitch climb, and Seth and I grunted our way up the sharp, painful crack that Paul had just very impressively led. My confidence was low as I realized I didn’t really know how to climb a Black Hills 5.7, so I lowered down and waited below while Seth and Paul finished up the climb. Here’s a photo of Paul belaying Seth up to the summit.

Next up was Gossamer, a really cool rock fin with a big hole in the middle, and another Black Hills 5.7. Trad start, sport the last half. No feet to speak of once you’re on the face, just lots of smearing. Paul put this one up (Paul had some really great leads this week) and I followed. Here’s where I figured out how to climb a Black Hills 5.7. Smear smear smear smear and… smear. It’s all about the feet. Once I got a feel for the technique, Gossamer was a super fun climb.

Gossamer. Paul on the left, me on the right.

Gossamer. Paul on the left, me on the right.

It was getting late in the day and I wanted to get another lead in to finish off the trip. The 5.7s we had been on that day were a bit heady for me, and I was just figuring out the technique, so I sought out something more in the 5.4-5.5 range. I found a climb called Dunce Cap, a 5.4 trad route, that was close by. I led, Seth followed. When I got to the top I had to laugh at myself for choosing it. It wasn’t a fun climb at all, mostly just grunting my way up a gully with way too much trad gear getting in my way. I did get to place some gear and build a trad anchor up top, so not all was lost. I brought Seth up, and then we actually just downclimbed the last half of it and walked off the other side. Wah wah.

And that was the end of the trip. All in all very fun. Lots of weather dodging, with climbing in between, and a great last day with perfect weather. We got in a couple of multi-pitch trad climbs, and worked really well as a group, so I’d say that was successful. We were not struck by lightning or hit by a tornado. We made it safely to the ground before impending lightning and hail storms, and our tents survived the hail and wind and stayed mostly dry.

I’d love to get back out there later this season. Other climbs that have caught my eye: Sultan’s Tower, Spire 1, Spire 3 (first pitch), Station 13…. there is an incredible amount of climbing out there.

Tiny Adventures: Urban Hiking, Sweater Cutting, and Rifle Shooting

Tiny adventures are adventures close to home, not requiring a lot of time or travel. Maybe something you haven’t done before, something that scares you a little, or just something that feels a bit adventurous, even just a little bit. Adventure, big or small, is good for the soul.

Here are three of my most recent tiny adventures:

Hiking: Pike Island, Minneapolis

Biking to Pike Island

Biking to Pike Island

I have been meaning to check out this hike for a while, mostly because the directions start with “take the light rail to the Fort Snelling station.” Pike Island piqued my curiosity, but I never made it down there, until last winter. It’s a great place in the city to go cross-country skiing.

Seth and I decided to go see what it was like when the river wasn’t frozen and the island wasn’t covered in snow.

 

No Bicycles

No Bicycles

We skipped the light rail and hopped on our bikes instead. Seth knew a secret bike path that I had no idea existed. It took us on mostly trails, through a beautiful wooded area, and it was mostly downhill. Score.

From there we locked up our bikes and crossed the bridge to the island on foot. No bikes allowed. A trail runs along the outside of the island, and that’s where we had skied in the winter, but this time we decided to follow deer trails instead. It was early enough in the season that we didn’t have to worry about poison ivy or ticks.

Following deer trails.

Following deer trails.

Lots of leaves were just starting to bud, and we saw at least two separate groups of deer and a wild turkey. I was hoping for a fox sighting, but alas, not this time.

Pike Island

It wasn’t a strenuous day, but it was fun to get out of the house and spend some time biking and hiking around with my husband. A lovely way to spend a lovely afternoon.

 

Cutting:

I took scissors to my hand-knit sweater

I took scissors to my hand-knit sweater

There’s this thing in knitting called steeking. If you knit, say, a sweater, and you want to make it into a cardigan, you can cut your knitting right up the front, where you want it to open. The necessary preparations will protect your sweater from unraveling into tiny little bits.

A sweater is a lot of work. Many hours with a knitting needle. So, finishing all of that work and then taking scissors to it feels quite adventurous indeed.

I did the research, made the necessary preparations, and… made the cut. And it was ok. Nothing bad happened. And now, my sweater turned cardigan is nearly complete.

 

Shooting:

A friend invited Seth and I to a gun range and we took him up on the offer (he had some new scopes for his rifles that he needed to adjust). Seth had shot before, but I never had. My first time maybe even holding a gun. I was nervous about it, mostly because I wasn’t sure what to expect, and guns are very powerful things.

I was happy to see the rules and precautions taken at the range. Our friend walked us through the safety protocols, how to load the gun, and how to aim and shoot. Once I got used to the kick from firing, I had fun seeing how close together I could get the holes on my target. For my first time shooting, I did pretty well.

That's me.

That’s me.

—-

Three successful tiny adventures for my spring so far. I’m always curious to hear what you’ve been up to. Any ideas for tiny adventures you can lend?

 

Seeking Balance

I haven’t climbed in two weeks. Honestly, I haven’t climbed much since my Red Rocks trip. Partly due to some nagging injuries, partly because gym climbing seemed so bland in comparison to where I had just come from, and partly because… I was just worn out.

Climbing: just one of my happy places.

Climbing: just one of my happy places.

It’s been a busy winter, with *lots* of climbing. Lots of climbing, lots of exercise, lots of fun things with my awesome friends, much of which was centered around… climbing. On nights I wasn’t climbing I was swinging kettlebells or had something else on my calendar.

It’s been a fun year. But I missed my music. And my knitting. And all of the other things I used to do before I became obsessed with climbing. Suddenly, I missed those things a LOT.

Last week I didn’t climb at all. In fact, most nights I just stayed home. I played my banjo quite a bit. I worked on the sweater I’ve been knitting (it has cabled owls on it and has the potential to either be super cool or super uncool). I caught up on emails. Spent time with my husband, just the two of us. And generally just took it down a few notches.

I realized that I’ve been focusing so much on work, climbing, kettlebells, climbing, travel, climbing, etc… that I’ve lost touch with all of the *other* things that I love to do.

One-Dimensional.

I’ve been feeling one-dimensional. On Twitter and on this blog I focus on climbing and adventure, with the occasional other thing thrown in the mix for variety. Mostly, though, I’m known as Eliz the climber, Eliz the adventurer, and sometimes Eliz the kettlebeller. As time has gone on, I’ve focused mostly on those things in my offline life as well.

I love climbing and adventuring, don’t get me wrong. They are an important part of my life. But, if this blog and my twitter account truly represented my interests, you’d see the full, 3D version:

My new album cover

My new album cover (not really)

Eliz the climber. Eliz the adventurer. Also… Eliz the musician. Eliz the audio engineer. Eliz the radio producer. Eliz the vegetable gardener, the knitter, the introvert. Eliz the not-very-good juggler. Eliz who loves the mountains, and loves Minneapolis even though it’s far away from the mountains. Eliz who draws colorful, chalked sidewalk art with the neighbor kids. Eliz the homebody, who really really likes a quiet night or three at home with nobody else around. Etcetera.

The past year or so, I’ve watched myself become more and more one-dimensional in my day-to-day life, just like my social media persona. My non-work time has become all about climbing, adventures, and kettlebells, and I’ve filled it so much with those things that there’s no room for anything else. It makes me not very fun at parties. Time to re-diversify.

It’s probably good timing, this pull I’m feeling to regain some sort of balance. I mentioned before that I’m dealing with some nagging injuries, which, if I’m smart, pulls me out of climbing and kettlebells for at least a few weeks while I rehab. I see quite a bit of banjo playing in my near future. More bike riding and concerts, more cooking and gardening and knitting. And, of course, there are always tiny adventures to be had.

Right now I’m off to fly this kite that’s lying next to me. Because I’m not heading to a kettlebells class or the climbing gym, and I suddenly have the time.