Tag Archives: travel

Transitioning to Motherhood

While I was waiting for my son to be born, nine months ago, I wrote about the anticipation of parenthood. I wondered how my life would change, what adventures with a little one would look like, and if it was realistic to expect to carry on our travels and lifestyle with a child in tow. My questions revolved around the changes to our lifestyle and our activities. What I didn’t anticipate, and the question I didn’t think to ask, was how much *I* would change.

I have so much that I can say about my transition to motherhood, and I have a feeling that transition will never quite be finished. Every day feels different than the last. My baby is different, my family is different… I’m different. And as far as adventures go… this is a big one.

My son was born at a birth center with a midwife at the helm. I was able to experience labor and birth naturally, without induction or medications of any kind, and I learned the true power of the female body. Labor is difficult, but it is also truly amazing and empowering. I am fortunate to have had the excellent care that I did, and that everything went smoothly. After 16 hours of labor, a beautiful baby boy lay on my chest. I was sweaty, exhausted, and elated.

We were sent home, everyone healthy and happy. Those first few weeks were intense. I don’t think there’s any way to understand what that time is like unless one has experienced it. The constant, round-the-clock demands of nursing and caring for a newborn are difficult to describe, and something that parents tend to gloss over once they’re past. When I was in the midst of it, older parents just chuckled, or smiled. I was grateful to my neighbor who saw me out for a harried walk around the block one day and assured me that it would change, that it would get better.

Out for a walk with our newborn. This guy has rocked the dad thing from day 1!

I am also grateful that my husband and I were home together for a good portion of that time, and we could lean on one another and figure it out as a team. As difficult and shocking as those first few weeks were, those weeks also strengthened our bond with this new little person. As I nursed him and comforted him and cried with him, as I wondered if I’d ever leave the house again without feeling panicked, I fell more deeply in love with him.

I was assured that life would feel normal again. Or, at least, a new kind of normal. Eventually, I did leave the house without panicking. Eventually, he stopped nursing constantly. Eventually, we could figure out why he was crying, and how to soothe him (and eventually he was able to figure out why he was crying, too). Now, he’s turning into a little person who interacts with the world around him. He smiles and laughs and cries and grabs for things. He rolls and crawls and points to things he wants. He reaches for us. I’m fascinated watching him take things in. Everything is new to him, and he’s fascinated by it all.

So, how has motherhood changed *me*? Honestly, I’m still figuring that out, and the change is ongoing.

There have definitely been some surprises. One big one is that I’m not climbing much…. or at all…. and I don’t mind (the fact that I don’t mind is the part I didn’t anticipate). I know it’ll be there down the road. I find myself being very picky about the things that will take me away from my baby boy. Part of that is the unexpected demands and logistics of nursing, but a big part is just wanting to spend time with him. When choosing what was important enough to be away from him, weekly visits to the climbing gym just didn’t make the cut. That’s not to say that I’m done with climbing. I’m just not itching for my next big climbing adventure right now.

A rainy hike in the Cathedral Spires.

A rainy hike in the Cathedral Spires.

We *have* found a few opportunities to get out with the whole family. Our annual trip to the Black Hills went on as usual this year (I’ll write a separate post about that), and we took our little guy along. We camped for 5 nights, hiked to the top of Harney Peak, and even got a climb or two in. The fact that we could do that at 7 months gave me a lot of optimism for what we’ll be able to do as he gets older.

Overall? This parenthood thing is amazing. It’s hard. It’s challenging, but most of all… amazing. Fascinating. Full of love. It’s showing me a level of patience and selflessness that I never knew I had. Time is different than it was. Changed, somehow.

Nine months in, I finally am starting to feel myself beginning to emerge once more. A self that’s separate from my baby boy, which hasn’t been the case since I became pregnant. The all-consuming demands of nursing are starting to lighten up, I’m getting more sleep, and I’m finding moments here and there to do things on my own. This blog post is proof of that.

The adventures that I wrote about in my final pre-natal musings are right around the corner. I can’t wait to show my little guy the mountains and the places that we love so much, and to see what else motherhood has in store for me. I’ll do my best to keep posting about them.

Cheers.

Waiting for Baby

Silliness in Zion National Park

Lying in bed this morning, my husband reflected that it was five years ago this month that he asked me to marry him. We were in Bozeman, MT in the midst of a two week hiking and backpacking trip, and when his plans of proposing on top of a mountain fell through, he asked me in a cozy cafe over a plate of peach crisp. A year later, in front of family and friends, we vowed our commitment to one another and to a life filled with love and adventure.

Today we await the birth of our first child. It’s an interesting time, the end of a pregnancy. This time of waiting, not sure if the baby will make an appearance tonight or ten days from now. It’s a time of limbo, filled with excitement, nerves, and uncertainty. Time to think; hoping that our decision to bring a child into this world was the right one.

Wind River Range, PIngora Peak in the background.

As I wait, I’ve embarked on a long overdue photo project, sorting through all of our digital photos from the seven years we’ve been together and choosing which to print for photo albums. It’s been so much fun looking back at what we’ve shared. Photos highlighting our travels, hikes, climbs, friends, and time with family. We certainly have filled these years with love and adventure, just as we promised one another we would.

There are photos of us on top of mountains and on the sides of rock formations, hiking and camping in the mountains of the west, rain and shine. Photos of us taking shelter under rocks during rainstorms, sharing laughs and disappointment when things didn’t go as planned. Photos of us exploring the deserts of the southwest, and bundled up against below-zero temperatures on the ice of Lake Superior. Learning to cross-country ski, building snow caves in the backyard, embarking on our first trad leads, multi-pitch climbs, and getting ourselves to the top of the Grand Teton on a picture-perfect day. We’ve had some great experiences together, and the list of things we still want to do is ever-expanding.

Exploring the hillsides of Ireland.

Sunset over Boulder, CO, on top of the first Flatiron

Out on frozen Lake Superior, to see the ice caves. Temp = -15F.

On the summit of a drizzly Twin Sisters Peak in RMNP.

Parents and non-parents alike have loved telling us how much our lives are going to change once we have this baby. Some have even told us, in dramatic style, that our adventurous travels will come to an end completely. Like so many others, we wondered if we were willing to give up the lifestyle we enjoy so much, to give up those experiences that bring us closer to one another, each adventure that we share strengthening our bond.

Even after we made the decision to have a child, I have sometimes questioned if it was the right thing for us. Pregnancy unexpectedly curbed the season’s hiking and climbing ambitions, keeping me close to home while Seth went on trips without me. We spent the summer working on the house instead of embarking on our usual adventures, and I wondered if this is what my future would look like; longing to climb and hike and spend time in the mountains, but unable to. As my belly has expanded and I started to feel this little person take on life, my excitement has been tinged with discouragement. What if this was it? What if all of the people telling us to kiss our lives goodbye were right?

Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton

All smiles in the Black Hills after my first trad lead.

Biking through Yellowstone National Park

As I sort through these photos of our time together, of all of our adventures, big and small, I feel the doomsday words of others dissolve. Instead of imagining a life void of travel and adventure, I look at these images and imagine our child in them with us. A family of three instead of two, exploring this beautiful world we live in. Camping together, hiking together, traveling together, and eventually… maybe even climbing together. I imagine our child growing up with parents who continue to nourish their souls, both separately and together. I don’t grieve over the end of an era, but instead find myself looking forward with excitement to the challenge of a new one.

The pessimism of others is replaced with a sense of optimism about what can be. Our adventures may look different for a while, but they certainly won’t end. I’m so excited to share the things that we love with this person we’re bringing into the world, and for him or her to share the things that they love with us. Our world isn’t shrinking, as so many would have us believe. It’s growing.

Hiking outside of Big Sky, MT

I love conversations with parents who can’t stop gushing about how amazing an experience parenthood is. They’re overflowing with excitement for us and don’t even try to contain it. Yes, it’s hard, yes, it’s challenging, but it’s also the most amazing thing they’ve ever done.

Seth’s traditional summit proposal atop the Grand Teton.

So, as we wait to meet this little person who’s been rattling around inside of me for the last nine months, I feel a sense of optimism. Our photo albums are about to change, and it’s not for the worse. They’ll be filled with new adventures, new challenges, and a new face.

Five years ago, my husband and I sat in a cafe and decided to spend our lives together. We vowed to one another on our wedding day to fill those lives with love and adventure. In this time of limbo, as we wait for our baby to arrive, I am realizing that our adventures aren’t ending, they’re just changing. And, in a way, they’re just beginning. We are about to step into a great unknown, the biggest adventure we’ve ever undertaken.

Trip Report: Red Rocks March 2015

In March of this year, my husband Seth, a few friends, and I headed out to Red Rock Canyon for our third annual Red Rocks climbing trip. I’ve been waiting to write this trip report. Not because I didn’t know what to write, but because I couldn’t write it without acknowledging that at the time of this trip, I was 8 weeks pregnant (yep, we’re adding a baby adventurer to the family). We were still in that “secret” time where you don’t really tell anybody.

Eight weeks pregnant means that I was fully in the throes of first trimester morning sickness. Constant nausea, fatigue, lack of energy and endurance, just in time for a week-long climbing trip in the desert of Nevada. Not planned that way, of course, but one can never quite predict these things.

On one hand I was relieved to not have to be at work pretending that I felt just fine, which was a challenge in itself (we waited until 12 weeks to share the news). On the other hand, I wasn’t sure how my pregnancy was going to affect the trip. Nobody tells you about the sheer exhaustion and lack of general stamina that comes with the first trimester. Maybe they do and I just missed it, or didn’t believe it. It really surprised me, and I definitely had a worry that I may drag the rest of the crew down with me.

Seth and Paul

These guys led my pregnant self up routes all week without complaint. Thanks so much, guys! (photo from halfway up Geronimo)

Before we left, I made the decision that I wouldn’t be doing any trad leading (traditional routes require one to place their own protection as they go. There are no fixed bolts except, sometimes, for anchors). Even though we pIanned on sticking to easy and moderate routes, I didn’t want to risk any big falls. I was pretty bummed about that, especially since I had just gotten to a point where I was feeling fairly solid (check it out). But, for me, not leading traditional routes this trip was the right thing to do, and that left most of the leading to Seth and Paul. They were both super awesome about letting me just follow and for that I was immensely appreciative.

So, without further ado, here’s how our week went:


Seth, Paul, and I flew out together on a Sunday and stayed for an entire week. We steered ourselves towards shorter, easy to moderate traditional routes. Nothing super adventurous this trip, just fun, solid climbing.

Day 1- Monday

The long Minnesota winter means we don’t touch rock between November and April, so the three of us started the week with a couple of nice, chill trad routes for a refresher. The Willow Springs area is perfect for this.

Paul belaying from the top of Little Black Book

Paul belaying from the top of Little Black Book

Seth’s route – That Ain’t No Tortoise, Seth Climbs the Rock – Our first route of the trip turned out to be a bit of a mystery. Seth began at the base of Senior Moment, but took a variation to the left. He ended up at a dead end about 70 ft up, so he built an anchor, brought us up, and we all rapped down from there. It’s very possible this route has a name already, but I can’t find any mention of it, so Seth named it “That Ain’t No Tortoise: Seth Climbs the Rock.” We all agreed it’s in the 5.5-5.6 range.

Little Black Book (5.4) – A nice, long 160′ single pitch trad route. This one was a cruise-fest, but I really enjoyed it. The crux is a bouldery move right off the ground, and there’s a big section of hueco’d rock covering the middle third of the route (I do love some good huecos!). Paul led this one and we rapped off a tree at the top of Sleeper.

Rapping off of Sleeper

It’s me! Rapping off of Sleeper

Day 2- Tuesday

On our second day, we checked out an area new to all of us. First Creek Canyon is outside of the main Red Rock loop. The hike in is about an hour, but fairly straight-forward (although, as with any of the desert hikes, I wouldn’t want to be hiking out in the dark). We got a few pitches in and had a fun day overall. I’d love to explore this area more next trip!

Paul leading Buzz Buzz

Paul leading Buzz Buzz

Buzz, Buzz (5.4) – Pregnancy reared its head that morning. After our hike in, I needed a break. My stomach was not happy and I just needed to rest a bit. So, Seth and Paul climbed this single pitch route while I found a sunny spot below from which to cheer them on. Paul led this pitch,intended as a warm-up, and a lot of grunting and cursing ensued. The 5.4 rating is deceiving. Now that I look at the climb on Mountain Project, I can see that he’s not the only one with this impression of that climb. Seth followed and I heard similar grunting from him as well. Sounds like some of the other climbs on this wall would be better choices.

Rising Moons (5.5) – A bit of rest did me some good, so I joined the guys for the first two pitches of Rising Moons. This was an enjoyable climb. Paul led the first pitch up through a nice chimney. I brought up the rear and carried the bag, which I discovered doesn’t fit through some of the narrower sections of the pitch. I had to employ some creativity and grunting/cursing of my own. Seth led the second pitch, a long, fun face climb, to a set of bolts at the top. The belay stance on this one is a bit awkward. The bolts are set further over than is comfortable (my guess is to avoid stuck ropes when pulling). Seth brought Paul and I up at the same time. We rapped back down to the top of the first pitch and went WAY right to pull our ropes, which I would highly recommend (lots of rope pieces were stuck in a crack near the top). A scramble through to climbers left returned us to the base of the climb.

Rapping off of Rising Moons

Paul rapping off of Rising Moons

Day 3 – Wednesday

We started the day on Wednesday at the Second Pullout. The Great Red Book is a route that Seth’s been eyeing since our first visit to the park. Although you can see the route from the parking lot, the approach is 30-40 minutes of boulder hopping and scrambling. When we got to the base, we were next in line, but as we were unpacking our things a large group appeared behind us, followed by a guide with two clients. Turns out this is a busy route! I wasn’t feeling well again that morning, and the scramble to the base had worn me out. So, I encouraged Seth and Paul to climb the route as a two-person team and I would hang out at the bottom and enjoy the view.

Seth following the first pitch of Great Red Book

Seth following the first pitch of Great Red Book

Great Red Book (5.8) – Paul led the first pitch, Seth led the second. The route is beautiful. It’s a big, red, open book just like the name would suggest, and it looks like a really fun climb. Both belays are bolted, and one can choose to either rap the route or walk off. Although I didn’t climb it myself, the report is that the second pitch has some thin spots and a few bolts to help when gear options aren’t available. The climb is mostly trad, though.

 

My view while the guys climbed

My view while the guys climbed

Seth leading Ok Ok Ok!

Seth leading Ok Ok Ok!

 

After Paul and Seth returned, we had lunch and headed back over to Willow Springs to end the day with a pitch or two.

Ok Ok Ok (5.6) – This is a pretty chill route, 60′. Nice rock, trad anchors. Seth climbed it with ease, brought Paul and I up behind.

Paul rapped first, and I told Seth that I was done climbing for the day. By the time I had rapped down to talk to Paul, he already had his harness off. We were all pretty worn out by this point. As we were hiking back out to the car, it started raining. Time for a rest day.

 

 

We saw lots of these on our hike!

We saw lots of these on our hike!

 

Day 4 – Thursday

Rest day! Our friend Fred joined us that morning and we decided to pack a picnic and head to  Spring Mountain Ranch. There’s a nice, open grassy area there to hang out. We sat in the sun, looked at the rocks, and daydreamed about routes. A nice, short hike sounded good, so we grabbed our packs (they’re so light without climbing gear!) and headed out. We returned two hours later, so I’m not sure how much of a rest day that makes… but we tried.

 

Day 5- Friday

The day we had been waiting for! At the top of our multipitch list for the week was Geronimo. It’s a 4-pitch climb that I found last year, but we never got to climbing it that trip. The three of us were pretty excited to get on it this time around.

We started early, arriving at the trailhead right around sunrise. The hike in is about an hour. I was having another rough morning and wasn’t sure what to do, since this was a full-day venture. I packed my gear and rode out to the trailhead with the guys. Once we were parked at the trailhead, Seth and I talked and decided that I’d hike out to the base of the climb with them and see how I felt. If I wasn’t up to climbing, I could hike back out and come get them later, or just hang out and wait. That sounded like a good plan, so we set off. Once we got to the base of Geronimo, I was feeling a little better, but still low in energy and feeling less-than-awesome. We knew there were bolts to rap from at the top of the first pitch, so I could escape then if I needed to. So… I climbed the first pitch.

And that’s how I took that morning. Just one bite at a time. And by the time I arrived at the top of the first pitch I was feeling much better. Hooray! We all continued on together and had a great day. Just goes to show that you can’t judge a whole day on how it starts.

First pitch of Geronimo. Isn't it a beauty?

First pitch of Geronimo. Isn’t it a beauty?

Geronimo (5.6) – I loved this climb. I can’t wait to go back next year and lead it. The first two pitches are vertical, with good, solid holds and placements. There are a few spots where it feels a lot like gym climbing. Fun climbing, great views… we all had a good time on it. Plus, we had the whole route to ourselves all day (which, apparently, is rare).

Seth led the first pitch and brought Paul and I up together, which saved quite a bit of time. Paul led Pitch 2. The second pitch starts out very much like the first; a vertical, fun, jug-fest. Then, things change. The climbing gets slabby and easy, but exposed and run-out.

I was last in line and when I got to that point I had to do some serious self-talk to keep myself focused and calm. The path led up an exposed slab and then traversed around a corner to an even more exposed face right near the top. I was moving along slowly and talking myself through the exposure when a giant, brick-sized hold broke off in my hand about 20 ft from the anchors. I caught myself and didn’t fall (I was on top-rope, it would have been just fine), but a sound came out of me that I wasn’t quite expecting. Something halfway between a scream and a hiccup. Seth and Paul are still teasing me about it.

My viewpoint 2.5 pitches up Geronimo, while the guys explored above.

My viewpoint 2.5 pitches up Geronimo, while the guys explored above.

That hold breaking off on exposed climbing shook me up quite a bit. I was already running on less-than-full reserves, and found it affecting my mental recovery time as well. We took a short break and had a snack to give me a chance to recenter.

Paul roped up for the third pitch of four. This is where we got a bit lost. Paul went up a ways, explored his options, and took a right. We found out later that it should have been a left (or maybe straight?), but it looked ok to all of us. Paul knew he was off route, so he found a spot to belay and Seth followed. They brought me only part-way up, to a little cove with a slung tree, where I anchored myself in. I hung out there while they explored their options.

Paul scrambled up around the back of the formation and accidentally ended up at the top of the climb. It wasn’t the official way to get there, but it got him there! We’ll call it Paul’s Geronimo variation. He brought Seth up and they rapped from bolts directly down to where I was.

From there, it was a single-rope rap and two longer double-rope raps back to the base.  And that’s where we made this little video, marking our little baby’s first multipitch climb.

 

Websites told us he/she was about the size of a grape at that point, hence the name.

We returned to the car 10 hours after we left. A full day of climbing with perfect weather and great company. I’ll definitely be getting back on that one next time, when I’m not incubating a tiny human.

Day 6 – Saturday

This turned out to be a pretty light day. We were all tired from the previous day’s efforts and not super-motivated. We headed back out to Willow Springs and Paul saw a line that looked interesting. So he said “what the heck,” and decided to climb it.

Sunset crew

Sunset crew

Crooked Crack (5.6) – We found out the name of the climb later from some other folks nearby. Another fun, moderate, trad route. Once at the top, we walked over to the top of Tonto and rapped from there. And then we called it a day (yep, that’s how not super-motivated we were that day).

Some other friends had come into town at this point and we had made plans to scramble up to a high point at the first pullout and watch the sun set. We met everyone there and two friends appeared with a surprise, fully-packed dinner for all of us! Amazing salads in bags complete with dressing, fruit, veggies, and lots of snacks to go around. Our little group sat there, watched the sun set behind the mountains, and enjoyed one another’s company. It was really nice.

 

Sunset over Red Rocks

Sunset over Red Rocks

 

A happy trad leader

A happy trad leader

Day 7 – Sunday

Sunday was our last day in town. We had a red-eye flight back home that night. Two friends, Lea & Galen, who are fairly new to trad climbing, joined us for the day. We decided to head back to one of the first routes of the trip, Little Black Book, and do a bit of trad school with them. Galen had done some trad leading years before, but it had been a while and he wasn’t confident about anchor building and top-belaying. So, Seth led the route and brought Lea & I up together. Then Galen led separately. I hung out at the top and helped him with anchors and belay so he could bring Paul up. After a week of letting the guys take the lead, it was nice to have a chance to do some teaching and use my knowledge and skills!

Lea on her first long rappel!

Lea on her first long rappel!

 

All five of us made our way over to the 160′ rappel and Lea and Galen got to do their first long rap back to the base. We showed them how to set up and back up their rappel, and I stood at the bottom and gave a fireman’s belay.

A fun day of climbing and teaching. We finished up the day (and the trip) with an attempt on Sleeper (5.9), had some snacks and called it.

High fives all around.

Last day's climbing crew

Last day’s climbing crew

Summary:

I’ve gotten better over the years at listening to my body, recognizing where I am, and staying within myself. That doesn’t mean that I like it, though. Not doing any leading and sitting out a few climbs was hard to swallow, even though I knew that’s just what needed to happen. My kettlebells training has taught me how to listen to my body and know when I can push and when it’s best to back off. I think that helped me a lot this trip. I chose to sit a few climbs out, but there were quite a few climbs where I was able to push through and have a great day out on the rocks.

As of now, I’m 18 weeks pregnant. I’ve been able to climb and continue my workouts, (I’m just not leading anything anymore), but I know that as I move forward, listening to my body will be really important, and I’ll alter things as I go. It’ll be interesting to see what happens!

As a woman who can be quite stubborn and strong-willed, it’s not an easy thing to back off. But, I’m always learning, and learning not to apologize for it. As my kettlebells instructor often says, “we do what we can.” What we can do is different every day, and half the battle is being able to recognize when we can push ourselves and when it’s best to give ourselves a break.

All in all a great trip. Looking forward to getting back next year! Thanks again to Paul and Seth for taking the lead.

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 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!

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.

Trip Report: Red Rocks March 2014

Beautiful Red Rocks

Beautiful Red Rocks

I’m not a big fan of Vegas, but I *am* a big fan of the large rocks that sit just outside of its borders. That would be Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Red Rocks for short. This was my second trip out to the park and it’s becoming very clear to me why this is such a popular destination for climbers. There’s tons of sport climbing (that’s mainly what we focused on our first trip), and even more trad, of all kinds. Short approaches, long approaches, single pitch, multi pitch, easy, moderate, hard…. And there’s a LOT of it.

The crew.

The crew.

This time around we focused on traditional climbing instead of sport. In six days we didn’t even begin to cover what the park has to offer. As a group, our goal for the week was to seek out easy to moderate trad routes and improve our trad skills in general, including gear placement, rope handling, climbing as a team, etc.

There were five of us. Myself, Seth, Russell, Zack, and Paul. We flew out the 3rd week of March, rented a condo in Summerlin (only a 10 min. drive from the park entrance) cooked our own meals, and had a pretty fantastic week overall. We mainly used Jason Martin’s guidebook “Fun Climbs Red Rocks: Topropes and Moderates,” supplementing route info with the Handren guide and Mountain Project. Here’s where we climbed:

IMG_4009

Paul on “Chips and Salsa”

Chips and Salsa

This is a short, 3-pitch climb in the first pullout on the Tuna and Chips wall. The approach is only about 10 minutes.

We kicked off our week with this route, and it was a great choice to start out on. The climbing is fun and fairly casual, and it was short enough to take our time and work on our systems. At the top of the route is a big, beautiful area to hang out and have lunch, and the view is quite lovely.

I would have liked to go back and climb this again at the end of our trip, but unfortunately we ran out of time.

 

Sorting gear on top of “Chips and Salsa”

Seth leading Tonto

Seth leading “Tonto”

Willow Spring

We originally chose this area for its afternoon shade on a day when the temps climbed into the 80s. It ended up being the most frequented of our trip. There are a quite a few solid options for single pitch trad, and it’s a great spot to climb. Bring your long sleeves; it can get chilly when the sun tucks behind the rocks in the afternoon.

We climbed mostly on the Ragged Edges wall. My personal favorite route was “Tonto” (also my first lead of the trip, so I might be a little biased).

Other routes climbed were “Ok, Ok, Ok!” “Ragged Edges – 1st pitch,” and “Go Ahead and Jump.”

 

Seconding "Ok! Ok! Ok!"

Seconding “Ok! Ok! Ok!” (Photo: Zack)

Zack on Ragged Edges

Zack on “Ragged Edges”

Seth on Peaches

Seth on “Peaches” (photo: Zack)

 

We went back on our last day to the Children’s Crag and climbed “Peaches,” which was also a fun little climb.  The descent is a bit tricky; I’d recommend a double-rope rappel over the walk-off.

 

 

 

Paul on Peaches

Paul on “Peaches” (look closely, he’s up there!)

Rusty on Scramblers Wall

Rusty on Scramblers Wall

 

Scramblers Wall

Our group headed here for its low grade trad climbs. It was fun, easy climbing, but a bit chossy and very run-out. If I could go back in time, I’m not sure this area would be my first choice for the day (I’d probably check out the Romper Room Wall in First Creek Canyon instead).

That being said, it did end up being a full day of climbing, and the group climbed every route on the wall. Leading, following, working on skills… I think for most of the group it was a confidence builder. The very next day, Seth and Paul tackled “Solar Slab,” and Rusty, Zack, and myself headed back to Willow Spring, where I got my first lead of the trip.

 

 

Solar Slab

Solar Slab

Paul on Solar Slab – Pitch 3 (photo: Seth)

This is where our little family of five split into two groups. Seth and Paul took a day and climbed Solar Slab. I’m trying to get Seth to write a trip report, but for now, here is my second hand account of the climb

They approached through Solar Slab Gully (five pitches). That gets to the base of Solar Slab itself, which is another seven pitches.

It sounds like the first two pitches are pretty straightforward, and after that it gets more exposed with harder climbing for pitches three and four. The route then gradually eases up. Paul and Seth chose to stop at the top of pitch 7 (that’s the recommended way to do it). There’s an off-route rappel, which Seth really liked. It keeps rappelers out of the way of climbers and also results in fewer rappels than if one were to rappel back down the route.

Seth on top of Solar Slab

Seth on top of Solar Slab (photo: Paul)

 

This route does get very busy. Seth recommends getting a start earlier than the 6am park opening time. You can park at the loop exit lot, and there’s a trail from there to the Canyon. We heard from several parties that finding the way back in the dark is challenging. There are lots of braided trails, so its very easy to get lost and end up wandering through the desert. Another reason to get an early start.

Overall, with some waiting for others and route-finding, the day was 14 hours total for those guys. The overall report? Exhausting… but a very fun climb.

 

 

 

Solar Slab Gully

The hike in to Solar Slab Gully

Hiking in to Solar Slab Gully (photo: Zack)

That's me starting the 3rd pitch of Solar Slab Gully

That’s me starting the 3rd pitch of Solar Slab Gully (photo: Zack)

Seth and Paul needed a rest day after their climb of Solar Slab, but they recommended the Gully as a fun climb all on its own (and a good route for a beginning lead climber like myself). So, Zack, Russell, and I headed out the next day to tackle the Gully. It’s five pitches officially, but we linked the last two short pitches into one. I thought this was a very fun climb.

This is a very popular route, as it is one of the approaches for “Solar Slab,” and a route that folks climb on its own. We were behind two other parties when we arrived, so there was a bit of waiting. Something, maybe, to expect on this wall.

The first pitch is a bit tricky and exposed, and the crux of the route, in my opinion. Our fearless leader, Russell, rocked it (thanks, Rusty!). The remainder of the route has a lot of really fun climbing. Some chimneys, some run-out slab, and huge belay ledges. Advanced climbers may think this route is boring, but those climbers would probably continue on to climb the rest of Solar Slab. Personally, I thought the gully was great fun and the perfect way to spend a day.

Zack, me, and Russell on top of Solar Slab Gully

Zack, me, and Russell on top of Solar Slab Gully (photo: Zack)

A bit of rappel beta: from the hang out spot on top, look back down the slab towards the canyon and you’ll see a big rock perched below. Just to the left of this, looking down, are a set of chains. A double-rope rappel from these drops you down to the landing at the top of the 2nd pitch of Solar Slab Gully. From here it’s two more raps to the bottom (a single and a double). So glad that Russell and Zack scouted this out. Way faster than rapping down the route.

And… that was our week, with a lot of goofing around in between. We had a great time. I want to go back again RIGHT NOW, but alas, it is not to be. Aiming for a similar trip next March. Thanks again to my awesome crew for a great time.

Clouds over Red Rocks

Clouds over Red Rocks

—  

Other posts from this trip:

Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 1

Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 2

Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 2

I’m home after a week climbing out in Red Rocks, a beautiful park just outside of Las Vegas with climbing galore. It was a great trip, and a week of learning and growth on my part. One of my main goals was to get more pitches of traditional leads under my belt. Prior to this trip, I had only led one pitch on trad gear (traditional leading means that the first climber places pieces of gear for protection as they go. There are no bolts in the rock). Midway through our trip, I found myself struggling quite a bit. Read that post here if you haven’t had a chance.

Here’s how the rest of the week went:

——

After I took a day off, three of us went back to the Willow Spring area. A few days previous, I had led the first half of Tonto and set up an anchor, turning the climb into a mini multi-pitch. It wasn’t a pretty lead, but it was a lead nonetheless. I went up a few pieces, I came back down to collect myself, I went up and down again, and finally pushed through and made it to my goal.

Bringing Russell up on Tonto

Bringing Russell up on Tonto

We were back at that same climb again after two days. I knew I could climb the route; I had climbed it a few times and led half of it already. So it seemed like a good place to work more on my mental game. It turned out that a day off had done me a lot of good. I racked up, took a deep breath, and led the whole thing. There was no whimpering; I felt calm and confident. I placed a lot of gear in the initial crack and ran things out on the easier stuff up top. I kept breathing, I kept my focus. It felt amazing to get to the top and yell “Off Belay!” because I knew that I had just busted through a big mental barrier.

I brought up my other two partners, set up a rappel, and we all returned safely to the ground.

The next day, the three of us tackled a bigger objective. Solar Slab Gully. This is a five pitch climb (a pitch is the distance between where the first climber starts climbing and when they stop to set up an anchor and bring up the rest of their climbers), 540 feet total. The plan was that Russell would start us off, and we would decide leads as we went. He was prepared to lead the whole thing if necessary; we were just going to wait and see how I was feeling.

Oak Creek Canyon, our approach to Solar Slab Gully

Oak Creek Canyon, our approach to Solar Slab Gully

Zack starts the first pitch to Solar Slab Gully

Zack starts the first pitch to Solar Slab Gully

Russell led the first pitch, and I’m glad he did. It was a bit hairy in spots (spicy, as our guidebook liked to say), and scared me a bit even on toprope. We got to the top and I decided to take on the short second pitch. I geared up, made the crux move (the hardest move of the pitch) right at the start, climbed to the anchors and brought up my climbers. That felt pretty good, so I decided to keep leading. The third pitch was a long one, probably 180 feet. The first half is a really nice little chimney with a big exit move up top. Then it continues with quite a bit of slabby climbing and a short chimney to finish. That pitch felt really good, too. From there, we could see the top. So, after Russell and Zack joined me at the anchor, I led the last two short pitches.

That took us to the top of the climb. I realized then that I had just led all but the first pitch, and that all three of us were safely at the top. Mentally, it had all felt pretty solid. There were a few places that I had to breathe and take a moment to stay focused, but that’s part of the game. I was all smiles.

At the top of Solar Slab Gully

At the top of Solar Slab Gully

High fives were exchanged, smiles all around. It was a fun climb. After a short time at the top of Solar Slab Gully (and the base of the much bigger climb, Solar Slab), the three of us worked our way down to the rappel bolts. We teamed up with a pair from Germany, and three rappels later we found ourselves back at the bottom, packing our bags for the hour-long hike back to the car.

All in all, I led six pitches this trip, after feeling halfway through the week that maybe I wasn’t destined to be a trad leader at all. I learned, once again, that the process of moving through something that’s scary is not a straightforward one. This week was a very clear example of that. I pushed myself through something that felt really tough mentally. And from there, I actually needed a day to back away, process, and recover from that push. Once that happened, I was ready to take a step back and start again.

I emerged from this week as a more confident trad leader, and that was exactly what I was hoping for. I’m at the beginning, and there’s a long way to go, but it’s a solid start.

A big thanks to Seth and Russell and Zack and Paul for cheering me on, supporting me, and respecting my process. What a fantastic week of climbing it was.

Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 1

Me up top, building an anchor.

Me up top, building an anchor.

Yesterday, I led my second pitch of trad, ever. For those who don’t know, traditional climbing means that you place your own protection as you go. Placing gear in cracks that will catch you if you fall. It’s cool because any piece of rock with a crack can be protected, and nothing is leftover once you’re finished.

The thing about leading trad, though, is it can be pretty scary.

I’m in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area this week, outside of Las Vegas. A rock climbers’ mecca. Easy to moderate trad is one of the specialties here. My big goal for the week was/is to get more trad leads under my belt. I knew that meant pushing myself, and I knew that it would be a week of growth.

I led that climb yesterday. I whimpered, I fumbled for gear, I lowered on my gear and started again from the bottom. I made it up, built an anchor out of gear, and brought up my second on it. It was scary, it was mentally tough, but I did it. It took a while and a bit of encouragement, but I did it.

That was yesterday. And then there was today. Our group moved to a crag with low-grade trad climbs. I led first. 5 feet above my first piece, the panic set in. That was the end of that lead. I downclimbed and swapped leads with Seth.

Frustration. Anger. Disappointment. I followed that route and only climbed one more for the day. My head was wrecked. Everything felt scary. I sat in the sun and took photos.

Back in the condo tonight I talked with my husband about it. He told me that today wasn’t a failure. It’s just part of the process. I needed that reminder.

Tomorrow Seth and Paul head off to climb Solar Slab, a long route that will take them most of the day. The other three of us will be heading out for some more single pitch trad. And tomorrow I’ll rack up and do what I can to get a few more trad leads under my belt. All part of the process.

—- Read Part 2 of this post here

Trip Report: Winter Cabin in Ely

Christmas morning. We all gathered around the wood-burning stove for our “Secret Pirate” gift exchange. Santa couldn’t make it to Ely, but the pirates did. Gifts were opened: a climbing grip exerciser, some sock yarn, an emergency bivy sack. Then we all suited up and went out skiing for the day.

Maybe not a super traditional way to spend the holiday, but it worked. My husband, a few friends, and I spent a few days in a rustic cabin just east of Ely, in northern Minnesota. It was fairly remote, and the cars went a full 5 days without moving from their place. Cell phones didn’t work and there was no internet.

The cabin was nice. In this case, rustic meant no running water and a wood-burning stove for heat. The outhouse was equipped with an insulated seat and looked out on a beautiful view of the snow-covered woods. We pumped our own water from somewhere underground where things weren’t frozen, and dumped our grey water from dishes back out into the woods.

Breaking trail.

Breaking trail.

It was a lovely way to spend a week. Temps were cold and crisp. Snow was abundant. We broke trail with our skis to the lakes nearby and through portages to more lakes. Sometimes everyone would go out, sometimes we’d break up into smaller groups. By the third day our trails were well established and easy to ski on, so it got more fun as we went!

Every day we watched the thermometer on the deck. It felt a bit like an adventure to see how well we could keep ourselves warm skiing when it read 0F, -10F, -15F. Turns out that as long as you keep moving, it’s not that hard. And starting out with warm things hung by the fire doesn’t hurt either.

Seth and his rocket.

Seth and his rocket.

The cabin was situated on a little pond, frozen over like all of the lakes. On a particularly clear day, we went out onto our little pond and launched rockets that Seth and I had built. Seth’s rocket was a smashing success. We got 7 or 8 launches out of it. Mine, not so much. Two parachutes melted and the rocket made a crash landing back onto the thick snow.  The rocket that worked though? Awesome. I’ve never shot model rockets before.  It was fun, and we couldn’t have had a more gorgeous day for it.

So, we skied, snowshoed, launched rockets, ate good food, and drank whiskey. We read books, knitted hats and dishcloths, talked, played euchre, stoked the fire, and generally enjoyed the silence and remoteness of where we were. A lovely way to spend the holiday.