Today is my first day of school and I feel very old indeed. My very young, very blond lab partner reassured me that she knows someone else going back to school who’s like, forty. Thank you, lab partner.
Today is my first day of school and I feel very old indeed. My very young, very blond lab partner reassured me that she knows someone else going back to school who’s like, forty. Thank you, lab partner.
Ten Sleep, Wyoming, has been kind of the hot new climbing area for awhile now, and it wasn’t too far out of our way, so we decided to stop and check it out.
I hated Ten Sleep. I spent the first day feeling really sick, perhaps because I’d grown so used to being damp and cold that when faced with blazing sun and heat, my body had no idea what to do. I’d also smashed my hand on a rock at Lake Louise, which aggravated an old wrist injury that didn’t take too kindly to wrenching my fingers into little pockets, which is all you get to do at Ten Sleep, more or less. The impeccable quartzite at Lake Louise made me think I could really get into sport climbing. The pocked, brittle limestone at Ten Sleep snatched my sport climbing hopes and dreams right back again.
Well, I guess it was worth the stop just to climb a ridiculous route named BEER BONG.
So long, Ten Sleep! From now on if I want to go sport climbing on crappy rock I don’t really trust very much, I can do it much closer to home.
We fled the rain of the Bugaboos in search of better climbing on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies. We drove through Banff to Lake Louise under worryingly dark skies, but a park ranger reassured us that the forecast promised sun in the afternoon and evening. We set up a campsite, cooked some lunch, got our climbing gear together, and drove up to the lake to do some climbing. We made it as far as the parking lot before it started to pour.
So we fled!
We’d heard about a climbing area named THE GHOST, which requires hours of driving on terrible dirt roads before the roads just give up and you have to drive across a river bed and dirt trails in your hopefully burly vehicle. Also the area is named after a CANNIBAL GHOST, so really, what’s not to love? Actually we drove all this way only because the guidebook mentioned The Ghost is in a rain shadow, so we were dismayed when it began to rain on us. Again. We climbed a 400 foot limestone cliff anyway.
Canadian Rock listed our route as one of the best in the guidebook, but after hours of poorly-maintained dirt roads, a strenuous and kind of sketchy approach, and four pitches of rock that occasionally fell off into our hands, we were less than convinced.
So we fled. Again. Back to Lake Louise.
It turns out Lake Louise is really quite lovely when it’s not pouring rain! Here’s the view of the lake from the top of the climbing wall, appropriately named “Back of the Lake”:
A handful of routes at Lake Louise pretty much doubled the number of sport climbing routes I’ve ever climbed, which are somehow both more delicate and more muscular than the trad climbing I’m used to. Everyone else at the crag seemed very, very good. We watched a woman effortlessly float up a 5.11d route, and we later found out a guy we watched for a bit was actually on a 5.14 route. (Reportedly, he later led a 5.12b in his approach shoes.)
I led a 5.7 route that was 120 feet high and felt very fulfilled anyway.
We had an objective in mind for the next day that required a party of four on the hike in, due to grizzly bear restrictions. We’d heard from climbers in the Bugaboos not to worry if we couldn’t find another pair, but we thought it would be a nice opportunity to make some friends anyway. So when I heard the pair next to us tell someone they were from Washington state and they’d recently been rained out of the Bugaboos, I saw my chance.
Kyle and Lisa were very, very good climbers. Somewhat related, I have been referring to myself as The Truckwife, as the female party of our truck household. Eric refers to me as The PR Department, as the one who makes the friends around here.
We decided not to do the route we’d had in mind because the forecast called for an 80% chance of thunderstorms, so we headed back to the same crag, now with new friends in tow. And then, at the end of the day, it began to pour once again.
Canada, we are over you and your weather. Back to AMERICA for us! Where it never rains. Fingers crossed!
When I was in middle school, I had a winter jacket made by Columbia. The model name of the jacket was “Bugaboo”, which was stitched across the back of the collar. My Bugaboo jacket made me feel very cool because I knew the Bugaboos were a very rugged mountain range at the tip of South America.
In my defense, I lived in the midwest and would not see real mountains for nearly another decade.
Well, it turns out the Bugaboos are in Canada, and it turns out that we are in Canada, and so here we go! It’s a long hike in with a heavy pack, so our first day we took it easy and climbed the classic McTech Arete, close to camp. From the top, we could see day two’s objective, Pigeon Spire, hanging out in the background.
To get to Pigeon Spire, you must climb up a steep snow slope between the two spires in the foreground and pass over a giant crack in the glacier, all the while hoping that the warm temperature doesn’t thaw out any rocks precariously perched somewhere above you. While sitting on top of McTech Arete, I watched a couple of very large boulders roll right over the path we’d be headed up in the morning and got real nervous. Signs like this didn’t help:
We stopped to put on crampons at the bottom and get our courage in gear to gun it up the scary couloir as fast as possible. I have decided that crampons are to alpine climbing what tape gloves are to rock climbing: the thing I put on that instantly makes me feel like an Awesome Climber, and changes how I think about what’s in front of me. How scary could it possibly be? Look at me, I have spikes on my feet.
I feel very silly now, thinking about how much sleep I lost over that one stupid snow slope, which didn’t even turn out to be all that steep at all. I have been classifying my scary mountain climbing experiences by comparing them to the Most Scared I Have Been on a Mountain, that time I thought a disintegrating couloir was going to collapse with me in it on Forbidden Peak. I would put the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col at 20% Most Scared. Barely a blip on the radar. Nonetheless, I was relieved to be through it and hiking up a mellow glacier to get to Pigeon Spire and the start of our route.
The West Ridge of Pigeon Spire is rated a very mellow 5.4, and it’s mostly much easier than that. But it’s still listed as one of Roper and Steck’s “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America”, and it’s easy to see why. The rock is solid, you stick to an exposed ridge crest for 1500 vertical feet, and the setting is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Also this is maybe the coolest I have ever looked while climbing:
Eric had agreed earlier that I would get to lead the whole route, but then got grumpy because he wasn’t leading anything. Cheer up, Eric! IT’S A CLASSIC FOR A REASON.
Sadly, I think I have gotten a little jaded about summit views at this point. The views from the North Cascades summits are beautiful — a sea of wild peaks around you — but after awhile, the view is always kind of the same no matter which mountain you climb. But the Bugaboos seem so foreign and desolate, and frankly kind of weird, and so this is the best summit I’ve ever been on.
On the way back to camp, I was so delighted with my climb that I was practically skipping in my crampons. Mom, I would never cross a glacier unroped, and I would certainly never take any undue risks on a glacier no matter how excited I was about climbing and how much fun I was having:
“Do you you remember seeing a forest fire earlier today?” No, but that’s one hell of a forest fire now…
We went to bed imagining how amazing the next day’s route was going to be — a much longer, somewhat harder route on another even more impressive spire — and then we woke up to rain. We had some lunch, we packed up, we hiked out in search of new climbing areas, hopefully under sunnier skies.
Our truck is filled with climbing guidebooks. I love owning guidebooks, even though they’re expensive — somewhere around forty bucks a pop — and sometimes I buy them for places I might only visit once. I’ve already burned through all the actual books with words in them that I brought on this trip, and so a popular truck-based pastime involves flipping through guidebooks and daydreaming. (I do it at home, too — this is why I have a whole shelf of guidebooks.) Anyway, one of our more beloved guidebooks at the moment is titled Canadian Rock, and a picture in that book led us to Mount Gimli.
Here’s the view of the mountain, after driving up the Scariest Dirt Road in Canada. (Probably not true, we’ve already found other contenders since then.) Thankfully the trail was in better shape than the road, and two hours of hiking revealed this view, the view from the guidebook, the reason we are here:
Gimli is a strange shark fin that rises up out of the alpine meadows, and our route goes eight pitches straight up that striking south ridge, the edge of the shark fin. Usually when you are a few pitches up a mountain, you have worked your way up over a few big ledges such that it’s not a clear drop hundreds of feet below you to the ground. Not so on Gimli! Nearly every belay station was very exposed, and so toward the end I balanced my toes on little ledges while my heels hung out a thousand feet above the tiny day-hikers at the bottom.
We didn’t have a good weather forecast so we nervously watched all day, hoping none of the clouds would turn into thunderheads. On the hike up to Gimli, we could see clouds sweeping into the side of the mountain before turning upward, right along the ridge. Our exposed belay stations were a little cold and windswept, but it never rained on us. The clouds just added to the wild atmosphere of the climb.
My time as a dirtbag climber in California was brief mostly because two of our climber friends had the good sense to get married on a mountain in Whistler. There was a real rainbow and everything!
Whistler is less than an hour away from Squamish, which happens to be a favorite climbing locale for both Eric and I, so we decided to set up shop for awhile. And happily, all our friends were in town for the wedding and climbed with us for the weekend!
Squamish is only about four hours away from Seattle and I go there a few times a summer — hardly a road trip destination, you’d think. But we love it there, and it was a happy place to work on getting my confidence up (including my first 5.10a lead!). And spending two weeks in Squamish gave us the chance to get off the beaten path a little bit, too. Here is Eric following one of my favorite pitches of the trip so far, one that climbs up the wall of a gorge above a boiling river.
When you live in a truck, it is easy to make friends with other people who live in a truck. Here are Lee and Adams (and Mighty Denver), our new friends who live in a house when they are in Arkansas, and in a truck when they are not in Arkansas. It was a delight to hang out with them at camp and share whiskey and adventure stories. However, their single greatest contribution to our lives is that Eric and I now shout at one another: “GIT SOME! GIT YERSELF SOME OF THAT ROCK!” We LOVED them.
We climbed a lot of the classics while we were in town as well. The main attraction in Squamish is a giant wall of granite named THE CHIEF that looms 2000+ feet over the sleepy little town. I’d never climbed on the Chief itself, only surrounding cliffs, so we decided to climb a route enticingly named ULTIMATE EVERYTHING that would take us all the way to the top. I proudly led half the pitches, including one of the weirdest pitches I have ever climbed. (Go up, turn left, climb down, climb back up.) Here I am looking pretty tired on one of the final pitches, with a tiiiiiny highway way down below me:
And of course the hardest pitch of the route had to be the last one. But oh, it was scenic up there:
And then a week later we repeated our ascent of the Chief via a different route, ANGEL’S CREST. We didn’t take many pictures along the way as it was a somewhat more difficult route and we were fairly focused on our goal of hauling ass, but I did fall in love with this solitary tree. That’s a tiiiiiny housing development down there, by the way:
And here we are on top of the Chief AGAIN, tra la la:
And then… we hiked all the way down from the top of the Chief to find this note some kind soul had left on our windshield:
YES, WE KNOW.
And so we crossed the border back into AMERICA, where parts for cars are cheaper because, you know, AMERICA. Today looked like this:
And that brings us all the way up to the present! Now we are sitting in a laundromat, waiting for our clothes to be miraculously freed of sweat and dirt and grime and antifreeze. Next up: back to Canada! CANADIAN ROAD TRIP FOREVER, OR FOR A WEEK OR SO UNTIL WE DECIDE TO CLIMB MORE AMERICAN MOUNTAINS AFTER ALL.
An ex-boyfriend and I once got into an argument about the deepest lake in the United States. He was from Oregon and insisted it was Crater Lake. I was born and raised in northern Minnesota and could not fathom how some lake IN A VOLCANO could even possibly be deeper than Lake Superior (the largest freshwater lake in the world, as anyone from Duluth can tell you).
Well, sometimes I can admit when I am wrong. And so I have been obsessed with Crater Lake ever since. Here are some fun facts about Crater Lake I may have bored you with at recent parties:
- It has an island named WIZARD ISLAND.
- There is a log in the lake that floats upright, just bobbing around Wizard Island, sticking up like a weird iceberg. That’s weird, right?
- THE LOG HAS BEEN THERE FOR AT LEAST A HUNDRED YEARS.
THING #34: DONE. (43/101)
Last month I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen since 1998. We had sort of kept up via letters and emails and facebook over the years, but there was a lot of catching up to do. He told me about his academic job at a fancy school, and he told me about his lovely doctor wife, and his lovely three-year-old daughter. And then it was my turn, and I said, “Um, I gave notice at my job today and I’m going to live in a truck with my boyfriend.”
So a couple of weeks ago, I flew to Yosemite, where Eric had already been climbing very impressive things for a month already. I had been to Yosemite once before, for my 21st birthday when I was in college. As a native midwesterner whose parents liked to vacation at the beach, it was the very first time I had ever seen real mountains, the snow-capped High Sierra off in the distance. It was also the first time I’d seen real rock climbers, and I remember thinking climbing seemed needlessly risky and kind of nuts.
Well, here we are! Lying around in the meadow under El Capitan and talking about climbing. Also we have to drink malt liquor because we don’t have jobs anymore.
My very first day in Yosemite Valley, Eric got a text from one of his Yosemite friends wanting to know if we wanted to go on a “circumambulation hike” of El Capitan under the full moon. We re-read the text days later, to make sure we hadn’t somehow misunderstood, but sure enough, there seem to be two words in that text that indicate a pleasant walk — an ambling, if you will. We started ambling up over boulders in a gully at about 7 p.m., still hot enough to be miserable for those of us who’d just flown in from Seattle.
And because it was so hot, I was wearing shorts. Because, you know, hiking! Later I regretted my decision when we fought our way upward through brushy manzanita trees in the dark, clinging to them as though our lives depended on it. Which, apparently, they did. I commented at one point that I was glad I couldn’t see too far down with my headlamp or I’d be scared. Eric’s friend replied, “Oh, yeah, sometimes you look down and think, ‘I might live if I fell!’ Here, you look down and you’re like, ‘NO WAY, MAN. I would definitely die.’ These cliffs are like, four hundred feet!”
Also then the climbing got harder and there were no trees to cling to. Also now my legs look like I rubbed them with hamsters and then waded through a feral cat colony.
Well, we lived to see the summit, where we drank whiskey under the full moon and talked about climbing for hours before heading down the standard route the climbers take to get down El Capitan. Again, there were points I was glad I couldn’t see the 2000+ foot drop over the edge very well as we tiptoed down steep slabs in our rock shoes. And then we made it to the car at 7 a.m.!
My first day in Yosemite, I climbed to the top of El Capitan. My second day in Yosemite, I slept all day. We did the tourist thing and drove up to Glacier Point.
We did a little bit more climbing, then decided to head north into Tuolumne Meadows to escape the heat. Here’s what breakfast looks like when you live in a truck, by the way:
We climbed moderate routes up some granite domes in Tuolumne, though the threat of rain hung over us all the while. We had bigger plans originally, but then decided our plans did not include being lightning rods. Here’s me sitting under a glacier erratic boulder and belaying Eric up to me, while both of our original goals (Fairview Dome on the left, and Cathedral Peak on the far right) hulk in the background.
The downpour started just as we finished rappelling down off the dome, so it turns out we made the right call that day.
We left Tuolumne and drove down the canyon to a Mobil gas station, where we had heard there was a party on Thursday nights. Sure enough, the party involved a band, bison meatloaf for dinner, and a whole lot of climbers to talk to. It started to get chilly, so we walked back up to the truck to grab jackets. Eric asked if we should bring our climbing guidebooks back down to the party with us, and I said no, I didn’t want to look like we were trying too hard. Eric stopped short, pointed, and said, “THAT guy is trying too hard.”
Nonetheless, we have been doing push-ups on picnic tables every other evening ever since.
Finally, we made our way to Lake Tahoe, and climbed at a place called Lovers Leap. We had the misfortune to hit it on a weekend, so our first day we pulled in, couldn’t find a parking spot, and decided to retroactively declare a rest day and go swimming instead. Our second day, we got the last parking spot and then waited in line for three hours to get on THE classic Lovers Leap route, a steep 5.7 named Corrugation Corner where at one point you can look down between your feet and see the ground, 300 feet below you. It’s a shame we only got one busy day here. Eric wouldn’t let me leap.
My climbing in California was not quite up to the level I’d hoped and Eric and I are still kind of remembering how to climb together, since I usually climb with Emily (who is at the same level as me and understands that 5.7 routes can be scary). Things Eric is allowed to say to me on lead: I gotcha! You got this! Your feet look so solid! Your butt looks so awesome! Things he is not allowed to say, but only think: JUST MAKE THE GODDAMNED MOVE ALREADY. Anyway, we are currently in Phase Two of the road trip, and great gains have been made! ROAD TRIP FOREVER.
It’s been almost two years since Eric and I thru-hiked the Enchantments. Ever since I’ve been wondering when I’d get to climb Prusik Peak, which is the halfway point of the thru-hike, which is a terribly long way to lug a rope and climbing gear. So Emily and I finally picked a weekend, met up at the trailhead, and tried to get ourselves excited about a 1 a.m. departure time. Hiking in the pitch dark, even on a well-maintained trail, meant taking a little bit of a risk. We got off-track a couple of times around 3 a.m. and were relieved when the sun started to come up and we had nice cairns to guide us. Aasgard Pass is behind me. We gotta get up that thing.
Hiking in the dark also means there’s a good chance you’ll forget your sunglasses in the car because you don’t need them right away. We briefly lost the trail at 3 a.m., I realized I didn’t have sunglasses, and I started to get cranky. Just as the sun started to rise a bit later, I sat on a rock to eat something and… found a pair of sunglasses right next to me! TRAIL MAGIC.
Well anyway then we had to climb 2000+ feet up Aasgard Pass and both of us were starting to wonder what we were thinking.
The top of the pass turned out to be an icy slope that slid directly into a barely thawing lake directly below, i.e. DO NOT FALL HERE. We had already decided not to carry crampons and ice axes with us, which we knew was a bit of a gamble. We very nervously made our slow and steady way across the slope, chopping steps in the ice with a trekking pole. And then! We were in the upper basin! Oh yeah, this is why we’re up here.
The goats in the Enchantments are much more polite than our last run-in with a goat. I also got to watch a baby goat take a dust bath and it was so adorable I think something deep inside of me broke.
And then, 12+ miles after leaving the car, we started climbing up the West Ridge! Emily likes slab climbing, or at least she doesn’t hate it as much as I do, so here she is getting ready to lead up the 5.7 slab. (We agreed I’d take the 5.6 lieback pitch next, and I was secretly relieved to get the easier rated pitch to lead. We both agreed my pitch turned out to be a bit harder, whoops.)
Prusik Peak put 25+ miles on our odometers, and took us 23 hours car to car. The next day I had to get a filling at the dentist, and I pretty much just slept right through it. I thought it would take me a week to remember the trip fondly, but no, I was feeling great about it the very next day. (Emily had a knee injury on the way out so she probably needed two weeks before remembering this as a good day.) What a pretty mountain, and what a fun day out with my favorite climbing partner!