Two Months on the Road! A Full-Time Camper Life Update

Two months down…??? to go!

Two months ago, we drove out of Atlanta with the Jeep and pop-up camper filled to capacity and have been touring the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states ever since. On or around the 14th of each month, I’m aiming to write a quick update about where we’ve been, where we’re headed, and things I’m learning along the way.

img_6341-1-1

Related: 

Places We’ve Been: Month #2

We slowed down our pace a bit and have been spending a week in each place to better accommodate our work schedules and see more in each place.

  • New River Gorge, West Virginia: Home on the road #8
    • Favorite Parts: Hiking around the gorge and bridge with beautiful views, coal mine & ghost town hikes

img_6389-1

  • Red River Gorge, Kentucky: Home on the road #9
    • Favorite Parts: Turning 33, meeting up with my parents, rock climbing and lazy floating on my birthday

img_5199-1

  • Claytor Lake State Park, Dublin, Virginia: Home on the road #10
    • Favorite Parts: Easy access to kayaking & SUPing, playing horseshoes, decorating for fall

img_5291-1

  • Roanoke, Virginia: Home on the road #11
    • Favorite Parts: Staying in a hotel (Labor Day camping is for amateurs), solo museum outings, Black Dog Salvage

img_5425-1

  • Virginia Beach, Virginia: Home on the road #12
    • Favorite Parts: Camping right next to the beach, beach yoga/running/swimming, meeting up with my buddy Dwight

img_5476-1

  • Surf City, North Carolina: Home on the road #13:
    • Favorite Parts: Still here, but so far it’s been surviving a crazy storm with flooding (bit of a rough start)

img_5625-1

Biggest Challenges: Month #2

A lot of the challenges that were really getting to me in month #1 have mellowed out as I’ve settled into a better routine. Overall, the weather has been more pleasant in month #2 and our campgrounds have been pretty accommodating.

img_5062-1

The single biggest challenge I’ve felt this month is finding good internet for working. We’ve had to upgrade our data plans to make up for crappy service at campsites and have even had to move sites within campgrounds for better reception. These distractions cut into my productivity and make it more difficult to enjoy the other aspects of camping life.

img_5273-1

The other big challenge that comes to mind is mold/mildew. After some rainy days in West Virginia, it started growing on our camper canvas above the two beds. We didn’t discover it until we were in the Middle of Nowhere, Kentucky where cleaning supplies were very sparse. Vinegar ended up working pretty well until we got to a bigger store and picked up some mildew spray. Fortunately, no one got sick.

Realizations & Ramblings: Month #2

Over the course of the month, I jotted down random thoughts as they came to me. Here’s what my month #2 list looks like:

  • I’m getting better at doing yoga in weird places and feeling better physically and mentally because of it.
  • I’m getting more tolerant of bugs and getting better at ending their lives when necessary.
  • Monkey needs social time even when I don’t. We met her perfect playmate at Arrowhead Bike Farm in Fayetteville, WV – a hound named Hank.

img_6391-1-1

  • Keeping the inside of a camper clean is hard, especially when you’re camping in mud or sand. We are constantly sweeping the floor with a tiny broom and dust pan.
  • I really crave my end-of-the-day beer or mug of wine
  • I don’t necessary identify with West Virginia culture, but the uncrowded/outdoorsy vibe really resonated with me.

img_6430-1

  • Having our own downloaded TV shows to watch separately makes for easy and refreshing solo time. I’m currently watching Girls, Scandal, and Wentworth solo.
  • We did an “art in the park” day that involved drawing in sketchbooks and painting on watercolor postcards. I want more of these days.

img_6420-1

  • It’s possible to keep up many favorite hobbies even without an apartment.
  • When one person in your travel party isn’t coping well, the other needs to pick up the slack. Take turns with negativity.

img_6452-2

  • Inspired by scary campfire stories, I wrote a short fiction ghost story. Once I fix it up a bit, I’ll plan to share it here and perhaps write a few more too!
  • Once a month, it’s nice to treat ourselves to a hotel to switch up the routine. The Sleep in in Roanoke over Labor Day weekend to avoid crowds and the hurricane was really fun.
  • I love living by a beach.
  • Inspired by the beach I’m trying to start meditating again. I’m trying out guided meditations on this app, Meditation Studio by Gaiam.
  • I’m getting tired of wearing these same clothes and can’t wait to toss/donate them at the end of the season.
  • I have made more income so far this year than ever before in life!

Looking Ahead to Month #3

If you take a quick look at a map, you’ll see that we’ve made a big loop and seem to be circling back. But don’t be fooled because this trip is nowhere close to done!

img_6332-1

After stops in North Carolina and South Carolina, we are heading back to Atlanta for a few days. Here we’ll revisit that packed 10′ x 12′ storage unit and swap out water sports gear for biking gear, and summer clothes for fall and winter clothes. This will wrap up our tour of the Eastern U.S., and from here, we drive west!

For many years, we’ve wanted to go to the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, and this is the year we’re finally going to do it! So we’ll be putting in long hours in the car to breeze through Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas to get to the festival in time. Month #3 will be incredibly different from months #1 and #2 because it begins our journey of the west. I can’t wait, and as always thanks for reading and staying in touch!

img_5422-1

Learning about Lemurs (and loving it) in North Carolina

I think I first learned about a community of lemurs living in North Carolina a few years ago while googling “monkey things” as a work distraction. Lemurs are the most threatened group of mammals in the world, and the Duke Lemur Center is home to the largest and most diverse group of the little critters outside of Madagascar.

The center was founded on 80 wooded acres a couple miles from the Duke University campus, and today it houses nearly 250 primates across 21 species. This is all part of a non-invasive/no-harm research and conservation program that’s a pretty big deal in the lemur world.

1Unlike some primate sanctuaries, this one is open to the public if you take a guided tour. There are several tour options available, including the most basic “Lemurs Live!” tour, Behind the Scenes tour, Walking with Lemurs tour, Painting with Lemurs tour, and the Lemur Keeper for a Day experience (that one sounds awesome but costs $350 per person).

On a Saturday morning in late August, we checked in at the visitor’s center and browsed around the little gift shop for souvenirs. A lemur shot glass seemed like a necessary addition to the bar collection back home.

IMG_8290The Walking with Lemurs tour sounded pretty sweet, so that’s the we did. It’s offered between May 1 and October 26, starts at 10:30 am, and lasts 60 minutes. This one costs $95 per person, but tour fees do go towards the care of the lemurs.

To get started, we walked out with our guide and a small group to a wooded area to witness feeding time first-hand.

IMG_8294It didn’t take long for the lemurs to hear their dinner bell and come running!

IMG_8325There were two kinds of lemurs in the area that we walked in: coquerel’s sifakas and the ring-tailed Lemurs.

IMG_8398Their breakfast looks like a vegetarian’s delight (sign me up for this detox plan), and they neatly picked through the serving bowls to fill their bellies.

IMG_8386Well, some of the hungrier ones just put their faces in the bowls. Manners are overrated.

IMG_8509Unlike some of the tours that showcase lemurs that live inside cages, the Walking with Lemurs tour lets you get up-close and personal with the little guys. They’re incredibly used to humans, so as long as you don’t touch them, you’ll be just fine.

P1040986

It was fascinating just to hang out and observe the lemurs here…eating, climbing, drinking water, and just stretching out their legs.

IMG_8548However, there are several other kinds of lemurs that live at the center, including nocturnal ones that live inside a dark building in another part of the woods.

P1040998

Our guide ushered us inside, pulled open the blinds to their enclosures, and flipped on some dim red lights. They were a little hard to spot, but grey mouse lemurs, pygmy slow loris, and aye ayes were lurking about and lemur-ing around in here.

IMG_8637The tour was only an hour, and I wish I would have had a little more time to hang out with the lemurs, but I still had a blast on the tour. Having us around didn’t really seem to faze the lemurs, and I like to think they enjoyed the company.

IMG_8594

These lemurs were so playful and friendly, and it’s really impossible not to smile and laugh when they’re running and climbing around you. I’m not sure if or when I’ll ever make it Madagascar, but only seeing lemurs in the wild over there would top this experience. What an adventure that would be!

So next time you’re planning to pass through the Raleigh/Durham area, consider giving the Duke Lemur Center a call to see if you can join a tour and start your day off with a dose of lemur shenanigans.

And since this is the time of year we’re all racking our brains for gift ideas, there’s an “Adopt a Lemur” program at the center that makes for thoughtful eco-friendly gifts. I made a donation last Christmas and my gift recipient received a really nicely presented “I Care” package with a certificate, photo, animal fact sheet, and window cling. And in my book, helping feed a lemur sure beats getting another unnecessary pair of socks.

And in other primate travel news, don’t miss: 

How to Include Your Dog on Awesome Outdoor Adventures

Outdoorsy, adventurous dogs have been getting a ton of attention lately…not just from me, but from all of those crazy “Camping with Dogs” Instagramers too.

Roxy, the most chill dog EVER

Roxy, the most chill dog EVER

It makes a lot of sense though, given that approximately 70-80 million dogs are owned in the United States and about 37-47 percent of all households in the United States have a dog. And seriously, why even bother getting a dog if you’re going to leave him home alone or with a stranger every time you do something cool?

Sasha is super excited for Jeep rides...and at just a year old...everything else too.

Sasha is super excited for Jeep rides…and at just a year old…everything else too.

Check out my published blog written for a new startup called OutsideMyWay for tips on how to get your pup as ready and excited for the great outdoors as you are.

http://www.stories.outsidemyway.com/how-to-include-your-dog-on-awesome-outdoor-adventures

At 160-ish pounds, Zeiger couldn't more gentle.

At 160-ish pounds, Zeiger couldn’t more gentle.

Spelunking at California’s Lava Beds National Monument

As I recently discovered, one of the best ways to break up a West Coast road trip is by taking a slight detour to the Lava Beds National Monument. Located in that mysterious Northeastern corner of California, this park makes up the largest total area covered by a volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range.Lava6

Mammoth Crater erupted 32,000 years ago and sent massive lava flows 10 miles downhill, creating some really impressive tubes, caves, and boulder fields. Medicine Lake Volcano last erupted 950 years ago, and shifting tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean could actually make it active again someday.

This area is also steeped in brutal American history, thanks to textbook clashes between the Modoc Native American Tribe and Euro-American settlers. But you don’t have to know much about the Modoc War of 1872-1873 to enjoy this bizarre scenery.

lava 13

Surrounded by a high desert wilderness, this national park has over 700 caves, Native American rock art sites, historic battlefields, and campsites. Designated as a national landmark in 1925, Lava Beds has numerous lava tube caves, a couple dozen of which have marked entrances and developed trails you can venture down and explore.
Lava1

The best part? You can explore these caves on your own without forking over cash for a guided tour or having to put up with annoying tourists huffing and puffing next to you.

Not surprisingly, the best place to start is the visitor center because you can rent flashlights out here for free. They are heavy, bulky, and painfully dim, but they will set you back zero dollars. Basically, if you don’t have one of your own, they’re better than nothing down there.

Lava8

However, if you plan to spend a few hours at the park exploring the caves beyond just a few safe steps inside, splurge on an $8 plastic helmet at the visitor’s center. The cave ceilings get lower the farther you hike in and the ceiling rocks are dreadfully sharp. I had a head wound a couple years ago (the kind that requires 11 staples), so I wasn’t exactly into the mood to go through that all over again.

But before you lose yourself in the netherworld of spelunking, keep in mind that there are plenty of nice hikes above ground as well. Soak in the views of the cooled lava beds with gentle mountain peaks in the distance as you give yourself a mini history/geography lesson to stimulate some sort of brain activity.

Lava11

You can wander around to your heart’s content around the lava rocks around Black Crater and Battlefield. This is an awesome place to hike if you don’t want some “trail expert” telling you where you can and cannot go. Vegetation is very minimal, so it’s pretty hard to get lost too. On the day I went, the crowds were unbelievably slim and the whole place had a super eerie vibe.

Lava10

Definitely don’t miss out on hiking the Schonchin Butte, a 0.7 mile trail that feels about triple that because of the steep elevation. At the top, there’s a ranger station and the dude hanging out all alone inside was quite friendly. However, I truly wonder what he does all day up there.

Lava7

As you get back in your car and drive along the park roads towards the main section of caves, there are lots of places to pull off and check out. The most accessible caves are surrounded by metal fences and a ladder that leads down to their cool and creepy depths.

Lava5

To get a small taste of caving without much intensity, you can check out the Mushpot, an accessible cave with a high ceiling, paved surface, installed lighting, and lots of informational plaques to read.

Lava3

If you’re craving some more caving at this point, you can either hike or drive along the main road to explore a few others. I hiked down and around Labyrinth, Lava Brook, Sunshine, and Sentinel during my time at the park.

Lava4

But by far, one of the most awesome caves to check out is Skull Cave. Not only because it has a hardcore name, but also because the floor is covered in ice…even on a sunny 90-degree California day.

The trail down to Skull Cave isn’t very challenging, but it’s really unique. It’s a remnant of three large lava tubes situated on top of each other, and the rock ceilings are high enough so you don’t have to duck down at all. This odd setup traps the cold winter air and creates a year-around ice floor down a metal stairway on the lower level.

But why “Skull Cave?” Because two human skeletons and the bones of some pronghorn and bighorn sheep were once discovered inside…that’s why.

lava12

To pick out a few routes before you visit, check out this handy PDF of cave descriptions. All the caves are really chilly inside and regardless of the outside temperature, the caves range from about 30-55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although visitors are free to roam around pretty much everywhere on their own, the caves are still fragile. So don’t touch stuff!

Lava9

There’s also been an issue with white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal bat disease that’s been killing off bat populations down there. Check the National Parks Service site for current cave closures because of this.

After visiting other national parks on busy summer days, I really appreciated the low crowds and the freedom to wander around on my own at Lava Beds. Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, for example, doesn’t allow visitors to explore the caves unless they’re part of an organized tour group. Mammoth is still an awesome place though, especially if you sign up for the hardcore 6-hour “Wild Cave” tour.

Lava2

Lava Beds National Monument might seem a little out of the way for some travelers, but if you are in Northern California or are looking for a really unique road trip destination, I’d definitely recommend swinging by! Who knows, you might even find some of my gnome friends guarding the entrances…

Road Trip Poetry: Haikus and Limericks from the Northeastern U.S.

In an effort to keep the creative side of my brain active during long stretches of road, I decided to write a poem every day (or so) during my last road trip. Short stories take too much time, blog posts become tiresome after awhile, and my Facebook friends don’t care to read every thought going through my head.

To keep things simple, I settled on the haiku and the limerick for poem structures. Let me take you back to junior high creative writing class for just a moment. A Haiku revolves around that odd 5-7-5 syllable structure, juxtaposes two ideas, and throws in a seasonal reference. Limericks have a five-line AABBA rhyme scheme and tend to be on the ridiculous side.

Without schooling you any further, here is my collection of road trip poetry…categorized by city and state. (Reader hint: each paragraph is its own poem!)

Michigan City, Indiana

Jeep in the service bay
On the way to Maine today
Engine light cleared

There once was a gnome driving a Jeep
“The engine light’s on!” he exclaimed with a squeak
Mechanic found a hose was bent

Jeep in the auto hospital

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Bare butts everywhere
Sketching by bikes in the sand
Monkeys on a beach

There once was a monkey from Toronto
I was traveling and he asked, “Hey, can I go?”
We biked through the sand
He said, “I’ll be damned!”
‘Cause that beach required no clothes!

Indian market
Beetle leaves and ice cream cup
Can’t find magic fruit

Toronto traffic
Reminds me too much of home
“Squeeze left,” a sign says

A girl was biking to Scarborough Bluffs
She rode a long way and had enough
Locked her bike to a tree
And scraped up her knee
Falling off the edge feels pretty tough

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Campfire burning
Old guitar songs sung in French
Sun sets later now

Biking to Mount Royal
Quiet amidst the chaos
Brakes screech, tires swerve

Fine arts museum
Windy day in Montreal
Textured canvas paint

Grand Isle, Vermont

Citronella light
Illuminates ferry boats
Mosquito bites itch

Working along Lake Champlain

South Hero, Vermont

Roadside antique store
Crafts and creatures on the shelves
Windy twisty roads

There once was a man from South Hero
Where the population’s practically zero
He shopped for antiques
‘Til his bike started to squeak
And he skidded right off the pier. Oh no!

Vineyard concert night
Locals drink and dance along
Sun sets on the vines

There once was a band that played covers
The vineyard lawn full with blankets of lovers
The drummer drank too much wine
Ate some raw grapes off the vine
And was carried off stage by his brothers

Waterbury, Vermont

Vermont tasting day
Cider, cheese, chocolate, ice cream
Rain makes trees greener

Twin Mountain, New Hampshire

Tensions in the air
Tear drops fall like pouring rain
Let’s go get Thai food

Cold beans in a can
Styrofoam instant noodles
Sleeping bags are damp

Rainy campground day
Clothes swirl ’round the washer
Bad TV plays on

KOA pizza
Sketching by campfire light
Internet goes out

Toes dipped in the pool
Soothes itchy ankle bug bites
Dark clouds rolling in

Stir crazy working
Caught up and getting ahead
Rain motivation

Rainy day for monkeys

North Conway, New Hampshire 

There once was a climber from North Conway
He searched for good routes all day Monday
Finally set up some climbs
Mostly 5.8s and 5.9s
A bit scraped and sore, but he’s doing okay

Bar Harbor, Maine

Lobster between bread
Clam chowder and blueberry pie
Rainy day delight

There once was a moose from the state of Maine
He crossed where he wanted, which felt like a game
He ignored the road signs
Was ticketed for his crimes
‘Til he was put behind bars. What a shame!

Lighthouse on the cliff
Bell rings and red light flashes
“Click” goes the shutter

Calm breeze makes ripples
Water droplets splash my skin
Kayak on the lake

Firewood burning
Embers travel toward the sky
A hole in my shoe

Swollen drippy eye
Fishes take revenge on me
Shellfish allergy

Waves crash on the shore
Wind and flies test my balance
Yoga on the rocks

There once was a mosquito from the Harbor of Bar
I swatted him away, but he didn’t go very far
Felt him land on my skin
Sucking blood out again
Screw the tent – I’m sleeping in the car

Acadia National Park

There was an old hag at the campsite next door
Her dunkies would cry, and she’d scream some more
Tossed a burning log in the air
Bowed my head, said a prayer
Now all I hear are waves on the shore

Parade candy thrown
Lobster races to my gut
Fireworks so bright

Shift gears up the hill
Wipe the sweat, pedal faster
Cycling carriage trails

Gnomeless antique shop
Rusty junk out in the rain
Creepy man peers out

There once was a sand pail on Sand Beach
It used to make castles, now tangled in seaweed
Someone left it behind
Swept away by the tide
Rake and shovel too far out of reach

photo (3)

Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Chicago to Maine
Many stops along the way
Camping from a Jeep

THE END

Climbing the Saco Crag – North Conway, New Hampshire

I’m certainly not the most experienced outdoor climber in the world, but I have made my way to a few crags over the year. There was West Virginia’s New River Gorge, Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, Wisconsin’s Devil’s Lake, and a failed attempt in South Dakota’s Palisades.

Rubbing a climbing gnome for good luck

Rubbing a climbing gnome for good luck

Well I’ve added one more outdoor location to the list, but it was considerably more empty and more difficult to find. Since I’m not all that confident on bolt anchor setting, my outdoor climbing ventures are restricted to wherever I can hike to the top and anchor down to trees and boulders.

Before traveling to New Hampshire, I stumbled upon Joe Lyon’s blog, The Pursuit of Life. He offered pleasantly relevant advice about good top rope routes in the area and suggested the north end of Cathedral Ledge, Humphrey’s Ledge area of the Saco Crag, and Pinkham Notch at Square Ledge.

One of my first stops in New Hampshire was the White Mountain National Forest Visitor Center, where I took iPhone photos of a few key pages from a climbing guide book. Unlike in some climbing destinations, the guidebook didn’t seem all the helpful, so I really didn’t feel like making an investment in one.

I first hiked the Square Ledge Trail in search of “Chimney Route” and “The Brain”(coordinates 44.256774 – 71.245654), which Joe’s blog promised me. After a moderate hike, I found the climbing area and saw a bolt on the side of the rock. However, there were no natural anchors to tie into and there were no other climbers around to ask for advice.

My next stop was Saco Crag (coordinates 44.095537 – 71.168833). Even with notes from various climbing websites and photos of the guidebook pages, I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out where the routes were. Plenty of tree anchors were around, but where were the routes on this slab of rock?

Thank goodness for occasional yoga

Thank goodness for occasional yoga

While driving along West Side Road in North Conway, you can totally zip past the climbing area and not even know it. The crag is tucked away in the woods and there’s a dirt pullout area on the side opposite the river. If you’re around during summertime, you’ll know the area when you see people putting kayaks and tubes in the Saco River on the other side.

You’ll look up and ask yourself, “is that really the way to the crag?” And the answer is yes. A two-minute, steep, and dirty hike takes you to the promised land.

After finally settling on what I believed the V-Groove route (a 5.8) to be, I set up to climb routes #2, 3, and 4. These were 5.8 and 5.9 rated climbs that looked fairly reasonable. V-Groove was a crack climb on the right side that was trickier than I expected. There’s supposedly 18 routes on this wall, but they’re situated pretty close together and it’s hard to tell what’s what.

Some of the routes were totally overgrown, so I spent my mid-climb rest time swatting away moss, branches, bees, spiders, and spider webs. I never encountered a single other groups of climbers at Saco Crag (or any of the others supposed climbing areas I’d previously checked out) during my entire visit.

Hey New Hampshire climbers: where are you?!

Although my experience of climbing in New Hampshire was more about searching for routes than actual climbing them, it did feel great to get back up on some rock. Even though I visited New Hampshire during the heat of late June, Saco Crag was cool and shady, with a nearby river to take a dip in as well.

From what I’ve read, climbing is a “thing” in New Hampshire, but I do wonder how many climbers are making good use of all that granite. If anyone has climbed in the area, I’d love to hear from you so I can plan my next northeastern climbing adventure a little more effectively.

Thanks New Hampshire, I enjoyed your rocks and hope to see them again soon.

Discovering “Plan B” At Yosemite National Park

The winding, mountainous roads made the drive from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park seem much longer than it actually was. My boyfriend and I were excited to trade in the daily grind of the city life for a few days of hiking, camping, and rock climbing in Yosemite Valley. We both thrive upon the peace and energy that only nature can provide.  We both are also very organized and planned our outdoor excursion down to the very last detail.  But as all travelers know, even the best itineraries rarely go as planned.

My boyfriend booked the campsite by contacting the National Park Service about a month in advance. The National Park Service’s website provides a link to review the different areas of Yosemite that have campsites and their availability. The price per campsite averaged a reasonable $20.00 per night. Additional information about nearby activities and amenities are also listed on this helpful site.

Although there was no park ranger on duty at the check-in booth, we easily found our Campsite #74 in the Upper Pines Region.  We were not familiar enough with the area to have a site preference, so we simply took the site that the park service assigned to us.  We later learned about the four campsite regions in Yosemite Valley: Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines, and Camp 4. The first three regions are fairly similar and standard, but Camp 4 is a “first-come, first served” open space that requires no reservations. In addition to these options, there are also seven campsites north of Yosemite Valley and two campsites south of Yosemite valley.

The campsites in the Upper Pines were set reasonably far apart and the terrain was fairly smooth, although covered in patches of snow. We were able to park our car at the campsite next to where we pitched our tent. Each campsite had its own large lock box to store food inside so that encounters with bears would be less of a concern. All of our neighbors at the nearby campsites were quiet and one couple was kind enough to lend us their lighter fluid to get our struggling campfire started the first night.

Don’t be fooled by the movies…California is not warm and sunny year around. It was late March, and the temperatures dipped to nearly thirty degrees Fahrenheit each night. I gave myself a pat on the pack for splurging on that +10 degree down feather sleeping bag at REI for this trip. Since I had never camped in such chilly temperatures before, I had never considered using a sleeping mat before. I quickly learned that sleeping mats, such as this one from Alps Mountaineering, make a huge difference in staying comfortable and keeping warm.

Since my boyfriend and I have decent rock climbing skills, I contacted several climbing companies in advance to inquire about hiring a guide to summit some peaks in Yosemite. My search was quickly narrowed down, as I discovered that there was only one company that provided guide services inside the boundaries of the National Park and during the month of March.

This guide company, Yosemite Mountaineering School, was extremely accommodating and helpful throughout my contact with them while booking a ¾ day climbing excursion. I thought the price of $200.00 per person for a 6 hour guided climb was pretty steep. However, this was our only option and we really wanted to have the bragging rights of climbing Yosemite. Information about the options and pricing can be viewed on the YMS website.

The staff at Yosemite Mountaineering School advised us to meet their guide, Josh, in the Curry Village Mountain Shop at 9:00am and to bring our own lunch, water, climbing shoes, and harnesses. On the night before our scheduled climbing excursion, rain poured down on our tent and flooded the terrain around us. After a cold and uncomfortable night in the tent, my boyfriend and I awoke at dawn and wondered if the weather conditions would hinder our climbing plans.

Although cell phone reception in the park was sparse, I was finally able to reach Josh to discuss the weather conditions and our plan for the day.He told me that he had gone out earlier that morning to scope out the climbing areas and that pretty much everything was flooded and nearly every rock face was wet and slippery. He advised against taking us out to climb and asked if we had the flexibility to reschedule for another day. Unfortunately, this was our last day in Yosemite so we simply had to cancel our reservations.  I really appreciated Josh’s honesty about the hazardous weather conditions and consideration for our safety.

Yosemite Mountaineering School gave us a full refund, with no hassles. Although, he and I were disappointed about not being able to climb that day, we quickly agreed upon a “Plan B”. We spent the day hiking the trail to the upper waterfall. The trail boasted a challenging 7.2 miles had pretty much every type of terrain I could imagine: rock, dirt, sand, grass, mud, water, snow, ice, and concrete. A helpful guide about the various hiking trails at Yosemite can be found on the National Park Service website.

Although our initial plans of rock climbing didn’t work out, we were not disappointed at all. And although Yosemite has been photographed countless times, there is truly nothing like experiencing the beauty of Yosemite first hand. Periodically stopping to take a deep breath and view the vistas along the way brought us a sense of peace, acceptance, and appreciation for the opportunity to be where we were at that
very moment.

How I Popped My Canyoneering Cherry

As an outdoor documentary junkie, I’ve seen plenty of other people’s canyonnering adventures from the comfort of my couch. But as I braced myself against the rugged terrain in the back of a mini van on the way to Zion National Park, I realized I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

My boyfriend and I recently traveled to Zion National Park near Springdale, Utah to give this whole canyoneering thing a try. Although I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast, this was my first time navigating canyons. Although he had gone canyonnering once before in Moab, Utah, we found ourselves at a similar skill level throughout the trip.

According to Wikipedia, canyoneering is “traveling in canyons using a variety of techniques that may include other outdoor activities such as walking, scrambling, climbing, jumping, abseiling, rappelling, and/or swimming.

About a month before our trip, I contacted four guide companies to discuss their features and pricing. After weighing all of our options and our experience level, I hired Zion Rock and Mountain Guides. This guide company seemed to offer the best price for the best overall experience, and I would highly recommend them to anyone traveling to the Zion area.

They set us up with a different guide on each of the two days we booked excursions. We met a guide each morning at the company’s gear shop and loaded our gear in their mini van to take us to the best canyoneering locations. The drive out to the canyons was an adventure in and of itself. The terrain was rocky, the inclines were steep, and the cliffs were intense. Mormon communities were prevalent in the area, and one of our guides even pointed out Warren Jeff’s polygamist sect as we passed by.

Our first day in the canyons involved mostly hiking and rappelling. After a long stretch of trail, my boyfriend and I took turns harnessing ourselves to the rope and rappelling down to base level. Rappelling is essentially moving down a steep incline or past an overhang using a double rope secured above and placed around the body.

Our second day in the canyons involved more technical navigation of bouldering, stemming, and climbing. The tight crevices required us to climb over large rocks and use all four limbs to push against the sides of narrow passageways to reach the other side.

Although I did my research before our canyoneering trip, I was never able to find a good beginners’ guide to the sport. I learned a lot from “winging it” on my first experience and I can’t wait to get back out there for round two.

Lesson Learned #1: You’d better get over your fear of heights because not rappelling is not an option.

There is no getting around it. Canyoneering involves a lot of rappelling and you’d better get comfortable with it quickly. I developed my own rappelling strategy, which I defensively referred to as “slow and steady wins the race”.

Meanwhile, he zipped down the lines as quickly as possible, with the greatest of ease. Personally, I was in no hurry to get down, as long as I got down safely and without losing my cool.

Lesson Learned #2: You’re going to get soaking wet no matter how hard you try not to.

Before this trip, I was convinced that canyoneering was all about rappelling. Not true. On our first day in Zion, we hiked for about an hour before we even saw a single rope. At times, we tossed off our backpacks and bouldered across unpaved trails and flowing streams.

Just moments after this photo was taken, I lost my footing and splashed into the pit of water below me. Fortunately, it was over 90-degrees in the Utah sunshine, so drying off was a non-issue. I laughed, squeezed the water of my socks, and chocked it up to “the learning curve”.

Lesson Learned #3: The guide you have makes a huge difference.

Our guide on the second day went above and beyond to teach us the specifically skills that we would need to venture out on a canyoneering trip by ourselves, which is definitely something we are interested in doing. Although our guide on the first day was knowledgeable, he stuck to the basics and only took us to the pre-planned routes.

This just goes to show that you can do all the research you want to compare guide companies, but you never know who will be your guide and/or how well that particular guide will accommodate your needs and desires. Both of them ensured that we used proper safety techniques, which in the end, is the most important quality in a guide.

Lesson Learned #4: Proper gear is essential to not being miserable.

If you hire a guide company, such as Zion Rock & Mountain Guides, they should be able to provide all the essential gear that you will need. They provided my boyfriend and I with harnesses, helmets, and canyoneering boots. There are a few different options for canyoneering boots based on how much water you’ll be going through and how much traction you need for the rock on your trails.

On our third day in Zion National Park, we decided to do a few of hikes marked as “strenuous” in our campsite brochure. The first hike we tried was The Narrows. Our guides from the past two days raved about this hiked and casually mentioned that there would be a good amount of water included on this hike. The Narrows had well more than a “good amount of water”. It was practically hiking through a river with a moderate flow.

Somewhat unprepared for what we found, we started the hike in shorts and basic hiking boots. Other hikers around us were decked out in wetsuits, hiking sticks, and waterproof boots. The water was well below 50-degrees, the rocks were sharp and slippery on our bare feet, and the current nearly made us wipe out on several occasions.

After hiking three segments of The Narrow, we reluctantly turned around to find a trail that we were better suited for and that we could enjoy more. We ended up hiking Angel’s Landing, which was exactly what we were looking for in a strenuous hike.

Lesson Learned #5: Push yourself because you can probably do more than what’s within your comfort zone.

There were a couple moments on our trip that I got out of my comfort zone and completely lost my confidence. I yelled out “I can’t do it!” (with a good number of expletives thrown in) more than a few times. Neither one of our guides (or my boyfriend for that matter) would accept this. They would yell down from top of the canyon “Just do it!” and thrown in an equal number of expletives for good measure.

This photo was taken at the most difficult moment of the trip for me. The canyon walls were far apart. The water was deep and disgusting. My energy level was low and my body was exhausted. But I am happy to report that I successfully completed this route without slipping, injuring myself, or falling into a pit of sludge.

I tend to think that my mind and body have certain limitations, but those limitations can often be pushed further when situations require it. Canyoneering made me realize this about myself and boosted my confidence that I can do much more, both physically and mentally, than I really expect myself to. Needless to say, this will not be my last canyoneering trip and I will always remember what I learned from my first experience in Zion.

Planning Your First Outdoor Rock Climbing Adventure

Some rock climbers are satisfied standing in line at the gym’s check-in desk, squinting to distinguish between colors of faded tape routes, and making do with overused rental gear. However, most climbers I know crave the freedom of the outdoors, the challenge of the uncertain terrain, and the serenity you can only find in the mountains.

So you and your friends have been scampering up the walls at your local rock climbing gym for awhile now, eh? There’s been some chatter about doing one of those outdoor climbing trips you all keep seeing posters about behind the check-in desk. With a little research and a lot of guts, you can be well on your way to your first outdoor summit. Here are a few things to consider…

LOCATION: SO WHERE DO YOU WANT TO CLIMB?

Some of the best rock climbing in the United States is in Kentucky, Colorado, California, and Utah. However, there is great climbing in unexpected areas, such as Southern Illinois and Western Pennsylvania. Discuss how far your group is willing to travel and how much time you have to spend on your climbing adventure. One of the best online resources to browse and find climbing in your area is Mountain Project.

SKILL LEVEL: BE HONEST, ARE YOU ANY GOOD?

Once you decide on a location, be sure to read about the terrain and conditions to determine if the location has routes that are within your skill level. If you like, you can go the old-school route and pick up a guide book to read all about the ratings, pitches, elevation, and comments from other climbers. Many guidebooks can be found on a Amazon.

If you’ve never climbed anything harder than a 5.7, you probably don’t want to take your first climbing trip to the Eiger. The important thing is to not be intimidated by outdoor climbing because the many mountains offer something for everyone at every skill level. Be mindful of each person in your group so that everyone can be challenged and enjoy themselves.

GUIDE COMPANIES: CORPORATE VS. LOCAL

There are usually several guide companies in popular climbing destinations. For your first few outdoor trips, you should definitely be accompanied by experienced climbing instructors. A simple Google search for climbing guide companies in your chosen destination is a great starting point. Some guide companies are more like corporate institutions that crank out guided tours on a daily basis. “Mom and pop shops” are family-owned small businesses that have made a living out of their passion.

Corporate guide companies generally have more informative websites, offer fixed rates with scheduled times, and guarantee certified guides.  Smaller family-owned guide companies can be friendlier to work with, more accommodating for groups schedules, and offer a more intimate glimpse into the climbing culture. After reviewing and comparing what a couple different guide websites have to offer, one member of your group should email or call the company directly to introduce your group and ask specific questions.

COST: NOT EXACTLY THE CHEAPEST SPORT IN THE WORLD

You should verify with the guide companies that you are researching if there are any discounts or additional costs based upon your group size. Most companies offer trips for half days, three-quarter days, full days, or multiple days. You should assess how hardcore your group is and what your overall budget allows. Does your crew have their own gear? If not, you will need to ask the guide companies about rental fees for climbing shoes, harnesses, carabiners, belay devices, chalk bags, and rope.

 

ACCOMMODATIONS? WHERE THE HECK WILL YOU SLEEP?

So you’ve gotten the details squared away!  You’ve picked your location, assessed your skill level, chosen your guide company, and selected the most cost-effective climbing package for your group’s needs. Congratulations, the hard part is over!

Now, does your group like to camp? Or would they rather stay at the Holiday Inn down the road for a soft bed and hot tub time after an exhausting day? By now, you probably know your climbing buddies well enough to answer these questions, but it never hurts to ask. Definitely make campsite and/or hotel reservations as soon as you’ve confirmed your location because no one wants to be homeless or sleeping in the car after conquering the world.

Once you’ve experienced climbing in the beauty and challenge of nature, I’m guessing you’ll find it as difficult as I did to drag yourself up to that check-in desk with your punch card and spell your last name three times until you’re located in the computer. Although organizing an outdoor trip for the first time can be intimidating, climbers tend to be the kind of people who are willing to offer useful tips and help guide you to immerse yourself into the sport and the culture.