Road Trip America – Climbing Wallstreet in Potash near Moab, Utah

I’ve climbed a good number of crags around America within the last two years, but none were as unique as the routes at Wallstreet in Utah – they’re literally located along the roadside. A few routes even required belayers to stand directly in the road. Needless to say, things got interesting.

The climbing was so enticing that I was easily convinced to finally give (outdoors) rope climbing a try. I choose a slab wall that Ryan had free soloed up, seemingly with ease. The climb quickly taught me a lesson about slab climbing: I’m not so great at it. The prospect of slipping and grating my face along the positively sloping rock was a mental road block that I couldn’t get past – as was the no-hands-trust-your-tiny-foot-holds style of climbing. I think I’ll stick to overhangs.

Across the street from the climbs, the Colorado River rushed and rippled past us with frigid water that looked almost good enough to jump into. This was easily one of my favorite crags I’ve ever photographed. There were beautiful climbs, unique landscapes, and even a few creature buddies.

If I had to pick a highlight of the day for the boys, it would be the 5.8 trad crack, called 30 Seconds Over Potash, that Jeff led. It was pretty intense watching him muscle his way up the route in true Jeff fashion – which means he just powered through the movements with minimal technique and maximum strength. Once he finished placing gear and anchored in, he let the other boys top rope the route while practicing their gear placements.

Perhaps the best photo from the day was snapped on a 5.11c that Ryan, Jeff and Niko spent a chunk of the day working. This route was literally located on the street, the belayer had to stand directly in the road. There were multiple times when we had to shout up for the climber to pause while the belayer pressed up against the rock to let a semi-truck pass by. Ryan gets the photo of the day with his no-hands chalk up, complete with his tongue out against the wall.

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Road Trip America – Climbing ‘Beached Whale’ V5 at Ahwahnee Boulders in Yosemite National Park

Behold, my future conquest. This mediocre-quality photo is my mental commitment to sending what will soon be my first V5 ascent. The route is Beached Whale, a beautiful overhung problem sitting across from the Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite National Park.

I’m posting this photo in an effort to create some sort of hype that will push me not to give up on the climb.

For those of you who speak beta, here’s the route breakdown: you start hands crossed on two slopers (one has a slight finger-tearing crimp), and a high right heel with your left flagged under. You then bump out left to a decent ledge, match and throw up a higher heel, then bump out left again to a better ledge where you match again. After a little funky footwork that leaves you with a heel up on the lower ledge, you bump out over that middle prow to a solid ledge on the other side, and trust your heel while you match your hands. Now for the tricky part: bump up right to the prow, and cut your feet to throw a heel up on the left side of the ledge. Then it’s a hardcore mantle upwards to complete the top out.

After two days spent working the problem, I’m a mere top out short of sending Beached Whale. The granite rock has been destroying my palms and fingertips, so today is a much needed rest day. Tomorrow this V5 will be mine. Send strong vibes and words of encouragement – I’m seriously going to need it to complete that scary top out. The problem starts on a little rocky area, then the landing drops down under the roof, leaving me terrified about falling.

I can do this, right? How glorious would it be to send my first V5 out in Yosemite? I can’t pass up an opportunity like this. I will top out – and there will be video.

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Road Trip America – Urban bouldering in the rain at Central Park in Denver, Colorado

The first two days of our time in Denver were entirely rained out, putting a damper on our plans for a full week of hardcore climbing. By the third day, we were growing restless. On Thursday, we wasted a few hours loafing around in McGoo’s house, and happened upon a link for a Denver park that housed amazing artificial boulders.

The site warned that the park was nearly always overrun with throngs of kids, making it hard to take the climbing seriously. We decided to rough out the rain and headed to the supposed climbing in Central Park anyways. Our decision paid off, because the playground was a ghost town due to the dreary weather – we had this unbelievable park all to ourselves.

Aside from the sculpted boulder formations, this park was a Dr. Seuss fantasy land with miniature purple hills, zany metal sculptures and plenty of things to swing, spin and fall off of. Despite the rain, we all had a blast. One of my dad’s graduation gifts came in handy when the rain started falling a bit harder: He gave me a camera cover for taking shots in the rain, and it was ideal for this situation.

 

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Road Trip America – Frozen treats at Sweet Action Ice Cream in Denver, Colorado

After stuffing face at Bull & Bush Brewery in Denver, I didn’t think I’d have room for any dessert – but I was wrong. Local Denver lady Sara insisted that we head to the Sweet Action Ice Cream shop for some post-dinner deliciousness.

I had resolved not to touch a bite of ice cream, until Sara suggested that I try the salted butterscotch flavor – how could I refuse that? I ordered a single scoop, which was really two scoops, and dug in to one of the most creamy, salty treats imaginable.

My cup of frozen cream was flawless. The actual ice cream was thick and creamy, with none of that icy bite that I loathe. Every few bites would present a little crunch of salted butterscotch, delivered in modest amounts that never overwhelmed me. My only regret about my experience at Sweet Action is that I didn’t take the time to ask for a sample of the ginger peach flavor, which sounds out of this world. Return visit in the making?

The shop handmakes all their flavors, and is constantly updating their giant chalkboard menu with new offerings. They have all the usuals like milk chocolate and vanilla bean, plus a selection of unique concoctions like peach ginger, basil lime sorbet and pineapple upside down cake. For the discerning eater, they even have multiple vegan flavors available.

The store front itself doesn’t suggest the epic ice cream that awaits; all you see is white walls with few scattered paintings and an open air counter at the front of the shop. Don’t let their humble appearance fool you, Sweet Action recently earned accolades as one of the top ice cream stops in America by Food & Wine.


Have I mentioned lately how smitten I am with local businesses? Why would you ever go to an ice cream shop chain when you can have freshly made, locally influenced sweet treats? Top notch, Sweet Action!

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Road Trip America Day 5 – Satellite Boulders and free-soloing the Flat Irons in Boulder, Colorado

Yesterday afternoon was spent exploring the climbs at Chautauqua Park’s Flat Irons. To access the area, you park along this adorable residential area, which I believe is primarily comprised of timeshare or rental mountain homes – I wanted one so bad. There is a wide concrete path that guides you up the first little foothills before the trail becomes rugged and winds up the mountainside.


Our first stop was at the Satellite Boulder area. Highlight of the trip thus far was when I hopped on my first route of the day and miraculously topped out over an arete with the classic ‘beached whale’ method. I will admit, my ascent was neither graceful nor delicate – but alas, I am a lady! If you’ve ever climbed outdoors with me, you know how much of a baby I am when it comes to topping out.

During our day, we met a few groups of awesome climbers who made our experience out at the Flat Irons even more memorable. The first was a couple, Alex and Olivia, who were just hiking in the area and couldn’t resist hopping on the rocks after bumping into us. They certainly showed us some Colorado-style hospitality, and I really regret not exchanging contacts with them before scampering off to the next climb. Alex and Olivia – if you guys are readin’ this leave me your contact so I can keep in touch!

  

After our stint at the main boulder field, we hiked up the mountain to a great lookout point, then made our way back down to climb a bit more with a few locals, and Gunner, the playful pup extraordinaire. Niko spent the rest of his energy on a V8/9, then we started to make our way back down to the main trail head.

On our way down the rocky path, we passed by a towering slab wall, which the boys of course decided to free solo. The effort began as, “Let’s just go up a bit, there’s a plenty of spots to bail out,” but quickly escalated to three pitches worth of free soloing. Niko didn’t have a chalk bag, so he relied on Matt to pass him some powdery savior until he reached a blank portion of the wall and had an Alex Honnold style freak out. He eventually made his way down the wall, and by that time Juan had scrambled his way out of view, with Matt not too far behind.

While the boys had their fun, I was left at the base of the slab to act as photographer and videographer – and tour guide, as I had to narrate the boys’ climb many times for the passing hikers who stopped to watch their free soloing. The video is pretty rough – it was my first attempt at video with my ‘new’ tripod – but I’m going to try to edit some of the footage into something presentable.

Aside from my new-found chronic knee pain, my time at Chautauqua Park was a great experience. I spotted chipmunks, miniature snow patches, and awesome springtime blossoms. Topping out that sweet boulder problem was the cherry on a fantastic day.

Next up: We’re planning to head out to Boulder Canyon with the crew and finally Mcgoo + Rob. The forecast predicts a bit of snowfall during our excursion, but hopefully it won’t be anything unmanageable.

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Road Trip America Day 3 – Snaggin’ gear at the Boulder Sports Recycler in Colorado

During the few rainy days we’ve spent exploring the ‘indoor’ offerings of Colorado, we’ve visited a collection of gear stores throughout a few different cities. We bought a tent and pack at Wilderness Exchange Unlimited in Denver, and admired the books and old relics at Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder.

My favorite stop was at the Boulder Sports Recycler, just outside of the downtown Boulder area. Maybe I liked it so much because of warehouse location that reminded me of Tally Rock Gym; maybe it was the unbeatable combination of plentiful, quality recreational gear and climber budget-friendly prices. Whatever the case, I certainly appreciated the sweet maroon Patagonia jacked that I snagged in my size for just $26.

This place sells everything from climbing gear and trail maps to kayaks and cycling equipment – all gently used, and reasonably priced. Juan picked up a Petzl helmet that looked like it had hardly, if ever, been worn. The staff was friendly and down to earth, and browsing the racks at the recycler was an excellent experience overall.

The Boulder Sports Recycler is easily the top gear consignment shop in the area. If you’re ever in the area, I highly suggest paying a visit to the warehouse.

Check out my review of Boulder Sports Recycler on Yelp.com.

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Beer and Green Chili at Bull & Bush Brewery in Denver, Colorado

From the moment we arrived in Denver, Niko made his mission clear: He was in dire need of a micro-brew with excellent beer and pub food. We left the decision making up to the Colorado residents; McGoo and Rob did us good.

Bull & Bush Pub and Brewery is the dreamchild of two Denver natives, who grew up biking past a local dairy shop that would eventually be home to their award-winning brews in 1971. The atmosphere screams ‘pub,’ with dim lighting and heaping plates of grub. The playlist didn’t quite set the mood, with funky 90s reggae and pop hit that’s mildly disturbed my beer drankin’ attitude.

I ordered the tuna melt, with a side of mashed potatoes topped with Bull & Bush’s famous green chili. It was hands-down the best tuna melt I have ever had, excellently seasoned tuna, cheese and avocado smooshed on a buttery croissant. Niko got the Ruben sandwich and a Man Beer, plus a Hefeweizen that he had to order for me because I’m a fool and forgot my ID. The rest of the table order juicy burgers, in both beef and bison varieties.

Two very big thumbs up for this brewery. Our waiter was entertaining and honest – he frankly informed us that the burger of the month was pretty lame when we asked about it. The food, service, ambiance and company was superb. If you’re in Denver, be sure to check this place out for some great beer and grub.

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Road Trip America Day 2: Early Morning Illusions

This morning, May 10, 2011, I awoke (for the third, or fourth time) at early dusk as Niko drove into the northeast tip of New Mexico. With sleep still heavy in my eyes, I peeked out the window to see a large bend in the road lined with tall lampposts on its right side. The pavement beneath the Pilot curved to the left, and beyond the right stretched a flat, peaceful blackness that reached out to the horizon.

In my haze, I imagined we were driving along the coast of a calm bay, but really, we were just passing a sweeping sea of grasslands. Welcome to the Midwest.

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Road Trip America Day 1 – Five states, three heaping plates of barbeque, one sunrise, and too many cheez-its

As I write you, it’s 9:33 PM on May 9, 2011, and we’re trudging through Texas towards the outskirts of New Mexico after a tasty pit stop at Taco Bueno just outside of Dallas. The bulk of our day has been spent in the Pilot, which has already proven itself to be a worthy road trip vessel.

The morning began with a blur; I was too caught up in my residual freelance work to catch any sleep before our 5:30 AM departure from Tallahassee. Niko promised me bacon for breakfast, but all I got were two soggy hash browns from McDonalds – yuck. Every time we eat fast food, we vow never to touch it again, and yet somehow convenience always sucks us back in. Fortunately, the scenic sights on the road offered an easy distraction from my greasy belly.

Our route today was an exhausting maze. We started west on I-10, meeting Steve at the DeFuniak Springs exit to snag some ropes and draws. After that we popped through Alabama, traversed Mississippi, skirted past Louisiana and rode towards the pink hued sun as it set over Texas. Have I mentioned how amazing this Texas air is right now? It’s warm, but dry, and breezy and cool, but not chilly. It’s perfect.

For this trip, I decided to dedicate myself to two little projects to help preserve thus experience: First, I am diligently tracking our route on the enormous atlas my dad donated to the trip. Our path is brightly highlighted on both state pages and the big country map. Second, each blog post will have a short list of 5 daily experiences (sights, sounds, tastes, random billboard quotes, etc.) – hell, the entire post for some days may just be a list like this.

Here’s your first top 5 of the day:

  1. The crazed wild dog sitting in the thick thistle and wildflower patches between the east and west bound lanes on the interstate in Texas. His patchy-colored fur complimented his wicked eyes that pierced the lanes of traffic in defiance, “yeah, I crossed all those lanes, and I’ll do it again!”
  2. Lunch at Goldie’s Trail Bar-B-Que in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Quite possibly the best baked beans I’ve ever had, this place will be getting its own blog post next week!
  3. Niko spotted an enormous 13-foot Santa figurine peeking out of the woods off the interstate in Texas. – Who put him there?
  4. Little fields, patches and sprouts of skinny golden sunflowers and bushy purple blossoms lining the edges of the roadways throughout the southeast. It’s the floral personification of Brooke and I, and it made me miss my roommate terribly.
  5. The quirky cashier from Taco Bueno near Dallas, who chatted up every single customer and walked around the dining area to continue conversations left discarded at the register. She has a bright future in sales if she ever ditches the taco biz.

Next up: We’ll be finishing this first big haul through the tip of New Mexico and up southern Colorado, then we’ll time in Denver with old Tally Rock Gym friends, for a few days of bouldering, microbreweries and delivering the huge wooden wine cellar we drove up from Tallahassee.

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Roadtripping across America in search of climbing, beer, adventure and glory – Three Days Until Departure!

I’ve spent months saving, planning and daydreaming about my trip across America, and in three very short days, Road Trip 2011 will begin with a bang – well, more of a 24 hour haul towards Colorado, but a bang nonetheless.

Naturally, the plan is to take you along for the ride. I’ll make plenty of updates on the road, and will do my best to post pictures as I go. To get you acquainted with the plan, here’s a map of our route, compliments of my AAA.com road trip planner:

We’ll start the trip off with a grueling 24-hour haul to Denver, Colorado, where we’ll be spending a few days hanging out with McGoo and the boys. After Denver, it’s off to Aspen for a beautiful 8.5 mile hike to Conundrum Springs. Next we’ll spend some time in Moab, Utah, climbing and rafting with our buddies Jeff and Ryan. The climax of our trip will be our week spent in Yosemite and Bishop, California. Once we’ve climbed ourselves raw, we’ll relax for a few days in San Francisco. We’ll end the trip with a few days exploring Chattanooga, looking for some houses and job opportunities for me.

Basically, I could ooze my excitement for hours. The packing shall begin tomorrow, and then on Monday morning at 5:00 AM — we’re off. Hell yeah.

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