Weeks 8-9: Snowstorms + Outdoor Love in Asheville, NC

Oh, Asheville. With only 20 days to immerse myself into the weird and wonderful world of Western North Carolina, I found myself literally feeling stressed out about making sure I soaked it all up. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. There was no way to properly experience all of the magic of Asheville in such a short time–but I sure did try.

Here’s a quick highlight reel from my favorite Asheville moments, sights, and sounds:

Katie Boué hiking DuPont State Forest in North Carolina.

Hiking in DuPont State Forest

Holy waterfalls! You like waterfalls? You got waterfalls, if you make the short drive out to DuPont State Forest near Brevard, NC. The area has six main waterfalls, and five of ’em are easily accessible on a single trail. Obviously I had to hike it. It’s a wide trail, packed with people on a weekend, and not exactly a full “wild outdoors” feel, but still worth it for an afternoon adventure. Mcgoo and I hiked to Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls. I spotted a covered bridge higher up in the hills, but we got lost trying to find the trail out there and eventually gave up.

The fellas from Bro’d Trip have a vlog that shows a bit of the hike–I totally went back the next day and re-hiked it with them, actually finding the covered bridge this time. Check out the video here, and skip to about the 1:07 mark to get to my cameo + the DuPont hiking.

Bonus spot: Make the short drive up to Buzzard Rock right before sunrise–and you’ll get epic views of the city below like this one: 

The sunrise view from Buzzard Rock in Asheville, NC.

Caught in Asheville’s 2015 Snowpocalypse

Somehow, I always end up in the southeast when there’s an epic snowstorm. And by epic, I mean usually just a few inches of snow that shuts down the entire city. This time, however, a whopping 13 inches dumped downtown–and totally shut everything down. The resulting adventures were probably my favorite part of my time in Asheville. Cars were rendered useless, and the people took back the streets on foot. Bar hopping across town while riding in a sled? Yes please. Whiskey just tastes better when you’ve trudged 3 miles in the snow to get to it.

Sledding during the big 2016 Asheville snowstorm.

Food and Beer and More Food

You guys. Asheville has a jammin’ food culture. The best trout (hell, the best fish. period.) I ever had in my life from The Market Place. Jamaican food so good we went two days in a row at Nine Mile–and yes, I ordered the same thing both times, it was that good. I had a religious experience eating the cheese plates at Wicked Weed. Pro tip: Get a beer flight the first time you go to Wicked Weed, because you will be back multiple times for those cheese plates, so you might as well figure out what kind of beer is your favorite to accompany all that cheesy goodness.

The amazing cheese plate at Wicked Weed Brewery in Asheville, NC.

For a full dive into my time exploring the Asheville outdoor industry scene–and peeks into my visits with outdoor brands like ENO, Farm to Feet, and more–check out my OIA Roadshow: Asheville Edition story on the Outdoor Industry Association website. Here’s an excerpt:

“If you’ve ever been to Asheville, North Carolina, you’re already in on the not-so-subtle secret that it’s one of the greatest outdoor destinations in America–but for those of you who haven’t received the memo: This Southeastern city was voted one of the country’s best outdoor towns by Outside magazine in 2006, and made it to the voter’s choice list in 2014, too. It’s a recreation mecca in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, right at the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers. You can hike, bike, paddle, climb–and sometimes even ski–all within a short drive of the downtown area.”

I know, I know, there’s so much more to be said to fully encapsulate how incredible Asheville is. I wish I could have stayed longer to spend more time soaking up this vibrant city and its culture–but alas, there’s so much more America to explore!

Hit the Trails and Become a Weekday Warrior

I never thought I would become a weekend warrior. In fact, I spent years dedicated to a pursuit of a lifestyle where “weekend warrior” does not apply. But here I am, working 40 hours a week and regulating much of my outdoor time to the way-too-short weekend.

But I’ve realized something: spending time outside is integral to my happiness. Spending every single day sitting behind a desk cranking on deadlines or sitting behind a steering wheel in rush hour traffic is just not the key to a positive life. So why do we confine ourselves to outdoor adventures solely on days when we don’t have to go to work the next morning?

The outdoors are in reach any day of the week.IMG_0497

I’ll admit, I totally have it made. I work just a stone’s throw away from Boulder’s mountainous treasure trove of trails, forest roads, and open spaces. I leave the office every day at 4:00, so I decided to see if I could indeed squeeze adventure into my weekday grind.

Spoiler alert: It was a success.

The first experiment with post-workday outdoor pursuits was technically on a Sunday, but since I still had to wake up at 6:00 AM the next day, I’m counting it. My lady pal Laurie and I decided to hike out to Lake Isabelle to catch the sunset, and hit the road towards Brainard Lake Recreation Area around 4:30 PM.

I immediately realized one of the perks of getting outdoors on a “school night” – the trails are empty. Anyone we encountered on the hike out to the lake were all headed in the opposite direction, back to the parking lot. What kind of maniacs start a hike at dinner time?IMG_0500IMG_0401

[Read more…]

Backpacking the Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park

Here’s a little secret: I am not a backpacker. I have little to no experience backpacking, and my only overnight hiking trip was the Columbia Sportswear sponsored Omniten trip to Havasu Falls where all my water, food, and camping supplies was hiked in for me, cooked for me, and hiked back out for me.

I believe the term for backpackers like me is “total noob.”

The start of the Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park.Niko has had his sights set on the Olympic Peninsula since the beginning of our trip, and his goal was to do a 3-day hiking trip from the forest to the coast. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any trails that accomplished that, but we got a great consolation prize with the Hoh River Trail. The trail leads up to Mt. Olympus, while winding through meadows, lush rainforest terrain, riverside beaches, and everything in between.

We were joined for the hike by our buddy Mcgoo, who had been traveling with us for a few weeks starting in San Francisco. Our little crew of three was absolutely scrambling to prepare, unsure of what we would be facing, and planned to camp with two people sleeping in a one-man tent, and another up in a hammock. Folks, this should be an indication to you that things are about to get interesting.

The trek began on a rainy morning, but only after we got stuck with a dead car battery on the side of the road we were boondocked on – the first shenanigan of many. We finally arrived at the trail head, filled up our hydration packs, and set off down the paved portion of the Hoh River Trail.

By the time the pavement turned into muddy mush, I was already exhausted. I have a perpetual issue with packs: my body is simply too tiny to ever properly hold a pack. The straps don’t get tight enough, so I spent the entire hike carrying the weight of my pack on my shoulders. A mile in, and I was ready for a break.A much needed rest area along the Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park.

We splashed along the soaked path past a small waterfall, over countless wooden bridges, and beyond the point where most tourists make it. As the day drew on, I quickly realized that there was no way I’d be able to carry myself up the 4,000 foot elevation gain and relentless switchbacks planned for the second day’s hiking. This was going to get ugly.

I carried on (did I have any other choice?) up 10 miles of deep mud pits that led us through some of the most incredible forest scenery I’ve ever witnessed. We paused to pet banana slugs, argued about appropriate times to take breaks, refreshed our hot skin with splashes of river water, and clapped our way through the thickets in hopes of scaring off any lurking bears. It was one of the most arduous experiences, but every sluggish step was worth it.Mcgoo and I on the Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park.Misty hiking along the Hoh River Trail.

Our final resting spot was Lewis Meadows, where we set up camp for the evening after meeting a Canadian couple who was planning to summit Mt. Olympus the next day. Soaked from the rain, caked with mud, and aching from swollen feet, we gladly ate an uncooked dinner and promptly passed out. But the day wasn’t over.

Our camp set up at Lewis Meadows on the Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park.At some point long after the sun had set, I awoke to Niko rustling from his hammock. Smooshed next to Mcgoo in our too-tiny tent, I peered up from my sleeping bag to see Niko poking his head into the tent.

“I’m really scared, guys. I farted in my hammock, and realized that I basically smell like a giant sausage hanging from the trees. What if I wake up to a bear nudging me from under the hammock? I’m coming in the tent.”

I laughed, because this idea of fright was so foreign to me. I was too sore to worry about getting mauled by a bear, but apparently I was alone in that sentiment. Mcgoo quickly chimed in:

“Dude, I have been trembling in my sleeping bag for hours. I’ve literally been praying for that we just make it to the morning.” – A pretty strong statement from a devout atheist.

At this point, my laughter became uncontrollable. Maybe it was the exhaustion, but I’ve never giggled harder. I couldn’t stop laughing as Niko crammed himself into the tent and the boys squashed me between their terror-filled bodies. Two grown men feared for their lives while my damsel self felt no distress. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

The next morning, I “awoke” after an evening of little rest. With no sleeping pad, and forced into a tiny space with two large men, my body lay sideways the entire night, perched on a tender hip and half-asleep shoulder. I was miserable.

I could hardly contain my excitement when the group agreed that a combination of really wet socks and hiking boots plus a strong desire not to spend another cramped night in bear country meant we’d ought to ditch our plan to continue onwards and just head back to the trailhead. Frankly, I wouldn’t have made it much farther. Hiking with a full pack is immensely more difficult than I was prepared for.Niko and I trucking over a log bridge on the way out from our Hoh River Trail hike.

Despite being sore beyond description, the hike back out was far more enjoyable and manageable than the path into Lewis Meadows. About halfway through, we decided to split up and finish the hike solo. Niko ended up getting back to the van an entire hour before me, and Mcgoo held up the rear arriving back at the trailhead about 40 minutes after I did. Traveling at our own pace was a fantastic decision that allowed us to each focus on our own journey rather than focusing on speeding up or slowing down to maintain the pack.

Hiking by my lonesome allowed me to do something I hadn’t on the way in: slow down and look around. I’m always the slowest hiker on a trail, so I spend most of my time trying to catch up. Forging the path alone let me pause for moments like meeting a bushy fox as he sauntered over logs, getting startled by a herd of elk just off the trail, and washing my face with icy spring water. It was peaceful, invigorating, and reflective.One of many beautiful views enjoyed along the Hoh River Trail in the Olympic National Park.

In the end, we traveled about 21 miles over the course less than 30 hours. A laughable journey for many ambitious backpackers, but for me it was a triumph: I had survived my first overnight backcountry adventure with Niko – and I was ready for another. I definitely have a lot to learn about backpacking, but I’m excited to continue the journey.

So, I didn’t go to Indian Creek – but here’s what I did do in Moab (a panoramic perspective)

After all that oh-my-goodness-Indian-Creek hype I built last weekend, I didn’t even end up going there at all while I was in Moab – oops. I guess that’s what I get for posting previews of adventures on the blog. I did however learn some awesome tips for building a tape glove from The Alpine Hack – so it wasn’t a total loss.

The main reason for our jaunt to Moab was to meet up with a few old Tallahassee buddies for a weekend of desert rope climbing. The original destination was Indian Creek, but as word got out about how many folks were planning to take advantage of the weekend’s impeccable conditions, our buddies quickly bailed on the idea of waiting in massive lines to shimmy up a crack. So, we stayed closer to Moab instead.

Before our cohorts arrived, we were able to spend a few days exploring with Beth and Forrest from 3UpAdventures. I have admired their travels (and sweet rigs) for the longest time, so it was great finally being able to meet up with them. I was cooped up at the Lazy Lizard Hostel to host an #ATQA chat when I got a tweet from Beth: “If you want to do a quick hike we can run up Hidden Valley after #ATQA this afternoon. I’m staying right by the trailhead.” Why, yes, yes I did want to do a quick hike!

We met up with Beth, Forrest, and their awesome pup Sprocket, then headed out to towards the trailhead around 4:30. I huffed and puffed my way up a steep and beautiful trail that took us to the top of a ridge where a hidden valley (hence the trail name) opened up to a sprawling area full of petroglyphs, desert fauana, and stunning views. PS: Beth did a great write-up of our hike!

A view of the Hidden Valley trail.
A view from the highest point of our Hidden Valley hike with Beth and Forrest.

Turns out, our “quick little hike” was actually a 7.5 mile excursion with nearly 900 feet of elevation gain. Drained from our outing, our crew headed to the Moab Brewery to refuel on burgers, burritos, and beer. We planned a Jeep adventure for the next day, but Niko and I awoke to rain pattering the roof of our Sprinter – so we decided to head to Arches National Park instead.

Beth gladly joined us for our spontaneous National Park date, and we formulated our day’s plan on the fly with a bit of advice from the park rangers. I hiked Devil’s Garden on my first visit to Arches, so we decided to see something new. Beth had never seen Sand Dune Arch or Broken Arch, so we headed there first. The hike was short and sweet, leaving us with plenty of time to trek out to the iconic Delicate Arch, which I had never visited.

Broken Arch looms from high above Arches National Park in Moab.
The legendary Delicate Arch, perhaps one of the most iconic images of Moab.

After a few days of playing outdoors with Beth and Forrest, our climbing companions finally arrived in Moab, and we set off to tackle some sandstone walls. Our ultimate destination ended up being Wall Street on Potash Road, one of my favorite roadside crags in America. The weekend was full of happenings: Niko led his first trad climbs, I was once again defeated on a stupid-easy slab that wrecked me during my first visit to Moab, and I realized once and for all that I am a boulderer. Niko treats it like a shameful thing, like I’m not a real climber if I don’t prefer rope over bouldering, but I’m a-okay with it. I prefer bouldering. So what!

While I love meeting new people and visiting new places, it was great reuniting with old friends in a familiar place. I was totally at ease the entire weekend, and got to enjoy the company of two ladies – which is a great occasion for a gal who exists mostly among dirtbag men. There was even a funny moment when my friend Lauren announced she was driving up a few miles to go to the bathroom – and even though we didn’t particularly need to go, Jamie and I both jumped in the car with her. I guess girls really do like to pee in packs, ha!

Wall Street on Potash Road, one of the coolest roadside climbing areas of all time.
Niko climbs a mega crack at Wall Street on Potash Road in Moab.
PS: See that tiny lightly-colored dot in the middle of that epic crack? Yeah, that’s Niko. 

After two of our crew left to head back to Salt Lake City, we spent a few more days lounging in the desert backcountry with the remainder of our tribe. Wet weather kept us from doing any more climbing, so we busied ourselves by taking long overdue showers, hanging by a campfire, and drinking wine in the van.

Finally, the time came for Niko and I to return to Joe’s Valley. We’ve only been back a few days, but I am already stoked to crush some new projects. I got surprisingly far on a V7 called “G207,” and am determined to hop back on another V7 in New Joe’s called “Chips.” There are a few more unfinished projects I need to crush, but my main pysche is on the development of new areas spearheaded by Steven Jeffery, who is currently working on a new guidebook. Niko got the first ascent of a V7 which ended up being named Slot Cart, and I snagged a first ascent onsight of a V3 yesterday – which I have yet to come up with a name for. We’ve been bushwacking, crossing freezing rivers, and having a blast helping Steven develop new climbs in Joe’s. Stay tuned for more on that! 

I’m back from the OmniTen trip to Arizona with Columbia Sportswear (reluctantly)

Holy mother of Arizona adventure. Here I am, in humid Florida, still reeling from the epic trip that I’m still not sure really happened. I’m sitting here with heaps of GoPro footage, thousands of photos, and a slightly torn wristband that served as my permit for camping near the Havasupai village deep in the Grand Canyon. Did that whole trip really just happen?

Words can’t even begin to describe what I experienced while out traversing canyons, waterfalls, streams, and travertine tunnels with the OmniTen crew and Columbia Sportswear team. Our time together began with a week of industry events revolving around the release of Columbia’s newest innovation, OmniFreeze Zero. We were wined and dined all day and night long at the Hilton and around Sedona as the company worked to woo editors, gear buffs, journalists, and industry professionals. Don’t worry, there will be an entire post dedicated to all the phenomenal meals I gorged myself on during the gear previews. Elk kabobs and cactus margaritas, anyone?

The highlight of the trip was hands-down the three days we spent around Havasu Falls. We began with an early morning hike into the canyon, a hot and heavy 10-mile excursion that left me with blisters in places I didn’t even know my feet could sprout them. We passed through the Havasupai Village, set up camp, and enjoyed our first evening together as a close knit group. The second day was spent jumping off waterfalls, climbing through travertine tunnels, wading through waist-deep streams while carrying our packs over our heads, and cooling off in the unbelievably blue water. The final day saw a 10-mile hike back out to the rim of the canyon, which was brutal. I wouldn’t have survived the final mile, which involves a 2000 foot elevation gain up switchbacks frequented by mule trains, without the cooling glory of my OmniFreeze Zero neck gaiter. Seriously, when they start making those available to the public, get one. 

My grand adventure would have been nothing without the amazing people who made it a truly unforgettable journey. The OmniTen crew started out as complete strangers (aside from creeping on eachother’s social media profiles), but we left Arizona teary-eyed over the prospect of losing eachother’s company. These people are now lifelong friends.

It’s going to take me a few days to process everything that I experienced, put it all down in words, and edit all of the amazing photos I snapped during the trip. Stay tuned for a huge installment of posts chronicling my adventure.

It’s going to be good. 

Five reasons to visit a National Park this weekend

America’s National Parks system is one of the greatest institutions ever created by our country – if you ask me, at least. These sacred slices of our nation’s finest ecosystems and delicate environments are critical to American’s ability to access and enjoy the untouched outdoors.

Any day offers a great excuse to visit a nearby National Park, but certain dates hold a particular perk for patrons – which I’ll dive straight into with the first of my top five reasons to visit a National Park:

1. IT’S FREE!

That’s right – admission fees into National Parks around the country are waived during certain times of the year to provide access for those who may not otherwise be able to make it to the parks. That includes everywhere from to Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountains to the Everglades and Kings Canyon, so no matter which outdoor haven is closest to your hometown, you’ll be able to partake in the free fun.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been a proud National Parks annual pass holder since March 2011, but I can still appreciate the gift of complimentary park admission – I can only imagine how expensive my summer road trip would have been if I had paid entrance fees at every park I visited!

2. Fresh air for your lungs.

If you’re confined within city limits during the workweek like me, you likely reach the weekend with a raging thirst to leave the concrete jungle for some natural surroundings. Making a trip to a National Park offers a fantastic way to escape city life for a while. Spend the day trading in traffic lights and steel skyscrapers for towering trees and exhilarating landscapes. You’ll return home with a renewed vigor, and a newfound itch to make a hasty return trip to your National Park of choice.

3. Watching for wildlife.

National Parks are one of the best places to get in touch with your wild side. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, or simply want to spend an afternoon chasing chipmunks after climbing in the Rocky Mountains, America’s National Parks are home to some of the most magnificent creatures on earth. Not to favor fauna over flora, I must also highly recommend that you spend some time getting to know the unique plant-life that thrives in the various terrains at the parks across the nation. Tiny leaves and silky flowers are one of the main reasons a macro-lens is at the top of my must-have list.

4. Bountiful recreation and activities.

While my preferred park activities revolve around climbing, hiking, and photography, there is a bounty of possibilities for active park visitors. Hop aboard a guided tour to better acquaint yourself with a new park, set out on a rafting excursion, or plan a scenic picnic – the options are endless. I always love to stop by park visitor centers to scope out maps and chat with rangers about their favorite things to do and see in the area.

5. Experiencing something new.

Every time I visit a National Park, I am treated to a new and wonderful experience – even if I’ve visited the same spot a dozen times before. Nature is constantly changing, adapting, blooming, and presenting us with gracious chances to appreciate the natural world around us. Some of my favorite moments at National Parks include spending a night at the legendary Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park, watching my crew attempt to summit the Grand Teton in Wyoming, and going on a photographic hunt for alligators in the Everglades.

With so much to be discovered and absorbed right in your own backyard, there’s no excuse not to pay a visit to a National Park this weekend. Free admission fees, recreational activities for every visitor’s lifestyle, and a bevy of outdoor beauty is beckoning for you to come play. Not sure which park to visit? Check out a complete list of all the parks and monuments offering complimentary – and be sure to check out additional dates for 2012 free National Park days.

Want more? Check out these articles about my experiences at National Parks across the country:

– Read about my visit to Gulf Islands National Seashore during a trip to Pensacola, Florida
– Explore my favorite sights and scenes from Yosemite National Park, and check out my favorite all-time climb, Beached Whale (V5) near the Ahwahnee Lodge.
– Discover the vibrant desert hues I photographed during my hike through Arches National Park.

Thistle, straw, seedlings, and spindly flora at Three Sisters Park in Evergreen, CO

One of my favorite parts about spending time outdoors is simply enjoying the little things – plants, bugs, pebbles, twigs, you name it. My climbing buddies will quickly confess that I often spend more time chasing insects around boulders than I do actually climbing the rocks. I can’t resist becoming instantly distracted the moment I see a beetle crawling by, or a tiny flower peeking out from the dirt.

My mother always proudly credits herself with my buggy fascination. When I was a little tot, she used to wrap earthworms around my fingers and have me wear them as rings – now do you see where my adoration for creepy crawlers comes from? She always encouraged my affection for rolling around in the dirt.

The wintry weather in Colorado seems to have driven the bugs from their usual swarming tendencies, but I still managed to snap some sweet photos of unique dry-weather plant life while hiking through Three Sisters Park (also known as Alderfer Park) in Evergreen, Colorado. The parched landscape has taken on an entirely new appearance since my last visit to the area during summertime, and I think I quite prefer this desert-style look.

As if I needed another reminder that I am in dire need of a macro lens, these up-close shots of nature’s tiniest jewels offers another reason to justify splurging on new photography equipment – but hey, these photographs aren’t too shabby considering I was using a standard kit lens with my Nikon D7000!

Slushy hillside hiking and coyote sightings at Four Mile Creek in Boulder, CO

Weekday escapes to Boulder have become a new tradition as I frequently flee the city limits of Denver to embark on adventures with my mountain-dwelling gal pal, Jane. Our favorite haunt is Flagstaff Mountain, which offers abundant moderate climbs and steep, scenic hiking – but today we opted to scope out a new venue for our afternoon explorations. We scoured the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks website in search of a new destination, and debated the merits of several different options before settling on the Four Mile Creek/South Foothills trail head off Broadway and Lee Hill.

This area is great for hill runners, leisurely dog-walkers, casual hikers, and even features a paved lower path ideal for handicapped outdoor adventurers – plus, these hills sit directly in the sun, making them a warm winter hiking spot. The beginning of the trail was wide and packed with gravel, though the wintry conditions had us trudging through thick puddles of frozen mud and slick patches of ice. Jane and I appreciated the extra natural challenges, and eagerly stomped on melting sheets of ice as we pressed towards our first loop on the Old Kiln Trail, which led us to a historical limestone kiln dating back to early settlement days.

After easily completing the short mile-long trail, we hiked back to the original fork that separated towards the Old Kiln path, and this time followed a trail that led us to a very frozen Wonderland Lake. Eager to head up into the hills, we veered away from our lake-bound course and headed up a steep, narrow trail that wound up towards the hilltop. Always late to commence our outdoor discoveries, it was nearly sunset as we clamored up the foothills. As usual, Jane captured some impressive shots on her phone – check ’em out.

On the way back from our hike, Jane and I were entertaining ourselves with the sights of hundreds of fat, barking prairie dogs that dwell along the foothills when we spotted a creature I’ve been dying to see since I started my adventures in Colorado: a sly coyote. We watched as the hungry predator chased plump prairie pups into their tunnels – I was admittedly a little worried that one of my chubby little buddies would become this carnivore’s lunch. Fortunately for me, the prairie dogs managed to stave off the coyote’s tactics, and eventually sent him retreating up the hill as they loudly expressed their disapproval of his presence.

I may have missed this week’s edition of Travel Talk on Twitter, but the great day of hiking and wildlife encounters made it absolutely worth it. I can’t wait to head back to this spot with more time on my hands so I can summit the hill and hopefully meet a few more coyotes.

Hiking and bouldering at Lower Chaos Canyon in Rocky Mountain National Park

As snowy winter months quickly encroach on my outdoor climbing availability, I have been soaking up as much sunshine and mountain exploration as possible. One of my favorite autumn days was spent hiking and bouldering at Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfamiliar with the area, I was nonetheless pumped with enthusiasm at the opportunity to put my National Parks Pass to use.

The drive to the park took about two hours from downtown Denver, but the ride was enjoyed with a fantastic 80s playlist and a car full of dancing adventurers. I believe there is GoPro evidence of all the roadside merrymaking floating around on a memory card somewhere, but the footage seems to be lost for now. Our route towards the Rockies took us through Estes Park, a touristy mountain town famous for their herds of elk that take over the streets.

We pushed towards the ranger kiosk at the park entrance, exchanged pleasantries as I handed over my parks pass, then wound our way up the mountains towards Bear Lake. With the main parking lot already full of wilderness explorers, we planted the car at an overflow lot, then loaded up with crash pads and gear before waiting for the park shuttle to take us to the trail head. The shuttle ride took about 20 minutes, and the beautiful scenery of yolk colored leaves and rusty red treetops captivated my attention for the entire duration.

The thought of chalky hands and scaling boulders took a backseat as we hiked our way towards Lower Chaos Canyon. Our entire party was in the highest of spirits as we took in the piney sights and chirping sounds. I stalled every few yards to snag photos of my impossibly beautiful surroundings — the boys may have been frustrated with my slow pace, but capturing the moment was worth it.

 

Our mission to find climbing at Lower Chaos Canyon prevented us from having proper time to explore all the different side trails and lookout spots along the Bear Lake area, and I am eager to return for some new discoveries. According to the RMNP Twitter, Bear Lake is currently blanketed under 18 inches of snow – which means no more hiking for me until I invest in some snowshoes. But onward we must trek.

Things really got interesting when we forked away from the main trail and began to head towards our ultimate destination. After a quick scramble through fallen trees and other natural debris, we found ourselves positioned in the middle of an enormous rock bed half buried beneath a wide brook. Easily my favorite part of the adventure, we hopped and clamored along the variously sized boulders that sat between us and the climbs at Lower Chaos Canyon.

During this sloppy traverse, I learned a very important lesson about hiking boots: If you don’t wear your boots for years, then suddenly expect them to perform during a vigorous excursion, you may find yourself with rubber soles hanging limp from the body of your shoes. Admittedly, the last time I wore my hiking boots was about a decade ago during a hike up Mount Rainer, but I was still shocked to find the bottoms separated from the boot after leaping across a boulder. Thankfully, my buddy Rob had duct tape wrapped around his Nalgene, which we unraveled and used to haphazardly repair my shoes.

Finally, we complete our approach and made it to the bouldering area. To be honest, I wasn’t blown away by the quality of climbs in the area, although our lengthy hike in left us with little time to properly check out the crag. We stuck to the first section of routes, warmed up, noshed on beef jerky, and made the best of our remaining daylight.

The sun set sooner than anticipated, and we found ourselves rushed to make our way back to the Bear Lake trail head before darkness fell – and before the final shuttle departed. In a hurry, the return hike seemed to take only a fraction of the approach time. Even in the midst of our efforts to make it in time for the last shuttle, I managed to do what I do best: I made a sweet little chipmunk friend.

Road Trip America – Welcome to YOSEMITE, baby.

Every climber shares a united dream: climbing at Yosemite National Park in California. After ditching Moab a few days early due to relentless rain, our crew shifted gears and headed out to the land of El Capitain — with a new addition in tow, our new British buddy Paul, who traveled with us from the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Utah throughout our entire time spent in Yosemite.

We were a few weeks shy of the seasonal opening of the Tioga Pass, so we were forced to scoot north, then west before entering the park. From the moment you pass through the Ranger’s Entrance Station into the great land of Yosemite, there is a deep, undeniable connection to everything around you. The gushing Merced River, the curled baby fern blossoms, the snarky blue Stellar’s Jays that tended to cock their heads in apparent disapproval of everything we did.

Not a bad first impression, eh? As eager as we all were to get our hands on some Yosemite granite, we couldn’t help but pull off at a scenic overlook to admire the stunning valley. Check out iconic landmarks El Capitan and Half Dome off in the distance. Believe it or not, that group shot was entirely candid – Paul’s hand on hip and all. On our way back to the car I made friends with a little mammal buddy, who kindly posed for a few shots.

Whether you’re a climber, hiker, photographer, or simply enjoy the natural wonders that our country has to offer (and has graciously protected thanks to fellows like John Muir), Yosemite National Park is truly a destination that you absolutely must visit within your lifetime. My parents took me on a few weekend trips to the park while we lived in San Jose, California, and I regret not taking full advantage of my blessed situation. I could have been climbing these sweet spots a decade ago, instead my twelve year-old self complained all weekend about how I would have rather been hanging out with friends – ugh.

This trip, I vowed to make up for lost time and took full advantage of the park. We hiked, climbed, ate, conversed and explored our way through the valley for a week. All the important stops were made: splashing around Yosemite Falls, climbing and sleeping at Camp Four, spotting bears in meadows, traversing no-trespassing areas in Curry Village, spotting Half Dome, hiking to the base of El Capitan, bouldering in front of the Awhwanee Lodge – and everything was documented for your viewing pleasure.

I must have taken about a million shots of the waterfalls, but can you blame me? From hundreds of vantage points throughout the park, the falls kept peeking out from the treeline, just waiting to be photographed. I’ll share more when I give you a full post about wading through the frigid streams fed by the falls, but for now enjoy two photos from Curry Village. The first is of a dogwood blossom, which quickly became one of my favorite trees. The white ‘petals’ are actually modified leaves, which house the true tiny yellow flowers in the center. The second photo is just two ladybugs doin’ the dirty – couldn’t help myself.

There you have it: an introduction to Yosemite National Park. Didn’t get your fix of granite, creatures, climbing and nature? Fear not, this entire week will be filled with tales and photos from our time at Yosemite. Enjoy!