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!

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Road Trip America – Hiking and Exploring in Arches National Park in Utah

We awoke in Moab to a dreary day that promised a lack of good climbs, and plenty of rain. Refusing to waste an entire day because of the weather, our road trip crew decided to check out the nearby Arches National Park for some wet hiking.

We passed through the park gates, thanks to my wonderful National Parks Pass (thanks Dad!), and drove up winding roads past the throngs of cheesy tourists in rented RVs and tour buses. Our ultimate destination was Devil’s Garden. The beginning of the hike saw heavy spurts of rain, and I almost ran back to the car to tuck my camera away – thankfully I decided to keep it, because the rain quickly ended and left us with a day of sunshine.

The day’s explorations taught me a lesson in exertion. The hiking wasn’t anything too grueling, but my knee pains flared up with a vengeance and left me hobbling all over the rocks while the boys pranced around like children. There were multiple times I had to lag behind while the crew scampered up skinny slabs and clamored all over towering boulders. Not to mention my resurfacing fear of heights.

I can’t believe I had never visited this National Park before. It easily ranks as one of my favorite park visits, and I can’t wait to return with the rest of the Boue clan. There were easy trails with solid paths, slightly more challenging areas that required mild rock scrambles, and then the “primitive trails” with difficult hiking. Naturally, the boys insisted that we veer of the nice path in favor of the sand, sloped trails. My knee was screaming in agony, but the photos I snagged of the arches were worth the pain.

The arches were surprisingly difficult to photograph. They’re simply too large, too impressive to capture in a single snapshot. I really had to get creative to get good angles, and often times the desert landscape blocked my views. I was ultimately pretty pleased with the final shots, and will leave you with a cute photo of a lizard who wore beautiful Moab-style patterns on his skin.

Arches National Park is a fantastic destination if you’re in the Moab, Utah area. We spent the entire day exploring Devil’s Garden, and that was only the tip of the park’s iceberg. I’d love to return one day to discover everything else that Arches has to offer. My only complaint is the tourists, but after spending time in Yosemite, I’ve learned that tourists are simply a part of life in National Parks. You’ve just got to learn how to tune them out.

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5 Ways to Celebrate La Madre Tierra for Earth Day!

Looking for a way to pay homage to the beautiful planet that so kindly houses you, feeds you, waters you and creates boulder formations for you to climb? – Consider one of these five ways to say ‘thanks’ to nature on Earth Day.

1. Plant something. The possibilities here are really endless. Plant a tree, take a cue from my neighbor and plant some dainty flowers, or get creative. Eatin’ a pineapple or avocado? You can plant ’em! I currently have a pineapple head and a sprouting avocado pit basking in the sunshine on my patio. Good for the earth, and an entertaining little project. Stick a few tooth picks into the pit, prop it up in a little cup and fill it with water until the base is nicely situated in liquid. Voila!

2. Feed the critters! It is no secret that I am obsessed with my little creature buddies. Birds, squirrels, raccoons – I love ’em all. Making bird-feeders is a quick and fun way to celebrate Earth Day. Check out my how-to make a bird feeder using recycled products, or go old school with a simple feeder made by rolling pine cones in peanut butter. Hang it by your window and you’ll have entertainment all day long, like the time the Squirrel Bandit parkoured his way up to my feeder..

3. Pick up some trash. There is no shortage of litter in this world, and there’s no better day to tote a plastic bag around and fill it with the rude garbage that clutters the earth. I’ll be collecting trash around Tally Rock Gym today after I volunteer a belay party, so feel free to come join me.

4. Thank your farmers. Not exactly thanking nature, but today is a great day to appreciate the people that work hand-in-hand with the earth on a daily basis. Forgo the mass produced food that is processed using methods that create pollution and waste – stop by a farmers market (like the Thomasville Farmers Market, or the Pinecrest Farmers Market) or local grocer, and take a bite out of something good for your body, and good for your earth.

5. Take a hike! Or leisurely walk, or bike ride, or canoe ride. Get outside and revel in everything that the earth has provided for you. We spend too much time taking advantage of our resources, and not enough time appreciating our blessings. Head to a local park, make a drive to your favorite beach, canoe along a river – the ways to cherish the outdoors are endless, so stop making excuses.

Did I mention that these things are great activities for ANY day, not just Earth Day? This holiday aims to raise awareness about our need to give back to the earth, but you efforts to celebrate Mother Nature shouldn’t be reserved solely for April 22nd. Every day presents a prime opportunity to make a difference.

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Horse Pens 40 – Part 1: Adventures with Ian

If you’re a camper, climber, hiker or any variety of outdoor lover – you need to make a trip to Horse Pens 40 in Steele, Alabama. This outdoor park and campground delivers everything that you seek when looking for a convenient, friendly, beautiful place to soak up some nature. I had a glorious weekend of climbing, exploring, picture-taking and campfire cooking. Plenty of stories and photos to come, but first, let me regal you with the tale of my adventure with Ian.

Saturday was loaded with hardcore climbing, and naturally, a lot of breaks for food and resting. During one break around midday, Ian and I decided to venture off into the woods on a mini-hike to snap some photos of the foliage and rock formations. As we approached lookout point, one of the silver bearded groundskeepers struck up a conversation with us. He offered to take us to an ancient Indian burial ground, and I readily accepted.

We trekked through the boulder fields, squeezing between cramped rock corridors until we entered a small enclosure with a ledge walkway and a pit of leaves. Our burly guide explained that this was once the home of an Indian chief, who resided in this rocky nook under the careful watch of two guardsmen. Upon death, the chief was ceremoniously laid to rest in this spot. Unfortunately, the previous landowners had unearthed his body and sold it for a small fortune. After sending these grave robbers behind bars for a decade, the Schultz family took over the property, and now dedicate their lives to preserving HP40 and the thousands of burial grounds that can be found on the grounds.

Our kind guide also entertained me with a tale relating to a giant knotted tree that I had spotted earlier while climbing. This enormous tree had a huge bulging growth in the middle of it’s trunk, an unmistakable landmark in a crowd of vegetation. The tree served as the territorial divide between the Creek and Cherokee Indians, who fought over land rights for centuries about 10,000 years ago. What an insightful, unexpected little adventure.

To accompany today’s story, I’ve decided to feature a few of Ian’s best photographs from the trip. I’ll be developing my roll sometime this week, which will include photos of my birthday pot luck, Chattanooga and Horse Pens 40. Enjoy!

Some of the crew enjoying the sunset at Lookout Point. (Photo by: Ian Walton)

Jim Smith climbing in the boulder fields at Horse Pens 40. (Photo by: Ian Walton)

Andrew Rice silhoutted against the setting Alabama sun. (Photo by: Ian Walton)

Raychel Putnam attempts a route as onlookers cheer her on. (Photo by: Ian Walton)

A few more shots after the jump, so don’t hesitate to click! To check out more of Ian’s photography, head to his blog, Paradox Isotope. Continue reading

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They’re Alive!

We can all stop biting our nails, because Niko and McGoo are safely back in Mama Kate’s loving hands. I received a call from Dan, who was sitting on a 3-foot ledge near the summit while I was climbing indoors at The Enclosure. My first question was, “Did everyone make it okay?” He answers, “Uh, not exactly.” I almost had a heart attack.

Dan clarified and explained that Niko and McGoo had opted not to continue to climb after they camped out on the Lower Saddle of the Teton. They had begun the descent while Dan continued onward with the rest of the group. One of our friends, Chester, took a 40 foot whip a few pitches in, and after a little more dangerous climbing with a little vomiting mixed in, the group decided to throw the towel in on the ascent. I was relieved.

I knew Niko probably wouldn’t have a way to contact me, so I left the gym and headed straight for the trailhead where I dropped them off – perfect timing. I got a big kiss from Niko, and a fantastic hug and kiss from McGoo.

We returned to Jackson Hole, where McGoo was on a mission to find a shirley temple. His wish was granted, and we all enjoyed icy sodas to refresh our parched souls. Now, we are relaxing at the Pony Express Motel. Jeff, Dan and the rest of the crew are still somewhere on the mountain, so let’s keep the positive mojo flowin’ their way!

In the meantime, here are a few shots from The Enclosure. The gym is awesome, and the setting is excellent. I had a great time working routes in the cave. I was the only person in the joint, which was lovely. They kept changing the music whenever Daft Punk came on, which is my only complaint. Who turns off Daft Punk?

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