A bloody bouldering battle against Prince Charles (V8) at Three Sisters Park in Evergreen, CO

It doesn’t happen often, but every few trips, a climber finds themselves absolutely, unwaveringly infatuated with a rock. For me, the love affair was with Beached Whale (V5) in Yosemite National Park – but for Niko, true love was to be had the moment he set his eyes on Prince Charles, a compression-crazed problem tucked away from the trails at Three Sisters Park in Evergreen, Colorado.

His love affair was something that I, as his faithful woman, knew I could never come between. I accepted this attractive boulder as the new third-wheel in our relationship, and honestly grew quite fond of Niko’s granite mistress. He was a man transfixed, and Prince Charles quickly bit back – it didn’t take more than ten minutes of climbing before Niko managed to tear his elbow open on the boulder.

My trusty first-aid kit was buried beneath my car seats in the parking lot, a 15-minute hike back from our location off the Sister’s Trail – so I worked with what I had in my pack: a roll of climbing tape, and a tampon. I felt proud of my MacGyver moment as I fashioned my bleeding beau a sweet makeshift bandage from my feminine stash. It held up pretty well, considering its hasty construction.


Niko’s dance with Prince Charles was a two-day tango that involved plenty of bloodshed, burning muscles, and my frustration as I attempted to photograph the horribly mixed scene of piercing sunlight and dark shadows. Watching him battle against this boulder was inspiring; he fought with every ounce of his ability, and probably mustered up some strength he didn’t know he had.

Here’s a breakdown of the Prince Charles beta, compliments of Mountain Project: “Start back and to the right side of a giant wedged shape nose. Move into a full body bear hug squeeze of madness. As the wide hugging tapers to a thin point continue up and over the nose heading right or turning your back to the East at the last possible point on the line. Slap your way to the finish.” Yes, it’s as burly as it sounds.

After the first day spent working Prince Charles, we took a short climbing break to prepare for round two. On his second date with his granite muse, Niko convinced our buddy Douso to tag along for the adventure. Two of the strongest climbers I know, it was a treat to watch them exchange techniques, sample footwork, share frustration, and bleed all over the place.

Douso began the day slightly reserved, as if he wasn’t willing to succumb to the seduction of this particular problem. They griped over the compression-heavy style of the route, and plopped down to take angry rests after being shut down on certain moves – but slowly, surely, Douso’s eyes were set ablaze with the same fire that sparked in Niko’s. There is something to be said about the motivation and camaraderie shared by two climbers transfixed by the same hunk of rock.


While the boys spent hours demolishing their fingertips against the rough granite surfaces of Prince Charles, I occupied myself by finding a flat boulder perched directly in the sun. I noshed a bit on pistachios, wandered through the nearby woods in search of photographic gold, and even enjoyed a little cat nap in the sunshine.

Some climbers find it frustrating to attempt patience while accompanying friends who are working a problem that is just way out of their league, but I always enjoy these opportunities for relaxation. So what if there’s no chance of me climbing Prince Charles? Any time that I am blessed to spend outside is a-okay with me.

And of course, I was knee-deep in woodland exploration when I heard the hoots and hollers wafting through the treeline as Niko finally sent his problem. I was disappointed in the instant I realized what had just happened, then went careening through the woods to find Niko parading atop his boulder, beaming with pride. Sure, I missed the chance to snap shots as his made his final ascent, but hell, sometimes it’s just about the victory of a successful climb.

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Picking my own apples at Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard in North Carolina

After a wild evening spent celebrating the marriage of Kirby and Julia Crider, I awoke to my last day in North Carolina with a mean hangover that could only be cured by one thing: apple picking. I was invited to embark on a pick-your-own adventure during a lovely meal of homemade chicken pot pie with two 80-something-year-old women who regaled me all evening with tales of their own cross country adventures in the 1940s – bad ass.

As a Florida gal, I have picked many a things, like strawberries, tomatoes, avocados in my backyard, the works. However, I had never before had the experience of strolling through a sprawling orchard, plucking the prettiest apples I could get my hands on. My host for this adventure was Marie, a charming woman who makes some amazing apple butter from scratch. She drove Dena and I to the Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard on the outskirts of Hendersonville, and I was immediately in heaven.


The property boasts plump bodies of apple trees that sweep across the land for as far as the eye can see. The friendly women who worked at the orchard armed us with a map of the different apple varieties, and pointed us in the direction of the best pickings before setting us lose amongst the trees.

It was hard to control myself from snatching up every apple in sight, but Marie taught me the delicate process behind picking prime produce. Apparently, you should look for a flattened bottom to indicate a good apple – but honestly, I just went for the fruit that called out to me for whatever reason. Some were shiny, some had robust colors that couldn’t be ignored, and some were just too cute not to take home.

I was enchanted by the rows of apple trees, and the slightly rotten scent of fermenting apple flesh that wafted from the hoards of discarded fruit left abandoned beneath each tree. All was not lost though, as further investigation underneath one of the trees revealed that the lumps of fallen apples were being voraciously devoured by swarms of bees.

My woven basket was soon filled with all sorts of apples. My favorites are the little Galas, which can easily be eaten within a few bites if you’re not willing to commit to the idea of a big apple. Then there were the Jonagolds, a few Empires, and then the ultimate apple, my lone Honey Crisp. I had never tasted a Honey Crisp before coming to Hendersonville, but after just one bite into one I was hooked. It is hands down the best apple variety I have ever tasted – but alas, it was too late in the season to pick any, according to the orchard worker. I scoured the barren row of Honey Crisp trees in desperate search of overlooked treasure, and with my luck I was able to snag the final apple from one of the trees.

After satisfactorily loading myself up with a hoard of apples, we returned to the main orchard store to cash in our winnings. What I thought would surely be a fortune’s worth of apples miraculously only cost $5.00 – at a price like that, I could happily pick all my produce. I also stocked up on dehydrated apple rings made on the farm, and a few bottles of homemade cider.

The apples withstood crossing six state lines, a few nights of camping, funky changes in the weather, and a few other mishaps before making their way home to Denver. I offered my basket as a ‘thanks for letting me crash on your couch forever’ gift for the lovely men here in Colorado – and naturally I gave my beloved Honey Crisp to McGoo to try. He was skeptical about my musings at first, but after a few bites he admitted that it was in fact the best apple he has ever tasted.

As my travels in North Carolina come to a close, I have to once again thank everyone in this beautiful state who hosted me, fed me, took me on adventures, and made my trip amazing. I am overwhelmed with gratitude, and can hardly express my love for all of you. What a blessed little vagabond I am.

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Snapshots of mountain life with Marlin in Brevard, North Carolina

During my week spent in the mountains of eastern North Carolina, I was blessed with the opportunity to reconnect with a dear friend from Tally Rock Gym, who moved out to the Pisgah Forest to work at Eagle’s Nest Camp/Outdoor Academy. In a serendipitous twist, Marlin was living only a handful of miles up the road from the Hendersonville home in which I was staying.

The first day, I met him up at Eagle’s Nest for a tour of the grounds. It is a beautiful facility, painstakingly built in a rugged fashion that embraces the nature that surrounds each building. As we browsed the camp, I couldn’t help but notice a constant presence of little orange newts that sluggishly clamored along the pebble driveways. Naturally, I had to stop every few yards to scoop up a little buddy for a minute or two of playtime before returning him to his daily musings – whatever a newt muses. We also checked out the camp’s sprawling organic garden, which was certainly messy, but the tomatoes we picked from the vine were zesty and perfect.



On the second day I spent with Marlin, I was entertained with a wild evening at the staff house, called Riverside. Located across the street from the camp, this is where the workers get to escape from their ‘students’ for some adult time. I met some amazing people, especially Josh and Paige, who kept me captivated all night with beautiful banjo music, and a slam poetry piece by Paige that totally blew me away. Josh was kind enough to allow me to record a few of his songs on banjo and guitar, so once I get to a reliable internet connection, you’ll be able to indulge in his bluesy soul music.

Nestled up in the mountains, Marlin is truly living the life. This handful of photos from Riverside offers a meek glimpse into how great his situation is. He lives up in an off-the-beaten-track mountain neighborhood, gets paid to go on climbing excursions, and has a freshly updated rack of trad gear that would get any climber’s palms sweaty. Hats off to you, Marlin – and thank you a thousand times for your warm hospitality.




I’ll share the lunch experience I had in Brevard with Marlin, Paige, and Josh tomorrow morning – but first, it’s time to hit the sack here in Kansas City.

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My first sport climbing trip, fake mustaches, and chiggers in my belly button at Sand Rock in Alabama

To celebrate the end of summer, I did something I should have accomplished a long, long time ago: I led my first sport routes out on a climbing trip to Sandrock. One of my new favorite crags in Alabama, this area is an outdoor playground for both novice and experienced climbers armed with ropes and draws.

My first trip to Sand Rock was shared with a top notch crew of Tally Rock Gym rats. Our mission was driven (literally) by Ryan, who generously donated his car for our transportation needs. Fellow roommates Niko and Max completed the male portion of our team. My female counterpart was the fearless, freckled Allie – who crushed serious sandstone all weekend long. We left Tallahassee on an early Sunday evening, filled our bellies with some grubby Taco Bell, and trudged through the six hour drive to Sandrock.

I didn’t sleep a wink the first night on top of the mountain, which isn’t saying much since the rest of the crew only rested a handful of hours before the sunrise roused everyone from their slumber. I don’t know if we were too amped up about the awaiting climbs, or if we were simply delirious after such a long, dark drive, but sleeplessness was hardly an obstacle as we prepared for our first day out in the boulder field.


This trip saw the momentous occasion where I finally took life by the horns and decided to overcome my crippling fear of outdoor rope climbing – leading routes to be specific. A boulderer by nature, I avoided clips and bolts like my life depended on it. During an after-hours attempt at leading my way up the rock gym’s tallest wall, I made it a mere three bolts up before waving a white flag of defeat and lowering back down to the ground – weak, I know.

During our first day at Sandrock, I decided to start my foray into rope climbing with an easy top-roped route. I cruised up a simple 5.7, and immediately felt my confidence boost. Allie and I then summoned the courage to go for a true lead climb, our first of which was “My Dog Has Fleas,” a 5.8+ that asks you to burl your way up an ugly rock formation. It wasn’t our favorite route, but we both lead it like champions. Next up, we tackled “First Black Man in Office,” a much more enjoyable 5.9 shown to us by the local we met out in the fields.

Aside from the climbs, my time spent at Sandrock is best defined by a collection of beautiful moments. We spent each night sleeping out on top of a large rock outcrop that overlooked the many lakes and trees below, and in the early mornings, the sun rose in a fury of pinks and orange hues that spread out over the mountains and pleasantly woke us up.


Naturally, many of my favorite moments involved the discovery of little creature buddies. There were the dozens of blue-tailed skinks who slinked their way up rocks and through little tree branches, and the enormous green grasshopper who patiently sat with us while we climbed on our last day – I think he was succumbing to old age, but he seemed perfectly at peace with the world. Finally, there were the tiny little red insects, chiggers. I spotted one crawling on my arm during a nap on top of a boulder, and quickly squashed the parasite – but to no avail. By the time I got back to Tallahassee, I had a small family of chiggers who had buried themselves into my bellybutton, of all places. Very unpleasant.



Speaking of creatures, during a trip down the mountain to scour for grub, Allie and I spotted a small turtle attempting to cross the road. We forced the boys to bring the Jeep to a rapid halt, and launched ourselves out of the vehicle to go save our little friend – all while doning the ridiculous felt mustaches we had just won from a vending machine at a gas station barbecue joint. Enjoy.


I’ll leave you with a few more of my favorite shots from the weekend. Sandrock was a really beautiful slice of mountain, and I was fortunate to have spent my four days there with a truly wonderful set of climbers. Those lucky dogs are all back at Sandrock this weekend for a repeat visit, and I have full faith that they are all crushing routes and having a great adventure.


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We nearly missed the most important month of the year – April is National Frog Month!

Driving past the Novey Animal Hospital on Tennessee Street always presents interesting little tidbits displayed their sign marquee, and yesterday I discovered something I could kick myself for overlooking: April is National Frog Month!

How I let this slip past me, I simply do not know. Frogs are my favorite creatures on this planet, and April is a great month to pay homage to their pimply backs, glossy eyes and pudgy finger pads – it’s the month where they finally emerge from their underground burrows to splash in April’s showers and gear up for mating season. To celebrate my beloved buddies, here are a few of my favorite frog photos, plus a few interesting facts about these great amphibians.

Frog Facts:

  1. Fish travel in schools, geese fly in gaggles – so what do you call a group of frogs? An army. A group of toads is known as ‘a knot.’
  2. Frogs don’t drink water; they simply absorb it through their skin via osmosis.
  3. A frog can live anywhere from 4 to 40 years – the average lifespan is 4-15.
  4. Ever see a frog with its eyes closed and rolled back in its head? Don’t mind him, he’s just swallowing his prey whole, and using the pressure from his eyes to force the meal down his throat.
  5. You can find frogs everywhere in the world, except for Antarctica. Then again, why would anyone live in Antarctica?

Stay tuned tomorrow for a preview at my graduation photos! I’ll be walking (read: falling) across the stage at the Leon County Civic Center on Friday, April 29th to officially end my time as a student at Florida State University! – But first, excuse me while I find a few toad buddies to play with.

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Rocktown: Best Photos and Routes from the Climbing Club Spring Trip

Keeping with the tradition of last year’s crag choice, the spring trip hosted by the Climbing Club at FSU brought our slab-happy crew to the paradise of Rocktown, an untamed boulder field near La Fayette, Georgia. Naturally, I kept my camera in tow, and shall now present the best photos and stories from our adventures.

The drive up on Friday evening delivered dumping rain and tents filled with puddles. A small group opted to stay at a motel near the base of the mountain for fear of getting stuck in the deep mud that lined the switchbacks up towards the campgrounds. Lucky for me, the evening downpour led to plentiful sprouts of fungus, flowers and gooey insects.

Surprisingly, the boulders weren’t too wet the next morning. Our hands didn’t hold up quite as well as the rocks though; Nick’s peeling palms are a testament to the burning itch we felt every time our fingertips popped off the wall.

My favorite problem of the weekend was an ‘Unknown’ V3 roof crack found behind The Vagina. It had a sweet top-out over the back of another boulder. As usual, I spent way more time taking pictures and playing with bugs than I did actually climbing – but hell, I was a happy camper.

This was only my second visit to Rocktown, but definitely ranks as my favorite. We spent a lot of time diverting from the trails (thanks to Niko’s inability to follow a path), and got ourselves into a few sticky situations. Everything was moist and slippery, but that just added to the excitement.

‘The Orb’ was a big attraction on the second day of the trip. Feeling lazy and worn out, most of the group clamored around the boulder, sprawling out on crash pads while Niko, Douso and a few other strong climbers worked this V8 problem.

Rocktown was a great way to get the adventure spirit roaring in anticipation of my upcoming trip across America with Niko. It was a mini-sampling of what I’ll be enjoying during the next month of toting crash pads, muddy shoes, sleeping in a car and campfire food.

 

The above left photo is one of my favorite Rocktown photos of all time. Niko took that great shot of Douso, who was climbing a V-ridiculous that sat next to The Vagina. Douso’s body has a shape that works so well with the flow of the rock sediments, it’s perfect!

Naturally, we ended our trip with a customary stop at Cracker Barrel. It’s always a hoot to see the look on Sunday churchgoers faces as our muddy clan shovels food into our mouths and wave our arms wildly while we imitate the moves on routes we can’t wait to work again. We must look nuts, but then again, we certainly are.

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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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The countdown begins – 29 days until road trippin’ around America for an entire month.

Graduation is creeping up on me faster than the new rock gym weirdo, and the conclusion of my time as a Florida State University student signifies the approach of what promises to be the most influential travels of my life thus far. Niko and I will be journeying across the country in my family’s sizable Pilot – climbing, camping, drinking local brews, getting messy and discovering all the untouched beauty of America.

Here’s a rough sketch of our agenda:

About a week after my graduation ceremony, we’ll be heading out of Tallahassee with Rich and a wine cooler to be delivered to Fort Collins. We’ll spend the next few days pushing up towards Colorado, where we’ll drop off Rich and the cooler, then freeload for a while on McGoo’s couch in Denver. Afterwards, we’ll make our way out to Moab to visit Jeff and Ryan while they spend the summer as rafting guides on the Colorado River.

From there, we’ll shoot up to the ultimate destination: Yosemite National Park. A good chunk of our trip will be spent within the park, hiking and climbing in the beautiful California air. Since I’m so close to my old stomping grounds, we’ll have to make the final push to the bay area so I can feast my eyes upon the Pacific ocean. After California, our plans get hazy, but I’m hoping for a stop at Carlsbad Caverns on the way back to Tallahassee.

29 days, baby. The planning, organizing, preparing and packing has already begun, presenting another distraction. Next weekend, I’ll be heading out on the Climbing Club at FSU’s spring trip to Rocktown near La Fayette, GA – so expect photos and stories as usual.

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Lesson of the Day: Don’t Procrastinate Burying a Dead Bird

When I came home from work on Thursday, I found a startling addition to the little garden area by my front door: a downed adult bird, sitting motionless in the grass. I ran inside to put down my bags, then called out to my housemate that there was a hurt bird we needed to help.

“Uh, he’s been there for about four days,” she informed me. Hmm, maybe not so much hurt as he is dead? I still had to investigate my poor fallen buddy.

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Mission of the Day – Find a Great Hidden Spot Outdoors

You heard me, readers – I’m sending you on a mission today. With beautiful weather that’s warming up into the 80s, it would be a crime to stay inside today.

Your task is to venture outside and find some place beautiful. It doesn’t have to be an epic trek into the unknown to find a hidden gem; all you have to do is open your eyes and appreciate what nature has surrounded your life with.

The photo below comes from a great unexpected find in Wyoming. Our Jeep was puttering on its last drops of gas, and Jeff decided to take the next exit in hopes that a gas station would be there. Well, there was no gas, but we found this beautiful boulder formation:

You’ll have to excuse the shabby iPhone images, spontaneous adventures often result in me not having a proper camera.

Another example of a great spot was found during the last remnants of the summer of 2010. I was enjoying a lazy morning drive that left me lost somewhere on the Woodville Highway. I veered off a little road, and followed it until it dead-ended. I found myself at a dock, and this is what I encountered:


Get outside, and explore!
Spring is here, and you’d be a fool not to bask in this sunshine.

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