That time we went to Moab on a Monday.

From my leather journal. (With new thoughts sprinkled in while I transcribe.) 

3/20

Note: Please excuse any bumps and inky bruises on this page; I’m driving. Well, Brody is driving. We just turned off the highway at Crescent Junction, on our way to Moab for the week. I don’t think either of us really know why we’re in my car heading south right now, but I’d like to think that part of it is just the magic. Like the purple and the orange glow of the sunset streaming through the haze of this passing dust storm.

View of Castleton Tower in Moab, UT.

3/21

Good morning, Moab.

Right now, I’m sitting on a rock somewhere up Long’s Canyon off Potash Road. My face and ears are covered in tiny little flies. It’s early, and I’m not in a rush. Brody made french toast with berries and maple syrup for Dakota and I when we woke up. My piece is kind of burnt, but I don’t like sweet breakfast anyways so it’s okay. I hardly slept last night. My sleeping pad deflated. I can’t wait to climb.

Brody makes french toast on the first morning of our trip to Moab.

Later.

I didn’t believe we were actually going to Moab until I pulled up to Brody’s downtown apartment with my rig full of gear. A never-gonna-happen whim had turned into an oh-I-should-pack overnight, so we left Salt Lake City on a Monday afternoon and pointed south to the desert–my happiest of places.

We met up with our soon-to-be new friend Dakota (Jones, you might know him if you’re a runner–he’s real fast and a rad human being), at a dimly-lit park just after sundown. On the first and second nights, we slept down Long’s Canyon. We started the trip climbing classics at Wallstreet on Potash Road, then returned to our camp spot for a lazy lunch. Once my belly was full of veggies and tortilla and weird beet dressing, we sailed the Pilot up a bumpy dirt road to Maverick’s Buttress. I had never climbed there before, but I think I’d certainly like to go back.

Climbing at Wallstreet on Potash Road outside of Moab, UT.Gear, everywhere. Okay, Brody pretty much always makes the food. I just eat it.Climbing at Maverick Buttress down Long's Canyon in Moab, UT.

On the last full day, we climbed the classic Kor-Ingall’s route up Castleton Tower. I stood on top of the proper summit first, and took my moment of solitude to soak in the overwhelming feeling of smallness. I’ve never felt so tiny. Unsurprisingly, I cried a little bit at the top before the boys scrambled up. It was one of those moments that just remind you how audacious it is to be alive on this earth.

What a gift that I get to exist on this planet and do things like climb up a sandstone tower on a Wednesday afternoon.

Brody and I somewhere on pitch three of the Kor-Ingalls route up Castleton Tower. Enjoying a peaceful moment at the top of Castleton Tower in Moab, UT.On the summit of Castleton Tower with Dakota Jones and Brody Leven.

[Insert things about love and stealing kisses between pitches and two sleeping bags in the rain. I can’t share every detail from my journal, you know.]

Thursday morning, I awoke during twilight to the sound of rain pattering on the roof of my rig. We slept with the hatch open to catch the breeze, and I jolted up sure that our feet would be soaked from the storm. I patted our sleeping bags, and while a little wet, it wasn’t enough to wake up and shut the door.

Later, I woke back up to sunrise pouring over the La Sals with mist rolling over the mountains and drips of sunshine filling the space between the peaks and my sleepy bones.

(The last three photos, from Castleton Tower, were all taken by Brody. Thanks Brody. I left my phone and camera behind for the climb, and I’m so glad I did.)

Crag Dog Adventures in Utah

Here’s the problem with human companions: They come with too many variables. Ask someone, “Want to go out on an adventure?” and your response will inevitably be a “Yes, but _____.” There’s always something – yes but I have to work, or get my oil changed, or hang out with my boyfriend.

And here’s the thing about dogs: There are no buts. The answer is always “YES!” All it takes is one sniff of your backcountry gear piled by the doorway and they’re ready to hit the road ­– no matter what the adventure is.

Amble spent the first few months of her life traveling in a big yellow van, so she’s been groomed for a life of adventure since she was a pup. Nothing thrills her more than getting her paws dirty and sprinting like a torpedo through the outdoors. And you know, she might just love Utah wilderness as much as I do.IMG_8815IMG_8842

We sought out to hop around eastern Utah for a weekend with lady-friend Alex, with Joe’s Valley and Moab as our two destinations. I packed my climbing gear, Amble brought her freeze dried raw Merrick pet munchies, and we drove off into the mountains.

After a night spent folded like origami sleeping in my hatchback, the first stop of our mini-roadtrip was Joe’s Valley – one of my favorite places on earth. After exploring a few of my favorite boulders, the heat became unbearable, so we decided to drive back down country roads to a cluster of boulders we had noticed off a dirt road.IMG_8825IMG_8827

It look less than 30 seconds of peeking around the newfound boulder field to realize that we had just happened upon a sandstone goldmine. Rocks towering 30+ feet in to the air greeted us as we bumped down a very dusty forest road. I wanted to get closer to the field, so I coaxed my little hatchback further and further down the increasingly muddy road ­– and then it happened.

My tires started spinning, mud started flying, and my forward motion quickly ceased.

We were stuck.

Frankly, I was torn between pride and concern. I’ve always loved my little Scion for breaking the mold of adventure vehicles. It’s a city slicker, but my hatchback has traveled across the country a dozen times, navigates dirt roads like a champ, and always keeps me safe. The fact that it even took me to a place where I could get it stuck was a proud moment. And then I realized that didn’t exactly change the fact that I was stuck.

Alex and I quickly gathered as many big, flat stones as we could and wedged them under my tires. She pushed, I gave ‘er gas, and after a few attempts we freed ourselves from the mud. Defeated, we parked at a primitive campsite and walked the rest of the road to the boulders. Amble much preferred the walking over the driving.IMG_8819

I won’t say exactly where we were, because I’m selfish and want to go back there to scrub those dirty boulders until they resemble the beautiful lines they deserve to be. But the point is: these boulders are the real deal. While Amble investigated every inch of dry, cracked mud with her heeler nose, Alex and I set to work inspecting the rock faces and dreaming up boulder problems.DSC_0341 DSC_0326

Drained from the sun and stoked on our discovery, we retreated to the valley for another night crammed in my hatchback as rain pounded the desert outside. Left with soaked boulders, we ditched Joe’s Valley a few hours before sunrise and took off towards Moab.

Big Bend Boulders is one of the most convenient bouldering spots out west, if you ask me. It’s not the biggest, or the boldest – but it’s easy, sunny, and a great place to spend an afternoon. I showed Alex a few of my favorite lines, and we took turns flailing on projects and tossing sticks for Amble to chase.IMG_8861 DSC_0416DSC_0378DSC_0454

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Mini Trip Report: Outdoor Retailer + Utah Adventures

For the past three years, the final stretch of summer has been marked by one event: Outdoor Retailer’s summer market in Salt Lake City. I’ve attended for the past three years, and it’s become one of my favorite weekends. OR Show is the perfect cacophony of business mixing with pleasure, free beer interrupting meetings, reuniting with old friends, and partying with the industry.

I road-tripped out to Salt Lake City with Laurie from Outdoor Women’s Alliance – we took the Wyoming route on the way out, and the southern path along I-70 on the way back (to accommodate some much needed camping after the convention). The first night celebrated old friends with a dinner hosted by Columbia Sportswear, and then it was time to get down to the dirty work on Thursday with meetings and coffee dates. Broke up the hustle of appointments with free tacos and shirt screen-printing at the annual outdoor mini-festival held by Keen – and then it was quickly back to work.

A quick photo with the folks from Moja Gear at Outdoor Retailer.

On Thursday evening, one of my favorite people in the industry, (the man, the myth, the legend) Billy Brown surprised me with an extra pass to the advanced screening of Reel Rock’s Valley Uprising film. Spoiler alert: it was awesome. I’m one of the first people to get all crotchety and jaded about Yosemite Valley, but this film was so powerful it actually made me want to return to the park to climb. Definitely a must-see when the final cut is released!

By mid-morning on Friday, I was totally over the convention center. I didn’t schedule any appointments that afternoon, so my dear friend Adriana scooped me from the Salt Palace to go do a little climbing in Little Cottonwood Canyon with new friends Mary (go check out her photography right now), and her boyfriend Carlo Traversi.

But first, behold Adriana and Steven’s epic climbing set-up in their garage:

The most epic home climbing wall ever, belonging to Steven Jeffery.

When Adriana and I tossed crash pads on our back and headed towards the trail, I realized something really not okay: this was the first time I had been bouldering outside since my trip ended in late January. Whoa, dude. Never again! I foolishly left my climbing shoes behind, and borrowed a pair of rentals from the climbing gym that were not up to par – oops. Thankfully, Mary lent me her Dragons (which I am now totally in love with).

There were no sends for me that day, but just being back in a boulder field sussing out beta and cheering on my fellow climbers felt oh-so-good. We projected a sweet V4 called Twisted for a few hours before everyone had to retreat back to the convention center downtown.Five Ten Dragons, my dream climbing shoe. One day!

Mary Mecklenburg and I climbing Twisted (V4) at Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah.

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His or Hers? A Battle of the Climbing Photographers

Niko and I are constantly engaged in war – an ongoing battle between our climbing photographs. If I take a particularly impressive shot, he’ll quickly snag the camera and one-up me with an even better composition. When he finds the perfect lighting, I’m quick to steal the Nikon to shoot some photos of my own. Our little feud has become the best tool to pushing us to get the best climbing photos we can – but we can never decide who took to the better shot, so we’re asking you to help us decide.

Check out these two climbing photos, and choose your favorite (*click the photos for the full-sized view). Leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post letting us know which one you prefer. We’ll reveal who shot which photo once the votes are tallied and a winner is chosen!

These two photos were both taken at Indian Creek in Utah. We spent three weeks living in the desert, and snapped some of our best climbing photos of all time while we were out climbing sandstone cracks in the sunshine. There were dozens of photos that blew us away, including a few I shot of the fellas climbing Scarface while a thunderstorm rolled in – but these two are our favorites:

1. Jeremy Rush with a desperate face-press on Incredible Hand Crack (5.10c).

Jeremy Rush using everything he has on Incredible Hand Crack (5.10c) at Indian Creek in Utah.

2. Bryan Cox illuminated on Anunnaki (5.12).

Bryan Cox crushing Anunnaki (5.12) at Indian Creek in Utah.

There can only be one winner, and the choice is up to you. We’re pretty competitive with this idea, so we reckon it’ll become a series of photo contests – and the loser has to buy the winner a sweet treat of their choice. Glory and the promise of a free snack, it’s on!

Why we never make it to the crag before noon at Indian Creek

I wake up in the morning with sticky skin. Last night’s thunderstorm, and accompanying flash flood, did little to tame the desert temperatures – it’s way too warm to be sleeping in my thick bathrobe. I hear the rustlings of camp outside the van, so we get up and start a batch of coffee in the french press.

While Lauren sets to work cooking a batch of apple cinnamon pancakes on her one-burner stove, I perch myself on the picnic table beside her bench and admire the morning. The North Six-Shooter beams upward behind our campsite, the sun is already baking my skin, and all manner of birds are calling out from the thick brush surrounding us.

The Six Shooter as seen from our camp at Indian Creek.

Mornings here are highlighted by the habitual migration to the outhouse. One by one, we make the short trek up the dirt road to the most magnificent pit toilet I have ever sat on. There’s nothing fancy about this facility, with a small chain hooked across two planks of wood as the only indicator of current occupation and the lack of any roof – which is possibly the best part. Here you are, in the middle of Utah’s finest desert landscape, taking a dump while the breeze brushes past and the open ceiling offers an unobstructed view of the big blue sky.

My view from the outhouse at the Superbowl Camping area in Indian Creek.Today, the heavens are hued like a bluejay. In the corner of my outhouse view space, small spindles of clouds float by like wayward tufts of spun sugar. I’ll say it; these are the best poops I’ve ever had.

The path back to camp is a short jaunt lined with potholes filled with red clay water from the storms and more chirping birds in the bushes. My distractions nearly cause me to get hit by a stray frisbee, but the boys get it stuck up a tree instead. We should be packing up to hit the crag before the sun begins to beat down with merciless heat, but we prefer to take our time.

Niko and Christian continue their frisbee tossing, aiming to hit an axe sticking out of a stump – but miss every time. Lauren tidies the picnic table from her breakfast mess, while Jeremy settles by the fire ring while strumming our ukulele. This morning has inspired me to write, so I take a seat near Jeremy on a crash pad caked with red dirt. Bouldering gear becomes furniture here in Indian Creek.

After a few more morning musings, we connect with our Australian friends from a few campsites down – the only other occupants of the Super Bowl camping area – and finally succumb to the call of our tape gloves.

A rumbling upstream: Flash flood sweeps past my Indian Creek campsite

By the time we left the Super Crack parking lot, it had already begun to pour. This unusual desert rain had plagued us for two days now, and we rushed back to the campsite to make sure the van would still be able to trudge through the thick mud. We stayed huddled in the van with Jeremy for a bit before the storm eased up, then set about the usual evening musings in preparation for dinner and a fire. Seeing the desert landscape in a storm is a special treat at Indian Creek.

Earlier that day, Niko and I spent a few hours rummaging around a small creek running behind our campsite. It was charming, a six-foot wide stream no more than knee-deep, and often just barely skimming over rock beds. I’ve always been attracted to rivers and creeks, so I made plans to return and trek as far up the waterside as I could.

A result of the flash flood in Indian Creek.When we finally made it back to camp that evening, Jeremy decided to check out the creek while the rest of us began to chop onions and fire up our stoves. A few minutes later, we heard him shout.

While eyeing a path of stones so he could cross the little creek without getting his toes wet, Jeremy heard a deep rustling in the trees upstream. He thought our Australian companions were perhaps out exploring as well, but quickly realized otherwise as the rumbling sped towards him.

He thought it best to take a few large steps back from the water’s edge, just in time to watch a tall foaming wall of water gush up the once trickling stream, churning forward in a chaos of broken tree limbs and red mud. The flash flood raged past him, turning the once small stream with a clear view of the bottom into an angry, murky mass quadrupled in size.

We hurried down the wash, and stood astonished at the newly created scene. The little creek from this morning was now unrecognizable, and the rushing water created loud rapids that sped past small brush plants clinging to the remaining embankment. Floating logs frequently amped past, leaving crackling echoes in their wake as they crashed against stones in the flood.

I had never seen anything like it.The flash flood that swept through the wash just below our campsite at Indian Creek.

Our little crew stayed and admired the flood until the sun set and the wash began to grow too dark to navigate. When we returned the next morning, all that remained of the flash flood was a vast stretch of wet mud where the water had surged the previous night. The little stream now ran a cloudy red color. It was hard to believe that this was the same wash that had been gushing with violent water the night before. The creek was calm once again the morning after the flash flood.

By the time we left Indian Creek, the entire creek bed dried up, leaving nothing more than a few muddy patches of thigh deep quick sand and sad little puddles of stagnant water. During the past few months spent in the desert, I’ve heard a lot about the dangers of flash floods – but it has always centered around places like slot canyons. Experiencing the flood first hand was really eye-opening about how surprising and influential flash floods can be. For Jeremy, the landscape morphed in an instant, changing from docile and manageable to a volatile place where he easily could have been in harmed if he hadn’t taken those steps backwards from the water’s edge.

I guess that’s why you’re not supposed to set up camp or hike in dried up washes!

 

Climbing, camping, and coffee hour at Indian Creek

We first came to Indian creek on what can only be described as a whim. Jeremy, who we met in Joe’s Valley, egged us on for a few days about his yearning to make the short drive out to Moab to climb at Indian Creek. We easily relented, stuffed our crash pads into Vikki and Spenser’s trailer for the weekend, and caravanned to Indian Creek with newfound friends Jeremy and CP, Cox from Tallahassee Rock Gym, and Lauren, who I knew from Vertical Ventures in Tampa.

The original Indian Creek group gathering for a crew shot after climbing Wavy Gravy.

During my first two days at Indian Creek, I climbed a total of two routes (both on top-rope) – but I was totally exhausted after just two experiences shoving my body into perfectly formed sandstone cracks. I on-sighted Twin Cracks (5.9), and had a fantastic flail session on Wavy Gravy near the ultra-classic Scarface line. Niko continued to practice trad leading, and CP discovered that his hands are a perfect fit for lines that use a lot of number three cams.

CP crushing at Indian Creek in Utah.Me climbing Wavy Gravy in Indian Creek.We camped at Bridger Jack, and adopted a morning routine that involved a lazy “coffee hour.” With a small total of six cracks conquered during our weekend trip, we all decided to spend at least another week in Indian Creek to get the full experience. Niko and I returned to Joe’s Valley one last time to pick up our crash pads, then quickly resettled in Indian Creek – at a new campsite, which didn’t involve a heinous off-road scramble like the path to Bridger Jack.

The first night was rainy, and the next day’s forecast predicted an even higher chance of continuing storms. It didn’t look too promising, so we spent the morning slowly waking up and making coffee at camp.

The weather finally let up, so we decided to scope out the cliffs around Generic Crack to see if they had dried. They had indeed gotten some sun, and by 3:00, the Super Crack parking lot was starting to fill up with climbers.Niko hanging out beneath a climb at Indian Creek.Jeremy Rush killin' it in Indian Creek.

I stayed behind to catch up on writing for the day, and while I was lurking in the van I noticed – more than twice – non-climbers who were driving past, pumping the brakes, reversing into the parking lot, and pausing to admire the climbers while taking pictures and gawking through binoculars. It was a great little moment watching how intriguing climbing appears to be to the outside world – I wonder how unusual people think must we are, hanging onto the side of cracks along the scenic road to The Needles in Canyonlands National Park.

The end of an era: A bittersweet farewell to Joe’s Valley!

On our last night in Joe’s Valley, it rained. The canyons were hung thick with clouds, and the tops of some peaks were being dusted with snow. It cast a solemn tone on our departure – which was fitting for me as I finally bid farewell to this valley I had grown to adore so much.

We spent a total of 43 days over a nine-week period in Joe’s Valley, and in the last month we had knit a family unit that took up residence on the second pull-out in the left fork. Some stayed for the entire stint (or at least most of it), with folks like Spenser, Vikki, Adriana, Steven, Jeremy, and Randy becoming staples amongst our makeshift community. Others came and went, like Brad from Colorado and a flock of more than a dozen Floridian kids. Most days were spent climbing with the crew, and evenings saw us huddled around the impressive fireplace behind Vikki and Spenser’s trailer.

Niko on the iconic Angler problem at the riverside area in Joe's Valley.CP Santos finally crushes the Angler at Joe's Valley.

The final few weeks we spent in the valley are a blur of afternoons spent climbing by the riverside, discounted donuts from the Food Ranch, and lazy naps in the hammock. There are no new hard sends for me to report; I exhausted my list of projects, and lost the motivation to try-hard on any new ones. My laziness combined with multiple weekend trips out to Moab made it difficult to will myself to pull hard on anything.

Lounging in my ENO hammock at Joe's Valley.Pretty little things in Joe's Valley.

Perhaps the most memorable event of the last few weeks at Joe’s Valley was the bright Saturday morning when we teamed up with The RV Project, Steven, and Adriana to lend a hand during Orangeville’s annual city clean up. We figured it was the perfect opportunity to express a bit of gratitude to this small town for letting dirtbags live in their canyon and eat all their donuts.

My favorite moment was when the event organizer first laid eyes on us. One of the boys stepped forward and asked what we needed to do to get started, and the woman replied:

Oh, you’re here to help? I thought you just came to eat!

We all laughed, and quickly realized that our crew of six climbers nearly outnumbered the amount of town residents who had shown up. The morning was spent shoveling debris from the sidewalks, pulling stubborn weeds, and clearing out gutters. Our work was rewarded with a picnic at the neighborhood park, and the locals insisted that we take every single leftover with us back to camp. It was definitely a productive and positive day for climber and local relations.

The van worked real hard holding our rakes during the Orangeville city clean-up.The crew feasts on local treats after the clean-up.

Fast-forward a bit, and you’ll find us not in Joe’s Valley, but in Indian Creek. We took a quick weekend trip out to the Moab area to climb some cracks, fell in love with the creek, and then hastily returned to Orangeville one last time to retrieve the crash pads we had left behind at camp. As much as I had been clinging onto the comfort of our little Joe’s Valley nook, it finally felt like time to say goodbye to our little family and move on to the next chapter of our adventure.

The family.

The last evening in Joe’s Valley was spent huddled in the van with Vikki and Spenser. Rain had turned our campsite into a mud pit, and all the firewood was soaked – so we got cozy in the van and watched The Royal Tennenbaums while munching on kale and booze from Trader Joe’s.

Joe’s Valley has by far been my favorite experience of this trip so far. The people I met there, the idyllic bouldering, the town of Orangeville – this place is just perfect. I’m not quite sure when yet, but I will be back. In fact, this whole living in Joe’s Valley thing might be a yearly tradition.

The best problem at Joe’s Valley – that you’d probably never climbed – Cobra Con

Me on my new favorite problem in Joe's Valley, Cobra Con. For weeks, Steven Jeffrey kept name-dropping a V4 he was convinced I’d love. Initially, I thought he was just conning me into another supposed V-easy that’s really a V-hard (it’s happened before) – but he was right. This particular problem is called Cobra Con, and Steven was right: I love it. 

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Cobra Con is the best damn boulder problem in Joe’s Valley – at least of the V4 variety. Really, it’s that good.

If Cobra Con sat roadside like so many of the boulders in Joe’s Valley, I can guarantee it would constantly be swarmed with a flock of climbers. Strong folks would warm-up on it every day, and moderate climbers would aspire to become strong enough to send it. It would be slicked with shoe rubber, and caked with chalk. But instead, it’s tucked away on a lonesome hillside.

Getting to Cobra Con is no easy task, but thanks to the trails we built up to it, it’s much easier to find now. It is 100% worth the river crossing, uphill trek, and possibility of getting lost while trying to find it. Trust me. Just follow the cairns, edge your way around a big ‘ole boulder blocked by a prickly bush, haul your gear up the big wash, and behold.

You start on two enormous jug underclings, then throw up to the seemingly endless tufa feature that extends for nearly 20 feet of incredible roof climbing. And when you finally reach the end of this snaking sandstone, you’re greeted with a sustained yet totally manageable top-out. It’s everything I could ever ask for in a boulder climb.

Heel hooks, knee bars, no-hands rests – this climb has it all.
Jeremy Rush gets the party started on Cobra Con.

Adriana works the first moves on Cobra Con at Joe's Valley.

CP Santos takes a rest while working up the tufa on Cobra Con.

Adriana works out the top moves on Cobra Con.

Not convinced yet? Drive yourself out to Joe’s Valley, find Steven and Adriana in their sweet old Dolphin RV, and ask them to lead you up the hill to Cobra Con – then climb this route and remember, I told ya so.  

A peek into the grit and glory of climbing development at Joe’s Valley

For my entire climbing career, I’ve always walked up to boulders, examined the perfectly chalked holds, and climbed problems confident that the line was solid – and it always was. When presented with a perfectly developed bouldering area, why would one even stop to ponder the process that made these lines so clean, inviting, and often classic?

Niko on the river crossing before Steven built a sweet little bridge.

Niko on the river crossing before Steven built a sweet little bridge.

During my extended stint living in Joe’s Valley, I was blessed with the opportunity to assist in a bit of development of new areas. We met Steven Jeffrey, and his incredible girlfriend Adriana, who are currently knee-deep in the creation of a new (and vastly improved) Joe’s Valley guidebook. They invited us to accompany them while scouting out new boulder problems, and we eagerly obliged – then quickly learned involved a lot of wet river crossings, and hours where the fellas disappear for hours in search of new problems.

As a moderate climber, the first thing I noticed in Joe’s Valley is a distinct lack of super-easy warm-up feel-good problems. I was stoked for the opportunity to help establish some V1-4 problems to help even out the spread. The first thing I “first ascented” was a flakey V1 below Bring the Heatwole. I quickly learned that when you’re bagging the first summit of a boulder, everything is 10x scarier, no matter how easy the grade is. As I pulled up on flaked edges at the top, I kept re-assessing my feet and praying holds didn’t break.

My proud first ascent onsight was a V2-3 I named “Tree People.” It’s tucked around the corner from the entrance to the Eden area, aptly named because of the parted trees you have to climb through to complete the extended slab top-out. I continued my lesson on development during this climb, learning that the holds are sharper, the unknown condition of top-outs is slightly more daunting, and the thrill of being the first person to climb something is addicting.

Me on the first ascent of Tree People.

Me on the first ascent of Tree People at Joe’s Valley.

The majority of our feeble attempts at helping Steven and Adriana develop new boulders in the left fork of Joe’s Valley were spent across the river at Superhero Hill. Niko was particularly enthralled by the prospect of helping to establish new trails, especially after a heinous hike up to my favorite problem in Joe’s, Cobra Con (V4).

Before you can climb a boulder, you have to get there. I will forever appreciate the ease of established approaches after experiencing the before-and-after of a path to a boulder. On the first day, we trudged up a towering choss pile that sent waves of dirt and rocks tumbling down with every step. Adriana slipped into a thorny bush, and I twisted my ankle no less than 5 times. It wasn’t pretty.

A few days later, we hiked up the hill to find Steven and Adriana working on improving the trail. Armed with shovels, Niko and Steven sought up to flatten a landing while us ladies focused on building cairns, packing down the dirt on our new trail, and digging out a dirt mound to save a little tree from being trampled by climbers. It was tiring work, but nothing compared to the weeks Steven and Adriana have spent out here toiling to create accessibility on the steep hillsides surrounding the new areas.

Niko cleaning his new route at Joe’s Valley, GI Jane.

Niko’s effort to establish his new V3-4 , GI Jane, offers the best glimpse into what it takes to create a new boulder problem. He found the line one day while exploring with Steven, and was instantly infatuated with it. He rapelled from the top of the boulder armed with chalk and a brush, then set to work cleaning the holds. Scrubbing sand and broken bits from the pockets, feeling potential new holds, smacking their sides to make sure nothing would break – it was a tedious process.

His dedication to this line paid off when we brought a gaggle of climbers up to the hill to explore some of the new routes in the area. It was blatant that Niko was swelling with a bit of pride as he watched everyone take turns cruising up his new problem.

CP Santos going for the send on Niko's new problem, GI Jane.

CP Santos going for the send on Niko’s new problem, GI Jane.

And to think, we merely dipped our toes into the process. There’s a whole crew of folks who come out here every weekend and slave away at the seemingly endless task of establishing new areas. Holds are broken (sometimes in a violent manner that send the climber crashing to the ground), rocks are scrubbed, trails are plowed, and at the heart of it all, first ascents are proudly conquered.

Next time you hike up a nicely built trail to your new bouldering project, don’t forget to reflect on all the hard work, dedication, and relentless passion that made your climb possible. I’ll never experience bouldering the same way again. Huge amounts of gratitude, love, and appreciation are due to all those folks who are constantly out developing in Joe’s Valley (and across the country).