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! 

Gettin’ in over my head: I’m heading to climb cracks in Indian Creek for the weekend!

Here’s a not-so-secret confession: I am not the best rope climber. I’m not quite sure what it is, but as soon as I have a rope tied to my harness and some gear dangling from my hips, my climbing skills degrade severely and my mental stability goes out the window. I am shamefully a pebble-pushing pansy. There, I said it.

My lackluster rope skills are part of the reason why I’m a little intimidated to announce what I’ll be doing this weekend:

I’m going crack climbing in Indian Creek!

The gorgeous landscape at Indian Creek. (Image courtesy of the Chicks Climbing Facebook page.)

The gorgeous landscape at Indian Creek. (Image courtesy of the Chicks Climbing Facebook page – click through to see more!)

Here are a few more confessions: I have never climbed a proper crack outdoors (unless you count a few bouldering cracks I climbed at Boat Rock in Georgia), nor have I ever climbed trad. Basically, I am going to be in way over my head this weekend. I’m totally petrified about my first attempt at hauling my little body up a towering crack – but I know it’s going to be a great learning experience. My hands will be shredded, my footwork will be schooled, and I have no doubts that the fellas will be laughing at me many times throughout the weekend.

Haley Dahle rocking the art of crack climbing at Indian Creek, my hero! (Photo by: Terrell Barry via the ClimbRunLiftMom Facebook page.)

Haley Dahle crack climbing at Indian Creek, my hero! (Photo by: Terrell Barry via the ClimbRunLiftMom FB page.)

Luckily, the lovely Haley Dahle from ClimbRunLiftMom will also be heading to Indian Creek this weekend, so I’m looking forward to meeting up with her and soothing my bruised ego over a campfire accompanied by some whiskey. She is a total fanatic for the impressive crack climbing at Indian Creek, so I’m hoping to soak up some of her expertise and confidence to help me in my pursuit of becoming a crack climber.

For me, this is one of those situations where you really just have to be honest and upfront with yourself about pushing limits and taking things easy. Do I plan on leading a bad ass 5.11 trad crack this weekend? Absolutely not. Will I be 100% satisfied with myself when I top-rope a 5.9 crack for the first time? You better believe it. Sometimes, you have to be okay with taking baby steps – and there is no shame in that.

Frankly, I’ll be beside myself with pride if I even place a single piece of trad gear on my own this weekend. What would be ideal is if I could teleport through time to the Chicks Climbing clinic at Indian Creek on the weekend May 1st, learn a thing or two about the finer techniques behind crack climbing, then return to the present to show hold my own and hang with the big boys. But alas, I’ll just have to wing it.

Have you been climbing at Indian Creek? I’m all ears to any tips, recommended routes, advice on taping my hands, whatever you’ve got to throw my way! 

PS: Since I’ll be deep in the desert until Monday, you should expect me to be totally disconnected this weekend. I’ll catch up on all the comments, tweets, and e-mails after my first crack climbing adventure – and you can look forward to some stories and photos acting as evidence of my inevitable fumbling, faces of terror, and bloody knuckles. While I’m gone, make sure to enter my giveaway for a package of Premier Protein energy bars and shakes!

New climbing companions, Niko’s first ascent, and deciding to return to Joe’s Valley

Last week, the tribe I had been traveling with for the past few weeks finally disbanded. Our two main companions, Zach and Emily, drove back home to Minnesota, and the rest of the crew headed off to other climbing areas like Bishop and Red Rocks. We had planned to hightail it out to Moab on Friday morning, but ended up forced to stay in town until I sent my nemesis climbing project, Kill By Numbers – and I’m so glad it took me so long to finish that boulder problem.

While moping around the Food Ranch, I happened to meet a charming lady who mentioned working on a blog post. Naturally, I asked what the name of her blog was, and it turned out that she’s half of the two-climber team that runs The RV Project. I told them we were planning to head out of town the next morning after sending Kill By Numbers, but wished them good travels in Joe’s.

The following day, I gave my all on an early attempt of Kill By Numbers, which was a horrible failure with me unable to even lift myself off the first move. Defeated, I retreated to the Food Ranch once again – and opened my e-mails to find one from Spenser, the other half of The RV Project. It basically said, “Love your blog, wish you were still in town so we could invite you to our campfire.”

And I wrote back, “Well, as it happens, we’re still in town.” A few more correspondences were exchanged, and suddenly we found ourselves huddled around a fire with strangers who would become family overnight. We made plans to climb together the next day, and it wasn’t very long before Vikki and Spenser convinced us to just come back to Joe’s Valley after our trip to go climbing in Moab with a few old buddies. We awoke the next day with a reinvigorated passion for the valley, which was amplified by the great vibes we got from climbing with Spenser, Vikki, and their buddy Will.

Spenser climbing Save Yourself (V9) in Joe's Valley.Will works the beta on Eden (V9) in Joe's Valley.

I spent the day working Kelly’s Arete (V5) with Vikki and two other super strong gals while Niko and Spenser hopped around the boulders shooting photos. It was so inspiring to enjoy an all-ladies bouldering session – there’s something special about sharing beta, cheers, and promises of a send train.

One of my newfound lady friends crushes Kelly's Arete (V5) in Joe's Valley.

Finally, the moment came for me to send Kill By Numbers the following morning – and by some miracle of climbing, I crushed it on my first attempt. A celebration of PBR and “oreo dessert” from the Food Ranch quickly followed as I moved on to watch the fellas climb a few projects, including a never-climbed line scoped out by Steven Jeffery, who is working on a new Joe’s Valley guidebook.

Niko works the first moves on his still-unnamed first ascent of a V7.

Niko spent about an hour working out the beta for the first moves, which involves a strong, stretchy crank up to a sloping pocket from an overhanging ledge. He quickly solved the sequence, and eventually found himself on the tall bulge top-out. As he pushed his body upwards, he started uttering one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard him say while climbing:

Niko delicately manuevering the top-out of his V7 first ascent.

 

 

“Please don’t break,
please don’t break,
please don’t break.

 

 

I guess that’s the price you pay for snagging a first ascent. Fortunately, none of the sandy  he was pulling on broke, and Niko proudly claimed the first ascent of the problem, which he gave a V7 grade. He hasn’t given the problem an official name, but we’re toying with the idea of “Oreo Dessert” to pay homage to one of the Food Ranch’s finer delicacies.

After a few more campfires fueled by booze, a bout of nasty weather, and a dip in the local pool, Niko and I finally willed ourselves to leave our little Joe’s Valley home for a few days to go explore in Moab – but one thing is for sure: we’ll be back.

Three Weeks of Climbing at Joe’s Valley in Words and Photos

A frozen waterfall at Joe's Valley in Utah.It all began with a dreary midnight drive through the nothingness of rural Utah. We arrived in Joe’s Valley after a brief stint in Moe’s Valley that left us eager for cooler temperatures and a landscape with more than just blistering sand. It was dark when we pulled up to camp, so I was elated to wake up on the first morning surrounded by tall pine trees, snow patches, and a gushing river that snakes through the left fork of the valley.

I didn’t do much sending during the first week due to my tweaky tendon, but just getting to explore the incredible valley was enough to keep my spirits lifted. Our old housemate Bo was with us for the first few days, and another Tally Rock Gym-er, Bryan Cox, drove out from his new home in Salt Lake City to join us during that first week as well. Even better than the climbing was getting to watch all the fellas reunite.
Niko, Bo, and Cox messing around on the landmark crack boulder in the Left Fork of Joe's Valley in Utah.We broke up our three weeks in Joe’s Valley with a weekend in Salt Lake City, and a quick escape to Moe’s Valley for two days while the temperature dropped down to single digit wind chills in Joe’s – but every time we left for a bit, we felt a persistent urge to return to the valley. So, we kept coming back.

There were many highlights for the crew during our long climbing sessions at Joe’s Valley, including a very successful Easter Sunday where Niko sent his first V10, and I climbed V6, 5, and 4 all within two or three attempts. Our lady friend Emily sent her first V7, and many more projects were ticked off all our lists. I also had an awesome experience flashing a V5 for the first time, which I totally did not expect to happen. Here are a few of the highlight shots from the past few weeks:
Angus executes the ultimate beast-mode while climbing Playmate Of The Year (V9) In Joe's Valley.Here's a shot of me flashing Blue Eyed (V5) in Joe's Valley, Utah.And a few more..
Angus looks heaven-sent while projecting Beyond Life (V10) at Joe's Valley in Utah.Bo throws some fancy footwork on during his send of Bring The Heatwole (V7) at Joe's Valley.
My favorite climbs at Joe’s Valley were two V5s that offer a style of climbing not often encountered at this climbing destination full of face and mostly vertical climbs. The first send, Self Service, is a beautiful line in the New Joe’s area that follows big holds through big movements up to a committing top-out. I’d call it a bit soft for the grade, but a blast nonetheless.

I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to send Self Service when I first hopped on it – one of the first moves is a left-hand reach up to a crimpy edge, and my tendon was still aching like crazy, plus my still-sprained ankle was NOT happy with the heel hook beta I originally tried. Eventually, I found my own beta, muscled up a bit, and pulled off the send.
DSC_9618
The second favored send was possibly my hardest personal triumph in climbing thus far. The problem, Kill By Numbers, is an outstandingly burly V5 with gnarly heel hooks, strong arête slopers, and a big first move that required some serious lady beta for me. I spent days working it, with two days of many attempts, followed by two days of “oh man my butt hurts,” and one “today is the day” attitude that led to a send on the first go during a fresh day. I think it may just be my proudest send of all time – it feels even more earned because of all the work I had to put into it.
Gunning for the perfectly placed crimps on Kill By Numbers (V5) in Joe's Valley, Utah.Thus far, we’ve spent the majority of our time at Joe’s Valley in the company of our friends Zach, Emily, and Angus – two of which had to return home to Minnesota, and one who headed out to the Red Rock Rendevouz in Nevada. We ended up spending a total of 30 days traveling with Zach and Emily, from Hueco Tanks to Red Rocks to Moe’s and Joe’s Valleys. It was an incredible experience meeting them and becoming a little family on the road together. As for Angus, well, the kid can crush, as you’ll see in this awesome Joe’s Valley bouldering video he recently posted (and he’s as sweet as he is strong).

It was a sad moment when we all parted ways. The crew spent our last evening together huddled around a campfire, roasting marshmallows and drinking the only full-proof beer we could get our hands on in this little Utah town. In the morning, we all scattered to our respective “final projects” in the valley, and bid our final farewells.
The original Joe's Valley crew on our last night together in Utah.
After a few days on our own in the valley, we met Spenser and Vikki from The RV Project, and have been camping, climbing, shooting footage, and hangin’ ever since. Meeting them has totally reinvigorated our stoke on climbing at Joe’s Valley. We were originally planning on leaving Joe’s Valley to check out other areas, but have decided to come back to the area for a bit after we do a little bit of sport climbing in Moab this week.

Come back tomorrow to read more about why we’re coming back, and Niko’s V7 first ascent!
And, since I’m in such a sharing mood, check out this still we pulled of Niko climbing Resident Evil (V10). We’ll have an awesome video coming out sometime this week, featuring some of my favorite Joe’s Valley climbs, with a few bonus sends from Moe’s Valley and Red Rocks!
Niko getting the high foot on Resident Evil (V10).

First outdoor ascents, an epic OR Show crew, and climbing at American Fork Canyon in Utah

It’s been well over a week, and yet I am still reeling from the sights, sounds, and excitement of the Outdoor Retailer summer show in Salt Lake City. It was my first OR Show experience, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to check out some outstanding gear, meet with some potential sponsors for the big 2013 trip, and hang out with some of my favorite folks in the outdoor industry.

As wonderful as my four days spent scuttling around the Salt Palace were, the undeniable highlight of my excursion out to Utah was the day I spent climbing at American Fork Canyon in the company of a crew of adventurers I had only actually met (in person) the night before. We had all known each other for what felt like a lifetime through our weekly conversations during #ClimbChat on Twitter, but it wasn’t until Millet hosted a tweet-up that we all actually became “friends in real life.” The connection between our crew was instant, and I was thrilled when my buddy Josh offered to come scoop me from my hotel the next morning to head up into the mountains.

I spent the drive up to the canyon with my face pressed against the car window, soaking up all the splendor of the mountainous Wasatch scenery that surrounded me – I’m a Florida gal, so even the slightest shifts in elevation get me giddy.

We winded through the thickly forested mountains for a few miles, and then parked along the side of the road before saddling up with gear and trekking towards the canyon walls to the Hard Rock crag with fellow climbers Josh Riggins and Kristie Salzman.

The highlight of my day came early – I got to witness Kristie’s first outdoor climb ever. The amount of stoke that was pouring out of her was infectious, and it was a blast to photograph her while Josh belayed her up Rockapella, a classic 5.7 slab with a groovy little roof at the end.

Kristie totally rocked her first climb, and came down from her ascent with an enormous smile plastered across her pretty face. It was too cool to be there for her inaugural climb, and judging by how amped she was, I think it’s safe to say she’s 100% hooked.

After I took my turn on Rockapella to warm up and get used to the unfamiliar feel of polished limestone, the rest of our group slowly made their way up the steep trail and joined us. We shifted a few yards over to a more shaded wall, and the climbing really picked up – we had about four ropes slung up the wall in a row.

Each member in our crew took turns dominating the various 5.8-5.10b routes that lined the canyon area, including Gas Boost (5.8) and Treehugger (5.10b). As much fun as the climbing was, the experience of hanging out at the crag with some fantastic folks who shared my love for the sport was even more inspiring.

I really enjoyed the change of pace from my usual climbing pursuits. I typically head to the crag with a collection of strictly-male cohorts; if I’m lucky there may be one or two fellow females along on the adventure. It was great to have a day of climbing dominated by the ladies, and the relaxed vibes of the afternoon created a truly enjoyable experience. I’m used to climbing in a way more competitive environment, where the pressure is pretty high for me to perform my best. On this occasion, however, it was all about having fun – I led a few routes, but mostly just enjoyed myself. So refreshing!

My personal highlight came when our clan switched down the crag towards what instantly became one of my favorite climbs of all time – Suicide Blonde (5.11b). Clocking in at a stout 40 feet and 5 bolts, with a bit of an overhang and strong moves to fairly solid holds, this line was a beautiful showcase of classic climbing. I watched as Steve of The Most Epic Trip led the route in a seemingly effortless manner, then decided to give it a go – quickly realizing that Steve made it look much easier than it really was.

The first bolt was the most difficult section for me; the bottom portion of the limestone rock was impossibly polished, so I had to resort to a funky heel hook to prop myself up to the first big move. After a few failed attempts, I stuck it, and took a nice rest at the ledge before the second bolt. I took three or four falls during the climb, but was really impressed by the fact that I actually finished the route – especially given the last segment.

If you know me, you know that slabs and slopers are my least favorite things to climb – and the area between the fourth and final bolts on Suicide Blonde are nothing but desperate slopers arranged along a big slab. Somehow, I managed to propel myself towards the anchors through this section without taking an falls. Victory!

I’m totally already scheming up ways to return to American Fork Canyon to tackle the red-point of this beautiful route.

As the group dispersed, I made my way down the steep, rocky trail with Josh, Steve, Kristie, Gina, and Haley’s awesome little family (did I mention how cool it was to hang out with two kids at the crag?) – and in true Katie fashion, I totally ate it while descending the trail. Oops.

Once the climbing crew dwindled down to just Josh and I, we retreated to Taylorsville to refuel with some awesome jalapeno sushi before I headed to the airport and wistfully left the gorgeous Utah landscapes. I honestly could have happily stayed out there for another few weeks, but Florida was beckoning, and I had to return home.

Utah, we shall meet again. 

A peek into my desert-dwelling future with Austin Siadak’s “A Desert Life,” featuring Alf Randell

The cinematography is sharp and superb, the scenery is stunning, and let’s face it: Alf Randell is way too sexy with those big ‘ole turtle spectacles. Sure, he’s old enough to be my dad, but looking at him is like looking into my boyfriend’s future – and I’m pretty pleased with the outlook.

[vimeo clip_id=”34482694″] [Read more…]

An adventurous road-tripper’s top 10 travel moments of 2011

What travel blog would be complete without a year-end review of the best travel experiences from 2011? As I begin to daydream of all the amazing adventures that 2012 has waiting around the corner, I can’t help but reflect on the outrageous and memorable times I had on the road this year. Every moment spent road tripping across America is held dearly, but these ten moments stick out above the rest.

10. Escaping for a week of relaxation in the mountains around Hendersonville, North Carolina

My seven-week September solo trip deserves a big mention, but the leg of my adventure that deserves the biggest accolades is the week I spent lounging around Hendersonville, North Carolina. My ex-girlfriend’s mother invited me to stay at her charming country home, and I spent the week sampling the area’s best cuisine, picking apples at an orchard, dancing the night away at a climbing buddy’s wedding in Flat Rock, and exploring the mountainous region of Brevard.

My solo trip commenced with a rough patch of personal heartache, so this miniature escape truly assisted in establishing up the positive vibes that I carried throughout the remainder of my travels.

9. Celebrating my 23rd birthday boating on Lake Dillon in Frisco, Colorado

My solo trip ended just days before my 23rd birthday, and in true girly fashion, I was determined to make my celebration one to remember. Having freshly transplanted myself and my belongings to Denver, Colorado, I wanted to capitalize on my new surroundings. After browsing potential ideas like a pedal-yourself beer wagon, we settled on renting a pontoon boat on Lake Dillon. The drive out to Frisco was absolutely gorgeous, as was the entire day of mountainside boating. I discovered my new favorite whiskey, vanilla-infused Phillips Union, and our crew downed countless cans of beer while we cruised around the frigid lake.

Having been raised boating on the warm waters in Miami, this Colorado lake experience introduced me to a whole new style of waterfront fun – no sandy beaches around, this day was all about mountain peaks and snow forest landscapes.

8. A wild hike up a muddy cliffside during a rainy day at Boulder Canyon in Colorado

This was one of those totally unplanned, totally unpredicted experiences that taught me the value of relinquishing control and embracing the idea of getting very, very dirty. On our way to what we thought was a sport climbing area, a group of cohorts and I scrambled up a steep, chossy cliff that led to frequent falling rock calls, one very bloody knee, and more dirt caked underneath my fingernails that I could ever imagine – but it was too much fun.

I was skeptical about the messy scramble at first, since I was carrying my beloved Nikon camera and equipment in my pack, but after a sprinkle of rain turned our dirty hike into slushy chaos, all bets were off. I returned to the car slathered in mud, and spent the evening picking sticky burrs out of my hair – but again, too much fun.

7. Watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon in Arizona

As the final ‘big’ stop on my post-graduation road trip with Niko in May, we made a pit stop at Grand Canyon National Park – but our original intentions didn’t involve a sunrise. Niko had been dying to see the sunset, so we raced our way along barren roads to catch the sun before it dipped beyond the rim of the canyon. Literally missing the sunset by three minutes, we decided to spend the night in the nearby tourist town so we could watch the sunrise.

After spending a very uncomfortable night sleeping in a hotel parking lot, Niko roused me from my catatonic state and we returned to the park. This time we made sure to arrive well before the sun, and were pleasantly surprised to find the area was nearly deserted – I guess the 5 AM wakeup call for the sunrise is reserved for only the most diehard adventurers. I was cranky and cold, but I ended up with one of my favorite Niko photos of all time.

6. Pitching my tent at Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park

This campground, located inside Yosemite Valley, is one of the most legendary watering holes for famous climbers. It was inspiring to camp at the same spot that housed icons like Lynne Hill and Ron Kauk – Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia even used to sell homemade gear from the camp’s parking lot.

Everything from waking up at 6:00 in the morning to queue in line for camp registration to the rusty bear-proof food lockers and name tags we had to tie on our tents for the ranger check-ins combined to create this inspiring air of climbing confidence and community vibes that spread throughout the grounds. I woke up in the morning pumped to climb some Yosemite granite.

5. My first sport climb at Sandrock in Alabama

An avid climber from the moment my fingertips first grazed the plastic holds at Tallahassee Rock Gym, it was a damn shame that I had never sport climbed until August 2011. Two years into my climbing obsession, I finally embarked on a sport climbing trip to a beautiful crag called Sandrock near Steele, Alabama.

The exhilaration of clipping into the anchors at the top of my first lead was only rivaled by the experience of sleeping out beneath the stars atop the rock formations at the mountain summit, and waking up to explosive hues of sunrise. It was one of the moments that cemented my adoration for the outdoors and living in nature – although the chiggers that infested my bellybutton on this trip weren’t the best reminder of why I love living in nature.

4. Getting a taste of desert life in Moab, Utah

Anyone who has asked me about my travels in 2011 has heard an earful about my infatuation with Moab. Niko and I spent a week living in the desert in May, when we came to visit our two buddies who spent the summer working as river guides in Moab. I became enthralled with the lifestyle of these dirty, leather-skinned desert people.

Over the course of a very short week, I photographed beautiful roadside climbs at Potash, hiked through Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park, ate sandy campfire food alongside my fellow tent-dwellers at the Lazy Lizard Hostel, and met some of the most amazing people I have ever encountered while traveling – Josephine, Paul, Chelsey, and Mike, I’m talkin’ to you.

Seriously, you must visit Moab. It is my most highly recommended destination.

3. A weekend at Still Mountain Retreat in Willits, California

After weeks of vagabonding throughout Moab and Yosemite, Niko and I readily accepted an invitation to join some friends for a relaxing weekend retreat at family cabins tucked high in the mountains near Willits, California. The entire weekend was a fantastic blur of great homemade food, excursions into the woods and nearby waterfall, and peaceful time spent in great company.

Niko and I stayed in a small cabin with an attic-like entrance to the second-story sleeping area – which inspired notions of simple living and small spaces.  It was so refreshing to experience this place tucked away from civilization, where all that mattered was when the next shuffleboard tournament would take place.

2. Driving into the mountains on I-25 on my way to Denver, Colorado

My September solo trip concluded with a final haul down to Miami to load up my hatchback with my belongings before returning to Denver to move-in. The push back to Colorado from Florida was grueling with a jam-packed car, but as I finally hit the Rockies after driving through hours of flatlands, I was overwhelmed by the most intense feeling of pure joy I have ever felt. My music was blasted at full volume, all windows were rolled down, and I literally burst out with ecstatic squeals as I wound my way through the beautiful mountains that would soon become home.

1. Camping solo for the first time at Lake Barkley State Park in Cadiz, Kentucky

Of all my travels throughout 2011, there is one experience that shines above the rest. My first night spent camping solo was a huge milestone for me as an independent traveler. While I spent seven weeks on a solo road trip, the first night of successfully pitching my tent, building a fire, and surviving the wilderness through daybreak was easily my biggest accomplishment.

My evening was spent at Lake Barkley State Park, a tranquil slice of outdoors paradise sitting near the town of Cadiz in rural Kentucky. Family and fans of my adventures had been dreading this day since the beginning of my trip, but I approached the evening with a calm attitude and wound up having a great night tending to my fire and basking in the peace of solitude. My first experience camping solo left me with overwhelming sentiments that I can handle anything my travels throw my way – and I don’t need anyone’s help to do it.

What are your top travel moments from 2011?
If you’ve got a link to your own blog post, I’d love for you to share it below in the comments section! You can also tweet pics and links to @themorningfresh, or share your experiences on The Morning Fresh Facebook page.

A Rainy Afternoon of Climbing at the ‘Ninja Training Camp’ Cave in Moab, Utah

Like a bad luck talisman, our Tallahassee crew seemed to have brought rain to the dry landscape of Moab. The crummy weather eventually drove us out of Utah a few days earlier than expected, but first we made a stop at a mysterious cave to do some roof bouldering. I later learned that the cave is called “Ninja Training Camp,” which always makes me giggle a bit.

We were led to the cave by Max, another summertime Moab resident who worked at a cafe in town. The cave sits tucked away from the road down Potash, past the routes at Wallstreet. I was a little weary of the rain, but my interested was immediately piqued by the unusual path taken to reach the cave: we had to cross through a giant drainage pipe to make our way towards the climbing area.

The rest of the ‘path’ to the cave was relatively mild, winding through sandy patches and rocky areas before leading us to a giant pond that sat as a natural protector before the looming cave. I barely climbed, opting instead to play around the pond and assume my usual role as photographer. The routes in the cave primarily ran along cracks in the roof, with a few sloped ledges thrown into the mix.

The rain came and went in short bursts, but the cave stayed fairly dry and provided a nice little shelter for our group. Most of boys were transfixed on the climbing, but a few of us strayed off to explore the little landscape that surrounded the cave, pond, and stacks of boulders that sat above. We brought one of our hostel companions, Dan Hebb, along for the adventure, and he quickly disappeared into the wilderness while we remained at the cave.

To the right you can get an idea of what the area looked like. It isn’t the best photo, but it was pretty challenging to capture the entire scene. I tried to get shots of the whole cave while the boys were climbing inside, but pesky trees kept blocking my views.

Aside from climbing, the boys enjoyed throwing large rocks off the top of the cave into the deep pond below. We almost convinced Jeff to jump naked into the pond, but my promise of $20 wasn’t enough to persuade him to take action. In all honesty, I’m glad he chickened out, because that stagnant water must have been loaded with icky water germs.

We only spent a few hours at this miniature crag, as the Moab locals had to get back into town for their respective job obligations and such. I really enjoyed taking pictures from that big drainage pipe. The first one of Ryan turned out fantastic with the silhouette and funky lines, and the photo below provided a great illustration of our time in Moab: lots of climbing, and beautiful scenery.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite photographs taken on this little excursion. As I mentioned before, I was absolutely smitten with the pond that sat in front of the cave. It was teeming with water bugs, and I was determined to find this odd amphibian that Max kept claiming lived in the area – my searches were unsuccessful, but I ended up with this great shot of the pond’s reflective qualities. Enjoy!

Road Trip 2011 – Wild Times the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Moab, Utah

Growing up in the wealthy suburbs of South Florida, the idea of a hostel was a mere fantasy for me. The idea of communal accommodations remained intangible until we visited Jeff and Ryan in Moab and stayed at the Lazy Lizard Hostel. It was truly one of those I’m-never-going-to-forget-this life experiences.

The hostel offers a variety of lodging options. You can rent a private cabin, stay in a dorm-style room above the main building, or camp out in the back. Pitching a tent is the cheapest option, so naturally we took that path – but make no mistake, camping in the quieter zone of the hostel hardly spared us from the insanity that ensues on a nightly basis at the Lazy Lizard.

The people we met were outrageous. There were Chelsey and Josephine, the beautiful hitchhiking ladies from Seattle, and Mike, my fellow Palmetto High School alumnus – what are the odds of running into a classmate in a funky Moab hostel? Not to play favorites, but one of the most significant people we met was Paul, the British climber who ended up accompanying us to Yosemite and spending a week with our crew.

I can’t forget about Lynne, the Lazy Lizard housekeeper who drank like a camel, swore like a sailor and even tried her hand at hitting on Niko. After a few hours of pounding boxed wine and gin, I excitedly followed her into her room to watch her feed her rat family. My drunken stupor ignored her warnings about the overprotective mama rat, who eagerly took a chunk out of my index finger when I shoved it into the cage to pet the rats – another Lazy Lizard mishap to add to the collection.


Our ultimate night of debauchery, the evening where I earned my rat bite, included the best thing that’s happened to Niko’s head in years: a very drunk Chelsey agreed to give Niko a male version of her fabulous lesbian haircut. It honestly could have ended in disaster, but Niko’s mane was shockingly tamed – minus his new little rat tail that we keep meaning to fix.


I would be a liar to claim that the Lazy Lizard was an outstanding facility for quality accommodations – if you’re looking for a quiet night’s stay or lavish lodging, this is not the place for you. However, if you’re keen on waking up with caterpillars on your tent, walking through the rain to find a liquor store, meeting outlandish characters from around the world and collecting experiences that you’ll never forget, do yourself a favor and spend a few nights at this ridiculous establishment.

Have I mentioned that this is the place where Jeff and Ryan are spending their entire summer while they work as rafting guides on the Colorado River? Imagine the novel’s worth of stories they’ll have to share once they’re done residing at the Lazy Lizard, if they make it out alive.

   

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.