8 Reasons You Need to Watch Reel Rock 9’s Valley Uprising

While doing the rounds at Outdoor Retailer last week, I bumped into one of my favorite people on the planet, Billy Brown, who just so happened to have an extra pass to the Reel Rock film tour‘s advance screening of the new Valley Uprising documentary. The upcoming film release hadn’t even crossed my mind, so I was stoked to get to catch a sneak peek at it. I was expecting to just get a brief taste of the documentary, but we ended up being treated to the full (though not fully edited yet) film.

(Oh and I met Hans Florine – my opening line to him was “I can totally hold your cheese if you want!” Yeah. He didn’t let me hold it.)

Photo by: Katrin Bell (check out her blog and Facebook page too!)

The short story is: I left with sweaty palms, a full heart, and the immediate need to buy another van and go shred my hands on granite in Yosemite National Park. It was phenomenal. The long story is these eight reasons why you should absolutely attend a screening (or host your own):

1. Lynn Hill kicking ass.

I honestly don’t feel much of a need to elaborate on this one. If you’re a climber, you know who Lynn Hill is – and if you don’t you need to go hang your head in shame for a very, very long time. This documentary takes a look back at her roots, her historic accomplishments, and her crusade as the most influential woman in climbing.

The official Valley Uprising Poster from Reel Rock Film Tour.2. Remember that time a plane full of weed from South America crashed in the Yosemite backcountry and climber’s salvaged all the reefer wreckage? Yeah. There’s that.

3. Get a little history lesson.

The number one problem with the new generation of climbers is that we don’t know enough about where “our people” came from. When you start climbing in a gym, you miss out on the tall tales and historical legends you hear out at the crag – and kids these days need a good dose of the past to fully be able to respect the future of climbing.

4. Learn some respect for your elders.

We had a purpose: only through climbing can you find yourself
– and bullshit like that.

Playing off the history lesson, Valley Uprising will make you realize how lame you really are compared to the real dirtbags who pioneered Yosemite. These folks were real bandits, evading the law and surviving off sustenance that would make your canned beans and rice look like classy cuisine.

5. Dean Potter saying things like “Climbing will always be an outlaw pursuit.

[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.

Road Trip America – Boy Meets Rock, Niko and El Capitan

One of the gargantuan icons of Yosemite National Park, El Capitan is a towering hunk of granite glory that is coveted by climbers around the world. As we passed by the giant on our way into the valley each morning, Niko gawked at El Cap with an open mouth and glistening eyes – it’s his ultimate dream to climb the beast. Personally, a 3-day climb up a 3,000 foot face of granite does not sound like the recipe for making me a happy camper, but it’s impossible not to respect the daredevils who ascend El Capitan.

On our way out of the park one day, Niko and I stopped near El Capitan to get a closer look at his dream. As we trekked along the trail that led towards the base of the monolith, we came upon an older couple who were peering up the giant wall through binoculars — it could only mean one thing: climbers. Barely able to make out the tiny specks with my naked eye, I used my camera zoom to focus in on the two figures perched high above the tree line. Check out the photo above: those red and gray dots to the right of the tree are two climbers on their way up El Cap’s tormenting face. Wow.

Niko convinced me to veer off the beaten path and journey through the thickets down a rugged little trail frequented by climbers. It led us past fallen trees and scurrying quails before introducing us to the granite monolith that Niko had always dreamed of touching.

We were fortunate enough to have made this pitstop while a group of men were beginning their adventure up The Nose, the infamous route that Alex Honnold soloed in less than six hours. (Check out an awesome video of Honnold on The Nose here!)

For mortal climbers, it typically takes around three days to complete the ascent of The Nose. That means roughing out the valley’s spontaneous afternoon storms while dangling thousands of feet in the air, sleeping on portaledges, and hauling up days’ worth of food and water during your climb. Crazy, right?

El Capitan is a truly impressive rock formation renown for its classic fame throughout the climbing community and beyond. Any trip to Yosemite National Park would be incomplete without a making a stop to take in the glory of this beautiful granite giant.

Road Trip America – The Ahwahnee Boulders in Yosemite National Park

The bouldering in Yosemite Valley is scattered throughout a handful of areas, all of which bring different gradings. Camp Four was intense, with our entire crew getting shut down on a V0 – and these are boys that climb up to V9s. The Housekeeping boulders were moderately graded, with a few that seemed slightly underrated, but the best area for agreeable route ratings was easily the Ahwahnee Boulder crag.

The climbing sat across the street from the ritzy Ahwahnee Lodge, where fancy folk sought expensive lodging in a rustic, yet clearly high-class setting. I went to the bathroom in the lodge once, and almost laughed out loud from the perplexed looks shot my way as I paraded my dirty, smelly, sweaty self past throngs of middle-aged people totting decorative walking sticks and wearing pristine North Face jackets.

Ahwahnee Boulders held my favorite route of the trip: Beached Whale, a flowing V5 climb with a vicious top out. It was my main focus during our time spent at Yosemite, and I could kick myself for not sending the route when I had the chance. On our last day in the park, I hopped on the route and miraculously made it all the way to the finish, with half of my body beached on top of the boulder. I wasted two entire minutes trying to flop myself over the ledge of the boulder before my arms gave out and I had to wave a white flag.

Beached Whale was interesting not only for the quality climb, but also for its funky location. The boulder sat tucked away in a breezy corridor, where the temperature instantly dropped about ten degrees. The air was cooled by an enormous waterfall that slid down a rock face far off in the distance.

The other climbs in the area were fun and had beautiful lines. Niko found his favorite V3 of all time, which I feebly attempted to climb – as you’ll see in the first picture below. Juan also had a mighty fine time on one of the boulders (middle photo below), and of course, I threw in a couple’s shot just because it’s such a rarity to get Niko to cooperate for one.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the Turkey Hill Heirloom Tomato Festival! As always, stay tuned for more climbing, eating, adventuring and morning fresh fun.

Road Trip America – Welcome to YOSEMITE, baby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Road Trip America – Climbing ‘Beached Whale’ V5 at Ahwahnee Boulders in Yosemite National Park

Behold, my future conquest. This mediocre-quality photo is my mental commitment to sending what will soon be my first V5 ascent. The route is Beached Whale, a beautiful overhung problem sitting across from the Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite National Park.

I’m posting this photo in an effort to create some sort of hype that will push me not to give up on the climb.

For those of you who speak beta, here’s the route breakdown: you start hands crossed on two slopers (one has a slight finger-tearing crimp), and a high right heel with your left flagged under. You then bump out left to a decent ledge, match and throw up a higher heel, then bump out left again to a better ledge where you match again. After a little funky footwork that leaves you with a heel up on the lower ledge, you bump out over that middle prow to a solid ledge on the other side, and trust your heel while you match your hands. Now for the tricky part: bump up right to the prow, and cut your feet to throw a heel up on the left side of the ledge. Then it’s a hardcore mantle upwards to complete the top out.

After two days spent working the problem, I’m a mere top out short of sending Beached Whale. The granite rock has been destroying my palms and fingertips, so today is a much needed rest day. Tomorrow this V5 will be mine. Send strong vibes and words of encouragement – I’m seriously going to need it to complete that scary top out. The problem starts on a little rocky area, then the landing drops down under the roof, leaving me terrified about falling.

I can do this, right? How glorious would it be to send my first V5 out in Yosemite? I can’t pass up an opportunity like this. I will top out – and there will be video.

Roadtripping across America in search of climbing, beer, adventure and glory – Three Days Until Departure!

I’ve spent months saving, planning and daydreaming about my trip across America, and in three very short days, Road Trip 2011 will begin with a bang – well, more of a 24 hour haul towards Colorado, but a bang nonetheless.

Naturally, the plan is to take you along for the ride. I’ll make plenty of updates on the road, and will do my best to post pictures as I go. To get you acquainted with the plan, here’s a map of our route, compliments of my AAA.com road trip planner:

We’ll start the trip off with a grueling 24-hour haul to Denver, Colorado, where we’ll be spending a few days hanging out with McGoo and the boys. After Denver, it’s off to Aspen for a beautiful 8.5 mile hike to Conundrum Springs. Next we’ll spend some time in Moab, Utah, climbing and rafting with our buddies Jeff and Ryan. The climax of our trip will be our week spent in Yosemite and Bishop, California. Once we’ve climbed ourselves raw, we’ll relax for a few days in San Francisco. We’ll end the trip with a few days exploring Chattanooga, looking for some houses and job opportunities for me.

Basically, I could ooze my excitement for hours. The packing shall begin tomorrow, and then on Monday morning at 5:00 AM — we’re off. Hell yeah.

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.