Rainy Day Decisions #12 & 35

I write to you, family, friends, and readers from around, from Canmore, Alberta. The grand, seventy-nine-day road trip has come to an end. Here is the last post about my adventures with Tom in the  United States, as I will return to blogging about recipes after this:

Glacier National Park, Montana, was our last stop: the only national park shared between Canada and the United States. Our plan was to spend a few days in the US part, then a few days in Waterton, Canada. This plan was adjusted after we were faced with the following three obstacles: forest fire smoke that clouded some of the hikes and views on the east side of the park, a lack of free camping, and a rainy forecast later in the week.

Glacier is a very large park. The first two days we spent on the West Glacier side. We discovered a picnic area beside a lake that was very quiet, and went there twice to prepare food. We also hiked over 10 miles along the Highline Trail, not realizing that our decision to hike it backwards meant that we were going uphill rather than downhill. We were exhausted by the end, especially because it was so hot that day. However, the views were gorgeous, and we saw some wildlife, which both made the hike exciting.

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Deer having his lunch right before we had ours

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View from the Highline Trail

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Marmot

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Bighorn Sheep

Our transition to the other side of the park is where we encountered some difficulty. We thought we would take a leisurely drive through the park to see what was in the middle, but encountered a lot of traffic, and then drove through the smokiest area of the park. We discovered on the east side that outside the park was a Native American reserve, which meant that we could not camp in any of the forest area. We had to drive about an hour south of the Many Glacier entrance of the park to find a forest service road with primitive camping on the side of a dirt road. Our commute to the Many Glacier entrance involved driving through more smokiness, and  loose herds of cows that liked to jump out unexpectedly on the long, windy road. There were only so many days we wanted to deal with this.

We hiked to Iceberg Lake at Many Glacier, which was one of my favourite hikes of the trip. It was 10 miles long from start to finish, but not very inclined, and the lake at the end was spectacular.

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Check out the icebergs in the lake

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A few times throughout our trip, we were able to escape bad weather by moving on to our next destination, but as we were at the end of the trip, so close to Tom’s home, and in an area with no free camping, we made the decision that Waterton could wait for another trip. It is, after all, only a few hours from Calgary, and we can go during a time when the weather is more appealing. It was a decision that I felt bittersweet about; I didn’t want to cut our trip short, but both of us were starting to make peace with it coming to an end.

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On our last day we went to the Two Medicine entrance and skipped rocks at Two Medicine Lake.

I think it is evident that this trip has been an incredible adventure. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I have learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of, as a climber and a person. I could not have asked for a better travel companion, and even with all the nicks and bruises along the way, it was all worth it. I am truly grateful for the people who have taken the time to read and comment on my posts over the last three months. Thanks for all the support!

After three months of living out of a car, eating one-pot meals, having limited access to showers and toilets, and sleeping in a real bed only once, it is back to reality I go. You can be sure that at the next possible moment, I will hop right back in my car-home and continue to explore this beautiful world.

Tits and Stones

Right after posting my last post, Tom and I were packing up to leave the Old Town Café, in Lander WY, when we ran into a couple we had met in Devils Tower: Meera and Kurtis. We grabbed a bite and some brews with them, and agreed to meet the next day to climb together at Wild Iris. After that day, both Tom and I were too sore to imagine another day climbing; pocket climbing at Wild Iris left me with cuts on my hands and cuticles, and almost no skin on my fingertips. We packed up our campsite and made our way to the Grand Tetons.

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Tetons after the rain – view from our campsite

That day was rainy, and it seemed as if out of nowhere we could see high peaks looming among the clouds. The view of the sharp, majestic Teton peaks followed us along the highway, getting more and more incredible. The view followed us to the free campsite we found, where we had a full frontal view of Les Trois Tetons (“the three breasts”: Grand, Middle, and South). The first night we were there, the Grand was hidden by clouds, and it wasn’t until the following evening that we were able to see the tip of the Grand in all its glory.

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Tetons hidden in the clouds

During our two-day stay, we hiked the approach trail up to the base of the Grand Teton, where climbers go to camp out before summiting the Grand the following day. Tom and I considered doing some climbing, but the weather forecast was poor, and we don’t have the right equipment for backpacking. We also hiked around Jenny Lake, and up to a view called Inspiration Point. We explored Jackson, and enjoyed beers and nachos during happy hour at Snake River Brewery (“put our river through your liver”, as their motto says). Two little highlights for me were seeing a herd of bison on the way to our campsite, and a black bear during one of our hikes.

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On the trail to see the Grand

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The Middle Teton

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When we could finally see The Grand

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On our hike around Jenny Lake

The Tetons were touristy, but not nearly as much as our next stop, Yellowstone National Park. We drove through the south entrance and to the west entrance in a day, stopping to see the geysers and mud pots along the way, reminiscent of the active volcano Yellowstone once was. We saw Old Faithful geyser, which spurted up a stream of 4000-8000 gallons of water into the air, right on its natural 90-minute schedule, in front of the hundreds of tourist spectators, including us. We were both exhausted by the amount of people, and escaped to solitude at a dispersed camping area we found 15 miles outside the tourist trap that is West Yellowstone.

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Sunset Pool

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View of the geysers

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Little cloud in the mountains and the river beside our campsite

Going west into Yellowstone National Park brought us into Montana, leading us closer to our next stop: Glacier National Park. As we work our way north, Tom and I are facing the reality that our three-month road trip is coming to an end. One more week and we are back home.

Roaming in Wyoming

Well, here we are back in Wyoming. To recap, Tom and I left Colorado in early July to bypass the rain, and spent 12 days in north-eastern Wyoming: Ten Sleep Canyon and Devils Tower. We returned to Colorado to spend some more time in Denver, Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Fort Collins.

Our last days in Colorado were spent escaping the crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park, and escaping the heat in Horsetooth Reservoir. We climbed White Whale (5.7 crack) in Lumpy Ridge, and attempted to boulder in Horsetooth, until the heat was too much, then cooled off in the Reservoir. So long, Colorado; it was a blast!

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At the top of White Whale
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Twin Owl at Lumpy Ridge

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Tom working Punk Rock Traverse (V5) at Horsetooth Reservoir

Wyoming is a magical place. Vedauwoo, Ten Sleep Canyon, and Devils Tower all hold a special place in my heart after our experiences there a couple weeks ago. On our way north out of Colorado this time around, we went back to Vedauwoo for two days, joined by Anthony and Magoon for one day. And, I am so glad we did go back.

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We were quickly reminded that the climbing grades at the Woo are sandbagged (climber-speak for harder than the grade the route was given). We struggled hard on a V1 diagonal crack called Cupcake, and panted our way up Ted’s Trot (5.7 chimney). We also played around on some 5.4 and 5.5 cracks/off widths, and a 5.8 slabs, then worked our way up a 5.10a crack called Friday the 13th. On our last morning, Tom and I cruised up Edward’s Crack (5.7) and loved every minute of its 70 metre hand jams, fist jams, foot jams, and the final gaping off width (larger than fist size crack) move. At the top of the climb we scoped the many unique piles of lumpy granite rock, and truck-sized boulders balancing on their tips. We were also welcomed both times to the Woo by a bright full moon, giving us a distinct moon shadow in the evenings. This place is magical, both for the climber and non-climber.

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Tom placing the #5 on Edward’s Crack (above), and celebrating being at the top (below)

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The next stop was the beautiful Lander, where we visited a sport climbing destination called Wild Iris. We have been fortunate to experience the luxurious free camping that Wyoming has to offer; situated just south of downtown Lander is City Park, equipped with a bathroom and picnic tables, surrounded by large cottonwood trees and luscious green grass. We stayed there one night, scoped out the town the next morning, then made our way to the Wild Iris camping and climbing area. The landscape here is incredible. Rolling green hills, distant blue mountains, slanted red cliffs speckled with desert greenery, and white Limestone cliffs of Wild Iris peering out from the treeline.

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And, the climbing is wonderful. I’ve been leading some good, classic 5.10as, and working on some low 11s with Tom. The approach trails are short, a five minute walk from our campsite to the OK Corrall crag. On our rest day (during which I wrote this post while waiting for our laundry to finish), we stumbled upon the NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) library, where we retrieved the 1993 issue of Rock and Ice where Lynn Hill talks about free climbing The Nose. What a piece of climbing history!

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Wyoming, you are a wild and glorious treasure beneath a stretch of endless sky.

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Back to Colorado: Front Range Part Two and American Rockies

It’s hard to believe that it has been two months today since we left for our trip. Time seems to be going by faster and faster, and the more I am on the road, the more I want to stay on the road. Don’t get me wrong, there are some days when living out of a car gets frustrating: not having a fridge, having to shift around all of our belongings to sleep in the car, then having to shift it all back the next morning, having to do dishes with cold water out of a water bottle, or misplacing an item only to find it underneath all the climbing gear… Sometimes I miss the luxuries of living in an apartment or house, but at the same time there’s a lot to love: finding the new area and campsite, planning the next day’s adventures, and having the freedom to go anywhere and do anything. I appreciate everything about this trip, and the whole thing is precious, even the frustrations.

The last week has been spent in Colorado. We stayed a few nights at a friend’s cabin; Magoon (Megan, from the last Colorado post) kindly let us stay at her place while she was on a backpacking trip. During our stay we climbed Bastille Crack (5.7 trad multi-pitch) at Eldorado Canyon, simu-climbed the second Flat Iron (5.0 – I placed the gear for it, which ended up being every 30 feet or so), and sport climbed at Clear Creek Canyon with Anthony. We also tried out a pizza restaurant in Denver, called Hops & Pie; it was delicious and lived up to its reputation. On our last night at the cabin, Magoon’s housemate stopped by and had a few friends over for a BBQ. Unexpected things like this end up being the most memorable. Kyle was very generous and entertaining, to say the least.

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These are from Clear Creek Canyon. Find me hidden in the wall on the first picture.

The next stop was Fort Collins, where we camped in Poudre Canyon – pronounced POO-der. Tom made fun of me for how frustrated I was with the butchering of the beautiful French word for powder. We didn’t climb in Poudre, but rather switched it up a bit and went to a movie: Mad Max, which we both enjoyed.

The next stop was Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I was curious how the Rockies here compared to the ones in Canada, and I’ll admit my bias, but Banff and Canmore are way more beautiful. The mountains here are huge, but not as majestic as in Canada, at least what I saw from the Estes Park side. Tom and I climbed a few cracks at Lumpy Ridge, and hiked Mills Lake trail inside RMNP. It is truly beautiful here, but some of the beauty is taken away by the thousands of tourists. Tom and I almost ran the first 2 miles of the trail to sneak past the many hikers. It was nice to finally hike alone after Mills Lake, but I was struck by how so many people turned around before the hike got spectacular. The streams, waterfalls, lakes, and mountainous backdrops were breathtaking, especially Black Lake. Today we plan on hopping on a 5.8 trad multi-pitch called White Whale, then we will make our way back to Wyoming. RMNP is way too busy for our liking, and it feels weird to be frustrated at tourists, when we are tourists ourselves.

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These are from our day at Lumpy Ridge.

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This lake is Mills Lake

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Living up to its name: Black Lake

Thanks for reading! Much love sent back home to Ottawa, and to friends and family all around. ❤

The Tale of the Tower

Our time at Ten Sleep came to an end after eight sleeps –  an abrupt end, after I tripped on some uneven pavement and sliced open the tip of my big toe. The idea of putting my feet in my tight climbing shoes or hiking shoes gave me the heebie-jeebies, so I had to wait for it to heal a bit. Our time in Ten Sleep was amazing; it is a magical place, and I am so fortunate to have experienced it for just over a week.

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Here is some info about Ten Sleep and the climbing:

Ten Sleep is the name of the town close by the climbing area, which has a population of 200 people. Ten Sleep Canyon is the area that we camped and climbed in, about a 25 minute drive away from the town. The climbing has been developing since 1991 and it is clear that this place is still somewhat of a hidden gem: nowhere near as popular as Red River Gorge, but maybe one day it will be. The number of people is super unpredictable. On a Saturday, Tom and I ran into only one other party at French Cattle Ranch, and they happened to be locals; one of them had actually bolted the climbs that we were all climbing – how cool! The crag called Slavery Wall always seemed to have people on it, and the parking lot leading there was often full, holding a little over a dozen cars. Some areas, like the Circus Wall/Denial Wall area can range from no cars to a full parking lot, and the busyness appeared random.

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This photo was taken moments before I tripped and sliced my toe.

The new guidebook was released during our stay at Ten Sleep, which was exciting for us. After not being able to find the previous, out-of-print guidebook, we guided ourselves through the crags with a Mountain Project ap and the generosity of other climbers letting us peek at their guidebook. Sadly, the author of the new guidebook released a collectors-style book with unnecessary bells and whistles, such as 3D glasses. Priced at $100 USD ($120 CAD), there is no way we could justify buying the book.

As disappointing as the guidebook was, we must move on. Climbing highlights for us were as follows: I led a couple climbs in the 5.9-5.10a range, Tom climbed his first 5.11d onsight, and I climbed my first TR 5.11b onsight. I am really working on exercising my fear muscle, as it is becoming clear to me that I am strong enough to climb 5.11s, yet am crippled by fear on low 5.10s on lead. I am one of those people that has a really hard time leading, but I am definitely seeing progress. Woohoo!

Another funny thing worth reporting is the hilarity that was the local farmer releasing his cows into the area that also happened to be our campground. One morning we were woken at 6:30am by the calls of herded cows. We quickly learned that the area would also be their home for the time being. I have to say, after this experience, I do not like cows. They poop everywhere, they make really loud cow calls, particularly when the sun rises, and they seem scared of humans, yet often eat grass way too close for comfort. On the first evening, about 20 of them surrounded us, mooing and spying on us over the tall grass. We had no idea how to handle them.

During our rest days, we went to Thermopolis to use their hot springs and shower, and Worland to get groceries, eat some diner food, and get our oil changed. There is not too much to do here, but we made do.

The next stop was Devils Tower. Our first sighting of the tower was at sunset: a slightly tilted 867-foot tall cylinder emerging out of the ground, with a surrounding tangerine orange sky and dark purple clouds. Breath-taking.

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The first day, we got our bearings, taking it slow because of my toe injury, and scouted out routes we wanted to do. We set up camp at the Devils Tower Lodge, where the owner, Frank, let us camp on his lawn by donation. Frank hosts visitors at the tower as well as climbing guides, who bring people up and down the tower. Between 2007 and 2008 he climbed 365 days on the tower. He and the guides, who live at the lodge, were really nice and willing to give us lots of information in regards to climbs, gear necessary for each climb, approach trails, and cheap places to buy beer.

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This last photo is of the side we climbed to the summit.

I felt joyous when I was able to not only get my hiking shoes on, but my climbing shoes as well, only four days after injuring my toe. Tom and I climbed a two-pitch, called New Wave (5.10a), and another climb called Mystic and the Mulchers (5.8). On our last day we proudly summited the tower; it consists of many pillars that form cracks, so hand jams, fists, and off-width are the name of the game. We used the route Bon Homme Variation (5.8+) and finished on Walt Bailey Direct (5.7). Summiting was definitely the highlight of our stay.

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These were taken at the summit