Getting Freaky in the Front Range

How wonderful it was to meet and hangout with the famous Magoon, Anthony, and Athena the dog in Denver, friends of Tom’s from his previous USA climbing trip. Atlas the cutie-pup also joined us. We squeezed in a lot of climbing over five days, especially considering that we got rained out multiple times. The first day (Canada day!) we climbed a couple cracks in Boulder Canyon, then climbed the first Flat Iron with Magoon (whose name is actually Megan). I never thought I would feel lame trad climbing, as about ten free solo-ers passed us on this 5.4 milti-pitch.


Here are the Flat Irons from a distance. We climbed the one on the right.


Above is Tom inspecting the 1st Flat Iron up close.


Here are some of Magoon’s photos from the day:

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Day 2, we drove to Vedauwoo, WY with Anthony and Magoon. Pronounced vay-da-voo, this mystical climbing destination is filled with sharp, grainy granite cracks that leave any climber with scrapes at the end of the trip. And, if you have ever climbed outdoors with me, you will know that I always leave any area with scrapes and bruises. We all wore long-sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid the scrapes, but I still managed to cut myself. We hopped on a couple nice cracks, one off-width, and a couple boulder cracks. The off-width caused us all to wiggle like a snake up a vertical crack just big enough for our thighs and torsos to squeeze into. Sadly, I did not make it to the top, but I learned a lot about the skills necessary for off-width climbing. We all struggled a lot on an off-width roof crack boulder on Day 3 that was too painful to link any moves together.

Here are Magoon’s photos from the trip:


Can you spot the Tommy?


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Can you spot the Sarah?


Day 4 was Independence Day, and in the morning we bouldered in Eldorado Canyon with Anthony and a couple of his pals, Kristie and Dan. In the evening, Anthony kindly invited us to a BBQ hosted by his boss. It was fun to see and hear the continuous stream of fireworks set off by neighbouring houses; throughout the evening we had to raise our voices to be heard over the continuous cracks, pops, and whistles overhead.

On the fifth day, Tom and I repacked our car to head out of Denver. We were truly thankful to Anthony and his roommates, Lindsay and Fred, and the two dogs, Athena and Ruby, who were so hospitable and kind to us, letting us stay at their house during our Denver stay. And, thanks to Anthony and Magoon, who were amazing tour guides, and made time to hang out with us.

We managed to meet up with another friend of Toms, Alex, who he also met during his last USA trip. We had coffee, then ate at Watercourse foods – vegan and delicious. Due to a week of forecast rain in northern Colorado, Tom and I decided we would jump ahead in our itinerary. The next stop was Ten Sleep, Wyoming – we plan on going back to Colorado when the weather is looking better.

Driving north from Denver to Ten Sleep, we passed miles and miles of flat fields and hills of nothing. Cows appeared now and then, and the occasional town had a gas station, but that was it. All of a sudden the road was covered in fog, limiting our vision to about ten metres in front of us. Then, out of nowhere, instead of flat land, huge walls of rock towered around us: yellowy, pinky, and bluey-grey walls layered between lush pine trees, appearing like a lost world. I love the first moments of entering a new area: novel and full of potential.

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Ten Sleep was a bit of a shock to my system in terms of climbing. Steep walls full of finger pockets felt so different from cracks in Colorado and the bubbly slopers and jugs in Maple. Still trying to avoid the rain, Tom and I managed to hop on some good 10s and 11s at Slavery Wall, Wall of Denial, and Circus wall. We have found a nice hangout spot at the local Ten Sleep Brewing Company, where we come for some brews and wifi. Ten Sleep is a town of around 200 people, and was named so by Native Americans, who travelled ten nights to reach the town originally. We are planning to stay here for 7 sleeps. Is that wrong?

From Desert to Mountains

Hello everyone from Colorado! Or, in comparison to Utah – Cooler-ado.

The last stop in Utah was Moab, where we visited Arches National Park. Twenty-four hours was plenty, as temperatures reached 47*C during the day. To beat the heat, we hiked at sunset and sunrise; though, to be honest, it was still really hot. At 8:00pm when we started the hike toward Delicate Arch, it was still above 30*C. When I saw the arch, I was in awe. I had seen Delicate Arch on thousands of license plates across the state, but seeing it live was incomparable. Tom also made it extra special with a surprise that he had been teasing me with for a week. He had saved a quarter from his trip to the states last year that had a picture of Delicate Arch on it. As we were sitting in awe of the arch, he pulled it out to give to me.


The next morning we woke at 6am to start a hike called Devil’s Garden, which includes many iconic arches: Landscape Arch, Double O Arch, Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, and Private Arch. It is hard to believe that they were made by nature, especially Landscape Arch, which is the longest natural arch in the world. We learned that the difference between a natural bridge and an arch is that an arch is formed by natural erosion and a natural bridge is formed by water.


A highlight for me was swimming in a small river that afternoon – so refreshing.


Next stop was Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado. It was way less touristy than other places we have been, yet ultra-beautiful. Standing on the edge of the canyon, looking 2250 feet down, you can see huge walls and cliffs running down to the white rapids of the Gunnison River. Streaks of lighter rock sweep across some of the cliffs, which is how Painted Wall got its name. I have much respect for the people who climbed it in the 60s.

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We did some bouldering and a little hike to see the canyon as close as possible. A permit is required to go down into the canyon, but those hikes and climbs were primitive and intimidating. Typically rock climbing involves approaching a wall and climbing up, but this area required rappelling down, meaning that you must finish your climb to get out: trad, crack climbing, off-width, and muti-pitch. We scouted out a route, but decided to move on to our next destination instead…

…Which was Independence Pass, near Aspen, CO. We laughed at the snow we saw in front of us, remembering that even Black Canyon of the Gunnison was in the 30s. Only a few hours away, Moab was probably still in the 40s, and here we were cooling off in the mountains, watching some people attempt to snowboard in the remaining patches of snow.

We spent two days exploring the area’s boulders and cliffs. We bouldered a bit and climbed a few cracks, which were all super fun. We climbed “Twin Cracks”, “Crytogenics”, and a two-pitch called “Zanzibar”; I am happy to say that I am now way more comfortable with hand jams.

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I will say bye for now. Still having lots of fun roughing it and exploring this beautiful state. I am missing my family and friends back home, especially as Canada Day approaches – also anxiously awaiting what it will be like on Independence Day this weekend. Much love to peeps back home!

How we Beat the Heat and Saw a Unicorn

The good news is that we made it to Spooky Gulch and Peek-A-Boo Gulch. The previously washed-out road down to the trail for these two slot canyons was relatively breezy for our little car. Spooky lived up to its name; the canyon was so narrow that we had to take off our backpacks and squeeze through sideways for some of it. At first it triggered some claustrophobia within us, but a little bravery carried us through the 500 metres of Spooky. Peek-A-Boo was not as narrow, but very twisty, and there were mud puddles that required us to stem our way through the canyon. Three quarters of the way through we reached puddles that were too big to traverse unscathed, so we had to brave the rest of the canyon in the thick, soupy mud. At the end, we had to stem our way down a slide-like structure into a small lake of mud. I had a blast!

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The bad news is that our next stop, Capitol Reef National Park, was going through a heat wave. It was so hot (our car read 38*C) that we opted not to do anything the first afternoon we were there besides explore the area a bit by car. We found a free campground that wound up being full of small flies and ants; the flies would not leave our faces alone. Desperate for relief of heat and bugs, we spent the rest of the day in our tent discussing our future in this park and watching TV. The bugs subsided when the sun went down, and we spent the night watching the stars. CRNP has one of the best ratings for dark night skies. We were able to see the Milky Way and identified constellations using an app on Tom’s tablet.


The next morning we arrived at the Sheets Gulch hike at 8:30am (it was already 30*C), but were chased out 20 minutes in by flies that kept biting our legs (ouch). We found another hike called Navajo Knobs and managed to complete it. By the time we were done the hike at 2:30, there was almost no shade to hide in and when we got to our car, it was 40*C. We decided we had had enough – we stopped at the Gifford House for some strawberry rhubarb pie (saved for breakfast the next day), ice cream, and cherries picked from the local orchard, and left the heat for American Fork Canyon.

IMG_0586IMG_0572IMG_0560IMG_0554Beating the heat involved some improvising as to what we were going to do for three days, as we had reservations back at the Maple Canyon Campground for two nights. We spent the first day running errands, one day climbing at American Fork Canyon; well-trafficked limestone made for some greasy routes – I heard another climber call it slimestone. I tried an 5.11b that was fun, and I did a greasy 5.9. We also checked out a Saturday morning market in Salt Lake, and another brewery, called Squatters.

Going back to Maple was great. I tried some harder routes than before, ranging between 5.10b and 5.11c, and we went to some new areas that we hadn’t gone to before: Maple Corridor, Matrix Wall, and Box Canyon.

Another reason why we have been staying in the SLC area is because we had tickets to see Death Grips, one of Tom’s favourite bands – and I really like them too. We had booked a room through Airbnb, and when we got to our host’s house, he wasn’t there. Within three hours before the concert we managed to get another booking, get to the house, shower (we really needed one!), take the 40 minute bus ride to the venue, and eat, only to arrive 2 minutes past the start time. One hour later, Death Grips made their appearance on stage. It was amazing!

For those of you who don’t know, Death Grips has a reputation of keeping their fans on their toes. They broke up last year, only to release a new album a few months later and confess that they had not actually broken up. What’s more, they also have a reputation of not showing up at their concerts. Needless to say, we were ecstatic to see this unicorn in the flesh.


Canyons and Quilts

“Well Bryce, it’s been a slice,” is what Tom and I said to each other as we left Bryce Canyon National Park. We enjoyed our two-day adventure in the canyon, hiking the Navajo/Queen’s Garden/Peekaboo Loop day one, and the Fairyland Loop day two. We explored the different viewpoints by car, and saw a double rainbow at Rainbow Point.


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The town of Panguitch got a visit from us because of the infamous Quilt-Walk Festival that takes place the second week of June. I was amused by the sound of this festival, even though I have no idea how to quilt; and, it was definitely an amusing experience.

Back in the late 1800s the town of Panguitch experienced a winter harsher than what they were prepared for, leaving them without enough food and supplies to get through the winter. Seven men were sent by foot to the next town to get supplies, but soon were helpless in the midst of the snow drifts and deep fields of snow. They stopped to pray on their quilts, and when they got up they noticed that they did not sink in the snow while they were on them. So, they walked to the next town on their quilts and saved Panguitch from starvation. Every year the town celebrates these heros with a 4-day festival.

The first thing we did was check out the Quilt Show at the local high school, where we saw beautiful hand-make quilts, and vendors who were selling all kinds of quilting equipment. We noticed very quickly that we were younger than most of the people there by about 40 years. We went on what was advertised as the Quilt Walk (hey, I thought I’d see people walking on quilts!), but it was a walking tour. The tour guide was a former mayor of Panguitch, now in his late 70s, and he knew a lot about the town. At first it was interesting to learn about the locally-made red bricks that were used as currency back in the day, which is why there are so may red-brick buildings in the town; but, the tour got boring when he described many details about every building in the downtown area. Tom and I left feeling perplexed by the experience. The next day we attended the pancake breakfast – all-you-can-eat for $6 – yum.

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Our next stop was Grande-Staircase Escalante National Park. Unfortunately, due to recent rains, one of the places we wanted to go was in poor condition. (We had already been faced with this a few days prior, in Kanab; we sadly had to forego hiking the Wave, and went to Bryce earlier than planned.) Rather than dwelling on the hikes we could not do in Escalante, we decided to hike Lower and Upper Calf Creek Falls. They were both easy and beautiful. I was hoping to swim beside the falls, but the water was very cold – around 50*F.

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The next day, we hiked Phipps Wash. There was no trail for the majority of it, but rather, we followed a mostly dry river, navigating around dry falls and water holes. We had to bushwhack in a swampy area, and at times unexpectedly sunk ankle-deep (and a couple times knee-deep) into wet sand. We got off-trail a few times and had to consult our GPS. The end result was incredible – Phipps Arch. After getting off-route for most of the way back to the car, we agreed that the hike had been fun, but less so because of the ambiguity of the trail described in our guidebook; a 3-4 hour hike turned into a 6-hour hike.

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Escalante NP is great – free camping, less touristy than other parks, and beautiful. Fingers crossed that the washed-out roads to Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulch are better today. If we can’t hike there, we may move on to our next destination – Capital Reef National Park.

Thanks for reading!

Zion National Park

Hello everyone from Zion National Park!

Since I last wrote, Tom and I spent two more days at Maple Canyon. Five days was sufficient for now, until we return in two weeks for another two days. In all, Maple was wonderful. We enjoyed our secluded camp site, the easy approach trails, and the beautiful climbs and views. Tom spent a lot of time on 5.12a climbs, while I focused on leading between 5.7 and 5.9, with one 5.10b lead climb. I have been trying to get my endurance back up, as bouldering for the last year has left me with increased strength and technique for hard moves, but low ability to sustain myself on 30 metre routes. Highlights from Maple Canyon include the 5.8 three-pitch climb called The Great Chasm, The Pipe Dream Crag where Tom played on some 12s and I lead an overhung 10b, and the many breezy 5.6, 5.7, 5.8, and 5.9s that I sent on Oxygen Wall, Billy the Kid, Engagement Alcove, Simpson Wall, and Orangutan Wall. I hope to climb some harder stuff when we return, but I am very pleased that I am getting some good lead practice. And finally, another highlight was meeting a nice couple from Colorado called Sarah and Zach, who were on a long road trip, just like us.

We drove from Maple to Zion, and camped for free in a back road. Our little car struggled to get up the dirt road, but we made it, and the view was spectacular. The next morning we got up at 7:30 and went straight to the Zion campgrounds to race against the other million tourists who also wanted to secure a camp site. We thankfully found one, and then spent the day hiking. We started with Angel’s Landing, where we were surrounded by hundreds of other tourists who wanted to do the same. We hiked Walter’s Wiggles, and cruised the chains that brought us up steep cliffs to the top. When we got back to the bottom, two and a half hours later, we had lunch, then hiked up another trail called Observation Point. This hike took longer, but was less steep, and the view was incredible.

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Day two in Zion was spent hiking the Narrows, a hike that is almost entirely in a river; at times we were waist-deep in the river, other times we hiked on pockets of land. Using hiking poles to help keep balance, we hiked about 2 ½ hours in the river, surrounded on either side by 1000-2000 foot-tall red walls. At its lowest distance, the walls were 6 metres apart. We turned around when we did because to go on required going up to our chests in water, and we figured we had already seen what there was to see. Plus, we were chilly. The Narrows was great; I loved being in the water.

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During our third and last day in Zion, Tom and I hit the back country, where we were alone the entire time. We rock climbed a multi-pitch called Led by Sheep; this climb gets its name because the mountain sheep climb the steep slab to the top to feed off the plants. It was a very enjoyable climb, rated 5.5 slab. The hardest part was the class-three slabby approach. We were both hot and exhausted, so we went for an ice cream in the touristy town centre afterwards. Great adventure!

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Today our Zion adventure comes to an end, after we visit Kolob Canyon, which is still part of Zion National Park. Right now we are resting at a cafe, freshly showered, and waiting for a load of laundry to finish. Thanks for reading, and for the encouraging and supportive comments. Much love to friends and family back home.