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.

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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

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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