2016 by the Numbers

It's that wonderfully strange time of year when I'm trying to look both backward and forward at the same time. What did I accomplish last year? What do I want to accomplish next year? How does what I've accomplished this year, influence what I want to accomplish next year?

I'm a sucker for hard data and hand-written notes, so I like to start by looking back at my old fashioned calendar and reviewing where I've been for the last 12 months. 2016 by the approximate numbers:

  • 51 days climbing (Doesn't include post-work weekday routes)
  • 20 days (and still counting!) skiing
  • 29 days camping

For me, those are the days that matter most, the ones spent outside, and my goal is to have as many of those as possible. Considering I have a full-time Mon-Fri 8-5 job, not the kind that will ever make me a wealthy person, and my longest vacation of the year didn't involve any climbing/camping/skiing days, those numbers don't seem too shabby to me. But I didn't add all this up so I could humble-brag about it. Besides, in Colorado, the land of extreme athletes and dedicated dirtbags, those numbers are hardly worth bragging about anyway.

However, seeing these numbers in front of me is a reminder of how much my priorities have shifted over the last few years, and how much room there still is to improve in certain aspects. By changing my perspective of what is "reasonable", specifically in regards to travel time, I've opened myself up to a plethora of new opportunities. Stay up a little later, or get up a little earlier, oftentimes it only takes a couple extra hours to open the door to a multitude of new adventures.

Looking at these numbers, I realize I've spent far more time outdoors this year than any other in my "adult" life. Far from feeling contented though, I find myself more motivated than ever to see an increase in that time. So here's to 2017, and continuing to make starry nights, warm campfires, snowy hills, and all the craggy places a priority.

Climbing in Red River Gorge

Stick Clips, Sturgis, and Spearfish Canyon

I've been mulling over how to approach this post since I returned, with this question at the center of my musings: How does one write a post about a climbing trip, with no pictures of the actual climbing?

I still haven't come up with a good answer, so rather than procrastinating for perpetuity I guess I'm just going to ramble on about how awesome it was and hope you believe me.

The Climbing

First, the climbing in Spearfish Canyon is absolutely stellar. That being said, if you want to know what climb you're throwing yourself at, or even find some of the climbs to begin with, I highly recommend buying the guidebook, in addition to downloading mountainproject on your phone.

Guidebook = better approach directions, color pictures so you know what wall you're at, warm fuzzies for supporting a local climber who's put a lot of work into developing the area

Mountainproject = lists routes that aren't in the book 1, has some of the best 2 route descriptions I have ever read. Seriously, if you're having a bad day go read route descriptions like this and laugh until whatever you're drinking squirts out your nose.

Now that you know how to find the climbs, I hope you have a brass pair of cojones to help put them up. Or a stick clip. There are lots of places I haven't climbed 3, so maybe these observations are only relevant to my own, limited, experiences, but this is the first climbing excursion I've been on where I was really grateful to have a stick clip around. For many climbs, if you come off the wall before you clip the first bolt 4 you risk not just falling to the ground, but potentially falling off the steep sides of the trails. Not a pleasant prospect.

I also found the climbing at Spearfish to be rather challenging for the grade.  When the rating says 5.10d, it doesn't mean there's one crux move that feels 5.10d surrounded by mostly <5.10 moves. If it says 5.10d, be prepared for every single move to feel at least 5.10d, possibly including the ones to get off the ground. I can't imagine how strong the local climbing crew must be if they're putting up climbs like that all the time. I usually felt like I had limp dicks for arms by the end of every climb.

A note on the approaches: some are short, some are long, all are steep. If you're the kind of person who thinks all sport climbing approaches can be done in flip flops 5 I highly recommend you dig out some real shoes with laces for this trip. Forget switchbacks, it looks like whoever put in these trails were so excited to climb that they just wanted to get to the crag as fast as possible, which means going in a straight, steep line. 6

All said and done, I want to reiterate that the climbing at Spearfish was awesome, and I wish the canyon was just a wee bit closer to home so I could visit more often. Technical pocket sequences, pumpy jugs, and itty bitty crimps, Spearfish has it all and I can't wait to go back.

 

 

A Boy and His Shoes

Evan, packing up after the last climb at the Bradyism Wall. Right after I took this picture, I told him I was going to call it "A Boy and His Shoes." I did just that.

When it comes to climbing, Evan does not discriminate. Here he is onsighting a tree near Spearfish Falls, probably 5.easy.

Earlier in the day, while hammocking, Evan accidentally threw his shoes (pictured here) and nalgene off the steep side of the trail... I offered to retrieve them so he wouldn't have to do it barefoot.

If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't.

Throwing shoes down the cliff: 0 out of 5 stars, do not recommend.

The People

This is the second time I've found myself in South Dakota, 7 and I have to say that the state has some of the nicest locals I've ever encountered. The family camping in the site nearest ours were regulars at the campground and definitely came prepared. While getting our things set up to make dinner one night, the grandmother and granddaughter of the group came over hauling a bucket of firewood they wanted us to have. Their reason? "We have a chainsaw." At some point during the weekend, I saw them offer free firewood to everyone who showed up in the campground, simply because they had the means to do so. It was a generous gesture that exceeded even my southern hospitality expectations.

In addition to the locals, we also found the canyon inundated with an unexpected crowd: bikers. They were pretty much everywhere EXCEPT for at the campgrounds 8 and the actual crags. We didn't realize when we planned our trip that Sturgis, one of the biggest motorcycle rallies in the world, would be happening at the same time just a few miles away and that Spearfish Canyon was a popular day destination for its attendees. It definitely made for some good people watching after the climbing was done; Sturgis draws quite the diverse crowd.

It worked out quite well. We suspect that the timing with Sturgis is probably the reason we only saw one other pair of the climbers during the 4 days that we were at Spearfish. Which, I have to be honest, really contributed to how much I enjoyed the trip overall. Not that I dislike all other climbers, but I've found I have a really hard time focusing when other people are around. With nobody else standing nearby I could really challenge myself to work through moves I would normally back away from and take falls where I would normally just...take.

It was so nice, in fact, that we've already talked about maybe going back during Sturgis next year. Hopefully with scooters and full leather regalia. We figure it will be a good way to make a bunch of new friends. 

 

 

The Place

It's worth saying that Spearfish Canyon is a great destination, even if you don't consider yourself a climber. The whole area is incredibly scenic, with streams, creeks, and waterfalls around every bend in the road. It's awesome having somewhere to relax and cool off the midday sun, whether you just finished climbing or simply want to stretch your legs after a long drive.

And if you're planning to camp, I have to say the campground we stayed at 9 was one of the cleanest I've ever stayed in. The outhouse even had air freshener and at no point did I feel like I needed to hold my breath while I was in there. 

This beautiful pond and cascade is right next to the road, and happens to be accessed by the same parking area as two of the more popular crags in the canyon. It made for a great place to relax before and after climbing in the area.

Even though Spearfish Falls is directly under the road that cuts through the entire canyon, it's a short meandering walk to actually get below the falls and have a good look. Here, Evan is standing on the 'new' bridge, with old bridge in front of him.

We didn't realize it until our last night, but we had been driving right over the top of Spearfish Falls every day. 

Roughlock Falls was just off the gravel road between our campground and the canyon. It stayed packed with visitors most of the day, so we stopped for a minute on our way back to camp our last evening after almost everyone else had left. It looked like you could hike to the base and take a better picture, but the path wandered and we were ready for bed, so we didn't hang out long.

Summary

Low Point:

While cooking breakfast one morning, Evan dropped a piece of bacon on the ground. It was covered in dirt and uneatable. 

High Points:

Literally everything else.

A handy dandy map to the campground we stayed at!

#31nightsout

With all the unseasonably warm weather lately, I was finally able to get out this past weekend and have the first camping trip of the year. Cooked dinner over a campfire, slept in a tent, peed behind a tree, the whole nine yards. It was everything I had hoped and expected, a comforting reassurance that, yes, camping was as fun as I had remembered it to be. And so begins a personal challenge to myself – to spend at least a month sleeping outside this year.

Sometimes I spend an entire day climbing like a crippled giraffe, but as long as I inhaled a little fresh air and soaked up a couple brief rays of sunshine, eh, it was still a good day.

I can’t take credit for the idea (the original article that inspired me can be found here, and I highly recommend you go read it), but that doesn’t make me any less excited about it. The best part of all my favorite hobbies is that they take me outside, and the more time I’m able to spend outdoors, the better I feel. Sometimes I spend an entire day climbing like a crippled giraffe, but as long as I inhaled a little fresh air and soaked up a couple brief rays of sunshine, eh, it was still a good day.

So the logic seems pretty obvious. More time outside = more happiness, at least for me. (And if you google “the benefits of being outside”, you’ll find numerous articles that suggest an extra dose of nature is good for almost everyone.) And as noted by the author in the article I linked earlier, “the easiest way to feel like I’ve been outside as much as possible is to keep track of my nights sleeping under the stars.”

So, 1 down, 30 to go.

 

Check out the galleries on the Portfolio page to see a few shots from this weekend. I promise I’ll get around to artsy shots of headlamp-lit tents and Milky Way backdrops eventually, but this first trip deserved to be simply enjoyed.

 

Fruita

Before I bought my Nikon, I relied on my smartphone to capture moments, and in the spirit of #TBT I’m sifting through some of my older memories and taking a few of my favorites through a round of editing. They might not have the same quality as a DSLR capture, but the memories still make me smile.

These particular photos are from a weekend in Fruita, CO back in April 2015. The girls in the pictures signed up to run a half-marathon, and I volunteered to come for support. (I run about as well as a rock swims, so me participating in the race was out of the question.)

El Potrero Chico

El Potrero Chico attracts climbers from around the world, and if you ever have the chance to see its massive cliffs in person, you’ll understand why. Boasting over 500 routes, it is also home to the second longest sport route in North America, Time Wave Zero. But even if you don’t have what it takes to get through 20+ pitches in a day, there’s more than enough to keep any sport climber entertained. I was fortunate enough to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s there, and feel like I returned with more climbs added to my to do list than to my tick list. Guess that just means I’ll have to go back again.