"Not all those who wander are lost"

Posts tagged “Wyoming

The Hunt for the Mountain Pine Beetle

Houses are full of things that gather dust.

-Jack Kerouac


Some people wonder why I don’t make plans, but it’s really just my reaction to the unpredictable nature of my life.  If I make plans, then I expect them to happen, I work toward them and I have a harder time changing things if I need to.  If I don’t make plans, I do whatever comes naturally.  Plus, even if I do make plans, they usually don’t happen.

Before leaving Lander, I bought a flight to Spain.  I was psyched.  I had been training all summer, and then I would have a few weeks to climb in September before heading to Spain, Turkey, and France for 9 months.  I barely had enough money to even consider such a crazy trip, and not nearly enough to actually do it without a lot of free camping and free meals.  None the less, I was going for it and figured I would make it work somehow.

If you can’t guess by the tenses I used and the first paragraph, none of that actually happened.

Just as I was leaving Lander I got a message from a friend I had climbed with in Ten Sleep asking if I wanted to work in eastern Wyoming spotting for Mountain Pine Beetle the following day.  I like the fact that I can pick up and change my life on a moment’s notice.  Unfortunately I don’t have any magical powers so I wasn’t able to start work Friday when I got the message late Friday morning.  We talked though and the only thing I came away with was that I could make better money than swinging hammer or serving for a couple months if I headed to Spearfish.

I had missed the first training so I headed to Ten Sleep for a few days.  I battled on Supermama for a couple days and got really close to a send, but figured out that I was grabbing a hold wrong too late in the day to pull it off.  Snow and cold temps were coming in so I headed out.

I showed up in Spearfish with no idea what was going on, but with the idea that if things fell through, Spearfish Canyon is a cool climbing spot I wanted to check out anyway.  A couple snowy days hanging out in my van later and the sun finally returned.  I headed into the canyon and spent three days exploring a great new limestone summer crag.  Spearfish has some great climbs and tends to be a bit of a different style from Ten Sleep, Wild Iris, Sinks, VRG, or Wailing Wall.  That’s one of the things I love about limestone; it feels like every limestone crag has a very unique feel and style.

The county run training started and my climbing ended.  I learned how to spot beetles, check to be sure, and then was working 6-7 days a week.  I had expected to climb most days I wasn’t working, but soon realized that, on the occasional days I didn’t work, it was hard to drive an hour and a half just to show up at the crag hoping to find a partner.

Work was a lot of hiking up hills, across steep hills, down steep hills, swimming though scrub oak, and hoping crazy rednecks don’t shoot me for being on their neighbors property.  Working in a group would often involve a lot of standing around since the group went slower than the slowest person once you factor in communication.  Once I was able to work alone, it became relatively serene.  I would spend days listen to books, podcasts, and music as I tromped through the woods looking for beetles.  I ran into lots of deer and turkeys, and had a few glimpses of a big herd of Elk.

Osage, WY was without a doubt the worst place I have lived.  It’s a dingy former oil town that has more empty buildings than inhabited ones.  Newcastle, the next town over, has all the charming appeal of living on an oil rig; it’s far from everything, nothing to do, and nobody there.  The one tiny haven I found was T & A Brewery.  I noticed their sign a few days after they opened and soon it was a regular hang out.  After realizing that none of the other smoky dives in town had anything good (one bar tender asked me if the IPA I requested was a brand of beer or a mixed drink), it was awe-inspiring to walk into a renovated brick building and see 20 shining taps on the back wall.  They have internet, comfortable couches, TVs to watch football, and Andrew (one of the owners) is even a Patriots fan.  It was a little piece of Newcastle that didn’t suck.

Work was always uncertain, never quite knowing if we would have more work once we finished the current plot.  At the beginning of November, I was told that we would have to wait almost a week to get the next and probably last plot.  I was done.  I packed up and headed east the next day.  My plan was to head to Spain and if I had to drive to Kansas to leave my car, I might as well go climb in the Red and go home for Thanksgiving.  Sometimes my own logic stupefies me, because, despite each place being 10-20 hours apart, that made some kind of crazy sense.

I had a great time hanging out with some friends and my brother as I headed east.  Unfortunately my few days in the Red were frigid and frustrating (as a result of essentially not climbing for 2 months).  Still, it’s hard not have fun when you’re life costs ~$5 a day and you have friends around, not to mention a plentiful supply of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups.  I climbed a bit, hung out, and continued toward Maine.  The real bummer came my second day after leaving the Red when my elbow began hurting while doing pull-ups in a gym.

My constant debate about what to do between Thanksgiving and Christmas was finally put to an end when I accidentally searched for flight prices to Turkey on December 6th instead of January 6th.  A hundred dollars cheaper, no need to figure out a plan, and no good reason I could see to stay all added up to one decision; I was going to Turkey in less than 2 weeks!

Thanksgiving was fun hanging out with family and friends, hectic trying to get everything ready before I left for Turkey, and gone way too quickly.  Then it was time to begin the grand adventure.

A Windy Western Climbing Town

These fleeting charms of earth
Farewell, your springs of joy are dry
My soul now seeks another home
A brighter world on high

-Wailing Jennys


My second attempt to live in Lander for the summer was a success on at least two counts.  I made it to Lander without breaking down and I got a job.  I arrived in town just in time to start work at Sego; a new, fancy dinner restaurant.  I had my summer plan worked out: I would live in my van in city park, work at the restaurant, and have a membership at the gym with 24 hour access to shower and, for the first time in my life, actually train for climbing.

I had a cold welcome in Lander.  Literally.  I went from sunny and warm in St George, to freezing cold and raging winds in Lander.  Soon after arriving in Lander we got ~6” of heavy wet snow while I was camped in Sinks Canyon.  My bald tired, 2 wheel drive, 18 year old mini-van barely made it out of the campsite.  The beauty of Lander is that even after that snow; I hiked up with some new friends and climbed that day in a T-shirt.

Life in Lander settled into a rhythm.  Work never started before 3pm so my climbing was only ever limited by finding partners.  I worked a bit, climbed a bunch, and spent many restless days training in the gym.  I started climbing with Chris, who was a cook at Sego, a bunch.  It was easy to make plans for the next day while work was slow and being one of the most psyched guys I’ve met meant he was almost always keen to grab some rocks.

The Wild Iris classic When I Was a Young Girl, I Had Me A Cowboy was high on my list of things I wanted to do.  It’s classic Iris style, a short steep route with powerful moves on small pockets.  I put it some time figuring it out, but eventually I found a sequence that worked for me.

Wolf Point was also a new a great experience for me.  The only way I can really give you a feel for this place is by saying that if you get passed the hour hike (1500 ft down, then 1000 ft back up), don’t get bit by a rattlesnake, and don’t encounter a grizzly than it will be the most fun you’ve ever had on choss.  It’s not all choss, but pockets are often dirty and rocks break as with any other low traffic area.  The climbing and the position are great though.  Steep lines, with several climbs over 30m and into the 40+m range in a huge cave make, make most of the climbs in the 13/14 range.  Unfortunately, since you have to cross the mountain and it’s in the sun in the summer, the season can be quite short.  I managed to send just one project there, Full Moon Rising, before the heat ended the season there.

I spent the summer climbing whenever I could find a partner, bolting when I could borrow a drill, and training when I couldn’t.  With a pretty consistent training schedule I was really excited when I noticed improvements in my climbing.  I even sent my first 13c…if you can really call Hellion a 13c.

Several friends came through town throughout the summer as well.  It was great to catch up,  hang out, and climb with Travis, Lindsey, Weston, and Vian while they were in town.  Having some friends without a schedule enabled me to venture up to Ten Sleep for a couple long weekends too.  On the first weekend I set to work on Hellion, but didn’t finish it off until the return visit.  Of course, I got it on the first day that trip and picked up a new project on the second day; Supermama.

As the summer went on I found it increasingly difficult to find climbing partners.  While welcoming to outsiders, I found it hard to actually become a part of the local Lander community.  Saddened by feeling like my favorite climbing town had rejected me, by August I was ready to move on.  I had four un-sent projects which I wanted to finish and nobody I could get to go with me.  As work finished up at the end of the month a friend, Vian, came through town and I climbed with a fury as I tried to finish my projects before time ran out.  I managed to send three of the four.

First was a line I bolted at Fossil Hill next to the amazing, but fairly unknown Milkbone, which I called Burley but Sensitive (12c).  It took me a surprising number of attempts between forgetting beta, breaking a foothold after the crux, and the reachy balance move which kept spitting me off.

Next I roped Vian into heading up to the Strawberry Road area.  It doesn’t even have a definitive name for the crag, but it’s along the Little Popo Agie River, about a mile upstream of Wolf Point.  There I had bolted a couple lines in a beautiful blue streak reminiscent of Euro pockets.  Blue Diamond and Criminal Mind (yes, I named these routes after Blue Streak, the awesome and cheesy 90’s movie with Martin Lawrence) both went down fairly quickly and I was on to my finally and hardest project.

The route is in your face the moment you pull onto the rock and stays in your face for 4 bolts of climbing.  After working out the moves and trying my hardest, I made it through the crux only to have a foot slip going for a jug. On my last day I pushed again only for the same heartbreaking foot slip.  I pushed on with my headlamp, but after the amount of try-hard I had expended in the previous days, I just couldn’t pull the moves anymore.  Aguish.  I was so close to sending it, but I could feel myself losing power and energy.

One of the things that had interested me in the line is that I knew it would be a challenge.  At first I hadn’t been able to do most of the moves at the bottom, but I worked them out, found new holds, and continued trying.  Based on the fact that I was in the best climbing shape I have ever been in and it was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever been close to trying, I think it would be 13a at least, if not b, but that will be determined another day.

My mixed emotions about my last days and about Lander itself made for an awkward ending, so I just packed up and left as quickly as I could.  After all, I still had Supermama waiting for me in Ten Sleep.

Summer in SLC


Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that the Nature he is destroying is this God he is worshipping.

-Hubert Reeves


My summer in Salt Lake had a few trips here and there to Blacksmith, Joe’s, or the Cottonwoods, but it wasn’t until July that I was able to do more climbing again.  I took two weeks off from work and got a ride with a friend up to Ten Sleep for a couple weeks.

My life was in full color again.  I was finally back in one of my favorite places, doing my favorite thing, with a bunch of great people.  I was out of shape, but set to work trying to get back to where I was climbing before Salt Lake happened.

I quickly got amped on Burden of Immortality (12d/13a) and decided it was my goal for the trip.  It’s a great route that builds some pump before throwing you into a sequence of long powerful moves on decent crimps and pockets.  One move in particular was hard for me to unlock or maybe just hard to commit to.  The first real hard move involves a thread mono (if your fingers are my size) that felt likely break my finger off if I fell on the move.  I tried every way possible to jam two fingers in, pinch it, but no matter what I did I fell every time I didn’t commit to the finger breaker and stuck the move every time I committed to it.  My first day on Burden, my fitness was poor enough I wasn’t even able to make it to the top on my second try.

Then the 4th of July happened.  I headed into town with a group of friends and watched rodeo.  It was an experience: all sorts of cowboys (and girls) in their best button-up shirts and bolo ties.  The people-watching was pretty great, but the event just looked extremely cruel to the animals.  It’s definitely not something I would go back to.  After the rodeo, we headed back up to the canyon for the climber party rather than hanging out for the street dance in town.  The weather was not very conducive though; it rained on and off all evening.  The group that persisted under the tarps and around the fire maintained good cheer and we still managed to have a fun night.

The next day it was back to Burden.  In fact, the next several days were back to Burden.  Maybe trying something hard isn’t the best way to get fitness back, but after a couple days of two attempts on Burden I was feeling like my third try might be the best.  After taking many 30+ foot whips (because I was skipping a bolt in the middle of the crux), I managed to pull out the send on my last day in Ten Sleep.

I hitched a ride with a climber down to Lander for the Climbers Festival where I had a ride to Salt Lake lined up.  As usual, the Festival was great.  They screened Wind & Rattlesnakes, a movie about the birth of Lander as a climbing town, I helped out with a clinic on rigging for climbing photography, and did a little climbing.  Then I loaded up with my friend Phil and headed back to SLC.

Going back to work after Ten Sleep was rough.  I had the taste of freedom that I’d been enjoying for two years and I had to give it up again.  On the bright side, I met a friend in Ten Sleep who lived three blocks from me and was the most psyched climber I knew in the city.  The next two weeks of work flew by, climbing in AF several mornings with Kate, a weekend in Blacksmith, and all of a sudden it was OR.

The most important development after my return from Ten Sleep, was my acquisition of a new vehicle.  I say new, but really it was just new to me.  It was in fact, the newest vehicle I had ever owned: a 96 Honda Odyssey.  For anyone not familiar with this generation of “mini-van” it is a mini-van in the most literal sense of the word.  With four normal doors (no sliding here), and a small third row seat that folds down, it looks as much station wagon as it does van.  But it works.

For anyone who has not been, Outdoor Retailer is a huge outdoor trade show with companies from every outdoor activity imaginable.  The entire event has the electric vibe of lots of serious business combined with a huge party.  By 4 booths are handing out beers, and every night there’s some kind of party.  A spent several days wandering the floor, pushing climbing holds, chatting, drinking some beer, and of course, gathering schwag.  I went for a few more late night bike rides and as quick is OR came, it was gone again and I was free at last.  Done working. Car loaded.  I was ready to go.