It's April, and that means two things: It's windy, and 14er season is in full swing! This was my first 14er of the year and the first time in a while that I have had to read 4AM on my alarm clock. Unfortunately, my ski season has been on hold lately as I have been spending most of my free time training for a NIAD attempt this May. Fortunately though, my schedule finally lined up for an opportunity to get out and ski without having to sacrifice a training day. I met up with James and Jon at 4:30am at their house in the Springs and we were on our way. After a few pit stops in Denver we reached the Grays trail head road and proceeded to careful navigate James' Subaru roughly 2 miles up the road before being stopped by the snow.
We were on the trail at 7:20 and were able to skin the remainder of the road to the summer Trail head.
We took our time and moved at a leisurely pace, stopping for ample photo opportunities.
Getting our first glimpse of Dead Dog Couloir.
Around 10am we stopped on the apron and transitioned to crampons.
James and I made steady progress up the couloir but we stopped to catch our breath far more than I wish to admit. Shameless selfies were a great excuse to rest.
We reached the top of Dead Dog just before noon where we ran into a party of 3 who had just topped out on the Emperor Couloir. After a quick discussion about the entrance to our descent line we pushed on to summit of Torreys Peak. We summited at noon and took a few minutes to enjoy the perfect weather and take a few photos.
After some water, a snack, and some photos we changed over and headed down. Our descent plan was to ski directly off the east face and then cut skiers left into Dead Dog. Seeing as I hadn't skied in 6 weeks though those first few 50 degree turns were definitely a little intimidating. All in all the descent was straight forward with some fairly good snow.
Once at the bottom we regrouped with Jon and started the ski out.
James and his all-terrain skis.
We reached the car at 1:30pm and after a remarkably enjoyable and straightforward outing we were on our way home. All together we did 8.5 miles round trip and gained 3,660 ft of vertical in 6 hours and 10 minutes.
We are camped above the 2000ft North Chasm View Wall at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, it's 4:30AM and the sound of the alarm means that it's time to get moving. Sam makes coffee while I stuff down a bowl of oatmeal and finish taping my hands. Neither of us slept particularly well the night before and talking is at a minimum as the thoughts of what lie ahead weigh heavy on us. By 5AM we are walking down the road towards a comforting glow on the horizon, it's a short lived moment of comfort as we quickly turn into the cruise gully and begin our descent of nearly 2000ft into the abyss known as The Black.
This was the first time either Sam or I had climbed in the Black Canyon. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a 2000ft deep canyon located 15 miles east of Montrose, Colorado. It is extremely narrow and sheer, and without a doubt one the most awe inspiring places on earth. The Black Canyon has reputation for being one of the most challenging, committing, scary, and flat out outstanding places to climb. It's the first place I have ever climbed that has lived up to its reputation in every way.
We arrived in the evening on Tuesday and quickly ran into our friend Jordan who had just finished "The Scenic Cruise" and was overflowing with stoke. He had somehow managed to link up with two IFMGA guides, Mark Smiley and Jed Porter, along with Mark's wife Janelle for the day. How exactly he managed to fall into that company I still have no idea. But he and Jed got to play film crew for the day as the Smileys filmed a new segment for their 50 new classics project . As we talked to them later that night we found out that everyone in the group had their struggles up the route, which did not inspire confidence to say the least. Jordan's first piece of advice for us, within minutes of arriving, was "don't do 'The Cruise' as your first climb in the Black". He was the third person to give us that same piece of advice. Given the seriousness of the Black Canyon climbing most people recommend getting used to it slowly by starting off on one of the easier and shorter climbs. Sam and I were never great listeners and lately had been making a habit of starting off on the harder or more classic routes when climbing at new area, we figured why stop now.
The next morning we set off on the original Black Canyon classic "The Cruise" 5.10+ 1,700ft V
Our gear consisted of:
The descent took us about an hour as we rapped the fixed lines and carefully navigated the poison ivy bushes. After a few minutes of putting our shoes on and simply staring up at the enormity of the wall in front of us, Sam set off on the first pitch. The crux of the first pitch was simply keeping the rope out of the poison ivy. Sam climbed until he was out of rope and then I shortly followed. When I reached the top of the first pitch all I could think of was how we were 200ft off the ground and yet only a fraction of the way up the wall. I quickly stopped thinking, took the rack ,and set off on the second pitch. The first two pitches were mellow and a nice warmup for what lay ahead.
Pitch 3 was the first of the 5.10 pitches. It's a 5.10- offwidth crack that most people avoid by doing the "Scenic Cruise" variation. Pitch 3 was Sam's lead, and it's a great thing it was, Sam flat out crushed this hard offwidth pitch like it was nothing. I on the other hand got beaten down as if it was my first time climbing wide crack. The crack was just wide enough that I could barely fit my whole body in but not wide enough to chimney. It was awful, I kept getting my head/helmet stuck(Sam thoroughly enjoyed watching that) and I struggled immensely through desperate chicken wings and knee jams to reach the top. It was ugly.
After Pitch 3 I was feeling worked, but pitch 4 was much more suited to my strengths so I had that to look forward to. Unfortunately for me, pitch 4 was really really hard. It was a super thin stemming corner that was incredibly sustained and on the smallest gear I have ever placed. It started off pretty well but as the crack tapered down to almost nothing it got really interesting and I had the pleasure of testing out one of my new Micro Nuts. It wasn't much of a fall, maybe 3 feet, but thoroughly exciting none the less. Eventually some creative finger locks and a french move or two did the trick and I then worked through the pegmatite band above to a belay . Sam worked his way up well, having issues in the same places I did. Unfortunately for him the most trouble came from trying to remove a desperately placed yellow nut. In my opinion pitch 4 was in the 5.11- range and was the hardest pitch of the route.
At the top of pitch 4 I was tired but feeling good overall. Sam wasn't feeling all that great but grabbed the rack nonetheless and set off on pitch 5, which is considered the crux of both "The Cruise" and "The Scenic Cruise" variation. Pitch 5 did not disappoint. Some tricky overhanging moves led to a steep and unrelenting crack. We moved extremely slow through this pitch as the sheer burliness was starting to take its toll. What was worse was that we were now in the direct sun and it was starting to get hot. Eventually Sam freed, frenched and aided his way to the top of the 5.10+ section and built a belay. Having plenty of time to rest after pitch 4 I was able to move pretty well through the most of Pitch 5 and after a few heart breaking moves near the top of the 5.10 section I joined Sam at the base of a wide 5.8 crack.
If I were to do it again, I would definitely lead in blocks in order to give both climbers a rest before each pitch. Sam definitely drew the short straw of the day by having to climb pitch 4 and then immediately leading off on pitch 5 with very little rest.
We had broken up our planned pitch 5 into two pitches. After lathering on some sunscreen I set off up a offwidth 5.8 crack which was, without a doubt, my least favorite pitch of the day. For some reason I kept getting my #4 stuck and spent more time yelling creative obscenities at it than I did actually climbing. After 70 feet or so of complaining I made it to the Bivy Ledge at the top of pitch 6. I promptly took my shoes off and belayed Sam up. The Bivy Ledge meant that we were roughly half way home.
We sat at the Bivy Ledge for about 20 minutes assessing our overall situation and reviewing the topo of the pitches to come. I had a snack while we sat there and simply contemplated the enormity of the canyon. The best part of reaching the ledge was that it meant we had put the hardest pitches behind us. Despite all the remaining pitches being 5.9 the show was far from over and we were already running extremely low on water.
After a rest on the ledge Sam set off on pitch 7. We had two cracks to choose from leaving the belay. They were roughly 20 feet apart from each but looked pretty similar in difficulty (5.9ish). The topo made it sound like either crack would work, this was not the case. We realized our error as soon as Sam got stuck under a giant thorn bush. An improvised swing maneuver to the adjacent crack quickly remedied the situation and Sam continued up easier ground to a belay stance. I followed up making sure to carefully remove the 3 he had placed underneath the thorn bush and met him at a cozy belay. The original plan called for a belay just below a large flake. We figured the flake would be an obvious thing to find, we were wrong. We were not where we were supposed to be and we were running out of daylight fast. At this point we stopped taking photos for the most part and just focused on getting up the wall.
After a million glances at the topo I set off up some easy ground (5.7ish) in the direction I thought the flake would be. After 40 feet or so I realized my error and was forced to down climb back to the belay. On my second attempt at pitch 8, I started by down climbing from the belay and then set off on an easy but remarkably runout traverse to the left and after a thought provoking step around I finally found the flake we were looking for. I wiggled my way up and into the flake and attempted to climb out to the next belay. Unfortunately because of the creative nature of my pitch the rope drag was too much and I was forced to down climb yet again back down into the flake where I built an uncomfortable belay and brought Sam up from there. We were now completely out of water.
To finish pitch 8 I led a short 30 foot pitch with with some wild exposure up and out of the flake up to a bolted belay.
Sam wasn't talking much as I handed him the rack for pitch 9 and I was talking too much apparently as he set off on the undercling traverse. After placing his first piece of marginal pro he looks back at me and makes a simple shush noise. I promptly shut up. He moved quickly and methodically as he dispatched the runout traverse(5.9) and disappeared around the corner. A few minutes later I hear a loud shout, I can't tell if it its a good or bad shout but he keeps taking rope. After a bit the rope comes tight and it's my turn on the traverse, I would soon find out what the shout was for.
The pitch 9 traverse is a delicate and exposed pitch with hefty runouts and huge swing potential, it is everything you image the Black Canyon to be. After carefully working my way across the traverse I started to work my way up past two old bolts and then a nail? One of the "bolts" listed in the guide book was nothing more than nail pounded into the rock and bent down. Sam had skipped the nail all together and just ran it out for 40 ft or so above an old bolt. The shout apparently came when he plugged his first piece of decent gear on the pitch. I continued up and was hugely excited to find that Sam had linked pitch 9 with the short pitch above it for one outstanding 200 foot lead.
At this point the sun was going down fast and we both put our headlamps on our helmets, just in case. Pitch 10 started with a long and exposed traverse(5.7) to the left on hollow flakes. The flakes made great hand holds but were less than confidence inspiring for pro. After a few healthy runouts I started up a steep hand crack(5.9) which felt insanely difficult for the grade considering how worn down and dehydrated we were at this point. I climbed until I ran out of rope and belayed from and uncomfortable seat in a thorn bush. I have never been so thirsty in all my life.
Our last transition was quick, I handed Sam the rack and said "take us home". Pitch 11 was our last pitch to the top. We were so close at this point, all either of us could think about was drowning ourselves in water and Gatorade. Sam worked his way up the final hundred feet or so and then belayed me up from a tree. It was officially dark as I set off and turned my headlamp on. The climbing was less than memorable except for one steep move on loose holds. Soon enough though we were done.
As soon as were at the top we scrambled the last 3rd class section to the overlook and walked like zombies to our campsite. The minute we arrived some rafters came over to bring us cheeseburgers right off the grill. It was the best tasting thing I have ever eaten. We sat and talked to our new friends for a while as we pounded Gatorade and inhaled our burgers. It was probably 30 minutes before either one of us started taking gear off.
It wasn't pretty but we had accomplished what we had set out to do. Something about being beaten and bloody while pulling yourself up and over those final feet to the rim of the Black is a feeling like nothing else I've ever experienced.
After a tune up on Mt. Shavano earlier this week, Jeremiah Meizis and I headed for Mt. Quandary yesterday. Mt. Quandary is one of the most popular and straightforward 14ers located just south of Breckenridge on the north side of the Continental Divide.
Unlike Shavano, where we were the only people for miles, when we arrived at the Quandary trailhead at 6:45am we were already the 5th party to arrive. By 7:00am we were on the trail . The route up Quandary was about as simple as it gets, just gain the ridge and then follow it to the top.
By 7:50 we had reached treeline and passed 2 parties of snowshoers. The sun was shining bright and the temperature was quickly rising as we pressed on to the top.
We made good time up the east ridge and continued to pass the 2 remaining parties on our way to the final climb. We reached the summit at 9:25am where we stopped for a snack and some obligatory photos while we discussed our descent route.
Our primary objective for Quandary was to descend via the south facing Cristo Couloir, but after observing a large amount of activity on similar aspects we opted to play it safe and descend via the east bowls instead. The wind on the summit was fierce so our time spent on top was brief.
We were able to ski directly from the summit and to our surprise the turns were outstanding. With good snow and the temperature staying cold up high we opted to take another lap, so after skiing down to 13,100ft we hiked back to the top and skied it again.
After our second lap of the upper bowl we continued descending the east side. On our way down we came across a pair of Mountain Goats. This was the first time I had ever seen a Mountain Goat in the wild, so I was pretty excited as fumbled with my camera. Unfortunately, they weren't nearly as excited to see me.
As we descended the snow just got better and better with the rising temperature. We skied perfect corn all the way to treeline . Once we made the trees our perfect corn turned into a miserable slush making the last turns to the car less than memorable.
We arrived back at the car at 11:45am and were on our way back to the springs by 12. After skiing Shavano on Monday, Quandary felt like a walk in the park. Great weather and good conditions made for an outstanding day all around. All told we did 7.95 miles and 4,565ft of elevation in 4 hours and 45 minutes car to car.
- John McDonough
Read more trip reports:
Mt. Shavano - 4/7/14
On Monday, Jeremiah Meizis , Chris Lawrence, and I took advantage of some great weather and promising avalanche conditions to ski Mt. Shavano in the Sawatch Range. Mt. Shavano lies just south of the collegiate peaks and is home to the famous "Angel of Shavano," a popular snow climb/descent in the late spring.
Our day started off by foolishly trying to reach summer trailhead by car. Unfortunately the road is not plowed in the winter and the snow was blocking the road just over 3 miles from the trailhead. We turned around and eventually opted for the winter trailhead and after our morning detour we were officially on the trail at 9:30am.
After hiking the first half-mile or so we were able to start skinning our way to the summer trailhead. None of us knew the area well so we took our time and stopped frequently for the first few miles to check our maps. After reaching the summer trailhead we headed east and quickly starting gaining elevation.
We opted to follow the popular summer route, the east slopes, to avoid climbing through what we assumed was rapidly warming avalanche terrain. As soon as we gained the ridge we realized that the slopes we were avoiding were nothing more than wind scoured scree fields.
Navigating the rocks was, without a doubt, the most memorable part of the day and for all the wrong reasons. There is just something about post holing between rocks at 13,000ft that makes you never want to do it again. Our route through the rocks slowed our progress immensely but did allow for some impressive views while we stopped for a snack.
We eventually made it to the saddle below the summit and climbed to 13,600ft which was the highest point we could ski down from . We discussed dropping our skis and tagging the summit before heading down, but due to our late start and the ferocious winds we opted to change over and descend.
On the descent the saying "earning your turns" took on another meaning as we fought a 2-3 inch breakable crust from top to bottom. Due to the wind chill being well below zero we didn't linger to take too many photos.
It took us about an hour and a half to reach the summer trailhead where we switched back over and skinned the rest of the way back to the car. After a mandatory stop for dinner in Salida we were on our way back to the springs. All told our day consisted of 11 miles, 4,600 ft of elevation and took us just over 9.5 hours car to car.
It wasn't one of the best days of skiing I've ever had, but it was definitely one of the most memorable. Tomorrow we are headed to Mt. Quandary and hopefully we'll find some better turns up there!
Let it be known that I'm writing this entry while watching "The Beach."
I took my time leaving Khao Sok then eventually headed south towards the town of Phuket. The ride was pleasant but the traffic was atrocious. I hadn't encountered big city traffic since I left Bangkok, and although I was more comfortable on the bike, it was still an exhilarating ride. After a couple death defying laps of downtown Phuket I finally found my meeting spot, O'malleys Pub. Months prior, my friend Nick and I had chosen O'malley's in downtown Phuket as our meeting spot in Thailand because it seemed to stick out like a sore thumb and therefore would be the single easiest place to find. With a little dumb luck, this was fairly accurate.
O'malleys is both a hostel and a pub. It may not be the ideal combination for everyone, but after spending 4 quiet days in the jungle it was the perfect place to end up. The Pub was closed when I arrived, so I let myself in. I found the owner, Steve, half asleep on the couch from the night prior and half-heartedly woke him up. I told him I would like to check in, to which he responded "Well, your already in aren't ya?" in a thick Irish accent. I then asked him if he had seen another American about "yay high" and held my hand to my waist. Steve pointed up stairs, so off I went.
After a trying a number of wrong doors, I finally opened one and found this:
Nick was fresh off the plane from the states and quickly learning how to adapt to the staggering heat in Thailand.
Nick and I spent the rest of the day wandering Phuket looking for a place to buy ferry tickets and picking out restaurants for dinner. When we arrived back at O'malleys, Steve was behind the bar and it was conveniently time for a beer. Nick promptly went to bed seeing as he had just spent 40 hours flying across the world and I started what would soon become a night I will never forget. O'malleys Pub was frequented by a small group of dedicated locals most of whom were ex-pats living in Thailand for various reasons. It was a Sunday night so the place was pretty much empty except for the local crowd. Long story short what started as a quiet night of being hustled by Steve at pool, turned into a not so quite night that included loud conversations about world politics, arguments on why soccer is an awful spectator sport, and eventually riding around on the back of some Thai girls moped. The evening culminated when Ollie, a 6'6" Norwegian who was in town for cheap dental work, and myself found ourselves raiding the beer fridge of a closed Thai restaurant at 3 AM while 2 Thai women were cooking for us in the back. Somehow or another we had befriended the owner's daughters that evening and then talked our way into one of the most unbelievable meals I have ever eaten.
It was a night I will not forget. The next morning Nick and I putzed around until our ferry came to take us to Ko Phi-Phi around mid-day. The ferry ride was exactly what I needed. I sat on top with my feet dangling over the side and simply watched in awe as we passed some of the most amazing scenery on earth.
Eventually we made it to Ko Phi Phi and after searching for what seemed like an eternity we finally found some beds for the night. Ko Phi Phi is a long strip of sand and palm trees that's been overdeveloped and turned into a thriving tourist town. Ko Phi Phi was also heavily impacted by the 2004 Tsunami, although you would've never known when glancing at it. The only Tsunami reminders were overgrown evacuation routes and the occasional old photograph on a store front.
Ko Phi Phi is the hottest place I have ever been, period. After calling it an early night, we moseyed around the next morning waiting for the climbing areas to fall into the afternoon shade.
The climbing was extremely unique with massive features on very steep walls.
It felt great to finally climb again. Something I was not prepared for though was the monkeys. The monkeys had learned to raid your climbing bag, but only when you are belaying. So after one close call, we made sure that whomever was belaying was always armed with a pile of small rocks. If you let your guard down for even a minute, the monkeys would be off with your camera.
Low tide (left) seemed to double the size of dry land on the island. A smoothie break became a twice daily ritual (right).
Ko Phi Phi is a place I would've loved to have visited 20 years ago. It's beautiful but has been completely ruined by the immense over development. It's crowded, loud, and filthy and the water is littered with trash- making anyone think twice about swimming. We'd originally planned on staying several days, but since neither of us liked the island we decided to bail for Tonsai.
November 9th (Continued)
"Close the windows or the monkeys will come."
This was the first thing I was told when I checked in and was one of the better pieces of advice I had received on this trip.
Welcome to the jungle. I had arrived in Khao Sok after 3 painful days of riding and I had somehow stumbled across this amazing guesthouse resort run by a local family. For the first time since arriving in Thailand, I decided to splurge on accommodations and spent a whopping $15 a night. This is what $15 a night gets you in Thailand:
My own private bungalow with a hot water shower (completely unnecessary) and laundry service.
That night I had one the best meals of my life. Very rarely is a meal a memorable moment in my life, but I will never forget my first dinner in Khao Sok. The cook/laundry service/housekeeping/mother of 3 was the owner's wife, and the restaurant was this fantastic open air patio with a thatched roof overlooking the river. I decided that I needed to step out of my comfort zone and asked the "cook" to make me anything she wanted. What I ended up with was "Chicken with Cashew Nut," and while it doesn't sound like much, it was absolutely unreal. It was hands down one of the best things I've ever eaten, period. That night, I ate dinner alone in the middle of the Thai jungle eating food that was out of this world and drinking beer that was unbelievably bad, and as uneventful as it may sound, I will never forget that night.
The jungle trek...
What was supposed to be a leisurely 2.5 mile hike through Khao Sok National Park turned into one of the most ridiculous days of my life. The hike was described as "one of the more spectacular hikes in the park but seldom done because of a deteriorating trail, steep hills and 6 river crossings." More or less, I figured it would be right up my alley. Interestingly enough, the guidebook said to allow 6 hours round trip for the hike. This is the point where I should have noticed that something wasn't quite right, but naturally all I thought was, "Challenge accepted. I bet I can knock it out in 3". Well I managed to do it in 4 hours- 4 hours of hell.
Before I explain the hike, I should explain where I was at this point in time. Khao Sok is the oldest living jungle in the world and the most bio-diverse place on the planet. What that means is that they have every scary animal and creepy crawler you can imagine. Here's the short list: elephants, sun bears, leopards, tigers (yeah, tigers), territorial monkeys and gibbons, tapirs, and wild pigs. If that wasn't exciting enough, Khao Sok is also home to foot-long centipedes with a nasty bite, bird eating spiders (the same bird eating spiders that you had studied in first grade and were elated that you'd never see one in person), crickets the size of mice, scorpions and countless varieties of hostile ants. Top it off with a number of pythons, vipers and water monitors, and you've got yourself a proper jungle.
Trekking through the Thai jungle would be comparable to running the Manitou Incline in 100 degree weather with 150% humidity and throw in some bushwhacking, endless mud, and leeches galore. It was a character building experience to say the least.
I have never sweat so much in my entire life and I doubt I will ever sweat that much ever again. It was literally raining off my face. This picture sums up exactly how my jungle trek went:
The worst part of the trek was having to stop every 5 minutes to pick the leeches off. It was endless. I started counting after a while and figured that I pulled roughly 175 leeches off my legs over the duration of my trek.
Mercifully, I finally made it to my destination, a spectacular waterfall in the middle of absolute nowhere.
I took some time to go swimming and pose for obligatory self-shot photos and then started the arduous trek back. On the way back, I managed to get lost 3 different times which is something that truly needs to be experienced to be fully understood. Being truly lost in the jungle by yourself is not a comforting feeling to say the least. All in all, it was great experience but not something that I plan on doing again anytime soon.
I spent that evening with a girl from Germany who's name I have completely misplaced. We spent the evening discussing everything from the differences in world healthcare to "traveler English." We talked for hours and it was one of the most engaging conversations I've ever had. All the while, we drank terrible, but well deserved, beer as I tried convincing her to ride an elephant with me the next day. Personally, I thought it was a fantastic idea. Unfortunately, her boyfriend wasn't too keen on the idea when he showed up later that evening. As the evening progressed, we made a few more new friends from all over the globe. The most memorable was a French guy, who's dream in life, of all things, was to, "Go to Florida and watch an NFL game." I did not see that one coming.
Some of the best conversations I've ever had in life have been with complete strangers that I'd met while traveling. Despite the fact that you're talking to complete strangers from all over the world, it always feels more like you're talking to someone you've known your whole life but somehow know absolutely nothing about. When people ask me why I travel alone, it's because it allows you to meet people who you'd never otherwise meet and do things you'd never otherwise do. To me, that's the best part of traveling. The places you go are not nearly as memorable as the people you meet.
I didn't do a darn thing. It rained on and off all day, so I sat on my porch and read my book cover to cover. It was awesome.
Khao Sok is one of the most unique places I've ever been and the fact that it was further off of the normal tourist track made it that much better. After a few days in the jungle though I was ready for some excitement, and the next day, I was headed south to Phuket to meet up with a friend of mine to do some climbing.
After a nice stay in Kanchanaburi, it was time to start the long journey south. I spent the morning packing my bag and then got back on the bike. Today's goal was to ride to the town of Phetachburi. Because I wasn't very comfortable on the bike yet, I figured this would be a manageable distance for my first long day of riding.
Well, the ride was awful. In order to get to Phetchaburi, I had to ride back towards the chaos of Bangkok before dropping south onto the Malay Peninsula. Navigating the major highways was fairly straight forward since the English/Roman character city names were always printed below the Thai. Because of this convenient touch, getting from city to city was fairly easy. However, once you had arrived at your destination city, navigating became extremely difficult. In smaller cities, the street signs are only in Thai, which meant you could never tell what road you were on. I should reiterate that these street signs weren't just in a different language but also in a different alphabet, so there was absolutely no hope of even guessing what the signs said. Long story short after a number of circles through town and an hour or two of walking around aimlessly, I found the river and followed it until I ran into a guesthouse. The place was abysmal, but it had a nice bar overlooking the river so it met my criteria nonetheless.
My bike with all my possessions parked outside the guesthouse in Phetchaburi.
I spent the majority of the evening wandering the town taking pictures of overweight monkeys and relaxing in the bar at the guesthouse. At the bar I met Chris and Deanne, an American couple from Maryland. After a few drinks, we all went out for dinner at the local night market. Dinner was great as always and again unbelievably cheap. Before we left, Chris and I decided we should try some of the local mystery desserts. One bight each was enough to tell us that we had both chosen wrong, although my green blob was definitely better than Chris's pink blob solely based on the lack of noodles in it.
$4 worth of accommodations and our even more memorable mystery desserts
Long ride, short story.
I woke up early and rode 280 miles south to the town of Ranong. I spent the majority of the day dodging large trucks on the freeway and becoming more comfortable with riding a motorcycle overall. The last section of the ride was terrifying as the road narrowed to one lane through the mountains, but I survived nonetheless. After a long day of riding I made it to Ranong, and after an hour or so I eventually found a place to stay. I started to figure out that the key to navigating smaller cities was to do it on foot. This way you could focus more on looking around for a place to stay rather than focusing on not dying on your motorcycle.
Ranong wasn't all that eventful and was really just a rest stop on my way to Khao Sok National Park. I stayed at place called the Asia Hotel, which looked more like a prison than a hotel, but it served its purpose.
I left Ranong and continued south towards Khao Sok. This was the first time on the trip I truly enjoyed the motorcycle. There was no traffic on the road, stunning scenery and a wicked fun winding road that kept you on your toes just enough throughout the ride. After three days of riding, I finally arrived in one of the most stunning places you will ever see, huge valleys full of towering karsts as far as the eye could see. This was going to be home for the next few days as I explored the jungle and gave my rear end a much deserved break from the bike seat. Somehow, I had yet again landed in paradise.
Alex is breaking his usual mold of climbing natural formations by climbing an undisclosed building live for National Geographic this fall. Honnold, a free-soloing specialist and Adventurer of the Year in 2010, has yet to have climbed a building in his adult life. Excited? We are!
Read about his interview with National Geographic here.
Can’t get enough? Read our post last year about Honnold’s appearance in a Citi Bank commercial or watch his 60-minute segment below.
High season is here! But before things get really crazy, Molly and I decided to sneak off to Penitente Canyon to climb for a few days. With a spring season full of wild weather, the amount of actual climbing we got to do was limited, but we still managed to make it exciting. Penitente Canyon is a beautiful hidden canyon nestled northwest of Alamosa, CO. Made of volcanic rock, the canyon is full of short bolted sport routes with everything from slabs to overhanging huecos.
Day 1 - We left in the morning and and headed west through ominous rain clouds with the ever persistent hope that the weather would be nicer in Pentitente than it was anywhere else...
It wasn't... we arrived in the pouring rain. I promptly decided that the rain was definitely going to blow over shortly and it would soon be beautiful and sunny for the rest of the trip. Anyone who has ever been climbing with myself and has heard one of my ultra-scientific and fact-based meteorology predictions knows that my track record is abysmal, at best. So, it continued to down pour for the rest of the afternoon.
While we set up camp and started to unpack, Molly had a revelation. No, maybe we should call it an epiphany. She had forgotten her harness. That's right. We were on 3-day climbing trip and we only had one harness between the two of us. As a side note, the irony that Molly and I of all people would be short on equipment is truly overwhelming. At this point, most folks would have packed up and turned around, but considering our insane work schedules, we were determined to make this work. At this point it was still raining and we decided that our best course of action would be to drive to Alamosa to do some shopping. After a quick stop in Alamosa, Molly had a new harness to add to her collection and we were good to go, except for the fact that it was still raining...
To escape the frigid cold and massive snow storm this week, I headed south to Sugarite State Park near Raton, NM. Only minutes south of the Colorado-New Mexico border, Sugarite State Park is a spectacular area with two trout-filled reservoirs, convenient camping areas with electric hook-ups and running water, and most importantly, 50’ basalt cliffs covered in cracks of every size and difficulty. An ideal get away for spring and fall months, Sugarite welcomes all forms of climbers with easy access for top roping almost every route. Although the weather wasn't ideal with the occasional wind gust and cooler temperatures, I certainly had my fill of finger, hand and foot jams as I scaled up these volcanic cliffs. Check out some classic climbs like S&M Crack and read more about this breathtaking hideaway on Mountain Project.
Photos taken by Becca's Photography LLC
A collection of stories and adventures from the FAMS director and instructors.