Tag Archives: alabama

My first sport climbing adventure to Little River Canyon in Alabama

Last August, I journeyed up to Steele, Alabama for my first sport-climbing trip to a crag known (by some) as Sandrock. Despite the graffiti-drenched boulders defaced by locals, and an ungodly amount of broken glass strewn about the trails, I had an amazing time leading my first routes – but the most lasting impression from this trip was left by a small metal sign on the drive towards the mountain. It read “Little River Canyon,” and pointed towards the north.

After a few seasons slipped by, Niko and I finally made plans to check out the mysterious Little River Canyon. Perfectly timed with the release of the new Dixie Cragger for Georgia and Alabama, we were able to embark on an informed journey to the new crag. I practiced my light packing skills, tossed our gear into the trunk of our buddy Bo’s car, and spent the seven-hour drive up to Alabama dreaming of sandstone.

Naive about any camping situations available in Little River Canyon, our crew decided to stick to the free, and unbelievably scenic, camping at the top of Lookout Mountain, deep in the rural bits of Alabama. Things got a tad interesting on Easter morning, when we woke up to a passionate sunrise sermon held a few yards from our tent.

It must be noted that the small metal sign beckoning climbers to detour towards “Little River Canyon” is slightly deceptive. What we had imagined to be a quick hop, skip, and jump over to the crag from Sandrock was actually a 30-minute haul – but I enjoy leisurely mornings, so I had no complaints.

I was pleasantly surprised by the ease at which we were able to locate the climbs at Little River Canyon. Our main haunt was The Gray Wall, which is accessed via a discreet trail that sits right off the winding mountain road that runs through the preserve. Given that we were in a canyon, the approach involved a bit of scrambling, down climbing, and getting dripped on by miniature waterfalls.

At The Gray Wall, we were introduced to a crew of southern climbers who demonstrated a keen passion for Little River Canyon, which is actually a national preserve. The boisterous group welcomed us to ‘their’ crag with enthusiasm, and offered to let us use their draws on a few warm-up routes.

And by warm-ups, I mean a wide row of 5.11 climbing.

I hear there is just one 5.9 hidden somewhere in Little River Canyon, and a small handful of 5.10s are strewn about – which basically means that this crag is a destination reserved for more advanced climbers.

 
In my honest opinion, I believe the more demanding level of climbing is what has kept this crag as well preserved as it is. I saw nary a single spray of paint on the sandstone, nor any piles of wayward trash. Unlike Sandrock, this crag has evaded traffic from the masses, and retains its pristine natural glory.

It’s such a pure area that I honestly hesitated to feature it on the blog. So if this post inspires you to visit Little River Canyon to bask in the beautiful climbing, I implore you to exercise the utmost respect and land stewardship.

As for the actual climbing, this canyon delivers such phenomenal lines that our crew all agreed we’d probably never visit Sandrock again if we were in the area – Little River Canyon trumps it tenfold. I climbed my first 5.11a, a pumpy ledge-filled route called “Obsession” – admittedly on top-rope, and it was not a red-point. The boys climbed a handful of 5.11s at The Gray Wall, and then Niko briefly jumped on a burly overhanging route called “Tension.” We also fooled around on a quirky, short slab route that no one could conquer. Check out the photos:
 The main event of our adventure was our time spent on the hardest section of The Gray Wall. The star of the show was Lion, a 5.12c sport route with stout movements and burly demands. The boys were eager to hop on it after watching a local climber, Rob, barrel through the cruxes. (Did I mention that Rob is about to turn 60, and crushes sandstone harder than I ever will? He was such a cool dude.)

        In true Katie form, I hardly climbed as much as I should have. Instead, I busied myself by climbing up one of the 5.11 routes, clipping myself into a bolt using long runners, and hanging from the sandstone while waving my camera around at the boys as they climbed.

The trip was a huge wake-up call for me – it mercilessly reminded me that as a boulderer, I seriously lack endurance. Both Bo and I were pumped out every few moves on our climbs, and we both left the trip determined to improve ourselves. Thankfully, while we were totally shut down by lengthy climbs, we managed to not be conquered by chiggers (unlike my last trip to Alabama, when I ended up with chiggers nesting in my belly button, true story.)

Despite the harsh realizations, this trip got me incredibly stoked on sport climbing. My silence on the blogging front is a direct result of my newfound passion for training. Little River Canyon motivated me to dive into hardcore endurance training, and I have since spent every single day climbing to my limits. Last night, I red-pointed my first 5.11 in the gym, and practiced my lead climbing on a few easier routes. Today, I’m indulging in a rest day, after seven straight days of training.

Stay tuned for more updates on my training efforts as I prepare my body and mind for my upcoming trip to The Red River Gorge.

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A preview of my sport climbing adventures at Little River Canyon in Alabama

For Florida climbers, three-day trips to northerly crags are our vision of a weekend warrior’s victory. With the closest (decent) outdoor climbing sitting five hours away in Alabama, our short visits to sandstone wonderlands provide a highly anticipated escape from our usual indoor rock gym musings.

This past weekend, I ventured to a new crag with three of my climbing buddies. During recent trips to Sandrock, we had all taken notice of signs for “Little River Canyon.” Curious about this destination, we did a bit of digging, and discovered that the area was a prime sport climbing spot. Armed with the recently released Dixie Cragger’s Atlas for Alabama and Georgia, we journeyed to this new wall.

I still have 435 of my own photos to sort through and edit, but I couldn’t wait to share this amazing crag. Little River Canyon is a pure, unsoiled, gorgeous slice of exposed cliff faces and lush forest landscapes. The climbs are organic and challenging, the trails well-maintained through appreciative land stewardship, and the locals are eager to share their love for the area with fellow climbers who approach the area with respect and love for the climbs.

To tide you over until I complete my photography edits, check out a few excellent shots captured by my trip companion, Bo Durham. Shooting with an AE-1 film camera, he snagged some sweet images of our excursion – including a photo that instantly became my favorite picture of Niko and me of all time.

Enjoy!

This trip was a particularly great adventure for me. I climbed my first 5.11a, called Obsession, while we were roped up at The Gray Wall – and while I wasn’t gutsy enough to lead it, the positive experience I had on this route skyrocketed my determination and motivation. My next trip is out to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky during the first week of May, so I’m ready to dive into some endurance training to prepare for the next sport-climbing journey.

Stay tuned for my complete trip report  and the best
climbing photos from my visit to Little River Canyon in Alabama!

An adventurous road-tripper’s top 10 travel moments of 2011

What travel blog would be complete without a year-end review of the best travel experiences from 2011? As I begin to daydream of all the amazing adventures that 2012 has waiting around the corner, I can’t help but reflect on the outrageous and memorable times I had on the road this year. Every moment spent road tripping across America is held dearly, but these ten moments stick out above the rest.

10. Escaping for a week of relaxation in the mountains around Hendersonville, North Carolina

My seven-week September solo trip deserves a big mention, but the leg of my adventure that deserves the biggest accolades is the week I spent lounging around Hendersonville, North Carolina. My ex-girlfriend’s mother invited me to stay at her charming country home, and I spent the week sampling the area’s best cuisine, picking apples at an orchard, dancing the night away at a climbing buddy’s wedding in Flat Rock, and exploring the mountainous region of Brevard.

My solo trip commenced with a rough patch of personal heartache, so this miniature escape truly assisted in establishing up the positive vibes that I carried throughout the remainder of my travels.

9. Celebrating my 23rd birthday boating on Lake Dillon in Frisco, Colorado

My solo trip ended just days before my 23rd birthday, and in true girly fashion, I was determined to make my celebration one to remember. Having freshly transplanted myself and my belongings to Denver, Colorado, I wanted to capitalize on my new surroundings. After browsing potential ideas like a pedal-yourself beer wagon, we settled on renting a pontoon boat on Lake Dillon. The drive out to Frisco was absolutely gorgeous, as was the entire day of mountainside boating. I discovered my new favorite whiskey, vanilla-infused Phillips Union, and our crew downed countless cans of beer while we cruised around the frigid lake.

Having been raised boating on the warm waters in Miami, this Colorado lake experience introduced me to a whole new style of waterfront fun – no sandy beaches around, this day was all about mountain peaks and snow forest landscapes.

8. A wild hike up a muddy cliffside during a rainy day at Boulder Canyon in Colorado

This was one of those totally unplanned, totally unpredicted experiences that taught me the value of relinquishing control and embracing the idea of getting very, very dirty. On our way to what we thought was a sport climbing area, a group of cohorts and I scrambled up a steep, chossy cliff that led to frequent falling rock calls, one very bloody knee, and more dirt caked underneath my fingernails that I could ever imagine – but it was too much fun.

I was skeptical about the messy scramble at first, since I was carrying my beloved Nikon camera and equipment in my pack, but after a sprinkle of rain turned our dirty hike into slushy chaos, all bets were off. I returned to the car slathered in mud, and spent the evening picking sticky burrs out of my hair – but again, too much fun.

7. Watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon in Arizona

As the final ‘big’ stop on my post-graduation road trip with Niko in May, we made a pit stop at Grand Canyon National Park – but our original intentions didn’t involve a sunrise. Niko had been dying to see the sunset, so we raced our way along barren roads to catch the sun before it dipped beyond the rim of the canyon. Literally missing the sunset by three minutes, we decided to spend the night in the nearby tourist town so we could watch the sunrise.

After spending a very uncomfortable night sleeping in a hotel parking lot, Niko roused me from my catatonic state and we returned to the park. This time we made sure to arrive well before the sun, and were pleasantly surprised to find the area was nearly deserted – I guess the 5 AM wakeup call for the sunrise is reserved for only the most diehard adventurers. I was cranky and cold, but I ended up with one of my favorite Niko photos of all time.

6. Pitching my tent at Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park

This campground, located inside Yosemite Valley, is one of the most legendary watering holes for famous climbers. It was inspiring to camp at the same spot that housed icons like Lynne Hill and Ron Kauk – Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia even used to sell homemade gear from the camp’s parking lot.

Everything from waking up at 6:00 in the morning to queue in line for camp registration to the rusty bear-proof food lockers and name tags we had to tie on our tents for the ranger check-ins combined to create this inspiring air of climbing confidence and community vibes that spread throughout the grounds. I woke up in the morning pumped to climb some Yosemite granite.

5. My first sport climb at Sandrock in Alabama

An avid climber from the moment my fingertips first grazed the plastic holds at Tallahassee Rock Gym, it was a damn shame that I had never sport climbed until August 2011. Two years into my climbing obsession, I finally embarked on a sport climbing trip to a beautiful crag called Sandrock near Steele, Alabama.

The exhilaration of clipping into the anchors at the top of my first lead was only rivaled by the experience of sleeping out beneath the stars atop the rock formations at the mountain summit, and waking up to explosive hues of sunrise. It was one of the moments that cemented my adoration for the outdoors and living in nature – although the chiggers that infested my bellybutton on this trip weren’t the best reminder of why I love living in nature.

4. Getting a taste of desert life in Moab, Utah

Anyone who has asked me about my travels in 2011 has heard an earful about my infatuation with Moab. Niko and I spent a week living in the desert in May, when we came to visit our two buddies who spent the summer working as river guides in Moab. I became enthralled with the lifestyle of these dirty, leather-skinned desert people.

Over the course of a very short week, I photographed beautiful roadside climbs at Potash, hiked through Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park, ate sandy campfire food alongside my fellow tent-dwellers at the Lazy Lizard Hostel, and met some of the most amazing people I have ever encountered while traveling – Josephine, Paul, Chelsey, and Mike, I’m talkin’ to you.

Seriously, you must visit Moab. It is my most highly recommended destination.

3. A weekend at Still Mountain Retreat in Willits, California

After weeks of vagabonding throughout Moab and Yosemite, Niko and I readily accepted an invitation to join some friends for a relaxing weekend retreat at family cabins tucked high in the mountains near Willits, California. The entire weekend was a fantastic blur of great homemade food, excursions into the woods and nearby waterfall, and peaceful time spent in great company.

Niko and I stayed in a small cabin with an attic-like entrance to the second-story sleeping area – which inspired notions of simple living and small spaces.  It was so refreshing to experience this place tucked away from civilization, where all that mattered was when the next shuffleboard tournament would take place.

2. Driving into the mountains on I-25 on my way to Denver, Colorado

My September solo trip concluded with a final haul down to Miami to load up my hatchback with my belongings before returning to Denver to move-in. The push back to Colorado from Florida was grueling with a jam-packed car, but as I finally hit the Rockies after driving through hours of flatlands, I was overwhelmed by the most intense feeling of pure joy I have ever felt. My music was blasted at full volume, all windows were rolled down, and I literally burst out with ecstatic squeals as I wound my way through the beautiful mountains that would soon become home.

1. Camping solo for the first time at Lake Barkley State Park in Cadiz, Kentucky

Of all my travels throughout 2011, there is one experience that shines above the rest. My first night spent camping solo was a huge milestone for me as an independent traveler. While I spent seven weeks on a solo road trip, the first night of successfully pitching my tent, building a fire, and surviving the wilderness through daybreak was easily my biggest accomplishment.

My evening was spent at Lake Barkley State Park, a tranquil slice of outdoors paradise sitting near the town of Cadiz in rural Kentucky. Family and fans of my adventures had been dreading this day since the beginning of my trip, but I approached the evening with a calm attitude and wound up having a great night tending to my fire and basking in the peace of solitude. My first experience camping solo left me with overwhelming sentiments that I can handle anything my travels throw my way – and I don’t need anyone’s help to do it.

What are your top travel moments from 2011?
If you’ve got a link to your own blog post, I’d love for you to share it below in the comments section! You can also tweet pics and links to @themorningfresh, or share your experiences on The Morning Fresh Facebook page.

My first sport climbing trip, fake mustaches, and chiggers in my belly button at Sand Rock in Alabama

To celebrate the end of summer, I did something I should have accomplished a long, long time ago: I led my first sport routes out on a climbing trip to Sandrock. One of my new favorite crags in Alabama, this area is an outdoor playground for both novice and experienced climbers armed with ropes and draws.

My first trip to Sand Rock was shared with a top notch crew of Tally Rock Gym rats. Our mission was driven (literally) by Ryan, who generously donated his car for our transportation needs. Fellow roommates Niko and Max completed the male portion of our team. My female counterpart was the fearless, freckled Allie – who crushed serious sandstone all weekend long. We left Tallahassee on an early Sunday evening, filled our bellies with some grubby Taco Bell, and trudged through the six hour drive to Sandrock.

I didn’t sleep a wink the first night on top of the mountain, which isn’t saying much since the rest of the crew only rested a handful of hours before the sunrise roused everyone from their slumber. I don’t know if we were too amped up about the awaiting climbs, or if we were simply delirious after such a long, dark drive, but sleeplessness was hardly an obstacle as we prepared for our first day out in the boulder field.


This trip saw the momentous occasion where I finally took life by the horns and decided to overcome my crippling fear of outdoor rope climbing – leading routes to be specific. A boulderer by nature, I avoided clips and bolts like my life depended on it. During an after-hours attempt at leading my way up the rock gym’s tallest wall, I made it a mere three bolts up before waving a white flag of defeat and lowering back down to the ground – weak, I know.

During our first day at Sandrock, I decided to start my foray into rope climbing with an easy top-roped route. I cruised up a simple 5.7, and immediately felt my confidence boost. Allie and I then summoned the courage to go for a true lead climb, our first of which was “My Dog Has Fleas,” a 5.8+ that asks you to burl your way up an ugly rock formation. It wasn’t our favorite route, but we both lead it like champions. Next up, we tackled “First Black Man in Office,” a much more enjoyable 5.9 shown to us by the local we met out in the fields.

Aside from the climbs, my time spent at Sandrock is best defined by a collection of beautiful moments. We spent each night sleeping out on top of a large rock outcrop that overlooked the many lakes and trees below, and in the early mornings, the sun rose in a fury of pinks and orange hues that spread out over the mountains and pleasantly woke us up.


Naturally, many of my favorite moments involved the discovery of little creature buddies. There were the dozens of blue-tailed skinks who slinked their way up rocks and through little tree branches, and the enormous green grasshopper who patiently sat with us while we climbed on our last day – I think he was succumbing to old age, but he seemed perfectly at peace with the world. Finally, there were the tiny little red insects, chiggers. I spotted one crawling on my arm during a nap on top of a boulder, and quickly squashed the parasite – but to no avail. By the time I got back to Tallahassee, I had a small family of chiggers who had buried themselves into my bellybutton, of all places. Very unpleasant.



Speaking of creatures, during a trip down the mountain to scour for grub, Allie and I spotted a small turtle attempting to cross the road. We forced the boys to bring the Jeep to a rapid halt, and launched ourselves out of the vehicle to go save our little friend – all while doning the ridiculous felt mustaches we had just won from a vending machine at a gas station barbecue joint. Enjoy.


I’ll leave you with a few more of my favorite shots from the weekend. Sandrock was a really beautiful slice of mountain, and I was fortunate to have spent my four days there with a truly wonderful set of climbers. Those lucky dogs are all back at Sandrock this weekend for a repeat visit, and I have full faith that they are all crushing routes and having a great adventure.


Road Trip America Day 1 – Five states, three heaping plates of barbeque, one sunrise, and too many cheez-its

As I write you, it’s 9:33 PM on May 9, 2011, and we’re trudging through Texas towards the outskirts of New Mexico after a tasty pit stop at Taco Bueno just outside of Dallas. The bulk of our day has been spent in the Pilot, which has already proven itself to be a worthy road trip vessel.

The morning began with a blur; I was too caught up in my residual freelance work to catch any sleep before our 5:30 AM departure from Tallahassee. Niko promised me bacon for breakfast, but all I got were two soggy hash browns from McDonalds – yuck. Every time we eat fast food, we vow never to touch it again, and yet somehow convenience always sucks us back in. Fortunately, the scenic sights on the road offered an easy distraction from my greasy belly.

Our route today was an exhausting maze. We started west on I-10, meeting Steve at the DeFuniak Springs exit to snag some ropes and draws. After that we popped through Alabama, traversed Mississippi, skirted past Louisiana and rode towards the pink hued sun as it set over Texas. Have I mentioned how amazing this Texas air is right now? It’s warm, but dry, and breezy and cool, but not chilly. It’s perfect.

For this trip, I decided to dedicate myself to two little projects to help preserve thus experience: First, I am diligently tracking our route on the enormous atlas my dad donated to the trip. Our path is brightly highlighted on both state pages and the big country map. Second, each blog post will have a short list of 5 daily experiences (sights, sounds, tastes, random billboard quotes, etc.) – hell, the entire post for some days may just be a list like this.

Here’s your first top 5 of the day:

  1. The crazed wild dog sitting in the thick thistle and wildflower patches between the east and west bound lanes on the interstate in Texas. His patchy-colored fur complimented his wicked eyes that pierced the lanes of traffic in defiance, “yeah, I crossed all those lanes, and I’ll do it again!”
  2. Lunch at Goldie’s Trail Bar-B-Que in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Quite possibly the best baked beans I’ve ever had, this place will be getting its own blog post next week!
  3. Niko spotted an enormous 13-foot Santa figurine peeking out of the woods off the interstate in Texas. – Who put him there?
  4. Little fields, patches and sprouts of skinny golden sunflowers and bushy purple blossoms lining the edges of the roadways throughout the southeast. It’s the floral personification of Brooke and I, and it made me miss my roommate terribly.
  5. The quirky cashier from Taco Bueno near Dallas, who chatted up every single customer and walked around the dining area to continue conversations left discarded at the register. She has a bright future in sales if she ever ditches the taco biz.

Next up: We’ll be finishing this first big haul through the tip of New Mexico and up southern Colorado, then we’ll time in Denver with old Tally Rock Gym friends, for a few days of bouldering, microbreweries and delivering the huge wooden wine cellar we drove up from Tallahassee.

Snowflakes, chalky hands and quinoa for breakfast – the best of Horse Pens 40

I’ve kept you waiting long enough; it’s time for a hearty recount of my recent visit to Horse Pens 40 in Steele, AL. The best photos, the best stories, the best of HP40.

Spending a night at Matt Wood’s humble abode in Powder Springs, GA has become a climbing tradition to rival our obligatory pit stops at Cracker Barrel. Even better than the accommodations provided by our bearded friend are the treats his father always has waiting for us. Last time, it was homemade chili. This time? Well, see for yourself:


After loading our swollen bellies with good eats, we set off towards our final destination. Upon arriving at Horse Pens, we were surprised with an unexpected delight: a short snow flurry. As a lady of the Sunshine State, I was elated to be in the presence of snow, and eagerly ran through the campsite collecting flakes in my hair.


The snowfall quickly ceased, and our attention returned to climbing. The first day was a little damp, but we made the most of it by collecting some beta for our projects and fooling around on the rocks.

Day two brought beautiful weather and great climbing. Niko and I had to leave a bit early, but he was still able to crush some serious rock. As for Mulletino, it wasn’t a send, but at least I made progress. I’m stuck at the ‘crux,’ and as soon as I master the hardest move, it’s all jugs ’till the finish.


Niko and Ryan put their best efforts into a route named ‘Sliders’ before we packed up and made the trek back to Florida. It wasn’t a send, but it gave Niko a good reason to make a return trip.



Don’t worry kids, there’s 100+ more photos to come on Facebook. Until those get posted, here’s a few more shots to keep you occupied:


Where I am now – crushing Mulletino (V5) in Horse Pens 40.

Enjoying your weekend, readers? As you nurse your hangovers and bask in the laziness of your Saturday afternoon, I’ll be out in the boulder fields at Horse Pens 40. I’ve got a decent list of projects, but one of my favorite routes is Mulletino (V5).


I made mild attempts on this great roof problem during my last trip to Horse Pens, but now I have returned with more experience and determination. The top out of this route is downright sketchy – I’m talkin’ a high-ball finish on a mossy slab that has become overgrown from the lack of climbers brave enough to top it out.

Luckily, I discovered that the route sans top out still qualifies as a V5 problem. With a top out, it’s a solid V6. Let me tell you, the extra grade is not worth the inevitable crash towards the ground.

Happy climbing – or couch surfing.
Expect lots of photos of me (hopefully) sending Mulletino upon my return!

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