Tag Archives: hiking

I’m back from the OmniTen trip to Arizona with Columbia Sportswear (reluctantly)

Holy mother of Arizona adventure. Here I am, in humid Florida, still reeling from the epic trip that I’m still not sure really happened. I’m sitting here with heaps of GoPro footage, thousands of photos, and a slightly torn wristband that served as my permit for camping near the Havasupai village deep in the Grand Canyon. Did that whole trip really just happen?

Words can’t even begin to describe what I experienced while out traversing canyons, waterfalls, streams, and travertine tunnels with the OmniTen crew and Columbia Sportswear team. Our time together began with a week of industry events revolving around the release of Columbia’s newest innovation, OmniFreeze Zero. We were wined and dined all day and night long at the Hilton and around Sedona as the company worked to woo editors, gear buffs, journalists, and industry professionals. Don’t worry, there will be an entire post dedicated to all the phenomenal meals I gorged myself on during the gear previews. Elk kabobs and cactus margaritas, anyone?

The highlight of the trip was hands-down the three days we spent around Havasu Falls. We began with an early morning hike into the canyon, a hot and heavy 10-mile excursion that left me with blisters in places I didn’t even know my feet could sprout them. We passed through the Havasupai Village, set up camp, and enjoyed our first evening together as a close knit group. The second day was spent jumping off waterfalls, climbing through travertine tunnels, wading through waist-deep streams while carrying our packs over our heads, and cooling off in the unbelievably blue water. The final day saw a 10-mile hike back out to the rim of the canyon, which was brutal. I wouldn’t have survived the final mile, which involves a 2000 foot elevation gain up switchbacks frequented by mule trains, without the cooling glory of my OmniFreeze Zero neck gaiter. Seriously, when they start making those available to the public, get one. 

My grand adventure would have been nothing without the amazing people who made it a truly unforgettable journey. The OmniTen crew started out as complete strangers (aside from creeping on eachother’s social media profiles), but we left Arizona teary-eyed over the prospect of losing eachother’s company. These people are now lifelong friends.

It’s going to take me a few days to process everything that I experienced, put it all down in words, and edit all of the amazing photos I snapped during the trip. Stay tuned for a huge installment of posts chronicling my adventure.

It’s going to be good. 

Advertisements

Five reasons to visit a National Park this weekend

America’s National Parks system is one of the greatest institutions ever created by our country – if you ask me, at least. These sacred slices of our nation’s finest ecosystems and delicate environments are critical to American’s ability to access and enjoy the untouched outdoors.

Any day offers a great excuse to visit a nearby National Park, but certain dates hold a particular perk for patrons – which I’ll dive straight into with the first of my top five reasons to visit a National Park:

1. IT’S FREE!

That’s right – admission fees into National Parks around the country are waived during certain times of the year to provide access for those who may not otherwise be able to make it to the parks. That includes everywhere from to Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountains to the Everglades and Kings Canyon, so no matter which outdoor haven is closest to your hometown, you’ll be able to partake in the free fun.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been a proud National Parks annual pass holder since March 2011, but I can still appreciate the gift of complimentary park admission – I can only imagine how expensive my summer road trip would have been if I had paid entrance fees at every park I visited!

2. Fresh air for your lungs.

If you’re confined within city limits during the workweek like me, you likely reach the weekend with a raging thirst to leave the concrete jungle for some natural surroundings. Making a trip to a National Park offers a fantastic way to escape city life for a while. Spend the day trading in traffic lights and steel skyscrapers for towering trees and exhilarating landscapes. You’ll return home with a renewed vigor, and a newfound itch to make a hasty return trip to your National Park of choice.

3. Watching for wildlife.

National Parks are one of the best places to get in touch with your wild side. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, or simply want to spend an afternoon chasing chipmunks after climbing in the Rocky Mountains, America’s National Parks are home to some of the most magnificent creatures on earth. Not to favor fauna over flora, I must also highly recommend that you spend some time getting to know the unique plant-life that thrives in the various terrains at the parks across the nation. Tiny leaves and silky flowers are one of the main reasons a macro-lens is at the top of my must-have list.

4. Bountiful recreation and activities.

While my preferred park activities revolve around climbing, hiking, and photography, there is a bounty of possibilities for active park visitors. Hop aboard a guided tour to better acquaint yourself with a new park, set out on a rafting excursion, or plan a scenic picnic – the options are endless. I always love to stop by park visitor centers to scope out maps and chat with rangers about their favorite things to do and see in the area.

5. Experiencing something new.

Every time I visit a National Park, I am treated to a new and wonderful experience – even if I’ve visited the same spot a dozen times before. Nature is constantly changing, adapting, blooming, and presenting us with gracious chances to appreciate the natural world around us. Some of my favorite moments at National Parks include spending a night at the legendary Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park, watching my crew attempt to summit the Grand Teton in Wyoming, and going on a photographic hunt for alligators in the Everglades.

With so much to be discovered and absorbed right in your own backyard, there’s no excuse not to pay a visit to a National Park this weekend. Free admission fees, recreational activities for every visitor’s lifestyle, and a bevy of outdoor beauty is beckoning for you to come play. Not sure which park to visit? Check out a complete list of all the parks and monuments offering complimentary – and be sure to check out additional dates for 2012 free National Park days.

Want more? Check out these articles about my experiences at National Parks across the country:

– Read about my visit to Gulf Islands National Seashore during a trip to Pensacola, Florida
– Explore my favorite sights and scenes from Yosemite National Park, and check out my favorite all-time climb, Beached Whale (V5) near the Ahwahnee Lodge.
– Discover the vibrant desert hues I photographed during my hike through Arches National Park.

Thistle, straw, seedlings, and spindly flora at Three Sisters Park in Evergreen, CO

One of my favorite parts about spending time outdoors is simply enjoying the little things – plants, bugs, pebbles, twigs, you name it. My climbing buddies will quickly confess that I often spend more time chasing insects around boulders than I do actually climbing the rocks. I can’t resist becoming instantly distracted the moment I see a beetle crawling by, or a tiny flower peeking out from the dirt.

My mother always proudly credits herself with my buggy fascination. When I was a little tot, she used to wrap earthworms around my fingers and have me wear them as rings – now do you see where my adoration for creepy crawlers comes from? She always encouraged my affection for rolling around in the dirt.

The wintry weather in Colorado seems to have driven the bugs from their usual swarming tendencies, but I still managed to snap some sweet photos of unique dry-weather plant life while hiking through Three Sisters Park (also known as Alderfer Park) in Evergreen, Colorado. The parched landscape has taken on an entirely new appearance since my last visit to the area during summertime, and I think I quite prefer this desert-style look.

As if I needed another reminder that I am in dire need of a macro lens, these up-close shots of nature’s tiniest jewels offers another reason to justify splurging on new photography equipment – but hey, these photographs aren’t too shabby considering I was using a standard kit lens with my Nikon D7000!

Slushy hillside hiking and coyote sightings at Four Mile Creek in Boulder, CO

Weekday escapes to Boulder have become a new tradition as I frequently flee the city limits of Denver to embark on adventures with my mountain-dwelling gal pal, Jane. Our favorite haunt is Flagstaff Mountain, which offers abundant moderate climbs and steep, scenic hiking – but today we opted to scope out a new venue for our afternoon explorations. We scoured the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks website in search of a new destination, and debated the merits of several different options before settling on the Four Mile Creek/South Foothills trail head off Broadway and Lee Hill.

This area is great for hill runners, leisurely dog-walkers, casual hikers, and even features a paved lower path ideal for handicapped outdoor adventurers – plus, these hills sit directly in the sun, making them a warm winter hiking spot. The beginning of the trail was wide and packed with gravel, though the wintry conditions had us trudging through thick puddles of frozen mud and slick patches of ice. Jane and I appreciated the extra natural challenges, and eagerly stomped on melting sheets of ice as we pressed towards our first loop on the Old Kiln Trail, which led us to a historical limestone kiln dating back to early settlement days.

After easily completing the short mile-long trail, we hiked back to the original fork that separated towards the Old Kiln path, and this time followed a trail that led us to a very frozen Wonderland Lake. Eager to head up into the hills, we veered away from our lake-bound course and headed up a steep, narrow trail that wound up towards the hilltop. Always late to commence our outdoor discoveries, it was nearly sunset as we clamored up the foothills. As usual, Jane captured some impressive shots on her phone – check ’em out.

On the way back from our hike, Jane and I were entertaining ourselves with the sights of hundreds of fat, barking prairie dogs that dwell along the foothills when we spotted a creature I’ve been dying to see since I started my adventures in Colorado: a sly coyote. We watched as the hungry predator chased plump prairie pups into their tunnels – I was admittedly a little worried that one of my chubby little buddies would become this carnivore’s lunch. Fortunately for me, the prairie dogs managed to stave off the coyote’s tactics, and eventually sent him retreating up the hill as they loudly expressed their disapproval of his presence.

I may have missed this week’s edition of Travel Talk on Twitter, but the great day of hiking and wildlife encounters made it absolutely worth it. I can’t wait to head back to this spot with more time on my hands so I can summit the hill and hopefully meet a few more coyotes.

Hiking and bouldering at Lower Chaos Canyon in Rocky Mountain National Park

As snowy winter months quickly encroach on my outdoor climbing availability, I have been soaking up as much sunshine and mountain exploration as possible. One of my favorite autumn days was spent hiking and bouldering at Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfamiliar with the area, I was nonetheless pumped with enthusiasm at the opportunity to put my National Parks Pass to use.

The drive to the park took about two hours from downtown Denver, but the ride was enjoyed with a fantastic 80s playlist and a car full of dancing adventurers. I believe there is GoPro evidence of all the roadside merrymaking floating around on a memory card somewhere, but the footage seems to be lost for now. Our route towards the Rockies took us through Estes Park, a touristy mountain town famous for their herds of elk that take over the streets.

We pushed towards the ranger kiosk at the park entrance, exchanged pleasantries as I handed over my parks pass, then wound our way up the mountains towards Bear Lake. With the main parking lot already full of wilderness explorers, we planted the car at an overflow lot, then loaded up with crash pads and gear before waiting for the park shuttle to take us to the trail head. The shuttle ride took about 20 minutes, and the beautiful scenery of yolk colored leaves and rusty red treetops captivated my attention for the entire duration.

The thought of chalky hands and scaling boulders took a backseat as we hiked our way towards Lower Chaos Canyon. Our entire party was in the highest of spirits as we took in the piney sights and chirping sounds. I stalled every few yards to snag photos of my impossibly beautiful surroundings — the boys may have been frustrated with my slow pace, but capturing the moment was worth it.

 

Our mission to find climbing at Lower Chaos Canyon prevented us from having proper time to explore all the different side trails and lookout spots along the Bear Lake area, and I am eager to return for some new discoveries. According to the RMNP Twitter, Bear Lake is currently blanketed under 18 inches of snow – which means no more hiking for me until I invest in some snowshoes. But onward we must trek.

Things really got interesting when we forked away from the main trail and began to head towards our ultimate destination. After a quick scramble through fallen trees and other natural debris, we found ourselves positioned in the middle of an enormous rock bed half buried beneath a wide brook. Easily my favorite part of the adventure, we hopped and clamored along the variously sized boulders that sat between us and the climbs at Lower Chaos Canyon.

During this sloppy traverse, I learned a very important lesson about hiking boots: If you don’t wear your boots for years, then suddenly expect them to perform during a vigorous excursion, you may find yourself with rubber soles hanging limp from the body of your shoes. Admittedly, the last time I wore my hiking boots was about a decade ago during a hike up Mount Rainer, but I was still shocked to find the bottoms separated from the boot after leaping across a boulder. Thankfully, my buddy Rob had duct tape wrapped around his Nalgene, which we unraveled and used to haphazardly repair my shoes.

Finally, we complete our approach and made it to the bouldering area. To be honest, I wasn’t blown away by the quality of climbs in the area, although our lengthy hike in left us with little time to properly check out the crag. We stuck to the first section of routes, warmed up, noshed on beef jerky, and made the best of our remaining daylight.

The sun set sooner than anticipated, and we found ourselves rushed to make our way back to the Bear Lake trail head before darkness fell – and before the final shuttle departed. In a hurry, the return hike seemed to take only a fraction of the approach time. Even in the midst of our efforts to make it in time for the last shuttle, I managed to do what I do best: I made a sweet little chipmunk friend.

Road Trip America – Welcome to YOSEMITE, baby.

Every climber shares a united dream: climbing at Yosemite National Park in California. After ditching Moab a few days early due to relentless rain, our crew shifted gears and headed out to the land of El Capitain — with a new addition in tow, our new British buddy Paul, who traveled with us from the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Utah throughout our entire time spent in Yosemite.

We were a few weeks shy of the seasonal opening of the Tioga Pass, so we were forced to scoot north, then west before entering the park. From the moment you pass through the Ranger’s Entrance Station into the great land of Yosemite, there is a deep, undeniable connection to everything around you. The gushing Merced River, the curled baby fern blossoms, the snarky blue Stellar’s Jays that tended to cock their heads in apparent disapproval of everything we did.

Not a bad first impression, eh? As eager as we all were to get our hands on some Yosemite granite, we couldn’t help but pull off at a scenic overlook to admire the stunning valley. Check out iconic landmarks El Capitan and Half Dome off in the distance. Believe it or not, that group shot was entirely candid – Paul’s hand on hip and all. On our way back to the car I made friends with a little mammal buddy, who kindly posed for a few shots.

Whether you’re a climber, hiker, photographer, or simply enjoy the natural wonders that our country has to offer (and has graciously protected thanks to fellows like John Muir), Yosemite National Park is truly a destination that you absolutely must visit within your lifetime. My parents took me on a few weekend trips to the park while we lived in San Jose, California, and I regret not taking full advantage of my blessed situation. I could have been climbing these sweet spots a decade ago, instead my twelve year-old self complained all weekend about how I would have rather been hanging out with friends – ugh.

This trip, I vowed to make up for lost time and took full advantage of the park. We hiked, climbed, ate, conversed and explored our way through the valley for a week. All the important stops were made: splashing around Yosemite Falls, climbing and sleeping at Camp Four, spotting bears in meadows, traversing no-trespassing areas in Curry Village, spotting Half Dome, hiking to the base of El Capitan, bouldering in front of the Awhwanee Lodge – and everything was documented for your viewing pleasure.

I must have taken about a million shots of the waterfalls, but can you blame me? From hundreds of vantage points throughout the park, the falls kept peeking out from the treeline, just waiting to be photographed. I’ll share more when I give you a full post about wading through the frigid streams fed by the falls, but for now enjoy two photos from Curry Village. The first is of a dogwood blossom, which quickly became one of my favorite trees. The white ‘petals’ are actually modified leaves, which house the true tiny yellow flowers in the center. The second photo is just two ladybugs doin’ the dirty – couldn’t help myself.

There you have it: an introduction to Yosemite National Park. Didn’t get your fix of granite, creatures, climbing and nature? Fear not, this entire week will be filled with tales and photos from our time at Yosemite. Enjoy!

Road Trip America – Hiking and Exploring in Arches National Park in Utah

We awoke in Moab to a dreary day that promised a lack of good climbs, and plenty of rain. Refusing to waste an entire day because of the weather, our road trip crew decided to check out the nearby Arches National Park for some wet hiking.

We passed through the park gates, thanks to my wonderful National Parks Pass (thanks Dad!), and drove up winding roads past the throngs of cheesy tourists in rented RVs and tour buses. Our ultimate destination was Devil’s Garden. The beginning of the hike saw heavy spurts of rain, and I almost ran back to the car to tuck my camera away – thankfully I decided to keep it, because the rain quickly ended and left us with a day of sunshine.

The day’s explorations taught me a lesson in exertion. The hiking wasn’t anything too grueling, but my knee pains flared up with a vengeance and left me hobbling all over the rocks while the boys pranced around like children. There were multiple times I had to lag behind while the crew scampered up skinny slabs and clamored all over towering boulders. Not to mention my resurfacing fear of heights.

I can’t believe I had never visited this National Park before. It easily ranks as one of my favorite park visits, and I can’t wait to return with the rest of the Boue clan. There were easy trails with solid paths, slightly more challenging areas that required mild rock scrambles, and then the “primitive trails” with difficult hiking. Naturally, the boys insisted that we veer of the nice path in favor of the sand, sloped trails. My knee was screaming in agony, but the photos I snagged of the arches were worth the pain.

The arches were surprisingly difficult to photograph. They’re simply too large, too impressive to capture in a single snapshot. I really had to get creative to get good angles, and often times the desert landscape blocked my views. I was ultimately pretty pleased with the final shots, and will leave you with a cute photo of a lizard who wore beautiful Moab-style patterns on his skin.

Arches National Park is a fantastic destination if you’re in the Moab, Utah area. We spent the entire day exploring Devil’s Garden, and that was only the tip of the park’s iceberg. I’d love to return one day to discover everything else that Arches has to offer. My only complaint is the tourists, but after spending time in Yosemite, I’ve learned that tourists are simply a part of life in National Parks. You’ve just got to learn how to tune them out.

%d bloggers like this: