Tag Archives: nature

Where am I now? Crushin’ rock at Red River Gorge in Kentucky!

Greetings, from a nearly empty Panera Bread in a very, very small town outside of Lexington, Kentucky. After a day of driving that began at 5:00 AM, I’m taking a dinnertime break to co-host the weekly ATQA Adventure Travel chat – and update my lovely readers on my ever-changing whereabouts.

As all my hype on Twitter and Facebook has given away, I am beginning a week-long adventure to Red River Gorge near Slade, Kentucky. Armed with a guidebook, my trusty La Sportiva climbing shoes, and all the appropriate gear, I’m finally putting my endurance training to the test with a crush-fest at this iconic crag. I’m joined by my wonderful co-pilot (in travel and life), Niko, and the owner of Tally Rock Gym, Rich.

Never been to the glorious sandstone wonderland that is Red River Gorge? Give yourself a taste of the adventure with this great video I found while pouring over every bit of Red River Gorge information I could get my hands on prior to the trip:

I’ve got my eye on more routes than I’ll ever be able to tackle in just a week, but my most beloved project is Amarillo Sunset, a gorgeous 5.11b that is calling my name. I’ll be shacked up at a campsite with wi-fi since I’m not taking any time off work for this trip (LivingSocial, I love you for giving me a job that lets me work while on climbing trips!) – so stay tuned for updates live from Red River Gorge!

For now, enjoy this shot of Amarillo Sunset, compliments of Ben Cassedy, who submitted this photo to the Mountain Project collection. Seriously, how could anyone NOT want to get their hands all sweaty and chalky on this beautiful line?

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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.

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!

A sandy walk up the Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley National Park

For my non-Twitter readers (wait, seriously, you don’t have a Twitter?), #FriFotos is a weekly themed collaborative hashtag where travelers contribute their best and favorite photos. This week’s theme is ‘sand,’ and while I’ve got thousands of pictures from the sandy beaches of my homestate, Florida, I thought it would be more exciting to share my brief recent experience at Death Valley National Park.

Niko and I made a short visit to Death Valley National Park on our way out of California. After weeks of San Francisco diners, mountain cabin retreats in Willits, and meeting the largest trees on earth at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, we jetted off towards Las Vegas for an evening of luxury – if you can count the Excalibur as luxurious. Niko had never been this far west before, so it was a treat to shuttle him around California, spewing out factoids and acting like I was a seasoned west coast traveler.

We stopped by the first ranger station to ‘register’ our car using my annual National Parks pass, and picked up a map to scope out what natural attractions we could stop by on our way towards Las Vegas. The only thing that wasn’t miles out of the way were the Mesquite Dune Flats, so we navigated our way through the desert towards them.

You really can’t miss ’em.


Niko will be proud to hear me finally admit that I was a total brat during our visit to the dunes. Hot, bothered, and suffering from a desperate case of the munchies, I was a huge downer while Niko happily tromped through the sand. He pleaded with me to take a picture standing in the dunes (the top photo), and I was a major wench about it, miserably dragging my sandaled feet across the piping hot sand and faking a smile – but hey, it turned out pretty well in the end.

While I was wallowing in a pity-party about my lack of snacks, Niko ignored my blues and went for a little romp in the dunes. It was undeniably anti-climactic, but he insisted on jumping off one of the dunes into the sand. His failed attempt at an epic moment definitely quelled my negativity a bit – even though he inevitably tracked heaps of sand into the car afterwards.

Next time we head through the west, I’d like to spend much more time exploring Death Valley National Park. During my first visit to Death Valley, I was driving across the country with my entire family after a year of living in San Jose, California. The hottest temperature we recorded was a sweltering 123 degrees, and naturally, our van’s air-conditioning died in the middle of the desert. Literally everything we owned melted, from my mother’s red lipstick to my stick of deodorant. It was an adventure to remember, and one I’d totally love to relive.

Taking a hike to meet the largest trees on earth at Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park

There are few things that make me happier than being able to use my annual National Parks pass, so when Niko and I were heading down through California on our way back to the east coast, stopping by Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park felt like a no-brainer. Plus, after a wonderful weekend spent exploring in the woods of Willits, California, we were certainly channeling the spirit of outdoor appreciation.

Departing from the bay area, we hauled south towards Fresno until night fell and forced us to find somewhere to spend the evening. After driving into veritable wilderness, we pulled over at a mountain turnout in Squaw Valley and hit the hay – but not before encountering the largest bat I have ever witnessed. It had an unbelievable wingspan; I can still picture it swooping over the hood of our car as we navigated up the mountainside.

We spent the evening comfortably along the road, woke up the next morning to a breakfast of cheese sticks and chocolate milk, and then headed into the parks. We entered Kings Canyon National Park through the Grant Grove area, and made our first stop to hike towards General Grant. As we followed the easy trail towards the towering tree, we paused to pose in hollowed out sequoia stumps, and were tempted by signs that told us “do not climb trees.” (We’d never disrespect nature, but anytime I’m told not to climb something, I feel a slight itch to defiant.)

General Grant is over 3,000 years old, and boasts status as the second largest sequoia tree in the world. To be honest, we were impressed by every giant we encountered along the way; it seemed it would have been impossible to determine which of them was truly the biggest without the assistance of park signage and plaques. They were all beautiful.


Did you know? The General Grant Tree was declared as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” by President Calvin Coolidge. To keep with tradition, the park holds annual Christmas serves at the base of the tree.

After scoping out our first giant sequoia, we journeyed further into the park, and seamlessly transitioned into Sequoia National Park. We pulled over on the side of one of the roads to go play in a snow patch; Niko had never actually touched snow before, so we made his first little snowman and threw a few snowballs at each other. Satisfied after stuffing my face with a tasty, fresh snowball, we clamored back into the car and continued exploring the park.
Driving along General’s Highway, we made our way past Stony Creek Village, Lost Grove, and the Lodgepole Visitor Center before finally reaching the main attraction: General Sherman.

An impressive feat of natural wonder from the moment you lay eyes upon this robust, barky creation, General Sherman is the largest tree in the entire world – perhaps not the tallest, nor the widest, but indisputably the largest tree by volume (52,508 cubic feet, to be exact). The incredible plant dwarfed tourists as they approached the wooden barrier to snap photos of themselves. Luckily for Niko and I, there were plenty of other couples eager to trade camera duty to snap a shot in front of the General.

Standing near the tree was a truly humbling experience. I have always been such an admirer of trees for their wisdom and age, so being in the company of General Sherman and General Grant was a beautiful way to reflect on both the tininess of my own body, and the timelessness of the outdoors. These trees have seen generations come and go, they have remained steadfast in their place while countless fans flocked towards their roots to lay eyes upon their majesty. They’ve survived fires, droughts, destructive storms, and even the abuses of humanity.

After a starry-eyed hike back up to the parking area, Niko and I headed towards the park exit in awe of the enormous creatures we had just met. In the true spirit of being fully encompassed by the wilderness around us, our GPS failed to function, and we resorted to attempting to find the exit ‘with our gut feelings.’

Two wrong turns and a sketchy u-turn later, we found ourselves queued in a long line of vehicles. Roadside construction forced the main road out towards Three Rivers to be converted into a one-lane, one-way path. Our caravan patiently waiting for a pilot car to guide us, then slowly ascended down the steep mountain towards Lake Kaweah.

I spent the rest of the week dreaming of trees.

A perfectly wild, perfectly simple mountain cabin retreat in Willits, California

Up into the mountainside surrounding Willits, California, down a winding dirt road, and past a skinny wooden welcome sign, sits a trio of charming cabins amid a veritable slice of American wilderness.

Welcome to Still Mountain Retreat.

But I digress.

During my trip across America with Niko, we stopped in my old California stomping grounds in San Jose to visit a few climbing buddies. We only planned to stay a day or two, but after being invited to join our cohorts for a weekend escape up into the mountains, we quickly agreed to alter our agenda.

Our evening drive up to the cabins took us past throngs of bay area traffic, up beyond the wine-laden land of Sonoma, and into the most wonderful nook of paradise. The Still Mountain Retreat property is an expansive sprawl of thick trees, mossy rocks, and grassy fields – all of which are intersected by a gushing river. I can’t say I know too many people who can boast having a waterfall on their property.


Immediately upon arrival, we were treated with two creature encounters. Despite misting rain, we explored the area a bit, and quickly found ourselves gazing upon a young doe resting alone in the grass along the muddy path we were walking. No more than a few weeks old, this infant deer made my heart flutter with adoration. Not wanting to disturb her, we carried on and were soon enthralled by the sight of a fuzzy little vole. I instantly knew that this mountainous retreat was the place for me.

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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.

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