Tag Archives: rock climbing

An Ode to Nature

With the passing of Earth Day, we’ve become introspective, and our appreciation for this beautiful world around us has flourished. We look around and marvel at Mother Nature, and especially so as trees bloom and spring wraps us in its warm embrace. So here’s to you, Earth. This post’s for you and all that you do for us on our good days (and even the bad).

Mother Nature.

Mother Nature, you crazy beautiful. [Image: http://hdwallpaperbackgrounds.net/]

Thank you for supplying us with your far-reaching and entrancing beauty.

Some days when life feels difficult or a day just seems to drag on, the best medicine tends to be a trip outdoors. With the sun warming our faces, the rain patting us on the back, or the breeze gently encouraging us along, it’s easy to find some kind of calming reassurance outside.

Thank you for introducing us to plenty of fun creatures to look upon (but not touch!).

Bear mother and cubs.

Peek-a-boo. [Image: http://www.shanemcdermottphotography.com/]

The wildlife around us is astounding—look up, look down, look left, look right, and you’re sure to see something wriggling about. On top of all the glorious animals we come across in our travels, we also get to see plenty of breathtaking wildflowers and trees. Living, breathing, and with tops pointed up toward the sun, it’s easy to admire the magnificent flora covering our world.

Thank you for making it so easy to explore your seemingly endless acres.

Whether it’s by hiking to new heights, swimming to dark depths, camping out under the stars, climbing a mountain on two wheels, or scaling a rocky surface, there’s so many ways to explore in the great outdoors. If you see something that intrigues you, there’s probably a unique way that you can become acquainted with it.

Man swimming near underwater bench.

There’s much to discover out there. [Image: http://www.agapevoyage.com/]

With so much around us to take in, it feels like there’s really no reason to not spend every free moment outside! If you’re interested in helping to preserve this beautiful world of ours, look into volunteering opportunities in a state or national park near you. Then make sure you bring our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps with you to enhance your outdoor experience.

The National Park Service Centennial

Happy Birthday, National Park Service! We're a little early, but with spring's ebullient arrival, there's plenty of time to have our cake and eat it, too. [Image: www.pinterest.com]

Happy birthday, National Park Service! We’re a little early, but with spring’s ebullient arrival and all those mountains to see and trails to hike, we’ll need plenty of time to have our cake and eat it, too. [Image: www.pinterest.com/]

As avid parkgoers, you’ve probably heard that the National Parks Service is celebrating its 100th birthday on August 25 of this year. Since 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service, it has grown to serve over 300 million visitors annually. The various parks, historical sites, battlefields, and monuments have welcomed, taught, and tested generations of outdoors enthusiasts, natural historians, and students of all ages. It has expanded to preserve more than 50 million acres of wilderness and parkland, as well as some of the most recognizable features of the American landscape. And since there’s really no time like the present to get out and soak in some of that centenarian wisdom, here are a couple of parks highlighted for their age and relevance in bookending the NPS’s hundred year history.

The Very First Park

A picture of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone taken by one of the surveyors, William Henry Jackson, in 1871, before the park was in color--I mean, before the park was designated. [Image: nps.gov]

A picture of the Grand Canyon in Yellowstone taken by one of the surveyors, William Henry Jackson, in 1871 before the park was in color—err, before the park was designated. This image may well have served as evidence of Yellowstone’s immeasurable value as a publicly held and preserved resource. [Image: nps.gov/]

The oldest park run by the NPS is, of course, the unmistakable Yellowstone National Park. The area itself has been important to Native Americans for over 11,000 years, and the park as a federally managed entity predates the establishment of the NPS. In fact, Yellowstone was the first national park in the world when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the park into law with The Act of Dedication in 1872. The insistent lobbying of Ferdinand V. Hayden held that the park was an invaluable resource that should “be set aside for the pleasure and enjoyment of the people” rather than private development, due to the area’s vast richness and universal beauty.

Thankfully, the park today is still filled with all the grandeur and wonder that throws one’s sense of self into sharp relief. It feels good to feel so small, especially when confronted with the immensity of the earth’s many diverse facets.

A Great Divide

Grand Canyon National Park—which celebrated its own (97th!) birthday at the end of last month—is just about as iconic as it comes. At 277 river-miles long, one mile deep, and, in some places, 18 miles across, its colossal presence washes over the observer and vanishes beyond the horizon like a variegated adobe-hued, butte-waved ocean.

This space is objectively sacred, but never more sacred than to the American Indian tribes that have lineal claims to the area, such as the Paiute, Navajo, Havasupai, and Hualapai, to name a few. There are more than a dozen tribes whose forebears, the Ancestral Puebloan peoples, began settling in and around the Grand Canyon over 10,500 years ago. [Image: www.destination360.com]

The Grand Canyon is, well, grand. But it’s also deeply sacred to the distinct American Indian tribes who make, or once made, their homes along the canyon: the Navajo, Havasupai, Paiute, Zuni, Hualapai, and Hopi, to name just a few. The Hopi are believed to be descended from the Ancestral Puebloan peoples, who began settling in and around the Four Corners area and the Grand Canyon thousands of years ago. [Image: www.destination360.com/]

Since 1882, the U.S. government has largely wielded its control over the canyon by claiming it as a public space. In the intervening time, the parkland has been designated a game preserve, a national monument, and finally in 1919, the 17th U.S. National Park. The park is tremendously popular and sees around five million visitors annually, though few reach the bottom of the steep ravine. The centennial celebrations may prove to be interesting fodder at Grand Canyon National Park, as discussions around the planning of the Grand Canyon Escalade continue to play out. As the NPS enters its second century, the decisions made here will be very telling of the future it sees for itself. For now, the canyon stands as it has for time immemorial, with admittedly more amenities, hiking trails, and whitewater enthusiasts.


Torch-bearer because it is a beautiful testament to where we've been, and a good litmus for where we may be headed. [Image: wilderness.org]

Torchbearer, because it is a beautiful testament to where we’ve been and a good litmus for where we may be headed. [Image: wilderness.org/]

Although age is a curious barometer in the realm of timeless natural wonders, the “youngest” park managed by the NPS is Pinnacles National Park. Set aside by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 as Pinnacles National Monument, the park has grown over time and was renamed in 2013, though all the NPS locations are treated with equal status regardless of title.

The park’s craggy, cave-riddled landscape is the millennia-worn face of the extinct Neenach Volcano, which erupted over 23 million years ago. The volcano has been split in the intervening time by the San Andreas Fault, and its halves have moved 200 miles apart! The park is also the home of some hatched-in-captivity California condors and is a must-visit for rock climbers and hikers (outside of the summer months, of course).

The buzz about this 100th year isn’t about the NPS as much as it is about us as Americans, travelers, and lovers of the natural world. And the NPS, no doubt in recognition of that, is looking to hear your experiences and stories. Beyond the newest, oldest, most popular, or those with the most recognizable natural features, we celebrate the connection that each of us forms individually with our favorite parks, and with what the national and state parks strive to at once cultivate and preserve across the country.

If you’re planning (or would like to plan) a trip to a national or state park near you, you’ll find downloading your state’s Pocket Ranger® mobile app or the Pocket Ranger® National Parks Passport Guide is a great first step. With park overviews, maps, facilities, and activities at your fingertips, you’re sure to have terrific time!

Climbing At Indian Creek, Utah

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

Indian Creek Scenic View

Image: Michael Restivo

The dusty desert roads of Highway 131 meander through a sandstone landscape. Twisting through towering buttes, rusted red spires, and patches of spindly sagebrush and cacti, it comes to a stop in a sand-strewn campsite under the pinnacles of the Six Shooter Towers—the sisterly north and south columns. In the parking lot, Volkswagen minibuses and sprinter vans with half-constructed mountain bikes on the roof are home to a motley crew of climbers and adventurers who call this sprawling arid land home. Welcome to Indian Creek.

Indian Creek is divided by a series of mesas and is split by fissures that herald back to a time when all of Utah and Colorado were under a great ancient ocean. It was originally home of the Anasazi tribe, who left remnants of pottery, mud brick homes, and ornate petroglyphs on the orange walls.

In the 1970s, climbers started migrating to Southeast Utah, following the words of Edward Abbey and seeking an untamed paradise, which had been the playground of an elite few, such as Layton Kor and Eric Bjornstad. There were wild tales of buttresses over a hundred feet off the deck, split down the middle by cracks said to be just wide enough to cam a fingertip. If climbing in Yosemite was described as graceful and elegant, Indian Creek was like going to war. Brutal and often bloodying, it took climbing back to its primal roots.

Rock Climber at Indian Creek

Image: Michael Restivo

In 1976, a group of climbers out of Colorado, including Ed Webster and Earl Wiggins, drove into the Creek with only scarce knowledge of a hand crack they’d seen on a previous trip that was near perfect in symmetry and broken only by a small roof. Armed only with a rack of hexes and rudimentary nuts, Wiggins slotted his hands into the flake, twisted his foot into the crack, and stepped off to change desert climbing forever. In this era, crack climbing was on the obscure and fringe side of climbing. Nobody knew if hexes and nuts would catch the soft, crumbling sandstone if one were to fall. Not wanting to risk finding out the consequences, Wiggins led the first 100-feet of the three pitch route without stopping, gruelingly jamming his hands and using only his weight to find a secure stance where he could place another piece. Placing the anchor, he brought up Webster, and by the end of the day, the two were at the top of the buttress that was originally known as “Luxury Liner,” and then became “Supercrack” (5.10).

Crack Climber at Indian Creek

Image: Michael Restivo

After Webster and Wiggins’ groundbreaking ascent, Indian Creek became a hotbed for desert crack climbing. With the development of spring-loaded cams in the late 70s and early 80s and the publication of Bjornstad’s guidebook, climbers flooded Southeastern Utah looking for first ascents across the canyon.

Climbing at the Creek involves an average route grade of 5.10+ all the way to test pieces of 5.14. From inverted finger cracks to burly off-widths, the style of climbing is muscular and bruising, typically resulting in strands of bloody athletic tape coming off chafed hands. Still, finding rhythm in the chaos results in an elegant ascent following a pattern of precise finger and foot placements. It’s further characterized by the characters who are here all year long—from the snow-covered desert winters to the scorching summer days—and the Burning Man-like annual pilgrimage that’s known as “Creeksgiving” in November.

Like Yosemite, the history of climbing in Indian Creek is much a part of its heritage. It’s the story of counter-cultural rebels who found their way in the desert simply because they had heard of the unclimbed. There are so many cracks and walls across this spectacular landscape that many are still unnamed. There are potential pocket areas still awaiting first ascents. For those who revel in the thrill of long, exposed, scary, and burly climbing, this little corner of the Southwest is calling out.

Rock Climb at Foster Falls Recreation Area

Contributed by Justin Fricke of The Weekend Warrior

Finding an outdoor climbing spot in the southeast is tough to do when the warm and humid, summer air starts rolling through the region in April. Lots of places become overgrown with Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, the holds get slimy, insect swarms are inevitable, and it’s so flippin’ hot. What’s a southeast climber with a hankering to climb some real rock to do, aside from head out west?

Go climb at Foster Falls Recreation Area.

Foster Falls is located about 30 minutes to the west of Downtown Chattanooga, TN, giving climbers the choice to pay $17/night to camp on-site or find a cheap place to stay in Chattanooga and make that daily commute to climb. If climbers choose to camp onsite, they’ll be welcomed with clean bathrooms, a water spigot, and spacious campsites with a fire ring at each site. Just park your car at an open site and the land manager will cruise by in her golf cart to pick up your camp fee.

Be aware that weekends, especially holiday weekends, bring big crowds that are sometimes just looking to camp. If all the camp sites at Foster Falls are occupied, climbers can camp offsite at the Nickajack Lake Campground or park their car at the Foster Falls parking lot and hike their gear to the primitive sites just down the trail, after getting an access pass from the land manager.

Even though the days can get warm, the tall trees provide plenty of shade around the campsites and climbing walls. Climbers can expect temperatures to comfortably dip into the 50’s at night, making for perfect tent camping and hammock camping weather.

There are two trails that climbers can take from the Foster Falls campsite. The first one is just off the observation trail and provides easy access to the climbing walls nearest the waterfall. The trail becomes more technical and requires some precise foot placement the further climbers go, until it evens out towards the back climbing walls.

The other trail is gentler and takes climbers around the waterfall and eventually intersects with the trail that’ll take climbers to the primitive campsites. There are two distinct trail markings that’ll take climbers down to the climbing areas. While this trail’s gentler, it also takes twice as long (30 minutes) to get to the climbing areas.

Three my favorite climbs that I try to hit every time I go to Foster Falls are: Gravity Boots 5.7, Jacob’s Ladder 5.8, and Premarital Drilling 5.10.

I like to start my climbing day off with Gravity Boots. It’s a slab route with great holds and great feet the whole way. This route’s right near the trails and it’s a great route for a beginning climber to gain some confidence.

On a climb at Foster Falls Recreation Area

Climbing at Gravity Boots [Image Credit: Justin Fricke]

From Gravity Boots, I’ll start making my way towards the back of the climbing area and take a lap on Jacob’s Ladder. This is a longer single pitch that finishes out at 80 feet of climbing. A stick clip would be helpful to start this route since the first bolt’s at least 20 feet off the ground. Halfway up the route climbers pass by some climbing history, a big piton wedged into the rock. Whatever you do, look, don’t touch or use that piton.

Whenever I climb at Foster Falls Recreation Area, I like to end my day by climbing Premarital Drilling. This route’s close to the waterfall and has some great holds for a 5.10. The first few moves are by far the crux, since climbers start the route by heel hooking their first move up to a decent hold, followed by a mantle before pulling a jug of a flake the rest of the way to the finish.

Climbing Premarital Drilling at Foster Falls Recreation Area

Climbing Premarital Drilling [Image Credit: Justin Fricke]

Shorter climbers will probably need to stack some loose boulders on each other to be able to reach the start holds. Stick clipping the first bold on this route will also put a lot of climbers minds at ease.

Before heading back to camp for dinner, I always find it relaxing to cool off at the bottom of the waterfall. Anyone can jump into the cold mountain water for a quick swim, but the real fun starts behind the waterfall. Swim to the bank to the right of the waterfall and start climbing your way behind the waterfall. It gets loud really fast and the holds disappear. I like to jump for, what I think’s going to be, a huge hold, only to plunge into the water from about 10 feet up.

climbing at Foster Falls Recreation Area

When you climb at Foster Falls Recreation Area, don’t miss out on taking a dip in the waterfall!

Foster Falls has climbing for all skill levels from beginning to seasoned climbers. With grades from 5.5 to 5.13+ with the real fun starting with 5.10 graded routes. Any sport climber in the southeast is bound to have some fun climbing at Foster Falls during the summer months.

Inspecting Climbing Gear

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

As a climber, I rely on the working condition of my equipment. I need to know that my harness will catch me in a fall, that the rope will hold tightly, and that my draws will be able to capture my weight.

Climbing gear, like any other piece of equipment shows wear over time. As the winter turns to spring, the walls start to dry, and climbers start heading out. Before climbing, however, it is crucial to inspect climbing gear and make sure that they are in proper and safe working order. Inspecting climbing gear is a thorough and detailed task that requires your utmost attention. It could be the seams that hold a harness together, the discoloration of equipment that’s been used too long, or the frays and softening of a rope that may lead to death or injury. In many cases, checking on the status of your climbing gear will ensure safety on the wall.

climbing gear harness

The buckles of the harness

belay loop

Looking at the micro-stitching on the inside of the belay loop.


The harness is a piece of gear that should be regularly and rigorously checked. Harnesses are built of tough nylon and use micro stitching to keep them lightweight yet durable. It keeps the climber tethered and should be looked at before every ascent. First of all, it’s important to store it properly. When storing a harness or a rope, keep it in a dark place, away from sunlight, and always separate from any acids or chemicals that could eat away at the fabric. Light could discolor and soften the nylon and it should be stowed at room temperature as extreme hot or cold could weaken the stitching. One of the most crucial points to inspect is the tie in point and the belay loop. Keep an eye out for any fraying, cuts, or abrasions in the fabric. Make sure that the metal that makes up the buckle hasn’t been bent or warped, and that the waist belt securely locks. If there is any doubt in the condition of a harness, it must be retired and replaced immediately.

climbing rope


The climbing rope is the lifeline that keeps the climber affixed to the wall. The rope can be tricky to inspect and it’s very important to be detail oriented both visually and manually. The first sign to look for is abrasions and fraying. Climbing ropes are made up of tight fibrous weaves around a central core. Any sections with considerable strands coming out of place represents an area where the core has weakened, and here the rope can lose a majority of its strength. Look for discoloration or points where the line might have pulled harder than usual on more than one occasion.

After the visual inspection, run your hands along the length and be on the lookout for sections where the fibers have become soft, mushy, or flat. This indicates a section where the core has deteriorated tremendously and would not be able to hold in the event of a fall. Other signs to look for are areas that may have been cut, or deep nicks between the fibers.


The gate of the caribiner should move smoothly and close securely



The inside of the caribiner showing where the rope runs though

Caribiners and Quickdraws 

Locking caribiners and quickdraws serve every purpose such as locking the belay rope into place and giving the climber protection as they ascend the wall. When inspecting the locking caribiner, especially one that has been used for a long time, there are three important areas to inspect: The first is the locking gate. It should be pressed shut to ensure that it seals and doesn’t open. The second is the gate bolts, which should be sturdy with no moving or “jiggling” of the gate. The third is the metal body that over time becomes worn down due to the constant sliding of the rope. With quickdraws, the same rules apply, however it is also crucial to inspect the fabric that runs between each caribiner as if inspecting a rope. Make sure that the caribiners are properly fed through the connector with a rubber stopper and that they are sturdily set on each side. Do not use caribiners that show signs of rust, loose bolts, or deteriorating nylon. Use this same method of inspection when looking over nylon slings and runners.


When inspecting a climbing helmet, be aware of any serious dents or structural damage that weakens the plastic shell and offers less protection against impact. The chinstrap should continue to hold tightly and the foam should not be cracked or visibly damaged. It should continue to have a snug fit and all parts should be stable and in place.

The general rule for inspecting gear is if it has taken a serious fall, it should be retired and replaced immediately. Harnesses and ropes are not constructed to take continuous large falls and helmets are not meant for constant abuse. Gear should be stored properly and away from any materials that may harm it. Any damage, even if appearing minor could be serious and by checking equipment thoroughly and often, they will promise years of safe use.


Beginner Tips for Ice Climbing

Contributed by Katie Levy, Adventure-Inspired

In the most basic sense, ice climbing is the act of ascending frozen waterfalls or rock slabs covered in ice while wearing a harness and using ropes. It’s also, in my humble opinion, one of the coolest sports there is. It’s a great chance to expand your perspective of the vertical world if you’re a rock climber, or to try something new in the winter! Here are some beginner tips for ice climbing to get you started.

Ice Climbing

What Clothing and Equipment to Bring

Cold weather is a good thing for ice climbers; the ice needs to stay frozen! If you’re headed out to climb with a guiding company, they’ll have a clothing and equipment list for you. They’ll also likely help with rental equipment, including ice tools, crampons, helmets, harnesses, carabiners and more. Most importantly, make sure you have a clothing system that will keep you warm (but not enough to sweat) yet will still allow for movement. It’s also important to have a heavy insulated layer, like a down jacket, to wear when you’re not climbing. Even if you’re only standing around for a little while, you’ll get cold fast. Sunglasses or other eye protection, a first aid kit, headlamp, lip protectant and a camera are a few other things I always have with me.

Food and Drink Tips

Bring snacks you’ll be able to eat when they’re cold and when you’re cold. Things like sandwiches, Larabars, dried fruit, and even chips and guacamole are great options. I’m also a fan of bringing a mug full of soup in addition to hot tea or cocoa. I often forget to drink water when I’m out in the cold, but if I’ve got tea, it’s easier to stay hydrated. A piece of advice based on experience: keep all batteries and a few snacks in your pockets until you need them.

Communication and Safety Tips

Ice climbing is a risky sport, but there are a number of things you can do to reduce the chances of accidents and injuries. Though this list isn’t exhaustive, a few key pieces of advice:

Even if you’ve climbed before, do all basic safety checks every time. Complacency is dangerous! Always be aware of your surroundings. Ice is impermanent and the act of climbing means stray pieces will fly off. Put your helmet on at the beginning of the day, even in the parking lot, and don’t take it off.

Make sure you know what to do if you’re climbing and a large chunk of ice breaks loose. On a recent trip, my friends and I used the “beer can rule”; if a piece larger than a beer can chips off, the climber yells “ice!” as loudly as possible. I’ve seen climbers drop tools before, as well.

Don’t kick the rope in half with your crampons, step on it, or stab it with your ice tools. Sharp things and ropes don’t mix. Be aware of your gear at all times.

For more tips, check with your guide or friends with experience.

Ice Climbing Tips

Two Key Technique Tips

As with rock climbing, being efficient means you’re less likely to fall and you won’t fatigue as quickly. If you’re climbing with a guide or experienced friends, they’ll be able to help with advice, but in general, there are two things I always try to focus on:

Keep your heels down once you’ve got the front points of your crampons into the ice. Kick in, trust yourself and stand up. You only need a centimeter or two of the front points in the ice. Wiggling your feet around will cause your crampons to dislodge.

Pick a spot to hit with your ice tools at and try to be as accurate as possible. Swing the ice tools from your elbows and flick your wrists when you’re placing your tools. You don’t need to swing too hard; remember, you only need a centimeter or two of the tip of the pick in the ice to be able to hang from it. Swinging too much can damage the ice, and ice is a valuable commodity.Ice Climbers

Doggone It: Three Four-Legged Adventurers We Love

Many moons ago we offered up advice for taking your pawed pals out on the trails, and since then we’ve been hearing more and more tales of hiking pups and the impressive feats they’ve achieved with their owners. Just as we look to nature for daily inspiration, we often find strength and motivation in the lives of our animal friends. In addition to offering loyal companionship, these four-legged travelers keep us going when the trek gets rough, and teach us a valuable lesson about overcoming physical and mental obstacles.

Image: www.gotothemountains.wordpress.com

Image: www.gotothemountains.wordpress.com

Here we have three amazing animals to inspire your outdoor adventures, because after all, if our furry friends can do it, you can too!


Image: www.emsexploration.com

Image: www.emsexploration.com

At the tender age of 5 (human!) years old, this New Hampshire pup has completed a majority of the state’s 4,000-foot trails, including the Wildcat Ridge Trail, a portion of the Appalachian Trail known for its rocky terrain and steep inclines. Willow’s owner and hiking companion, Ben Cargillon, says that the hardest part of touring the country is leaving her behind, so bringing her along for the trek only seems right.


Image: www.blog.sfgate.com

Image: www.blog.sfgate.com

California hiking duo Diane Castañaon and John Forsyth will never think twice about bringing their dog along on treks again, after the 13-month Anatolian Shepherd saved Diane from a potentially deadly rattlesnake attack last month. Luckily for the couple, Shakira spotted the venomous snake on the path before they did, and went into instant defense mode. This pro pooch stood erect and alert between her owners and the predator, without unleashing a single bark or growl to set the snake into motion. Shakira’s calm and cautious actions allowed John and Diane the time to react smartly, and they were able to scare the rattler off the path with a few small stones. Had it not been for their heroic companion, Diane would’ve most likely stepped on the snake or provoked it as she passed it by, either of which would’ve likely incited an attack. While rattlesnake venom poses an even higher threat to dogs, their impressive ability to keep calm when it counts makes them heroes in our book.


Image: www.metroactive.com

Image: www.metroactive.com

Like most dogs her size, Biscuit has a lot of pent-up energy that can be a bit overwhelming when released in a domestic setting. Luckily for this Jack Russell terrier, her owner is an outdoor enthusiast who doesn’t mind bringing this energetic pooch along on his adventures through the wilderness. The challenging and often dangerous sport of rock climbing has proven to be an excellent outlet for Biscuit’s excess energy and provides unbeatable companionship for her owner. Biscuit is described as being “all muscle and attitude”, and her small frame and need for speed make tackling some of the most challenging boulders a breeze for this tiny pup.