Fall Is Coming and My Self Talk is Improving

The temperature is dropping.  The aspens are yellowing.  The author is taking a rock snooze in the Indian Peaks.

Late Summer Thermo-regulating

It has been a full five years since I’ve experienced an actual transition into seasons.  When you live in the desert, the months range from blisteringly hot, to really nice, and finally it’s cold enough outside to notice our breath in the house… time to turn on the heat.  Cacti, while stunning in their own right, don’t present any aesthetic value when approaching dormancy.  An Ocotillo, for example, just ends up looking like a large grey stick.

Fall is undoubtedly perfect climbing weather here in Colorado.  In the past few weeks, I’ve had some terribly manic-depressive incidents with this sport.  The low point was a scary twisting-backwards-and-slamming-a-rock-bulge lead fall on the depressingly height dependent crux of a 5.8 (humbling, humbling).  For the next two weeks I was a total headcase and absolutely no fun at the gym.  Realizing that I was being crazy, my boyfriend forced me to take 8 separate lead falls at various distances from bolts.   I even took a whip while attempting to clip the anchors, which for whatever reason is the scariest.  My indoor leading abilities have been solid on most 10s, and I hope to push to a 10+ this week.  I’m still top-roping 11s with some success and plenty of profanity.

Yesterday we went to Clear Creek Canyon and I made the decision to put some of my psychological improvement to the test on the 3-star Lunch money.  I’ve only lead and redpointed a handful of 9s (mostly in Red Rocks, which barely qualify as 9s), and LM was my most ambitious lead at a 5.9+  I’m sure there are plenty of climbers who are similar to me in strength as I am (and of course the all of the ones who are much stronger) who can lead harder stuff outside, but for me the journey to feel comfortable on lead outdoors has been slow going.

Lunchmoney, a “brownpoint” courtesy of the 5.9+ upper flake region and getting scared near the roof pull, but an ascent and a first nonetheless! (photo courtesy of mountain project)

It would be terrific to say that I magically redpointed this climb, but I’m more proud of the fact that I finished it, didn’t panic too much, and spent some time down-climbing to find the correct sequences.  No official whippers, but I did take plenty at the crux.  This was also my first 100′ lead, and my belayer had to anchor into a fixie because we were standing on a 40′ ledge to begin with.  If I had testicles they would have receded significantly.

Instead of getting myself all worked up at the scary parts, I told myself over and over again that I was “a complete and total badass.”  It worked!    “NO, YOU ARE A BAMF. KEEP CLIMBING.  YOU GOT THE JUG.  HELL YES!  CORE STRENGTH FTW.”  At one point I think I tasted my own bile.  It was kind of awesome.

In the grand scheme of the climbing world, having a sloppy lead of a 5.9+ isn’t remotely impressive, but to me I feel like I am making progress.  In the end you’re only just going up rocks, right?





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Women’s Clothing is Ridiculous

My new school network (which is a truly amazing place for many reasons), has a much stricter dress code than where I taught Arizona.  I can no longer roll up to work with a pair of Tevas, faded JC penny dress pants, a cotton t-shirt, and hair that is only 40% brushed.  Camping/hiking a 14er didn’t pan out for this weekend, so I decided to go to the mall.  I know that every woman in the world struggles with finding clothing that fits well, but as a tiny person I encounter a few unique challenges that can be summed up in the following before and after sequence of photographs.

BEFORE: 5’2″ and ready for some serious fashion.

I’m short.  My limbs are short.  My ribcage and everything attached to it is tiny.   This all adds up to an inability to wear lots of fabric.  “Flowy” clothing makes me look like a pirate/homeless person hybrid who is simultaneously losing a battle with a drawstring garbage bag.  I saw a dress that I erroneously believed might be reasonable, but even in an XS, this is what happened:

AFTER: Drowning in serious fashion

Here I am, all set for an afternoon stroll to the Acropolis with the Kardashian family.  It may surprise you that I did not purchase this dress.  I wasn’t able to purchase much of anything.  For more scientific support of my plight, please see this website’s Top 7 Worst Things About Women’s Fashion.


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Leggo my Bento

School has started which means I’m busy putting in 10-12 hour days.  It’s a terrific way to spend my time, but it also means that I don’t get to work out every single day and have been indulging in the occasional absent-minded stress eating.  Three handfuls of skittles?  Don’t mind if I do.  3/4 of a caramel-stuffed of a chocolate bar?  That sounds like a terrifically irresponsible dessert.

In a fit of consumerist glee, I did manage to purchase one of these:

Behold the Bento!  Fruits, veggies, boiled egg, half of a peanut butter sandwich.

I never thought that shoveling cottage cheese into a small plastic container and then placing it into another slightly larger plastic container would be so satisfying!  When my boyfriend unexpectedly decides to eat most of a can of beans, I can save the remaining few  ounces and eat them for lunch.  What a magnificent system!  My lunches have been so healthy!  Another perk is that this encourages me to waste less food because I no longer have an excuse as to why all of the [insert random vegetable here] is not eaten and goes bad at the end of the week.  I can bento it!

You can buy your own here or at Whole Foods.  Not included: What to say when your friends and family make fun of you because you are obsessed with your lunchbox (and perhaps adorn it with stickers.)


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Mount Bierstadt

We began our second 14er of the season scouting for dispersed camping on Guanella pass road. There were a surprising number of clean, open spots so we settled in approximately 1 mile from the trail head. After a nice dinner of pasta and tuna, I curled up in a zero degree bag and slept without interruption! Given this, I can conclude that I have been wasting countless nights of camping in a measly 22 degree bag. The zero degree bag was floppy, average quality, and absolutely gigantic. I could have fit myself in there twice over and yet, I have never been warmer and less frantic about needing to go outside and pee at 3am. I was TOO WARM TO PEE. It was amazing. We (ok, mostly Colin) woke to a chilly 5:45am morning on the mountain. I burrito’ed around in my sleeping bag until coffee was ready. After a breakfast of our famous chocolate oatmeal (recipe: put chocolate in oatmeal, stir), we took down camp and drove up to the trailhead.

By 6:30, the area was packed with hikers and cars. In times like these, I have to actively squelch my judgmental tendencies — but seriously, who brings a Coach purse on a 14er? Conversely, does a 20-something really need a heart rate monitor? I guess it all works, even the group of Hiking Hipsters sporting jean cut-offs and coordinating flannel.

The hike is a short, steep 3 miles. After passing through the “very dangerous” high altitude willows (before there was a well marked trail, people kept getting lost and eaten by these plants), we crossed a creek and began the climb. I moved at my usual controlled, steady pace and passed a few groups, something which continues to amaze me. Colin moves very quickly uphill, so I had some time to myself to people watch. There were easily 300 people heading towards the summit that morning, and more like 700 heading up as we hiked back down About 3/4 mile from the summit, I hit a wall.  There was a lot of steep uphill to go and I was tired.  My feet were sweaty and swimming in my boots.  I didn’t bring extra socks.


Thankfully, I was able to reorganize my brain and pay attention to more important things.  There were dozens of super fluffy pikas collecting nesting materials and scurrying around the rocks.  They are the cutest.

Pika Butt

The summit push was a fun, short scramble and felt less exposed than the ridge hike on Massive.  There was no trail, but I was grateful to use my hands to scurry up.

Almost at the summit

About two and a half hours later, we officially hit the summit.  That means I climbed up over 1 mile/hour!  Not too shabby.

Laying next to the USGS medal.

We did it!

The summit and entire hike of Mt. Bierstadt is beautiful.  Aside from the view of Guanella pass parking lot, there is virtually no sign of human tinkering throughout the visible wilderness area.

Views of Torreys? Greys?

The more ambitious can combo Bierdstadt with the Sawtooth ridge and proceed onto Evans.  Exposed class III?  Yikes.  People die on this ridge every season.  I told Colin last night that it’s not as if I doubt my climbing or scrambling skills, I just have no desire to feel that amount of panic and anxiety.  I feel the same way about multi-pitch trad climbing, and jumping or rafting activities which combine angry-looking rocks and water.

Colin in front of the Saw Tooth

I hope we can fit one combo in before the end of the season.  Given that I haven’t done any 14er-specific training, it will most likely be Grays/Torreys in a couple of weekends.  I can’t believe that the summer is almost over.

Colorado: The Postcard State

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Top Rope Tough Guy, unrelated animal phobias

In the past week, I’ve climbed outside at Clear Creek Canyon and North Table Mountain — two predominantly sport climbing areas near Golden, CO.

The results have been highly enjoyable and stunningly recreational.  I am still many steps away from my lead goal of a 10b, though my actual climbing strength has been pretty decent.  I’ve been spoiled since there is always someone else around to lead 10s and above so I can just screw around in top rope.  Here’s how the climbing went:

Clear Creek: lead 5.8 (first outdoor lead in about 6 months), 8+,10a, failed miserably at the crux push of another 10a overhang.  The rock here is all gneiss with pretty decent holds.  Lots of pulling and reaching required.  I feel like I need to hit up more climbs in the area to make a better assessment of the place.

North Table Mountain, Brown Cloud: 5.7, 5.8, 5.9, 5.10b, 5.11a.  This crag is surprisingly challenging (sandbagged?).  The holds are all open-handed and requires a lot of body tension, jamming, and core strength.  I really enjoyed these climbs because none of them seemed particularly height dependent, and my open-hand strength is passable.  This area reminded me of Phoenix — everything’s brown, there are angry sharp plants, climbers were really low key, and we had to dodge baby rattlesnakes.

Admittedly, I’ve never seen a rattle snake at a crag, but Colin partially stepped on one in a canyon, and one of our hiking groups accidentally flung sticks at a coiled adult in a famous AZ riparian area.

Displeased baby rattlesnake, Page AZ

Spiders?  Snakes?  Parasitic worms?  These things are not remotely scary.  The three living things featured below are on the short list of things that legitimately frighten me in the wilderness.

1. Moose

If I looked this goofy, I’d be pissed off all the time

Why they are scary: I first learned of the terrors of the moose from Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.  If a moose charges you, you are screwed.  Moose are also prone to a particular species of brainworm that makes them even crankier.  I even once read a questionable statistic that Moose attacks are more frequent in Alaska than bear attacks due to the sheer number of the moose population.

2. Mountain Lion

250 pound of baby-eating terror

  Why they are scary: While reclusive, these predatory cats have been known to stalk toddlers and dogs along the trail.  Unlike most other animal attack suggestions “make loud noise/walk away slowly/play dead” the best advice anyone can give you during a mountain lion attack is to fight back.  Seriously?  Standing outside their cage at the zoo makes me hyperventilate.  They’re HUGE, they pace around menacingly, and given the horrendous habitat destruction occurring in the United States, I am sure they are very hungry.  Hungry for small humans.


3. Yucca


Guess who won.

Why they are scary:  The Sonoran desert has the angriest plants in the world.  Many of my favorite climbing places in Arizona are full of these monstrosities of the plant kingdom, and I have spent an alarming number of hikes fantasizing about what would happen if you fell on top of one of these devil plants.


The aptly named Spanish Bayonet

The worst thing you can do hiking in the desert is to wear shorts anywhere in the vicinity of a yucca species.  You will bleed profusely.  The yucca and related evil cactus species are one of the many reasons I am glad to live in Colorado.

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Mt. Massive, nailed it!

On Saturday at 11am, I stood at 14,421 feet.  Other than an airplane, this marked the highest elevation that I’ve ever been at, and I arrived there by hauling myself up some serious alpine tundra.

View of the summit

The full ascent up Massive is about 7 miles, so to break it up our group backpacked 3 miles in Friday night around 11,000 feet.  I didn’t sleep or eat particularly well, and I was cranky over how many times (4!) I had to fumble out of the tent to pee in the middle of the night.   Elevation is a doozy, and if not for the prescription-strength Alleve that I have take for shoulder tendinitis/impingement, I would have been feeling a lot worse.

We woke at 6am to a crisp forest morning, complete with an inedible pot full of oatmeal and instant coffee.  The idea of eating oatmeal is always way better than the reality, but I shoveled it down as best as I could.  Around 7:15 we began the hike, quickly reaching the tree line and making our way up some grassy switchbacks.  The climbing felt surprisingly easy; I expected the hike to feel like 4 miles of rock stairs, and aside from the ascent to the saddle portion, most of the grade was moderate to moderately-difficult.  We (well, mostly I) definitely slowed down to 1 mile per hour or less during the really steep parts.   The group was pretty speedy, but I managed to keep.

On the way, three fearless marmots guarded the ascent to the saddle via their rock fort.

One of our hiking partners commented that their fierce chirps sound like the beep a smoke detector makes when it needs a battery replacement.  There were various adorable rodents scurrying through all of the rocks, and I would have loved to oogle them but I was too busy forcing my stumptuous legs up the mountain and fantasizing about my well-earned dinner (veggie burger with goat cheese?  sweet potato fries?).

We summited Massive in about four hours.  I deliberately stood up on the rock to appear all tall and stuff.  Our friends’ adorable black lab accompanied us the entire way.  She’s super energetic and did a great job knocking me off balance during the hike.   There were tons of dogs on the summit, and I mentally high-fived a tiny little pug who looked exhausted.

Our group at the summit!

After hanging out at the summit to eat lunch (which was, admittedly, really hard to do because of the elevation), we headed back down Massive towards camp.  After the 10-mile day, I had a rocking blister on my big toe that needed a little love.  Just next to the trail head is a creek access and my boyfriend suggested that we all go down for a soak.  The water was freezing but felt great on my  sausage-ified fingers and toes.

Obligatory post-climb foot and ankle soak.  Still fantasizing about dinner.

While this climb was by no means easy, it was easier than I had imagined.  Massive is a mid-moderate ranked 14er, and I am excited to book some of the easier ones for the next few weekends.  If you would have told me four years ago that I would spend my weekend standing on top of the second highest peak in Colorado AND the third highest peak in the contiguous United States, I would have called you crazy and then would have lit up a cigarette.

Here’s to many more 14ers in the next few weeks of the season!

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Diamond Lake Day Hike

After spending the entire week feeling like a boogery, Pinterest-addicted blob, I was in need of some serious wilderness.  Not well enough to backpack, we drove a little over an hour to find dispersed camping near the Indian Peaks Wilderness.   Dispersed camping is quite its own beast for the following reasons:


  1. It’s completely free.
  2. The access to nearby trails is decent.
  3. Previous visitors have found and arranged some sweet sitting rocks.
  4. There are trees, animals, and it’s outside.


  1. Not all visitors follow Leave No Trace principles, and there are piles of trash everywhere.
  2. It’s loud.  There are no quiet hours, rangers, or people to tell your neighbors to stop your neighbors to stop screaming at each other.
  3. No facilities.  I’m completely fine with primitive camping, but some people have no idea how to poop in the woods without toilet-papering the foliage.

Free always wins in my book.  The next morning we attempted an semi-Apline (7am) wake-up, cooked some tofurkey sausage, and drove a bumpy 4 miles along 4th of July road to the trailhead.  The trail is a moderate 5.5 miles or so round trip and features some waterfall vistas, stream crossings, and squishy mud.  I managed the hike relatively unscathed except for jamming my already crummy right shoulder.  Still, I was pretty excited.

After about an hour and change, we ended up at the lake which was sun-lit and lovely.

Diamond Lake

We circuited the lake and located the glacial run off source.  Most importantly, though, we went pika hunting in the rocky outcrop on the opposite side of the lake.  I saw THREE pikas and basically died of happiness.  I managed to get one far away picture.

There are cat people.  There are dog people.  And then there is an even weirder subset of humans that are rodent people.  On the hike back I had a super cute squirrel traffic incident where, mouth stuffed with twigs and plants, the little guy was trying to cross the trail.  He kept giving me the stink eye and wouldn’t cross until I backed up several feet.

In the last mile of the hike, I spied the business end of a marmot zipping under the brush.  They’re the size of a cat and look like this, only usually less dapper.

Marmot courtesy of Wikipedia

This weekend will mark by first attempt at a 14er!  I hope I’m ready.


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