Canada had become a safe and familiar place for us over the year we had been studying at Trent. We were about to leave all of that behind and cross the US border into Washington. After some initial confusion from not realizing that speed limits were now in miles per hour rather than kilometers – so people weren’t actually travelling almost twice the allowed speed all the time – we found that much of what we saw felt like it could fit into a Canadian landscape.
We didn’t have a route south planned out – for a couple days we just drove as far as we could towards Yosemite, our first US destination. Unfortunately that meant driving straight past a lot of places that we could have spent weeks exploring but we had the second date of the trip to keep as a week later we had arranged to meet friends in San Francisco.
We arrived in Yosemite Valley in darkness late at night and pitched our tents at the North Pines campground. We woke up as the sun entered the valley the next morning. Yosemite was a place that we had all seen pictures of before, we knew the names of the domes, some of the famous climbs, and we felt like we had a slight grasp of what Yosemite was. Actually we had no idea. That first morning, was spent in a state of incredulous awe, staring up at the enormous granite rockfaces that surrounded us in the valley on almost every side. Far more eloquent writers than us have written about the valley and it’s tempting to quote Muir or Adams but instead we would urge people: just go. We had all read the words and seen the pictures but neither went any way towards really preparing us for what we saw that morning.
Road trip. Two months. Five European friends across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver and through the States from San Francisco back to Toronto via as many cool places in between as we can find. We’ve used cities as way-markers but our interest is in the land we’ll travel through between them. Along the way we’ll pass through more National Parks than you can shake a stick at. Camp stoves, beaches, forests, mountains, waterfalls, adventures and waking up in a tent somewhere new every morning.
Introductions. We are Ciaran, Dian, Lara, Robbie and Sam – we’ve spent the year on exchange at Trent University but now exams are finished, school’s out and summer’s nearly here; time for a change of scene. You’ll get to know us along the way but for now:
Ciaran, 20, from England studies history – his most recent big adventure was climbing Africa’s highest peak, Mt Kilimanjaro.
Dian, 21 from the Netherlands studies psychology and is our most seasoned road-tripper – having driven all over Europe in what’s possibly the world’s tiniest two door hatchback.
Lara, 20, from Germany studies environmental sciences, we’re all convinced that if she’d been growing up in the 60’s she would have made a great hippie.
Robbie, 21, from Scotland studies archaeology and spent his childhood scrambling up the Munros of northwest Scotland.
Sam, 21, from Scotland studies astrophysics and spent last summer hitchhiking and walking around Iceland. Very rarely spotted not carrying at least one camera.
Osprey Athlete Payge McMahon is an adventure athlete, ‘rockin’ yogi’ and journalist who travels the world inspiring others to get outdoors, try new things and start checking off that bucket list.
2015 U.S.A. Adventure Recommendation
…and which Osprey Pack you should take!
I’ve backpacked all over the world and the JMT is my all time favorite!
Located in Northern California, this breathtaking trek takes you 221-miles, up and over 11 mountain passes, ranging from 9,703 ft. (Cathedral) to 14,496 (Mt. Whitney), for a total of 84,000 feet of elevation gains and losses.
If you’ve ever wanted to trek the Pacific Crest Trail, but thought the 2,650 miles was just a bit much, do the John Muir Trail instead! A 170 of the 221 miles are on the PCT and you will trek through the most beautiful national parks in the United States. From Yosemite Valley, the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wildernesses, Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Parks and up and over Mt. Whitney to Lone Pine, CA. Enjoy remote the wilderness from; rivers, blue lakes, waterfalls, forests, mountains, deer, marmots to the occasional bear – you will see it all.
The best time to go is from June – August. The trek is traditionally done in 14-21 days, and if preferred, can also be section hiked. Most start in Yosemite and go south, but if you want to get the hard elevation out of the way first, start in Lone Pine/Mt. Whitney and go north. Get your permits early, pack clothes for hot to freezing weather and plan your food wisely.
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It was 8:30 a.m. and I was totally destroyed physically and mentally. We had been climbing since 3 a.m. to beat the way-too-hot November sun and I had just finished pitch 28 of Free Rider, a 34 pitch free route up El Capitan’s southwest face. It was the last 5.12 pitch on the route, but that didn’t mean much. Up next was a steep 5.11, followed by an 11d finger crack which led into the notorious Scotty Burke off width, with another two 5.11- pitches and a gimme 5.6 to the top. Graded 10d, the Scotty Burke might be the biggest sandbag I have ever experienced. It took me four tries to figure out how to climb it on toprope, and when I got it, I was really fresh and rested. When I got to it on this day, it would be on my fourth day of climbing in a row, after sleeping on the wall for three nights. ‘Sleeping’ would be an overstatement. It was more like a few hours of napping over four days. Everything was taking its toll, and it all caught up right now.
Right now I was sitting on the Round Table Ledge, after completing a wild 5.12 traverse on the lip of the Salathe Headwall. To give you an idea of this position, imagine yourself doing a hand traverse on top of the empire state building… which is sitting on top of another empire state building. Ya, it’s that exposed. I was sleep deprived, bonking and exhausted. I screamed, battled and hung on with every last bit of juice I could muster up, as I had climbed every pitch without falling to this point, and I didn’t want to start failing now. Somehow I made it to the ledge, but that was pretty much the end of me. I managed to set up the belay, haul over our day pack, and get Jasmin to start following. She was sending the route to here as well, and I wasn’t about to give up on her yet.
What she found when she got to the belay was a shattered remnant of her husband and climbing partner. When you climb with your wife, there is no buffer or toughness on the surface that you might have with your friends, and before I knew it, I was crying. Granted, I cry more than most guys, I am a bit of a sensitive softie, but I had just sent the pitch, I was sending to here, yet I felt like I was about to fail. Years of dreaming about climbing this route, weeks of training and prep to get to this point in time and space, and I was crying, ready to throw in the towel. But that is what makes climbing so special; it’s a partner/team sport. When you can’t make it happen, sometimes your partner steps up. Jas took the reigns and shoved food and water down my throat, lots of food and water. A half hour later, while belaying her on an ‘easy’ 5.11 pitch, I started to come back to life. Calories, caffeine and H2O were going to my failing muscles, slowly rejuvenating them.
All I had to do was make it through the next two pitches, and the last three I could do no matter what. With no excess of power and strength, it all came down to technique and mental fortitude. That is what you should be doing anyway, but I guess there are lots of times when I climb ‘dumb’; pulling myself through moves and not climbing through them intelligently and efficiently. Well, there was no choice now.
Chimneying, jamming and finding stances, I somehow rested my way up the 150’ of crack climbing to get to the steep and exposed belay for the Scotty Burke OW. I grabbed the handful of cams I thought I would use, leaving behind all excess weight. I climbed smart and fast through the steep 11d crack to the no hands rest before the 10d off width. I took a long break and slowed things down. I tried to remember all the techniques I had learned climbing the world-feared/renowned Monster almost 1500’ below me. (The Monster is a 160’ 5.11 offwidth that repels/scares away a lot of climbers. I had onsighted it on the first day up the wall, after not really sleeping in anticipation of how hard it might be. Technique came through and somehow I waltzed it!). On top rope I had lay backed the hardest part of the Scotty Burke, but that was not going to happen today. I entered full grovel mode and dug in to the trench for 100 feet of full on warfare. Inch by inch I locked my heel-toe cams in, arm barred and crimped. No one could see me as you are around a roof, but everyone could hear me screaming away in the biggest battle of my climbing career. 100 feet to go to send El Cap… and on this day, technique and mental fortitude prevailed. I had never dug so deep in my life.
Getting up to the anchor with no more gear and slings, and sitting on the ledge in the sun, a wave of relaxation and contentment took over. Wow. Jasmin cruised the pitch behind me, and it was all but in the bag for both of us. Four years ago we had tried to do the route and failed. We had spent two weeks before launching up from the ground checking out all of the pitches on rappel and top rope and we were still not sure if we could do it. But there we were, three pitches from the top, and we were doing it. We each made it possible for each other, coming through when the other couldn’t, and now we were enjoying success together.
For 15 years I have been going to Yosemite, most of my climbing career. From my first hard multipitches (Astroman), my first multiday big wall (the nose, El Cap), my first one day big wall (the nose) to the crown jewel of my climbing dreams (Free Rider), it has been my proving grounds, and fuel for inspiration and memories, and this journey would be no different.
Just so the truth is out there: There were two pitches that both of us tried to lead and failed, the Teflon Corner and the 2nd Endurance Corner. We both tried multiple times, and could not send them on lead, but both managed to top rope them clean on our ascent. I know it’s not a perfect ascent, but I climb for myself, and I couldn’t be happier with what we managed to do with the time and energy we had at our disposal.
Free Rider, El Capitan, Grade VI, 5.12d, 34 pitches, 3,000’+. Climbed from November 1 to 6, 2012 with Jasmin Caton.
Climber Beth Rodden made the first ascent of what is likely Yosemite’s single hardest traditional pitch: Meltdown, a 70-foot 5.14 crack at Upper Cascade Falls. Beth lives near Yosemite and loves to bake in between climbs and travels.
I normally hide from the heat when climbing. I feel like a raisin when the temperature gets into the 90’s, shriveling up and withering away. But this summer, I was more than happy to stick around Yosemite. With a fairly empty park because of the Hantavirus scare, it was a nice time to enjoy the shadier, higher climbs that I rarely visit.
My neighbors had been suggesting Mt. Starr King to me for years, probably due to my constant state of injury. They thought surely the 5.0 dome would be gentle on my injury-prone body. Their thinking was brilliant and one sweltering hot weekend in September we set off on an adventure.
Yosemite. Just the name is enough to set an adventurer to day dreaming. It’s a place that stokes our inner fire, our wildness and gives us the escape we hunger for. For the climbers among us, Yosemite is our mecca. In last year’s story in National Geographic, photographer and climber Jimmy Chin said:
Visiting a Yosemite climbing camp today, you’re just as likely to meet a divorce attorney from Delaware as a wild-haired dirtbag. Walking through Camp 4 one morning, I hear a dozen languages-Czech, Chinese, Thai, Italian-and meet climbers from all walks of life. A young German engineer, grinning ear to ear, has just completed a five-day ascent of El Cap. A barefoot young woman from Denmark, with nose ring, dreads, a tattoo, walks a slackline-a tightrope strung three feet off the ground between trees. A mom and dad from Washington State teach their two kids how to climb. Rock climbing is no longer a fringe sport. It’s mainstream. And unlike the early years, there are nearly as many women as men on the rock…
Whether you’re a climber or not, it’s difficult to dream up a place more awe-inspiring than Yosemite National Park. In fact, it’s difficult to describe in words this special wild place. Yesterday our friends at prAna posted this incredible timelapse video on their Facebook wall. Do yourself a favor; grab your mug of coffee, sit back and watch…
I love climbing. I really do, and maybe that is why it frustrates me so (so so so) much sometimes. There is always another route, harder and longer, waiting to be done as soon as you clip the anchors on the last route you are still finishing. It is constantly motivating and driving me; and often times frustrating me. But in the end it is always inspiring and brings me to the most amazing places along side the most amazing people.