Baby Makes Three Dirtbags: A Family Climbing Trip, Part 1 of 4

Every year as the angle of the sun arcs lower in the sky, the air takes on a crisp quality, and the aspen leaves turn from green to golden fire, I start to feel a pull deep inside. An innate feeling that tells me its time to wrap up my loose ends, gather my gear, and head out on the road for the next climbing adventure before the winter season begins. For the past 14 years or so I’ve embarked on this rock climbing road trip—it has become an annual ritual of sorts. A time to send my personal projects and get some much-needed time climbing with my husband (who is my favorite climbing partner but equally as busy as I am guiding and working as a professional athlete for most of the year). This fall takes on even more significance, as my 13-month-old baby will be joining us on our annual pilgrimage. 

For those of us who don't have the benefits of a year-round salaried job, climbing trips like this are one of our “benefits.” So this goes out to all of us who work really hard nine months of the year, but find ourselves "laid off" during the off seasons, and to all of you who dream of your next big adventure and freedom of the road. Here’s to the beauty of the fall climbing road trip. Cheers!

The Fall Trip Part 1 of 4: Packing.

There’s an art to packing. It’s as much about bringing what you need as it is about leaving behind the extraneous. This sounds easier than it really is. I find myself thinking, Well what if it rains, and I actually need my Gore Tex as well as my lightweight wind shell? How cold is it getting at night—650- or 800-fill down? Or which stuffed animal should I bring for my baby girl, "teddy" or "bunny," or both? How about rock gear? Should we take a double or triple set of cams, you know that one Chuck Pratt off-width requires four #4s,  three #5s, and as many #6s as you can haul—wouldn't want to show up unprepared. We have to take a bouldering crash pad, too, since it doubles as a couch around the camp fire, and of course keeps me from breaking my ankles on the boulder problems. Don't forget the three pairs of rock shoes, one for trad and crack climbing, one for long sport routes, and one pair for super sporty boulder problems. Three ropes, 70m/9.2mm dry for rope stretching sport routes, 60m/9.2mm dry for your standard sport and trad routes, and 60m/8.7mm dry for alpine routes. Oh yes, and the cooler, food, stove, kitchen setup, hammock, water jugs, diapers, clothes, books (climbing guides and kids stories), sleeping bags, pads, tent, backpacks, coffee, beer and did I mention coffee?

Ideally we would be packing this into our brand new custom-built Sprinter van. However, no one was willing to sponsor us for the cool $120,000.00 it takes to own one of those babies, so we are very strategically packing all of this into our 2008 Subaru Outback wagon. I mean very strategically, like a puzzle.

After weeks of getting ready for the winter, two days of organizing and packing, and an hour of car packing Tetris, we are finally ready to get on the road. We live in Jackson, Wyo., and our first stop will be in Bishop, Calif., to access the incredible granite of the Eastern Sierra and the sporty Owen's River Gorge volcanic tuff. Cool, only 800 miles to go. I’ve always said, Jackson, would be even more perfect if Nevada wasn't in the way of that beautiful California stone. Alas, the Nevada crossing is a rite of passage to get to the climbing in the Eastern Sierras. 

Doing the math, baby can only last up to 3 hours at a time in the car. Total trip time without stops will take 15 hours to get to the Sierras. Account for baby and we’re looking at over 20 hours to get there. At least Nevada offers some quote-unquote prime layovers. Wells has some great "gentlemen's clubs," Ely offers up some really nice oil and gas boom culture, and Tonopah has an intriguing ghost town demeanor. And, of course, don't discount the myriad desolate, middle-of-nowhere, drought-ridden, "100 miles till next gas" areas that can also serve as a stopping point to stretch the legs. 

But I digress, it's time to get on the road. We’ll be checking in again with our next report live from the Eastern Sierras. Stay tuned.