Log Entry 10 – Matt

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Wednesday evening I met Matt. In the parking lot at Wrinkled Rock, he approached me and asked if I wanted to climb. Well, it wasn’t that simple. His French accent was fairly thick. But after a couple of tries, I got the message and said I would love to climb.


First I needed to eat supper though. I found some eggs and was trying to light my stove, but it had been giving me some trouble lately and finally decided to quit. Clogged fuel line I think. Matt brought out his stove and then dinner was on its way.

Matt is an extremely generous person. Not only did he let me use his stove, but when it came time to climb he gave me a chalk bag. He said he brought two with him and he really didn’t need it. The gift was very much appreciated.


Not only was he generous with his possessions, but he gave freely of his time. Being from the French Alps, he was a very experienced climber having done 5.12-5.13 routes. But he was happy doing 5.7-8 routes with me. His perspective was any time spent climbing rocks was a good time. He also said that if you are not relaxed and having fun, you shouldn’t be climbing.


Matt also had some big goals. He was riding his bike from Montreal down to Argentina. When I asked him why, he said, “For the travel and adventure.” He was already two months in and had set aside two years for the journey.

As he pedaled away, I was sad wondering if I would ever see him again, but glad for him to live his own adventure.



Log Entry 9 – Mt Rushmore

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Today as Matt and I were getting ready to climb, we started to talk with a father camping with his daughter. We found out that Nicole had always wanted to climb, so we invited her to come with us. Chris, her father, is not fond of heights, but told her she could climb if she promised to be careful.


After watching a couple climbs, Nicole was ready to go for her first climb. Dirty Ernie was the routes name. It was a 5.7 that followed a flake crack. Wearing Matt’s shoes and my harness, she worked her way up to the top. For this being her first climb, I was very impressed.


The weather looked like it could turn foul at any time, but we continued to climb. Doing routes 5.6-5.8 Matt or I would lead, Nicole would follow on toprope, and one of us would climb to clean the anchors. Not wanting to waste any of the climbable weather, we didn’t stop for lunch until two. Chris faithfully kept us supplied with snacks and orange juice and prepared lunch once we were ready. Even though climbing wasn’t his interest, he cared about it because it mattered to one he loved.


Even though Matt was a far better climber than Nicole or myself, he patiently did routes below his level. He did end up doing one route that was particularly challenging though: a 90 foot 5.11+ called Xenophenia. Falling a number of times at the cruxy last two bolts, Matt stayed determined and found the path to the top. Neither Nicole or myself were interested in attempting this challenge.

We ended the day on a short 5.6 that followed an arete. To reach the start, a short class 4 scramble was needed and the first bolt was about half way up the route. To the right was a deep and narrow crevasse that would not be fun to fall into. Even though the route was well below my limit, I was glad to reach that first bolt. Nicole followed and Matt came through last. We reached the end of our climbing day at eight o’clock.



Log Entry 8 – Mt Rushmore

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Last night as I was falling asleep, it started to rain and the wind picked up. One corner of my rain fly came undone. I replaced the stake and put a log on it to hold it down. The wind took it up a notch and I couldn’t even hold the tarp with my hands. Now completely soaked, I tried to find my way to the car. It was only a couple hundred feet, but the rain was so intense I couldn’t see anything. Eventually I found the car and finished the night cold and wet.

Last night was a rough and today was nothing like expected. But today was awesome nonetheless.

I was getting ready to go climbing with Margery (since we only got lost yesterday), but received a text that she threw out her back. So no climbing partner for today. At first I was discouraged and thought about just chilling in the hammock. Instead I went to Custer State Park and drove down the Needle Highway.


Beautiful sights continued to appear around each bend. I scrambled some rocks and took some pictures. It is no wonder the Native Americans said the Black Hills were the birthplace of humanity. As the needles and spires fade into lower lands, I stopped to make lunch and take in the view.


Once back at camp, I started working on editing photos and writing (this blog doesn’t write itself). A Frenchman came up to my car and asked if I wanted to go climbing. After cooking dinner together, we set off into the South Seas climbing area. We of course got lost. But after going around in circles a couple times, Matt spotted the rock formation we were going for. As we were climbing, another man and his dog came by to watch. He also was a climber.

He told us about a couple of his favorite routes in the area and led us to them. After a nice 5.8, he led us to an 10+/11-. Matt being the better climber took the lead. He took a couple of falls, but sent the route. I tried to follow on toprope, but the grade was significantly harder than what I climb. Matt and Tim were very patient and extremely helpful in giving tips and teaching me technique. Eventually I made it to the top.


With the night approaching, we had time to do one more route. Matt lead up a nice looking route, but the lack of light made it fairly difficult. Tim scrambled up the back side to shine the light from his cell phone down the route. With night completely descended, the route was sent.


Log Entry 7 – Mt Rushmore

By | Climbing Log, Rushmore | 2 Comments

Still had a little ways to go today. The further west I get, the more interesting the land becomes. It is also interesting to see the name Gutzon Borglum everywhere. (If your name is going to go down in history, I suggest picking a different name. Also, don’t be a terrible person) I almost become giddy looking at all of the beautiful rocks in the Black Hills. I arrive at Wrinkled Rock (The official rock climber campground) and relax a bit waiting for my climbing partner to arrive.


Once Margery gets here, we go over the guidebook to pick out routes we want to do. Manga Carta area is selected for its plentiful sport routes. Our first route we want to do is Gossamer, a classic that goes up a needle with a hole at the top. I say “want to do” because we never made it to that needle. Instead we became hopelessly lost. For hours. We wandered into an area called South Seas. (Kinda fitting to be lost at sea) Trying to back track into Manga Carta got us even more lost. I did start to wonder if I was going to be spending the night out. Margery’s 12 year old dog was faithfully plodding on behind, but he was getting very tired. He wasn’t the only one. I am very much not used to this western terrain.


After a while we were back in the South Seas. We found a bolted route and thought it looked in our grade, so we geared up. No sooner than we finish putting our harnesses on, it starts to rain and thunder. Not a good idea to be on a spire when the lightning starts to fly. We hastily pack our gear and get back to the car. Back at Wrinkled Rock, we hide under an overhanging boulder from the thunder that has been joined by hail.


The storm clears up a bit and Margery goes to her friends place she is staying at. I cook up some stir fry and set up camp. Thankfully there are trees in this part of South Dakota to hang a hammock.


Log Entry 6 – South Dakota

By | Climbing Log | One Comment

Last night I stayed in Wonewoc WI. I highly suggest the campground at Legion Park. At first it surprised me how much “in town” it was. (Not that there is a whole lot of town in a little place like Wonewoc) As I pulled in, there was a lady walking around the park that welcomed me helped me out with some info. Very friendly. She said the police would probably pull in through the night to make sure everything is ok.

Doing Laundry

After setting up camp and cooking supper, I figured it was time to do some laundry. By the time that was finished it was getting dark and I went to bed. I slept well until about 2 am. I woke up with a very cold back. It had dipped into the thirties and I didn’t have an under quilt for my hammock. Tensing and relaxing my muscles for a bit help get the blood flowing. Though I had to do this several times through the night.

Monday: Long day of driving. Eastern Minnesota has some nice sandstone hills, but the western part is very flat and dull. Crossing into South Dakota is more flat and dull. It really felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. There were a couple of times I wondered when the next gas station would be. It is a good thing I have some gas stored in my cargo bin. Even better that I didn’t need it.


As I crossed the Missouri River, the landscape became more interesting. It was about quitting time, but this area doesn’t have many trees to sling a hammock from. Planning error on my part. I got to Fort Pierre National Grasslands and found a nice spot on top of a hill. (I love free places to camp). Since I didn’t have trees, I was just going to sleep on the ground with my rain tarp. But the cow pies changed that plan. The piles themselves were not too bad. It was all of the bugs in the poop that I wanted to avoid. Sleeping in the car tonight.



Log Entry 5 – Rest Days

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Forecast of rain today, so Nathan headed home and I went west. There was some work I needed to get done, so I found some wifi in La Crosse and spent the rest of the day there. No great views for tonight: my bedroom is The Hop parked in a Walmart parking lot. Looking forward to getting further west.

Saturday: Trying to find my next climbing partners. There is a chance of one back in Devil’s Lake and nothing yet from South Dakota. Another rest day so I cross the Mississippi River into Minnesota to find a camping spot in the Richard Dorer State Forest. (Gotta love free camping in the forest). A short drive and packing up, it is off to find a spot to set up camp.

I ended up a good bit off trail (across a very steep ravine), and found a nice area of maple trees. With my hammock and fly all set, I go back to a nice rocky outcrop to relax and make dinner.

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Dinning Room

The Dinning Room

The Living Room

The Living Room

Sunday: Packed up camp and hiked back to the car. Little fact about me: I am an amateur silversmith. I brought my tools with me on this trip, so I set up in the middle of the state forest to try making something. What little wind was around wrecked total havoc on keeping a controlled flame on my torch. So I guess there goes my plans for making jewelry while traveling.

I traveled back to Devil’s Lake to climb some more. Unfortunately my partner was not able to make it, but I did meet some of his friends. They had really great info they shared with me.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day of driving to get to South Dakota.


Log Entry 4 – Devil’s Lake

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Since we tackled some of the East Ramparts yesterday, today we go for the West. Our goal was Cleopatra’s Needle. On the way there, we climbed a variation of King’s Throne. With that down, I set up a rappel anchor to get down to Cleo. It was a good chance to practice a ghost rap.

Anchors Going Off King's Throne

Anchors Going Off King’s Throne

Like the Leaning Tower we did yesterday, I had to trad climb up the lone spire. I ended up taking the worst route possible up the needle. I after each gear placement, I had to go left to get to the next one. So I wound up doing a spiral around the tower. This caused ridiculous rope drag and made the last mantel to the top incredible difficult. So very much worth it though.


There were others that wanted to climb the Cleo’s Needle, since my rope was already on it, we switched with them and used their rope already set up on Queen’s Throne. If you ever go to Devil’s Lake, climb Queen’s Throne. It is a blast. Probably my favorite route yet.

Queen's Throne

Queen’s Throne

After a late lunch and a quick rest, we headed back to the East Ramparts to go for Brinton’s Crack: probably Devil’s Lake most famous climb and ultra-classic. I took a slightly different route (traversed a little earlier), and made it to the top. Nathan followed, but wanted to try Brinton’s Direct, a harder route at 5.9+. After an incredible ascent, Nathan said, “That was crazy. Don’t let me do something that stupid again.” Lesson learned: Doing stupid stuff can make awesome stuff happen. (Just make sure you are safely stupid.)



Log Entry 3 – Devil’s Lake

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If I had to describe Devil’s Lake in one word, it would be “hard”. A 5.6 feels like a 5.8+, the rock is slick, and you need to hike up and down steep stairs through the talus to access the climbs. If I had to describe Devil’s Lake in two words, it would be “beautifully hard”. The Red Quartzite contrasts with the green lichen growing everywhere, it is a joy to place protection in the rock hard as steel, hiking through the talus brings you to incredible view points, and the difficult grades bring humility and a focus on not worrying about the grades; just enjoy the experience.


I was going to have two climbing partners, but Anthony had his car break down. So it was just Nathan and me. I woke up in the morning to rain, but thankfully I was dry in my hammock. Once the weather cleared up a bit, Nathan and I took a little hike to try to find which rocks were the least wet. Red Quartzite is slippery enough in even dry conditions. I was very surprised at how dry the rock was despite the rain. We talked to a few other climbers and picked out where we wanted to climb, and then decided to take a look at Devil’s Door while we were so close.


After lunch and packing up our gear, we headed to Pedestal Buttress. We figured that a 5.8 would be a good start and Birch Tree Crack was a highly suggested route. And this is where we learned about the steep grading in Devil’s Lake. I have never crack climbed before, and this was like getting thrown into the deep end. After getting stuck at the crux (or at least as far as I could go), I went over to a series of fun little edges. Face climbing is definitely more of my thing.


Next we headed over to Leaning Tower. Though I am not sure I would describe it as a “tower”. Since it is free standing, we couldn’t top rope it until we had gotten to the top. So I practiced my trad on an easy face. The pro almost jumped into the rock. Devil’s Lake is a great place to learn trad. At the top, I set up a top rope and we did a somewhat technical feeling climb through a bit of overhang. Slopers, slick rock, water and moss, not to mention the overhang made this an interesting challenge. It took me a couple tries, but I am very glad to have surmounted it.


Log Entry 2 – Nathan K.

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This is Nathan. He climbs rocks. But he is also working on his Ph.D in education. He says that most people are impressed when he says that, but then lose interest when they find out he is specifically doing into Art Education. But that doesn’t seem to bother him too much.


Nathan sees art as being crucial to the rectification of education in schools. “Art is a process, not a product,” he explained. The process of art has another name: Discovery. If one can learn the art of discovery, there is little they can not learn. “I teach my art students to first figure out themselves, what makes them unique. Next is understanding the envrionment or world they live in. And at the end of the semester, we combine that to create art based on a worldview.” Education is an art, so why not use art to teach education?

In the days we spent together, I learned that Nathan loved kids. There were a number of school groups that passed by us and he would always interact with kids in the group. Sometimes that would be whispering (with a wink) “It is still five miles to the top”, or singing a song with them. The kids loved him too.


Fear is always a factor when one is climbing. Nathan admitted that he sometimes has a little freak out when he realizes how high he is. I asked if he needed help when those happened. “Nope. That is part of the reason I climb. I want to overcome my fears.” Rather than shrinking back, Nathan was pushing the envelope. He wanted to climb the hardest routes he could or find new ways to connect routes together. Once that involved doing a traverse on a thin edge with nothing for his hands to grab. Not once did I see him overwhelmed by the heights.

It was a pleasure to climb with Nathan and I feel I learned much from the teacher of art.



Log Entry 1 – Devils Lake

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First day out. Of course, no first day would be complete without a nice storm. After 7 hours of driving (hello Chicago, hope I don’t drive through you again), I had to make a decision. Set up camp in the rain, or sit in my car for even longer and hope the rain clears up. Not much of a decision; I was getting out of that car.


And of course the rain stopped as soon as I was done setting up camp. Should I have waited? Nope. Taking calculated risks is kinda the definition of an adventure. If I wanted to avoid getting wet, I should have stayed home. I no longer needed my rain coat, but I wore it anyways. That was the fastest way of getting it dry.


After a nice supper of chicken, broccoli, and crisps, it was time for some music. I miss the piano, cello, and guitar, but there is no room for them in the car. The mandolin gets some overdue attention. After playing a bit, I noticed I had gained a small audience.


heh, get it? “Small” audience?


After reading a little, my climbing partner arrives. But Nathan deserves his own entry.


Improving My Whisperlite Stove

By | DIY, Gear, Trip Prep | One Comment

I love the MSR Whipserlite. It is reliable, light, and compact, but what sets it above the rest is its versatile when it comes to fuel. White gas, kerosene, and unleaded gasoline are all good to burn. I also really like using refillable fuel bottles. No waste or extra bulk from canisters (also more economical).

The downside to the Whipserlite? It only has two settings: off and inferno. That is unless you do a quick and easy mod to it.

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