Ending the year in the Strongholds

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Don't you just love it when you are with people with whom everything is so easy and simple and fun? I've said it before and I'll say it again: these guys feel like family! We spent a wonderful laid back weekend with them in the Dragoon Mountains, also called Cochise Strongholds. I've written on the blog about this place a few times already, so if you want more practical info about the camping or rock climbing, just search the blog with the hashtag cochise. 

We just love this place. There is an incredible sense of peace in these mountains. I love watching every sunrise and sunsets from the top and see how the orange light plays with the dry grass. Some people have compared it to some areas in Australia and even the African Savannah. I cannot help but think about Cochise and his troops who hid in those mountains for 2 years...

P.S. There is a pretty cool story about that van… We bought it from a gut that had imported it from California in 2000, used it, crossed Canada in it with our big St. Bernard to move to the Yukon, and sold it in 2005 to our friends Antonio and Pascale when I was expecting Mathilde (we camped in it with the twins in the Yukon, BC and Alaska – the first time they were only 2 months old!). Antonio and Pascale were moving to San Diego for Pascale’s postgraduate study, so the van was going back to its original home. Many years later, while he was working on the van, Antonio came across the manufactured date… which happened to be on his exact birthday. Not only the same year and the same month, but the same day too! How cool is that! So Tony the van, turned 40 on the same day as Antonio! And they are both off to many more adventures!

Sawtooth Canyon, aka New Jack City, CA

 Our beautiful free campsite! If you zoom in, you can see Mara climbing on the right most crag, in line with the top of the picnic table roof.

Our beautiful free campsite! If you zoom in, you can see Mara climbing on the right most crag, in line with the top of the picnic table roof.

 She's free soloing now. We're cool with that. Just kidding, mom.

She's free soloing now. We're cool with that. Just kidding, mom.

 The Valentine Wall, where we saw 2 tarantulas...

The Valentine Wall, where we saw 2 tarantulas...

 Cat on Love Potion 9 (5.7) trying not to get blown away on that arete. We arrived at New Jack City on a Thursday night, which meant we only had Friday to climb before the weekend crowd got here. It was a crazy windy day (35 miles per hour constant wind gust crazy), but we still climbed in a super fun gully right behind our campsite (Valentine Wall).

Cat on Love Potion 9 (5.7) trying not to get blown away on that arete. We arrived at New Jack City on a Thursday night, which meant we only had Friday to climb before the weekend crowd got here. It was a crazy windy day (35 miles per hour constant wind gust crazy), but we still climbed in a super fun gully right behind our campsite (Valentine Wall).

 Mara on Cupid's Fever (5.8)

Mara on Cupid's Fever (5.8)

 Mara on My Bloody Valentine (5.10 a) on the Valentine Wall.

Mara on My Bloody Valentine (5.10 a) on the Valentine Wall.

 Stout wondering what the heck his human is doing up a rock wall.

Stout wondering what the heck his human is doing up a rock wall.

 Mathilde on Jack be Nimble (5.8)

Mathilde on Jack be Nimble (5.8)

 The twins on The Boy Scout Wall.

The twins on The Boy Scout Wall.

 Mara leading Green Eggs and Ham (5.7)

Mara leading Green Eggs and Ham (5.7)

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 Mathilde on top of Jack be Nimble (5.8), on the Boy Scout Wall.

Mathilde on top of Jack be Nimble (5.8), on the Boy Scout Wall.

 Climbing on the Welcome Wall, right by our campsite.

Climbing on the Welcome Wall, right by our campsite.

We spent most of our days in our climbing harnesses, taking turns on the routes, just shouting next when a climber was done. The bus door would open and another eager climber would spill out, pausing what he was doing. We translated and cooked in our harnesses. We were a funny sight, but it was wonderful to have so many great routes right by the bus. This place is so great! These perfect campsites are available for free (Sawtooth Canyon Campground: GPS 34.6703, -116.984)

The surrounding landscape is breathtaking. Most campsites are very private. There are 16 sites, and the campground is opened all year round. Each site has a picnic table, grill and fire pit. There are vault toilets. No potable water or dump station available on site. If you come from Barstow (25 minute drive), you can fill your water tank with potable water at the Flying J gas station. There is a big Vons grocery store there too. You must pack out your garbage as there is no trash can at the campground.

You will have to drive around to find the best spots for signal. Site 2 had great Verizon signal. The sites just behind the rocks don’t have signal, but the ones further at the back seemed to have good signal too. It can get very windy, very quickly, so don’t leave awnings out or things outside that could fly away. The only downside of this place is that there is a lot of broken glass everywhere (watch out for your dogs’ paws). We also encountered two tarantulas during our stay. The site is used by boy scouts association on weekends, so we were happy to be further from the crowd (who sets up at the far end where there is a group campsite area).

There are tons of amazing rock climbing routes right behind the sites, so be aware that you might have climbers in your backyard (or on your site) if you chose a site by climbing routes (look for bolts on the walls). Site 2 is just by the Valentine Wall and the Welcome Wall and we climbed all the routes on these two walls. We then moved on to the Boy scout Wall (near the group campsite area) on warmer day (it’s in the shade all day). There are many more walls to explore and we will be back when the weather is cooler.

The Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California

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 One of the shortest approach walks we ever had to go climbing. 

One of the shortest approach walks we ever had to go climbing. 

 Our backyard for a week.

Our backyard for a week.

 Beautiful long routes.

Beautiful long routes.

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 It was the place we chose to stay to celebrate Mathilde's 12 yo birthday.

It was the place we chose to stay to celebrate Mathilde's 12 yo birthday.

 And JF's 40th!

And JF's 40th!

 The Sierras (and Mt. Whitney) looming just behind the Alabama Hills.

The Sierras (and Mt. Whitney) looming just behind the Alabama Hills.

 Hiking up to Lone Pine Lake from Whitney Portal.

Hiking up to Lone Pine Lake from Whitney Portal.

 Gorgeous Lone Pine Lake.

Gorgeous Lone Pine Lake.

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 We ended up moving to Tuttle Creek Campground to have good signal to be able to work (Verizon signal is bad and spotty in the Hills, AT&T was better).

We ended up moving to Tuttle Creek Campground to have good signal to be able to work (Verizon signal is bad and spotty in the Hills, AT&T was better).

 For $8/night, this place was amazing. Site 53 at Tuttle Creek Campground.

For $8/night, this place was amazing. Site 53 at Tuttle Creek Campground.

 And we were very close to another climbing sector called the Candy Store, with fun short routes, perfect for a few climbs before sunset after a day of work/school.

And we were very close to another climbing sector called the Candy Store, with fun short routes, perfect for a few climbs before sunset after a day of work/school.

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 Very smoky sunset behind Mt. Whitney.

Very smoky sunset behind Mt. Whitney.

 Red smoky sunrise in the Alabama Hills.

Red smoky sunrise in the Alabama Hills.

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The Alabama Hills are probably the free camping spot that made boondocking what it is today. It's also a very unique location where more than 400 movies were shot (lots of cowboy movies, but a few Sci-Fi too... remember Tremors?). After having heard so much about this place and seen so many pictures, I was afraid to be disappointed. It is a super vast area where you can find a secluded spot between boulders and have climbing routes right in your backyard while looking at the sunset over Mount Whitney. Sounded too good to be true. Well, it almost is... if you need decent signal to work. But if you don't (we had 5 days off for Mathilde and JF's birthdays), it really is the perfect boondocking spot.

For the work week, we ended up moving 5 miles away at Tuttle Creek Campground where there is very good Verizon signal (and beautiful campsites) for $8/night.

As for climbing in the area, there are tons of sports routes. The granite is similar to Joshua Tree, there are lots of slabby routes with small crimpy holds. We loved The Tall Wall (Rotten Banana, Bananarama, Banana Split), the Hoodgie Wall (Ankles Away, Leonosphere) and had fun on the short routes in the Candy Store for quick afternoon climbs after work. We didn't make it to the Arizona Dome.

We went to visit the Lone Pine Film History Museum and had delicious burgers (skip the fries, get the beer battered onion rings) at The Alabama Hill Café (note that it is only open from 7 am to 2 pm every day, no dinner hours).

The grocery store in town is nothing great. It's pricey and the quality of the produce and meat is not great. You can dump ($5, no fresh water at the dump) and fill (for free, near site 50 by the out house) at Tuttle Creek Campground. You can also fill with water in town at the gas station near the city park.

The Mammoth Lakes area

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 Mulled wine is perfect for cold nights by the fire.

Mulled wine is perfect for cold nights by the fire.

 One morning, we woke up to snow!

One morning, we woke up to snow!

 Beautiful frost everywhere.

Beautiful frost everywhere.

 Rock tub hot springs.

Rock tub hot springs.

 Rock Tub hot springs.

Rock Tub hot springs.

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 Hot Creek is NOT a hot spring for swimming. See below.

Hot Creek is NOT a hot spring for swimming. See below.

 We rode many times at Mammoth Mountain even if the bike park was officially closed for the season (no lifts), the trails remained open. It is at 9,000 feet in altitude and it was pretty cold. That's the day it was 3 degrees C (35 F). We ended our day at the Mammoth Brewery. Delicious beer and food. Don't miss it if you are in the area.

We rode many times at Mammoth Mountain even if the bike park was officially closed for the season (no lifts), the trails remained open. It is at 9,000 feet in altitude and it was pretty cold. That's the day it was 3 degrees C (35 F). We ended our day at the Mammoth Brewery. Delicious beer and food. Don't miss it if you are in the area.

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 Devil's Postpile National Monument.

Devil's Postpile National Monument.

 Devil's Postpile seen from above (left) and another cool basalt columns formation from the area on the right.

Devil's Postpile seen from above (left) and another cool basalt columns formation from the area on the right.

 Exploring Obsidian Dome.

Exploring Obsidian Dome.

 Full moon rise over our camp.

Full moon rise over our camp.

 Rock climbing at Owens River Gorge.

Rock climbing at Owens River Gorge.

 The class 3 scramble approach to get to the crag at Owen River Gorge was quite something with big packs and a big dog!

The class 3 scramble approach to get to the crag at Owen River Gorge was quite something with big packs and a big dog!

 Our free campsite at Shepard's hot springs.

Our free campsite at Shepard's hot springs.

 You can see the bus in the distance.

You can see the bus in the distance.

 Perfect way to start the day.

Perfect way to start the day.

 Or to end it.

Or to end it.

 The Crab Cooker was our favorite of the 3 hot springs we visited. It was also the cleanest (it looked like it had just been emptied and scrubbed). It was only a 5 minute walk from  our camping spot at Shepard's Hot Spring . And yes, all this is on BLM land (and free!).

The Crab Cooker was our favorite of the 3 hot springs we visited. It was also the cleanest (it looked like it had just been emptied and scrubbed). It was only a 5 minute walk from our camping spot at Shepard's Hot Spring. And yes, all this is on BLM land (and free!).

 Walking back to camp from the Crab Cooker tub.

Walking back to camp from the Crab Cooker tub.

One of the things your learn after many years on the road is that if you find a gem of a secret spot to camp in, you don't share it on social medias or camping sites/apps. Another thing that you learn is that if there is a long weekend coming, you stay put. Even if you would really like to go climbing at Owens River Gorge and take advantage of that long weekend yourself (because no, we do not make our work schedule and have full days off only on weekends). On long weekends, you stay around camp and explore less popular spots. For your own sanity.

There is a lot to do in the Mammoth Lakes ares. There is an awesome bike resort with lots of amazing trails. Mammoth Mountain closes mid-September, but the trails remain open for riders to enjoy. At 9,000 feet of altitude, it can get cold at this time of year. We went riding in 3 degree C weather (that's 35 F). There is also a great brewery (Mammoth Brewery), perfect for an after-ride brew and delicious meal.

There are also many hot springs in the areas, the most popular being Hilltop (aka Pulkey's) and Wild Willy's. These are often full of people. The thing is, most of the springs are bathtub size and can sit 4 to 5 persons at most (Wild Willy being the exception, there are a few pools there that can accommodate more people), so if you get there and they are full, the courtesy is to leave (not wait there or worst, try to squeeze in). Many of these are clothing optional too.

We really liked Rock Tub since it is right by the little parking area and you don't have to hike to find out if it's full or not. The first time we tried to go to the hot springs, on a very cold night after our bike ride, we found it full, so we turned around, checked out Hilltop and Wild Willy's which were also full... It's the reality of it... It's high season here and there are not secret spots anymore. So we came back the next day in the afternoon and lucked out as the man bathing there was just done. During the hour we were there, 3 or 4 cars drove in, saw that the tub was busy and turned around. The water gets pretty dirty from all the people (even if there is a constant flow in and out. There is a plug at the bottom, so you can empty the tub and let it fill back up. You can also bring a brush to scrub the slippery algea that covers the bottom if you want. Obviously, don't use any soap in the tubs!

We also explored Shepard's Tub and the Crab Cooker, that are *a bit* less busy. We ended up camping there for 2 nights and enjoying Shepard's Tub and the Crab Cooker morning and night. It was heavenly after a day of climbing! If you decide to go camp near a hot spring, remember that this is a public place and do not hug the tub (or park very near it). People will likely come and go every hour or so (and at every hour of the night on weekends!), so be warned.

Hot Creek used to be a hot spring in the 60's and 70's. We met a man at Shepard's who used to be a guide and would bring tourists there. He said there was a huge pool where there was always 50 to 60 people. It has been closed for 15-20 years because too many deaths happen there. He told us that most deaths were caused by people trying to rescue their dogs who had fallen in the blue pools of death (the beautiful Icelandic blue pool in the picture above) which is and has always been scalding hot. It is nonetheless a geological wonder where the cold water from the glacier meet the bubbling water from the underground volcanic activity. The ground is unstable in the area because of fumaroles and occasional geyser action also.

Devils Postpile (a National Monument) is an unusual rock formation of 60 feet high basalt columns. It looks like a tidy lumber pile created by OCD giants. They were formed when lava erupted in the valley nearly 100,000 years ago and filled the area to a depth of 400 feet. Then, glaciers overrode the fractured mass of lava. As you can see on the pictures taken from the top, the glaciers cut the hexagonal basalt towers, leaving behind something that looks like a tile floor. The John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail merge into one trail as they pass through the monument.

Obsidian Dome is not your typical cone-shaped dome, but more like a big pile of shiny black rock. It is indeed volcanic glass that was formed by an explosion (a Phreatic Blast) when magma reached the water table, turned the water to steam, cooled and then turned to rock. There is not much else to do there than to simply scramble up and look at the beautiful obsidian formations (be careful, it is slippery). Obsidian is the sharpest natural material known to man, obsidian rocks have played a significant role in the evolution of homo-sapiens' tool-making ability. During the Stone-Age and beyond, obsidian rocks have played a major part as primary cutting tools in many cultures.

2017 Northern Migration - The Canadian part

 Fruit trees in bloom in the Okanagan Valley, 10 km from the US border in Osoyoos.

Fruit trees in bloom in the Okanagan Valley, 10 km from the US border in Osoyoos.

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 Rock climbing in Skaha Bluffs Provincial park.

Rock climbing in Skaha Bluffs Provincial park.

 JF showing the girls how to build an anchor.

JF showing the girls how to build an anchor.

 Stout drinking in the Okanagan Lake at Evely Recreation Site campground, a little gem of a campground.

Stout drinking in the Okanagan Lake at Evely Recreation Site campground, a little gem of a campground.

 Watercolor by the lake.

Watercolor by the lake.

 Brrrr!

Brrrr!

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Such clear water!

 Biking in Vernon with friends.

Biking in Vernon with friends.

 Camping by Lodgepole Lake, near Kamloops.

Camping by Lodgepole Lake, near Kamloops.

 Stout fell through the ice on that lake and gave us quite the scare.

Stout fell through the ice on that lake and gave us quite the scare.

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 Dinner by Lake Kamloops.

Dinner by Lake Kamloops.

 Late spring and very high water levels everywhere (Kerry Lake).

Late spring and very high water levels everywhere (Kerry Lake).

 We got completely stuck in mud going to Inga Lake, just before Wonowon. A towing was needed to get us out of there.

We got completely stuck in mud going to Inga Lake, just before Wonowon. A towing was needed to get us out of there.

 There was even snow between Fort St. John and Fort Nelson!

There was even snow between Fort St. John and Fort Nelson!

 One of many similar gas stations/motels/restaurant along the Alaska Highway. The guy that lives there had grey skin. He says he spends his winters here all by himself. What a life!

One of many similar gas stations/motels/restaurant along the Alaska Highway. The guy that lives there had grey skin. He says he spends his winters here all by himself. What a life!

 Liard Hot Springs.

Liard Hot Springs.

I am unclear about how to handle social media right now. It seems like the blog is more and more a rehashing of what I have published on Instagram and Facebook in the last week or so... I am really enjoying the My Story feature on Instagram right now (the bubbles at the top, where you post little blurbs that disappear after 24 hours, yes, a copy of Snapchat) and this is where I feel more compelled to post. I feel like the IG community is more active now than the FB one... So where does the blog fit in that? Not too sure, but I know I want to keep it up and going. Let me know what you think or what you would like to see more on the blog.

This is a text I published on my personal FB page and on Road it up Instagram. You might have read it already.

As we drive through rows of black spruce, the girls fight over iPad charging cables. I put my earphones back on, close my eyes and go back to the Masai Mara in Kenya with Tsh Oxenreider. I'm listening to her latest book, At Home In The World, the retelling of her year abroad with 3 young kids. She discuses with expats she meets along the way about how intense it is to be with her kids 24/7. I've never known anything else. I've been with my girls day in and day out for 13 years straight. As crazy as it may sound to some, I wouldn't want it any other way. Even on hard days. There were hard days when I worked in an office too (many more!). I smile as I now hear the girls laugh in unisson at a movie on which they finally agreed. I am back in Venice, eating gelato twice a day and drinking an afternoon macchiato with Tsh and her family when I spot a black bear scratching his back on a tree on the side of the Alaska Highway. We're home. Or rather, one of our home. But we're always home in our bus. The outside might be less familiar, but we feel home anywhere. 

I pause Tsh’s book and look ahead, lost in thoughts. What is home anyways? A familiar bed? A favorite mug? A sense of safety and comfort? A smell we recognize and that makes us smile? The way the light filters through the tall branches of trees at 10:30 pm?

I dig my face into the Yukon moss. Yes, I am home, indeed.

2017 Northern Migration - The USA Part

 Trying to find  Deer Butte Hot Springs , OR.

Trying to find Deer Butte Hot Springs, OR.

 Found it. Don't go looking for it... it has become a foot bath.

Found it. Don't go looking for it... it has become a foot bath.

 The water was unusually high this spring and the rock wall that allows to control how much cold water you let in from the river was nowhere to be seen. It was the weirdest experience since the burning hot water from the hot spring was floating on top of the freezing cold water from the river. So our thighs were burning while our feet were freezing. We had to keep stirring the water non stop to make it bearable... not the most relaxing experience!

The water was unusually high this spring and the rock wall that allows to control how much cold water you let in from the river was nowhere to be seen. It was the weirdest experience since the burning hot water from the hot spring was floating on top of the freezing cold water from the river. So our thighs were burning while our feet were freezing. We had to keep stirring the water non stop to make it bearable... not the most relaxing experience!

 The smell from the Juniper trees at  Skull Hollow Campground  (Oregon) was amazing. It was the perfect place to camp to enjoy Smith Rock State Park.

The smell from the Juniper trees at Skull Hollow Campground (Oregon) was amazing. It was the perfect place to camp to enjoy Smith Rock State Park.

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 Smith Rock SP totally blew our mind. We were taken aback by how thoughtful and well managed the place is. Twenty years ago, it was pretty much only visited by climbers, in fact the bridge didn’t exist and you had to do a tyrolean across the Crooked River (prior to that you could drive and camp beneath The Monument.) The trail system is great, sustainable and enviro and people friendly. The climbing scene and vibe is great and everyone, climbers and non-climbers, is very friendly. On the left, Mathilde climbing 5 gallon buckets, one of the most popular 5.8s in the park.

Smith Rock SP totally blew our mind. We were taken aback by how thoughtful and well managed the place is. Twenty years ago, it was pretty much only visited by climbers, in fact the bridge didn’t exist and you had to do a tyrolean across the Crooked River (prior to that you could drive and camp beneath The Monument.) The trail system is great, sustainable and enviro and people friendly. The climbing scene and vibe is great and everyone, climbers and non-climbers, is very friendly. On the left, Mathilde climbing 5 gallon buckets, one of the most popular 5.8s in the park.

 Our beautiful camping spot at Frenchman Coulee, Vantage, WA. These are climbing towers you see at the back. They are called The Feathers (or the French Fries). I could see people climbing from my bed! In a few hours, we climbed 6 routes in this sector and another one on Agathla Tower.

Our beautiful camping spot at Frenchman Coulee, Vantage, WA. These are climbing towers you see at the back. They are called The Feathers (or the French Fries). I could see people climbing from my bed! In a few hours, we climbed 6 routes in this sector and another one on Agathla Tower.

 Aisha belaying JF. These girls are getting strong!

Aisha belaying JF. These girls are getting strong!

 Mathilde climbing House of Cards, 5.8, on Agathla Tower.

Mathilde climbing House of Cards, 5.8, on Agathla Tower.

 Arrowleaf Balsamroot, or the Okanagan sunflower. It's everywhere in the Spring.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot, or the Okanagan sunflower. It's everywhere in the Spring.

When we left Maple Canyon, we quickly worked our way up towards Bend, Oregon, to spend a few days with our friends. We had such a good time, that I didn't take a single picture! We went mountain biking at Phil's trailhead and ended up hiking a part of it in ankle deep snow (tourists!) and shared great meals and drinks! Bend has the most incredible selection of beers and I tasted one of my favorite IPA (RPM from Boneyard Brewery, on tap only). It took me a few years to really enjoy an IPA. For a while I called it skunk pee beer, but I now truly enjoy many IPAs.

I remember my dad telling me that there are some food that you need to taste 10 times before you start appreciating them, as he proceeded to give me a slice of baguette with a tiny piece of Roquefort. There was also brain, frog legs, sweetbread (ris de veau sounds much tamer in French), mussels... and the yearly lobster feast where everybody exclaimed when they cracked open the lobster and found that green stuff that they ate with great delight.

Let’s be honest here, none of this is a love-at-first-sight food, but they do grow on you – some of them at least - to the point that you’ll pay quite a bit of money for it. Think caviar. I’ll always remember the first time I tried black caviar (brought directly from Russia by a client of my family when I lived in Italy)... or when I had risotto al nero di sepia (Italian rice cooked in squid ink... and yes, it’s black).

So what makes a delicacy a delicacy? Is it simply that you have tasted/eaten it enough time with people you loved and that appreciated it that you end up loving it too? Is my brain reminiscing all the joyful dinners with interesting adult conversations that I was allowed to participate in when I was a young teenager and when I could have a little sip of delicious port with the blue cheese? Does my mind remember the pleasure my grandpa had in sucking the lobsters’s little legs that people had left in a pile in the middle of the table covered in newspaper? Do all these memories collide in that one first bite? What do you think?

Exploring the East Side of the Strongholds, Cochise, AZ

Our base camp.

Climbing at Vineyard Cove, a minute walk from camp.

Charlie coming down Jacob's Ladder.

Mara trying Di-vine Inspiration, 5.11, while we keep warm.

Trailhead to Zappa Dome. Once again, very happy to have a Westy Syncro to bring us there.

Down into a canyon we go. It doesn't feel like the desert at all anymore.

A stream! Water! It's been so long since we saw water on a trail.

And the stair-master from hell climb starts.

But the view is very rewarding.

Mountain goats.

Not a bad spot for sunset. We just had to make sure to be back to the Westy before it got dark. None of us wanted to do that trail back down by headlamp.

Here's a video I made with our friend's Jason's drone shots. It is such a beautiful place! I hope you'll enjoy the images and music (The Pursuit of Happiness by Beyries).

It was our first time on the East side of the Strongholds Mountains. You might remember that we camped and climbed on the West side twice in the last year. We found a great free campspot on this side too. The big plus of the West side is that the routes are right by the campsites and the approach are minimal (if any). We also found the routes more fun on the West Side. However, the view from Zappa Dome (the main sport climbing sector on the East side) is beautiful (you earn it though!). The is now a guidebook that has been published for the West side and on is supposedly underway for the East side... it is about time! The only sort-of-useful topo is handdrawn (in Mountain Project) and we ended up on the wrong route more than once... The first time we got there, we sent Mara to lead a 5.7... that turned out to be a 5.10a... Ahem.  As you can see from the video I posted, the routes are long and exposed. We found a little crag with 3 routes just by the campsites and had fun there too.

We love the Strongholds! What a rugged place it is! You can still feel the presence of the Apache and can easily imagine Cochise and his troop hiding in the heart of those mountains. It's a real maze.

Our little Tucson routine

Our friends from Wisconsin came for a week during their Holidays! Of course, we went biking together!

Stout's first bike ride!

A very sweet gift from our little Ubach friends!

Mathilde New Year's cupcakes!

Eddy serenading us around the bonfire.

Life at the BLM.

Climbing on Mount Lemmon, Crags Against Humanity Sector.

Aïsha leading her first route.

Tucson is our winter trip half-way point and we tend to stop here longer and slow down. We just love how easy it is to be active here. Once again this year, we took a rock climbing gym membership at Rocks and Ropes (which includes the Bloc too, a bouldering gym), where we go about 3 times a week to climb and shower. We alternate a climbing day with a biking day since there are so many bike trails nearby. It's a pretty good routine. We try to go climb outside at Mount Lemmon on the weekends when possible (it's about an hour drive from the BLM where we camp). What's a BLM you might wonder? It's a public land where we can camp for free. In Tucson, the Snyder Hill BLM is located only 20 minutes from downtown Tucson (unlike most other BLMs in the US that are far from big cities and where the 14 day limit stay in enforced). The Snyder Hill BLM has a bit of a Slab City vibe. There are some semi-permanent residents, some big rigs that stay only a few days and pretty much everything in between. Let's just say it seems to attract what we call in the Yukon, the colorful 5 %...  You can often hear someone playing drum or strumming his guitar in the distance. If you're lucky like us, a circus couple sets up nearby with an aerial silk contraption and you can watch them practice this beautiful skill... Then, there's John, who's been our neighbor for a few weeks that pretend he worked on a set with Al Pacino and went to a party with Johnny Depp... There's Sid with his 16 years old dog who comes by when JF is working on a bike to chat... and chat some more (and his wife that keeps bringing us odd things for the girls). There's the man who sleeps in a tent and leaves every morning with a dress suit for work. And there was the crazy lady on the hill, who spent her days sitting cross-legged on top of Snyder Hill, watching over us and yelling ugly things to passerby's... until she lost it and started knocking on all the rigs' doors asking people to give her her dog back... too many Rainbows will do that to you...

Tucson feels like a second home (or maybe more like a fifth home...) and here are a few of our favorite digs and some practical info if you end up in this neck of the desert...

EAT : The best taco place in town is a little hole in the wall called Pico De Gallo; 3 incredible fish tacos (with homemade corn tortilla) for under $6. Yes, please. Only 8 minute from the rock gym!

Another place that should not be missed is Tucson Tamales (2 locations); 2 Santa Fe tamales (or Chipotle beef, our favorites!) with 2 sides of your choice (don't miss their mexican slaw) for under $8! You can also buy their tamales frozen to warm up at home!

For a unique experience (and a very cheap meal), go to Govinda Natural Food at the local Ashram. All you can eat vegetarian buffet (Tuesday is Indian Night, Wednesday and Thursday are vegan nights) with homemade papadum, delicious salad with sprouts and homecooked food ($11 for adults, $5 for kids (10-12 yo), $4 for 7-9 yo and $3 for 4-6 yo). And you can eat outside in their beautiful enclosed yard.

GROCERY : McGary's Discount Grocery (a few blocks from the Ashram) has awesome deals on expired/dented food items. Think 8 Luna Bars for $1, Kettle Chips bags for $1, Natural Krave Jerky bags for $1, cereal boxes at 3 for $5, Back to Nature nut mixes, cookies, crackers, etc for a fraction of the price, natural lotions and shampoos... even natural dog treats and recycled toilet paper at ridiculous prices. As long as you don't mind the loud Christian music blasting through the store and the near-paranoiac attitude of the store owner about having things stolen and children running down the aisles you'll love this place as much as we do.

Another great way to save money on food in Tucson is through The Club 3000 (Market on the Move). Every week you can get 60 lbs of fruits for $10 on Wednesday from 9 am to 1 pm (sometimes it's every day of the week). The content varies every week (citrus, peppers, tomatoes, squash, eggs, etc.). The best place to be kept informed is their Facebook page.

For a dirt cheap grocery store, we love Food City (a few locations in Tucson). Good ripe fruits for cheap directly from Mexico, dairies and eggs for very cheap, and great homemade nachos, taco shells and tortillas.

For good quality natural food at a decent price, we love Sprouts (a few locations in town). Great coffee and home brand products.

LAUNDRY : For the full hole-in-the-wall laudromat experience, go to Superior Cleaner (10 min from the BLM, just by Food City!). The cheapest in town (bonus soap operas in Spanish blasting on the TVs). They even provide free Wifi. 

If you rather pay more and have a clean brick-wall and lime green wall laudromat with the UofA hipsters, go to Wildcat Laudry

DUMP AND FILL : Free at the Giant gas station on the corner of Valencia and Kolb, but it's pretty far from the BLM. We go to Western Way RV Resort (10 min from BLM) for $10.

RECYCLING : There is a big recycling station at the entrance of John F. Kennedy Park, right behind the Mission Public Library (free wifi) at the corner of Ajo Way and Mission.
 


 

Rock climbing on Mt Lemmon, Tucson, AZ

Heading down to the crag from Windy Point.

These little Arizona boys haven't seen snow many times in their lives. It was a real treat to see their enthousiasm! 

Snow ball fights with the girls!

What an incredible view we had from our climbing spot!

Look at the scales on that rock! So fun to climb!

That view!!!

Antonio, Mara and JF cleaning the route from the top.

I love seeing my girls develop a relationship with these sweet boys!

Mount Lemmon towers over Tucson at an elevation of 9,150 feet. That means that when it rains in town, it snows on top of the mountain. That also means that many Mexicans pack their family in the car, cross the border and drive all the way up to Mount Lemmon to go play in snow. It is quite the sight to see all these cars driving down with snowmen built on their hoods (it seems like that's what you do...). Mount Lemmon is a prized destination for road bikers (think climbing all the way to the top and riding down!) and rock climbers alike (there are over a thousand routes on the mountain!). 

When we arrived at Windy Point (a little over 6,000 feet), the parking lot was packed with people, but Antonio knew of the perfect crag, just inches away from selfie sticks and the rowdy crowd. We spent a memorable afternoon there and left just in time to witness another amazing Tucson sunset on our drive down the mountain.

Rock climbing at Cochise Stronghold, AZ

Can you spot Mathilde on the image on the right? These routes are long (and so fun!).

Wild kids.

The girls made a swing.

Playing Lego at sunset.

Guitar and drums, great evenings by the fire.

JF, on top of Naiche's nest. Naiche was Cochise's son (an Apache Chef, see story below) and it is in this nook that Naiche played while his dad held councils.

The kids scrambled on rocks while we set the routes. We were pretty much alone the whole time!

We search out the most perfect pieces of rock. It’s so amazing that these formations are so perfect for climbing on. It’s almost as if they were created for climbing. You’re taking these random rock formations and you’re bringing to it this interaction. It transforms it from being this random rock into almost this piece of art. It’s almost like a sculpture or something. Just by finding the handholds, finding that line up the rock. Every climb is different, has its own unique set of movements and body positions. Climbing and my appreciation for nature are totally intertwined. -Chris Sharma

You might remember that we climbed here last February for Jen's birthday. It was an epic weekend and we wanted to explore the area a little more. Our friends Les 4 Farfelus joined us for a few days and we climbed together, played music by the fire and simply enjoyed this incredibly wild place. Cochise Stronghold is located at an elevation of 5000 feet. Needless to say, we had some very cold nights and mornings (below freezing!).

The Cochise Stronghold is part of the Coronado National Forest in the beautiful Dragoon Mountains and was once the refuge of the great Chiricahua Apache Chief, Cochise.  This rugged area was home for 250 warriors and up to a total of 1000 in the  tribe for up to 15 years. Upon his death, Cochise was secretly buried somewhere in or near his impregnable fortress.  The exact location has never been revealed or determined.

Bouldering at Hueco Tanks, TX

Walking up the Chain Trail to the Small Potatoes area.

The Small Potatoes area is a popular warm-up spot. To the right, the water-filled hole is what a Hueco is and the reason why this place was so special for Natives (lots of water holding tanks in the desert!).

On top of a problem in the Small Potatoes area. Right: so many boulders to climb and explore!

At The Grenade area. What a view!

Getting beta from Betty who has been climbing here since she was Mara's age!

Working on the best V2 problem in the world (according to Mountain Project!). What a beauty!

Watching Alex Puccio work on a V9 problem (one of the top professional rock climbers in the world) after she warmed up on a V6! Look at the muscles on that woman!! It was interesting to see that even pros have moments where they freak out a bit too!

Mara working on a tough V5 problem (and she got it!!).

The famous V2 is called Nobody Gets Out Of Here Alive because the ground used to be covered in little cacti like it still is on the right...

We all left some skin on that rock.

Heading to The New Meadow area.

We drove by the road that leads to Hueco Tanks State Park and simply waved it off as being surely full... Then, since it was only an 8 mile drive, we turned around and decided to check it out, just in case. It was Sunday 4 pm. Maybe we would be lucky. We had tried to go there 3 years ago in January, but we got turned around, the north mountain being at full capacity despite the melting snow and freezing temperatures. The climbers, mostly visitors from outside on climbing trips for the Holidays, were trying to make the best of the bone-freezing drizzle. We turned around, knowing we would have our turn. And this year we got it!

Hueco Tanks is described by Mountain Project as *the best bouldering spot in the world*. There are 70 permits delivered each day for North Mountain and 60 are reserved at least 6 months in advance. You have to show up at the gate of the park early to try your luck at the other 10. Unless you are staying at the campground in the park, then you have first dibs at these permits. If you get there and the park is full, your name is added on a waiting list and if reserved permits are not claimed by 10:30 or so, then they start giving them to the climbers waiting. Quite the process... The other 3 areas of the park are accessible with a guide only and do not count in the 70 daily permits. There are volunteer guides and professional guides that can take you in these areas.

Hueco is also an historic site that is *very* well protected. You have to be ready to jump through a few hoops to climb here (watch a video before entering the park and listen to a litany of rules - repeated to you twice, once by the ranger at the entrance and then by the one at the interpretation center). But then, you’re in Hueco. And if you’re a climber, you have a big silly grin on your face. Because you made it to Hueco! You’ve seen videos of your favorite climbers tackling crazy hard problems here. And here you are. We actually got to watch Alex Puccio climb while we were here! What a treat!

We were lucky enough to hit it off with a local that had climbed here since she was a kid. She came to Mara and I when she saw her climbing and told her she started climbing right here when she was her age since her mom was an environmental scientist who spent big chunks of time here. She guided Mara and I through some amazing problems (some that she had created herself!). It made the experience even greater.

Huecos are these big round holes where water collects and one of the reason why this site was a sacred site for native people (the main reason why it is so well protected). There are many petroglyphs to be seen in the park and people still find artefacts.

Rock climbing in Texas, at Reimer's Ranch, near Austin

To get to the routes, you have to go down into a canyon...

There is warm water (presumably from the neighboring Hamilton Pool) running in the canyon and little pools nearby. It was *almost* warm enough to sit into. I'm sure it's a pretty popular spot to hang out after climbing in warmer weather.

Pretty cool rock formations and caves on the way to the crag.

Woof! Happy crag dog!

Look at that rock! It's so fun to climb!

Someone was cold and wore a Patagonia jacket while we climbed.

Mara led a 5.7 all the way to the top!

And she belayed me!

The girls are all really enjoying climbing and they are getting pretty strong!

We had climbed for a few days at Reimer's 3 years ago (scroll down on that post and look how small the girls were only 3 years ago!) and really liked it, so we waited almost a week in Austin for the weather to be decent for climbing (there is also some great mountain biking in the areas, but the trails were all closed because of the 5 days of rain we had...). We were glad we waited because this place is pretty amazing. The limestone has been washed by the water over many years and the result is like a huge swiss cheese!  

We wished we would have had time to give Enchanted Rock another chance (our first experience there 3 years ago was NOT good... but a bit funny in retrospect...), but we ran out of time in the area. Next time!

Rock Climbing in Tennessee

Mara wanted to try leading a route for a few years already, but we felt she wasn't fully ready. After working with me at Equinox all summer, she acquired the experience and confidence needed to do it. Here, JF is showing her how to use the Personal Safety Device while she sets the anchor at the top.

Rappelling down.

As travelers, we really appreciated that the local association put plates under most of the routes to ID them. So much easier! I wish it was like that everywhere! No bad surprises.

Stout has food intolerances and we are experimenting with feeding him raw food (whole prety diet). This was his first fish... He was wondering what he was suposed to do with it. At first, he was scared of it (it's looking at me, Mama!), then he played with it a bit and finally decided it was a great pillow...

It was a bit nerve-wracking to watch from the ground, but she stayed focused and was incredible to watch. This young girl has her daddy's calm!

Doing her first anchor!

So proud of herself!

Heading out after JF's work hours (3:30 in this time zone, with a little more than an hour of light left) and coming back in the dark, exhilarated from having risen to the challenge once again.

The supermoon seen from our camping spot by the crag.

I guess you had no idea that Tennessee was a top climbing destination. I honestly didn't either until a few months ago. Around Chattanooga, there are 8 crags with an incredible amount of high quality routes. You might have heard of the famous Tennessee Wall (aka T-Wall), but maybe not about Obed, Foster Falls or Sunset Park. Since our time here is limited, we decided to focus on one area near Nashville called Kings Bluff (upper left in the image) because we could camp right at the crag and the approach walk was 3 minutes AND there was good signal. If you want to visit this crag, know that the access is locked by a gate. The code to open the gate is on their website and climbers are allowed to sleep in their vehicles in the parking lot. It's a beautiful spot by the Cumberland River.

If you decide to explore this area, read this great article. As usual, I suggest that you look for the classic routes of the sector you are exploring on the Mountain Project App to get good info on the area. It wasn't a love-at-first-site spot for us. The ratings were not reliable and most routes had some pretty ackward moves. As a local told us on our last day there : if you come here thinking you'll climb your gym rating, you're not gonna like it.

Rock climbing in Orford National Park, Quebec

But why, oh why, would you want to climb a wall??!

The beautiful Elvira! What a climber she is!

Father and daughter on the wall.

This climbing thing is tiring1

It's so great to now have 3 more belayers!

Mikael is so beautiful to watch on a wall!

Showing the girls how to climb a 5.13!

My step-brother is an awesome rock climber that knows this area like the back of his pocket. He actually bolted many routes there himself. A few years ago, on a rock climbing trip to Mexico, he met a badass rock climber named Elvira, and the rest is history! We got to meet her for the first time and I got to practice my very basic and rusty Spanish! 

We had an interesting discussion on how rock climbing is a discipline more than a sport... how you need to learn to fail with grace (or not!), how frustrating it can be a lot of the time. It's quite different than a sport like mountain biking for instance, where you can have fun without too much experience. The fun factor is through the roof, you smile, you yoo-hoo your way down a trail... yes, there is a learning curve and you can always get better and someday, you feel like you suck at it, but rock climbing is a different beast... I guess it takes a bit of a masochist streak...! It takes incredible passion and dedication to feel like you are actually getting better... If, like me, you've been climbing sporadically for 20 years, it's hard to feel like you are actually getting somewhere with it... Most days, I feel like I am fighting with gravity... but sometimes, you link a few (sort of) graceful moves and it feels exhilarating, you figure out that sequence you've been trying for a while and there's that sense of achievement, of feeling that your body is a tool more than an empediment.

On another interesting note, we always say that when we don't climb regularly, we loose strength (finger strength, forearms strenght, etc.). Well, my very smart step-brother and his friend created a way to measure this (with the Wii fit scale and a finger board among other tools) and discovered that we do not loose strenght, but simply endurance. He compared endurance to dust. He said that if you don't sweep your room 3-4 times a week, dust accumulates. Endurance is like that. In two weeks, you've lost most of it. If you leave your house for two weeks and come back, don't be surprise if there is dust everywhere! Whereas strenght doesn't go away in a few months (unless you are on bed rest!).

It was such a treat to climb with these two! We are looking forward to other outings!

A weekend of rock climbing and camping with friends

Climbing blindfolded! A great challenge.

Vincent made it to the top blindfolded!

The smile on their faces was such an incredible reward!

They built an awesome two-room shelter together

Making willow bark rope.

The fireweed have already gone to seed! Fall is almost here.

A table full of awesome kids.

One of the perks of being a climbing instructor this summer is that I have access to the climbing material we use for the groups. On Saturday, we got together with five other families for a fun day of rock climbing. The kids had a blast and the parents had a good time too! Then, a bunch of us went camping at Marsh Lake together. There was good lemon-lavender Radler from the Yukon Brewery, wild Agaricus mushrooms were sauteed in butter and pepper, meals were assembled from what we could find in our campers. There even was a skinny dip (one kid was heard saying: skinny dipping with your friends sure makes you closer!). The simplicity of spending time with good friends. The magic of it all. It sure fills my heart.

The first 7 pictures were taken by my friend Jason and the following rock climbing pictures were taken by my friend Josée (I was busy belaying!). Thanks guys for immortalizing this fun day!

So much fun at Equinox Adventure Camp!

Collecting wood to cook bannock over the fire.

Shelter building.

Practicing t-rescue. First: tip the boat!

Then, proceed with rescue mission by sliding the tipped canoe over the rescuers canoe.

Pond exploration. 

Learning the parts of the paddle

We built rafts with the canoes and went on an adventure on Chadburn Lake. We found a cabin where we had lunch, made a fire and cooked banana boats, and then went on an island where we found a geocache.

The girls are setting up the routes with me before the camp children arrive at the site. Ava taking the "hanging upside down" challenge.

Doing one of the GPTeaming activity

Another challenging GPTeaming activity

Hiking along the Yukon River and learning about plants and trees as we go.

My colleague Megan and our 3rd week of camp kids!

Preparing bannock

Cooking bannock over the fire

Making chocolate-orange bombs to cook in the fire

What are these kids doing with balloons on their heads? Sticking them on top of the route they climb. On their next climb, they can pop one if they make it to the top again!

The full-time summer camp is on now and it is such an incredible learning opportunity for both the girls and I. We rock climb, canoe and kayak, do GPTeaming (teams use a GPS and to locate activity based initiative caches) and learn lots of outdoor living skills.

When I take the children on plants and trees identification hikes, I tell them to stop us anytime they have something to share about a plant or a tree they know. One First Nation girl told us about how her grandma used to say that when soapberries turn red, the salmons are running. Another First Nation kid showed us how to gut and eat minnows.

In the last few weeks, I've learned to use an Atlatl (a spear-thrower), improved my paddling strokes and have become better at teaching all sorts of skills. I have rubbed sunscreen on many many kids and held hands with little five year olds who were scared of falling in the outhouse when peeing. I've wiped tears and noses.

The girls are now all proficient belayers and help me set up the routes on the rock climbing days before the camp children arrive (they bring the ropes up, install the ground anchors, carabiners and grigris, and tie different knots), they've made new friends and are learning a lot about group dynamics, teambuilding, communication skills and so much more!

I've had moments when I wondered what I was doing there, but many more where I was in complete awe that I was actually paid to spend a day paddling on turquoise lakes and rock climbing with my girls. 

My hands are full of scratches and cuts, my body is sore from carrying big bins of ropes and bringing canoes up and down a trailer. I'm getting stronger and more confident by the day. 

I've learned that this is right along my alley and that it combines my love for the outdoor with my love of people, my natural leadership and organization skills and my sense of compassion. 

It's truly an incredible experience for all of us.

We come back home tired and dirty, smelling of smoke and bug spray. I love that we spend 8 to 10 hours a day outside in nature, learning and playing and being active. 

And by the way, if you think the girl in Eat, Pray, Love has it hard to meditate with mosquitoes swarming around her in India, imagine what it feels like to belay someone with mosquitoes biting you everywhere. That, my friend, is a lesson in mindfulness.

My summer job

It’s 8:30 on my third day of work and we are already drenched from collecting wet firewood to light a fire for the school group that will be arriving in 30 min. We get a tarp up and drag the wet picnic table under it. The group of 4th and 5th graders arrives, rowdy and cheeky. Most than half of them don’t have raincoats. Chris, the owner of Equinox Adventures, leads a simple introduction game and the kids can’t seem to be able to follow basic instructions. Two boys take off in the forest. The teachers yell. We try the game again. It’s only 9:15. It’s gonna be a long day. I’m usually still in bed at that time. What am I doing here? Why did I say yes to this? A challenge? Really? Getting out of my comfort zone? Learning new skills? Is this all worth it? Am I not too old for that?

Chris divides the group in half, girls on one side and boys on the other to do what he calls GPTeaming, an activity similar to geocaching, but with a team building/problem solving activity at each station (that the kids find with the help of a map and GPS). He assigns me the rowdy boys group. I’m sure that if he had looked at me at that moment, what he would have seen in my eyes was sheer fear. He was feeding me to the wolves. I wanted to run. My comfort zone was long gone.

The day went on, we got wetter and colder, but the kids seemed to have fun and to listen to me pretty well. A small victory. I was doing this.

Next thing I knew, it was lunch time and we tried to dry our feet and warm up our hands by the fire (that was June 13th, and it was 6 degrees Celsius all day...). Then, it was time for games. Panic stroke again. Games? I think we need to find more dry firewood, don’t we?

Finally, it was rock climbing time. An area I feel competent and comfortable in. My rowdiest little friend worked hard on a route, fought tears and finally trusted me enough to get all the way to the top. It was a very touching moment and I felt privileged to be a part of that.

By the time we had coiled the ropes and packed the helmets and harnesses back in the bins, I felt like myself again, humbled and full... and tired and cold.

As I drove back to the bus, my hair still dripping wet, I searched my mind to figure out why I committed to do this for the next 6 weeks. It really wasn’t for the money... it wasn’t because it was easy either. What was it then? Working hard physically outside? Yes, but there was more to it... Why was I putting myself in that position? I felt like a teenager at his first job. Trying to look confident but feeling pretty vulnerable inside.

Do I want to prove myself that I can still learn new things that are outside of my area of study and expertise? Do I simply like the idea of leaving in the morning and coming back home at night? Do I do it for the intensity and adrenaline, the newness of the experience? Yes, that is all possible...

I’ve started feeling bored since we have stopped moving for the summer. Not bored in a there-is-nothing-to-do kind of way, because the Yukon is full of awesome people and things to do, but bored in a more personal way. It’s been brewing for a few years since the girls are more and more independent. Bored in a what-do-I-contribute-to-the-world way. In a how-do-I-exist-outside-of-my-family-and-translator-title way.

And I wanted to have fun! And as much as this third day of work wasn’t really my definition of fun, all the other days have been great and fulfilling. For the last two weeks of June, I worked with Junior Rangers from the Northern communities of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut (some children came from the southern part of Baffin Island!) and it was a fascinating experience. These were mostly First Nation kids (half of them Inuits) and for most of them, English was their second language. Some didn’t speak English at all and needed an interpreter! I belayed a guy named Courage (it was pretty cool to say Go, Courage, Go!). They were also terrified of bugs and bears (because when you live in polar bear country, you should be!) and kept breaking tree branches (most of them live in the alpine tundra and are not used to be in the forest). Some of them had never ridden in cars before… One morning, my girls even joined the group and got to climb and learn to belay! They loved it.

Equinox is an adventure company that uses rock climbing, canoeing, ziplining, GPS/map & compass navigation and outdoor living skills to build character, trust, communication, teamwork, problem solving and leadership. I really resonate with Equinox’s mission and feel excited to be a camp leader this summer!

Rock climbing at Green Valley Gap

By 11:30 am it became obvious that we had to find a route in the shade since we were litterally cooking on the south facing wall. Good thing we remembered there was a fun chimney to climb down the crag with a nice shady spot beside it to hang out.

Mathilde giving grandma Tybee some love. She is the sweetest dog ever.

It's so nice to be able to park right by the canyon rim and set up the top ropes. The routes are short (30') and nothing extraordinary, but the spot is right by the town, there is no approach walk and the view is really nice. 

Since we only had one day of rock climbing in St. George this year (and since JF cannot lead because of his broken finger), we decided to come back to Green Valley Gap. We knew the place from last year and knew we could easily set up top ropes from the top of the canyon. 

It was fun to have Ching and Jerud with us and we had a fun relaxing day hanging out at this beautiful crag. They even installed a zip line in the *gap* and we could see people sliding down it as we climbed. There is also a mountain bike trail right around the canyon - namely the Zen Trail (black) and the Barrel trails. Isa and Martin came to join us after they rode Bearclaw Poppy. There are so many trails and crags to explore in St. George. We will come back longer next time. There simply doesn't seem to be a good boondocking spot close enough with good signal. If you know one, leave a comment!

 

Rock climbing in Cochise Stronghold, AZ

When we first arrived at the foothill of the Stongholds, we felt like we just stepped in the African Serengeti. There were no more cacti, just tall dry grass, mesquite and sycamore trees and beautiful mountains. We expected to camp in a big open dusty parking lot with lots of other climbers, but instead, we stumbled upon a little camping spot, perfect for our two families, a mere 3 minute walk from the climbing walls. We popped the Westy's top, pitched the tents under the trees (we hadn't seen tall trees like that in months! We were exstatic!) and called it home for the weekend!

Java looked just like a dingo in this tall dry grass!

The beautiful 3 min approach walk to Sweet rock crag.

These 2 Mr. Muscles brought their girlfriends rock climbing for the first time on Valentine's Day. That cute Eastern European blond girl was pretty stressed out, but played along. The guys didn't even explained to her how to come down (that's the first thing you practice, especially outside) and the poor girl panicked 3/4 up the route (there routes are high!) and could not come down. Jen was climbing the route right beside her and walked her through it, in her usual comforting and compassionate way. When they say something make or break a relationship... well, this guy might not have had the Valentine's night he expected...!

Crag dogs are perfect for rests between climbs.

Climbing can be such a mental game. I'm so glad Jen can help Aïsha work through her fears when they come up. She truly is a second mom to my girls.

Hard-working hands.

This amazing woman turns 40 this week and this incredible weekend was how she wanted to celebrate. It could not have been more perfect. We had permasmiles in our faces at all times, constantly repeating to ourselves what a great life we have created for ourselves. 

There were lots of very dry cow dung around our camp and we used it as fire starter. The kids thought it was pretty funny, but they quickly understood why many people do this across the world. Cheap and efficient fuel!

Java thought that collecting cow dung was a pretty fun game.

Wipe shower! We gave the kids 2 wipes each and told them to bring them back only when they were black!

Mission accomplished!

I feel so fortunate to share this life on the road with this incredible woman (and her family that I love deeply). She is such an inspiration for all of us. It was her first time back on the rock since her fall in Joshua Tree, and she had to work hard to stay focused on her love for rock climbing. She is such an exemple of courage, strength and perseverance.

After one hard climb, she told Aïsha: When you do something that scares you, your're not afraid, you're brave. Who wouldn't want such an incredible woman in their life!

Happy 40th my dear, dear friend! I am a better person for growing at your side. To 40 more years of adventures, laughter and happiness!

Starting the year right!

Raphael did his first two boulder problems!!

Little bro was quite happy to rock hop around the boulder

All the kids had a blast and were able to top it out.

I did it too... many times!

The plan was to go set up a few ropes at Hidden Jewel on Mount Lemmon, but after a pretty steep climb and lots and lots of scouting, Antonio deemed the place not safe enough to go with a bunch of kids, so we headed back down and decided to go back to the Hairpin boulders sector where we bouldered last time. It was the perfect place to cool down and enjoy the end of the day.