03 Apr The Epic Road Trip
At the beginning of April, my best friend, Elizabeth, was set to begin an intensive audio production program out in Massachusetts, so of course I had to drive her across the country and make sure she got settled in, safe and sound! Instead of rushing the drive, we decided to extend the trip into a big adventure, where we would climb and fly all the way across the United States.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, we carefully plotted out our path, selecting the exact places we wanted to fly and climb along the way. We had to be precise with our planning, as both of us would be working remotely from the road, and we had to get her to school in time for orientation. There would be a lot of early morning and late night driving, but still, everything in between was going to be epic! Our trajectory looked something like this.
1.) Phoenix, AZ – Paraglide South Mountain or Mingus Mountain
2.) Santa Fe, NM – Paraglide El Bajado and climb at Diablo Canyon
3.) Oklahoma City, OK – Climb at the newly opened, Climb Up gym
4.) Slade, KY – Climb at the Red River Gorge
5.) Pennsylvania – Paraglide at one of the numerous sites we would be passing along the way
6.) Massachusetts – Paraglide Wellfleet or a nearby coastal site, and drive to Rumney, NH for some climbing.
It’s funny how things that look so good on paper don’t work out quite so well in the execution…
We set out from California on a Friday evening after work and made it to our first stop without issue. We spent the night in Phoenix, with plans to fly the next morning at one of the area’s popular sites, South Mountain or Mingus Mountain. We had already been in touch with the paragliding club, paid our daily site fees in advance, and were all ready to go! Luck was not with us. Although the weather appeared cooperative for South Mountain, when we arrived at the park, all the roads were shut down due to an ultra marathon and would not be reopened for hours. We didn’t have time to make the 7 mile round trip hike for a hike and fly, so we left Phoenix slightly disappointed but carrying the knowledge that we had plenty of adventure still ahead of us!
After an uneventful few hours of driving, we reached the high deserts of Arizona, where we were met by drizzly clouds and high winds that would follow us all the way through New Mexico. By late afternoon, we realized that we would not be climbing outside the next day as hoped due to wet rock. Some redemption was found, however, in the form of Stone Age Climbing Gym in Albuquerque, where we decided to climb instead.
Stone Age ended up being an awesome gym! I found the setting to be extremely creative and fun, exemplified by lots of dynamic movement and full body climbing techniques such as heel hooks, toe hooks, and knee bars. You can check out my full review here!
After climbing, we continued on to Santa Fe, where we would spend the next two nights. Sunday dawned sunny and calm and I was excited about the possibility of a nice post frontal flying day. I had already been trying somewhat unsuccessfully to make contact with the local flying club, so I spent the morning texting and emailing to try and pin down solid info in regards to sites, fees, and regulations. Unfortunately I came up empty handed, consistently being directed back to a club website that had very little information. This might just be in my head, but I got the feeling that people weren’t really excited about hosting out of town pilots. We were a little tempted to try and fly anyway, but worried about reservation lands and doing anything that might jeopardize paragliding in the area, we relegated ourselves to the fact that we would not be flying in Santa Fe either. It was definitely disappointing but Elizabeth and I made up for it with an impromptu horse ride through the desert and a day of exploring in downtown Santa Fe.
We left Santa Fe Monday morning and reached Oklahoma City that same afternoon, where we planned to climb at the newly opened, Climb Up, near Downtown OKC. This ended up being another seriously cool gym, unlike any I’d ever visited before! Constructed out of converted Grain Silos, the gym offered 90+foot routes both indoors and outdoors. I’ll post a review on this one later as well, but for now I’ll say that Climb Up is totally unique, great for the endurance, and definitely worth a visit
After leaving OKC, we had a long day ahead of us, driving 14 hours to Slade, KY and the highlight of our trip, the world class climbing at the Red River Gorge! This would be both my and Elizabeth’s first visit to the Red and we were beyond excited! Upon the suggestion of a friend, we had booked a room at Miguel’s Pizza, Campground, and Hostel, which is where we were told, “all the climbers go!” It certainly was! There were hundreds of us sprawled about the property. I found it a little bit intimidating to be honest; with so many conversations about hard routes, epic sends, and tricky beta floating through the air, I wasn’t sure I would be up to the task of The Red.
For our first day of climbing, we visited an area of the Red called The Zoo, which was just stunning, surrounded by trickling streams, lush forest, great stone amphitheaters, and seasonal waterfalls. My initial intimidation was unfounded and we were met here by climbers and routes of all levels. Elizabeth and I jumped on routes ranging from a 10c warmup, to an almost almost onsight of area classic, Scar Tissue, 5.12a. Unfortunately I fell at that last heart breaker move trying to clip the anchors! My favorite route in The Zoo was called On Beyond Zebra, a 5.11c, which I did onsight. This was a typical Red route, steeply overhung with lots of jugs! A dynamic jump start and lots of opportunities for heel hooking really made this one stand out for me!
After overhearing several conversations about fun areas in The Red, the next day, Elizabeth and I decided to visit The Military Wall and The Left Flank. The Military wall was home to some nice moderate overhangs, plus the ultra-classic and most popular 11 at the Red, Fuzzy Undercling, 5.11b. This was definitely another fun route, with a difficult, bouldery start followed by huge jugs to the top!
After Fuzzy Undercling, we skirted down the trail to the Left Flank. It was getting late by this point so I wasn’t sure if we would actually climb anything, but I at least wanted to give the area a look. A striking arete immediately drew my attention however, and I knew I had to rack up for one more climb! The route was called Too Many Puppies, a 5.12a, consisting of stellar technical climbing on an overhung arete. Pictures really can’t do justice to how pretty this route was!
As we were packing up at the Left Flank, the weather took a turn for the worse, and we were chased away from the crag by a severe thunderstorm. Though we had originally planned to stay one more night in Kentucky, we decided instead to head towards the East Coast that night, hoping the next few days would allow us to outrun the rain and finally get a chance to fly! Each passing mile only found us driving further and further into the storm, however! Pennsylvania passed in a blur of dark haze and pouring rain, which soon turned into hail, and finally snow by the time we reached Massachusetts. Ultra marathons, misinformation, and horrible weather; our grand paragliding plans had been so thoroughly destroyed by this point, that all we could do was laugh at our bad luck.
Since climbing outside at Rumney wasn’t going to happen either, we opted for our usual stand by, a local climbing gym. We definitely had some good luck in this regard though!
Carabiner’s Climbing Gym in New Bedford, Massachusetts was an extremely fun gym! I believe it holds the record for the most featured gym I’ve ever seen, with integrated crack and chimney systems, multiple aretes and prows, multi-level roofs, hanging stalactites, a vertical tunnel, and a free standing split pillar. There was so much terrain to play on and the setters did a terrific job integrating the features of the gym into the routes. It wasn’t uncommon to run out of holds half way up a route and find yourself forced to hand jam, stem a chimney, side pull an arete, or otherwise use features to finish the climb. I feel like this is really conducive to learning various climbing techniques. Plus, it’s fun! Check out the pictures below to get a sense of Carabiner’s awesome features!
In the end, our epic cross country trip did not go anything as planned. But Elizabeth and I made it safe and sound across the country, had an amazing time exploring some new gyms and visiting The Red, and we got to enjoy 10 days and 60 hours of best friend time in the car! Haha. And that is pretty epic!
If you have questions or would like more information on any of the places we visited, feel free to contact me, or check out the links below.