Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Knowledge Route

My climbing mentor and I couldn't have been more different than one another. He slept with a gun under his pillow, frequently pulling it out, and soloed like he was pointing it at his own head.

I felt lucky though, because he liked me, the town hippie, and he was willing to show me the steep side of ice climbing around Valdez, AK.

When I first met "The Climber Who Shall Not Be Named" he had just soloed, Keystone Greensteps, Bridal Veil Falls, Simple Twist of Fate, and The Glass Onion; in his first three days in Valdez.

Some of the locals were pissed, because that's Valdez. Who was this guy? Did he ask permission to come in here and crush our routes? These are the biggest climbs we have. Damn him.

The guy had Montana plates, and looked to be living in his truck in the winter. Kindred spirits, I thought. I walked up immediately and asked him….. WTF dude? Where's your partner?

Like any good recluse, he avoided bragging at all cost and looked at me and said, "don't have one, just kinda made my way up." He didn't even know the name of the route he just crushed. I did.

I lived in a shack just up the road from the canyon. I asked DG; my ski partner, landlord, and resident sourdough, if our new friend could join us and stay at the compound. He said yes.

Then I made another no-brainer. I asked to go climbing. I said I had three years experience, was self taught, my gear was outdated (even for 1999), but that I would be willing to follow anything. Trouble started with the next breath.

Let's hop on Royal Ribbons, he suggested. My heart fell out of my ass and ran away. Royal Ribbons I trembled. Right now? I'd never climbed a multi-pitch mixed route. I don't even think I knew what mixed climbing was.

The climb looked spectacular. A 150ft pitch of beautiful blue/green ice leading up to a roof, where the ice ends as it emerges out of cracks in the rock.

From there, the climb traverses right on loose rock for 30 feet to reach a tiny ribbon of ice that spills down a blank vertical wall from above, for a pure 100 feet of perfect ice. The Royal Ribbon.

I remember thinking, this is my first hanging belay, and shouldn't there be more than two ice screws. And when buddy kicked off a huge piece of ice on the second pitch, and it started oscillating at 150mph, making a loud hissing noise as it arced through the air…..

Well that's when he started screaming. At first my ass fell out again, but then I realized what he was saying. THIS IS FUCKING AWESOME!!!!! Yeah it was. I saw this huge grin, and about a 50 foot run-out from his last piece.

Welcome to the real world of ice climbing, I thought. Now let's pass the initiation exam….. It lasted two years.

I know that I am lucky to have found an old school, old world, and traditional coach in the sport of climbing. Funny thing was; he's 2 years younger than me.

HydroMonster; Yellowstone NP.  2010

Well now the exam is over, and while my mentor moved further into the AK bush to quietly push the limits of extreme alpinism; I moved back to Montana, and have been holding classes of my own.

My first attempt at mentoring ended poorly; with a broken leg, a ten year limp, and my best friend moving to Sacramento.

But then I met Kyle Rott. A goofy 17 year old kid from South Dakota that wanted to climb so badly, he was willing to try anything. Ice, rock, big walls,,,, he wanted to climb it all. So we did.

Maybe someday Kyle will start holding classes of his own, but he might have to move out of his truck first.

Kyle Rott, Avalanche Gulch, 2014

The Prodigal Dirtbag warming up on the choss in Hyalite Canyon.

Kyle of Expanding Horizons, during The Bozeman Ice Fest

Making it to the ice on Expanding Horizons.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


The Fat One
photo: Pat Claton

How is it possible that riding my bicycle to Canada took less preparation than riding 22 miles up The canyon south of town?

I ask because it baffles me. Why am I so freaked out to ride my bike to the Grotto trailhead and go ice climbing?

I've ridden hundreds of dirty winter roads, and I've gone climbing in many amazing and awe inspiring places. So why does my backyard scare me and freak me out so much?

I don't know. But I love it. I love the interconnectedness I feel about the place. The history. The climbing. The people. The animals. The trees. And the way I feel when it's snowing in the middle of a route. Awesome.

The place is made of heroes. They're there every day. And unlike many hot-spots on the climber's radar; to me, this place is not just a proving ground; it's just a special place.

Sure The canyon comes with a reputation. And sure, every climber who's ever climbed in The canyon, should know the reputation and how to act appropriately.

It's like the first day you climb in Yosemite, the first day you ski in Valdez, the first time you're like, Oh shit,,,,, am I really doing this? Oh yeah!

Certain places and mountains make us come alive. And not just us climbers and skiers who forgot about mainstream life. But for anyone who goes there and goes there frequently.

Hello Grotto.

The 29er+ mid-fat wheel size is great for long distances.

The 3" wide tires aren't quite fat enough to be a snow bike.
Best ride into The canyon yet.

Fully loaded for an overnighter and a day of ice climbing.

There are so many new tire sizes now for bicycles. I've been riding a 4" wide tire on a 26" wheel fat-bike for a few years now in the winter. This was the orginal size for fat-bikes, and great for snow riding, but slow over long distances.

This year I'm riding a 29er+ with 3" wide tires, and I've been calling it my mid-fat because it looks like a fat-bike, but really it's not.

The 29er+ has very low rolling resistance and is great for long distance travel. The 3" wide, low volume, tires on the 29er+ make for an extremely comfy ride, and allows adjustments in air pressure (10-25psi) to match changing road conditions.

Riding up The canyon, I was not worried about the icy paved section in the narrows. Sure, steep mountain roads, with icy corners are dangerous, but I was worried about the last three miles past the reservoir.

Would the ruts be to big to ride through? Would the snow be to deep for my skinny 3" tires? I didn't want to come up short, and not make it to the trailhead. Realistically I could stop and camp anywhere near the reservoir, and walk the rest of the way into The canyon to climb some ice.

But that's not the plan. The plan is to be ABLE to make it to the trailhead, relatively EASILY, from home, in winter weather and changing road conditions.

Well it's not really a plan, yet. More like an idea or a wandering gaze across the arctic circle where the earth curves. The sort of vision that alters reality, and the sort of reality that alters vision.

I wouldn't say human-powered mountaineering, during it's inception, has been a constant vision quest, or that to be a human-powered mountaineer I've had to wake up every morning and remember why I swallowed the red pill.

But I will say that I have an active imagination, and that's mostly what it takes. I think. I guess. I don't know?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Ski & Flu Season, and the Athlete's Dark Cycle

Adrian Dingle; Rock Skier

Many of us have been hiking in the mountains this year. Skidding and sparking the rock skis off the rocks.  Swinging ice tools in slushy moss.  And getting ready,,, cause it's almost WINTER... Yeah!!!

And if you're like me, you love winter, and you hate to get sick. Winter comes and everyone starts coughing up yellow, green, and brown phlegm-balls, and passing it around like lunch.

So for years now I have been taking immune support tinctures in the late fall and early winter.  This boasts my immune system for these cold and dark months when we are forced to close all the windows and stay inside.

True, I stayed healthy living in a tent in Joshua Tree, CA. for two winters. But that's southern California desert, and there were lots of people around to climb with. (and hide from rangers with)

But, I got sick as a dog living in a damp teepee type tent-structure in Girdwood, AK.  Don't worry, I was young and dumb. Little phased me then. I was in Alaska to ski and I wanted real experiences. They found me.

Examples of immune support tinctures;
Astragalus, Echinacea, GoldenSeal, Ashwagandha, Hawthorn

Oil of Thieves
For robbing graves and surviving plagues. 

PLEASE NOTE: Always consult your doctor and health care professionals before taking any new form of medicine or drugs.

Now when the flu bug comes through town; I feel it. But I don't go down anymore. No more insane bronchial infections. No more lingering colds that last for weeks on end. And no more worry about my health.

I know how to take care of myself now. For centuries our culture has practiced preventive health care. It's cheap, easy to learn about, and can make a difference in your ski season.

I also know the importance of taking time off each year from being hard core and intense. As an athlete it is important to take brakes, both mentally and physically.

I call this the Dark Cycle. For me it comes in late August and lasts for a month or two. This year, the dark cycle lasted two and half months.  I'd burned myself out, and I needed a huge break.

I broke my strict diet, stayed up late, drank beer, socialized, and generally forgot about being cool all the time.

It was amazing, healthy, and some-what controlled. In the past, when I didn't know to take breaks; I would burn-out and not know why. I'd get frustrated, depressed, fall off the wagon, and end up hitch-hiking around the west coast with hippie girls in need of drug rehabilitation centers.

This year, the dark cycle allowed me to see changes in my life I was not expecting. At first it sucked, and I had to keep myself in check. Mentally I felt like there was a need to go out and keep proving myself. But physically I was flat.

The struggle (to chill-out) lasted over a month. Then when the feeling of being content came, there was this beautiful realization of having meaning in my life that I could see. Yeah, a small victory!

Dealing with the ego is difficult. As athletes, we pick up the sword, we wield our strength, and we attract certain demons because of it. How we deal with our demons determines champions.

In the gym with my trainer Chris Bender.

Coming out of the dark cycle with Amazing Grass smoothies.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Courage to Speak Softly

Who wants to talk about divorce? It can be a painful subject, and it's what I went through last ski season. I'd quit blogging, and shut off parts of myself to the world for 10 months.

I was also making a ski film with all my heart and soul; going to therapy, and working to maintain friendships.

It was the most difficult time of my life. I divorced a woman I shared great love with, and saw all the ugly parts of myself come to the surface.

What's next for me?  I didn't know if I would continue to pursue my dream of being a skier and a mountaineer. I didn't know if I had it in me still, and I was really looking.

I joke that I have the hardest job in the world; but the hardest part of my job is the soft human stuff.

It's the times I spend in the dark, alone, thinking about stuff I can't express any better than the fumbling mistakes I've lived through and endured.

So what's next for me? I don't know.  Hind-sight is never there it seems like. Going forward, I guess it's ok to be unsure about what's next.  And maybe, I like it best that way.

The mid-life crisis bicycle.

Another morning in the mountains.

I bought the mid-life crisis bicycle in May and focused on cycling for the first time in my life. Regularly going out and putting the hurt on myself. 60 to 80 mile days on dirt trails became normal.

In August I attempted to climb Mount Cowen in-a-day from my house. A 126 mile round trip effort, with close to 11,000 vertical feet of gain and loss would be required.  With no support.

My plan was to ride 50 miles to the trailhead from my house during the full moon in August. From there run/walk to the summit of Mount Cowen (the highest peak in the Absaroka Mountains at 11,211 feet) and back. About 26 miles.

Then finish off with another full moon 50 mile dirt road ride over Trail Creek Rd. Again unsupported.

I almost pulled it off; turning back just shy of the summit in slippery running shoes on dangerous snow conditions. And I made it home in just over the 24 hour mark at 24hr 20min. Bummer. I was so close to being cool.

The best part came at 4am on the first leg of the trip. I felt awful, and wrapped myself up in an emergency blanket for an hour on the side of the road.

I laid there hoping to sleep, but I was scared to let myself relax. Finally I gave in and passed out for 20-30 minutes. It was amazing. For those moments it didn't matter if I climbed the mountain or even if I made it home under my own power.

I was right where I needed to be. Laying in the grass, feeling crazy and content with the madness of my life.

Happy to put the hurt on; Mount Cowen.

I have lots of news going forward. From new partnerships, sponsors, a new film, and some fun product design and testing in the new human-powered world of outdoor adventure sports.

I am honoured to say I've joined Caravan Skis here in Bozeman and will be riding for them as an athlete. This is an awesome shock to me. My first real ski sponsor!

In my twenties I mangled at least 3-4 pair of skis a year. And somehow always ended up with a new pair of used skis in better shape than the ones I broke. It happened so many years in a row, that I made reference to being sponsored as a soul member of the world team. I loved it.

Yes, there was lots of ramen noodles and smoky nights spent in snow caves. And yes, hind-sight was never there as I blazed through Jackson, Girdwood, and Valdez as a young ski-bum.

Sure was fun though...

Caravan Skis, Bozeman MT

Ashley and the crew at Chalet Sports are stoked on Caravan Skis.

So what is next for me? For human-powered mountaineers? I have no idea. So stay tuned.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Ennis, MT. fishing access.
First morning on our summer trip to the winds.
This year I had the most fantastic opportunity to be a part of  Therm-a-Rest's new 'Dreamers' program. 

Here's the blog I wrote for them. Part 1: The Bike Ride (on Therm-a-Rest's blog)

Therm-a-Rest, the leader in sleeping pad technology for the last 20-30 years, is now making sleeping bags, and integrative sleeping bag/pad systems.

I tested the Antares 20ยบ bag; weight 1lb. 15oz.
 the NeoAir All Season pad; weight 1lb. 3oz.


More Awards!!!!

The combination of a new tent and sleeping bag/pad system 
lightened my load by over 4lbs.

Sleeping with the bag secured down to the sleeping pad, 
(with 2 flexible fabric bands,)
allowed for a more comfortable night sleep,
with less cold spots inside the bag,
 and more freedom to move.

Making for a warmer and more comfortable night out, 
with less weight.
Yes it won outdoor industry awards,,, again!

Just make sure you wake up on the right side of the sign.
(And look at the thickness of that sleeping pad!)

And, how do I say thank you enough, 
the 'Live Your Dream' grant for helping support
our 2013 human-powered expedition to the Wind Rivers
& the Tetons…!
Big Love,
From team Sweet-Bangs 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Rainy Day Woman And Her Dog

Posted by Justene

I promised you another post as a sequel to my last one. In that post I went on a bit of a rant about the people that we meet along the way who seem to have lost their sense of adventure. Yes, it was a rant, but I want you all to know that, we meet all sorts of people while on the road and not all of them are  are like that, plenty of them could talk your ear off with amazing adventure stories.

Home is where you pitch the tent.

I'll share a bit about one woman we met recently...

On that same rainy morning I wrote about in my last post, Chris and I were riding back towards the highway from our undisclosed stealth camp spot. The clouds were grey and heavy with pending rain. It hadn't started falling yet, but it looked like any minute it would and neither of us were wearing our rain gear. I suggested we pull in to the lodge, grab a hot drink and put on some more water resistant clothing.

We always get pretty excited when we see other bicycle tourists and that morning we saw two fully loaded bikes propped against the picnic tables, so we parked beside them. Barking at us from underneath the bikes was a little Pomeranian cross, the toughest Pom I'd ever seen, sitting out there guarding the bikes like a pro. Amused, we patted him and headed inside for coffee and hopefully to meet this little guy's travel partners.

Ross, eager to get back on the road.

After looking over the expensive menu at the lodge's bistro, we settled on a cup of jo each, hoping they wouldn't boot us out into the rain for being cheap and not ordering food. As we sat warming our hands, a young woman approached the coffee pot for a refill, she had on soft-shell pants and a well worn merino wool sweater. We assumed she wasn't a regular lodge guest, so Chris said, "Are you the other bicycle tourist?"
With a smile she said, "Is it that obvious?"
She pulled up a chair.
He name was Marina, a Dutch woman who'd transplanted herself on the Island of Spitsbergen in northern Norway. Her dog's name was Ross and together, with their American friend, Norton, they were cycling a portion of the Continental Divide Trail...Banff to Colorado.
We were curious about how Ross did on the ride, he loved it! He had a little box strapped to the back of her bike that he would sit in and sometimes he even trotted alongside her, for pretty good distances too!

We exchanged some road beta; routes, dog friendly camping, hotsprings...
She humbly told us about her goldsmith business in Spitsbergen and how she used to own sled dogs there, her sailboat that is currently moored in Greece and her plans to move it Istanbul in the near future. Her travels had brought her to many countries and consisted of a variety of adventures.

I really liked how Marina thought about travel and trying new things. She said that when she took up sailing, friends wondered how she would just take up a new hobby as demanding as navigating a sailboat across the oceans to far off lands. The way she looked at it was, she had experienced the elements before and just by transferring this knowledge, she could try any new thing she had the desire to do. Whether is was dogsledding, canoeing, skiing, rafting or cycling, she was well versed at handling the wind, rain, snow, hot weather, frigid cold...How hard could it be to learn how to sail a boat accross the Mediterranean?
Her confidence and innate curiosity to explore the world was evident.

When she and Norton decided it was time to get back on the road, we watched them repack some stuff, Ross wiggling and barking with excitement the whole time, and off they rode...into the pouring rain, happy.

Marina and Norton, ready to ride!

Farewell new friends, and happy travels!
It may be a fleeting moment,  a wave to a passing cyclist on the opposite side of the highway, a smile and a nod, a high-five; or a good conversation, a shared camp spot for a night, an invite to dinner, or a cup of coffee while you wait out a rainstorm...either way, the exchange of inspiration that occurs when fellow travellers meet is a beautiful thing. The looks in their eyes tells you, they've felt it...the freedom of the open road.

Monday, October 7, 2013

In The Name Of Adventure

Posted by Justene

Now, I'm not saying that everyone needs to hop on their bicycle and ride to a far off mountain range to scale some famous peaks, but seriously...where has peoples' sense of adventure gone?
I can't even tell you how many times passersby or random people at gas stations or trail heads, have told us that we must be CRAZY to do what we do.

"Don't they lock you people up?"
"I'd rather be in prison than do that."

Kind of funny that we get these comments about being locked up, when what we do is actually the complete opposite. What is that telling me about our society today? How free are we, really?
Chris and I often talk about how freeing our style of travel is and we make it one of our missions to 'Inspire Freedom', but sometimes that goes right over peoples' heads and they just think we're crazy. Although, most people are smiling when they tell us this and then they give us props, but there is still no way that they would even think about doing something remotely as crazy as us.

We're just plain crazy I tell ya.

Riding our bikes 400 miles just climb here! Crazy!
One day when we were sitting out a morning downpour, a group of tourists came out of the lodge and were all standing under the entrance way with us. We looked at them, bedraggled but with smiles on our faces, it was no mistaking we were the bicycle tourists. As strangers usually do, we talked about the weather...

"Looking pretty wet out there."
"Yeah, we're just hanging out for a bit, waiting to see if it lets up, trying to find some motivation."
"Oh, I'll tell you where motivation is, it's parked right over there." As he points to his giant RV that probably costs $500 to fill the fuel tank.
I didn't even know what to say, I managed a sarcastic laugh and thought to myself, sure buddy, you will never experience Yellowstone National Park the way I did. 
He walked away, got in his vehicle, never to think about the sopping wet human-powerd mountaineers he'd seen in Wyoming again.

It's pouring rain and you two are still smiling,
how can you be wet and still happy?
We have had numerous motorcyclists tell us that they think we're burly, because they thought that riding their motorbike across a few states was hard...but we don't even have a motor!

And at the trailhead, "You rode your bikes all the way here just to go climbing??"
Yes! We did and the journey has been like nothing else I've ever experienced!

So, what did happen to sense of adventure I ask?
What happend to the Wild West, people? The pioneers of North America didn't make their way across country with the notion that is would be uneventful, shit, or even easy! They were looking for new lands and, inevitably, adventure. Of course, I know that our forefathers and mothers endured hardships that I can't even fathom, but think of their stories and the sights they saw. Nothing dull there, my friends! Think about it.

Modern comforts will be the death of the Adventurous Spirit, our ability to know the elements and the cause of our disconnect from Nature. We can't disconnect from Nature, we are Nature!

Too much planning is the murder of spontaneity. This can't happen...too much good can come to you when you open yourself up to the magic of the road or trail. So BE OPEN, let us not lose our natural curiosity to explore!

Where with the road take you?

Dare I leave you with back to back cliche sayings, yes I will... Throw cation to the wind! Step outside of the box! Whatever it is you choose to do, make an adventure out of it. You don't even have to go far away, just go outside, appreciate the beauty of each day, talk to the animals, smell a flower, hear the wind, feel it and most importantly, please respect the Earth.

Thank you

**There is more to this story, stayed tuned to hear about how my faith in the Adventurous Spirit was renewed....