Afton Apple Orchard

The Afton Apple Orchard is a popular Fall time destination.  Candice and I went to get our apple pickin' and donkey pettin' on a few weeks ago.  The orchard has entertainment for the entire family!  A petting zoo, corn maze,  playground, hayride, and of course, apple picking.  Their store is stocked with all sorts of apple infused products.  We picked up a jar of apple butter, some Honeycrisp Apples and caramel dip!

There are several different animals ready for petting at the Afton Apple Orchard, including miniature donkeys and llamas. 

The apples at the orchard were ripe for the pickin'!

The hayride will bring you out to the orchard!

Novel photo opportunities abound at the Afton Apple Orchard.

Saved Sandstone Festival

This past weekend the Minnesota Climbers Association hosted the "Saved Sandstone Festival" in Sandstone, MN.  In celebration of the acquisition of the Johnson land that lies across the Kettle River from Robinson park and holds some of the best boulders in the state, climbers from around the country came together to raise money for the organization that put so much effort into making that acquisition happen.  The weekend was full of sends, prizes were given out, pizza and beer were consumed, and most importantly of all the Minnesota climbing community came together to support what matters most to them.  I had a great time climbing a few boulders and seeing everyone get together.  Here are a few photos of the weekend, I hope you enjoy them!  You can also check them out on Flickr I should be adding a few more to that album over the next week.

The Kettle River and the River Boulder

Henry relaxing by the river.

Nic O. showing everyone how it's done on "The Best V5 in MN"

Caius cruising up the Tengo stand start.

The City of Sandstone water tower

Tyler H. making his way up a wall in Robinson Park.

Bryan and Sean of the MCA hand out raffle prizes

The Railroad Bridge over the Kettle River.

Summer Road Trip - Part 3: Longs Peak

My alarm went off early the morning of Tuesday, July 5th.  I sprung awake, not at all drowsy as I instantly remembered what the day had in store, a 5 mile hike, climbing over 3000 vertical feet, carrying a backpack full of camping and camera gear.  This is most likely a mundane task to the experienced backpacker, but I anot an experienced backpacker.  I packed up my sleeping bag, poured myself a quick bowl of cereal, then departed for the Longs Peak trailhead.  Once at the parking lot I made some last minute preparations, placing my food, clothes and other gear into my pack.  A quick chat with the Park Ranger and I was off up the trail.  As I made my way through the pine forests that surround the lower parts of the trail, I passed plenty of other people getting out to hike that morning.  The trail zigzagged its way higher and higher. Along the way I passed over streams, under trees, and stopped to take photographs whenever I came upon an inspirational scene. 

Alpine Brook coming down from Longs Peak

As I trekked on and continued to gain elevation the weight of my pack began to grow on me.  I kept my legs moving, trying to stop as little as possible.  When I reached the fork in the trail from which one path would lead me to the Boulder Field and the other to Chasm Lake, I stopped to have a granola bar and a rest. By this time I was well into the Alpine and the trees were especially sparse.  Small shrubs and alpine wildflowers were much more common.  Looking up to the Southwest I could see the Diamond and below it the shimmering waters of Chasm Lake.  After continuing up a few switchbacks I was on the final stretch toward the Boulder Field.  At this point the rocks along the trail began to grow more numerous, and eventually the trail was consumed and I began to follow the cairns that marked the rest of the way.  As I walked into the aptly name Boulder Field, I was surrounded by rock.  To my left was Mount Lady Washington and to my right, Storms Peak.  The crumbling summits of these two lesser peaks were dwarfed by Longs Peak which rose straight ahead of me.  


Alpine Brook, higher up the mountain.

Longs Peak and Chasm Lake

Exhausted from the hike, I slowly assembled my tent within a wall of stones that had been piled by the park rangers to protect campers from the elements.  After taking a rest inside my tent and eating a quick lunch I threw my camera in my bag and went to explore my surroundings.  I started toward the ridge that lies between Longs Peak and Mount Lady Washington, hoping to get a good view of Chasm Lake from atop the ridge.  After tooling around up on the ridge for a bit I made my way back toward my tent.  There was a pair of climbers making camp near me and I stopped to chat with them for a bit, and soon resigned to my tent for the day to rest up for the mornings’ ascent. 

Camp set up in the Boulder Field

My alarm went off at 5:10 AM on Wednesday morning. As I packed up my water, food, camera and other supplies for the ascent I could hear other hikers making their way past my tent.  After a quick breakfast and prepping some water for the descent, I started up toward the Keyhole.  More cairns led the way as I hopped from boulder to boulder and upon reaching the Keyhole vast mountainous landscapes could be seen laying on the other side of the ridge.  To the left, the path through  “the Ledges” was marked with yellow and red bull's-eyes.  After a short rest with some fellow hikers to take in the views from the Keyhole, I bound ahead along the Ledges.  The path here climbs up a little before dropping down, and was a nice respite before what in my opinion was the worst part of the climb, "the Trough."


Sunset at the Boulder Field

Climbing the Trough was an effort in both willpower and endurance.  I was making good time and didn't want to slow down, so I kept my legs pumping.  Up and up the rocks I went as bits of gravel were kicked from my feet down the side of the mountain.  Partway up the Trough I met the two mountaineers that I had met the previous night at the Boulder Field.  After chatting about how our climbs were going we started moving again with myself leading the way.  They had insisted that I was faster and should go ahead, and wanting to live up to their expectations, I chugged ahead as quickly as possible.  At times I had to use all four of my limbs and near the end of the Trough got to do what was likely an unnecessary mantle.  At the top of the Trough I stopped to catch my breath and take some photographs, and then I was off onto "the Narrows." 

Looking down The Trough


The Narrows was definitely the most exposed part of the climb.  To my right the mountain side dropped steeply, and a misstep here could be fatal.  However, the trail was rather flat and my psych was high so I rapidly made my way to the bottom of "the Home Stretch."


The Home Stretch was much steeper than the Trough and at times I had to scramble on my hands and feet on the way up.  As I got nearer to my goal my heart started to race.  I pulled myself onto the summit of Longs Peak, the sun shinning in my face as I did so.  Finally, I had made it to the top of Longs Peak!  Looking over the eastern edge of the summit I could see Chasm Lake below and the foothills of the Front Range. 


Looking over the edge of the summit with Chasm Lake below and the foothills of the front range ahead.


I ate my lunch on what felt like the top of the world.  After signing the summit book and taking some more photographs I started back down the mountain smiling from ear-to-ear.  Summitting Longs Peak was truly one of the most amazing experiences in my life.  While it was physically challenging, the beautiful surroundings of Rocky Mountain National Park kept me inspired to keep going.  I hope this is only the first of many 14'ers to come!

Summer Road Trip 2014 - Part 2: Day 1 at Rock Mountain National Park

When I last left off Candice and I were departing from the Badlands to head toward Rapid City. Once in town we paid for a shower at a Flying J truck stop and then we made our way to Mount Rushmore. This was my third time at the national monument, and while once is probably enough, Candice had never been, so we made a visit. I was able to get a few nice photos and the walk around the Presidential Trail was not a bad way to spend the morning.

The next few days were spent celebrating the marriage of Seth and Alana, two of my good friends from high school. After a wonderful wedding on Saturday, Candice and I departed for Colorado Sunday morning, where Candice would unfortunately have to catch a flight back to Minneapolis to go to work on Monday.

Once I had dropped off Candice and sent some emails for work from a Star Bucks I started towards Estes Park, my base camp for the next five days. As I was making my way west the sun was setting over the Rocky Mountains and I maneuvered the winding mountain roads in darkness. The wild species wasted no time in introducing themselves to me as I narrowly missed hitting an Elk that ran across the road.

Once I made it to Rocky Mountain National park I met up with Tyler and we then went to our camp for the night. The air was cool as a breeze came into our camp, and up above the night sky twinkled gloriously as light emanated from the stars onto earth. I laid out my crash pad and sleeping pad, and got into my sleeping bag to fall asleep under the stars.

The next day we would be heading up to Chaos Canyon in the afternoon, but we had a few hours to kill in the morning. When we woke up, Tyler and I went to Kind Coffee to get our caffeine and Wi-Fi fix. This would become a regular hangout spot throughout the week.

Ian and Erin met us at Kind and we made our plan for the day. We would meet up at Bear Lake to head to Upper Chaos Canyon in the early afternoon. I had aspirations to spend Tuesday night camping in the back country of Rocky Mountain National Park, so before we went out bouldering I visited the back country office to arrange my camp site. At the office I discovered that July was a busy time in the back country of the Rockies. All of the most convenient sites were taken, but sites were available at the Boulderfield under Longs Peak. This seemed like a prime opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and do some back country camping and climb my first 14'er. So I made the reservation and got my permits, then met Tyler in the visitor center parking lot to head up to Bear Lake.

It was a busy day up at the Bear Lake parking lot but we were very lucky and found a spot on our first lap! We got our gear out of the car, met up with Erin and Ian, and set off on the trail toward Lake Haihaya. Having been in Estes Park since the beginning of the summer and regularly hiking to the boulders, Tyler’s fitness was high and I did my best to keep pace. The elevation didn't seem to be having too great of an effect on me, but hiking uphill sure did burn. On the way up we went through pine forests and passed over mountain streams and there are great views of Longs Peak along some of the slightly exposed sections of the trail.

The Bear Lake parking lot - in the background, Hallet Peak can be seen on the left and Flattop Mountain on the right.

The view of Longs Peak from the trail

Once reaching Lake Haiyaha the trail narrows and a footpath leads to a section of talus. I hadn't done much boulder hopping previous to this trip, but my sticky approach shoes improved my confidence as we jumped from rock to rock. Looking ahead I could see the tops of Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain, between which our destination of Upper Chaos Canyon resided. After carefully moving through a small snowfield and some more boulder hoping, we arrived at the Meadow Boulder. 

Ian and Erin moving up a snow field with Lake Haiyaha in the background.

We warmed up for a while, trying the various problems on the boulder and making terrible jokes about the problem called “Chad’s Bulge.” Once we had groped the bulge enough we went over to see “Terrorism Arete” and “Riddles in the Park.” Tyler had completed both of these boulders earlier in the summer, so he gave us the spray on the problems. Terrorism Arete is a proud line moving up a ships prow-like boulder. After falling low on the boulder for my first few tries I sussed out the bottom sequence and started making it to the lip of the boulder on my attempts. However, each time I got my left hand on the pinch at the corner of the boulder, and my right hand on a small crimp just over the lip, I couldn't make it to the next hold which seemed a world away being so far off the deck. We moved the pads back and forth between the two problems and I gave a few tries on some of the moves of “Riddles in the Park,” but it was definitely beyond my skill level. I was getting tired from my multiple attempts and wasn't feeling any closer to making the next move on "Terrorism Arete". 

Once everyone was ready to move on we went to check out “Blood Money,” a hard Daniel Woods line Tyler had his eye on. The problem starts with some violent compression moves on a roof, into a heel hook-centric sequence, then the crux gaston moves. Tyler and Ian worked away at the problem while Erin helped with the spotting, and I tried to capture their attempts with my camera. Seeing these two strong, experience climbers figure out the boulder problem was a great lesson in rock climbing. With each attempt the beta was refined, and the two started to make some good progress on the boulder. Tyler was able to work out all the moves and with a little wait to rest and let the temperature drop, began making send attempts.

Ian attempting Blood Money

The day was getting late and the guys were having no luck getting the send, so we packed up; Blood Money would have to go down another day.  As we trekked down the talus it began to grow darker, and not wanting to be caught on the trail in total darkness, Tyler and I ran down to the parking lot.  We eventually got back to the trail head in Roosevelt National Park where we were camping and, it being another beautiful night, I set up my bed under the stars and fell asleep after a great first day in Rocky Mountain National Park!   

Summer Road Trip 2014 - Part 1: Badlands National Park

Having taken some time away from work Candice and I set out on Tuesday, July 15th to start what would end up being a 2,000 mile road trip.  The first leg of the trip brought us to Kilen Woods State Park near Lakefield, MN.  When we arrived we barely had time to set up the tent before the sun fell in the sky. The park was pretty small and quiet from what little we were able to see but it was a nice pit stop on our way to the Badlands National Park, and the bathroom facilities were excellent! 

Our Campground at Kilen Woods State Park

Random South Dakota Prairie along I-90

The next morning we packed up and made our way to I-90 to complete the drive to the Badlands.  We arrived in the park in the late afternoon and slowly drove our way around the park loop road.  Stopping at the visitor center and a few overlooks, we finally reaching our destination at the Basin Creek Primitive Campground.  Once we set up camp, Candice and I went into Wall to get a few things.   

One of our first views of the Badlands!

Bison on the way out to the Basin Creek Campground

Camp set up!

We made our way back into the park to check out more of the overlooks while the sun was setting. However, once returning to the car from the first scenic overlook, I discovered that what had been a slow leak in one of my car tires had now become a rapid leak and it would have to be patched.  We slowly left the park, hoping not to ruin my wheel by driving on the increasingly flat tire, and I was able to fix the tire at a gas station.  As I tightened the last lug nut we saw a beautiful red sun quickly falling toward the horizon, so we reentered the Impreza and quickly departed for the park as I was hoping to capture the sunset in a photograph.   

Missed the sun coming down.

Unfortunately, the tire mishap had delayed us too much and I was not able to get the photo I wanted. We spent some time at an overlook during twilight and drove back to camp once darkness had settled in. 

When we woke the next morning, after having some breakfast and coffee, it was time for the day’s activities to begin.  Candice wanted to get a run in as she is training for the Women Rock! Half-marathon in August, so I went to see what trails I could find near our camp to hike on.  I was able to make my way up along a small ridge above the camp that gave a beautiful view of the surrounding area.  As I was sitting upon the ridge I saw Candice running back into camp, so I packed up my camera and ran back down the hill to meet her. 

Our next destination was the Tourist trap that is Wall Drug.  We spent some time perusing the oddities that the landmark store holds, bought some fudge and souvenirs, and took them up on their often advertised offering of free ice water by filling all of our water bottles.  

On the way back to the park we hit up the Prairie Dog Ranch, because why not?!

A Prairie Dog

Our main objective for day two in the Badlands was hiking.  With our water supplies replenished, we loaded my backpack with food and my camera gear and started along the Castle Trail.  Having initially gotten started in the wrong direction, not knowing about the red stakes that marked the way, we eventually got to the trail and started our journey.  The sun was rising high in the sky by this time and the temperatures were heating up.  We made our way through the crumbling geological formations and I thought at any moment a Jawa might come out to zap me!  Once we were at the Castle Trail/Medicine Route intersection we decided to take the Medicine Route.  This part of the trail entered the more prairie-like terrain of Badlands National Park, where tall grasses and small shrubs lined our walking path.  Eventually we met up again with the Castle Trail and with the Saddle Pass Trail, we took the latter trail south to a great overlook of the lower Basin of the Badlands.   

Candice on the trail.

Once the sights had been seen we strolled back to where the trails met and got onto the Castle Trail yet again now heading back toward the car.  A few hours had passed during our several mile hike and we were quite famished at this point, so we decided to visit one of the overlook/picnic areas to cook some dinner. 

Mmm Mac & Cheese!

We ended the day by following the sun west and stopping at the many overlooks while making our way back to camp.   

Me while we were waiting for the sun to set.


Summer Road Trip 2014

I just returned from a great road trip.  I was able to visit Badlands National Park in South Dakota, and Rock Mountain National Park.  I saw many beautiful landscapes, hiked miles of trails, climbed my first 14er(Longs Peak), did some bouldering in Chaos Canyon, and met Tommy Caldwell!  I have a lot of pictures to go through and am hoping to create some gorgeous images to share.  I plan to have a write up of the first part of the trip published in the next few days, stay tuned!

4th of July Weekend - Part 2: Freedom From Pants

After spending the morning and afternoon hours of Independence day rock climbing at Barn Bluff, I had to quickly make my way back to St. Paul to get ready for the annual "Freedom From Pants Ride."  I heard about this event from a friend at work, and wasn't really sure what to think, but I kept an open mind and ended up having a great time!  

For those of you who don't know, the Freedom From Pants Ride is essentially a group bike ride, though it includes more drinking and dancing than most bike rides, and far less clothing.  The attire of the participants was wide-ranging.  Some chose to come simply in "tighty whities," while others had elaborate costumes, such as the man wearing the upper half of a Bat Man suit, along with some similarly themed underwear.

Candice and Kylie preparing for the ride.

All the participants met in NE Minneapolis and once adequately prepared, took off en masse.  The scene was quite a spectacle to behold, as what seemed like a few hundred half-naked bikers engulfed the streets of Minneapolis.  We made our way south on Hennepin Avenue going toward Downtown.  As we rode along the group received plenty of whistles, cheers, and honks from the onlookers.

Approaching the Hennepin Avenue Bridge

Once we made it across the Hennepin Avenue Bridge we got onto the Nicollet Avenue Mall on our way to the first stop at Loring Park. When we arrived at the park the riders dismounted and broke out their refreshments.  Some of the Freedom Riders had specially customized bikes with speakers that provided music at each stop.  One bike even had a portable stove attached to it and it's owner was serving grilled cheese!

After Loring the troupe made it's way west to Theodore Wirth Lake Beach, riding past the Basilica of St. Mary, under I-94 and onto the Cedar Lake Trail.  Here we hit a bottle neck as the trail cork-screwed up onto a bridge.

Once at the Lake another break was taken as we all enjoyed the beach at sunset.

Man dancing

When the sun had set and darkness was falling upon the group, we gathered our bikes to make the final leg of ride to Nicollet Island for the fire works.  A Grand Finale for a pretty spectacular day!

4th of July Weekend - Part1: Barn Bluff

The 4th of July Holiday weekend was a busy time for me!  Now that I've finally got some photos edited I thought it was about time to share some of the fun that was had!

Starting Friday morning I met up with Nick, Wei, and Madeline to drive down to Red Wing, Minnesota to do some sport climbing at Barn Bluff.  Residing along the Mississippi River Valley an hours drive southeast of the Twin Cities, Barn Bluff is comprised of Oneota Dolomite, which offers many a crimpy hold for climbers to attempt to stick to.  This can be especially difficult in the summer months when the sun is beating down on the cliff face.  

Nick about to climb as Wei waits to belay

The day started with a warm-up on Looking For Lust(5.9).  I made my way slowly up this climb. The holds felt a little greasy, possibly sandy, and with each move I was unsure of where to place my feet.  But I stayed relaxed during the ascent and eventually made it to the top without taking a fall.

Nick making his way up!

From here we made our way around to the Cyclops Area.  Nick set up the draws on Work Ethic, and seeing him move up the route reminded me that I had tried this climb 3 years earlier during my first visit to Barn Bluff.  On my first go I fell a few times but eventually made it to the top.  I came back down for a rest and some water, then took a shot at Suicide Squeeze and managed to flash it!   

Brian, Wes and Madeline refueling.

After another rest period and a PB & J I was ready to give Work Ethic another shot.  I made it past the second draw and fell moving through the crux.  At this point I came down to the ground, determined to do the route from the bottom. I gave it another go (okay the two draws were still clipped, but who cares, right? :) This time I moved more confidently through the lower crux with some new beta which included a bump from one right-hand undercling to another slightly higher, before moving to the high left-hand crimp-rail.  Moving up the climb I came to another difficult spot with a right-hand gaston from which you have to move to a high left-hand pocket.  I sat there for what felt like several seconds.  It felt as though my right hand could slip from the gaston at any moment and my feet were not secure either.  But with my fellow climbers yelling encouragement at me from below, I knew I had to make it work.  I shifted the fingers of my right hand and managed to find a slightly more incut part of the hold and found a better left foot.  From this position I was able to step down on my foot, push with my right hand, and reach my left into the high pocket.  After this I moved my right hand up to a good jug and from there it was a cake walk.  The ascent may not have been in perfect style, but getting all the moves down in one go was still very gratifying, and I hope to make it up the wall more smoothly next time!

Ryan on Roof Burner

After clilmbing Work Ethic I was feeling pretty pumped. My climbing endurance is pretty poor considering I'm mostly a boulderer, but we battled on to attempt Living All Over Me.  This was probably my favorite route of the day.  There is some very cool movement in and coming out of the crux gaston move.  I managed to make it to the top hangdogging a few times along the way, but it's always good to have projects!

Arlington-Arkwright Dog Park

This Sunday Henry and I went to one of his favorite places in St. Paul, the Arlington-Arkwright Dog Park!  This approximately 4.5 acre dog park is located at the corner of Arlington and Arkwright in St. Paul.  The park features a large open area covered in wood chips that is perfect for playing fetch and doggy wrestling matches.  There are also trails crisscrossing the woods throughout the park for walking or running with your furry friend!

A Weekend at Governor Dodge State Park

This past weekend Henry and I made the drive down to Dodgeville, Wisconsin to experience the boulders of Governor Dodge State Park.   Our journey began Friday after work.  With the car packed full of crash pads and camping gear my furry companion and I set off South on US Highway 52. We were taking the scenic route through the rolling river valleys of Southeastern Minnesota and Northeast Iowa.  After about 5 hours of driving, getting thrown off coarse by google maps a time or two, and making the mandatory stop for a 6-pack of Spotted Cow, we had made it to our destination of Black Hawk Lake Recreation Area.  After setting up the tent, meeting some of my fellow Twin Cities Rock Climbing Meetup Members, and snapping some photos of the bright “Honey Moon,” Henry and I settled in for what I was hoping would be a good night’s rest.

Apparently 5 hours stuck in a car and a night sleeping in an unfamiliar place makes for a restless dog, so at 5:30am Saturday morning I finally succumbed to Henry’s whines and got up to bring him out for his morning ritual.  This early morning wakeup call granted me the opportunity to view the sunrise over Black Hawk Lake, which was a beautiful site indeed.


Sunrise over Black Hawk Lake

Once a few of my fellow climbers had been roused out of bed a few hours later by the sounds of the surrounding forests, we made for Governor Dodge State Park and the sandstone boulders we had come to conquer. 

Our destination for the first day was the high concentration of boulders at Group Camp B.  After bush-whacking through thorny brush we came upon the ridge of sandstone boulders which offered a myriad of holds to get your hands on.  After warming up on High Anxiety and Seperation Anxiety we started to work on Split Personality, a slightly overhanging, crimpy V5.

Kyle near the top of Separation Anxiety

 Warning, Beta spray ahead! 

After working out the body positions for the bottom section I was able to easily make it to the relatively decent right hand pocket.  The next hold is a small, sharp left hand side pull; if you’re able to hold on and bring the left foot up to one of the crimps below, a small hop to a fairly positive lip will finish up the bulk of the problem.

Here I am about to go for that sharp left-hand sidepull(Photo: Carl Siegler)

From here we made our way along the West Backbone Ridge sector of Group Camp B.  One problem that stood out for me along this side of the ridge was the V2 highball, Scarete.  Around my third attempt I made it past a tricky section of the boulder about 15 feet up, and was able to make it to the top out at 25 feet.  Being that high off the deck brought to me a level of focus I have not experienced previously in my climbing, in addition to an exhilarating rush of adrenaline.  Perhaps they were one and the same.

East Backbone Ridge came next.  This side includes the classic V5, Hangman, and its V7 extension, Highly Executed.  With some beta from MNCC climber, Brian, and some left over tick marks, I was able to pull out a flash of Hangman!

After a little more climbing our crew was growing weary, so we trekked back to our camp site where hot dogs were roasted over the fire, odd pies were baked in cast iron, beers were consumed, and deep discussions of childhood dreams were had.  The night was topped off with Angel Food cake for Paul’s “89th” birthday!

Sunday had rain in the forecast and our fate for the day was unclear, but luck was on our side and it turned out to be another beautiful day.  Our goal was the Godfather boulder in the Box Canyon Boulders area of Governor Dodge.  Going straight up the proud rear face of the boulder was its namesake problem, The Godfather.  Starting on jugs this problem moves upward on side pull crimps then into some pockets near the top, finishing on a good slopey horn at the lip, and a good jug edge about two feet over the top.  I managed to flash this classic problem as well, another high point of the trip!  We got on a few more problems on The Godfather boulder, one of which was Cosa Nostra (V4 PG-13).  Cosa Nostra starts on crimps as you make your way up to the slab avoiding the arête as you go.  Looking down and right shows a big potential fall off the edge of the boulder, but sending this problem was definitely worth the temporary anxiety.

Sean gingerly making his way up Cosa Nostra

When we were finished bouldering for the day we packed the crash pads into the cars and made our way to Eau Claire for a final meal at the fine Mexican restaurant, Tacos Juanita.  With our bellies full of Enchiladas, burritos, and margaritas we said our parting words, got in our respective cars and continued on to our homes in Minnesota.  It was truly a great weekend.  The weather was beautiful, the rock was solid and the company was superb.  I can’t wait for the next adventure!