Mountain Santa

There was no need to stop as we headed towards our next stop of our trip – Wild Iris – a rock climbing crag between Lander and Atlantic City, Wyoming.  We didn’t expect to see anything on the drive beyond the wide open spaces of Wyoming.

We were going through small-town Crowheart, Wyoming.  Plains.  Bluffs.  A handful of buildings.  It lies on the highway between Dubois and Lander on the Reservation.

Yet, a small bit of magic happened that day.

As we cruised in our van, riding in the opposite direction was Mountain Santa.

Try to picture this: snow-white hair, big bushy beard flowing from his face, button-down Christmas red shirt, dark jeans or Carhart’s, riding a fat-bike – a bike with seemingly over inflated bike tires  that can go through snow or rocky terrain.

Mountain Santa was leaner than North Pole Santa.  

But assuming he uses his fat-bike to get around, rather than a sleigh, it makes sense.

We only caught a second of him as we traveled in different directions.  Perhaps on vacation or maybe in charge  of the Rocky Mountain region, who can say why he’s biking Wyoming.

Whatever the reason, we caught a glimpse of Christmas magic in the middle of summer.

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Third Leg of Our Trip – June 23 – July 15

It’s been a while since I’ve updated our trip log.  Rest days from climbing were typically with friends/family or we went hiking.  Not many days on the internet, so I’m going to give the quick overview

Days 16 – 19

Headed to Jackson, Wyoming and hung out in the beautiful area.  Shopped, hung out in National Forests, walked around town, caught up on civilization essentially.

Met up with friends from Memphis who just happened to be visiting at the same time.  Haven’t seen them since our wedding so it was great to see them again!

Days 20 – 38

Here’s what happened in this section in a nutshell.

Climbed awesome rocks.

Where’d we climb?

  • Wild Iris outside of Lander, Wyoming
  • Ten Sleep canyon, in Wyoming.
    • This is one of our all-time favorite places to climb during the summer
  • Crazy Woman Cliffs (surprise surprise, in Wyoming)
  • Story, Wyoming – were close to Tory’s family in Sheridan so drove up one day

What else?  Time with family and friends.

Who?

  • Friend from college and Tory’s best man – Chris – visited us in Ten Sleep for a few days
    • Climbed some climbs, attended a climbing festival, put out a brush fire, climbed some more.  All in all, a great time.
  • Sister Amy
    • She got lost and took dirt roads to Ten Sleep even though there is a perfectly good highway system in the state, so she missed the Ten Sleep 4th of July Parade
    • We climbed
    • Her car basically broke while we had no cell service and we spent two hours trying to leap frog her down the canyon to town, all with her gas light being on to top it off
    • Got her a tow truck
  • Tory’s mom, sister, brother and nephews
    • Lots of great family time in Sheridan, especially at THE parade – literally the biggest parade I have been to – the Wyo Rodeo Parade.
      • Seriously crazy.  We set up lawn chairs on the street the night before in order to save our spots for the parade.  This parade is serious business
    • Saw Kayla’s new house, played mini-golf (Kayla kicked ass), attended Buffalo, Wyoming’s ‘Longmire Days’ – based off of the Netflix show
    • Went camping and hiking with Tory’s brother, sister-in-law, nephews, and mom up in Big Horn National Forest
  • College friends!
    • Great friends who we see far too little – Jeff and Emily – met up with us in Sheridan.  Food, rodeo events, catching up with friends we wished lived closer

 

On July 16 we are heading to Montana for the final part of our summer trip.  It’s ending too soon!

Time in the Tetons

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Jagged cliffs atop a harsh vertical rise.  Rising suddenly from the smooth valley floor, the Tetons hold your attention more than anything else.  Other ‘scenic views’ don’t hold a candle to mine right now.

Millions of pictures capture the raw beauty of the Tetons, yet there’s something about seeing them in person.  A small frame diminishes their magnitude.  Being in their shadow, you can’t escape them.  They’re in your face, your peripherals, even your mind’s eye as you turn away.

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Tory and I found amazing camping across from them.  We couldn’t help but take picture after picture of the exact same view: this one captured wild flowers, the shadows shifted on the peak, the sun is hitting it just right.

There’s not much that can be said about the Tetons that they don’t say themselves.

As so we relax in their presence, completely content for time to stop, partially thinking about adventures to come but mostly marveling in our now.

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The Therapy of Climbing

Across the creek the three climbers huddle around the base of a route.  One, with scraggly brown hair, mid-twenties, starts to climb.  The other two, somewhere in their mid to late teens, belay: one taking charge of belaying while the other back up belays, learning the process and motions from his peer.

“Mind if we climb by you?”  Tory asks as we hike up.

“Not at all.”

As we throw down our packs and begin scouting out the routes we want to climb, we start the ‘climber small talk.’  If you’re going to be around another group for a while, might as well get to know them a little.

“Where are you all from?”

The main belayer, sixteen maybe seventeen, with the build of a high school wrestler, responds, “San Francisco.”

“Chicago,” answers the wiry, blond fifteen or sixteen year old.

The climber is from St. Louis.

Confusing.

Definitely not the variety of answers I was expecting from a group of young climbers outside of ranching, farm town Utah.

“What brought you out here?”  I ask curiously, expecting the basic ‘vacation’ answer.

These three look nothing alike, making it a stretch that they’re related.  Maybe they are old friends whose families moved across the country and they’re doing a small climbing trip to reconnect.

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The one who could be a wrestler:  “We’re in a group home.”

Wiry Blond:  “I was in a half-way home, then came here.”

Wrestler:  “That’s one of our therapists.  The one climbing.”

Ugh…

It’s safe to say I’m socially awkward.  I don’t suffer from ‘foot in mouth’ syndrome.  More the ‘brain freeze’ variety of awkward.  

Don’t get me wrong.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being in a group home.

I was more taken aback that these two kids were completely open with two strangers they just met.  They didn’t know our names, we didn’t know theirs.  No shame.  No pride.  Just stating a fact about themselves.  

I admire that.

But I don’t know how to respond.  To ask more might seem like prying.  To not respond seems like judging.

Luckily we all have one thing in common: we like to climb shit.

“How long have you guys been climbing?”

The conversation continues.  We learn Wrestler has been climbing since August while its Wiry’s first day, but he loves rappelling, we’re from Denver, Tory, Scraggly Hair (the therapist/guide), and I snowboard, Wrestler skies, and Wiry has us ‘all beat’ because he skateboards.

It doesn’t take long to pick up on personalities:  Scraggly Hair is optimistic and soft spoken, Wrestler is confident in his abilities, Wiry expresses his uncertainty through a string of comments and incessant chatter.

We all shift back to our own routes: Tory and I getting our gear together while their group discusses who will climb next.

Wiry grabs a helmet and clips in.  He is full of self-doubt and deprecation.  Each move takes three or four reminders about how he is new to this, how he doesn’t like heights, how he only climbs so that he can rappel back down.

Scraggly Hair, the guide, fills the air with ‘you got this’, ‘just one more step’, and ‘look how far you’ve come, what’s a little higher?’

After reaching the second bolt, a little less than a quarter up the route, Wiry declares he’s done.

“Alright, lean back in your harness,” calms the guide.  “I’ve got you.”

The guide slowly lowers the climber to the ground as Wiry continues to express his inability to climb the route, emphasizing his fear, and he unties his rope.

The wrestler from San Francisco gives words of encouragement to his companion as he ties into the rope and begins his turn on the climb.

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Walls of Maple Canyon, Utah

As the next climber heads up, Wiry and his guide discuss his progress and growth from just that day.

It sounds like a rock came loose during Wiry’s first climb, spooking him.  Making it hard to not get paranoid of all the rocks popping loose while he attempted to put his weight on them as he climbed.

“It sounds like the rock kind of broke your trust, making it hard to count on the others.”

Wiry nodded.

“Does that ever happen in life?  Losing trust in something or someone?”

Wiry had the largest pause that I heard the whole time there.  His chatter ceased as he put serious thought into Scraggly Hair’s question.

“Yeah,” he whispered.  “Sometimes.”

“But you didn’t let that stop you.  You finished that route and tried this one.”

“But I was scared.”

“You didn’t stay on the ground though.”

“No…”

“Ready to lower!” came the call from the top of the route.

The therapist brought down the other climber and the three of them began the process of packing up, conversations sliding to the plan for the rest of their day and other members of the group home.

We all gave farewells as they hiked out and we scouted out our next routes.

Before they fully disappeared through the trees, I saw Wiry Blond look back at the route he didn’t complete.  Eyes set with determination.  A hopeful smile on his face.  Then he turned and continued to hike out.

We didn’t see the group again before he headed out a few days later.  We overheard other conversations, talked to other climbers.  Yet that conversation between Wiry and Scraggly has stuck out to me more than any other.

Climbing can have a way of teaching people about life, about themselves, about what you are capable of.  It doesn’t have to, but it’s lessons are there when you need them.

Wiry probably didn’t necessarily learn to trust completely after that outing.  

But a seed was planted.  He found a way to not give up on himself or on climbing even though he was distrustful of the wall.  He put complete faith in his guide to see him through, even when he was scared.

Will he be a climber the rest of his life?  Who can say.

Will the lessons of trust and pushing through his fear stay with him?  I hope so.  Because they’ve made an impact on me.