Estoy viviendo en Mexico. Porque?

A little worse for the wear and with a smashing headache, I made it to the apartment in el centro de Queretaro. It’s been nearly 21 hours since I started traveling. I need a cervesa.

So far my Spanish is enough to navigate, and to ask silly things like, “what’s the name of that mountain with the snow on top?”. I spent much of the time on the plane(s) thinking through sentences that would be useful, and which are probably grammatically incorrect. And which most certainly contributed to my headache.

It was a different game when I had to say things out loud. Mumbling and timidity are not for the language learner. Like many con-games, I found speaking with poise more effective than quietly whispering in the wind.

Why am I here anyways?

Over the past few years I’ve been returning to the question: “Is this all there is?”

It started with a crisis of confidence when I left startups in 2015 and I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell this is all about ever since. 

It has little to do with startups themselves and a lot to do with a search for truth and meaning. In short, I bought the bullshit of silicon valley entrepreneurship and realized I was living according to a value system I adopted, but which learned I didn’t agree with. 

It was a bit of blind faith; I let a tool shape the user, willingly at first, then sightlessly, and that’s the issue.

After the fallout, I started to wonder, “what else have I been following without much thought?”

This brings us today: I’m in Mexico for the foreseeable future to write and climb.

Basically, I don’t have many answers from these past few years. But I do have more clarity. 

I know that I value independence (of spirit, mind, inquiry) and that I care about the essence of a thing. The pursuit of writing is about having freedom of location and choosing how I make money. In the spirit of journalism, it’s also about presenting truth. Climbing is a simple, if contrived, unadulterated act that is aesthetically pleasing, and physically enjoyable. I like it a lot. 

Another observation I’ve come across is that you’re probably better off pursuing things that fill you up and get you excited about the world, than not. Hence, even if climbing is nonsensical at face value, so are most things in this world when deconstructed. Or, you might as well enjoy it.

Everything hasn’t been roses and glory, though. Admittedly, I’ve become much more inward (solipsistic, trending towards selfishness) and isolated. This isn’t the right path either. 

We’ll see where the ledger balances out. Viva la Mexico!


Feature photo of La Peña de Bernal. Source: pixabay

Jobs for the Traveling Climber: Freelance Front-End Web Developer

In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.

Name: Jack Lyons

Job: Front End Web Developer


1) What do you do?

I’m a front-end web developer. That means I write code for basically anything you see and interact with on a web page.

Working on the front-end is fun because it’s really easy to impact the look and feel of a page just by changing a few lines of code. It feels more artistic because you literally start with a blank canvas with every new page you build.

Currently I work as a freelancer and have a variety of clients located all around the world. Every day is filled with different challenges and I like being able to switch between client projects whenever I like.


2) How did you learn about web development?

Back in 2014/15 I was travelling in China, teaching English in Hangzhou, a city just west of Shanghai. I was pretty miserable with my current situation: Teaching English wasn’t as fun as I thought, mainly because the working conditions were brutal. I really wanted to make a change.

The only reason I was in China was so I could climb at the infamous crags of Yangshuo (hands down, some of the best climbing in the world). After a few months of teaching, I quickly realised that it wasn’t a sustainable way to work and travel and so I started researching other options.

That’s when I stumbled upon the whole “digital nomad” scene. I would read blogs and follow all the cool kids online who were “living the dream” with just a backpack and a laptop.

I got chatting  with a colleague at my English school who had a background in IT. Funnily enough, he had a big fat book Chinese/English book on HTML and CSS. He let me borrow it and I immediately devoured it. For the next 6-12 months I just totally immersed myself in learning to code because I knew it would allow me the chance to create the lifestyle I always wanted: To work and travel on my own terms and without burning a hole in my savings.

Climbing “The First Full Moon,” 7a in Bali, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Jack Lyons.


3) What are some of the perks?

For starters, I get to create my own schedule. I can work early, late, from a cafe, at home, on the couch, at the library…

What’s more, I can pick who I want to work with and what I want to work on. I use a freelancing platform called Upwork that allows me to have a profile and be contacted by potential clients who need help. This means that the work literally comes to me and I don’t have to lift a finger to find new work. 

And lastly, I can save money even while traveling. This is huge for me, because I can take my remote career seriously and contribute to my pension, as well as personal savings and investments.

4) What are some of the challenges?

I know this sounds like a “first world problem,” but traveling in developing countries or rural areas means little to no wifi. While this makes for a relaxing getaway for most, this can be a seriously frustrating experience when I’ve got deadlines to meet.

Other than that, all general travel issues apply. Being flexible comes at a price.

5) What motivated you to pursue this path?

My dream has always been to be financially free and able to live and work wherever I want. Second to that, I love rock climbing and want to spend my days out at the crag rather than in the office.

I wanted a career where I could climb by day and work at night, or just take a day off whenever and make up my hours later.

To me, it only made sense that I’d need to find a job that would be online. Coding suited my personality well but I certainly could have gone down the path of a blogger / copywriter / online marketer and gotten the same results.

Jack and his wife in the famous bouldering area of Castle Hill, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Jack Lyons.


6) How has your life changed since you started this?

Well, for starters, I no longer have to go to an office from 9 – 5 every day. I don’t really have a boss and I can charge whatever rate I feel is acceptable based on the project at hand.

I love the fact that I am able to see so much of the world and still have money left over. I thoroughly enjoy my work and need to pinch myself most days. I’ve lived in Europe, USA, Asia and travelled to over 30 countries. I’ve climbed in some of the most beautiful places in the world ( Greece, China, Austria, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, USA, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia).

7) What does a “typical” week or month look like?

It depends where I am. Currently I’m based in Boulder, Colorado. It’s nice to have a home base because it gives you time to decompress from all the travel. It also allows you to get settled and lock in when you’ve got some serious deadlines or big projects to tackle. 

When traveling or on a climbing trip I try to scale back my work commitments because I know how demanding and exhausting it can be. For example, currently I am on a two week road trip with my wife in Alaska. I decided to take the entire time off, which is very rare for me to do, but it was absolutely necessary because I had  been working on some big projects over the last couple of months. I needed some time out to recharge.

Coding is really, really mentally taxing. It requires a lot of brainpower. It’s hard to stay focused when your work environment keeps on changing. So I prefer to plan out my work schedule depending on where we will be and when.

Climbing in Moon Hill, Yangshuo. Photo courtesy of Jack Lyons.

8) What do you wish you knew when first starting out?

The matter of fact is this: Coding is hard and takes so so so soooooo many hours of dedication, practice and patience. It’s not for everyone and it can be an incredibly frustrating profession.

I think one of the best ways to accelerate your web development journey would be to sign up for a coding bootcamp (bonus points for an exotic location somewhere in the world). This won’t make you a coding wizard but it will help lay a solid foundation, to meet like-minded peers, and to have dedicated help from a mentor. 

Having a mentor helps a lot but you have to realise that no one is going to hold your hand out in the “real world.” You’ve gotta have grit and figure things out for yourself.

Know that there will be roadblocks, bugs, meltdowns and disasters – it’s going to be how you react to them that makes the difference. Keep calm, and know that you will figure it out. Just learn to do whatever it takes to get unstuck – even if it means paying an expert for their time. You’ll learn from your mistakes and grow rapidly if you have the right mindset.

9) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?

Patience is an important “skill” that can be developed throughout difficult situations under high stress, commonly known as “stress inoculation.”

I’ve had so many moments where I just wanted to smash my computer and curse my code for not working. But over the years I’ve learned to channel this into a more relaxed state where I can work through the problems in a calm and focused manner (sometimes).

10) Anything else you’d like to add?

Yeah! If you’re interested in becoming a digital dirtbag then check out my blog over at Medium: Adventure In My Veins.

There I interview other wanderlusting climbers who have built a lifestyle and a living around their digital skills. If you know anyone who you’d describe as a “digital dirtbag,” then please get in touch!

Thanks, Jack!

You can learn more about Jack, his work, and his travels:

Alex Macmillan (Traveling Rock Climbers) on Climbing and Coming into Your Own

Tucked into a nook in her uninsulated camper van, Alex MacMillan talks about learning to trust herself. Or she starts to. The call crackles and phases out.

She moves indoors to her aunt’s living room, forced to boot up an old laptop for the call. Such is the life of a nomadic climber hunkered down for the winter in Australia.

Alex is the creator of the Traveling Rock Climbers Facebook group, a place where traveling climbers can meet partners when visiting a new place and glean beta on an area. As Alex puts it, “It’s a kind community where people are stoked on climbing.”

Photo courtesy of Alex Macmillan


The group now boasts over 7,000 members, and for some, has become their primary resource for destination climbing information. For Alex, it was a way to scratch her own itch, and give back to the community that had taken care of her.

“Hello?” Her voice rings in clear this time.

Nested on the couch with the laptop propped in her lap, Alex shares about growing up without belief. A litany of things that challenged her: She didn’t believe she could live without pain; That sports weren’t for her; That she didn’t fit in, especially in her own body.


The diagnosis changed everything. 

A few years ago, Alex nearly had a seizure from the medication she was taking for mono. It was a red flag for the unusualness of the reaction.

“The medicine was making my disease worse [which was undiagnosed at the time]. I was bed ridden, couldn’t feel half my body. It took a couple of months to figure out what was going on,” Alex begins.

“It was really hard for me to identify my symptoms. They kept asking me if I got dizzy when I stood up, and I always said ‘no,’ because I always got dizzy when I stood up. I figured it wasn’t any worse. But that’s one of the main characteristics of POTS, and it was so normalized to me and my body that I didn’t think it was abnormal.”

Alex was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a form of dysautonomia that is estimated to impact between 1,000,000 and 3,000,000 Americans.

“It’s a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system,” she explains. “That’s the part which does everything automatically, like heart rate, circulation, temperature regulation, and eyes adjusting to light. All the things you don’t think about, don’t really work in my body.”

“It validated 21 years of discomfort.”

“If you told my family that I would be a rock climber when I was a kid, they would have told you, ‘bullshit. No way.'”



Before the diagnosis, Alex had begun to push back against the nameless affliction.

She grew up as a dramatist, not an athlete, and it was her attempt to build a stronger body. She started with running. A little here, a little more there. Her body would fatigue easily, but slowly and surely she was adapting. 

Then she discovered climbing.

“Kate was way different, a total badass,” says Alex of her high school classmate who showed her the ropes.

Photo courtesy of Alex Macmillan


“She would take me climbing and every time I got on she wouldn’t let me down until I hit the top. It forced me to gain a proficiency,” she chuckles.

The introduction, and the connection, showed Alex that she was capable of more.

Alex moved to Portland for college and would get away for trips to Smith Rock. She was finding confidence and believing she could handle larger adventures. Father and daughter had talked about walking the El Camino, and with a sounder body she decided to do it. 

“Why is the youngest person on the trail also the one whose body is falling apart the most?”



The forested base of the Pyrenees Mountains gave way to granite masses, but the details were shrouded under watery eyes. Alex was crying, she couldn’t believe she was really there. 

“It was something I’ve been wanting to do for years,” she recalls.

The journey took 35 days for the 18 year old who was afraid of the dark and dutifully stubborn.

“I was a massive purist about it. I walked every single step, even though the first ten days I limped every single step,” she says with a wry grin.

“People would look at me and go, ‘Why is the youngest person on the trail also the one whose body is falling apart the most?’”

Photos courtesy of Alex Macmillan


The trip helped her come to an important realization.

“The Camino was this crazy thing that taught me to wake up and get out of bed every day,” she shares. “No matter how crap I felt, I realized I didn’t have to feel good to exist as a human, that I just had to exist. And that was okay. That led to this road of being intentional in life.”

She gives a pause then blurts out, “I later found out that my family didn’t think I’d make it a week!,” she says, laughing.

The trip fortified her. She began thinking about the transformative nature of wandering with purpose, and of connection.

“Shit, this is my life now.”



An invitation to Australia set a new course. The Birthing Canal made her a dirtbag.

“I was really in New Zealand for a kayaking trip, then someone said I’d enjoy the Hangdog Camp,” a climber’s hostel, Alex begins.

“So I hitchhiked on the back of a hay bale truck. When I got there the gate said it was full. ‘Yea right,’ I’m thinking. I just hitchhiked for hours, I’m going in.”

From the beginning she could tell it was a special place, and within five minutes she was in a car and on the way to the crag. 

“I met some people who are some of my greatest friends today. I’ve traveled around multiple countries with a lot of them, seen them around the world,” she says.

That night she was given the welcome treatment.

“I went through an initiation, which is going through a boulder problem they call The Birthing Canal. You do it naked and it looks like people are being birthed. It’s a two meter long hole that you go down head first. Yea know, after that, it was kinda hard to leave!,” she bursts out laughing.

She emerged with a new perspective, and saw a meaningful way of life within the group there.

“People really thrive in routine: You wake up every morning, you eat your oats, you go out climbing, eat your PB&J, keep climbing, go home, cook over the fire, drink crappy wine out of old bean cans, and go to bed.” 

“You do that everyday and it’s awesome, the routine is beautiful.”

Photo courtesy of Alex Macmillan


She continues, “It gives people the work they need, something to work towards. They have their climbing, sustenance, sleep, all these basic tenets of human needs that a lot of time we don’t have in our 9-to-5 existence. And they feel that and go, ‘ah, this is the thing!’”

“We often lack community so deeply. In climbing, we’ve found this beautiful group of people.”

It showed Alex the power of community, and what it could mean to welcome others into it. 

“All I needed was Hangdog apparently, and then I was like, okay I’m a dirtbag!”

“I’m not a very good internet person”



Alex spent the next few years traveling and climbing. She discovered how challenging finding partners and gathering beta on a place can be.

“I was sick of every time I wanted to go somewhere, I had to search out and join a local group to find partners and info,” she vents.

“I used every search word I possibly could for an international climbing group because it just seems like it would be something that would exist. There just wasn’t one. Which is weird because it’s such an international community.”

The group has taken off.

Photos courtesy of Veronica Maffioletti (left) and James Herrera (right), members of the Traveling Rock Climbers


“There are 1,000s of people who use and value this thing. We have been really fortunate to have such a kind community, and an awesome admin and moderator team that totally pick up the slack because I’m not a very good internet person,” she says cheekily.

She’s proud of the group. “The best part is it’s an online community that you can connect with wherever you go. And it’s all about the people, they make it special.”

With a bit of a Greek mythology twist, she adds, “It feels a bit like my child that I birthed and now is independent.”


From unknowing to knowing; From walking to running to climbing; From self-doubt to self-confidence, self-discovery is a lifelong journey that we all share.

For Alex, she’s coming into her own through the communities she’s a part of and helps foster. She’s seen how it’s supported her, and hopes others can experience the same.

“You should try and do good,” Alex shares.

No matter where we are in life, we can put something positive out into the world, because you never know who it might touch or how it might help.

Luckily, climbing is a sport that connects, wherever we are.

No Third Time Charm

Outside the window, overlooking the pool, cherry blossoms are flowering pink bouquets, bright against the grey, and tulips rise up with slouched shoulders and frumpy bed head. Water percolates, circling back to collect in clouds, weighted vest air compressing, then streams its way into puddles. In the early morning it’s cold enough to chill the tip of my nose. Spring.
 
Last year I missed this.

I had fast forwarded to summer by flying through to acclimatize on another continent. In a matter of hours I advanced the months, April became June, like the the flippant spin of a radio dial. From where I’ve lived, only in New England does spring get it’s fair share of the calendar’s quarter system.

Prague. May 2018.



Last summer there were no lobster rolls. No fish flaked wet sand between my toes. No end-of-the-earth-piering off into the depths of the Atlantic. No heavy-packed days in the Whites. No barbecues (my god!). 

Instead I traipsed about another eastern boarder, cross stitching old lines of Latin and Cyrillic, Capitalism and Communism, place and no place. 

Actually, it has been like this the past four years (where does the time go?): Mountain View (2015), Accra (2016), New Paltz (2017), Budapest, Plovdiv, Lviv (2018). I, a roving settlement, a stick in one hand, a canvas sack with my belongings cantilevered at the protruding end. Leather straps on my feet.

If I had died before last year I may have been discontented. Pardon the macabre. My point is that I had wanted to travel since uni—I’ve since tasted the fruit and can put sense and color to a wanderlust palette, the wine glass has been tipped back. 

That tipping and sipping could have continued while overlooking a wine-dark sea. After all, I should be writing this in Albania. 

I was supposed to fly out last week: to Dublin, Budapest, Tirana. Flight 2233 ended up with an extra seat. Maybe it made the journey more comfortable for some other lone passenger.

Pirin Mountains, Bulgaria. June 2018.


Comfortable. Alone.

Those feelings have two-stepped and shadow boxed together, seesawed and smelted, fusing at odd angles throughout the travels. A short time in new places make good on that urge to keep going, nothing and no one securing you somewhere. Until its not, and until that melts away too.

For the most part I was rootless, and felt increasingly so as the trip continued. No roost, much roaming. That’s what I went for, though.

Alas the tether was wearing, the leather thong frayed to thin bits. It snuck up on me, didn’t notice until I had been walking several miles on without a shoe. The gravel had been running roughshod underfoot, blisters and stubbed toes alighted the mind to pay attention, eventually, then abruptly.

The last few months were a bit of a trudge, then I came back for my brother’s wedding. It was supposed to be a temporary stay.



In a recent conversation, a young, spirited woman offered, “I think we travel to figure out which places are meaningful to us.” She’s settled into her own nest for awhile, to regain and rebuild a sense of place.

Something changed for me too. Something about wanting to feel connected, about shared memories; a return to old grounds and the chance to look at the land with new perspective. While the lure of the ponderosa pine or mediterranean limestone shrills from time to time, it doesn’t feel right to go back, or elsewhere, right now. In my neck of the woods there’s no Poseidon to piss off or siren’s lullabying; Destiny can be my own.

There are wood nymphs and granite gargoyles, though, schist golems and sonorous stream temptresses, wily foxes and three sisters. We’ll have our fun.

High Tatras, Poland. September 2018.



In the end, I had to step back from all the experiences of the past year to see the bigger picture, then step in close to examine the sand grain mosaic for what it is: A lot of little pieces, a collection of days.

For now the grand adventure follows a storyline closer to home, one day at a time.



Photos by the author.

Shh! Climbing Under the Radar: 10 Lesser Known Crags You’ll Want to Go Climb Now

Ya, ya. We all know about Fountainbleau, Frankenjura, RRG and the likes, but there are plenty of climbing areas that have a ton to offer without the hype and the crowds.

This here (hear ye, hear ye!) is a call to celebrate the lesser knowns, the under the radars, and the off the beaten tracks. They may be smaller, recently opened, just being developed, or harder to navigate (read: Adventurous!).

For the lucky few, these may be home crags, like Thacher State Park sitting 20 minutes from Albany; Or require a bit of self-reliance, like the bring all your food and potable water destination of Dover Island; Or even serious daring spirit to visit the unheralded yet prodigious country of Montenegro.

To round up this list, I called on a little help from my friends, from fellow bloggers to kind folks on Mountain Project. Read on for 10 destinations you probably haven’t heard of, but will be grateful for next time you’re looking at something under the radar.


Photo source: Josh Cook

Škaljari, Montenegro

Climbing type: Sport

Josh Cook puts up routes and bolts the Balkans to this list:

“What if I were to tell you that there is a European climbing area that overlooks a UNESCO World Heritage site, has tufa-filled limestone, boasts routes from 5.8 to 5.14, is well-bolted, only a ten minute walk from the Old Town tourist center, and never has anyone there?

‘Lies!’, you’d say.

Welcome to Montenegro. 

Škaljari is a crag I recently bolted and, in the two years that I have been climbing there, I have seen a total of fifteen other climbers—most are ones I brought myself. 

Too good to be true? Well, there is one con: a local paranoid schizophrenic thinks climbers (i.e., me and my climbing partner) are killing the goats that sometimes are up at the crag. So he blocks the trail with trash and yells at us occasionally for going up there. Also, you need to come with a climbing partner; there are almost no climbers in this country, so you won’t randomly find someone to belay you.

But glorious are the days climbing that limestone and looking out over Kotor Bay. Well worth a stop on your Balkan tour.”

– Josh Cook, Mountain Project

Photo source: Thacher Climbing Coalition

Thacher State Park, Voorheesville, NY, USA

Climbing type: Sport

Opened in 2017, this is the newest sport climbing area in the Northeast, and only the third NY State Forest to allow climbing (Minnewaska and Harriman being the others).

Located 20 minutes from Albany, Thacher sits between the Gunks, 75 miles south, and the Adirondacks, 120 miles north. And if you want to get audacious, it is 170 miles from Rumney, NH, the sport climbing mecca of New England. All of which is to say, climbers of NYC no longer have to drive 5.5 hours for stellar sport, they now have it in their, relative, backyard.

There are currently about 65 routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.12a, and they will appeal to gym enthusiasts as most climbs are roughly 50 feet high, with none longer than 90′. Thacher is special for its dark-gray limestone, which stands out against the granite of New England, the conglomerate of the Gunks, or the anorthosite of the ADKs.

Jeff Moss, the President of the Thacher Climbing Coalition recommends Dragon Kite (10b) as a must do: “Clean solid rock, face climbing, well positioned on the north portion of the cliff. Starts above the trees, it is breezy on a hot day. Great view of the valley.” You can purchase the online guide book from Gunks App ($9.99).

Photo source: Krista deMolitor

Dover Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Climbing type: Bouldering

Krista deMolitor makes the case for island bouldering off the coast of Nova Scotia:

“This secluded island with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean is home to arguably some of the best bouldering problems on the East Coast of Canada. The razor sharp granite makes for superb friction which is excellent for sending, but tortuous on the skin. Dover offers an array of problems falling in the easier to intermediate range, but is also notable for some of its harder classics such as White Trash V7, Blacksmith Dyno V9, Exciter (sit) V10, and Horizontal Matter V11. Visit www.cnsmobeta.ca for a list of all problems.

There are no amenities on the island, so one must bring camping gear and food. The island is very exposed on sunny days with zero tree cover so packing sunscreen and a generous amount of water is strongly advised. The easiest access to the island is by boat. Contact Rod at OceanSpray B&B to book a round trip boat ride for a fee but make sure to give him at least 3 days notice. Boulderfest is a huge event put on every August by Climb Nova Scotia and is a great opportunity to visit the island with lots of climbers who are equally psyched. A visit to the maritimes would not be complete without a trip to Dover Island.”

– Krista deMolitor, allezgirl.com

Photo source: theDIHEDRAL

King’s Bluff, Clarksville, TN, USA

Climbing type: Sport

High-Clip tells you why you need to visit King’s Bluff next time you’re near Nashville:

“Perched up on a 40 foot climb with 2 bolts, I internally chastise myself for not checking out the bolt locations before climbing the route, but then tell myself it’s totally cool because it’s only a 5.5, and I’m the High-Clip. Easy peasy.

Except, routes at King’s Bluff are STOUT. The run-outs are pretty bad, especially given that the wall height ranges from 30-60 feet (most are around 45-55′). And rusty bolts/chains never make anyone feel any better, but at least most of these have newer protection placed adjacent to them. Other than that, this place is the bomb!

King’s Bluff is located in Clarksville, Tennessee, about 45 minutes from Nashville. Managed by the Southern Climbers Coalition (SCC), the area is very well labelled and approachable. The SCC keeps it gated, though you can ask for the code as a climber. There’s a short path and some stairs, on either side stretch the sick walls. Even more, the routes are labelled with their names and their grades. With Mountain Project, it’s almost too easy to find star routes, like “Touchy-Feely,” “Chimney Sweep,” and “Wired for Sound.”

While it is moderately scary climbing, it is rewarding. At the top of each route you’ll see a beautiful river running past. The walls extend far into the green abyss of trees on either side, and if you listen all you’ll hear is perhaps the light jangle of quickdraws against rock. Despite any fear you may feel while climbing, the peace at the tops of these climbs is unbeatable.”

– High-Clip, theDIHEDRAL

Photo source: Ryan Siacci

Inka Waqanqa, Ancash, Peru

Climbing type: Sport

Ryan Siacci sings praise about a lesser known crag in Peru from up high, 4000m up that is:

“When folks think about South American sport climbing, they think about Hatun Machay – the sacred rock forest of the Andes. But this famed crag has had problems in recent years, including the destruction of the refugio and chopping of many classic routes. Route developers from the nearby city of Huaraz have since abandoned the once celebrated crag, instead focusing attention on the ‘recently discovered’ Inka Waqanqa.

Although there are still fewer than 100 routes, Inka Waqanqa offers high quality climbing and oodles of potential. The orange-black ramparts have tons of room for development, with the volcanic rock forming pocketed, technical face climbs and thin, difficult slabs. If bouldering is more your scene, the scope for new problems is almost endless.

Still something of a hidden gem, climbing at Inka Waqanqa is nothing short of idyllic. The rolling green fields are dotted with wildflowers and the swirling Andean mists lend the scene a sense of grandeur. An excellent campsite can be found among the crumbling stone ruins, complete with running water and a remarkably clean pit toilet. Best of all, it’s free!

But remember, take some time to get acclimatised – sport climbing at 4000m sure ain’t easy!”

– Ryan Siacci, Zen and the Art of Climbing

Photo source: Lance Dickey

Lynn Woods, Lynn, MA, USA

Climbing type: Bouldering, Trad

Massachusetts’ highest concentration of bouldering problems (over 1,100 listed on MP) is located, unexpectedly, in Lynn, Lynn the city of sin.

Only 10 miles from Boston, it should be frequented more often, but the woodsy terrain and vast expanse of the park–at 2,200 acres!–make finding the erratics a little challenging. Approaches can be up to 30 minutes of hiking. Ya know, because it’s a big place.

Don’t let that daunt you, Tim McGivern and Dave Twardowski, local climbers, put all the problems on the map. Literally. You can download it here to help you navigate around. You’ll be glad you came as there are plenty of classics from easy (try Bear Grease, V1) to moderate (Holly the Happy Heel Hooker, V3+) to oh damn that’s hard (Green Haze, V7+). There’s even some trad too. Nestled in an idyllic setting, the offering rivals the better known bouldering options in the area, Pawtuckaway and Lincoln Woods.

Lynn Woods croons to my heart as it’s the second place I ever went bouldering outside, and where I sent my first V3 (the uber fun, Subway). Just be careful, in Lynn, you never come out, the way you came in.

Photo source: BETA Fund

Jackson Falls, Carrier Mills, IL, USA

Climbing type: Sport

Wesley Payette proclaims wilderness climbing in southern Illinois. Who knew! Well, now you do:

“For those craving a bit of wilderness in their sport climbing experience, Jackson Falls in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois might be just the place. Ancient mossy boulders and chuckling streams create a peaceful and wild destination. Powerful crimps, shallow pockets, slopey topouts and technical vertical climbing give rise to unique movement and whacky beta.

While predominantly low- angle climbing, the canyon caters to all styles, from thuggy overhanging to heart-breaking slab. In addition, it’s fairly uncrowded even on the nicest days. Those used to waiting in line at the Red may find themselves alone on a four or five-star route. Despite having fewer routes than more popular sport climbing areas, Jackson Falls contains incredible quality and variety. Some of the most classic, unique and interesting routes include Groovy Marcia 5.9, Cheerio Bowl 5.10a, Group Therapy 5.10c, Wild at Heart 5.10d, Lasso the Vulture 5.11a, Who Needs Friends? 5.12a, Detox Mountain 5.12a, Butcher of Baghdad 5.13a, Red Corvette 5.13a, and East of East St. Louis 5.13c.

Jackson Falls is well off the beaten path, so make sure you prepare for wilderness camping if you want to hang about (primitive camping is located atop the cliffs).”

– Wesley Payette, Mountain Project

Cima Catinaccio, Dolomites, Italy

Climbing type: Alpine

Mike Meraner hones in on a hike up Mount Catinaccio, which also features a classic 19 pitch alpine climb for the epic adventurer:

“The Dolomites in Northern Italy are one of the best places in the world for hiking or climbing. The Catinaccio Mountain offers one of the best views of the nearby mountains from its peak at nearly 3,000 meters above sea level.

The start of the climb can be reached via a 3-hour hike and via ferrata from the top of Kölner Hut chairlift. The climb itself starts at Santnerpass Hut consists of two two-hour legs with an elevation of 170 and 190 meters and a difficulty of 6 SL.

After enjoying the incredible views of the surrounding mountains, the descent brings you back to the Santnerpass Hut where you can have an amazing Tyrolean meal or a drink before heading back. If you are not leaving early in the morning, staying overnight at the hut is also an option.

This will also allow you to see the sunset and the sunrise from 2,700 meters above sea level.”

– Mike Meraner, 197TravelStamps.com

Bolton Dome, Richmond, VT, USA

Climbing type: Sport, Trad

For the first time since 1990, Bolton Dome is being re-opened to the public. And to great fanfare. What used to be the area’s most popular cliff in the 70s and 80s, it was closed due to the private landowner’s concerns. Poof. Gone went the best climbing near Burlington, VT.

But not anymore, says CRAG-VT and the Access Fund! They purchased the land to the cool tune of $358,750 last year, proving the value (once again) of conservation orgs for keeping climbing areas open, accessible, and sustained.

Now let’s get to the good stuff. The area offers schist climbing with dozens of high-quality crack and sport climbs, including the region’s only 5.13 trad climb. It is just 30 minutes from downtown Burlington, and provides the most extensive climbing in the Green Mountain State. Classics include, Mister Rogers 5.7+, Jamathon 5.7+ trad, Release the Hens 5.11c, and Two Thumbs Down 5.12a.

Join the fun and celebrate the momentous occasion with the launch party on May 18. If you want all the beta, Travis Peckam’s Vermont climbing guide, Tough Schist, is your best bet. Or you can get them on the app version of the book in Rakkup.

Photo source: Todd Rawls

Staunton State Park, Pine, CO, USA

Climbing type: Sport, Trad

Todd Rawls is boosting Staunton for the adventurist climber near Denver:

“Nestled amongst ponderosas and pines just fifteen minutes west of Conifer, CO and requiring a 45-minute approach for even the closest crags, Staunton State Park offers a secluded getaway for the adventurous sport-climber despite its relatively close proximity to the Denver metropolitan area.

Perhaps one of the finest features of the climbing here is the abundant offering of classic, steep hard climbs located just minutes from shorter, well-bolted moderates, making this an ideal spot for climbers of all abilities. There are also plenty of moderate trad lines and harder mixed stuff for those more inclined towards placing their own protection.

The Tan Corridor and The Dungeon are the crème of the crop, with the Tan Corridor offering numerous well-bolted and utterly classic 10s and 11s, and The Dungeon throwing in pump-a-thon routes all the way through mid-13. Reef On It! (10a), The Opportunist (11a), and If and Only If (13b) are all some of the best single-pitches of their grade in the state!

As of 2018 there is now camping available within the park as well, and free water to boot.”

– Todd Rawls, Generation Dirtbag

Feature photo courtesy of Josh Cook

From a Single Cell to a Whole Lot More: Writing About Growth and Destruction

The ethics of exploration, plastic, plastic everywhere, and organic development

Hey everyone,

This week features larger narratives around life-and-death, the ethics of exploration, plastic, plastic everywhere, and the organic development of a climbing community.

There are also two pieces offering advice for pitching stories and, trying something new here, a log of my own pitches to shine some light into the process.

“Art is commensurate with the human spirit.” – Naturalist, John Burroughs

We all have a story to tell, how are you expressing your human spirit?

Opportunities

Travel writing in Croatia

Learn the fundamentals of travel writing for magazines and websites from professionals. Alex Crevar and Molly Harris are contributors to The New York TimesNational Geographic Travel, and Lonely Planet magazine.

$5,000 adventure grant

GearJunkies and NordicTrack are offering one lucky winner 5 grand to pursue a bike, hike/run, climb, or paddle trip.

What I’m Reading (& Watching)

A single cell become a complete organism

From Dutch director Jan van IJken, watch the alpine newt go from a single-celled zygote into the hatched larva.


What’s plastic doing to our bodies?

Plastic was once thought of as a long-lasting, coherent substance that didn’t make much difference to the environment outside of trash pile up. Now we know it continuously breaks down into microscopic pieces, with long-term consequences.

“A growing body of evidence suggests some chemicals commonly found in many plastics are associated with everything from breast and prostate cancer, to underdeveloped genitalia and low sperm count in men, to obesity.”


On facing the unexplored and the ethics of taking another step

Where Not to Travel in 2019, or Ever.

Kate Harris is a fantastic writer, who I only came across this week. I’ve been reading a bunch of her articles (they are all great) and am eager to start her book, Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road.

“Chau’s escapade… was nothing more than a violation: he was just another person who believed that the world was his to do whatever he wanted in and with.”

Perhaps more headlines should have read: “Remote Community Faces Biological Terror Threat From U.S. Religious Extremist Killed by Local Authorities.”


How Miguel’s Pizza made the Red River Gorge

If you like climbing narratives that are not so much about climbing, this is an insightful peel-back-the-curtain style look at the history of Miguel’s Pizza, and the enigmatic man behind it all.

Miguel said, “Art becomes part of your ego… that got to me.” As Miguel recounted, the epiphany came when he drew a cartoon character lifting up the costume of an artist and getting inside. “You don’t need a costume to be a person; you just need to be yourself,” said Miguel. “I threw that outfit out and became who I am today: a pizza man.”

Photo source: The Walrus

Writing Advice

Advice from Nat Geo Editor at Large Norie Quintos

Norie offers tips on how, when and what to pitch:

“What’s the story? Why now? Where do you see it fitting in the outlet (what section or department)? And, why you? Stay pithy; aim for no more than a page.”

Also, something I’m probably under-appreciating:

“A rule of thumb: the earlier the better. A year ahead is not too early for a magazine feature story, nor a month ahead for a digital piece. And get to know the editorial cycle of your favorite outlets.”


A Freelance Writer’s Life: The Art of the Pitch

To the keen observer, you may recognize the author of this piece from the Opportunities section. Alex Crevar offers up his own tips for pitching from years of practice (and struggle).

“A writer must make an editor’s job easier. Full stop…

A salesman who hopes to earn a client knows who his client is; he knows what his client is looking for; and knows he must make the best pitch possible to sell his widget…

The simple question: why would an editor want to buy my widget over a similar widget being sold by Jane Doe?”

I take comfort in outlook #2. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Log: My Freelance Writing Journal

I’ve started keeping a training journal to track my progress towards some big mountain goals I have this year. I like the idea of opening up the process and also using a public forum for some semblance of accountability.

So I’m sharing what I did this past week for pitching stories and writing.

Pitches:

  • Pitched three stories. One feature, one newsy story (see below), and one series of posts that will turn into just a one-off piece (also, see below). This is the first time I’ve pitched a feature story idea.
  • One newsy story accepted for online publication in a climbing magazine. I was hoping to be able to do a longer-form interview, so I need to figure out what this will look like.
  • The one-off piece came about from clarifying how I wanted to write the series with the editor. The timing is off for a series, so the editor decided to simplify and do a self-contained piece that is still timely.
  • Two story ideas were rejected by an outdoor magazine and a climbing magazine (pitched weeks ago). One was about gear reviews which didn’t really fit their typical review model, so that makes sense. I didn’t get feedback on the other story.

Published:

Personal Blog:

What do you think? Is sharing a recap of pitches interesting to you?




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Out There / In Here, vol. 4

Feature photo source: Climbing Magazine

Travel Writing Scholarship, Climbing Grants, Epic Road Trips. Oh My.

And tips on pitching.

This week features a bunch of opportunities to fuel your next adventure (which make great stories, of course). There’s a fantastic feature on Bernd Heinrich, a leading naturalist, data about the economic might of climbers, and a charming little cartoon. Enjoy!



Opportunities

World Nomad’s 2019 Travel Writing Scholarship

aka a 14-day travel writing trip for “3 aspiring travel writers to go on assignment in Portugal and be mentored by professional travel writer and contributor to The New York Times, Tim Neville.” This looks like an incredible opportunity.

Also, be sure to read “The Art of Travel Writing”, a free travel writing how to by Tim, which I’ve found to be immensely useful.

Photo source: American Alpine Club


AAC’s Live Your Dream Grant

You don’t have to be a professional climber or pursuing a FA to win this climbing grant. All you need is a clear goal and the aim to level up your skills. Grants are awarded from $200-$1,000.

The purpose of this grant is to support and promote unforgettable experiences for climbers—to dream big, to grow, and to inspire others.


The Epic Road

Stay Wild magazine is offering to fund your next road trip. They are offering funds and goods to make your auto-powered jaunt a reality.




What I’m Reading

nature

A return to nature, your nature

Bernd Heinrich is a leading naturalist and one of history’s fastest ultramarathoners. Now 77, he’s settled in the backwoods of Maine with a wood stove and in his natural habitat.

The author writes, “We live in an age that affords little time and space for communing with nature. We’re busy. Our days are fragmented. But Bernd has dug in his heels against this collective drift. He has recognized where he wants to be in old age and settled in, with purpose. “ (emphasis added by newsletter curator)

“A naturalist,” he e-mailed me, “is one who still has the habit of trying to see the connections of how the world works. She does not go by say-so, by faith, or by theory. So we don’t get lost in harebrained dreams or computer programs taken for reality. We all want to be associated with something greater and more beautiful than ourselves, and nature is the ultimate.


Real artists have day jobs.

Because it’s hard to pay your way solely from your art. That’s the game we play. But it doesn’t mean you aren’t an artist, or that you can’t make art because you damn well want to. And who knows, maybe some day you will be able to live solely off your art.

“Real artists have day jobs, and night jobs, and afternoon jobs. Real artists make things other than art, and then they make time to make art because art is screaming to get out from inside them. Screaming, or begging, or gently whispering.”


Climbers are a major economic force

We know the outdoor industry is a contributing economic force to be reckoned. In 2016, the outdoor recreation economy contributed 2 percent ($373.7 billion!) of the entire U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

Climbers are making their impact in hyper-local areas around popular crags that normally wouldn’t get much traffic, like Chattanooga or the Red.

The economic-impact study found that visiting climbers (not including residents, whose spending is considered part of the regular economy) spent $6.96 million in Hamilton County during the 2015/16 fall and winter season…

These numbers put dollars made from climbers on par with revenue from major special events held in Chattanooga, another boon for area tourism. Held in late summer every year, Ironman Chattanooga brings in $10 million, with the race occurring in one weekend and many of the participants staying up to 10 days.




On Pitching Stories




For the Feel Goods




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Out There / In Here, vol. 2

Feature photo source: Outside Magazine