Reaching New Heights at Stonetree Climbing Center

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Our final month here in Helena has been a busy one, slowly pairing down and packing up for our move across the Rockies to Lakeside, Montana. We knew we would need something to give us a break from making lists and stocking up on furniture for our new rental (our first unfurnished one in over 4 years), so we decided to get a one-month membership at Stonetree Climbing Center, Helena’s indoor rock gym.

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We were all new to indoor rock climbing and couldn’t imagine a more welcoming place to learn. The space provides many options for climbers and non-climbers alike. There is a toddler room, hanging swings and rings, a smaller beginners’ wall, and a main climbing area with routes (indicated by different colored tape) varying in difficulty from novice to expert.

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It’s amazing to see the progress we made after climbing just a few days every week. We started off tentatively on the early visits, no one venturing too far off the floor. By the end we were completely comfortable climbing up, down and sideways, and we all had the callouses to prove we had spent some good time on the wall.

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Overall, we’ve had a wonderful nine months in Helena and still have only scratched the surface of the great outdoor and cultural resources this perfect-sized city has to offer. While we’re excited for the impressive hiking and paddling options that the Flathead Valley offers, it’s gems like Stonetree Climbing Center that will definitely keep us coming back to Helena to visit again and again.

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Backyard Bouldering

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Rock formations abound here in the San Bernardino National Forest. Just about anywhere we go, we see inviting outcroppings and boulders, and we’ve made it a priority during our time here to climb as many of them as possible. We’ve been eyeing one imposing formation near out rental, visible from our daily walks and trips to the swimming hole, for quite a while now. The other day we finally decided to see if we could find a path to the top.

DSC09519 DSC09507 DSC09509An old forest road led past the base of the slope, but from there the only trails were those of our own invention. The hillside and rocks themselves are covered in a layer of loose sand, gravel and sticks, which makes the climb a bit more challenging. Hand-holding definitely works well, especially for High Five, but as we gained elevation more large rocks poked through and we got better footing. A large tangle of felled trees added to the variety, and we found ourselves climbing over and under the branches to reach the next stretch of rock above.

DSC09510 DSC09515 DSC09512After a few slips and tight squeezes, we soon reached our destination and stopped to admire the view. We could see our house and the swimming hole, as well as the local fire station (the red building in the middle of the above picture) and Keller Peak rising above on the right. Everything was so peaceful and quiet, especially the ant-sized cars we saw on Route 18 that are usually a loud rumble for most of the day and night, especially on weekends.

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The hike back down went smoothly, and we successfully detoured some of trickier spots we encountered on the way up. Towards the bottom the Younger Fives tired of stumbling in the loose gravel, so they wisely resorted to sliding down on their bottoms. Before we knew it we were on a marked trail yet again, and enjoyed a leisurely (and fall free) walk back home.

 

Down By the Sea

Just about a 10 minute walk east of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia you will find a few city beaches including Bačvice beach. While these swimming areas are in no way the most scenic or natural that we have come across in our travels, we really enjoyed exploring this pedestrian area along the water. DSC06695-picsayThe parks and beaches that make up the pedestrian thoroughfare start just after the ferry terminals and run for about a kilometer along the water. Along the way you will find some grassy parks such as Park Pomoraca, as well as sand beaches, waterfront cafes, and concrete seawalls which offer ladder access for swimmers to enter the water. There are also lifeguard stations and shower areas open during the warmer months. DSC06721-picsay DSC06724-picsayThe other day we started at the far end (near Split’s tennis club) and worked our way back towards the old town in an effort to find the best seaside boulders or rock outcroppings. The Younger Fives were hankering for some coastal rock climbing like they used to do in Maine, Newfoundland, and  Bahia Asuncion. While they didn’t find quite the same level of rugged coastline here in Split, they did find a few spots that kept them happy. They especially enjoyed watching several hardy souls take an afternoon dip in the Adriatic even though the temperature was barely in the low 50’s.DSC06705-picsayBesides swimmers and lots of frolicking dogs it was fun to stop and watch several beach side ball games including Split’s famous game of Picigin. This game of trying to keep a small rubber ball aloft with just your hands actually originated at Bačvice beach. Our favorite find of the day however, was a set of steep rock stairs leading down from Park Pomoraca. At the bottom of the stairs we found a secluded area right along the water where the kids could scramble and we could lay back and soak up some sun. DSC06728-picsay DSC06726-picsay

A Day in Pictures at Red Rock Canyon

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Located within the Las Vegas city limits, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area feels worlds away from the rest of town. In reality, it is only 17 miles west of The Strip, but it is hard to imagine it shares the same address. Who would have thought you could see scenic natural vistas, a desert oasis, rugged canyons, and countless opportunities for rock climbing without actually leaving the city? 

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The stunning red rocks that give the area its name.

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Five Ball exploring a dry stream bed.

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The Younger Fives making the climb to Lost Creek, an oasis where trees thrive in the dry Mojave desert.

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A pictograph from the original inhabitants of the area, the Pauite.

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Looking at all the natural beauty can even give pause to our high-energy High Five.

A Taste of the Climbing Life

DSC03371-picsay It was a long shot, but one that we decided to look into. I (Five String) have always dreamed of rock climbing, and spending two weeks in the Joshua Tree National Park area seemed the ideal time to pursue that dream. However, as our emphasis is on “family” travel, I did not want to kiss the kids goodbye and head off on a climbing trip with everyone else unable to share in the experience.

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The breathtaking Intersection Rock area where we climbed.

Luckily, we found a rock climbing guide that responded to our request for a climbing trip that could accommodate a 7, 5, and 3-year-old. While he regretted to inform us that his insurance could only cover kids ages 8 and up, he would be happy to plan a morning for me that would still be exciting for the kids and allow them to share  in the climb as well. Nelson from The Climbing Life Guides proved true to his word and put together an absolutely unforgettable morning in Joshua Tree National Park, exploring the beautiful rock formations and desert landscape in a whole new way. DSC03305-picsay DSC03309-picsay As I was a newbie to rock climbing, Nelson started with a brief overview of the basics close to the ground. Five of Hearts joined in on the explanation of the gear, anchors, and basic techniques as Five Ball and High Five clambered over nearby boulders. Next he walked through the basics of belaying, where one person climbs and the other person serves as an anchor, and I got the chance to get a feel for how it would work while still close to the ground. DSC03331-picsay DSC03336-picsay Then, the real fun started. I left the rest of the Fives on the ground and followed Nelson up a rock scramble to the base of the first climb itself. He did a wonderful job explaining all the safety procedures, reviewing the communication we would use during the climb, and making sure that I had no questions. Then he began his lead climb up the rock face, placing anchors for safety along the way. When he reached the top it was my turn to climb. After a few nervous first inches, I trusted the equipment and my guide and really started enjoying scaling up the rock. My only real challenge came with remembering how to take the anchors out of the rock cracks as I went, but Nelson was able to clearly (and patiently) give me instructions from the top. DSC03323-picsay DSC03328-picsay DSC03324-picsay The kids, of course, were also having their own climbing adventure far below. After watching me at the start and cheering me on, they soon turned their attention to the many interesting boulders and rock formations that were perfect for them to explore. Upon reaching the top, I was truly surprised to realize how high I had climbed. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to wave to the rest of the Fives, tiny on the ground, and hear their words of encouragement. The surrounding rocks were truly stunning from the top of Intersection Rock, and the feeling of peace and tranquility is hard to describe. I also really fed off of Nelson’s obvious pride in my success with the climb. His smile said it all, the genuine joy of someone who absolutely loves sharing his passion with others. DSC03344-picsay

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High Five supervising from the ground.

DSC03348-picsayOf course, what goes up must also come down. Back on the ground Nelson had checked that I would be interested in repelling down from the top (instead of climbing back down), but I must confess taking those first few steps off the cliff into space were not the easiest that I’ve ever taken. Again though, knowing that I was in good hands made all the difference, and halfway down my repel I was comfortable enough to take a timid look behind me to the ground below. Once I finally reached the ground I was surrounded by the other Fives, and it it felt pretty good to hear the kids exclaim, “Wow, Dad, I can’t believe you just did that!” DSC03373-picsay DSC03359-picsay DSC03362-picsayThe second climb that Nelson had planned nearby was crowded with other climbers, so instead we set off for a very brief walk across the parking lot to climb “The Eye.” The kids were excited to have a new place to explore, and I couldn’t wait to climb again. This time the jitters were definitely gone, and I learned a lot about climbing and Nelson’s background as I asked him a ton of questions while we made the climb up into The Eye. This spacious shelter at the top of the formation was a welcome break from the sun, and we spent a few minutes resting before scrambling up the final few feet to the very top. DSC03379-picsay DSC03384-picsay The repel this time would be out away from the rock, meaning that I would be dangling completely free in the air without my feet walking down the rock face at all. Nelson sensed a little bit of trepidation on my part, especially combined with the howling wind. He suggested that instead of using the anchor bolted into the rock for the repel (which would have involved me having to lower myself over the edge before my weight caught on the rope), he could put anchors in a crack a little higher in the rock so that I would already be below the anchor when I started the repel. DSC03393-picsay I really liked this idea, but it would mean that unlike last time, when Nelson went down first, this time I would be entirely on my own. Again, he sensed the slight hesitation on my part and offered to put in a rope break, one that I would keep sliding down the rope to act as a back up anchor. These extra precautions on his part made all the difference, and soon I was lowering myself down, dangling in thin air, and having the time of my life. DSC03396-picsay After two amazing climbs and repels I expected that our time would be over. However, Nelson offered to lead everyone to The Eye by scrambling up the less steep back side of the formation and leading the kids over the more difficult sections. As we climbed he really took the time to connect with the kids and ask them lots of questions, and I appreciated that he was very mindful of their safety as they climbed up the rocks and crawled through some pretty cool caves. The Younger Fives are practically pros given all the free climbing we have done on coastlines from Newfoundland to Baja Mexico, and I think he was impressed with how comfortable they are on the rock. DSC03398-picsayWhen we finally all climbed into the shade of The Eye, I realized that this was my perfect ending to the day. It had been thrilling to climb to this height previously with Nelson, but it meant even more to me to be able to share it with the rest of the Fives. Seeing Joshua Tree National Park from above and trying something completely new as a family: it really doesn’t get any better and thanks to an excellent guide like Nelson it was all possible 🙂