by Sara Aranda
A lot can happen in three months. My summer job ended and it was time to live another chapter of my life. A chance came to turn another dream into reality, so Patrick and I set off to know first-hand the wonders of a climbing road-trip. If you want to read all the full stories, follow all the links to the original blog posts documenting our trip.
In Brief: A Tale of Firsts
The trip officially started with Clear Creek Canyon, CO: “The sky shifts from a harsh daylight to a tumbling thunder, the drumrolls echoing down Clear Creek canyon. River rafters wave from the rapids, their instructors calling out commands. Patrick dynos from a shitty right-hand side-pull to a sloping edge while working Ken T’ank. As his feet kick out I squat slightly, hands ready to pull slack if he doesn’t stick, but he does. He clips the next bolt and motions to come down. He’s got all the moves worked out and it’s time to rest for the real run-through. Other climbing parties across the river have already packed up and gone. The thunder rings louder and lightning blows out the sky, but being down in the canyon, we weren’t troubled by it,” I wrote for my blog (read the whole post here). Rain turned to hail and we hid under a small roof. This was a new experience for me, to be rained out at a crag, and it was definitely a great way to start our trek West. And as all road trips and new adventures seem to go, they are always a tale of firsts.
We spent two weeks in Dream Canyon next, where we really began to appreciate our time as ours. We were living out of my Jeep Cherokee and an ultralight popup camper trailer gifted to us from Patrick’s dad. We started coming back to a truer, and more raw, sense of self. It reminded me of my time on the Pacific Crest Trail, where home was only in the present and my awareness was all about my body and its performance, and of course the stimulating, and direct, connection with the surrounding wilderness. “I’ve found a place I’ve never found before. Being on the wall and feeling like I’m on the ground, it’s like falling away into absolute bliss,” Patrick shared one day, after finally completing climbing goals he had for some time. I soon hiked my first 14’er, free-soloed over 1,000 ft, and I began to experience the harsh realities of pushing myself in climbing.
After a friend’s wedding in Cheyenne, WY we spent a day in Vedauwoo, then drove West to a crag we had only heard about in passing: Wild Iris, just outside of Lander, WY. I had never climbed on limestone and this area was almost purely pockets. We heard tales of a local grizzly bear named Waffles—I’ve never seen a wild grizzly and I wasn’t psyched to make that a first experience. But after a stunning, and quiet, week we drove through Yellowstone National Park, then onwards to visit my older brother, Michael Aranda, in Missoula, MT.
A few weeks prior to leaving Colorado, I had blood drawn for a genetic test. They were looking for a mutation that I could have inherited from my mother, who passed away at 45 from breast cancer caused by the mutation. Patrick and I were driving towards Washington after leaving Missoula, when I got the phone call from the doc. It was news I felt I already knew: I have the mutation. But it only justified my life even more. A sad night was spent in Washington, then we drove up to Squamish, BC on Patrick’s 30th birthday. As if the world echoed our sentiments, we had just missed the prime climbing weather and spent a few days in nothing but rain.
We managed a few hikes and took in all the beauty we could, but there was no cloud break in sight. After a frightening night where Patrick got sick from breathing too much campfire smoke, we knew it was time to move on. So we drove back down to Washington to visit Patrick’s sister, then down to Trout Creek, OR to continue our climbing ventures.
“So I guess that’s why I’m here, doing what I’m doing. Floating around with the stars, chasing dreams of adventure, finding myself in situations where I can truly appreciate the life I have,” I wrote after a month of being on the road. We spent some time in Smith Rock State Park, OR but were wanting to find areas away from the crowds for now. So we packed up and drove into Tahoe, CA with no idea of where to camp. We heard about a forest road just outside of Lover’s Leap where you can camp for free, and we sure got lucky. Lover’s Leap and the town of Strawberry was such a unique place for us. The granite was covered with knobs and other monolithic features and the woods of the Sierra Nevada felt so welcoming. By now, Patrick and I were in the best shape of our lives. “I had become a lean body that felt more like a true animal.” Climbing was such a focus in our lives, and we found ourselves craving more and more—what it does to us, for us, with us.
And golly-gosh, Patrick and I were just lost in bliss, really. We were in love and only getting closer, we were chasing dreams and discovering new ones. The mountains were cooling down and we found ourselves in Bishop, CA spending time with old friends and exploring new crags such as Pine Creek. It was often hard to not focus on the ratings, but what mattered was consistency and the fact that we were at least out there, trying everything we could.
Then the autumn storms started to come through, leaving snow-capped peaks. We knew that our trip was about to end, as it was time to refill our adventure funds. But things felt as if they had just started! So the plan was to get jobs in Yosemite NP over the winter, but it was October, with no luck in sight. The Holidays were coming and we were killing time in Joshua Tree NP. Yet finally, we were offered jobs starting early December. So we spent Thanksgiving in Florida with Patrick’s mom and siblings and drove straight to Yosemite once we landed back in Los Angeles. For us, it was only a temporary end to the road; and with winter coming, it felt appropriate to take a short break from all the climbing we had stuffed ourselves with to start a new adventure: experiencing winter in Yosemite for the first time. And I can’t tell you enough, every new adventure is worth it, even if it means slowing down for a quick while—as long as you keep scheming for what’s to come!