Category Archives: Adventure

Indoor Rock Climbing Outdoors

ross park

Photo by Ryan Freitas

There’s a stout little place called Ross Park in Idaho you climbers should know about. Sure, when people mention Pocatello it often conjures thoughts of some poh-dunk, hick town where residents eat potatoes, chew tobacco, ridicule non-white people and carry shotguns in their trucks. Well, Pa, it just ain’t true; except for the gun part. But this is the West.

Within Southeastern Idaho’s largest city is a top-rated university (ISU). A booming high-tech industry, hot springs, several clean, pet-friendly hotels and the West’s largest outdoor climbing gym, er, park have sprouted around it.

History of Ross Park

Ross Park, appropriately named after a pioneering mayor of Pocatello who later became Governor of Idaho, is the focal point of the city’s entire 34 Parks and Rec system.  Ancient lava ledges of multi-faceted basalt separate the upper and lower green parks (Shady Side and Sunny Side) and make for ideal sport climbs. 

The walls offer what is arguably the best outdoor bouldering and top roping within 50 paces of any city street. Drive up and park right in front of the crag. Walk across a sidewalk-sized patch of grass and meet the Shady Side- over 60 boulder problems of every degree of difficulty. A quick walk up a grassy knoll on the East end puts you right on top of that wall. Drop a rope from any one of 30 anchors for your toprope pleasure. The “Sunny Side” of Ross offers 60+ relatively-short (40’) traditional gear and bolted sport leads, but you can walk or drive up to the top of Sunny Side and throw down a toprope if you prefer.

Idaho State University Loves Climbing

 The ISU Outdoor program began bolting the Sunny Side climbs in the late 90s. They started with the more difficult routes first; working their way towards bolting the easier ones over the following seasons so you can find  lead routes for all levels. 

Photo by Ryan Freitas


ISU has practically taken ownership of Ross Park. They run climbing programs, offer free downloads of the most comprehensive climbing and bouldering guides to the area written by their instructors and host one of the oldest and most entertaining climbing competitions in the Northwest, The Pocatello Pump.

When you tire of climbing, hang out with the native animals of Idaho at the Pocatello Zoo, located inside Ross Park. The park also features the Bannock County Historical Museum, the Fort Hall Replica detailing life as it was during the early pioneer days. Want more climbing? Drive less than an hour north to Massacre Rocks State Park. You’ll find another 500+ climbs.

Ross Park Specifics

Pocatello is 150 miles north of Salt Lake City, Utah, at the intersection of Highways I-15 and I-86. The climate stays sunny and dry almost year-round. Ross Park is at the south end of Pocatello at I-15 & 5th Ave (Exit 67). Go N on 5th. Turn L on Fredregill. Turn L on 2nd, continuing to the rocks on L. Contact the Pocatello Convention and Visitors Bureau, 208.233.7333. The Pocatello Pump occurs in September-208.236.3912. 

Frontsight Brings The Hammer Down

I want to be witty and prosaic about my time at Frontsight but I’m brain dead. Which, BTW, is not a good thing to be when you have to have a gun in your hand for four, 12-hour-days. I’m learning so much so fast my ears are ringing. Or is that just a result of my lifting up the left earmuff before the last person on the first relay had fired? Either way, I’m a mess.

Heading to Frontsight

Four Blonds at Frontsight

Four blonds from Utah in bright colors with snappy attitudes have taken over the 2nd relay (that’s a fancy way of saying the back row of never-ever shooters). Guns are serious business but our Frontsight coach Bishop says the number two rule of our four-day defensive handgun class is to have fun. And that we are. (The first rule is to be safe.) So why isn’t anyone else chuckling at our innuendos and personality? No matter. We’re still having a blast down here in Pahrump, Nevada. Ha ha a pun! But seriously I never thought I would really shoot bad guys and look what I did today-

Bad guy targets at Frontsight

That was the highlight of Day 2- shooting bad guys. By midday, things were starting to click. Another pun! I was pulling my Glock from its holster just like the 1st relayers; I was loading the mag with ease, I was aiming accurately and I was hitting what I sighted.

Students take aim

The sound of the gun and the jerk of the muzzle are becoming second nature. That’s what Frontsight is about. Repetition of the skills you would need to successfully fire a loaded weapon so the movements become automatic. In the time it takes you to wonder what you should do, you’ve been shot. But Frontsight isn’t a place like you would see in a spaghetti western; filled with drunk rednecks shooting pistols and rifles in the air while screaming YeeeHaw! “If it’s not worth dying for, it’s not worth shooting for” is the mantra we hear at the daily lectures. Here, we’re learning responsibility.  This is firearm bootcamp for civilians (and servicemen on their own dimes). It’s where you go to learn something beyond basic point and shoot techniques. It’s where you learn that there’s so much more to learn about guns.

Frontsight’s Playground

Frontsight's Warning Sign

They call this 550-acre compound surrounded by BLM land ‘Disneyland for Gunlovers’. I get it. Pulling into the parking lot I get those same excited butterflies I get when I park under Jiminy Cricket or Pluto and wait for the tram to carry me to the Magic Kingdom.

I have much to share but my fingers hurt. I have to sleep now. I’ll dream of shooting bad guys. I’ll hunt them down and make them cry.

More bad guy targets at Frontsight

My friends wonder if they would be able to shoot a real person. I don’t wonder. I know that if the situation presented itself, I could. I just hope it never ever comes to something like that. The consequences as we have learned are intense. Tomorrow, we practice “tactical movements”. As in we move. Not sure exactly how this works but I’m pretty sure I’ll have a good idea in the first 15 minutes of my day. Giddy up.

P.S. if you’re interested in learning more about Front Sight, the courses or membership, send me note!

It’s Beer Thirty In Oregon

beer in oregon

I got my first got my taste of Oregon’s craft mastery when I moved to Bend in 2002. My insecure mess of a boyfriend had packed up and run home to Vermont without breaking up with me or even saying goodbye. I could use a stiff drink, hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime.

So there I was, getting up at 5 a.m. for a morning radio show gig, working until noon, napping then going out to check out the town and the legendary Beer in Oregon. There were half the breweries that exist there now but even back then I knew I was basking in hops heaven.

Beer Business

Oregon takes its beer business seriously. And we’re talking “real” beer not the 3.2 stuff of Utah legend. This summer, I went back auspiciously to rock climb but perhaps it was to taste that trophy of taps. I returned to Bend with a much different life; it wasn’t a move but a visit, not single but with a stalwart partner of 14 years and our spunky, 10-year old.

beer in oregon

Nothing tastes better after a long day on the rock than a crisp, cold brew. The front desk clerk at our motel made sure we knew that as he slapped a map to the Bend Ale Trail into my hands. Bend has more breweries per-capita than any other city in Oregon. Like Salt Lake City, Bend has often been deemed Beer Town USA but we’re talking a little town of less than 90k people. SLC is more like 2 million. The Ale Trail takes you around to 16 breweries- including my faves for drink and food, Sunriver and 10Barrel. If you are planning a ski trip to Mt Bachelor, make apres at these stops a priority.

beer in oregon

Beer in Oregon Includes Mt Hood

Mt Hood, another resortish town in Oregon, is doing the brewmap thing as well. Makes sense when the next best thing to drinking beer after climbing is drinking beer after skiing. To make sure that happens, the Portland neighbor has a brand new Mt. Hood Territory Tap Trail mobile passport.

The free year-long passport showcases some of the newest breweries in Mt. Hood Territory, as well as some perennial favorites, with discounts at participating businesses.

Sample Coin Toss Brewing‘s Heritage Beer Series in Oregon City. Then head across the road to where Shattered Oak Brewing and Batch 1 Brewing share a space called “The Hive Taphouse.” There, you can try meads, ciders and German-inspired brews. And Bent Shovel’s forested barn-house brewery is a hidden gem near the Clackamas River. Science geeks won’t want to miss Bunsenbrewer in Sandy, the gateway to Mt. Hood. Founded by a biochemist, this brewpub features a playful tasting room with lab tables and stools, a Sound Lab fully-equipped with instruments and plenty of video games.

Redeem a discount at 10 of the 13 participating businesses within a year and earn a Mt. Hood Territory Tap Trail stainless steel pint glass by stopping into the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City.

It took 15 years for me to hit the Oregon Trail for better beer with better company but you don’t have to wait that long. I hear ski season has already begun in the Pacific Northwest. Get thy toast on pronto!

Trip Report : Elephant’s Perch, Idaho

Elephant's Perch

The trunk looked like an advertisement out of Backpacker Magazine- Kelty pack, Kuhl shorts, Hi-Tec hikers, Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag, TheNorthface tent, Black Diamond climbing gear, Ruffwear dog bowls, etc. The theory was that with the right gear I could survive and conquer even what turned out to be my ultimate tolerance test. Elephant’s Perch, aka The Road Trip From Hell.

The beautiful thing about Park City is that it’s less than a day’s drive to just about anywhere. Aspen? Six hours. Vegas? Six hours. Denver? Eight hours. Jackson Hole? Four hours. I’ve driven to San Diego, Calif. (12 hours), Hood River, Ore. (12 hours); even Cloudcroft, NM (18 hours). It’s a no-brainer to hit the open road. Throw your closet in the rear, load the dog and fill the tank. You really could do it alone. Problem is, I’d rather have company.

So the issue becomes, do you say, “Eff it; I’m out,” or post on social media that you’re offering a ride?

Finding A Climbing Partner For Elephant’s Perch

A trip that involves serious hours of drive time -and hang time -with unfamiliar company might create a new best friend or crush you into wishing you had stayed home to pay bills and do laundry.

The excursion began as an idea to climb Elephant’s Perch (aka Saddleback Peak) in the Sawtooth National Forest, Idaho. To digress, a now-defunct love fling introduced the plan. The Boy, a Sun Valley resident, convinced me that the easy six-hour drive would make the perfect romantic rendezvous for us. However, after discovering his status as a convicted felon, the thought of being alone in the wilderness with Brian created too much anxiety and I called the trip- with him- off.

But I was all dressed up with no place to go. Not to be outdone by the gun-toting bank robber, I decided, “To hell with him!” and found another able-bodied rock climber- with three days off work- to take his place. The plan was to hike to Saddleback Lakes in the Sawtooths and climb the 5.9 Mountaineer’s Route at Elephant’s Perch. That was the plan anyway.

elephants perch

Photo courtesy Mountain Project

The Sawtooth Range is home to some stellar sport and big wall climbing. There are nearly 20 trad routes ranging from 5.9-5.13 but no one was with earshot or sight on this particular trek. Mountaineer’s is mostly 5.5 and lower, with occasional sections up to 5.9. leader. It seemed doable.

Having graduated law school, I’m often asked what kind of law I’d practice if I weren’t a writer. I reply, “Murphy’s.” The weekend in Idaho grew to be a prime example of my specialty.

Climbing with Strangers is a Bad Idea

As my new buddy and I pulled onto I-80 a distinctly pungent odor assaulted my nostrils and I realized my passenger must have been so excited about the trip he forgot to wash. “Oh dear God!” I thought. “If it smells this bad now, what would happen in three days after strenuous hiking and climbing?” But how could I tell him about hygiene without hurting his feelings and ruining the weekend? Luckily (and unfortunately), I felt an oncoming cold, with its requisite stuffed nose, to save the day.

Before we got to the mountains, an Idaho state trooper pulled me over for speeding. (“87 in a 65?” not true, Officer!)  I let Joe drive the rest of the way because, as he boasted, “I never drive over the speed limit.” The bank robber probably couldn’t say the same.

Getting To Elephant’s Perch

To get to Elephant’s Perch we had to drive to Redfish Lake Lodge, one-hour north of Sun Valley, fork over $$ to ride a ferry across the Lake, hike three miles of mellow trail to the climb’s approach, and then a one-mile scramble straight UP to the base of the route.

I twisted my ankle, a mosquito bit my eyelid, my cold constricted every muscle in my body and Joe was upwind. I tried to whine only at the appropriate intervals.

The route Joe chose consisted of five moderate pitches (stages to get to the top) of crack climbing. I was still a novice climber and had never done more than three single sport routes in one day. I figured I could handle the challenge (please note the sarcasm). Besides, Joe hadn’t come all this way to turn around without “doing the Perch.”

elephant's perch

Photo courtesy Mountain Project

Cold, tired, sore and sneezing, I looked up at this 1000-foot mammoth wall and a voice in my head whispered, “Let’s not and say we did.”

After zigzagging from crack to crack looking for the way up, Joe shouted down to me from 40 feet. I slowly made my way up to him to tell him I wasn’t going to climb. At this pace, there was no way to reach the peak before nightfall. And I was downwind from Joe again. It’s hard to climb when you refuse to breathe. We aborted the mission and barely reached the dock to catch the return ferry.

To Hell and Back

We drove home in silence, weary and defeated. I was annoyed that Joe wasn’t the great route finder he portended to be nor was he accustomed to soap and deodorant. My cold faded as Joe began to sneeze.

Like the red gas idiot light that blinks to remind you to fill the tank, the spoiled onions aroma tickled my nose to remind me of why I shouldn’t invite strangers on a roadtrip. I missed my cold. I was bummed the weekend didn’t go as planned. But sh+t happens. Yet another lesson that can’t be learned in law school.

Weber River Tubing Beats the Heat

river tubing

It was like 100 degrees out, no shade, and my sister was visiting from California to beat the heat. Ha. Still, I was determined to show my citified Los Angeles sis a good Utah time- outdoor style. The river called and we answered, “Hello, River tubing.”

river tubing

My mind’s eye flashed on the sign at the Taggart exit off I-84. “Park City Rafting”. The water was too low and too calm for rafting but tubing….now there’s an idea. We hopped back on the freeway and got off at Morgan. We had an appointment with Barefoot Tubing, PC Rafting’s sister company. It was noon, the sun high and guests were starting to trickle in. We signed our waivers, grabbed vests, sunscreen, hats and boarded the shuttle for the Henefer put-in.

river tubing

river tubing

river tubing

I had heard of tubing on the Weber and it was on my bucket list. I had kayaked, er, swam it twice but maybe in a giant rubber ring things would be different.

river tubing

river tubing

They were. I easily navigated the rocks in the rock garden, the small class II rapids and the shrubbery at river’s edge. We floated flatwater and waves, under bridges, around rocks, and through tunnels.

river tubing

When you sign up, you have a choice of the two-hour Henefer to Taggart section, the two-hour Taggart to Morgan stretch ($25/pp) or the four-hour Henefer to Morgan journey ($35). I could see four hours if we packed a picnic and a cooler but since this was a spontaneous adventure, two hours were perfect. Julie was a tad anxious. The most activity she gets is Yoga. But if my 9-year-old daughter was going, so was my 49-year-old sister.

river tubing

Sage shared Ryan’s tube and the girls went solo. Though Julie got tossed from her tube a couple of times she continued on; never afraid for her life. There are several spots where she could get off the river and give up if fear set in. She seemed eager to push herself. The instructions are simple. Keep your feet flexed and ready to push off rocks if you get close, don’t try to stand in the water if you fall in (you could trap your ankle in the river rock), just maintain the same position you had in the tube, hold onto your tube, and swim to the river bank to get back into your tube.

river tubing

The water cooled our sun stroked limbs and with each short splash, we got that rush that makes you squeal and smile. My sister laughed too. To Sage and me it was another outdoors day in Utah. To Julie, it was surreal. Her version of adventure is traffic on the 405. Hanging with my sis was like when you experience something through the eyes of an innocent baby; it reminded me why I love the mountains. We get spoiled with what we have here and often take it for granted. A special thanks to Barefoot and Julie for refreshing my attitude and body on a hot Utah summer day.

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