climbing yosemite

climbing yosemiteYosemite is wide­ly regard­ed as the birth­place of Amer­i­can climb­ing, espe­cial­ly big wall climb­ing, and for good rea­son. It’s been mak­ing head­lines in the climb­ing world since John Muir’s 1869 ascent of Cathe­dral Peak, three years before Yel­low­stone would be des­ig­nat­ed the first U.S. Nation­al Park, and as recent­ly as when free-soloist Alex Hon­nold topped El Cap­i­tan sans rope in under four hours.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it’s still very dangerous.

How­ev­er, not all of the head­lines have been quite so cel­e­bra­to­ry. In 2015, the icon­ic gran­ite giant Half Dome lost a pair of pitch­es, but even bewil­der­ing head­lines like “2,500 Tons of Rock Fell Off Half Dome and Nobody Noticed” are still prefer­able to the type of head­lines report­ing rock­fall fatal­i­ties, which we saw with a series of back-to-back rock­falls at famed Yosemite big wall El Cap­i­tan ear­li­er this year.

Rock climb­ing has its share of inher­ent risks: over­con­fi­dent self-assess­ment, inad­e­quate prepa­ra­tion, unco­op­er­a­tive weath­er, and even gear fail­ure reg­u­lar­ly con­tribute to injury in the climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty. Abil­i­ty to mit­i­gate those risks is key to safe climb­ing, but unfor­tu­nate­ly for the out­door climber, rock­fall is one of the less pre­dictable and there­fore less man­age­able risks.

Yosemite park geol­o­gist Greg Stock doc­u­ments a rock­fall a week on aver­age, although on the bright side, he also reports that only around fif­teen peo­ple have died as a result of rock­falls in 150 years, and he and a team of sci­en­tists have been hard at work for the last decade study­ing Yosemite’s rock­falls in the name of harm reduction.

What safe­ty mea­sures can be taken?

Short of stay­ing home, there are no tried-and-true meth­ods that will guar­an­tee a climber’s safe­ty against rock­fall; the dynam­ic nature of the big walls and exfo­li­at­ing gran­ite sheets mean that every cliff is a haz­ard zone, twen­ty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. Still, climbers would do well to begin by famil­iar­iz­ing them­selves with these tips from the Friends of Yosemite Search and Res­cue, gen­er­at­ed from a detailed analy­sis of over twen­ty years of climb­ing injuries and fatal­i­ties. Weath­er reports might not be able to pre­dict the kind of spon­ta­neous thun­der­storms that may put climbers at risk of hypother­mia, but recent rain­fall is a known trig­ger for rock­fall, so climbers should always check con­di­tions before rop­ing up.

Route clo­sures must be respected—even if it’s “just” for endan­gered bird species (I guar­an­tee you don’t want to be star­tled by an angry pere­grine fal­con dur­ing an ascent). And if rock­fall has been report­ed recent­ly in an area, or if the ground shows signs of recent rock­fall, climbers may do very well to relo­cate their climb­ing since rock­fall regions may be active for weeks or months at a time.

There are plen­ty of options.

The good news is that while Half Dome and El Cap­i­tan get most of the head­lines, Yosemite has got plen­ty of options when it comes to climb­ing, espe­cial­ly if you’re will­ing to leave the crowds of the Val­ley. Try the South­east But­tress of Cathe­dral Peak, a 700’ clas­sic tra­di­tion­al alpine climb that soars above Tuolumne Mead­ows, or test your met­tle against The North Face of The Ros­trum in the Low­er Merced Riv­er Valley—a blis­ter­ing eight-pitch, 5.11c climb by the Yosemite Dec­i­mal Sys­tem. If you just can’t bear to leave the beau­ty of the Val­ley, though, good routes can still be found through­out: the Roy­al Arch­es, a white gran­ite arch that tow­ers over the for­mer Ahwah­nee Hotel, offers both tra­di­tion­al and sport pitch­es at rat­ings rang­ing from 5.7 to 5.11c; the Wash­ing­ton Col­umn just to the east serves up some begin­ner-friend­ly big wall climb­ing on the South Face route; and the unfor­tu­nate­ly-named Manure Pile nev­er­the­less fea­tures both toprope and tra­di­tion­al climbs, includ­ing After Six and Nut­crack­er, that are pop­u­lar with new and old blood alike.

And if you’re more into crash-mats than fin­ger-width cams—that is, if you’re look­ing for some good bouldering—Yosemite’s got you cov­ered there, too. All that rock­fall means that the valley’s lit­tered with over sev­en hun­dred iden­ti­fied boul­der­ing prob­lems rang­ing from the sim­plest at V0 up to V11 (look­ing at you, Yabo Boul­der). There’s a lit­tle some­thing for every­one here, so, grab your chalk bags and get ready to climb on.

All right, Indi­ana Jones. You can climb jun­gle vines and for­age for your own food. You can locate run­ning streams with sur­pris­ing accu­ra­cy and you train for triathlons in your free time, we get it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this puts you at high­er risk for alti­tude relat­ed issues—because you prob­a­bly think you’re too tough to be affect­ed by alti­tude sickness.

The truth is, it can hap­pen to any­one, at any time (grant­ed you are at a high enough alti­tude: gen­er­al­ly above 8,000 ft.). There are no real indi­ca­tors as to whether or not it will affect one per­son over anoth­er, it’s just one of those odd things. For­tu­nate­ly, it isn’t contagious.

So what is alti­tude sick­ness any­way? There are many forms of it, but the issues we are deal­ing with are 1. Oxy­gen and 2. Water. As you get high­er in alti­tude, air pres­sure decreas­es and you get less oxy­gen every time you take a lung­ful of air. This low­ered air pres­sure also caus­es water to evap­o­rate more quick­ly from your sys­tem, caus­ing dehydration. 

Signs & Effects of Alti­tude Sick­ness, or AMS (Acute Moun­tain Sickness)

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nau­sea
  • Con­fu­sion
  • Dif­fi­cul­ty walking
  • Gen­er­al­ly feel­ing real­ly, real­ly terrible
  • Hav­ing to uri­nate more frequently
  • Hyper­ven­ti­la­tion
  • Nose­bleed
  • Drowsi­ness
  • Height­ened pulse

These are fair­ly com­mon issues when trav­el­ing from sea lev­el to a high alti­tude at a rapid rate, but they can be fatal. So let’s go over a game plan to keep you safe next time you decide to adven­ture a lit­tle clos­er to the stars.

How to Deal with Alti­tude Sickness

1. Avoid Rapid Ascents
If pos­si­ble, sleep a night or two at an inter­me­di­ate alti­tude, say between 5,000 and 7,000 ft., before your expe­di­tion into alti­tudes above 8,000 ft. Once above 8,000 ft., avoid ascend­ing more than 1,000 ft. per day to camp. 

Climb­ing high­er each day is fine, but avoid sleep­ing high­er than 1,000 ft. as com­pared to the pre­vi­ous night.

2. Try Coca Leaves & Gingko Biloba
Although not always read­i­ly avail­able, these are nat­ur­al reme­dies that increase the rate of accli­ma­tion for some peo­ple. Fore­sight can be key.

3. Drink Plen­ty of Water
It’s just a fact—you get dehy­drat­ed faster at high­er alti­tudes. Not only are you exert­ing more ener­gy, but water vapor is also lost from the lungs at a high­er rate. With this in mind, alco­hol con­sump­tion should be avoid­ed entire­ly, as it will only dehy­drate your body further.

4. Med­icate
Ibupro­fen treats the symp­toms of nau­sea and headache some­times caused by alti­tude sick­ness, but the drug Diamox, or aceta­zo­lamide, decreas­es the time need­ed to accli­mate to high altitude.

5. Descend
If alti­tude is seri­ous­ly affect­ing you, the most effec­tive solu­tion is to descend to a low­er alti­tude imme­di­ate­ly. The end-stage of AMS is HACE, or High Alti­tude Cere­bral Ede­ma, which caus­es your brain to swell and stop work­ing prop­er­ly. HACE can be fatal if left untreated.

As with any intense phys­i­cal activ­i­ty, it is always best to con­sult your doc­tor before embark­ing on a trek at high alti­tude. Take your time, lis­ten to your body, and be pre­pared to turn around if necessary.

The speed record of the Nose on El Cap­i­tan is one of the most allur­ing and sought after records in all of climb­ing, even for a sport that isn’t inher­ent­ly com­pet­i­tive. For years the world’s best climbers have been trad­ing the record back in forth, with mere sec­onds sep­a­rat­ing the record at times. Watch as Brad Gob­right and Jim Reynolds top the time set by Alex Hon­nold and Hans Florine.

June 12th, 2011, Cody Elliot’s life as he knew it came to a very abrupt end. As a Marine Lance Cor­po­ral, he was serv­ing his duty as a machine gun squad leader when one of his fel­low Marines, a 21-year-old com­bat engi­neer, stepped on an Impro­vised Explo­sive Device (IED) out­side of San­gin, in South Cen­tral Afghanistan. Cody ran to help him, but his efforts were inter­rupt­ed when anoth­er IED erupt­ed in his path, tear­ing off his left leg and send­ing shrap­nel through­out the rest of his body. 

He’s now one of the few indi­vid­u­als who can hon­est­ly say they’ve died twice and lived to tell the sto­ry. He went into car­diac arrest mul­ti­ple times as the mede­vac team rushed him by air to a hos­pi­tal in Ger­many.  “When I woke up, my body was rid­dled with holes and miss­ing mus­cles and miss­ing bone. I was on the verge of a down­ward spi­ral of sui­cide and not hav­ing a way to live again. Going from being a leader in the mil­i­tary in com­bat straight to lit­er­al­ly hav­ing your legs tak­en out from under you. That real­ly messed with me,” says Cody.

To be pre­cise, Cody woke up miss­ing his left leg, part of his right calf, a fin­ger and sev­er­al bone frag­ments in the right side of his face. After months of rehab and attempts to find sal­va­tion, in every­thing from cross­fit to sky­div­ing, Cody fell into the world of climb­ing.  “It became my life sav­ings. It was the real­iza­tion that, ‘Wow, I can still do this.’ I can be effec­tive at it and I can lead peo­ple in this. To be able to look at oth­er amputees and say, ‘Hey, look at me,’ and take them up there so they can expe­ri­ence it for them­selves. To have them be blown away by what they can still do, that is my end goal,” says Cody.

“The best advice I ever got was from a bud­dy of mine after treat­ing my first com­bat casu­al­ty. He said, ‘What we do in this life for our­selves dies with us. But what we do for oth­ers is eter­nal.’” That’s been Cody’s mantra ever since. A true stoke spread­er, he seeks to help both oth­er amputee climbers and those who are able-bod­ied. These days he has his eyes on his own prize.

“El Cap is my goal. That is my moun­tain. I want to do it for myself. And to show peo­ple that no mat­ter what adver­si­ty you have, you can find a pas­sion and pur­sue it. You can find your own moun­tain. It does­n’t have to be El Cap. It does­n’t even have to be climb­ing. But If I can do El Cap to show oth­er peo­ple that they can do the impos­si­ble, then that’s my goal.”  He’s since con­quered The Nose, but has his sights set on Zodi­ac and The Shield, with plans of mak­ing it up every route he can. 

“I nev­er under­stood what rock climb­ing real­ly was or why peo­ple did it. But then it just sort of dawned on me. It’s like com­bat, you can’t just bail. You’re in it, no mat­ter what.” 

He’s spent the bet­ter part of the last few years trav­el­ing the coun­try in his van with his best friend Bruis­er, help­ing oth­ers, and work­ing out the kinks that come with mul­ti-pitch climb­ing as an amputee. “The hard­est thing for me is not real­ly the climb­ing and the height. I dig that, that’s why I do it. The amputee stuff is the real grit of it. I sweat so much, and I lose so much vol­ume up there that the seal on my [pros­thet­ic] leg breaks–that’s not good to hap­pen at 1,200 feet.” 

Cody’s team of doc­tors and pros­thetists are get­ting cre­ative to hope­ful­ly solve some of these issues. Every­thing is dum­my cord­ed so that even if his leg falls off it’s still attached to his har­ness, but what he real­ly needs is a leg that won’t dis­lodge from the sweat and swelling that comes with big wall missions. 

Cody with some of The Clymb team.

Despite his phys­i­cal hur­dles, he’s suc­cess­ful­ly made it to the top once and made sev­er­al oth­er attempts already. He’s learned some valu­able lessons along the way. With anoth­er year under his belt, he main­tains a healthy dose of opti­mism that the moun­tain hasn’t seen the end of him yet. He’s plan­ning anoth­er mis­sion up Zodi­ac and The Shield. 

Against all odds, his strength and enthu­si­asm for life shines through. “Life has a way of mak­ing one’s true char­ac­ter show. At some point we are all going to be test­ed. Whether we fail or not, we have the choice to sit down and do noth­ing, or climb the moun­tain and feel the breeze. I choose to feel the breeze.”

Boreal Firé

It’s not about the gear. Peo­ple have been hik­ing, camp­ing, climb­ing, surf­ing and pad­dling for hun­dreds of years, regard­less of how much their pack weighed or if their pad­dles were made of wood, fiber­glass or car­bon. But some gear inno­va­tions have fun­da­men­tal­ly changed the way we live out­doors, cre­at­ing a seis­mic shift that altered our out­door play experience.

Boreal FiréThe Bore­al Firé
In 1982, the Span­ish com­pa­ny Bore­al pro­duced the “Firé” style shoe with a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sticky rub­ber sole. Pre­vi­ous climb­ing gear had either used hard Vibram soles or can­vas shoes with reg­u­lar sneak­er rub­ber. The pro­to­type Firé was test­ed in Boreal’s home in Spain, but became all the rage when Yosemite climber John Bachar test­ed a pair on Mid­night Light­ning, the leg­endary and high­ly vis­i­ble boul­der prob­lem in Camp 4. When 265 pairs of Firés showed up in the Yosemite climb­ing shop, they sold out in a day. Now sticky rub­ber man­u­fac­tur­ing is a close­ly guard­ed secret among climb­ing shoe companies.

Before Gore-Tex, hik­ing in the rain was one of two things: either get­ting drenched from the rain, or get­ting drenched from the steam bath that came from gen­er­at­ing heat inside non-breath­able rub­ber jack­ets and pon­chos. Gore-tex was the first of the water­proof-breath­able tech­nolo­gies that are now wide­spread. In addi­tion to mak­ing hik­ing more pleas­ant year-round, Gore-Tex brought out­door cloth­ing from the low­brow world of army sur­plus stores to the high-tech world of spe­cial­ized out­door companies.

SPOT MessengerThe SPOT Messenger
Before the SPOT mes­sen­ger, when we ven­tured into the wilder­ness beyond cell range, we were just as out there and far from res­cue or human con­tact as we were back in 1985: you’d still have to hike, ski or pad­dle back to a road to get a cell sig­nal. The SPOT changed that, beam­ing a satel­lite sig­nal from any­where. The added mar­gin of safe­ty is great, but also comes with the temp­ta­tions of con­stant con­nect­ed­ness: SPOT allows your friends to fol­low your trip online (and dis­cov­er your secret camp­ing spots) and post mes­sages on social media.

JetboilThe Jet­boil
There are few things as basic to camp­ing, or human exis­tence for that mat­ter, as boil­ing water and cook­ing food. Stoves have evolved in count­less ways, but the Jet­boil has par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance, issu­ing in the “fast cook­ing sys­tem” that blasts out heat in record time. While the sig­nif­i­cance of how fast you can boil water is ques­tion­able except in the most extreme con­di­tions, it did jump­start the already grow­ing “fast and light” cat­e­go­ry in back­pack­ing, with light packs, long miles and cram­ming a week’s hike into four days off. The moun­tains got clos­er and the food got faster too.

fleeceRecy­cled Polarfleece
Polarfleece was around since Malden Mills began pro­duc­ing it in 1970. But fleece is a petro­le­um-based prod­uct, and ris­ing envi­ron­men­tal con­scious­ness both in out­door com­pa­nies and in gen­er­al con­sumers led Patag­o­nia and Malden Mills to find a way to make fleece jack­ets out of recy­cled plas­tic bot­tles in the late 1990s. The first ver­sions had some issues, but they fig­ured it out and by 2006, the man­u­fac­tur­ing costs had dropped well below the cost of new mate­r­i­al. It wasn’t the first and has­n’t been the last, but it was one of the most pub­licly vis­i­ble ways that out­door con­sumers could vote with their wallet.

Holoform River Chaser kayakThe Holo­form Riv­er Chaser
Before the Riv­er Chas­er, kayaks were large two-piece fiber­glass craft that couldn’t hit rocks with­out crack­ing. Tom John­son, U.S. Slalom Coach and invet­er­ate tin­ker­er, devel­oped the poly­eth­yl­ene Riv­er Chas­er in 1972. Kayak­ing became cheap­er and more acces­si­ble to the mass­es. And instead of metic­u­lous­ly avoid­ing rocks by run­ning big rivers at high water, pad­dlers could explore small creeks, expand the sea­son to run rivers at low water and invent new sorts of play. Mod­ern white­wa­ter kayaking—boofing, run­ning water­falls, and play­ing end­less­ly in holes—all owe their exis­tence to the Riv­er Chaser.

grand canyon

While brag­ging isn’t the main rea­son you get out­side and push your­self, you can’t deny it feels pret­ty good rev­el­ing in your accom­plish­ments to close friends and fam­i­ly (or any­one that will lis­ten). All across the coun­try, the nat­ur­al land­scape con­fig­ures some per­fect phys­i­cal chal­lenges that could leave you bruised, bush­whacked and pos­si­bly regret­ting once boast­ful intentions.

grand canyonHik­ing: Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, Grand Canyon Nation­al Park
Going from Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) involves just over 40 miles of trekking, with sig­nif­i­cant ele­va­tion change along the way. Typ­i­cal­ly start­ing on the south rim, day hik­ers can take either the South Kaibab Trail or Bright Angel Trail down into the canyon where they con­verge at the Phan­tom Ranch Ranger Sta­tion. From there, the North Kaibab trail gets you to the north rim, where you then can repeat the whole process to get back to the start.

Obtain­ing this sought-after adven­ture achieve­ment should only be done with a deep under­stand­ing of your own phys­i­cal abil­i­ties and fac­tors like ele­va­tion, expo­sure, and dehy­dra­tion. Per­mits are not required if you can do it with­out spend­ing the night, but it is heav­i­ly advised to con­tact the Park Ser­vice to be sure you’re not only abid­ing by park rules, but also so you’re account­ed for as you make your way on this ambi­tious adventure.

Appalachian trailHik­ing: The Triple Crown of Hiking
While com­plet­ing any one of the three most promi­nent long-dis­tance Nation­al Scenic Hik­ing Trails (the Appalachi­an Trail, the Con­ti­nen­tal Divide Trail, the Pacif­ic Crest Trail), is wor­thy of some brag­ging rights, to real­ly get the most boast­ing for your buck, com­plete all three and obtain the cov­et­ed Triple Crown of Hik­ing. Each trail takes a few months to com­plete on their own, mean­ing that to obtain the Triple Crown you’re look­ing at near­ly a year and a half of liv­ing and trav­el­ing by trail.

While that does sound pret­ty nice in respect to nor­mal day jobs and oth­er respon­si­bil­i­ties, it is no easy task com­plet­ing the ardu­ous jour­ney of one long-dis­tance hike, let alone three of them. While there’s an unof­fi­cial aspect of sim­ply claim­ing to have com­plet­ed the Triple Crown, the Amer­i­can Long Dis­tance Hik­ing Asso­ci­a­tion (West) can offi­cial­ly com­mem­o­rate the expe­ri­ence with a plaque and per­son­al­ized poster to serve as a sym­bol and visu­al brag­ging cue for your achievement.

leadville 100Bik­ing: Com­plet­ing the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, Colorado
The Leadville Trail 100 MTB is an awe-inspir­ing endurance event that tests the best adven­ture ath­letes across the world. Tak­ing place exclu­sive­ly in the Rocky Moun­tains of Col­orado and the San Isabel Nation­al For­est, the Leadville 100 MTB starts above 10,000 feet and climbs a total of 12,000+ feet with­in the out and back course. The only thing that makes the it a lit­tle eas­i­er is the amaz­ing Rocky Moun­tain view that lines the entire way—plus the extreme­ly grat­i­fy­ing feel­ing of cross­ing the fin­ish line after a gru­el­ing 100 miles. For those with­out moun­tain bikes, the coun­ter­part Leadville Trail 100 Run is an equal­ly arse-kick­ing adven­ture worth brag­ging about.

birkieSki­ing: Cross-Coun­try Ski­ing the Amer­i­can Birke­bein­er, Wisconsin
Serv­ing as North America’s largest cross-coun­try ski race, the Amer­i­can Birke­bein­er tra­vers­es 55 kilo­me­ters from Hay­ward to Cable, Wis­con­sin, pass­ing by much the of the scenic wood­lands and win­ter beau­ty that define this Mid­west­ern State. The Amer­i­can Birke­bein­er is a well-orga­nized and high­ly antic­i­pat­ed event that occurs each Feb­ru­ary. Despite the com­mon bone-chill­ing tem­per­a­tures, thou­sands of peo­ple show up each year to watch and par­tic­i­pate in the race. But just because a lot of ath­letes show up to the start­ing line, it doesn’t mean that the Amer­i­can Birke­bein­er is an easy task to accom­plish; expe­ri­ence with snow trav­el and win­ter endurance will be key to com­plet­ing the Birkie in a safe and rea­son­able time frame.

horseshoe hellRock Climb­ing: 24 Hours of Horse­shoe Hell, Arkansas
No bet­ter exam­ple of climb­ing cama­raderie can be found out­side of the 24 Hours of Horse­shoe Hell at the Horse­shoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas, not to men­tion it being one of the most dif­fi­cult rock climb­ing chal­lenges found in the country.

Horse­shoe Canyon Ranch is a sand­stone mec­ca of sport climb­ing routes for all lev­els of climber, and each Sep­tem­ber hun­dreds of climbers grab their gear and head to this pre­miere des­ti­na­tion for the chal­lenge that is 24 Hour of Horse­shoe Hell. Dur­ing this annu­al event and four-day cel­e­bra­tion, teams of two have 24 hours to clean­ly ascend the most routes they can. If you hap­pen to win this con­test, you sure­ly have rea­son to brag, but even just par­tic­i­pat­ing is an extreme accom­plish­ment worth hav­ing some­one buy you a beer.

cherry creekKayak­ing: Cher­ry Creek, California
The waters of the Upper Cher­ry Creek in Cal­i­for­nia, in prox­im­i­ty to Yosemite Nation­al Park and Tuolumne City, are not suit­ed for first-time boaters. The rapids and dan­gers of this Class V+ water sys­tem is noth­ing to mess around in with­out the prop­er expe­ri­ence. Serv­ing as a trib­u­tary for the Tuolumne Riv­er, Cher­ry Creek is trig­gered by snowmelt and is reg­u­lat­ed by a near­by pow­er­house and reser­voirs to make this quick-mov­ing water acces­si­ble, with most runs tak­ing place between mid-July and into the fall.

To make the 8‑mile run safe­ly down Cher­ry Creek, you need to have a per­fect­ed roll, expe­ri­ence pick­ing lines, and ide­al­ly some­one to give you some beta on the water. Com­mer­cial out­fits and guides do run the riv­er as well, which can give you a lit­tle extra help obtain­ing per­mits and orga­niz­ing shut­tles, as well as some­one with expe­ri­ence to lead the way. Once you’ve crushed this Cal­i­for­nia creek in the Sier­ras though, and you could be ready for just about any pad­dle chal­lenge out there.

denaliMoun­taineer­ing: Sum­mit­ing Denali, Alaska
For­mer­ly known as Mount McKin­ley, Denali is the high­est peak in North Amer­i­ca stand­ing at just over 20,000 feet. The first offi­cial ascent of the moun­tain occurred in 1913, but it wasn’t until 1953 when the West But­tress route opened up did this moun­tain become acces­si­ble to more people.

These days if you want to tack­le the typ­i­cal 17 to 21 days it takes to get up and down the moun­tain, you are wel­come to either go at as a pri­vate expe­di­tion with the cor­rect per­mits, or uti­lize a guide ser­vice that can help with some of the logis­tics. Either route you choose, it takes a healthy com­bi­na­tion of expe­ri­ence, sta­mi­na and men­tal for­ti­tude to even con­sid­er Denali a viable option. Climb­ing Denali deserves its brag­ging rights for good reason.


Royal Trail (El Caminito del Rey)

Nature is very beau­ti­ful, but it can also be very dan­ger­ous. In fact, some­times the most beau­ti­ful parts of nature are the most dan­ger­ous, which has result­ed in some exhil­a­rat­ing and daunt­ing hik­ing routes.

This may not fit in with the pop­u­lar view that hik­ing is a relax­ing sport, but it is true. While some hik­ing paths are relax­ing and sim­ple, there are oth­er hik­ing routes that are seri­ous­ly terrifying.

If you like the idea of a wild hike that is filled with dan­ger, from over­whelm­ing heat to unsta­ble routes, here are five of the most ter­ri­fy­ing hikes in the world. Though we feel the need to warn you, hike at your own risk.

The MazeThe Maze, Utah
The Maze is in one of the most remote sec­tions of Utah’s Canyon­lands Nation­al Park, and it receives only around 2,000 vis­i­tors each year. This isn’t because the place isn’t worth vis­it­ing; the rocky area is breath­tak­ing­ly beau­ti­ful, but it is dif­fi­cult to reach and even hard­er to nav­i­gate due to the amount of dead ends. There is also the risk of flash floods and rock fall, which are both poten­tial­ly life threatening.

If you decide to vis­it The Maze you should go with a detailed itin­er­ary and map, as well as lots of water and a ful­ly charged phone. You should also be an expert hik­er, rather than a beginner!

KalalauKalalau, Hawaii
The Kalalau trail is one of the most beau­ti­ful trails in the world, fea­tur­ing iso­lat­ed lush jun­gle, vol­ca­noes and an untouched beach at the end. How­ev­er the 22 mile trip is no walk in the park, as there is a risk of flood­ing and falling rock through­out the trail. There is also a dan­ger­ous area called Crawler’s Ledge, which is an open ledge that is par­tic­u­lar­ly risky when raining.

Maroon BellsMaroon Bells South Ridge, Colorado
The Maroon Bells is a wide area with a few dif­fer­ent hik­ing routes, and the most dan­ger­ous is the Maroon Bells South Ridge. This 12 mile hike is a tip to the sum­mit of the South Ridge, and on the way hik­ers encounter steep paths, risky gul­lies, loose rock fields and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of get­ting lost in the vast terrain.

If you vis­it you will see a sign from the U.S. For­est Ser­vice that reads; “The beau­ti­ful Maroon Bells have claimed many lives in the past few years. They are not extreme tech­ni­cal climbs, but they are unbe­liev­ably decep­tive. The rock is down slop­ing, rot­ten, loose, and unsta­ble. It kills with­out warn­ing. The snow­fields are treach­er­ous, poor­ly con­sol­i­dat­ed, and no place for a novice climber. Expert climbers who did not know the prop­er routes have died on these peaks.” Def­i­nite­ly one of the most ter­ri­fy­ing hikes out there!

Royal Trail (El Caminito del Rey)El Camini­to Del Rey, Spain
El Camini­to Del Ray (which is also known as the King’s Lit­tle Path­way) is a 1,200 meter long trail that cov­ers the steep walls of the El Chor­ro gorge in Mala­ga. The trail was ini­tial­ly built to help work­ers build near­by hydro­elec­tric plants, and although the route is closed now every year hik­ers risk the route using climb­ing gear and har­ness­es. There is even an Indi­ana Jones-esque part of the tail that fea­tures a rick­ety, old wood­en plank bridge and dam­aged steel rails!

Huayna PicchuHuay­na Pic­chu, Peru
The Inca Trail in Peru is one of the most famous trails in the world. This is because the scenic trail is home to a few casu­al­ties every year, but the sec­tion known as Huay­na Pic­chu (or the “Hike of Death”) is unques­tion­ably the most dan­ger­ous part. The ancient stair­case climbs over 1,000 feet in under a mile, and the rocks are rot­ted and crum­bling. This can be very dan­ger­ous, espe­cial­ly when you fac­tor clouds and mist into the equa­tion. The route back down can be even worse due to the steep­ness of the steps; many hik­ers have to sit down when they look down at the view! This is cer­tain­ly one of the most ter­ri­fy­ing hikes when it comes to the view.

Suzie Gotis
A free­lance pho­tog­ra­ph­er based out of Port­land, OR, I am always out on the road explor­ing new loca­tions, climb­ing, hik­ing, or camp­ing. I have a pas­sion for all things out­doors, and doing things that make a pos­i­tive impact on oth­ers and the envi­ron­ment. See her work. 

Why Spain?
The amaz­ing red wine that costs next to noth­ing, the fresh olive oil that will make you drool, and most of all, the laid-back lifestyle that’s per­fect for climbers.

I didn’t know too much about Spain before the trip, oth­er than that it was Chris Sharma’s stomp­ing ground and that there’s great climb­ing. I didn’t real­ize the extent of the vari­ety and styles of climb­ing that exist with­in the coun­try. I fell in love with Spain’s land­scapes, end­less climb­ing options, and most of all the culture.

Some High­lights?
I start­ed with the inten­tion of only doing one climb­ing trip, the Siu­rana Sport Climb­ing Trip. Although after hav­ing such a fun week of climb­ing, and hav­ing Pablo as a guide I knew I need­ed to take advan­tage of climb­ing more with Rock­busters while in Spain.

A major high­light was dur­ing the mul­ti-pitch course. I had nev­er climbed trad, and had only done a few mul­ti-pitch climbs before. Hav­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to tack­le both of them at the same time, and push myself while feel­ing com­fort­able and trust­ing my guide was huge. There’s noth­ing quite like being six pitch­es up and 700 feet off the ground!

What Were Your Pack­ing Essentials
You real­ly only need climb­ing shoes, a har­ness, a belay device, and basic hik­ing essen­tials. Rock­busters pro­vides the rest of the gear. Which is nice, espe­cial­ly if you have trav­el­ing plans before/after the climb­ing trip, so you don’t need to wor­ry about lug­ging around heavy climb­ing gear.

Tell us about Rockbusters
I’ve nev­er done a guid­ed climb­ing trip before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Climb­ing with Rock­busters was amaz­ing, and so much more than I could’ve asked for. I was able to quick­ly trust my guide Pablo, his sense of humor and empha­sis on safe­ty real­ly allowed me to let go, climb hard, and enjoy the areas we were climbing.

What made the trip so special?
Aside from all the beau­ti­ful land­scapes and amaz­ing climb­ing, I made some great rela­tion­ships along the way. Also dis­cov­er­ing how incred­i­ble Spain is and how there’s so much more of the coun­try I’d like to explore.

Where do you want to go next?
South Amer­i­ca is next! It’s been on the top of my list for years. So you’ll find me in either Argenti­na, Chile, or Bolivia with­in the next year.

For more infor­ma­tion on book­ing a trip to Spain, check out our Clymb Adven­tures page here. 

solo mountain

solo mountainWhether you’re climb­ing moun­tains or just going for a hike, explor­ing nature with oth­ers is a won­drous chal­lenge. If you’re look­ing for even more of a chal­lenge, try doing it alone.

It’s a safe bet that if you adven­ture alone in the wilder­ness, you have cer­tain skills. You are most like­ly aware of the basic sur­vival gear you should bring incase of an emer­gency, no doubt you under­stand weath­er pat­terns and how they can shift dras­ti­cal­ly the high­er you climb in ele­va­tion, and you cer­tain­ly under­stand that adven­tur­ing alone requires, in most cas­es, more pre­cau­tion than adven­tur­ing with friends. That said, here’s what all pro­fi­cient peak-bag­gers should known or be remind­ed of before the head off into the great unknown alone.

Leave Your Con­tact Information
You know this, but it’s worth repeat­ing. It’s easy to get com­fort­able and to take our knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence for grant­ed. Per­haps you’re plan­ning to bag a peak in an area you’ve hiked dozens of time and there’s a minus­cule chance of you get­ting lost. Leave a note. Per­haps the peak you’re eye­ing for the day isn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing or tech­ni­cal.  Per­haps you have the climb­ing skills of Alex Hon­nold (doubt­ful) and the route find­ing skills of Saca­jawea (dou­ble doubtful).

Remem­ber to include the following: 

  • Your des­ti­na­tion
  • When you are leav­ing and when you plan to return
  • What you are wear­ing and car­ry­ing i.e. a knife, bivvy, first aid kit, etc.
  • The make and mod­el of your vehi­cle, along with the col­or and license plate number
  • The num­ber of the near­est ranger sta­tion or search and res­cue oper­a­tion should you go missing

Have a Plan If Things Go South
For those who solo adven­ture reg­u­lar­ly, hav­ing a plan and run­ning through plans for a vari­ety of sce­nar­ios can be ben­e­fi­cial. Just as ser­vice­men in the army train for dif­fer­ent com­bat sit­u­a­tions, it’s impor­tant to think about the var­i­ous dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions that can arise when sub­mit­ting alone. For example:

  • What will you do if you encounter aggres­sive wildlife? Do you have bear spray or a weapon? How and when should you use a weapon on wildlife?
  • What will you do if you encounter an aggres­sive human who intends to do you harm?
  • Are you ade­quate­ly pre­pared for chang­ing and severe weather?
  • If you become strand­ed due to weath­er or injury, what are your options?
  • Are you pre­pared to respond to an avalanche or rock­slide situation?

Hav­ing a plan empow­ers you and can allow you to think more quick­ly and clear­ly should any of these sce­nar­ios become a reality.

solo mountainKnow the Near­est Place to Get Help 
Even in remote areas, there are usu­al­ly places to access assis­tance. Per­haps there’s a ranger sta­tion near­by, or a back­coun­try camp­ground where peo­ple who are sum­mit­ing the same moun­tain as you typ­i­cal­ly start their trek.

Know­ing the area in which you are adven­tur­ing well means that, should a bad sit­u­a­tion arise, you’ll be more like­ly to find assis­tance. Here are some things to look for on your next peak-bag­ging adventure:

  • Parks and Wildlife Trucks or vehicles
  • Ranger Sta­tions
  • Back­coun­try Campgrounds
  • Areas along the trail where you could seek shel­ter if the weath­er is severe

Speak­ing of Weather
Weath­er is the “X” fac­tor when it comes to hik­ing and sum­mit­ing moun­tains at high alti­tudes, because the weath­er sys­tems up high are often unpre­dictable and fast mov­ing. Check the weath­er before you set out. Check it twice. Then, as you’re gain­ing, check in with your nat­ur­al sur­round­ings, keep an eye on the sky, and notice when tem­per­a­tures start to change rapid­ly. Also, don’t be afraid to turn around if the weath­er gets to hairy. Nature will still be there tomorrow.

Remain Calm and Confident 
Adven­tur­ers have been going on solo treks for hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of years. John Muir was known for his solo wan­der­ing and often wrote about the peace­ful soli­tude that comes with being in nature alone. Based on his writ­ings, it can be assumed that Muir felt con­fi­dent and adept in his sur­round­ings, even when sum­mit­ing Mt. Whit­ney, the high­est moun­tain in the con­tigu­ous Unit­ed States.

The anti­dote to fear, for peak-bag­gers, is prac­tic­ing your skills, stay­ing calm, and being con­fi­dent that you are capa­ble of respond­ing to a vari­ety of sit­u­a­tions on the mountain.

Sport climb­ing routes are avail­able for every lev­el of rock climber to throw on the har­ness and prac­tice their skills. While rock climb­ing mec­cas like Joshua Tree and Yosemite Nation­al Park are always a good bet, it might be worth the chalk in your bag to check out some alter­na­tive loca­tions with plen­ty of sport climb­ing routes available.

Smith Rock ParkSmith Rock—Terrebonne, Oregon
Locat­ed in the high desert of cen­tral Ore­gon, Smith Rock State Park stands proud­ly against the land­scape as one of the Nation’s top rock climb­ing des­ti­na­tions. Com­prised of basalt spires and vol­canic-cre­at­ed tuff cliff sides, it’s easy to spot the promi­nent rock fea­tures of this State Park, almost as easy as it is to see the legions of climbers trav­el­ing from near­by Port­land and beyond. Smith Rock is a pop­u­lar place; with over 1,000 bolt­ed routes rang­ing from step lad­ders to fin­ger-cramp­ing cracks, there are a lot of routes to choose from. Overnight camp­ing is allowed where per­mit­ted in Smith Rock State Park, mak­ing this fabled sport climb­ing spot per­fect for a long holiday.

City of Rocks Nation­al Reserve—Malta, Idaho
Locat­ed just across the Utah bor­der in South­ern Ida­ho, City of Rocks Nation­al Reserve has gone by many dif­fer­ent names over the years, and today stands as a climb­ing mec­ca in an oth­er­wise rur­al part of Ida­ho. With over 200 bolt­ed, sport routes to choose from, and just as many trad options, it’s no won­der that these majes­tic gran­ite pin­na­cles, fins, and domes have gar­nished a lot of atten­tion, includ­ing some ear­ly pio­neers who not­ed the fea­tures as their wag­on-trains passed by the promi­nent peaks in the 19th cen­tu­ry. For even more climb­ing options, the near­by Cas­tle Rocks State Park also has plen­ty to offer for every lev­el of climber.

frenchman couleeFrench­man Coulee—Quincy, Washington
Some­times referred to as “Van­tage”, and locat­ed just down the road from the Gorge Amphithe­ater in George, the French­man Coulee is one of the top win­ter rock-climb­ing des­ti­na­tions in the nation. Fea­tur­ing large columns of basalt that stick out of the earth, it’s def­i­nite­ly a sight to behold. The unique land­scape of the French­men Coulee is locat­ed in the high desert of East­ern Wash­ing­ton, mak­ing for some soar­ing sum­mer tem­per­a­tures but the per­fect con­di­tions for cold­er months and the shoul­der seasons.

Mount Rush­more Nation­al Memorial—Keystone, South Dakota
While some might asso­ciate Mount Rush­more with the gigan­tic four faces carved into the rock, climbers also know this area as a qual­i­ty place to find some sport climb­ing. There are over 200 bolt­ed routes avail­able on the gran­ite cliffs, plus an addi­tion­al 150 rec­og­nized trad routes, all with a medi­an rat­ing of 5.10. Not only is the area encom­passed by the Mount Rush­more Nation­al Memo­r­i­al stacked with sport climb­ing, but the sur­round­ing Black Hills area includ­ing the Nee­dles in Custer State Park is great for trad climb­ing, and the near­by boul­der­ing mec­ca sur­round­ing Mount Baldy is great for rope­less adven­tures, thought to be advised to climb at your own risk.

hoseshoe canyonHorse­shoe Canyon Ranch—Jasper, Arkansas
Horse­shoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Arkansas has a lot going for it. Not only are there over 300 bolt­ed routes to be found on this pri­vate­ly owned dude ranch, mak­ing the sand­stone cliffs some of “the best climb­ing east of the Rock­ies”, but the 4‑star dude ranch itself makes this sport-climb­ing site one of the best in the nation. With routes rang­ing from 5.5–5.14, and plen­ty of trad options, there is enough climb­ing at Horse­shoe Canyon Dude Ranch for any lev­el of climber, and with overnight options rang­ing from $5 camp­sites to ful­ly fur­nished cab­ins, there are also accom­mo­da­tions for every type of out­door enthusiast.

Big and Lit­tle Cot­ton­wood Canyon—Utah
Both the Big Cot­ton­wood Canyon and Lit­tle Cot­ton­wood Canyon are less than a half-hour dri­ve from Salt Lake City, and both spots cater towards all types of climb­ing. While you can find plen­ty of trad routes and boul­der­ing projects to work on, many climbers uti­lize the hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent bolt­ed routes found through­out the canyons. While the week­ends can be a busy time to hop on the wall, with so many routes to choose from, not to men­tion all the access to oth­er activ­i­ties includ­ing bik­ing, hik­ing, and ski­ing in the win­ter, it should be no trou­ble at all find­ing your own per­son­al mec­ca with­in the Big and Lit­tle Cot­ton­wood Canyons of Utah.

new river gorgeRed Riv­er Gorge—Stanton, Kentucky
Not only is the Red Riv­er Gorge in Cen­tral Ken­tucky a sport climber’s dream come true, with 1,000+ bolt­ed routes, sand­stone cliffs & Miguel’s Piz­za, but this promi­nent and pop­u­lar climb­ing area is also a text­book exam­ple of climbers who step up to save the crag. When spe­cial inter­est groups and the For­est Ser­vice jeop­ar­dized access to climb­ing in the Red Riv­er Gorge, the grass­roots Red Riv­er Gorge Climbers’ Coali­tion (RRGCC) was formed to keep the land with­in the climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty. Since 1992, the RRGCC has pur­chased over 1,000 acres with­in the gorge, ensur­ing access for gen­er­a­tions of climbers to come.

new river gorgeNew Riv­er Gorge—Fayetteville, West Virginia
With over 3,000 bolt­ed routes to choose from, the greater New Riv­er Gorge, includ­ing with it the New Riv­er Gorge Nation­al Riv­er, has enough routes for any climber to explore the rest of their life. It might just take that long to hit all those routes too, because the New Riv­er Gorge isn’t exact­ly a beginner’s par­adise, with the bot­tom lev­el of dif­fi­cul­ty sit­ting around 5.9 or 5.10. With miles of amaz­ing hik­ing trails, sea­son­al oppor­tu­ni­ties for kayak­ing and raft­ing, and not to men­tion all the fun there is to be had in the adven­ture town of Fayet­teville, there is def­i­nite­ly some­thing for every­one at the New Riv­er Gorge.

Rifle Moun­tain Park—Rifle, Colorado
One of the biggest con­cen­tra­tions of hard routes any­where in the U.S. is locat­ed in the city-owned Rifle Moun­tain Park in Rifle, Col­orado. With the base dif­fi­cul­ty some­where around 5.11 or 5.11a, Rifle Moun­tain isn’t exact­ly the best place to take begin­ners; but if you’ve spent your time pump­ing away on hand­holds and tech­nique, then you are already prob­a­bly aware of the slopey, lime­stone slabs at Rifle Moun­tain Park. For details on the 300 dif­fer­ent routes avail­able at Rifle Moun­tain Park, the Rifle Climber’s Coali­tion has a lot of good infor­ma­tion avail­able, includ­ing the easy-to-fol­low guide­lines for being a good climb­ing ambas­sador on your next vis­it to Rifle Mountain.

red rockRed Rock Canyon Nation­al Con­ser­va­tion Area—Nevada
Locat­ed in the Mojave Desert, mid-sum­mer is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a pop­u­lar time to climb Red Rocks Canyon in Neva­da. Come shoul­der sea­son and through­out the win­ter, how­ev­er, and this Nation­al Con­ser­va­tion Area blos­soms with world-trav­el­ing rock climbers on its steep sand­stone walls. With every dif­fi­cul­ty of route found through­out the exten­sive guide­books of Red Rock Canyon, and over 700 pro­tect­ed, sport-climb­ing routes to choose from, there’s some­thing for every­one. Be sure to read up on the access and park­ing sit­u­a­tion deal­ing with the 13-mile scenic dri­ve that leads into the canyon, and always remem­ber the desert can be a harsh envi­ron­ment, but with the prop­er plan­ning, Red Rock Canyon could be the best climb­ing trip you have ever taken.

Black Dia­mond and La Sporti­va ath­lete Joe Kinder has long since been in the pro climb­ing game, and is pro­lif­ic for the num­ber of dif­fi­cult routes he’s done. To give you a num­ber, since 2000 he’s sent around 200 5.14 red­points. But, what is maybe more impres­sive than Kinder’s climb­ing track record, is his pro­cliv­i­ty for first ascents. He’s bolt­ed routes all over the world, but none like Bone Tom­a­hawk. Watch as Kinder takes on the first ascent of his hard­est route yet.

Until just a few weeks ago, Alex Hon­nold was arguably the best free soloist in the world. Hav­ing soloed mas­sive­ly com­plex projects such as Squamish’s Uni­ver­si­ty Wall and the North­west Face of Yosemite’s Half Dome. Now, hav­ing free soloed El Cap­i­tan, one of the most icon­ic rock faces in the entire world, the argu­ment has been laid to rest; Alex Hon­nold is the best free soloist in the world. Full stop. But this isn’t the first time that Hon­nold or oth­ers climbers have per­formed amaz­ing, bound­ary-push­ing feats, so why is this one bound­ary break­ing not only for the climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty but also for human beings as athletes?

The Climb Breakdown
To under­stand why this climb is unfath­omable, let’s break down what Hon­nold actu­al­ly did in both climb­ing and non-climb­ing terminology.

El Cap­i­tan is a big wall that is over 3,000ft high. Yes, 3,000 feet. That’s over a half mile of sus­tained, un-roped, climb­ing. The route he took is called Freerid­er and is rat­ed a 5.12d or 5.13 which, for the non-climbers out there, imag­ine a ver­ti­cal wall with vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing for the aver­age per­son to hold on to, wicked over­hangs, mas­sive cracks, and areas that appear to be com­plete­ly smooth to the touch.

Even more impres­sive­ly, he accom­plished this endeav­or in under 4 hours. For many elite climbers, El Cap takes a full day or two to climb due to the fact that climbers are typ­i­cal­ly haul­ing ropes, trad pieces, food, water, and oth­er gear.

They call him “Spi­der­man” for a rea­son. The skill and speed with which he climbed this icon­ic wall is both inspir­ing and insane.

This May Change the Way Climb­ing Big Walls is Perceived
Typ­i­cal­ly, climb­ing records are bro­ken into two cat­e­gories: first ascents and speed records. A first ascent, as the name implies, is award­ed to the per­son who first climbs the route. His­tor­i­cal­ly, first ascents are done with ropes for big wall climbs; how­ev­er, this could change with Hon­nold on the scene. Speed records are award­ed to those who climb the route in the least amount of time. For exam­ple, Hon­nold holds the speed record for climb­ing The Nose on El Cap.

Honnold’s free solo of El Cap isn’t a first ascent and it isn’t a speed record. It’s in a class entire­ly of its own. He climbed an unimag­in­ably dif­fi­cult rock face—without a rope. Often Ever­est ascents are bro­ken into two cat­e­gories: Those who climbed the moun­tain with sup­ple­men­tal oxy­gen and those who climbed the moun­tain with­out oxy­gen. The num­ber of peo­ple who elect to climb the tallest moun­tain in the world with­out oxy­gen is a mere hand­ful. It is gen­er­al­ly accept­ed in the moun­taineer­ing com­mu­ni­ty that con­quer­ing big moun­tains with­out oxy­gen is more dif­fi­cult and more risky.

Hon­nold’s free solo ups the ante in big wall climb­ing. You can either climb it with a rope or with­out. There doesn’t seem to be much ques­tion con­cern­ing which one is more chal­leng­ing or dan­ger­ous. As such, this climb may rev­o­lu­tion­ize how the climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty views first ascents and record set­ting all togeth­er. If peo­ple who climb Ever­est are seen by some as sec­ond-rate moun­taineers, then is it pos­si­ble that Honnold’s feat will cause some in the climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty, as well as spec­ta­tors, to see big wall rope climbers as sec­ond rate? It remains to be seen.

This Isn’t Just About Climbing
Ath­letes do amaz­ing things for their sport every day. Things that nor­mal, untrained, human beings can’t begin to attempt or achieve. But, unless you’re a huge base­ball fan, climb­ing buff, ski­ing afi­ciona­do, or foot­ball junkie, you might not hear about it when records are bro­ken or the sport it pushed to the next level.

Here’s why Honnold’s lat­est work of climb­ing art is dif­fer­ent: He was inch­es from death. And yet, he did some­thing grace­ful, skill­ful, and masterful.

Foot­ball play­ers get hurt and, yes, rarely they die from head injuries. Big moun­tain skiers assess avalanche risk before ski­ing a line. But, oth­er than BASE Jump­ing, there are rel­a­tive­ly no sports in which the ath­lete must per­form with per­fec­tion or death is imminent.

That’s what makes this spe­cial: It was per­fect, it was mas­ter­ful, and breaks through the lim­its of what ath­letes and human beings as a species are capa­ble of doing, not only with their bod­ies, but also with their minds.

Watch a short clip from the climb in a video shot by Jim­my Chin for an upcom­ing doc­u­men­tary by Nation­al Geographic.


Queenstown, New Zealand

The view from the top is always unbeat­able, but why not enjoy every pitch and approach along the way?

Here are six climb­ing spots that send the charts for unfor­get­table scenery.

Costa Blanca, Alicante, SpainCos­ta Blan­ca, Ali­cante, Spain
More than 120 miles of Mediter­ranean coast­line have it all: end­less sands, the bluest water, and sway­ing palm fronds are the name of the game here in Spain’s Ali­cante province. A rev­el­ry of crags, tow­ers, and sea cliffs offer a seem­ing­ly end­less num­ber of routes that range from sin­gle-pitch sport lines in Xalo Val­ley to com­plex, mul­ti-pitch trad climbs at Puig Cam­pana, which at 4,613 feet is the sec­ond-high­est peak in the province.

Leavenworth, Washington, USALeav­en­worth, Wash­ing­ton, USA
Tourists come for the kitschy Ger­man Bavaria expe­ri­ence, climbers come for the clean alpine gran­ite fea­tur­ing all the best of the Pacif­ic North­west, with views of the Cas­cades and orchards that go for miles. Cas­tle Rock, fea­tur­ing the state’s first mul­ti-pitch tech­ni­cal climb, and Snow Creek Wall’s 800-foot gran­ite face, both offer superb tra­di­tion­al climbs. Although with more than 50 crags just beg­ging for atten­tion with­in an easy dri­ve of town, includ­ing Mid­night Rock and Givler’s Dome—not to men­tion boul­der­ing at Ici­cle Creek or the sport climbs in Tumwa­ter Canyon—climbers will have a smor­gas­bord of routes from which to choose.

Queenstown, New ZealandQueen­stown, New Zealand
With a rep­u­ta­tion like “The Adven­ture Cap­i­tal of the World” to pro­tect, Queen­stown deliv­ers on all fronts: Wye Creek and Kingston both serve up a mix of trad and sport lines across a hand­ful of walls, and boul­der­ing can be found a lit­tle fur­ther afield at Lake­side Boul­der and Lug­gate Boul­ders in Wana­ka. And if you’ve brought along fear­less non-climbers, try them on Queenstown’s very own Via Fer­ra­ta, a series of iron rungs bolt­ed into the exposed, over­hang­ing cliffs of Queen­stown Hill.

Railay ThailandRailay, Thai­land
A trop­i­cal par­adise of white-sand beach­es, flow­er­ing jun­gles, and over 700 routes over, under, around, and through the upthrust karst lime­stone tow­er­ing along the sea, Railay (also spelled Rai Leh) and neigh­bor­ing Ton Sai are a climber’s dream come true. The major­i­ty of the routes here are bolt­ed sport climbs, but Railay also offers world-class deep-water solo­ing. Check the tides, then take a raft out to the near­est jut of karst and climb until you’re ready to let go and get wet!

Red River Gorge, Kentucky, USARed Riv­er Gorge, Ken­tucky, USA
A lush­ly forest­ed canyon sys­tem in the heart of blue­grass coun­try fea­tur­ing more than 100 nat­ur­al sand­stone arch­es and bridges, “the Red” is home to over 1,500 climb­ing routes. Sport lines dom­i­nate the region’s pock­et­ed and over­hang­ing sand­stone cliffs, although there are a few trad lines at places like Fortress Wall. Routes can be as unthink­ing or as prob­lem­at­ic as you please, with about 100 begin­ner-friend­ly 5.6s like Eure­ka, all the way up to a beast like South­ern Smoke, a blis­ter­ing 5.14c line only a few dozen climbers have ever sent. Even sin­gle crags like Gallery can offer routes at any dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el you like, so there’s real­ly no excuse to miss this one.

©istockphoto/Brandon_Nimon Yosemite, Cal­i­for­nia, USA
The beau­ty of the Sier­ra Neva­da is impos­si­ble to over­state, and attempts to do so invari­ably trend toward the cliché, but not with­out good rea­son. The soar­ing gran­ite walls, the deep scent of pinewoods, the pound­ing thun­der of Yosemite Falls: it’s no won­der that this scenic mir­a­cle became the birth­place of Amer­i­can climb­ing. Infa­mous big wall climbs like El Cap­i­tan and Half Dome con­tin­ue to draw climbers from around the world, but Yosemite’s gen­eros­i­ty goes beyond famed big walls. Climbers can find face climbs, slabs, crags, cracks, boul­ders and domes galore just a stone’s throw from Camp 4.

With longer days and sun­nier weath­er, the sum­mer is often the per­fect sea­son to make mem­o­ries that will last a life­time. Those gold­en days and nicer weath­er may seem far into the future still, but with spring­time among us, you can be sure that the sum­mer sea­son will reveal itself in no time. To start lay­ing the foun­da­tion for an epic sum­mer adven­ture, it’s worth plan­ning some trips now and request­ing the right days off work, and if you real­ly want a sum­mer to remem­ber, set your sights high and per­form the due dili­gence for these sev­en unique sum­mer adven­tures to start plan­ning for now.


The Pres­i­den­tial Traverse—New Hampshire
While you don’t need to have a pre-applied per­mit to tack­le the Pres­i­den­tial Tra­verse of New Hamp­shire, you do need the legs for get­ting the brag­ging rights of this ath­let­ic feat. Fea­tur­ing sev­en moun­tain ranges, all named after famous pres­i­den­tial fig­ures, and any­where from 20 to 24 miles of trav­el with near­ly 10,000 feet of ele­va­tion gain, get­ting an ear­ly start to this all-day adven­ture is your best bet to fin­ish. Dur­ing the sum­mer sea­sons, the trails are sus­cep­ti­ble to after­noon storms and unpar­al­leled North­east­ern land­scapes, and while your thighs and calves are scream­ing on your final ascents, you’ll be glad you took the time now to train for the Pres­i­den­tial Tra­verse and all that it entails. 

Chat­tanooga Moun­tains Stage Race—Tennessee
Fea­tur­ing three con­sec­u­tive big-mileage days tak­ing place in the month of July, the Chat­tanooga Moun­tains Stage Race doesn’t always reach capac­i­ty every year, but it would be well worth train­ing, for now, to com­plete each stage in the series. Each one of the three days of the Chat­tanooga Moun­tains Stage Race explores a dif­fer­ent scenic moun­tain, and aver­ages some­where around 20 miles a day. While that sounds fair­ly man­age­able now at the begin­ning of the warmer sea­son, wak­ing up for three con­sec­u­tive days to put down some big miles may take a lit­tle train­ing to get to.

Back­pack­ing the Supe­ri­or Hik­ing Trail—Minnesota
The Supe­ri­or Hik­ing Trail, which spans the west­ern shore­line of Lake Supe­ri­or in Min­neso­ta, doesn’t have a cap on the num­ber of hik­ers who can camp along its scenic cor­ri­dor, but to accom­plish the entire 260 miles that the tra­di­tion­al trail encom­pass­es, you prob­a­bly bet­ter start plan­ning your resup­ply strat­e­gy now, not too men­tion how to take a few weeks off work. But even if you have to quit your job, the many miles of amaz­ing rock out­crop­pings and cliffs, the abun­dance of lakes and rivers, and not too men­tion the con­tin­u­ous views of the daz­zling Lake Supe­ri­or shore­line, it will be well worth your time to explore this amaz­ing dis­play of North Woods wilder­ness in Minnesota. 

While the state of Iowa might not be on the top of your adven­ture list, the state real­ly pulls itself togeth­er in the month of July for one of the biggest adven­tures in the Mid­west known as the Register’s Annu­al Great Race Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). This week-long, over a 400-mile event, makes it’s way east across the entire state, stop­ping at and cel­e­brat­ing the small towns of Iowa the entire way. More of a fes­ti­val than a race, RAGBRAI has been cruis­ing the rur­al roads of Iowa for 45 years now, and the good times and thou­sands of bicy­cles have nev­er stopped ped­al­ing since. To take part in this epic event, reg­is­tra­tion is required, and the dead­line for all online appli­cants ends on April 1st, mak­ing this for one sum­mer event to start recruit­ing friends for now opposed to later.

24 Hours of Horse­shoe Hell—Arkansas
A good goal to build up to through a sum­mer filled with climb­ing is the 24 Hours of Horse­shoe Hell at the Horse­shoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Arkansas. Tak­ing place on lit­er­al­ly the last week­end of the cal­en­dar sum­mer (Sep­tem­ber 20–24), this epic rock climb­ing event entices ath­letes to earn points and climb as many routes as pos­si­ble with­in a 12 or 24-hour time span. The climber who grabs the most vert claims 1st prize, but any­one who attends this week­end cel­e­bra­tion com­plete with live music, demos, and quite the col­lec­tion of fun peo­ple, is pret­ty much guar­an­teed to leave feel­ing like they didn’t lose out on any­thing dur­ing the 24 Hours of Horse­shoe Hell. 

Hut to Hut Moun­tain Bik­ing Trip through the 10th Moun­tain Division—Colorado
Not only does the high moun­tain atmos­phere of the 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion Hut Sys­tem require a lit­tle cross-train­ing before plan­ning a trip, but with the well-deserved pop­u­lar­i­ty of these well-main­tained huts is only grow­ing, and you need to book your stay well before your vis­it. With over 13 huts avail­able to rent through the 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion, there is a lot of space to share for sum­mer activ­i­ties, but come late win­ter and spring­time weath­er, the reser­va­tion cal­en­dar for the sum­mer is already well-vis­it­ed. Train your legs for the moun­tains, how­ev­er, and reserve your stay in the huts well ahead of time, and you can treat your­self to an unfor­get­table Rocky Moun­tain expe­ri­ence that will give you a well earned and com­fort­able night’s sleep. 


Climb to the Top of Mount Rainier—Washington
To climb to the top of per­haps the most icon­ic peak in Wash­ing­ton, the Nation­al Park Ser­vice requires you to not only pay a climb­ing cost recov­ery fee, but once you’ve paid ($47 for adults), you are also required to obtain a climb­ing per­mit. While reser­va­tions for your per­mit are not required and you can gain one of these the day of your trip, the NPS does rec­om­mend mak­ing a reser­va­tion after the March 15th reser­va­tion win­dow opens up (espe­cial­ly for peak sea­son climbs). More impor­tant­ly, how­ev­er, to get to the top of this rugged, glaciat­ed peak you need to have the right toolsets to be work­ing with. Moun­taineer­ing expe­ri­ence, route nav­i­ga­tion, weath­er plan­ning, phys­i­cal sta­mi­na and even know­ing how to prop­er­ly dis­pose of your waste, these are just some of the ham­mers and nails that will lend to your suc­cess­ful sum­mit of Mt. Rainier and are things worth sharp­en­ing up now before you make the big push to the top. 

Pho­tog­ra­phy pro­vid­ed by Hud­son Hen­ry from the film­ing of “An Amer­i­can Ascent”

When Stephen Shobe first heard about Expe­di­tion Denali he was all in. As he says, in this day and age to have an expe­di­tion of this mag­ni­tude ful­ly fund­ed is prac­ti­cal­ly unheard of, espe­cial­ly if you’re not a pro­fes­sion­al climber. The expe­di­tion was to be the first all African-Amer­i­can ascent of Denali, the high­est moun­tain in North Amer­i­ca. The film An Amer­i­can Ascentwhich debuted in 2015, not only tells the sto­ry of Expe­di­tion Denal­i’s sum­mit attempt, but also address­es a long-stand­ing issue with­in the out­door com­mu­ni­ty, the lack of diver­si­ty. We sat down with Stephen to talk about the film, climb­ing, and how the out­door com­mu­ni­ty might go about tack­ling this problem.


When did you first get into climb­ing and were there any dif­fi­cul­ties you faced get­ting involved with a sport that is lack­ing in diversity?
I’ve been climb­ing for over 20 years now and sure it was very white back then, but that was it, there was nev­er a sit­u­a­tion where I felt strange for doing what I was doing.  If any­thing I felt embold­ened and spe­cial, at the begin­ning it was all good. The one thing I did notice was in adver­tis­ing, all the climb­ing mag­a­zines, the retail­ers, there was nev­er any col­or, it was all white, and that’s what it was. Even­tu­al­ly that start­ed to change.


How did this expe­di­tion come together?
One of the guys on my climb­ing team had worked at NOLS, and he was anoth­er African-Amer­i­can, and NOLS put the whole thing togeth­er to raise aware­ness about diver­si­ty, and they pulled me in to add to the ros­ter. The guys from An Amer­i­can Ascent came on once we’d start­ed training.

What kind of impact do you think this film could have on would-be climbers, what­ev­er their background?
I look at it as an aware­ness, mak­ing them aware of what could be done. That’s how I start­ed climb­ing, I was exposed to it, I’d nev­er thought about climb­ing until I was exposed to it. So, to me a lot of it is about expos­ing young peo­ple to this sort of thing. This par­tic­u­lar film is an excit­ing film to watch, you have peo­ple from vary­ing back­grounds in the process, it’s not just pro­fes­sion­als, we were all just reg­u­lar peo­ple. It’s empowering.


What sort of expe­ri­ence did you per­son­al­ly and the rest of the crew have going into this climb?
Most of the climbers had not done any­thing to this extent, while they were all required to go through mul­ti­ple NOLS cours­es to be on the team, 90% of them had nev­er been above 9,000 feet. I was not includ­ed in that group, I already had four of the Sev­en Sum­mits under my belt. At the end of the day, and this is where my hat real­ly goes out to NOLS, they made some­thing hap­pen that had nev­er hap­pened before. To get 19 peo­ple from diverse back­grounds all onto Denali would have nev­er hap­pened with­out them.

Were there any effects of chang­ing cli­mate that you were able to see while on the climb?
When you fly into the area you actu­al­ly land on the Kahilt­na Glac­i­er on a ski plane. By the time we left they’d had to move the air­field high­er up because the orig­i­nal land­ing strip had melt­ed out and it was all crevass­es. The glac­i­er had begun to move, the hot weath­er had moved in. From what I’ve read there was much more snow melt than they were used to, but that was the first time I’d ever been to Alas­ka so I had noth­ing to com­pare it to. Where I first noticed cli­mate change in rela­tion to glac­i­ers was in Africa when I was doing Kil­i­man­jaro. You could actu­al­ly see where the snow used to be, and where it used to be glaciated.

Why do you think it’s tak­en this long to get diver­si­ty inte­grat­ed into the out­door industry?
I think there are a cer­tain per­cent­age of white peo­ple who are afraid to let you in, because they think ‘we own this, this is ours.’ If you look back at all the sports in the world, it’s the same sto­ry. And now it’s become eco­nom­i­cal­ly viable to let black peo­ple in, it’s a busi­ness deci­sion. The his­to­ry is that there are so many African-Amer­i­cans that have con­tributed to the out­doors, from Matthew Hen­son, the first African-Amer­i­can on the North Pole to Charles Cren­chaw, the first African-Amer­i­can to sum­mit Denali. I think this is just the melt­ing away of some old walls.

You’ve been involved in the out­door com­mu­ni­ty for years, what sort of orga­ni­za­tions are out there ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing young peo­ple, from any back­ground, get involved in the outdoors?
There are tons of orga­ni­za­tions out there, from Out­ward Bound Adven­tures to my orga­ni­za­tion, Pio­neer Climb­ing Kids Foun­da­tion, and there are tons more. They help by teach­ing kids that the only lim­its you have are the ones you put in front of your­self, by elim­i­nat­ing those imag­i­nary bound­aries of what you can and can­not do.


Rumor has it you might be think­ing about doing the Sev­en Sum­mits? Is that what’s next on your climb­ing agenda?
Oh it’s not a rumor, it’s some­thing I’m doing, I’ve already climbed Aconcagua, Elbrus, Kil­i­man­jaro, and Kosciuszko. I’m either gonna be the old­est dude to climb all Sev­en Sum­mits or I’m gonna take up per­ma­nent res­i­dence on one.

Do you think this film will have his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance with­in the out­door community?
You know what, I can’t see the future, but all I can say is that I hope so. I can tes­ti­fy to the fact that every screen­ing I’ve been to has been greet­ed with so much enthu­si­asm and positivity.


An Amer­i­can Ascent was Direct­ed & Pro­duced by Andy Adkins & George Pot­ter. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Hud­son Hen­ry.

To learn more about the film check out An Amer­i­can Ascen­t’s web­site.

Inter­view & Sto­ry by Col­in Houghton

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir Samir

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir SamirIn the annals of great climb­ing sto­ries, Afghanistan isn’t the first place that comes to mind. But amid the Pan­jshir Val­ley in the north-cen­tral region of the coun­try, pro­tect­ed by the west­ern-friend­ly North­ern Alliance, a group of young women, led by an inter­na­tion­al group of guides and men­tors, are chal­leng­ing cul­ture norms and stereo­types to cre­ate what would have been unheard of under Tal­iban rule: Afghanistan’s first all-female climb­ing team. Com­ing from dif­fer­ent back­grounds, tribes, beliefs, and social class­es, the girls have band­ed togeth­er in a series of first ascents, to prove that women can climb, not as Pash­tuns or Haz­aras, nor rich or poor, but as Afghans.

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir SamirThis is their sto­ry, told by the women who led them.

In 2009, Mari­na LeGree was work­ing in the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan, in the shad­ow of Mt. Noshaq, at 24,580-feet, the high­est peak in the coun­try. As she spent time in a nation that had been rocked by over eight years of war, a French climber, Louis Meu­nies led the first Afghan men to the top and flew the flag from the sum­mit. Almost imme­di­ate­ly, LeGree was inspired, and pro­claimed that if men could climb, then women could do the same. “That was the inspi­ra­tion to see that it was climbable,” said LeGree. “If men could do it, then women could do it too.” Marina’s dream was not only to see an all-female team sum­mit Mt. Noshaq, but also to grow a gen­er­a­tion of young role mod­els and lead­ers who devote their time to com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice and bet­ter­ing their country.

Ascend Athletics - Marina LeGreeAfter sev­er­al years of plan­ning, LeGree found­ed Ascend Ath­let­ics in 2014, and brought on climbers Dani­ka Gilbert and Emi­lie Drinkwa­ter as guides and men­tors for the girls. The first mem­ber of the team was a pro­tégé of Meunie’s, and her four cousins. She was one of the only mem­bers who had moun­taineer­ing expe­ri­ence. Sev­er­al oth­er girls were select­ed from the Nation­al Taek­won­do Team because of their advanced fit­ness. To join the team, the girls had to adhere to three main require­ments: the first, they had to be in good phys­i­cal shape; The sec­ond, they had to have the full per­mis­sion of their par­ents; and the third, they had to give back through com­mu­ni­ty projects.

To get per­mis­sion, LeGree vis­it­ed the fam­i­lies in each of their homes, and while all were accept­ing of the project, some had their reser­va­tions. “We had a cou­ple of par­ents who weren’t so sure and they became con­vinced over time.” She says. “They saw how much their daugh­ters were grow­ing and ben­e­fit­ting so they changed their minds.”

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir SamirThe girls, many of whom had no moun­taineer­ing or climb­ing back­grounds, trained six days a week on phys­i­cal and lead­er­ship train­ing, and spent the rest of their time work­ing on their self-select­ed com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice projects. Spe­cial train­ing involved team build­ing exer­cis­es, con­flict res­o­lu­tion, and even learn­ing how to rec­og­nize and deac­ti­vate mines as there over ten mil­lion across the coun­try. The girls had to train away from Kab­ul, as the city was not wel­com­ing or secure. With lit­tle equip­ment and no facil­i­ties, the group flew the girls out to var­i­ous provinces where it was safer to train and they could get out into the moun­tains. “We have to pro­tect the girls from boys who hang around. We have to promise the par­ents the girls won’t be vic­tims of harass­ment.” Says LeGree. “If we set pat­terns and peo­ple who have extrem­ist views can fol­low us, we’d be a real easy tar­get, so we’d have to move around.”

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir SamirBut not all the chal­lenges that they faced came from out­side the group.

Many of the girls were born, and grew up, short­ly before the out­break of the war in 2001. “To grow up in noth­ing but war and uncer­tain­ty, it changes the way that peo­ple behave.” Says LeGree. “To have peo­ple put their com­mu­ni­ty first and think about the future is tough when the future is uncer­tain and things hap­pen every day that impact the girls.” As part of their train­ing, the girls worked with a psy­chol­o­gist and a coun­selor to express their anger and frus­tra­tion. “For any­one grow­ing up in Afghanistan, espe­cial­ly Kab­ul, it’s so stress­ful. Peo­ple are in repeat­ed trau­ma and they don’t have a way to deal with it. It impacts the way peo­ple choose not to trust each other.”

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir SamirBut despite their psy­cho­log­i­cal hard­ships, in their train­ing, the girls began to find courage and trust.

Dani­ka Gilbert, a guide based out of Ridg­way, Col­orado, worked close­ly with their train­ing and helped the girls lis­ten to each oth­er and define their own suc­cess. “We spent a lot of time talk­ing about: what is our real goal? What do we want to call suc­cess?” Says Gilbert. “It was most­ly that the team as a whole would be able to reach an objec­tive. Ide­al­ly, it was the peak, but real­ly it was that we all went out and came back safe­ly, and could show that women were capa­ble of doing this. For them, it was a real­ly big deal that an Afghan woman can go away and into the moun­tains, climb a peak, and take care of herself.”

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir SamirTime for their first expedition.

After months of train­ing, the girls were ready for their first expe­di­tion, and while the dream was Mt. Noshaq, dete­ri­o­ra­tion in secu­ri­ty left the group look­ing for an alter­na­tive objec­tive. Hav­ing planned an expe­di­tion sole­ly using Google Maps and issues of the Amer­i­can Alpine Jour­nal, Dani­ka and the team decid­ed on a peak in the Pan­jshir Val­ley, adja­cent to the 19,058-foot peak, Mir Samir. The peak, locat­ed in the Hin­du Kush, one of Cen­tral Asia’s most revered val­leys, was an intim­i­dat­ing objec­tive for the group who had only just learned how to climb, but was also safe. “It’s one of the only val­leys the Rus­sians and Tal­iban nev­er invad­ed,” says Gilbert.

The group start­ed from Kab­ul at 6,800-feet and trav­elled over three days to camp at 14,000 feet. Even when ask­ing the local vil­lagers, they real­ized that just camp­ing in the val­ley was the high­est that any Afghan woman had pre­vi­ous­ly gone. On the snow­field, they learned how to use an ice axe, glis­sade, and learn snow skills train­ing. “We let them take trash bags and slide down the hill out of con­trol and play. They’d nev­er got­ten to do that,” Gilbert remarked.

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir SamirOnce the group was trained, they chose a 16,000-foot sub­sidiary peak to Mir Samir. The climb involved mod­er­ate tech­ni­cal skills, includ­ing glac­i­er trav­el, talus, and rock climb­ing up an exposed ridge. To Gilbert’s sur­prise, “I was ter­ri­fied because it dropped off to one side and they didn’t seem to notice the expo­sure. It didn’t faze them like oth­er peo­ple.” After endur­ing the climb, the group pulled their way to a nar­row two by two foot sum­mit. They held their flag high and sang the nation­al anthem. “I’ve nev­er had a sum­mit be so emo­tion­al­ly mov­ing for me. I broke down sob­bing and on the sum­mit and I reflect­ed on why I am so emo­tion­al over this,” says Gilbert, the sound of pride ring­ing in her voice. “I real­ized that I’ve spent my whole life hav­ing peo­ple encour­age me and say ‘sure you want to do that, go for that.’ These girls had the oppo­site. They were told ‘That’s not what girls do’, ‘You’re not capa­ble’, ‘You can’t do it.’ This was just so huge for them.”

But the sum­mit wasn’t the only source of pride for the group. “There was no sign on top that any­one had been up there before,” says Gilbert. “I turned to the girls and said ‘You know we have this tra­di­tion in climb­ing, if you climb some­thing that it appears nobody else has climbed before than you can give it a name.’ They named it ‘The Lion Daugh­ters of Mir Samir Peak’, a tes­ta­ment to the fierce­ness and respect for the Pan­jshir Val­ley or ‘Five Lions Valley’.

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir SamirThe spir­it of these Lion Daugh­ters can­not be quenched.

The fierce­ness of the girls is best rep­re­sent­ed in the undaunt­ed spir­it of two mem­bers of the orig­i­nal 13. Shaperai and Zuhra. Shaperai came from a con­ser­v­a­tive Pash­tun fam­i­ly and was a mem­ber of Afghanistan’s nation­al Taek­won­do team. She joined the group with a few hes­i­ta­tions. While at first she didn’t seem over­ly enthused, she fell in love with climb­ing dur­ing the snow skills train­ing, and want­ed to prove to the group her skill and will­ing­ness to climb. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, on her way down from a train­ing day, she slipped on talus and pulled her ham­string, hav­ing to rely on the guides to help her walk back to camp. When the deci­sion came to deter­mine who was going to make it to the sum­mit, Shaperai was heart­break­ing­ly cut from the sum­mit team.

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir SamirBut unde­terred, she chose a small­er peak near­by and told Gilbert that she was going to hike to the top and prove she would be able to make it. Shaperai, who had only just been injured, mus­cled her way to the sum­mit of the peak and proved to the group that she could make it to the top. She was rein­stat­ed to the sum­mit team. Even after the ascent, as most of the girls were home­sick or tired, Shaperai and Zuhra chose to climb a sec­ond, more tech­ni­cal peak with mid 5th-class and low 4th-class moves. “They reached the sum­mit of the peak and were ecsta­t­ic. They had dreamt of this them­selves and that trip trans­formed them.”

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir SamirZuhra was the sec­ond old­est of four sis­ters and one broth­er from a poor fam­i­ly. They fled the fight­ing in Jalal­abad and moved to Kab­ul to live with their uncle, their father’s younger broth­er. After the trip, the uncle told them not to return to the fam­i­ly com­pound, and con­sid­ered them despi­ca­ble and worth­less. The father, hav­ing seen the trans­for­ma­tion of his girls, stood up to his broth­er and told him his girls were going to do what they want­ed. “Four of the girls used to get heck­led and harassed,” says Gilbert. “After the expe­di­tion, peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood now say ‘Those are the Moun­tain Climber Girls’, don’t pick on them.’”

Zuhra and Shaperai were asked to speak at a press con­fer­ence Ascend arranged with local lead­ers fol­low­ing the expe­di­tion, and with new­found con­fi­dence, had the room cry­ing, laugh­ing, and moved. Shaperai now holds a promi­nent place in her fam­i­ly. “Since this trip, when her fam­i­ly has a meet­ing, they ask for her opin­ion,” says Gilbert. “They ask for her voice, they val­ue her as an adult in the fam­i­ly. It’s some­one who has an opinion.”

Ascend Athletics - Lion Daughters of Mir SamirSince the expe­di­tion, the girls have found new con­fi­dence and pride.

Some will soon be start­ing hik­ing clubs at their schools and shar­ing what they have learned.

One of the biggest effects of the project has been see­ing peo­ple from dif­fer­ent tribes, such as Haz­aras and Pash­tuns work­ing togeth­er. The con­ser­v­a­tive Pash­tun his­tor­i­cal­ly per­se­cut­ed the open-mind­ed Haz­ara, and inter­ac­tion was rare. The girls, despite con­flict, have been able to put their dif­fer­ences aside and work togeth­er. Gilbert describes the change. “They’re now talk­ing about Afghan issues and Afghan prob­lems and they’re now bond­ed togeth­er as Afghans: Afghan women fight­ing for a bet­ter future.”

Ascend is a U.S.-based 501©3 and sup­port­ed by dona­tions. To learn more go to You can also fol­low the project on Face­book and Insta­gram.