Joshua Tree National Park

Southern California is a great place to live because it’s so close to many national parks. Miles, Nick, Lexi, and I left San Diego for Joshua Tree National Park on a Thursday around 3 pm. There was a little bit of traffic on I-15 as usual and we hit every stop light in Hemet. The drive was pretty neat because we could see Mt San Jacinto, which we were planning to hike on Saturday, along the highway. On I-10 there are hundreds of windmills which are fun to watch spinning.

An unusual green landscape

We arrived in Twentynine Palms around 6 pm and stopped at Pie for the People! for dinner. This pizza joint is tasty but expensive.


Chimney Rock

Once we finished dinner we headed into the park. Although we had a National Park Pass, we didn’t have to show it because there were no rangers at the gate.

View from our campsite

View from our campsite

We stayed at Hidden Valley Campground which was $15 for the night. We didn’t bring a tent or sleeping bags since we thought Jtree in July would mean intense heat and no rain. We were very wrong. Around midnight a thunderstorm passed through and didn’t let up for over an hour. Luckily we ran for cover in the car just in time. Once the storm was over we lay a tarp on the ground and drifted into a half-sleep until about 5 am. All of the coyotes in the campground started howling which was terrifying.


Early morning moon

The next morning we packed up the campsite and headed out to do a little bit of bouldering.

Baby Joshua trees!

Nick and Miles climbed on Pothole Rock which had climbs from V-easy to V0. I found it pretty terrifying so I just watched and spotted.

Obligatory crash pad shot

After bouldering, we drove through the park to see Skull Rock.

Skull Rock

Skull Rock

Overall we were in Jtree for about 14 hours. I’d like to come back during the fall/winter months and do some more climbing.


Mt Woodson Trail Hike

Lake Poway is a suburb in San Diego. Miles, Nick, Lexi, and I decided to hike the Mt Woodson Trail after learning about the famous potato chip rock. We got a late start around 9 am on a Sunday morning for this 8 miles round-trip hike. The summit elevation is about 2,000 ft. There are signs everywhere telling hikers to bring lots of water. They aren’t kidding.

Cloudy Lake Poway at the start of our hike

Cloudy Lake Poway at the start of our hike

The views of the lake are gorgeous. While the hike started out cloudy the sun didn’t take long to come out. The trail is well-maintained but there is little to no shade.

Made it to the top of Potato Chip!

The line to take a picture on the potato chip rock was very long by the time we got there. We waited for about an hour. Most people are pretty considerate about snapping a few pictures and then moving off the rock.

Almost to the end of the trail

Almost to the end of the trail

Don’t stop at the potato chip rock though! Technically the trail continues upward a bit more.

View from the top

View from the top

We were psyched to finish this hike and had a fun time going back down.

Having fun hiking back down

Having fun hiking back down

I would hike this trail again but would recommend leaving earlier than 9 am as it took us about four hours and the desert heat was intense.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park

Nick and Lexi planned a weekend getaway to Sequoia National Park and invited us to join. Of course we said yes! We researched things to do and found some hikes and waterslides to check out.

We headed out around 5 am to ensure we wouldn’t hit LA traffic. The drive took about 6 hours from San Diego. The drive is really scenic as you see Joshua trees in the desert and then all of the sudden you are surrounded by the giant sequoias as you reach 5,000 ft elevation.

First we parked at Hospital Rock and walked the trail toward Buckeye Flat Campground. We checked out the Paradise Creek trail which is a nice and easy path along the water.

Paradise Creek Waterslide

The Paradise Creek rapids seemed too strong to be a waterslide so we waded around at the bottom of the falls to cool off. Nick and Miles found a rock to jump off across the creek. All of the sudden a couple came racing down the rapids toward us. They showed us where the slide started and we had a blast sliding down!

Congress Trail / Alta Trail Hike

After our first waterslide adventure we drove to the Giant Forest Museum. There is plenty of parking and free in-park shuttles that offer five different routes. One of the rangers recommended that we try the Congress and Alta trails for hiking.

"The President" sequoia

“The President” sequoia

The Congress Trail hike is about 2 miles and the Alta Trail hike is about probably about 3 miles. We linked the two trails together to walk from the General Sherman tree back to the Giant Forest Museum. I made everyone stop at every named Sequoia and take a picture. The Sequoias are beautiful and I couldn’t get enough of them.

Feeling small among the sequoias

Feeling small among the sequoias

Moro Rock Hike

Moro Rock is a steep 0.6 mile round-trip hike comprised of about 400 steps. We started around 5 pm and found ample parking at the trailhead. During peak hours I would recommend parking at the Giant Forest Museum and taking the shuttle to the trailhead.

You can see Moro Rock as you drive into the park. When you get to the top you have a 360 degree view. The views are incredible and terrifying at the same time. There is some climbing at Moro Rock but check to make sure it’s open; the park closes Moro Rock between April through August for peregrine falcon nesting.

View from the top of Moro Rock

Tokopah Falls Hike

The Tokopah Falls hike is about 3.4 miles round-trip and the trail is mostly flat. Tokopah Falls is the tallest waterfall in the US.

Tokopah Falls

Tokopah Falls

We climbed down to the base of the falls and took some pictures. Nick did some cliff jumping. Lexi and I walked back up to the trail where we saw a marmot!

Tokopah Falls Marmot

Tokopah Falls Marmot

On our way back from the hike we saw a mama bear and her two cubs.

Sequoia National Forest Waterslide

The second waterslide we visited is located in Sequoia National Forest. We set off for Sequoia National Forest after the Tokopah Falls hike. By the time we arrived it was getting late but we had to check it out. We ran into some families leaving for the day and they told us they behind trash bags to slide in. The trail down to the slide is an easy walk. We quickly dressed in the trash bags and went down the waterslide.

The water was freezing but that didn’t stop us from going down for over an hour!

Summer in San Diego: Big Bear Lake / Holcomb Valley

Miles, Nick, and I headed up to Big Bear Lake for a weekend of camping and rock climbing. About three hours from San Diego, Big Bear Lake is located within the San Bernardino National Forest. The views were amazing driving in.

Big Bear Lake

We reserved site 79 at the Hanna Flat Campground in the town of Fawnskin the day before our trip. This campground has many amenities including a camp host, vault toilets, trash collection, and water spigots (to be used only for putting out camp fires). Each campsite has a picnic table and a campfire ring with a grill. The road leading to the campground is mostly dirt and gravel but our Nissan Altima rental car handled the bumpy ride just fine!

After we pitched the tent we drove into Fawnskin to pick up a $5 Forest Adventure Pass. The Forest Adventure Pass is needed in parts of National Forests for daily parking.

We also picked up firewood outside the campground at a local’s home. Some houses sell various bundle sizes between $3-$20 while the camp host sells firewood for $8/bundle.

Holcomb Valley

After waking up at the crack of dawn, we headed to Holcomb Valley. The drive took about an hour due to the dirt roads. There was plenty of parking when we arrived around 7am.

We used Mountain Project as our guide. We had some trouble finding the walls, but luckily two climbers were really friendly and pointed us in the right direction. By about 11am, Holcomb Valley was very crowded as there were two Meetup groups.

Fever Pitch (5.3), Gunsmoke Wall- This route was basically a ladder which made the first sport lead of the day a confidence booster. We also got Nick up on his first sport climb on this route.

Medicine Man (5.7), Thunderbird Wall- Miles fell while clipping in the third draw and I shot up about 4 feet into the air. I was freaked out but Miles felt comfortable continuing. Nick and I both followed on top rope.

View from above on Medicine Man (5.7), Thunderbird Wall

View from above on Medicine Man (5.7), Thunderbird Wall

Hidden Gold (5.7), Gold Wall- Miles sport lead this route easily. Once Nick and I followed, Miles top roped up to clean.

Climbing Hidden Gold (5.7), Gold Wall

Climbing Hidden Gold (5.7), Gold Wall

After a full morning of climbing and hiking we were ready to head back to camp. On our way back we stopped at the lake!

Miles and me at Big Bear Lake

Miles and me at Big Bear Lake

I was hooked on camping after this trip. Eating s’mores for dessert and breakfast definitely helped my camping experience 🙂

Elizabeth Furnace

Elizabeth Furnace Recreational Area, located in the George Washington National Forest in Shenandoah Valley, VA, is about an hour west of Washington, DC. Elizabeth Furnace has two walls: Buzzard Rock and Talking Headwall. We decided to check out the Talking Headwall.

The trailhead is easy to miss; we had to turn around and circle back even though we were looking carefully.The parking lot is small so get there early. The approach is short but be careful as it’s hard to see cars coming around the bends. The wall is mostly shaded and has plenty of space to lay out your gear. You can walk around the wall and set up a top rope anchor on some routes.

The resources we used for Talking Headwall are Mountain Project and

I Love Big Jugs (5.8)- I sport lead this climb which was a confidence booster since I didn’t sport climb all summer. The holds are great (hence the name of the route) and I felt comfortable hanging the quickdraws and clipping in.

Sport leading "I Love Big Jugs"

Sport leading “I Love Big Jugs”

Fortis (5.10a/b)- Bryan sport lead and I followed on top rope. This was a fun overhanging route. I had some trouble with the roof but once I figured it out the rest was fine. Stephanie heel hooked over the roof and made the climb look very easy.

Discontinuance (5.9)- I watched Randy sport lead and he had quite a bit of run out, albeit over easy terrain. I followed on top rope and thought it was just OK.

Figuring out the beta on "Discontinuance"

Figuring out the beta on “Discontinuance”

Fat Bastard (5.7)- This was a great warm up sport climb. Finding handholds from the last bolt to the anchor was a bit tricky for me but overall I enjoyed the moves.

Last clip before the tricky roof on "Fat Bastard"

Last clip before the roof on “Fat Bastard”

Red River Gorge: Climbing 2015

We climbed in the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP) and Muir Valley. We picked the south side since we only have experience with sport climbing and the difficulty of the routes were within our skill set. Both the PMRP and Muir Valley require waivers to climb on the properties.

Miles gifted “Red River Gorge North” and “Red River Gorge South” by Ray Ellington to Bryan for his birthday. These guidebooks are invaluable and must-haves for climbing in the RRG. An iPhone/Android app is also available for the Red River Gorge South where you can purchase a 2 month rental, digital guide, or digital guide plus print copy.

A Muir Valley Pocket Guidebook is also available. We didn’t buy this but you can purchase a copy at Miguel’s Gear Shop, Skybridge Station, Torrent Falls Via Ferrata, and J & H Sporting Goods.


DaVinci’s Left Ear (5.10b), The Gallery- We “warmed up” on this route as the PMRP was very busy with all of the Rocktoberfest climbers. I followed on top rope and didn’t feel there was any flow to the route.

27 Years of Climbing (5.8), The Gallery- I sport climbed this route which had solid hand holds and good feet at every clip. I would recommend this for a warm up or a beginner’s first lead.

Murano (5.10b), The Gallery- I followed on top rope and enjoyed the flakes. Next time I will try sport climbing!

Miles sending "27 Years of Climbing" and me on "Murano"

Miles sending “27 Years of Climbing” and me on “Murano”

Darwin Loves You (5.9+), Volunteer Wall- This was a spicy warm up sport climb for me. Only four bolts, this climb is short and pumpy.

Swap Meet (5.6), Volunteer Wall- Easy sport climb with jugs.

Nice to Know You (5.10b), Volunteer Wall- I followed this slabby route on top tope. The first clip is a little sketchy to me since it’s on a hill, but Bryan breezed through it.

Climbing "Nice to Know You"

Climbing “Nice to Know You”

Tong Shing (5.10d), Volunteer Wall- Super crimpy and pinchy. This was probably my favorite climb of the trip since I had to push myself harder than I ever have to send this on top rope.

The G-Man (5.10c), The Shire- I pumped out early on this as I climbed Tong Shing right before. Mostly pockets and slopers.

Muir Valley

Muir Valley does not charge admission or parking fees. However, they ask for a donation to help keep up the building and maintenance of trails and bridges, emergency rescue equipment, and utilities and supplies for the public restrooms. In addition, all of their climbs have medallions at the base of the route to identify the route and grade. The “Red River Gorge South” guidebook lists all of the Muir Valley climbs from right to left.

Slabalito (5.7), Practice Wall- This was a fun warm up as it’s only two bolts. Excellent feet and hands.

The day I decided to be a free solo-er!

The day I decided to be a free solo-er!

Shawty (5.8), Practice Wall- Again another short, aptly-named route with two bolts.

Mercenary of the Mandarin Chicken (5.9), Practice Wall- Fun arete climb with a bit of overhang near the anchors.

Beta Spewer (5.10b), Practice Wall- I followed on top rope and thought this short climb was fun. The start was the crux for me with the side pull, but the holds near the anchor were solid.

Built for Life (5.8+), Guide Wall- Really long, really weird climb. If you wanted to, you could climb a ladder and stairs to get through the first few bolts. I sport lead and didn’t hate this climb, but didn’t love it either.

Mona Lisa Crack (5.8), Guide Wall- There is only a crack to the first bolt which was disappointing. I thought this was similar to Built for Life in that it was long and nothing stuck out.

Dragon’s Mouth (5.6), Practice Wall- This was a fun and scary chimney. Getting through the chimney makes you feel like a spider. The ledge to the anchors was scary because there is a tree you will hit if you fall. I ended up throwing up a heel hook to top out and set the anchors.

Getting ready for some spider action on "Dragon's Mouth"

Getting ready for some spider action on “Dragon’s Mouth”

Casey (5.8), Animal Crackers- Super slabby and balancy. I had a good time until the second to last bolt.

Captain Blonde Sinks the Ship (5.11a), The Boneyard- The moves up to the third bolt are nice and juggy. The route moves left and becomes more overhung. Most of the ledges were just covered in chalk which made it difficult to find where the hand holds were. Lots of pockets.

Getting a sweet rest ledge on "Captain Blondie Sinks the Ship"

Getting a sweet rest ledge on “Captain Blondie Sinks the Ship”

Cinderella (5.9), The Boneyard- Really tough start, Hannah basically pulled me on top rope. This was one of the longest routes we climbed and I sure did get pumped out after about 40 feet.

One-Armed Bandit (5.9), The Boneyard- This was a great climb to end the trip on. Start on an arete, move right, and then back left. I found mostly crimps but everything felt solid.

Red River Gorge: Camping

We stayed at the Natural Bridge Campground and the Land of the Arches Campground during our week at the Red River Gorge.

Natural Bridge Campground, 90 L & E Railroad Place, Slade, KY 40376

Natural Bridge Campground is located less than a 1/2 mile from the Mountain Parkway in Slade, KY and has sites ranging from primitive to 30amp/50amp and water hook-up.

Campground Features

  • $15 per night per campsite, a campsite can consist of 2 tents, 2 registered cars and 4 people, see the website for additional fees
  • Bathrooms, showers, and wifi are included in the camping fee
  • 35 private sites are available: primitive sites have a fire ring, electric sites have a picnic table, and field is available for tents
  • Shelter available with electricity and picnic tables
  • Firewood, ice, and snacks are available for purchase at the shelter
  • Dump station available by the shelter
  • Reservations available
  • Catch-and-release fishing pond
  • Quiet hours are from 10pm – 7am every day
Sea of tents in the field

Sea of tents in the field

Our Experience:

We stayed here during Rocktoberfest. We pitched our tents in the open field since we didn’t make reservations for a private site. The private sites were right next to the vendor booths and crate stacking so I’m glad we were a little bit further away from the crowds. One of the women’s bathrooms was out of order for the entire weekend and the second was out of order after Saturday night. Mike used the showers and said they were warm with high pressure. The shelter is exposed on the sides. Natural Bridge Campground is far from the PMRP and Muir Valley. My experience is skewed due to the festival but I wouldn’t stay here again.

Land of the Arches Campground, 5150 KY 715, Campton, KY

Land of the Arches Campground has bathrooms with showers, has an indoor area to lounge in or “camp,” and is 5 minutes from Muir Valley and 15 minutes from the Motherlode and PMRP.

Things to Know:

  • $5 per night per person for camping, $3 per person for showers only
  • Showers and wifi are included in the camping fee
  • Private and group sites are available. Most group sites have a picnic table and a fire ring.
  • Game area / indoor camping for available. There are outlets, games (ping pong, Foosball), tables, and chairs for everyone to use.
  • Picnic pavilion includes picnic tables and industrial sink with potable water
  • Firewood is available for purchase on site at $5 for 10 pieces of wood
  • The bathrooms are clean and have toilet paper. Some had soap. None had paper towels.
  • Trash cans, recycling bins, and a compost are available by the pavilion
  • Quiet hours are from 11pm – 7am every day
Our only picture of the campsite at Land of the Arches

Our only picture of the campsite at Land of the Arches

Our Experience:

We really enjoyed our time at Land of the Arches Campground. We had 5 people camping and were able to get a spot with a picnic table and fire ring. The site is relatively flat which was nice for our tents and stove. Everyone at the campground respected the quiet hours. This is an excellent campground for those who want a low-key Red River Gorge experience.