Maybe the Best Car Driving Road in the West is in Southern Washington

The RouteI have for so many years believed that the winding mountain roads in car commercials do not exist anywhere in the United States. Maybe they used to, but there are too many people now, too much traffic. The roads I drive in the West, mostly near popular climbing areas, are never without other cars. If you are a driver who likes to push the upper limits of your car’s handling abilities, barely making it around curves without skidding, tossing your passenger around and making them wish that they too had a steering wheel to hold onto, the roads I have driven will do nothing but piss you off during the daytime. Tourists in rental cars, motorcyclists, bicyclists, buses and cars and trucks carrying climbers and backpackers like me are everywhere. If you really want to open it up on the mountain roads I know, your bliss will be interrupted within three minutes, your freedom impeded by one of us going a little slower than as fast as our tires could handle.

But there is a road that exists, not only in the artificial creations of advertising agencies who sell us BMWs and Audis, but in the forests of southern Washington State.

If you have the occasion to drive between Mount Rainier National Park and a place called Indian Heaven in southern Washington, you will find it. National Forest Road 25 between Randle, Washington, and Swift Reservoir, Washington, just east of Mount St. Helens, is 45 miles of pure driving ecstasy, a goddamn rollercoaster of a road built by an engineer who was perhaps motivated by finding the most direct route possible for a road in these parts, but I like to think maybe more so to create something that would bring joy.

I don’t get excited about driving fast, for the most part. I’ve never souped up a car or drag raced anyone. I cautiously accelerate and brake slowly wherever I go. My car has 210,000 miles on it and has a 25-year-old engine. Right now, I live in it. But I found the joy in National Forest Road 25, driving north to south. I had a car-driving experience.

For almost an hour, I was 16 years old again, behind the wheel of my first car, in love with the freedom of moving myself at a speed faster than my mother would drive, smashing on the accelerator more excited than scared of what could happen, watching the speedometer needle shoot up 20, 30 miles per hour on the short straight-aways, punching it in the last half of curves and hoping I didn’t have to hit the brakes as I came out the other side. Everything slid around in the back of the car as I flew low around the bends in the road, 20 mph faster than advised on the yellow signs with the curved arrows on them. It was as if an invisible hand was pushing and steering my car faster down the road, skating on blacktop down a tunnel of green so thick you couldn’t see the sky through it.

I ripped it wide open, seeing only a handful of other vehicles on the road the entire time. I imagined a highway engineer, laying out the route on maps, watching the asphalt poured, anticipating what it would be like to drive, and then finally getting a chance, driving this same stretch of road just like I was, smiling and laughing out loud the whole way. It’s possible that he or she or they were just doing there job, that this was the only logical course for this route between two places, but it’s just too good to believe that’s the reason.

This is the king, two lanes of speed, gravity, centripetal and centrifugal forces, a water slide and a bullet train ride with your hands are on the wheel and your own lead foot is on the gas. No Estes Park or Yosemite Valley at either end to draw thousands of tourists, no scenic pull-offs to slow you down. Pure, American driving for the love of driving. And some guy in a piece-of-shit, 4-cylinder, 2.5-liter Subaru Outback with bad tires and a million dents in it, a guy who thought it was over, that there was no joy in driving anymore, who could be in a BMW Z4 for all he knows.


New Gear and the Good Old Days

When we’re on an old, classic climbing route, my friend Lee sometimes reminds me how bold our predecessors were compared to us: “Now remember, when Layton Kor first climbed this route in the ’60s, he didn’t use a No. 5 Camalot. Or any cams at all.”

I usually say something like, “I know. But I believe he used bigger balls than I’m carrying.”

Waterproof tents, synthetic clothing, lighter, faster, more comfortable, drier, warmer. Unlike previous generations, I did not figuratively walk to school uphill both ways through two feet of snow. My gear is arguably astronomically better than that of my predecessors. I’ve been hit on the helmet with rocks launched from 30 feet above me and walked away unscathed, flew 25 feet down a climbing route and didn’t break my back due to my dynamic rope stretching and catching my fall, and I have sat through an 85 mph windstorm on Mount Rainier eating candy and listening to music in a wonderfully engineered mountaineering tent that did not snap in the hurricane-force winds.

Give me a weekend made more fun because of all the inventions of the past 40-odd years, and I’ll take it. I’ll hike into the mountains in the rain, kept dry by Gore-Tex (1976) or some other waterproof, breathable fabric; sleep in a dome tent (1971) on my self-inflating sleeping pad (1974) after listening to a few songs on my iPod (2011); then get up the next morning to climb a route in my soft shell jacket (2000s), using my cams (1978), all the while taking photos without having to change film thanks to my digital camera (2004). And I’ll probably post those photos on Facebook (2004) when I get back to civilization — but that’s a whole other can of worms (and to be honest, I might upload one or two pics taken on my iPhone (2007) directly to Instagram (2010)).

Few gear inventions in the past 40 years have actually led to real change. The cam is one of them — one could argue that Indian Creek would still be nothing but a scenic backdrop to some sleepy ranch land in the Utah desert without it. Mostly what’s changed in 40 years is our relationship to gear: We review it, we take over Salt Lake City twice a year and fill the Salt Palace Convention Center to see what’s new, and some people even call themselves “gear junkies,” as if a penchant for buying items for use in the outdoors is some sort of identity badge of honor.

But what really makes a difference? Snowboards. Dynamic ropes. Even Starbucks Via. How far do you want to go back? You know what really shook shit up in the outdoors? The wheel. Your ancestors 5,500 to 10,000 years ago would have had to walk to the trailhead, not because they didn’t have a car, but because they didn’t have the wheel. How about fire? Do you like hot food? Thank the humanoid that discovered fire approximately 800,000 years ago. Enjoy your Mountain House Chicken a la King and your hot tea after dinner, and mull that one over. Yes, climbers who put up routes in the days before cams were tough, and bold. Climbers who put up routes in the days before dynamic ropes were bolder. But man, you know who was hardcore? Those dudes who were hiking and trail running before humans wore shoes. And before fire.

Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor at Climbing magazine. He lives in a car. His blog, Semi-Rad, can be found at He maintains a personal website,

40 years outdoors and the adventures along the way…

Where It Ended

If I slipped and fell from this height, I thought, I would definitely die, and if that happened, everyone would think I did it on purpose. They’ll say, he filed his divorce papers 16 hours before he started climbing that big rock without a rope, and got high enough where he decided to just let go, to end it.

But that wasn’t why I was there. I was hanging onto red-brown sandstone a few hundred feet up the Third Flatiron because I quit drinking six-and-a-half years prior and climbing was what I did to clear my head. I had the week off work and I couldn’t sit in my tiny post-split apartment all day. That would have been unhealthy. Of course, soloing could turn out to be really unhealthy. I looked down at my feet, clad in my tiny sticky-rubber-soled climbing shoes, which looked about as tough as a pair of ballet slippers. Long as they stuck to the rock for another hundred moves or so, I would be just fine. Then I could get back onto flat ground and back to feeling like someone punched me in the stomach.

Emily and I had been together, on and off, for almost nine years, through all my problems, her problems, Christmases and rehab and counseling, the time she almost died from pneumonia from making herself throw up because she looked in the mirror and saw a fat girl, the times I went to jail or got jumped because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, again. We met at a bar, and I was an alcoholic already at 20, and she was an anorexic/bulimic sorority girl. We changed, over nine years. She lived in Omaha and western New York, and I lived in Idaho and Montana, and we got back together in Phoenix, and then moved to Denver. She was a makeup artist, an esthetician, and finally decided on graduate school for a master’s degree in social work. I worked at crappy newspapers and finally landed at a nonprofit that took inner-city kids on backpacking trips.

I wanted to climb, to get out there and see it all, snow-covered peaks, rivers that cut canyons, the moonscape of the American desert, bring it into myself and see what it made me. I asked her to go hiking, and she said she had to stay home and study, so I went climbing instead. Each conversation we had, we lost more hope for our marriage, and continued to push closer and closer toward calling it dead. She studied, and I had the best climbing year of my life, attacking routes with a sad and angry ferocity and somehow pushing past my normal fear.

We moved out of the apartment we had shared for two-and-a-half years, the longest I had lived anywhere. I broke down going through my things, not knowing what to do with photos of the two of us having what I thought were great times, photos of our wedding, gifts she had given me, notes she had written, things that you save when it’s forever and don’t have a box for when it’s suddenly not forever. And you cry because they don’t cover this part in any of the movies you’ve seen, the songs you’ve listened to or the books you’ve read.

She picked me up at the Denver airport after a backpacking trip in California with a group of inner-city teens, and after my week in the wilderness, I didn’t get a handshake or a hug at passenger pick-up. I got in the car and Emily said that the City Clerk’s office closed at 4 p.m., so we needed to hurry. All the forms for the divorce were filled out, in a yellow folder in the backseat. I tried to look at them and make sense of them, not what they did, simply how to fill them out correctly. At 3:20, we were still a mile from the City and County Building in downtown Denver, and I asked if she had brought her checkbook, knowing we needed to pay $200 in fees. Nope. We drove to my place, and I ran up the stairs to my still not-lived-in apartment, I ripped out a blank check and ran back to the car. We parked as close as we could and hurried to room 280A, getting there at 3:40 p.m.

We had failed, fucked it up, gotten all those people together, and they had all spent so much money, traveling, buying gifts, hotel rooms, and we had stood there and lied to everyone and said it was forever, that we loved each other. And we blew it. I hated myself, thinking it was my fault, even though she said it wasn’t anyone’s fault. People change, people grow apart. Worse than crying every time I was alone, I instead just felt sick to just below the point of tears, like someone was sitting on my chest when I tried to get out of bed.

She never liked climbing, which I realized was perfectly normal. We’ve spent thousands of years working to avoid risk and maximize safety and comfort; seems pretty natural to not try climbing up something you could very easily fall off of.

But after three years of sobriety, I still felt like I was treading water without a real identity, and from there I eventually pulled myself toward rock climbing. I had eliminated the only way I knew how to relate to people. I was sure every other 26-year-old in America could order a beer at a baseball game, loosen up and meet people after a few drinks, start the weekend with a couple casual after-work microbrews on Friday.

Not me. If I was awake, I was sober, 100 percent of my insecurities and neuroses bouncing around in my head at all times. No liquid courage, no beer goggles, no social lubricant.

Climbing worked for me. The nuances of holding onto rock features with only the friction and balance of toes and fingertips, crucial placement of the safety equipment every few moves, keeping the rope at the right tension — all these things demanded full attention. I learned to persevere through debilitating fear, when I hyperventilated and was so overcome with the likelihood of falling that both legs shook hard enough to jackhammer themselves right off the tiny footholds, but I didn’t fall because somehow I kept it together and made one more move upward. I had to leave my problems on the ground.

That kind of simplicity was appealing when I was sitting in my apartment on the one chair I kept after the split, sure I’d just made the biggest decision of my young life, but not sure it was the right one and knowing there was no way to reverse it, even though the City Clerk gave us 90 days, just to make sure.

I was up early, not hungry, too nervous, stuffing a small backpack with everything I needed: A harness, belay device, chalk bag, climbing shoes, light rope for the rappel. No helmet. No climbing partner, no rope — a helmet wasn’t going to do anything for me if I fell. It was my first ropeless climb.

I had climbed the Third Flatiron twice before, roped. It was easy, low-angle, like a thousand-foot ladder into the sky above Boulder. It was not a challenge for the typical superathlete residents of Boulder — they would leave from the Chautaqua Park trailhead, run the trail to the base of the climb, slip on their climbing shoes and race up the face, rappelling off the back and running back to the car in less than an hour. For me, though, it was serious. No matter how easy the climbing was, it could still kill anyone. One move, upsetting your balance, one foot slipping, one hand greasing off a hold, and you’re rag-dolling down the rock, and at the bottom there is no rescue, just a body recovery.

I walked quickly up the trail, breaking a light sweat in the warm early-fall air. Near the base of the rock, the trail steepened, and I wove up the switchbacks, arriving at the East Bench in just under 40 minutes. I popped off my hiking shoes, pulled my climbing shoes out of my pack, slipped them on and tried to focus.

My friend Bruce, wrestling with a heavy life decision once, had climbed all the way up a wall at a climbing gym before noticing he had never clipped himself into a self-belay. Trying to traverse across the plastic wall to a safe spot, he slipped off the wall and fell 30 feet onto the floor of the gym. He spent five days in the trauma unit of the hospital with a collapsed lung, broken ribs and a broken elbow.

I sat there at the base of the climb, the Standard East Face, and tried to get my shit together. I stood up on one foot, pulling my other foot up and resting it against the inside of my knee, brought my hands together and pointed them above my head. This will quiet things down. I focused, kept my balance for ten breaths, a yoga tree pose, then switched to the other foot.

I looked up at 1,000 feet of sandstone and took a deep breath. Boy, if I fall off this thing. Deep breath. Apparent suicide, they’ll probably say in the paper, even though I didn’t leave a note.

No one will know that it was the lowest I’d ever felt in my life since that first year after I stopped drinking. Another time in my life I hated myself, and who I am, and what I’d become, and how I got there. The divorce was my fault. All the damage from my drinking, my fault.

But I looked up at the gigantic rock, a giant sandstone skyscraper tilted into a mountain, and I thought the answer might be up there. Not at the top, as if I was going to get a message from someone or have an epiphany about my disaster of a life — but maybe somewhere in the process. I went to pull myself up the Third, to interact with it, and think nothing else besides what I needed to do to keep moving up and not fall.

“Back in 5 minutes,” a sign taped to the door at 280A said. A woman came out of the office across the hall and let us in, and we sat down at a desk with her and watched her go through our forms. Are we really killing this? A woman stuck her head through the door and asked if she had questions, could she ask them here. The woman looking at our forms said yes, come on in and have a seat. No privacy for us. The woman asked us

do you have any assets?


and there isn’t a pregnancy?

No, No, No, we said, and she labeled a couple of the forms, explained that we needed to take them to the Clerk and Recorder’s office and have a notary watch us sign them. We screwed up and signed one of them before she told us this. We walked into the hallway to look for the Clerk and Recorder’s office and Emily started to get choked up, and I said, Are you okay? Are you going to be okay?

Like I still care about you, just not enough to stay married to you, or what? I don’t want you to be sad while we’re filing our divorce papers, but I’m not a good enough man to stay married to you. I was dizzy.

She said Yeah, she was okay. I couldn’t swallow, and I knew she was about to start crying, two breaths away from a sob. Why couldn’t I make this right?

On the forms, we had to write the city where we got married. Emily’s handwriting said Springdale, Utah, and I remembered our wedding, and the couple days leading up to it, and … stop.  Emily swallowed and we went into the office across the hall and told the woman there we needed someone to notarize our forms. She explained that the Clerk and Recorder’s office was down the hall.

At the counter, the woman said we needed to cross out our signature, re-sign it in front of her, and sign the other forms. It was $220, she said, and we needed to make copies of all the forms. There was a copy machine behind us, and I started to make copies while Emily ripped staples out of the forms, saying it would be faster if we sent them all through at once. I argued, but Jesus Christ, can we just get through this, the last thing we ever do together, so we sent them all through at once, re-stapled them and turned around and gave them to the lady. I wrote out the check to Denver District Court and we watched her stamp everything.

A bike messenger waited behind us and I was sure I heard him say, “You gotta be kidding me,” and I was ready to send him through the glass door if that was what he said. Happiest day of your life, you get a best man and as many groomsmen as you want. She gets a maid of honor and a bunch of pretty bridesmaids. That’s the beginning. When it ends, you get this hollow government hall, and this fucking asshole bike messenger behind me talking shit. I gritted my teeth.

In 15 minutes, we ended it. We had spent years together and months planning a ceremony to solidify it, and it was all over. We cashed our deposit check from the apartment, signing both our names on it, enough to pay the divorce fees and a little extra.

An hour later, we sat next to each other on a bench in Cheesman Park, crying and talking about how much we cared about each other. I didn’t care if all the joggers and cyclists in this park saw me crying. I couldn’t stop it. The only thing worse than something you love dying, is knowing that you killed it by neglect, and that’s why it died.

I hugged her goodbye in front of my apartment, and she said she’d call when she was ready to talk again, when the door had closed on our relationship. It would be the first time in nine years that the door would be all the way shut.

She drove off and I walked the steps to my apartment with lead feet. Just kill me. I have done so much damage.

I chalked up. I stepped one foot onto the stone, smearing a stance, grabbing a hand hold, then the next one. Pay attention. I moved left out onto the enormous east face, as wide as a football field. I traversed, and the exposure opened up underneath me. I could now fall a couple hundred feet, rolling into a bag of blood and broken bones onto the talus below. I stepped up, keeping three points of contact at all times.

Only a couple people I knew could make sense of this. I was turning to this, climbing, when I needed something to take me away. I remembered that in my bed last night, unable to sleep, I thought about going somewhere and drinking. A bar, for a few beers, hell, a park bench and a bottle of cheap red wine, whatever. Six-and-a-half years of sobriety, gone, with a bottle to my lips somewhere. But the crushing feeling of failure, gone, too. It was just for a second, for a flash, that I considered it as a serious option. Then it disappeared.

In 20 minutes, I was halfway up the face, out of breath. I stopped and took a few breaths, looking back behind me for the first time. The city was beneath me, and I was slowly leaving it on the ground, where all my problems were. I turned back, kept climbing up, and then I stopped. I was in a strange spot, where the handholds are far apart, and I’d have to step high to grab the next one, only leaving one foot and a few fingers on the rock. I halfway went for it, and then I slowly lowered myself back down. Not the time to take risks. I made two moves to the right, then up, then back left to my line. All secure moves.

Just like that, I was on top of The Third, standing on the summit no bigger than a living room, no more rock to climb up. The first time I climbed it, it took us hours to get to this spot. I pulled my skinny rope out of my pack, put on my harness, and zipped down the three rappels down the west face to the ground.

On the walk back to the car, I realized I didn’t really enjoy the climbing, up there all by myself. Too risky, no one to share the views with, talk about the moves, the rock, life. My first ropeless solo climb ever, but my last as well, maybe.

I had gone to a few therapy appointments when Emily and I were deciding to get divorced. My therapist had recommended I do some sort of ritual to give closure to my relationship with Emily — burning some clothes, cutting off my hair, something like that. I looked back up at The Third, towering above Chautauqua Park, wondering if I got closure up there. I still felt terrible, and I would for over a year. But for certain, when it got tough, really low, I looked here for answers, and not in a bottle, and that was a different type of closure.

The day on The Third was the day I started to forget all my memories with a person I loved. I told her I’d love her forever in front of all those people, and forever just ended. The next part, the part when I wasn’t in love anymore, this part was alone.

Brendan Leonard is a long-time MG contributor currently living on the road in a van. His blog, Semi-Rad, can be found at More of his writing can be found at

A story about Jesus and Joshua Tree

Mountain Media #188

A Story for Tomorrow

Film: “A Story For Tomorrow,” by Gnarly Bay Productions

“A Story for Tomorrow” has 400,000 views on Vimeo because it taps into something: It captures the feeling of a trip that could be your trip. It is a 5½-minute video that is the perfect answer to the question “How was your trip?” And you wish instead of telling people, “Oh, we had a great time,” that you could make something like “A Story for Tomorrow” and show it to them instead. As soon as it stops at 5 minutes, 36 seconds, you find yourself starting to research plane tickets, maybe, but not necessarily to Chile, where Dana Saint shot the footage for the film (including Patagonia and the Atacama Desert). Narrated by Argentine actor Castulo Guerra, the film is more than vacation shots — the voice-over gives it a fairy-tale feel, and you can’t help be inspired to do something other than sit at your desk when he asks, “Did you enjoy your story?” 

Climbing Zine

Kindle: “The Climbing Zine,” by Luke Mehall

For Volume III of The Climbing Zine, writer, climber and all-around swell guy/dirtbag Luke Mehall decided to make the digital leap and bring his publication from its grassroots in southwest Colorado and make it available on’s Kindle Reader. Mehall, whose work has appeared in Climbing, the MG, Rock and Ice and Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line blog, has made the hard-copy ’zine available at locations in Durango, Crested Butte and Gunnison or by mail since its inception, a homegrown publication true to the DIY/tradition of ’zines. Luke’s homespun tales make up the majority of the content, and he’s been living the life long enough, and climbed so extensively, that you feel his well of stories might never run out — and could power the ’zine for decades. I don’t own a Kindle, but I love the Kindle iPhone app, and I love the idea of taking the The Climbing Zine with me on my phone in a tent, dentist office waiting room, airport security line and you know, public restroom. $4,, 

Mountain Heroes

Books: “Mountain Heroes: Portraits of Adventure,” by Huw Lewis-Jones

How awesome could a book of portraits of mountaineers and climbers be? Pretty awesome. “Mountain Heroes” is an encyclopedia of legendary figures spanning the 20th century: Sir Chris Bonington, Yvon Chouinard, Lynn Hill, George Lowe, Tom Hornbein, Reinhold Messner, Don Whillians, Steph Davis, Galen Rowell, Sir Edmund Hillary, Dean Potter, Apa Sherpa, Ines Papert, Maurice Herzog, Warren Harding, Royal Robbins, Tenzing Norgay, Steve House, Fred Beckey, George Mallory — to name just a few of the characters profiled. Each portrait is accompanied by the climber’s bio, making this a CliffsNotes of the who’s who in the history of mountain climbing. It’s paperback, but coffee table material — full-color photos, and easy to pick up and flip through for a couple minutes, and then an hour.

Web: Nature Valley Trail View

If you understand Google Street View, the technology that enabled Google to let you look at a 360-degree photo of any neighborhood on your computer screen, you will understand Nature Valley Trail View, which shows you 300 miles of trails in three national parks. Which is pretty rad. I’ll just go out on a limb and say that a 360-degree view from the Grandview Trail in the Grand Canyon is better than almost anything on Google Street View. A team used a backpack camera to capture footage of trails in the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Great Smoky Mountains national parks (a good bet since those three are the perennial top-three-visited national parks in America). The application, which launched in March, is free to view on the web at

Nature Valley Trail View

Mountain Media: Books #187

“The Straight Course: Speed Skiing in the Sixties,” by Dick Dorworth

The Straight Course

Nowadays, the average person will have approximately five to seven careers. Less limited than previous generations, the choices for careers are endless and, with that, finding the “right path” can be daunting, overwhelming and demoralizing. Which is why long-time MG senior correspondent Dick Dorworth’s latest book, “The Straight Course: Speed Skiing in the Sixties,” is so relevant 50 years after the events he describes. The ’60s were unsettled and challenging for the country and the world of skiing. Despite pressure to ski within a certain style, politics that could make any patriot of ski dissent and challenges with injuries and his personal life, Dick held strong to what he knew skiing did for his life and how it filled it with more meaning than if he gave up when his path appeared blocked. “More important was the hard (and hard earned) knowledge of something not right.” By staying true to his heart and path, he accomplished incredible achievements in speed skiing. Dick’s honesty about looking within to find that truth and, once found, never letting go, offers new generations a way to find direction through the confusion. After all, “a company job is not necessarily the best thing a man can do with the time in his life.” Time might be better spent skiing over 100kph down a fast, unrelenting speed track. “The Straight Course” is a fascinating look into the history of a pivotal time in skiing, while offering wisdom for finding our own way through the world. $15.95,

 “Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs,” by Fred Beckey

Beckeys favorite climbs

Besides starring in the world’s most hideous climbing outfit (on p. 209), I spent two weeks with The Fred on three of these routes (Prodigal Son, Touchstone Wall and Crimson Chrysalis) while he was working on this book in 1996-98. His goal was to climb every route in this “guidebook,” a feat I’m pretty certain no climbing guidebook author has ever achieved; Fred didn’t quite either. But “guidebook” might not be the right term for this publication, which suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It’s the size of a small table (13.2 x 9.4 x 1.3 inches) and weighs 5.2 pounds. It looks and feels like a coffee-table book, but when you read it, it describes climbs, with topos and photos and other basic information — yet, you wouldn’t stuff it in your pack and head out. In short, it’s a guidebook inside and a coffee-table book outside. So, to appreciate this book, you have to look at what’s in it. “Beckey’s 100 Favorite Climbs” (there are actually more than 100 — 29 of which were Fred firsts) is a catalogue from the jam-stuffed brain of the most knowledgeable, experienced and well-traveled climber in American history. Fred introduces readers to peaks like Ironman in the Adamant Range, Oubliette in the Ramparts and Golden Klattasine in the Coast Range. These aren’t peaks on the tongues of your typical Western U.S. climber — hell, I had no clue something like Gimli Peak existed until I started reading this book. This book is a mind-opener. It’ll make you realize why you started climbing to begin with, and that there’s a whole lot more to see out there than what you originally thought. After waiting 16 years, I am not disappointed. $79.95,

“The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader: Oregon and Washington,” edited by Rees Hughes, Corey Lewis

Pacific Crest Trailside Reader

This is not a guidebook, but rather a collection of writings about the Oregon and Washington stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail (there’s a companion volume for California). This means that the book is short on maps and “just-the-facts” information about flora and fauna, but large on firsthand experiences of folks who’ve trod the iconic trail. There’s blissfully little poetic navel gazing and plenty in the way of good stories about any aspect of the PCT experience you can imagine. Jogging the entire 2,600 miles. Figuring out/being given your “trail name.” Journeying with goats, children or painful injuries. Getting lost and being rescued. Hiking at night, or alone, or through the ash fall of the Mt. St. Helens eruption. Coming face-to-face with bears, lynx, huge toads, heart attacks and hypothermia. And always, through all three sections of the book — “Forests Forever” (Oregon), “Lava, Moss and Lichens” (Southern Washington) and “The Great White North” (The North Cascades) — folks suffer through chronic sogginess and all manner of precipitation, particularly toward the end, when hikers are racing Pacific storms and Old Man Winter to the Canadian border. The book itself might not change your life, but some of the essays within probably will, and, if nothing else, you’ll be inspired to shake off that dusty pack and seek out some adventure of your own. $19.95,


Books: Rainier, Tour de Fat and Quitting Money

Challenge Of Rainier “The Challenge of Rainier, 40th Anniversary: A Record of the Explorations and Ascents, Triumphs and Tragedies on the Northwest’s Greatest Mountain,” by Dee Molenaar

Dee Molenaar’s book “The Challenge of Rainier” has long been the best way to experience Seattle’s famous mountain without actually climbing it — and flat-out one of the best books about a mountain or mountains, period, covering the human history of the mountain, drawing from Molenaar’s 70-plus years of experience on it as a climber and guide. For the book’s 40th anniversary, Mountaineers Books has published an updated edition with restored illustrations and historic photos, as well as updated route information and accident statistics through 2010, and a foreword by Ed Viesturs.
$25 paperback, $20 ebook at

Tour De Fat Photo BookBooks: “2011 Tour De Fat Photo Book,” by New Belgium Brewing Company

Perhaps you recall a time when a small mountain town near you rated high enough on New Belgium’s scale of bike-town worthiness to warrant a stop by the traveling circus of beer and bikes known as the Tour de Fat. Having outgrown these roots, the tour now travels to metro areas across the nation, spreading its message of beer, love and bikes. To commemorate, New Belgium Brewing has released a book that attempts to capture the burlesque cacophony of bicycle zaniness that the tour has delivered in its eleven years of rambling across the land. Thumbing through the book, which is presented in a coffee-table format, (think coffee table book hip enough to not freak out your friends), it appears that the tour and its message have remained as close to the heart of the organization as the beer they produce. Like the event it represents, each page is a giggle unto itself. Altogether, the “Tour de Fat” book is an excellent companion to a fine pint of craft-brewed beer in a comfortable old chair.
— Erich Hennig

Books: “The Man Who Quit Money,” by Mark Sundeen

The Man Who Quit MoneyThink about the last time you bought something. Whether it was a new car or a pack of gum, it was probably earlier today, or some time in the not-too-distant past. Now think about this: Daniel Suelo, the subject of Mark Sundeen’s “The Man Who Quit Money,” has not earned or spent so much as a single cent since 2000. He refuses to accept food stamps, welfare or any other form of government aid, lives in a cave outside Moab, Utah, and not only survives, but thrives, completely without the use of money.

Suffice it to say that this is a book that begins with a lot of questions. For starters, is it even possible to live without money these days? Apparently, it is — in addition to recounting Suelo’s tumultuous life story, Sundeen (whose first published story appeared in MG more than a decade ago) shows that Suelo is anything but a lazy freeloader. And he’s no hermit either — quite the contrary. He volunteers at a local women’s shelter, maintains a popular blog and is often asked to housesit by his friends. In fact, his story serves as much a history of the people and places he knows as it is a chronicle of his own turbulent journey to leave the monetary system behind.

Not everyone can live like Daniel Suelo. “The Man Who Quit Money” is not an instruction manual for leaving behind material wealth. The moral of Daniel Suelo’s story is not about emulation, but inspiration. Inspiration to live with less, to give more and in the end, to be happier. And who couldn’t use some of that? $15,
— Andy Anderson

Web: Drive Nacho Drive

Brad and Sheena Van Orden, very recently formerly of Flagstaff, are going to live your dream: They’re going to drive Nacho, their 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon, around the world. They started on Christmas Eve by leaving Flagstaff and heading south down the Baja Peninsula, and are headed slowly, indirectly toward Tierra del Fuego. They have no real plan, just some money they saved by moving into a 420-square-foot house in Flagstaff and living frugally, biking everywhere, keeping chickens, etcetera. On their Web site,, they’re promising a podcast and blog as they journey south, then west through Indonesia, China, India, Europe and eventually Canada and down the West Coast of the United States, if the rough, scribbled line on the route map on their Web site is anywhere close to what really happens. They’re young, enthusiastic and clever, so we’ll wish them luck as we root from our
computer screens back here.

Mountain Media: Books #185

“Path of Beauty: Photographic Adventures in the Grand Canyon,” by Christopher Brown

Path of BeautyWhen you read a biography of a person, you hope that the writer has done his or her research enough to really know the subject of the book, the person he or she is telling you about. If you want to read the biography of a place, especially a monumental place like the Grand Canyon, you want someone like Chris Brown to write it: More than 30 years of hiking, rafting and guiding in the canyon, totaling 35 trips through the canyon on a boat, with a camera at his side all the time. His 115-page book is a love letter, filled with 75 photos and five essays on Encountering the Canyon, Adventure, Beauty and First Sight, Photography, and Reflection — my favorite of which is Adventure, about a mistake Brown made as a raft guide, requiring the rescue of everyone in his boat from a rock in the middle of a rapidly rising Colorado River, and his subsequent redemption. The photographs are stunning, and many of the scenes and colors will surprise anyone not intimately familiar with all the corners of the canyon. Brown is no slouch as an essayist and storyteller, and his passion for a very special place shows in his writing: “While it is always impressive, it is typically spectacular only for a few moments each day when the light is right and then it is sublime.”

“100 Years Up High: Colorado’s Mountains & Mountaineers,” by Janet Neuhoff Robertson, James E. Fell Jr., David Hite, Christopher J. Case and Walter R. Borneman

100 Years Up HighIf you ever forget how much you love Colorado’s mountains, pick up a copy of this book. “100 Years Up High” is a photo-filled history of the Centennial State’s High Country, and the human involvement in it — from early exploration to later conservation, the fun of climbing and skiing and the hard work that resulted in our national parks and national monuments. Each of the bylined authors take on a topic or two in this six-chapter book: Creating a New Club and a New National Park, Reaching Higher, Climbing Harder, Borrowing from Our Children, Carving the Snow and Painting the Peaks. The book, partially funded by the Colorado Mountain Club and published on the CMC’s 100th anniversary, intertwines the story of the club with the history of Colorado’s mountains — a natural combination, given the club’s involvement in all aspects of Colorado’s outdoor legacy, including the 1915 establishment of Rocky Mountain National Park, and finding the original Arapaho names of many of the geographic features in and around the Park. The book’s 176 pages are filled with historic and scenic photos, making the reading very easy on the eyes.

“All That Glitters,” by Margo Talbot

All That GlittersMargo Talbot didn’t take a typical path to becoming a renowned ice climber and guide: childhood abuse, depression and drug addiction, drug smuggling and drug dealing, jail and finally sobriety and therapy. I’m a sucker for a good climbing story that’s more about life than it is about climbing, and Talbot tells her climbing and life stories with unflinching honesty in “All That Glitters.” Beginning with an emotionally abusive and traumatic childhood that led her into substance abuse, and following her into the Canadian Rockies, where she eventually discovered ice climbing, Talbot literally climbs out of the darkness of her depression over the course of several years. But not without a few bumps in the road — during her years of partying, then addiction, she found herself making bad choices, dabbling in drug smuggling and selling, until she finally hit rock bottom in a jail cell after one particularly serious mistake. Talbot eventually begins to find redemption through climbing and her friendship with climber Karen McNeill, whose 2006 death on Alaska’s Mount Foraker dealt a tremendous, traumatic blow to Talbot, but led to the writing of the material that formed the basis of “All That Glitters.” Her writing is without self-judgment, as she lets the reader interpret the events that form the arc of the story.

Film & Tech: “23 Feet,” ParkFinder mobile app

23 Feet

23 Feet Outdoor DocumentaryTwenty-five-year-old filmmaker Allie Bombach and two friends set out with their 23-foot 1970 Airstream trailer to find a community they knew was out there: People living simply in the American West, giving up the comforts of what we think is “home” in order to be closer to their passions in the outdoors. “23 Feet” profiles four characters living simple lives in California, Utah and Oregon, and tells the story of the filmmakers’ journey to find those lives. Out of the four characters profiled, Yosemite legend Ron Kauk is a definite highlight — years of living in and around Yosemite have helped him shape his philosophy of living, and listening to him speak from his campsite in Tuolumne Meadows, you can’t help but wish you could sell all your stuff and move in next door to him. Maybe even more fun than the film itself was the four-month tour to premiere the film: Five women packed into the 23-foot Airstream to drive all over the West and screen the film, outdoors, in towns in Utah, Arizona, California and Oregon. In the outdoor film genre, we’ve got plenty of glamorous movies that treat our outdoor passions as an end in themselves —  “23 Feet” is the first work of a refreshing new voice that looks deeper than the face value of our pastimes, and looks for a soul. Bad news is the tour is over — good news is the DVD is now for sale.

Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder Mobile App

Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder mobile appOn the last day of the summer Outdoor Retailer show, someone next to me handed me a business card with details on how to download the Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder mobile app. It was the best free thing I got the entire trade show. That night, I drove north from Salt Lake City, the start of a month of living out of my car, camping and climbing. The free app gives the user a guide to parks all over the United States, searchable by activity. Most of the time, I used it to find places to camp for the night after driving all day, and having a map of all the available campsites within a few minutes of my current location was invaluable. Less adventurous? Maybe. But how cool is the idea of taking off on a road trip with nothing but a smart phone in your pocket? The app finds parks based on things to do — camping, cycling, climbing, hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching, et cetera, and uses your phone’s maps application to show all parks in the area with those activities. The price — free — can’t be beat. Now, if they could just make an app that showed secluded places to sleep in my car, and best places to find $5 showers. 

Off Belay Podcast

Podcast: Off Belay Podcast with Chris Kalous and Jamie Lynn Miller

Chris Kalous and Jamie Lynn Miller have a lot to say about climbing, and almost none of it is about sponsored athletes, the newest, flashiest gear, or news in the world of climbing, The Off Belay Podcast is a candid discussion of the important stuff. How candid? Well, maybe your dog doesn’t belong at the crag. Or your kid. Maybe you should stop bitching when you show up at Indian Creek, the most-famous crag in Colorado (oh, it’s in Utah?), and there are dozens of other people there. Chris and Jamie have had a few guests on the show, but the highlight is their own banter — whether it’s about online climbing forums, guns, hung draws or whatever. Between the two of them, Chris and Jamie have written for Climbing, Rock and Ice, Elevation Outdoors, Women’s Adventure, 303 Magazine, Men’s Health, the Snowmass Sun and others. And oh yeah, the Mountain Gazette, where Chris was the gear editor for a number of years. Jamie Lynn is also an on-air personality at Aspen Public Radio’s Sonic Byways. The Off Belay Podcast might be the most fun you’ll have listening to two people you don’t know talk about climbing you haven’t done.

Climbing Dictionary

“Climbing Dictionary: Mountaineering Slang, Terms, Neologisms & Lingo,” by Matt Samet

Want to talk like a real climber, but don’t want to make a faux pas at the crag by misusing the word “pinkpoint” in a sentence? Fear not. Longtime climbing writer (and former editor of Climbing magazine) Matt Samet has you covered with the new “Climbing Dictionary” from Mountaineers Books. Not just a reference for newbies — although it is, explaining hundreds of basic terms from abseil to Z-clip — Samet provides plenty of entertainment explaining less-familiar terms like “aggrosheen” (n., profuse perspiration dripping from a climber) and “satchel therapy” (n., mental training learned by doing long runouts). Usage examples abound, i.e., G-climbing (n., alpine groveling, a play off sport-mixed or M-climbing): “The Emperor Face of Mount Robson is mega for G-climbing: Shattered limestone and shale plastered in snow and rime. Might I suggest the 5800-foot House-Haley, a WI5 M7?” More than 650 definitions are covered in the book’s 250 pages, with accompanying illustrations by veteran climbing artist Mike Tea. The “Climbing Dictionary” would make a great gift for a climber close to you when you don’t know what kind of gear to buy them, or a great addition to your bathroom shelf if you are a climber. $15,