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Sandy Bruises [Sport Climbing]

28 Mar , 2016,
Heidi Kumm
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I have discovered something life changing; the perfect excuse to stay in college for…ever. They’re called “outdoor education classes” and they are basically classes that get you college credit while you’re out in the wilderness living life. It’s been decided — I’m going to be a college kid forever. Sorry, world. I put this whole “in class” excuse to use last weekend when I took four days off to play in Moab’s desert while taking a sport climbing class.

After working two overnight shifts [ie: basically sleeping 6hrs in 48hrs…after a weekend of sleepless winter camping] I piled my camping gear into the Honda Civic and headed west. All was well. Exhaustion hadn’t kicked in yet, I remembered snacks + the busted antenna was doing its part go play me some sing-a-long music. I was happy + full of grand plans for an early night followed by a weekend of slab climbing, sandy running + comfy car camping. All I had to do was get to Moab and find myself a campsite…simple, right?

Nope. Not at all simple. Because things go wrong when everything feels like it’s falling into place!

Just as I was turning off the interstate to get on the final stretch of highway headed to Moab the Honda Civic decided it was done. Forever. I had stopped at the off ramp stop sign and as I went to turn left…everything shut down. I was still singing along to the radio but the accelerator was not accelerating, the steering wheel was not steering and poor Bertha was barely rolling forward. Crap. I checked the gas gauge, half full. I checked the car temp, in the blue. I scanned the dash lights, a normal array of color. Now what I managed to roll over to the side of the road then pushed my poor, broken Civic onto the shoulder. I attempted to restart the car. No dice. Double crap.


Two trucker dudes saw my struggle from across a big, empty parking lot and came running over to help. I assured them the car did not run out of gas then attempted to turn over the engine for them…both immediately responded with “timing belt”. [insert string of expletives] No! That was not an easy fix, the poor Civic was toast. They were extremely kind + helpful, waiting with me until I got confirmation from AAA then pushing my car into a better position for the tow truck. People. Are. Awesome.

So much for my plans…rather than crawling into my sleeping bag before the sun set I spent the next four [4!] hours dealing with tow trucks, full campsites + extremely overpriced hotels [ugh, Jeep Week]. But piece by piece I picked up the mess and put my day back together, only crying once when I called Jeremy to tell him I blew up his car in the middle of the Utah desert. Oops. Sorry? I was exhausted + my brain was losing its ability to make rational decisions but I survived, mostly because people are good. Really, really good.

The tow truck driving was incredible, getting his personal vehicle + driving me to two full campgrounds before taking me back to a hotel in town. The guys I was taking this class with [but barely knew] were extremely helpful, offering to pick me up + let me snag tent space in their dispersed campsite. Jeremy took over decision making responsibilities with the Civic while I spent my Thursday soaking up the desert sun + climbing slabby rocks. My climbing instructors drove me into town so I could hangout with cell service [fixing car issues] and WiFi [working remotely] for a few hours. Everyone climbing in our little posse of awesome was incredibly helpful + patient…driving me into town, emptying out the Civic when we decided to scrap it, driving me back to camp, offering me shot-gun for the ride back to Summit County. Seriously, everyone was fantastic + gave me a lot of hope for humans; all in the name of food bribery.

Waiting for the sun to drop into the canyon at the Ice Cream Parlor.

Always, always, always pack snacks you can share with the entire posse when you’re headed in to the wilderness with friends or strangers — it’s amazing how far some afternoon rice krispies or goldfish crackers or grapes or cheetos can go! Seriously, I think that’s the only reason they didn’t just tie me off at the top of a climb and walk away!

Thankfully I held onto my sanity by spending my days climbing rocks, learning to tie knots and mostly mastering the art of scaling rocks with a harness full of quickdraws, webbing and steely biners. I have a fair bit of experience climbing indoors so I’m confident in my ability to pull/push/claw my way up a wall but, oh boy, outdoor climbing is a whole different beast. Especially in the desert on slabs! It had been about 6 months since I did any consistent climbing and it took a solid day for me to re-learn to trust my gear, especially my shoes! With slab climbing in Moab you’re putting some serious trust in your shoes — lots of “please stick, please stick, please stick” whispers got me through my first few climbs + leads. They stuck…usually.

Snippets from Snapchat // heidikumm // 

We started our weekend at the Ice Cream Parlor, a short drive up a canyon then a quick hike up to the slabby walls we would be climbing. This is clearly a popular place for groups to come for courses/training as we were one of three groups throughout the day. We started out top-roping off routes the instructors set and progressed to “mock-leading”. There was a mix of climbs from 5.4’s to a 5.10+ so we all got to get our feet wet, test our limits + surprise ourselves when we rocked a climb.

The next two days were spent on Wall Street, a wall of routes just a few steps off a highway running along the Colorado River. You’d expect the road to be annoying but it wasn’t. The area was busy but everyone was so chill. We’d walk out into the road to scope our routes, chill next to our cars while other’s climbed + watch other groups figure out their gear/routes. Definitely not remote climbing but it still worked well for what we needed.

By the time we drove out of the canyon on Saturday evening, with the sun setting behind us, I was confident in my ability to manage climbing rope, belay lead + top rope climbs, lead climb sport routes [where the bolts/anchors are set — I was not setting my own gear + have no real desire to do that any time soon], tie up anchors, clean routes + rappel off rocks. Of course, we left the desert with all this fresh knowledge to arrive back in Summit County for what is sure to become a month of spring blizzards…all that knowledge will have to store itself away for a few more weeks. But then, then we will climb; because if we don’t, we’ll all forget what we learned. #musclememory

And, thanks to a sassy timing belt, I got a refresher in more than just rock climbing. I learned that life doesn’t really care what your plans are but if you just roll with the punches you’ll find a way to make it all work. Rather than cook up the meals I had carefully planned out for my weekend of car camping I went out to dinner + kidnapped breakfast with my new-found climbing buddies. Instead of running long miles on sandy trails I got to experience the kindness of fellow nomads as we cleaned out my car, snagged WiFi from a diner + fought our way up technical climbs. I was forced to let me “I am runner, must train” mentality behind + found peace in the lazy desert life. Heck, half the people I was climbing with were living out of their cars + surviving on seasonal jobs. They were my people…that I would have never connected with if Bertha had kept her timing belt intact. #silverlining

Late on Saturday night, as I showered three days of sand + salt away, I found myself entertaining a tingle of pride as the dirt washed away from bruised knees + nicked shins. I will probably never become a hardcore climber for all the reasons I’ll never become a competitive trail runner — there are too many other things to do, but I found a little niche of the climbing world where I actually feel like I belong. A little posse of kindred spirits, forgoing what’s expected for what’s desired. This, all of this, is why I love the life I’m attempting to live!


  1. Tonette Nicolas March 29, 2016 at 7:52 pm Reply

    Oh wow! What an adventure! Reading your post made me feel like I was there. I haven’t been camping in 2 years (if I remember it correctly). Made me miss hiking and camping. Thanks for sharing your adventure. 🙂

    • Heidi Kumm March 30, 2016 at 6:18 am Reply

      It was quite the weekend to say the least. Desert camping is awesome, except for the sand you’re dumping out of everything for weeks!

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