El Potrero Chico: Multiple Days of Multi-Pitch and Multi-Fun

This blog post is about climbing in El Potrero Chico and how pretty darn amazing it is!


Several weeks ago a few of us at Mesa Rim decided to take a hike from the Front Desk and embarked on a journey to northern Mexico to visit the climbing paradise known as El Potrero Chico. Located just outside the sleepy town of Hidalgo in the Mexican province of Nuevo León, Potrero hosts the largest concentration of long multi-pitch sport routes in North America. While the climbing is certainly incredible the flavor of the whole experience, somewhere between an outdoorsy mexican honeymoon and a throbbing tequila hang-over, made us want to quit our jobs and stay forever.

TRAVEL:
The best way to get to Potrero if you’re living anywhere other than Texas, is by flying into Monterrey (If you opt for this route, the camping area La Posada has a shuttle that can pick you up at the airport). We’re not really about doing whats best, but we’re definitely about doing what’s cheapest, so we decided to drive. Thats right, four of us and our climbing gear in a Prius with a cracked windshield for 18hrs. Lets just say we rolled down the windows… a lot. After spending a much needed rest day in Austin, we gathered the troops, loaded up a friend’s van and headed south.

Driving south of the border can be tricky but should not deter you from the convenience of taking your own car. Stopping to get your travel visas and car registration can stall your arrival but is worth the slight detour. The website http://potrerochico.org/ has good beta on getting visas and driving down, if that’s the way you choose to go.

Crossing the border can be a jarring experience no matter which direction you’re coming from. Images of cloaked war-ready Federales standing in the back of pick-ups, dirt cheap prices at produce stands and the dogs that roam content but hopeless help to clarify the ever-increasing rift between the two countries. Fortunately our initial nerves faded into comfort the further we drove south, and we all agreed that we’d felt safe throughout the trip as we crossed back into the U.S. on the way home. Having a few spanish-speakers in our mix was no-doubt helpful in our overall comfort, but by no means necessary to travel to the climbing.

The Verdict: Driving down is doable and definitely the most cost effective option for a group (especially if you have Ferris’s Prius). Flying down is more expensive, but would maximize climbing days if you’re on a tighter schedule.

WEATHER:
Scientists call North-Eastern Mexico’s climate semi-arid, a designation that means that the average precipitation charts somewhere between a desert and humid environment. The region has characteristically mild winters (highs around 70 F in January) and warm summers (highs around 95 F in August) with only two months of consistent rain, (September and October) each year. Winter tends to be the high season as many bearded Americans make the trek south in hopes of trading their flannel-lined Carharts and brightly colored down-armor for a tank-top, pair of summer guide pants and the all new Birkenstock approach shoes. Basically, the chances of climbing on dry rock with perfect temps are really really high from November to May.

The Verdict: Conditions in Potrero are a bit more finicky than the gym, but not by much in the winter. You can approach most climbs in your Birkenstocks.

LODGING:
Finding a spot for camping and lodging at the Potrero could not be easier. With three campgrounds, dozens of homes for rent, and numerous casitas all within walking distance of the climbing, finding a place to stay will be the least of your concerns. However, it seems that the La Posada campground has become the main gathering point for climbers.

Nestled just outside the small town of Hidalgo, and only a few minutes walk from climbing, La Posada is a climber’s paradise. For about $7 (100 pesos) a night you can snag yourself a pool-side tent spot that opens up to a staggering view of EPC. Only a couple yards away you’ll have access to a large communal kitchen, slackline, warm showers and decent (but over-priced) restaurant. Across the street Homero’s hosts a bonfire and local legend Edgardo pours 3 dollar margaritas (very much Ferris endorsed) and tosses delicious pizza most nights of the week.

During rest days it’s common for climbers to venture away from the cliffs into downtown Hidalgo. Despite it’s small size, Hidalgo hosts two large street markets every week where you can find hundreds of vendors selling everything from fresh produce to knock-off Abercrombie and Fitch shirts (we know you want those). And if the markets don’t catch your interest, there are several restaurants and coffee shops around town to help you waste time while your beaten fingertips recover.

The Verdict: All the cool kids are staying at La Posada. All the dirtbags are staying a hundred yards away at Homero’s while still hanging out at La Posada.

CLIMBING:
The climbing experience that Potrero offers is truly remarkable. Very few climbing destinations allow you to climb 2,000 feet of rock with nothing more than a handful of quick draws. The combination of massive walls, little gear to carry, and a generous bolt count that characterize the area allows an average party to cover lots of ground in very little time. And to top it all off, the majority of these long climbs have an approach time under 10 minutes.

While long clip-ups are certainly Potrero’s most unique offering, the single pitch cragging is remarkable in its own right. From thin, super technical granite-esque slabs to massively over-hung Sharma-style roofs, the diversity of crag is seemingly endless. The orientation of the canyon and variety of walls means you can climb all day in sun or shade or time it right and get a bit of both.

The weathering process of Potrero’s limestone has created one of the most diverse arrays of holds we’ve ever seen. While most limestone climbing areas seem to take on a distinct style, be it blocks and edges, varying pockets, or somewhere in between, Potrero’s limestone is by far the most diverse and exciting we’ve seen. Its not uncommon to start climbing on rails, make moves through pockets and jugs before finishing with finger-locks and jams in a crack. Feet are often smeared on micro water runnels or pasted onto sharp rubber eating edges if not being stuck into a pocket or crack.

The Verdict: The climbing, it’s good. Like really, really effing good.

HIGHLIGHTS:
After all we experienced during our time in Potrero, it has proved quite challenging to pick an overall highlight from our trip. Between all the steep routes, good friends, cheap avocados, and Pat’s Instagram posts, it was a week we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. Nevertheless, as we departed Mexico, I couldn’t help but find myself thinking of the last route we climbed, Time Wave Zero.

Time Wave Zero is a route that is synonymous with El Potrero Chico climbing. Standing 2,300 feet tall, this 23 pitch route packs the full Potrero climbing experience into one long day. We originally had little hope of climbing the route since the weather forecast during the last few days of our trip promised cold rain and high winds. But as the end of our trip neared, a few of us couldn’t stand the thought of leaving Mexico without going for what many local climbers described as the “MUST DO” route. So as the sun set on our final rest day, we set our alarms for an early wake up call in hopes to wake up to some better weather.

As our alarms sound we can hear the rain against the side of our tents. Bummer. It seems as if every sign was telling us to just call it quits and stay in our tents. The wind was howling, the rain was frigid, the ground was saturated, and our tents were slowly collecting water. Despite the terrible conditions, all four of us grabbed our packs and prepared for a cold approach. The morale of the group was pretty low, but committed. Nobody wanted to be the one who bailed, worried that it would be calling it quits for the rest of the group as well. So after eating a quick breakfast, the four of us set off, pretending not to notice the wall of clouds and fog that had blanketed Potrero.

A few days prior we were told by some of the original route developers that the weather on Time Wave Zero was unlike anything in the other canyons. We were told that even during the worst weather the climb can remain dry due to it’s unique location in Potrero. Unlike a majority of the big wall routes that lie within the wind corridor, Time Wave Zero climbs through a huge headwall far from the canyon pass. With this being perhaps the only hope we had for climbing, we continued to hike through the corridor and up some steep terrain to the base of the massive wall. As we reached the base of the route, we were shocked to find that the rock was dry. It was as if the climate had completely changed from one side of the canyon to the next. But we weren’t sold yet; fog continued to mask the pitches above us and it was too early to tell how the weather would develop into the day. Not sure of what to come, we hope for the best and rope up to climb.

The first several pitches showed us that we were not prepared for such an early start. Our fingers and toes were growing numb and our pace was not set for 23 pitches. This was disconcerting to say the least since we were on the easiest pitches of the route. Skeptical of our mental and physical state, we continued up the wall, wondering if we would see the sun would ever come out. The fog would occasionally break apart just enough for us to make out the valley below.

After several hours, our luck finally came. By the time we reached the anchors atop pitch 8 we were looking down at a fog filled valley and a promising summit above. Within 15 minutes, the atmosphere of the climb went from a cold Canadian alpine start to a mile high tanning salon. We stashed our jackets, thawed out our toes, and finally started to climb. The position on the route improved with each pitch as the exposure behind us grew. Stitching pitches allowed for each person to climb roughly 400 feet at a time; following for two pitches, stopping briefly at the anchors, and then leading two more. This pace not only allowed us to make the summit before sundown, but rewarded each of us with an unfamiliar rhythm that none of us had experienced before.

Pitch after pitch of excellent bolt-clipping brought us to the summit, where an obligatory 2-hour gawking session ensued. The views made any moment of suffering earlier in the climb worth it. The narrow canyon of El Potrero was the cut off point between the empty skies and the sea of clouds to the north, creating a kind of a cloud dam that you had to see to believe. Day quickly turned into night and we realized that we had 23 rappels to do. Our relaxed mind-set on the summit had to quickly turn into focused and precise gear and rope work in order to get us down safely. We were well aware that many accidents in climbing happen on the way down and two horrible examples of this (one being on this exact route one month prior) were very present in our mind. Needless to say, we rapped like champs and made it down just in time for our friends to ditch their plans of coming up to save us. The rest of the night was filled with friends, burritos, and Carta Blanca.

Check out more photos from this unforgettable, epic trip.


Blog contributers: Ferris Kilpatrick, Patrick Heddins, and Kemper Brightman
Photography: Andrew Adkins (@andadki)

Team Mesa Rim Results • SCS Competition One at Sender One

Team Mesa Rim results from the first competition of the Sport Climbing Series (SCS) season, hosted at Sender One March 14th, 2015. We had 26 competitors total!


Male Youth D (out of 29):
14th: Nathan Kain
16th: Ryan Maluf
23rd: Noah Gardner
25th: Antonio Machaz
27th: Weston Gardner

Female Youth D (out of 20):
14th: Ava Krueger
14th: Alina Albert
17th: Natalie Jalaie

Male Youth C (out of 18):
8th: Domenic Durso
10th: Riley Ford
14th: Geoffrey Xu

Female Youth C (out of 22):
1st: Sydney Darensburg
6th: Sora Haagensen
8th: Isabella Wright
19th: Kylie Hall

Male Youth B (out of 28):
3rd: Sage Karolides
10th: Luke Rodley
14th: Ryan Lewis
23rd: Mark Tankersly
27th: Jake Ross

Female Youth B (out of 18):
13th: Marin Grillo
16th: Natalie Pellette

Male Youth A (out of 19):
6th: Nikolas Karolides
10th: Adam Kosviner
14th: Miles Rogondino

Female Youth A (out of 12): 
10th: Ellie Fox


– Go. Climb.

Mesa Rim Virtual Tour: Second Location in Mission Valley

We’ve been getting down and dirty with construction since the Ground Breaking Ceremony in January of our second location coming to Mission Valley! Additionally, we are excited to share with you the first Virtual Tour of Mesa Rim Mission Valley, featuring the ropes and bouldering areas to come. Check out the virtual tour and current construction photos below.


Mission Valley Virtual Tour 1 from Mesa Rim Climbing Center on Vimeo.
Special thanks to Entre-Prises Climbing Walls for helping us put together the virtual tour!


Construction progress of Mesa Rim Mission Valley:
• Inside of building has been gutted
• Pool has been filled (this is where part of the bouldering area will be)
• North Wall and roof demolished. We’re going out, we’re going up!
• Dug down 18 inches where main climbing area and training/fitness area will be
• Poured concrete slab  foundation for climbing area and training/fitness area
• Main tower steel arriving this week!


Reach New Heights
– The Mesa Rim Team

Introducing Mesa Rim’s Team Captains of the Youth Climbing Team!

This SCS season, Team Mesa Rim Youth Coaches elected Natalie Pellette and Miles Rogondino as team captains. As ambassadors for the youth climbing team, the coaches know that Natalie and Miles will be great role models for the newer competitors, encourage their peers to work hard, and continue to push their individual limits. Say hi to them if you see them climbing around the gym!


Natalie:
1. How long have you been climbing? How long have you been with the team?
I have been climbing and been on the team for 3 years
2. What is your preferred type of climbing (bouldering, sport, speed) and why?
My favorite types of climbing are sport and bouldering
3. Where is your favorite place to climb outside?
I don’t have a favorite place to climb outside, but I mostly climb at Mount Woodson
4. If you could climb anywhere in the world, where would it be?
If I could be anywhere in the world, I would be in Europe
5. Who is your climbing role model and why?
My climbing role models are my coaches because they model what kind of climber I want to be when I grow up, a hard-working, determined, and fun climber
6. What is your goal for SCS season?
For the SCS season, I want to have fun at competitions, climb a 5.12a, and climb outside more often
7. What are you doing when you aren’t climbing?
When I’m not climbing I am hanging out with friends, at the beach, or just having fun.
8. Any words of wisdom to new climbers?
Don’t compare yourself to other climbers, just try your hardest and have some fun!

Mesa Rim Youth Climbing Team

Miles:
1. How long have you been climbing? How long have you been with the team?
I have been climbing for around 2.5 years. I’ve been with the team for 3 seasons.
2. What is your preferred type of climbing (bouldering, sport, speed) and why?
I love to boulder but the height and exposure of sport climbing is a huge adrenaline rush.
3. Where is your favorite place to climb outside?
My favorite place to climb outside would either be New Jack or Joshua Tree.
4. If you could climb anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I would climb in Yosemite.
5. Who is your climbing role model and why?
Honestly [coach] Daton would be my role model. He’s been one of my coaches, and his attitude towards climbing is fun.
6. What is your goal for SCS season?
My goal is to go to Nationals.
7. What are you doing when you aren’t climbing?
I’m studying, exercising or hanging out with my friends.
8. Any words of wisdom to new climbers?
My wisdom is to be persistent, focus, have fun and breathe!


Go. Climb.

Mesa Rim Mira Mesa to Get 11,000 Sqft!

WE HAVE GREAT NEWS TO SHARE!

Mesa Rim Mira Mesa is getting an additional 11,000 sqft of space! Say what?! We have officially acquired a portion of the building immediately to the south of our current building in Mira Mesa. More parking is now available to the Mesa Rim community in our new lot! See map below.

We are passionate about fostering life-long climbing and providing amazing spaces for our community. As the sport of climbing grows, we are raising the bar for training and instructional programs for youth and adults. This new space will serve as a dedicated programs and training facility.

Some key points:
• Starting Monday (03/02/15), Mesa Rim customers and staff can park in the adjacent lot.
• The new space will be primarily program-based (use of the space will be as a participant in a program or class, similar to a yoga studio, gymnastics center, or crossfit gym)
• Select weeknight hours and weekends for open climbing and training/fitness classes for general public
• Mon – Fri from 3pm-7pm the space will be dedicated to the Mesa Rim Youth Team
• Yes, there will be bouldering!
• Target opening is June or July

What this means for our community (you!)
• Dedicated space for fitness classes and youth team training (less congestion in the climbing area!)
• Select open hours to top-level training space
• Solo training in the current Fitness Center will not be impeded by fitness classes (How awesome will that be?!)
• New programming for fitness and climbing training
• Use of space will be included in membership, select classes and training may be additional cost (For example 12 Months of Fitness)
• MORE PARKING!

Mesa Rim Mira Mesa Gets More Space - Training Center for Fitness and Youth


Climb Higher
-The Mesa Rim Team

“There Will Be No Summit Photo” by Parker Onufer

This blog post is about Parker and his friend’s attempt to summit El Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, and how the significance of the feat was found not in reaching the peak , but in the little wins against a big volcano.


Four and a half years ago I met a climber at Mesa Rim who spoke of a volcano just outside of Mexico City tall enough to dwarf a 14’er. At 18,491’, El Pico de Orizaba is the highest mountain in Mexico, third largest in North America.

This past October, I decided that I was going south to check it out. My partner Mike and I took the first flight out of San Diego Sunday morning. We had a layover in Phoenix before landing in Mexico City, followed by a four hour bus ride through Puebla to Tlachichuca. Resting at a little over 8,000’, this would be our home for the next week. We utilized a local guiding company for lodging at their home and four wheel drive transportation up to base camp, we were treated like family but received little other help.

Day 2
We hitched a ride up to base camp to drop off a guided group. We spent two hours at 14,000’ doing our best to acclimate, which meant doing nothing but drinking and snacking. Frosty breath and slightly hungry with a headache, I didn’t move much. Mike went higher than I on a short walk outside basecamp and we drove back down to sleep at 8,000’.

Day 3
We left with all our gear at 10am headed back to the Piedre Grande Hut (Basecamp, 14,000’). Today was an acclimatization day too, no real hiking or activity. Ambitious, we had been convinced to do the entire route in one day from this hut. I was a little concerned for how fast this was and my concerns were later realized as the group we dropped off the day before got sick over night and decided to go down with the car that brought us up. By the end of day, we decided to extend the trip back to our longer itinerary leaving more time for acclimatization. Indecisiveness was my worst enemy on this day filled with nothing but thought. Regardless, spirits were high and we felt strong, as we should.

Often times in climbing there is a certain motivation to reach the top, the summit, the ridge, the spot higher than where you were last time, or whatever other locations of success you may desire. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I get confused on my own motivation, am I doing this for my own personal growth and achievement? Or am I doing this to put a photo online and let everyone else know of what I achieved? Both feel good, yet the former is clearly the healthy motivation I want. All of this confusion aside, my motivation to be there did not matter anymore. The fact was I was in Mexico, I was at the base of an 18,600 foot volcano and although I was armed with a camera I felt I was there for only my partner and me.

Day 4
When we woke up at 14,000’ Mike was sick and unable to eat or drink, yet I felt fine. We immediately hiked down 1000 feet and napped for a few hours before returning to the hut. Mike was now good to go but in the course of an hour I deteriorated to nausea, headache, and the inability to eat or drink. Our ride was not coming back until 3pm the following day, we had too much gear to carry it all down, and we knew we would not be able to recover for the hike tomorrow at this altitude. We decided to grab enough of our camping gear for the one night it would take us to walk back to town (what would be a 2 hour car ride). We left all our bulky and heavy snow equipment at the Piedre Grande hut hoping we could intercept our guide picking us up tomorrow morning and retrieve the gear.

As we retreated the feelings of failure set in, we tried to justify every way we could, that it was too dangerous to go up, that the itinerary was too fast, that the Jeep was late, we did not have enough food to stay the amount of days needed, or that we weren’t ready. What were we going to tell our friends and family? Our coworkers? How could we travel all the way down here and not even start the route? At this time the 20 minute walk Mike took outside the Piedre Grande hut on day two was going to be the high point of the trip and I didn’t even go with him, I was not ready to accept this!

Day 4
As we hiked through the sickness we had dropped to 11,000’ and started feeling strong like I wanted, like I expected to feel. We realized if we could make it back to the hotel and sleep well at 8,000’ there may be a chance we could still make it. We ended up hitchhiking for 500 Pesos from Hildalgo, a town 3 hours hike away. We got back to surprise our guides and let them know we needed yet another ride back to the Hut the following morning.

Day 5
It’s my birthday today, and although I planned to be on the summit, I was happy enough to be redelivered to the Piedre Grande Hut for the day. Based on our flight home to San Diego we only had one day of climbing left, tomorrow. It would have to be a long push from 14,000’ to 18,500’ and still be back by 3pm for our ride off the volcano. All day long we sorted gear and got food ready for the next day. We felt great but I was unable to sleep, either excitement or altitude, I was hoping for the former but it didn’t matter at this point.

Taking advantage of our second chance we started at 12:30 am with a stove, energy gu’s, a few of my favorite bars, crampons and axe, all the clothing I had, two liters of water, and we returned by 2:30 pm. It was slow, steep and bitter cold in the morning. I remember wearing my ski goggles in the morning darkness to keep my eyes warm. There was fresh snow on the ground through some tricky to navigate gullies. The sun was nowhere close to rising when we started on the 2,500 feet of glacier. We had reached the crater at the top in 8 hours and 41 minutes. Ironically, this crater was not completely level, there was a ridge to the South highpoint on the crater about 25 minutes away and we chose to not go to the true summit. We were tired, a storm was coming in, but more importantly, we were satisfied.

The trip only cost $1100 a climber and I will gladly help answer any questions if you are interested in going.


Parker Onufer – Assistant Operations Manager

Jamapa Glacier in Mexico

Second Location News: Mesa Rim Mission Valley Groundbreaking!

Check out the video and photos below from the Mesa Rim Mission Valley groundbreaking ceremony on January 15th, 2015! The partial demolition of the old Bally’s Gym building on Camino Del Rio South represents the beginning of Mesa Rim Mission Valley. We are excited to move forward in the building process and eagerly anticipate the Grand Opening Event this winter.

A special thanks to Richard & Richard Construction, NOAA Group Architects, Entre-Prises, USA Inc. (EP), and HTK Structural Engineering.

Be part of the journey during the construction of Mesa Rim in Mission Valley by viewing monthly video updates and pictures posted to our blog and social media.

Bouldering at Stoney Point by Mimi Alameddin

This blog post is about the history of and bouldering at Stoney Point.


As we rode north away from the bustling streets of Los Angeles, things were slowly becoming just the slightest bit less urban, with more trees, less concrete and steel, and more dirt when suddenly huge towering rocks sprang into our path. Big Spencer had been telling me about this dirty, painted little spot for a while, and my friends and I finally made the time to get out. Just a few miles from the Hollywood sign, the 65 million year old pile of sandstone boulders have been climbed on and developed by some of the most prominent and brilliant climbers.

Stoney Point in Los Angeles
Stoney Point present day

Glen Dawson had a number of first ascents throughout the Sierra, including the east face of Mt. Whitney in 1931. He led the Sierra Club in many outings to the Point to refine the modern roped climbing and belaying techniques. “One of my most pleasant experiences was climbing and jumping and rappelling at Stoney Point. It was a beautiful location, and we had lots of good times out there. It was easy to get to, was used year-round, and a lot of the early climbers began their climbing there.”

Glen Dawson
Glen Dawson hovers between boulders sometime in the 30’s

Then in the 1950s, before he became one of the country’s most prolific and influential rock climbers, 15-year-old Royal Robbins was hopping freight trains and looking for adventure. One day, when the train slowed down on a curve next to Stoney Point, he couldn’t help but jump off and take a look. With its easy access, tall walls and near perfect weather year round, Stoney Point became the place where Robbins would develop his strength and skills.

Royal Robbins
Royal Robbins boulders in some serious sending boots

Yvon Chouinard soon joined Robins there, originally just to learn to rappel into falcons nests, but was fascinated by the climbers he came across. He went on the create a handful of unique boulder problems, including Chouinard’s Hole (V2) a deceptively hard 3 move problem that dumps you into a little literal hole in the wall, where Chouinard was often found just sitting in, most likely dreaming up the equipment that he would later develop and sell to Black Diamond.

Yvon Chouinard
Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard rappels at Stoney Point in the 1950s

Later in the 70s the Stonemasters including John Long, Lynn Hill, and John “Yabo” Yablonski spent their fair share of time bouldering at the Point. They were featured in this goofy dated climbing segment for KABC TV for their TV Magazine “Eye on LA.”

After 80+ years of being climbed on, and being right off a busy road in LA county, it is beautifully bleak, in all its grime and gristle. Tiny glass fragments almost hide the dirt and the rocks are stained with graffiti. The stone can be slightly chossy at times and climbs often morph from over use. Many climbers are turned off by the grittiness of the area, but the rich history is so inspiring to me, and climbing here is challenging and never dull, as there are hundreds of boulder problems, all with interesting features and movements. Huge jugs and flakes, perfect finger cracks and some amazing off widths can all be found in this dingy little city park in the North Valley. We didn’t have a guide book, but most of the climbs are easy to read, and often there are a ton of regulars here that are usually more then happy to show a newbie what to climb.


– Mimi Alameddin • Mesa Rim Team Member

Mimi Alameddin

Million Dollar Challenge – “More Than a Ride” by Bob Kain

This blog post is about Mesa Rim Co-owner Bob Kain’s epic 7-day cycle journey down the California coast for the Challenged Athletes Foundation Million Dollar Challenge.


As an avid road cyclist for over a decade, I knew about the Challenged Athletes Foundation Million Dollar Challenge (MDC). For most of that decade I dreamed of doing the ride. Who would not be seduced by a fully supported ride down the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego? Even before I was a road cyclist, when I mainly road mountain bikes on trails, the romantic draw of riding through Monterey, Big Sur, and Santa Barbara appealed to me. The California coast is one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. With a full time Biotech job at Illumina, partial ownership of a rock climbing gym, and a family to consider, taking a week off to ride the coast wasn’t in the cards.

During the last few years my goals switched to climbing goals. My thoughts about epic adventures took me in other directions. I wanted to climb Half Dome in a day, to find long moderate multi-pitch routes in the Sierras and other climbing meccas around the world. Thought of traveling to Italy and climbing in the Dolomites excited my imagination.

This past year though my life took an interesting turn. I left Illumina and jettisoned the weekly travel schedule. No surprise that I then had time to fit a week long ride into my life. One question remained, could I do it? Could I ride 620 miles in 7 days? It was time to find out. I signed up and started training.

Training 5 years ago would have entailed 10 – 14 hours a week in the saddle. Riding 4 days and 10 hours a week initially, working up to 5 days and 14 hours a week as the date grew near. However, as a climber who wasn’t going to give up climbing, training became a compromise. Near the ride date I was riding 4 days and 10 hours a week, however I was climbing and doing Yoga 9 hours a week. My legs might not have been finely tuned spinning machines, but the body was ready to go for it.

CAF Million Dollar Challenge

Rider check-in was Friday October 10th at the Embarcadero in San Francisco. As it turned out I needed to be in Boston on Thursday. To add to the drama, I took a redeye flight to Boston Wednesday night, worked Thursday, and then flew to San Francisco to check-in. After 2 days of hectic airline and auto travel, I was ready to spend a week on the bike.

Saturday November 11th we woke to a hearty breakfast and some encouraging words from our supporters at CAF. At just past 7:30 am one hundred riders took off with police escort through San Francisco, under the Golden Gate bridge and down the coast to Santa Cruz. The riders broke into 4 main groups outside of SF and made their way down the coast at different speeds. It was to be an adrenaline filled ride for me! With the help of a head wind, we reached speeds of 28 mph on the flats and arrived in Santa Cruz by early afternoon.

CAF Million Dollar Challenge

At our hotel mechanics took our bikes, support crew handed out room keys, bags were delivered to our rooms, massage therapists worked out legs, then food and drink awaited us. Each day 4 groups started from the hotel. Group 1 was the fastest and often started 30 minutes later than the rest. Group 4 would take their time and stop to shoot many pictures, finishing late in the afternoon. Mostly I finished between group 1 and group 2, group 1 ½ we called ourselves.

Ok here are the stats for those who want to know what is involved with riding the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego. The total ride is about 627 miles spread over 7 days. Every day was a new and different experience. The list below includes hyperlinks connected to topo maps and charts for the day.

CAF Million Dollar Challenge

DAY 1: SAN FRANCISCO TO SANTA CRUZ – 89 miles
DAY 2: SANTA CRUZ TO BIG SUR– 86 miles
DAY 3: BIG SUR TO PISMO BEACH – 114 miles
DAY 4: PISMO BEACH TO SANTA BARBARA– 121 miles
DAY 5: SANTA BARBARA TO SANTA MONICA – 86 miles
DAY 6: SANTA MONICA TO DANA POINT – 72 miles
DAY 7: DANA POINT TO LA JOLLA SHORES – 55 miles

I’ve completed many long single day rides in the past, with the longest being 217 miles through the Angeles Crest and the Los Padres mountains. However, up until this year, I’ve avoided riding two long days in a row. Leading up the event, I was worried about waking up and getting back on the bike on day two and day three. I figured that if you can ride three days in a row, you can do 7. My strategy was simple, ride at my own pace and enjoy the scenery.

Every day was challenging, exciting, and scenic in a very unique way. As with all starts during the ride, Santa Cruz to Big Sur begun with an easy ride out of the hotel with Group 2. When group 1 passed just before lunch, my friends and I decided to abandon our group and go for it. We jumped on the train. The next hour was spent speeding through 17 Mile Drive, barely able to keep up as over 20 cyclists would break and then accelerate through the many turns. It was a crazy with little opportunity to enjoy the world class views. What fun. Lunch was on the beach in Carmel by the Sea. We quickly ate and mounted our bikes for the final couple of hours to the Big Sur Lodge.

CAF Million Dollar Challenge

Day three was 112 miles and 7500 feet vertical for the day. We cruised along the best coastline in the world as Big Sur was put behind us and we headed for Pismo Beach. As we pedaled the better part of the day, we couldn’t help but wonder what Day 4 would be like given the 121 miles distance from Pismo to Santa Barbara. I took my time and road from 7am to 4pm. Big Sur morphed into San Simeon (Hearst Castle), Morro Bay, SLO, Solvang, and finally Santa Barbara. The legs felt good, as long as we didn’t get too anaerobic. This was not a day that many of the hundred riders wanted to attack on.

CAF Million Dollar Challenge

Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara was 121 miles, more importantly though, it was a physiological turning point in the ride. So many of us were focused on the 112 mile and 122 mile days coming after two already challenging days in the saddle. Yes it was hard, yes the day was long, and yes our legs were tired, but we made it.

The days following were going to get progressively easier. For many of us we were also approaching home territory. I had ridden many miles on the Central Coast over the years, including a three day weekend in Santa Barbara just a month earlier. We were home. We had conquered what we thought of as the two toughest days. The road ahead was all going to be all downhill, or at least it was headed south anyway.

Part of my plan was to get hour long massages every other night. They were calculated to help the legs rest and recover. In fact, every muscle in the body was thankful for the attention. Massages also are also a welcome luxury that balanced out the hard riding. The whole week was a balance of riding for hours on the bike, and nothing but pampering off the bike. It is hard to calculate the importance of having almost no stress in our day. We wake up and food is there. The bike is handed to us before the ride. Rest stations along the route provide plenty of good food and drink. They also address most medical needs including ibuprofen. Food, beer, wine, are there at the end of the ride, along with a key to a hotel room that already contains our luggage. No stress. Just eat, ride, and sleep.

The last few days went by fast. Ventura, Malibu, Santa Monica, LA, Orange County, Camp Pendleton, San Diego. Did I mention Malibu… Did I mention Santa Monica? We stayed near the pier. In fact my riding friends from the Bay Area, and I, arrived at our hotel first. For many reasons, including a minor crash, three of us finished 15 minutes ahead of the next riders. It’s not a race, on the other hand it does feel good to finish first.

We had plenty of time to enjoy the hotel and the beach. While friends took a dip in the water, I hungered for some climbing. The beach has a series of permanent workout structures, including rings, ropes, pull-up bars, and slacklines. Against my better judgment, I couldn’t help but climb the ropes. At 18 feet, I started to think “bad idea. Wouldn’t want to fall, twist and ankle, and abandon the ride.” Couldn’t resist topping out though. Needless to say, I didn’t fall and finished the ride. (That’s not me by the way, but I did finish the climb.)

CAF Million Dollar Challenge

We woke up the last morning in Dana Point. A mere 55 miles from our finish point at La Jolla Shores. The pace was casual and the mood was mixed. Like the final pitch on a 5 day multi-pitch project, we were excited to finish, elevated by a beautiful ride down the coast, and honestly a bit disappointed that it was ending. The 100 plus riders rode at their own pace toward our meet-up point at 12:30 a mile before the formal finish. Most stopped for lunch or coffee along the way. My friends and I decided to have lunch in La Jolla Shores. As a result we crossed the finish line an hour early and ride on to a celebratory Mexican feast.

CAF Million Dollar Challenge

CAF puts on a great ride in support of a very worthy cause. Riding with the challenged athletes and hearing their stories was inspiring. It helped us hold back our minor complaints and view the ride from a different perspective. I’m thankful for having the opportunity to do the ride and to finish it.

CAF Million Dollar Challenge


Bob Kain • Founder + Co-Owner of Mesa Rim

CAF Million Dollar Challenge

Trekking Utah by Keegan Dimmick

Heading to Zion National Park is a rock climbers dream. You’re surrounded by 2,000 foot, navajo sandstone walls, with approaches that rival walking across the street. Apparently the weeks that I spent daydreaming about climbing in Zion, didn’t make it important enough for me to pack the climbing rope. So for the week, we became hikers.

Day 1
Once we accepted that we were going to be hikers we grabbed a hiking guide from the visitor’s center and began to choose our destiny for the next 6 days. According to everyone we “have to do Angel’s Landing first thing!”, so we did Angel’s Landing first thing! Angel’s Landing rewards you with steep hiking, loads of exposure, and a towering 360 degree overlook. After descending Angel’s Landing we hiked a short loop to check out the Emerald Pools. We really enjoyed the pools, and were taken back to the waterfalls of the Red River Gorge. Day one set a great trend of hiking immediately followed by me wanting some ice cream, and then relaxing at the campsite.

Day 2
Day two arrived much as day one had. There was lots of strong wind and me just waiting for the sun to stretch its arms over the red walls, and grace the campsite with warmth. It always bothers me a little bit that the sunlight takes 8 minutes to reach me from the sun. I really could use that 8 minutes for something more useful than waiting, but I digress. Motivation was a little lower today so we decided to hike the Hidden Canyon trail. A very short hike brings you to a intimidating traverse around sheer cliffs and you end at the mouth of a small canyon. Thus ends the hike and you can venture deep into the canyon. Get ready for some 3rd class moves and viewing a truly beautiful, hidden ecosystem. This was a pretty short hike that left us time to head to Zion Outfitters and pick up our canyoneering shoes and a walking stick.

Day 3
I recommend that everyone get the canyoneering shoes and a walking stick when hiking The Narrows. I just can’t believe how amazing day three was. When you step into the chilly Virgin River and see the enormous walls, it really hits you that you are about to partake in a memorable adventure. We sloshed, trudged, waded, and smiled between the slot canyon for nine miles. We hiked as far as you can go without a permit, which ended us at Big Spring. I recommend that everyone do this hike at some point in their life.

Day 4
Day four started with a drive through the Tunnels and over towards the East Entrance. Lots of really cool scrambling and steep hiking littered the East side of the park. We ended up seeing fearless mountain goats and having a really enjoyable day. This side of the park was a lot quieter and it was nice being able to drive your own car around, and not wait for the park shuttles.

Day 5
We spent our last day of the trip hiking to the Kolob Arch. The Kolob Arch is a 14 mile round trip that takes you through some more amazing scenery. Once you get to the arch you are blessed with the sight of the second largest freestanding arch in the world. This hike is downhill on the way in, and uphill on the way out which makes it a pretty tough hike, and a very rewarding day. Sore feet took us back to the campsite for a pleasant ramen noodle dinner and our final sunset in Zion.


– Keegan Dimmick • Team Member Supervisor