By Katie Jo Meyers
If anyone told my 26 year old self that a decade later I’d be living out of a Subaru Outback, climbing my way up to Alaska, I’d never have believed it! Back then, I was fresh out of grad school, about to start a career in finance in Los Angeles, with student loan debt and high costs of living hanging over my head like a guillotine. Though I had grown up in rural Michigan and had always been very athletic and outdoorsy, these passions were pushed to the background as I dove into corporate adulthood and began working multiple jobs and commuting through four hours of traffic every day. The pace of LA living was really hard for me. I did little else besides work and drive (and drive and work), and over the course of a year, my mental health took a serious nosedive.
I regularly daydreamed about simply driving my car into the ocean and calling it quits. Something had to change. Luckily, after a little online research, I learned about a climbing gym just a few blocks from my work. As a former gymnast, the balance and flexibility of climbing seemed like the perfect evolution and I eagerly signed up for a beginner class. From the moment I climbed my first route, I was in love, and I never looked back! Over the next few years, climbing would completely reshape the course of my life. I switched careers to begin working in the outdoor industry, lowered my living costs by dirtbagging part time, entered climbing competitions, and was even lucky enough to pick up a few sponsors, which helped me climb even more!
Climbing and being outside all the time brought so much happiness and confidence back into my life. It has become very important for me to advocate for the environment, and for the mental health benefits of getting out there and pushing limits, especially for women. So when an opportunity arose this year for my boyfriend and I to road trip from Los Angeles to Alaska, I jumped at the chance, eager to push my climbing to a new level and explore more beautiful places!
Road trips definitely leave a carbon footprint, it was important to Bobby and I that we make our trip as environmentally friendly as possible. We would do our best to practice Leave No Trace ethics, eat a vegan diet, say no to single use plastics, and limit our use of packaged products by buying bulk foods and cooking as much as possible. Mizu was the perfect partner for this mission! With reusable bottles, cutlery, metal straws, and water filters, we would be covered for all occasions from our morning coffee, to multipitch climbing and nights out in the backcountry.
July 29th - Northern California.
The first stop on our journey was Northern California, where we explored the Trinity Lake Wilderness and a bouldering spot called Bald Rock. I had never heard of either location before this trip, and was so happy for an opportunity to check them out. We spent several days here hiking, kayaking, climbing, and enjoying beautiful sunrises and sunsets!
Trinity Lake Kayaking!
To afford such a long trip, Bobby and I were also working on the road. In NorCal, we were stoked to film a video for a clothing brand as part of their Wash Less, Wear More campaign. 80% of a garment’s ecological impact comes from washing over its lifetime, and we were really happy to be part of this message to reduce impact and conserve water by washing our outer layers less often. This is something Bobby and I would take forward into the rest of the trip, rewearing our climbing clothes as long as we could. Probably too long...but as we always say, a dirt bag has to live in the dirt!
August 11th - City of Rocks, Idaho
The next stop on our trip was also our first big climbing destination. We would spend three weeks in City of Rocks, Idaho trying to push our limits with sport and trad climbing. It had been a while since Bobby and I had focused on rope climbing and it was definitely exciting to get on the sharp end again. I was psyched for Bobby to send his first two 5.11a sport climbs and first two 5.10a trad lines here, while I snagged a handful of 5.12’s for myself, including the aptly named How I Spent My Summer Vacation.
Sending Lochness Monster, 5.11c.
We spent a total of three weeks in The City, the majority of which was at a paid campsite inside the park, as well as a few nights on BLM land. Although free camping is always awesome, whenever possible, I’d definitely encourage climbers to pay for camping through the parks we visit. This helps reduce environmental impact by keeping us on established sites, and also funds important upkeep and services in the park. As users of an area, we should definitely take part in keeping them running for years to come!
Morning views at the City of Rocks!
The City of Rocks was the first park I’ve visited that had a pack in/pack out policy. Though Bobby and I thought we were very garbage conscious, not having access to trash cans for three weeks was really an eye opener. It’s amazing how quickly garbage stacks up when you can’t just mindlessly dispose of it. Every piece of packaging, the tags and instructions from our new climbing gear, food waste like skins and pits - it was shocking to see how much we produced on a daily basis. It definitely made me realize how important our daily habits are. If every person were to actually use reusable coffee mugs, straws, utensils, and water bottles on a daily basis it would be a huge step in the right direction!
Picking projects at the City of Rocks.
September 3rd - Leavenworth, Washington
After sending our final projects in City of Rocks, Bobby and I eagerly made our way to Leavenworth! We had been there the year before for just a few days, so we were really excited to have two weeks to explore this time. Our goals in Leavenworth were to push our bouldering grades, as well as get in some hiking and trad climbing. Over the course of two weeks, we were psyched to accomplish both of these goals - I got my first V10 boulder, while Bobby sent his second V5!
Bobby on the Leavenworth classic, Beach Dyno!
Schist Cave, V10!
Our favorite part of Leavenworth was hiking through the Enchantment Range, including a summit of Prusik Peak. This was our first alpine trad mission, we accomplished the 21 mile hike and four pitch climb to the summit in a one day push that took 21 hours - it was exhausting but absolutely enchanting!
Fellow climber on the trail.
Even mid week in the off season, the trail was crowded and it made me reflect on how important it is that we all focus on Leave No Trace ethics and having as little impact as possible. I love that everyone is out enjoying the wilderness, as I think the more people who appreciate it, the better chance we have to protect it long term. However, more people really means it’s up to all of us to do our part! I’m very appreciative of companies like Mizu that help make this possible. On our hike, Bobby and I used the Adventure Filters to drink directly from streams and lakes along the way. With a life span of 40 gallons, (80 days of water for the average person), these filters are long lasting and a great alternative to plastic water bottles or single use purifying systems for when you’re heading out into the backcountry. They also allow you to travel light and fast, filling up as needed, without carrying extra water weight.
Bobby filling up on the shores of Colchuck Lake.
September 20th - Skaha Bluffs and Squamish, BC, Canada
The next stops on our trip were two world famous climbing destinations in British Columbia, Canada - Skaha Bluffs for sport climbing and Squamish for bouldering. These were both beautiful locations that we’d been eager to visit and they did not disappoint! After weeks of consistent climbing on the road, Bobby and I were feeling strong and we were proud to send some of our best climbs here. At Skaha, Bobby got his first 11b, and I came away with another handful of 12’s - including area test piece Not Fade Away, 5.12b. I also sent two more V10s in Squamish! Rain and snow were closing in though, and these areas marked the end of our major outdoor climbing on this trip. It was time to head north, into the great wilderness of Canada and Alaska.
Not Fade Away, 5.12b!
October 19th - Banff, Jasper, and The Icefields Parkway, AB, Canada
This was the part of the trip that Bobby and I were most excited about we’d heard so many great things about the Canadian Rockies and could not wait to explore them for ourselves!
Our first stop was Lake Louise in Banff National park, and surprisingly winter beat us there. We spent a day playing in the snow and hiking back to the Plain of Six Glaciers, an 8.5 mile round trip journey with beautiful a pine forest, meandering rivers, and peaks and glaciers at every turn. We even witnessed an avalanche, though luckily from a safe distance away!
Exploring beautiful Lake Louise!
The next day, we hit the road again, heading out onto the Icefields Parkway. This drive...what can I say? With rugged and majestic views around every bend, it was certainly one of the most beautiful experiences of my entire life! Though certain parts of the drive were closed due to avalanche risk, some of our favorite stops included Mistaya Canyon, Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Falls and the Columbia Icefields.
Views along the Icefields Parkway.
At the Columbia Icefields, Bobby and I hiked back to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. Along the hike, year markers showed just how far the glacier has receded, nearly a mile in the past century. Seeing it up close was extremely eye opening. There was a marker for 1982, the year I was born, and standing at that marker we couldn’t even see the toe of the glacier yet. It makes me happy that I get to see these beautiful places in my lifetime, but also worried about what the future will look like? Can humans band together and make changes that will help reverse the damage done to the environment, or will we watch as our beautiful wilderness continues to shrink away? I don’t have the answers, but I do hope that I can be part of the solution by continuing to make positive changes in my own life and supporting companies and brands that aim to do the same.
After an eye opening experience at the Athabasca Glacier, Bobby and I were back on the road heading towards Jasper. Here, we had to take a break for a couple days to finish work and make last minute preparations for the 36 hour drive to Anchorage. Weather was continuing to grow colder and snowier and we were about to enter very remote areas. We prepared as best we could with warm clothes, extra food, water and fuel. We were also very happy to have our Mizu 360 Adventure Filters on hand, knowing we’d always have access to clean water in case of an emergency.
October 24th - Alaska
Soon enough, work was done, preparations were complete, and we were back on the road! In just the first few hours of the drive, we saw both a pickup truck and a tanker truck flipped over off the side of the road. It was a stark reminder of how dangerous this drive might be. We took it slow and steady for four days and fortunately made it to the Alaska border without incident. Minutes after crossing the border, as if to welcome us to our destination, the sky opened and snow started falling fast and furious. It soon became a white out and we were forced to car camp at a roadside pullout, with no real idea of where we were or what our surroundings might look like.
Morning on the Alaska Highway.
We could hardly believe our eyes when the sun rose the next morning over freshly snow capped peaks. Bobby and I hugged each other tightly, then ran around like little kids, throwing snowballs and making snow angels. We had made it!!
It was such a surreal moment, and the first opportunity to really reflect on just how far we had come.
Every trip comes with it’s own set of challenges, and for Bobby and I, this road trip had begun to feel doomed in the months leading up to it. Though we had been planning and saving for nearly a year, as the days ticked down to actually leaving, the setbacks began. For Bobby, a stolen car (later recovered) and a host of stolen and damaged camera and computer gear was devastating and jeopardized all the film and photo work we had been hired to do on the road. As we were dealing with insurance and sorting new gear, a bad fall off a boulder saw me hobbling around with my second fractured back and a herniated disc. For months, nerve damage meant my left leg didn’t function properly and also made it excruciating to sit down. Driving in a car was miserable. But will power and lots of physical therapy worked wonders and thankfully, I started to feel a lot better right before we were scheduled to leave...just in time for someone to run a light and total my car! It was a mess!
There were so many times in those months leading up to the trip that Bobby and I would look at each other and just shake our heads. Were we being irresponsible still trying to do this? Were we risking too much in terms of finances, career, and even our health? Thoughts like those weighed on us constantly, and I know there were moments we both felt like giving up.
But since I began pursuing climbing and outdoor adventures, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that nothing is ever perfect or goes entirely according to plan. There can always be better circumstances. More money. More time. A better vehicle. Or, you know, any vehicle at all...
But there will never be another now. There may never be another chance. Sometimes all you can do is embrace the uncertainty and the difficulties, and go. And that’s exactly what we did. I quickly found a new car, and a few days later, we packed it up and hit the road!
On the road to Alaska!
Three months later, all those hardships seemed like a distant bad dream as Bobby and I stood there watching the sunrise in Alaska. Over the next few weeks, the magic would only continue. Snow storms, ice caves, helicopter rides, dancing auroras, enormous glaciers and so much wildlife! Alaska, and really the entire trip, were better than I could have possibly imagined. Bobby and I had accomplished so many personal goals, and were lucky to experience many beautiful new places. I’m so happy that we decided to go for it, and I’d definitely encourage anyone who’s wavering about traveling to pack up and go as well. In my experience, the hardships have always been worth it! After all, the mountains are calling and we must go!
Winter send of Dancing Queen, V8. Hatcher Pass, Alaska.
Photos by Katie Jo Meyers and Bobby Sorich.