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The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir

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Adventure Travel

May 31, 2018

Idyll in the Highland Mountains

The below story is written by Dakota Arkin Cafourek.

A published writer and editor who is dedicated to a love of travel, storytelling, and the arts. The Outdoor Journal, has published 3 of Dakota’s stories, and you can find links to each one at the bottom of this page.

The state line of Montana is evident not by its welcome sign, but its distinctively wide valleys surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges which encompass you like a large basin. There is the feeling of being somehow protected, as though nothing exists beyond the walls of the valley. Life carries on, shielded from the world’s woes.

By Dakota Arkin Cafourek – Instagram @DakotaArkin

The stretch along the Madison River is nothing short of idyllic. Within moments of leaving semi-arid Wyoming and the crowds encircling the Old Faithful geyser, I am in the great expanses of Montana’s valleys.

The mountains sternly cut into big sky country like shadows. A bright blue lake sits motionless, and I marvel at this alpine refuge.

And yet, this paradise is called Quake Lake—short for Earthquake Lake.

In 1959, an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale triggered an 80 million-ton landslide that caused part of a mountain to slip away at 100 miles per hour. Route 287 snakes through the steep, narrow gorge that curves around the deep drink; a wide brown scar edges the road. Once blanketed in evergreen like the neighboring banks, the mountainside had simply fallen, forming a dam on the river—now Quake Lake. In a single day, an entirely new terrain formed, creating a graveyard in its wake. The area’s beauty is suddenly an eerie reminder of the rumbling earth beneath us.

By Dakota Arkin Cafourek – Instagram @DakotaArkin

It had been shy of one month since I’d left New York City to explore the U.S. by car. It was a series of yesses and leaps towards the mysterious adventure ahead. There was no turning back; all of my belongings had been shoved into a 10 by 10 feet storage unit.

Crossing the vast western United States by way of I-90 was a race against daylight to take in the spectacle of the landscape. Its awesomeness is captured in fragmented memories that assure me it was not all a dream.

Andrew is behind the wheel guiding us through the narrow crevice of ancient Earth. Atop the hotbed of volcanic activity beneath us, I can only think of our own powerlessness. We are just a few miles past Yellowstone National Park, the most active earthly wilderness in the world.

The Yellowstone Caldera, which sits beneath the park, is an active supervolcano. The magma bed underneath causes regular earthquakes, generally three thousand in a single year, and while most are too subtle to feel, measurements have shown that ground levels have bulged in areas of the park by as much as 10 inches within the past decade.

By Dakota Arkin Cafourek – Instagram @DakotaArkin

Yellowstone’s supervolcano is unfathomably powerful, ominously active, and its next eruption is unsettlingly unpredictable. Its previous eruptions are said to have been a thousand times more powerful than Mount St. Helens’ 1980 eruption in Oregon.

We are both passengers in a terrain far more powerful than any we’ve known. Perhaps to be absolutely free is to perceive our own fragility.

For miles, we continue onward through wide golden valleys walled by snow-capped sierras. We are headed to Sheridan, Montana. Population: 642.

Along our route, we passed through historic Virginia City. Since 1863, it hasn’t changed much. It’s a perfectly preserved replica of an old town, filled with shops and apothecaries left intact for tourists and their lenses.

Up on a hill behind the main street is the town’s cemetery, known as Boot Hill. This was a common slang term for graveyards in the American West, referring to the manner in which most outlaws died: with their boots on, rather than by natural causes. Throughout the mid-1800s, prospectors and outlaws alike came to Montana in search of gold and Montana vigilantes kept their Wild West in order.

Further down the road, an old prospector speaks to us as though he has marbles in his mouth. From him, we purchase a medium-sized bucket full of pebbles for 15 dollars. We put a few cups of rocks onto a screen and rinse them in a trough. Once rinsed, we empty them onto a sponge and sort through the pebbles with large tweezers, searching for dark red gems.

We nearly fill a small Ziplock by the time we are done, although I’m not sure the garnets are of any significant value.

We pull up to Sheridan just in time for a trip to the general store and sunset at our bucolic abode.

By Dakota Arkin Cafourek – Instagram @DakotaArkin

Morning came, and before I could even bring coffee to my lips, Andrew ventured out with our host, a retired firefighter, and a neighboring rancher to save a deer. Two bucks had gotten into it and were locked together. The men brought water to the sole surviving stag and cut him free.

After this early morning act of kindness in the wild, the day’s adventure awaits us in the surrounding hills.

By way of ATV, we ride up a mountainside, passing a serene creek and peeking through the forest brush for working cowboys and hiding wolves, moose, and grizzlies until we reach an abandoned gold ore mine.

Bright yellow heavy machinery leeres over us. The former office’s floral wallpaper remains intact, though its windows were now busted. The main building near the mine shaft was in shambles, its insulation and roofing repositioned around the premises by violent winds.

Like schoolchildren, we explored freely. And suddenly, there was a thud.

Smack.

Boom.

“What’s that?”

It was not the hungry grizzly bear I imagined, but rather the sound of a detached piece of tin roof blowing in the wind. We breathed more easily again, sharing a Three Musketeers candy bar and swapping stories.

There are quite a few paranormal tales I learned about the Ruby Valley that day. A man and woman exchanging surreptitious pleasures in the trees, far from their respective spouses, were interrupted by a violent, brilliant white light, surely from a UFO. Straying cattle left for dead in reaches beyond predators or folk, expertly carved as though an autopsy had been performed. There were some more mundane crimes too, even in this paradise, like the abducted female jogger enslaved in the hills who didn’t win her freedom for over a year. The power of the wilderness feels bigger than any building. And with that, we journey back down to the valley.

By Dakota Arkin Cafourek – Instagram @DakotaArkin

In the peaceful dales of Montana, we transcend beyond time and reason. Montana could swallow me whole in one small gulp, but here and now, the world is a safe place. Perils lurk in the soil and the sky, but wars of men feel like a memory at Boot Hill.

A woman fills my glass at a pub in Ennis. Entering the town, a sign reads: “Welcome to Ennis. Pop: 840 people. 11,000,000 trout.” She says she intended to come to Montana for a week, but three years had passed. Sipping sweet honey moonshine, my mind wanders to James Hilton’s tucked away Shangri-La; do you tell the High Lama you accept eternity in a utopian paradise, or do you choose the world outside?

*A version of this article was previously published in Whilst Magazine.

Dakota Arkin Cafourek is a published writer and editor. Dedicated to a love of travel, storytelling, and the arts, she serves cultural institutions in New York City and East Hampton, NY.

The Outdoor Journal has published more of Dakota’s work, such as Living Small: A Road Trip Across America and One Night on Earth.

You can find more of Dakota’s work on her website (iamdakota.me) or follow her adventures on Instagram @dakotaarkin.

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Travel

Apr 03, 2019

Climbing Stories: Yabadabadoo!

An Indian climber and a foreigner hitchhike their way to hillside boulders in Avathi, and set up camp in a leopard's den, to scout Bangalore's best lines.

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WRITTEN BY

Aravind Selvam

The Seed

The usual laws of physics don’t work at Avathi. The boulders keep getting smaller and their angle gets more slabby as you get closer. There have been many times when I get psyched looking at a crack line and run up to it, only to find a pathetic five-foot slab with a crack on it! So when I saw this face, which seemed to maintain its size as I hiked up toward it, I was intrigued. It was a massive boulder with a bunch of cracks running up it, and a huge cave right underneath! As soon as I spotted this line, I knew it was going to consume me, and I needed to get back with my rope and rack.

Stan the man

A few friends had told me about this climber from the UK who spotted and projected a hard trad line at Mahabs, my home crag. I got in touch with him and asked him if he was keen on projecting the line at Avathi with me and I told him that we might have to camp out in a cave. He was instantly psyched and told me that he had dirt-bagged out of caves in the famous forest of Font, and many other crags in the UK. So, I was expecting to meet this grumpy, old, hard trad-man, probably with a fake leg and a bunch of whipper stories and epics; constantly yapping about how awesome the E grading system is; a typical grit, and here, I meet this goofy, grinning, brown-haired kid, who’s just uber-psyched to be traveling and climbing. He did fit in the E grades stereotype though and always had interesting stories.

After surviving a series of epics in Bhongir (another time, another piece), we drove back to Bangalore, got dropped off at Avathi in the middle of the night, and we started hiking up in a random direction with our massive packs. We reached the cave at around two in the morning, stashed our bags and decided to crash in a plateau higher up.

The Routine

  • Wake up as the sun hits us.
  • Play some good music.
  • Get to the cave and eat the leftover cookies and drink some cold chai.
  • Start trading burns on the project.
  • Stan tries to convert me to the E-grading system.
  • Climb till we can barely feel our fingers.
  • Then tape them up and climb some more.
  • Roll up and cry.
  • Early noon, hike down and walk 3 km to refill water and grab some Idlis (a type of savoury rice cake), pack chaklis, biscuits and tea for lunch. Get the stares from every single person on the street and wonder if it is because Stan’s a foreigner, or because we look like hobos.
  • Take at least four mandatory selfies with the locals, for which they demand and talk about how Stan should make a living out of this in India. Stan’s Selfie Shop – fifty rupees a selfie!
  • Hike back up, have some chai and get back up on the line again.
  • Share stories, epics and the usual belay banter.
  • Climb till we wish we were like Tommy Caldwell, missing the index finger, just so that we don’t feel the pain.
  • Hike back out late in the evening, hitchhike it to Nandi Upachar, charge our phones, play a card game called Lulaa, wash occasionally, fill up our bottles, stuff ourselves with gulab jamuns and hitchhike back.
  • Walk back into the trail leading to Avathi, making sure no one is watching us and then quickly make our way up to the cave and crash.

The hardest move on the route involves locking off on a mono finger lock, getting a high step and making a semi-dynamic throw to another finger lock. In the first four days, I managed to stick the move once, after 250–300 attempts on that one move. I knew I had a chance to send the line now; I just had to rest the finger and execute the move again. I decided to take two rest days and Stan decided to try another couple of lines that he had spotted.

The Hitchhike Barter

Every day, we had to hitchhike out to Nandi Upachar for dinner, and then hitchhike back to the Avathi. The first evening, I stood there for 20 minutes trying to hitch a ride while the people walking past us kept staring at Stan, while some stopped and asked him to pose for a selfie. Not a single person even showed the slightest of interest to give us a ride.

After a while, I asked Stan to try and went to sit on the side of the road. Before I even sat down, a Maruti 800 pulled over! From the next day on, we decided that I should hide, while Stan stops a ride in seconds and I come out like a fucking creep. Every ride, we get asked the same set of questions, and then when they drop us, they ask for a selfie with Stan. This barter made life so much easier, and from the next day, we always managed to hitch a ride in seconds.

The Leopard that came for Chai

“this is my first line of defence against the leopard, biochemical warfare!”

Stan had just finished onsighting a new lichen-coated trad line, Biochemical Warfare, and we saw a couple of Spongebob-ish figures hiking up toward us. Gujju and Harsha had come bouldering that evening and they happened to spot us from the road. We had a chill session with them, moving quickly between boulders, constantly being amazed by Avathi’s night sky and Gujju, Sharma-ing between attempts, talking about the flow and being one with the rock.

After the session got over, Gujju hikes up a bit and goes, “Hey, you guys spotted this?” It was a half eaten dog’s head, probably the leftovers of a leopard’s kill! And it was a two-minute walk from our cave.

Before we crash that night, Stan removes his socks and goes, “this is my first line of defense against the leopard, biochemical warfare!” and passes out almost immediately. That night, I realised that when I’m in a state of panic, there’s this heightened sense of awareness, where I can listen to every tiny sound and differentiate it, but it becomes of no use, as my brain completely goes mental and I become dumber than a cane toad.

The next two nights were pretty much hell, as I kept hearing these feeble sounds and had nightmares of the leopard devising a plan of attack. I ended up passing out after sunrise and tandoor-ing myself inside the sleeping bag. I needed to rest and recover, so I decided to support Stan on his projects and nap through the day.

 

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I recently realised that when I’m in a state of panic, there’s this heightened sense of awareness, where I can listen to every tiny sound and differentiate it, but it becomes of no use, as my brain completely goes mental and I become dumber than a cane toad! I slept in the same spot for 3 days peacefully, before I found a half eaten dogs head. The next two nights were pretty much hell, as I kept hearing these feeble sounds and had nightmares of the leopard devising a plan of attack. Ended up passing out after sunrise, and tandoor-ing myself inside the sleeping bag! #tradclimbing #campfirestories #epics #typetwofun #rockclimbing #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #gipfelclimbingequipment #climbing #thegreatoutdoors #rockclimbing #stories #getoutdoors #climbinginindia #liveclimbrepeat #climbing_worldwide #doyouclimb #travel #travelstoke #viewfromoffice #mountains #camping #campinglife #offwidtharmy #fitrockarena

A post shared by Aravind Selvam (@aravind__selvam) on

Stan had spotted this typical gritstone-ish line, a 30-foot dicey slab with just one place to protect, 5–6 feet off the ground. The moves weren’t too hard but were technical, and they can feel very insecure if not executed perfectly. Stan had cleaned the lichen and top-roped it a couple of times. “I don’t think I can solo this mate,” he said.

The next day, Stan shoved a couple of cams in a horizontal crack five feet off the ground and cruised up the next 25 feet of a technical slab with no protection! He came down grinning, and named it, ‘The leopard that came for Chai, E1’.

Days at the 20th Mile Cafe

I wasn’t resting enough, as I was shitting bricks every night because of the leopard. Also, we had pooped out the entire sector around the cave and we needed to give Avathi some time to recover! So, we decided to move out of the cave for a bit, hike out with our packs and find a spot to camp outside. We hitchhiked to 20th Mile cafe, a nursery/kennel/cafe close by.

The entire day, we kept ordering samosas and grape juices every hour, shared stories, kept moving our chairs to stay in the shade and played a card game called Lulaa. Although Stan wasn’t successful in selling the E grading system to me, he told me all these stories about the gritstone legends, their epics, the way the climbing culture evolved there, their ethics and the futuristic first ascents; I ended up having immense respect for all these legends and their unique ethics. We bought ‘The Hard Grit’ movie, (probably the most famous climbing movie in the UK), and Stan would keep telling me more stories about the sketchy ascents in the movie as we watched it!

That evening, the owner of the cafe, Nishant, walked over to us and asked if he could join us to play. Lulaa is a card game that I made up. I was explaining the rules of a famous game called Kabu to Stan, and realised that I didn’t remember most of the rules of Kabu. I taught Nishant my made up game, he got it after a couple of rounds and we were really hooked! We ordered more food and played for another 3–4 hours. He was stoked when we told him we’ve been living in the hillock and climbing the last 4 days and he offered us his lawn to camp for the night. He refused to take any money and told us he had a great time talking and playing with us.

After another day of stuffing ourselves with Samosas and a lot more of Lulaa, we decided to give the line one last session. My finger felt slightly better but was still swollen and hurting. We hiked back up. Stan got ready to belay as I tied in. Sunsets at Avathi are always magical and the weather that evening was just beautiful.

I started climbing, managed to get past the crux mono finger lock, got to a glorious hand jam, slotted a 0.75 cam in and shook out. I tried not to focus on the finger that was hurting and got the next finger-lock higher up. My feet cut loose and I took a huge swing on the finger lock. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold on for long, as the pain was a bit too much to handle, so I threw for the next hold, missed it by a couple of millimeters and took a fall, screaming in disappointment! By the time I got lowered down, the pain settled in. My hand was completely swollen and I had no sensation in my right index finger all the way down to my wrist.

We headed back to the 20th-mile cafe and decided that some booze might help ease the pain. Stan worked his magic and got a car ride all the way to the city! We got dropped off at ‘The Druid Garden’, a brewery worshipped by the local climbers of Avathi. We ordered two glasses of every brew and started rambling. Stan, a brit who loves his beer, goes “Man, the IPA here is almost as good as the stuff we get in the UK, or I’ve forgotten how good beer tastes like after the last few months of shitty Kingfishers!” We had a couple of more glasses of our favourite brews and stumbled out. Stan told me about his plans to trek around Nepal the next month, gave me a parting hug and wished me luck for the project.

Yabadabadoo!

It had been a week and the sensation in my finger started to kick in and so did the pain. The next week, I had been caught often zoning out of conversations, ranting randomly about the route every time I got high and doing weird beta-dances! I was totally consumed by this route and fell prey to the usual cycle that every crackhead goes through.

  • Phase one: The cravings hit and he wakes up to nightmares and shivers. He gives in and plans another trip.
  • Phase two: Gets stoked AF and can’t wait to get back on the project.
  • Phase three: 7–10 attempts in, completely destroyed, thinking why he ever thought that this was a good idea.
  • Phase four: The swelling goes down, the scars settle in and we’re right back to phase one.

Pranav, my partner from Chennai, couldn’t take any more of my rants and agreed to drive down to Avathi and project the line with me. We reached Avathi mid-noon, hiked up to the cave and were greeted by a dog’s skull and a half-eaten paw right outside the cave. The leopard clearly wasn’t very happy with how we invaded his cave a couple of weeks back. We set up the line, and I rehearsed the lower crux and the mini-crux higher up a couple of times. Pranav gave the line a few tries and began linking moves.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, gulp that shit down and go out climbing. Yabadabadoo!’

The entire boulder turned bright golden as the evening sun rays hit us and I racked up, calming myself down for the lead. I managed to stick the mono finger lock crux move; somehow completely avoided the swing and cruised through the top crux. I knew the climb was in the bag for me if I just keep it together and cruised through the next half of easy climbing without stopping to place any pro. I romped to the top, just stoked out of my mind! I named the route ‘Yabadabadoo’, after the days Stan and I spent living out of the cave.

The next two days, Sid from Chennai and a huge gang of Avathi regulars came down and were chilling with us while trading burns on the line. I had a lot more space on my mind to appreciate the little things, not having the constant pressure to send. I realised how grateful I was to have the opportunity to be in these grand places, in the company of good friends and to be doing what I love the most.

As a wise man once said, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, gulp that shit down and go out climbing. Yabadabadoo!’

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