Millie climbs at about 5.5. On a long route, 1,000' of Fun, she needed help at the crux, it goes at 5.6. It was just a bit too much for her size and skills. She can likely boulder higher, she sends some pretty crazy athletic dynamic moves to get on top things and jump to ledges. She's best on slab, her balance is incredible and she can claw in on tiny crimps. Big roofs and overhangs are her nemesis. She's a techniquey climber with powerful bursts.
Her first climbing trip was bouldering in Joe's Valley. She stuck around for the most part and got on top of a lot of boulders, it went well. Next we tried Moe's Valley, another bouldering zone. A place with less forest where she could roam off-leash and not get lost out of site. She got on top more boulders, it was fun.
My goal with her climbing is for her to send routes free. On tall routes I wear a harness and she's attached to it. So she's on belay, but I try not to help her, I try to let her get the route free. She's done some aid climbing, she got on top a tiny tower in Moab, Devil's Golf Ball, with assistance. The only real close call she's had was when rappelling the 1,000' route. Her tail got sucked into the gri-gri, she screamed and clawed into me and a tuft of hair wafted though the air. I was pretty afraid of tail damage but she emerged unscathed, she pulled it back out of the device quickly. Lesson learned.
Catting trips weren't developed intentionally, they sort of just happened. In the beginning, I took Millie on some climbing trips with me. It was stressful. Cats aren't like dogs you can't just let them roam, you have to watch them at all times, be sure they're safe. Some naturally hang out nearby (@zacdoesmath's Kenneth is amaing, he just chills nearby alays). Some roam widely though. Millie's a roamer. I have no doubt she would return to camp given enough time, but there are simply too many wild things that could off her, so I have to follow and keep her safe. When I was climbing I'd have to attach her to my bag and she'd meow a lot. Getting to the wall was slower because I go at her pace so as not to stress her out. It wasn't as easy as taking a dog to the crag. After a couple trips my friend Zac and I had the idea of going on a trip just to climb something easy with the cats, see what level they could climb at without our help. So we went bouldering in Moe's Valley and it was pretty stress-free and fun. We decided to try something a bit harder and did the route 1,000' of Fun in the southern San Rafael Swell. It's 4 200' pitches and goes at 5.6. They were able to climb the whole route cleanly except for one spot where they needed aid. We've tried some other routes in this manner. Then we decided to try some slot canyons. Slot canyons are not as technical as climbing and we always figured pretty easy to do and probably boring, but maybe be fun with cats. So we tried an easy one, then a more technical one, then harder and harder. It's a LOT of fun. Slow going, beautiful, challenging, some great days. But, also, stressful for us and the cats. They just want to roam, explore, chase lizards. They don't want to go through a canyon with water hazards and multiple rappels. So we're always sure to just let them roam the second day. Stress-free, no agenda, just wander the desert doing whatever they want to do for some time and we just follow to keep them safe.
So the flow of a catting trip naturally evolved ... an objective day one, let them roam and explore day two. Utah offers endless weekend objectives within range of Salt Lake so we've done many and still have a lot to go. Hence catting was born.
Ultimately to me pure catting is the second day. Following your kitty in nature to keep them safe, putting your human agenda away. Having no expectations or destination. You let the cat wander freely. Your job is to follow, protect, keep safe from harmful places and predators. Your reward is experiencing nature at a slower pace, from a different perspective, in a new light. Observe, protect, enjoy, and be led to new discoveries you likely would have missed otherwise..
Standard Catting Kit:
- Small daypack
- Food pouch
- Water bottle
- Cordage to back-up harness
- Back-up leash
- Blinkie LEDs
- Food container
- Extra cordage
The standard harness is not enough. On climbs where Millie might fall and need to be caught/belayed, or slot canyons where she may need to be lowered down to a lower level, I double up the harness with extra cordage. The standard o-ring leash attachment point was plastic, that was replaced with cordage too (two loops). Everything is doubled up. When she was too tiny I had to adjust the harness as small as possible then crimp it and wrap the crimp with climbing tape to make it smaller. I keep a long leash that I can shorten when need-be, and can be easily attached or detached to her or me. On big climbs, I girth hitch the leash to her harness and attach it to mine with a locker.
A crucial piece of gear for any camp trip. Blinkie LEDs are attached to the harness at night. Two of them, in case she's in some brush and one falls off somehow. In the desert this lets her wander pretty far from the fire and I can still see where she's at and that she's safe. Makes night walks fun too. I keep them on throughout the night, if for any reason we have to exit the tent or truck quickly I can turn the light on and let her out and see her. If I had to escape quickly and just dropped her outside otherwise she could wander and I'd lose her immediately. Of all the camp trips only once did Millie have an accident during the night, I had to toss her outside right away. One other trip she was darting back and forth chasing something, digging under my sleeping pad. A mouse had somehow gotten inside the back of the truck, she caught it, I tossed her outside right away. So you never know what might happen to force a quick exit, the LEDs keep her safe.
Shade & a Safe Place:
A safe place from heat is necessary at times, especially in the desert. So I make room in my pack or unroll a half-bedroll for her to have a little shelter. She needs a place where she can feel safe if she needs to also. If I'm climbing, or if we're waiting somewhere that people roll through, or dogs may arise, she needs to have a place to retreat to. Sometimes she likes to just hide under my puffy jacket or in my pack. From the time she was a tiny kitty I'd call her to climb up on my shoulders. This has been helpful in a lot of places when she needs to feel safe, she'll climb up and hunker down there until people or dogs pass.
I carry a pouch with her own little water bottle (the lid becomes the water bowl), treats, and some food in it at all times.
Some slot canyons have stretches of water that you have to swim. I have a tiny kids boogie board to usher her across these spots. Haven't used it yet, but it will be tested one day.
March 28, 2015 (Millie's 2nd birthday)
About 40 miles down a dirt road east of Goblin Valley in the Robber's Roost area. Easily one of the most impressive road endings anywhere, a well-kept passable dirt road ends unwarned abruptly at the entrance of the canyon, a sheer 150' drop. Beautiful. Camp anywhere at the end of the road in fine red sand reminiscent of a beach. Remote camping stunning surroundings amazing stars at night.
Summer-like. Warm, sunny, a fair amount of people. Two groups of three went in before us. Another group was camping at the put-in upon return, running it in the morning. Weather was perfect, little water in the canyon, no more than knee deep.
Alcatraz is hard. Physically and mentally. The most challenging slot we've done yet. It would likely be easier going without cats, but with the kitties we had a long hard day. 8 hours to go 5 miles. The first rappel is wild, pull your vehicle to the cliff edge, chockstone the wheels, rig an anchor off the car drop in. We intended to get shots of this scene as it's pretty impressive but 30 people showed up with 4-wheelers, families, quad-copter drone flying around, all very stressful for the cats. So we tied in rapped off entered the canyon quickly. The canyon narrows and has two stiff down-climbs quickly, so we were away from the chaos. After a moment to calm the team we continued to some impressive narrows. We encountered knee-deep water, narrows too slim to fit through that had to be stemmed over, dark stretches requiring headlamps even though it was full-sun without a cloud in the sky, and a couple other short rappels. We downclimbed the last one, apparently there's a bolt you can rap off of but we never saw it. Slots with cats have two cruxes, the obstacles in the canyon, and the overland hike back to the start. The hike is exposed, full-sun, and hard for the cats. Each return becomes a series of short bursts from shady spot to shady spot. They always find little caves to cool off in. This slow pace, different way of moving across the land, is half the fun. There's a lot of resting after an objective day, and the next day is spent lazing and letting the cats wander freely wherever they may for a while. We found some nice red dunes to warm our feet in on the way out. The Roost truly is amazing.
Beta: here >
March 14, 2015
North Wash area, Utah. Head south on route 6 to US 70. Go right, a few miles down take a left on route 24. This takes you past Goblin Valley and the western entrance of Robber's Roost. Keep going to Hanksville where you'll head south on US 95 until mile marker 10. At 10.1 go left on a dirt road, it's about 10 miles from there. Detailed directions are in the beta link below. These dirt roads give you easy access to multiple 3ish mile slots perfect for a long day of catting. You'll find endless vistas of slickrock and other desert layers with an imposing view of the Henry Mountains as backdrop.
Perfect. Stellar weather, completely dry, perfectly warm, no other people anywhere to be found.
First night camped at Angel Canyon put-in. Hiked Angel Canyon the next morning. Easy approach, 90' first rappel, a bit of narrows then opens up and you think it might be over. Continue to drops easy enough to downclimb but require bag/cat shuttling sometimes, more rappels, amazing narrow slots, more downclimbs easy but challenging enough to make you pay attention, fun, and more amazing narrow slots. "Technical" by canyoneer terms but super easy and joyful, just some rappelling. Rapping with cats is super easy. Short-leashing and shouldering works like a charm. Cairns mark a pretty easy to follow trail back to the start. The rest of the day was spent pleasure driving smooth dirt roads finding entrances to other canyons and different campsites. Landed on a peninsula overlooking a giant big bend in the Dirty Devil River overwhelmed by scale of the place, how massive the view was (incredible) yet such a small speck on a Utah map. Next morning hiked from camp down steep sandstone toward put-in for Sawtooth Canyon. Millie and Kenneth were exhausted and clearly did not want to continue, they just kept seeking shade in caves. So we turned around rather than push them when they did not want to be pushed. Checked out the entrance to Bloodhound Canyon upon leaving. An easy stroll down a wash for a 1/2 mile, park-like. Millie turned around and went off-trail straight back to the truck on her own so we called it quits.
Beta: here >
Moonshine Wash Canyon
March 7, 2015
Take a dirt road south from Green River, UT for about 30 miles. Take a right down another dirt road for a bit. Arrive at Moonshine Wash put-in, there are some camp spots there. Slightly north of Robber's Roost , east of Southern San Rafael Swell, a very interesting zone. Perfect desert for catting, not a lot of cacti, very wide open, vast vistas.
Perfect. Not too hot, totally dry, no water in the canyon
First night camped at Moonshine Wash put-in. Hiked Moonshine Wash the next morning it's fantastic, easy, a few downclimbs nothing technical. We didn't see one other soul the entire day. That night camped on a peninsula of the Green River where the river makes a drastic 180 and almost doubles back on itself. The desert around camp and sheer cliffs into the river were impressive. Next morning hiked into the exit of the Northwest Fork of Three Canyon. It became a slot quickly and had pots filled with water. Navigated a few until it became steeper and bigger, we didn't want to continue with cats and no gear. Checked out a reservoir afterward and tested the cat boogie board idea for getting across stretches of water in slot canyons. It'll go. Checked out Fossil Point upon leaving. Apparently a mile down a dirt road the road ends. Well after a mile it hadn't ended and we saw no fossils.
Beta: Here >
Kenneth is Millie's main adventure partner. They've done big climbs, slot canyons, and a ton of exploratory hiking catting trips together.
Evelyn is a Nebelung we saved from the shelter Kitty City when Millie was just over a year old. Evelyn was about 6 months older than Millie. She's been on some catting trips but is a stay at home kitty for the most part.