melissa i strong

rock climber, writer, photographer, working on life daily

I feel like I have finally started to climb again ironically when the snow covers the peaks.  I cannot say I quit climbing all together it was just the least amount I have charged up to the mountain that I love.  Since I first started climbing in 2002, I fell in love with bouldering in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Every extra minute I had was spent in the park climbing in Chaos canyon.  Even when I have been forced to take small hiatuses from climbing or the weather created a winter wonderland the park was still where I went.  A hurt shoulder meant that a 20-mile hike was in order.  Before I started spending winter months in Hueco, I snowshoed to more destinations than I have ever hiked to in the summer.  Construction did not stop me in 2003.  I raced up there to catch shuttles that ushered me though.  This year I tired to keep a stiff upper lip and to not be daunted by the second phase of construction on Bear Lake Road but I failed.  It was the least amount of time I have spent up there since I learned about the boulders around Lake Haiyaha.  I made it up there a handful of times this summer, to upper, to the Hallett boulder to lower but only a few visits to each area—only to the Hallett boulder once.  It is weird for me for sure. But for some reason the hassle was more than I chose to handle.


In attempts to keep my spirits up I decided this was the summer we are going to find the next new amazing bouldering field.  Staring at Google maps we focused on the Brainard Lake Recreation area.  After a few missions of beautiful hikes but failing to find this mecca I was invited to go bouldering in the area by a friend.  The already discovered boulders on the way to lake Isabelle were not worth a second visit and we marched onward to a boulder 4 miles in on the 4th of July.  A single boulder at the glacier above Lake Isabelle is the gem of the area we had seen on the maps.  Mike Wickwire established Negra Modelo V10 that day and we haven’t been back.  Giving up on this undiscovered bouldering Mecca I bit the bullet and convinced myself that the partially open Bear Lake Road and minimal shuttle service was going to have to work.


I tried to play by the rules getting up to Bear Lake before the road closed at 9 a.m. Several mornings I was up at 7 a.m. after closing the restaurant where I work.  I dragged myself out of bed convincing myself that this is what I wanted to do when I was exhausted and did not have another day off until three days from now.  The worst part was that after playing by the rules, forcing the early morning starts, sitting in construction delays, Bear Lake Parking lot was full by 8 a.m and when you did get up there we were climbing in the hottest and often the rainiest part of the day.  I could have waited until after 4 p.m. and tried that method a few times but I would up on the golf course instead.  After a few days of playing by the rules I was pretty sure I was going to cool my jets and wait for the fall.  And then someone came up with it I am not sure who but we realized that if we went to the backcountry office we could purchase backcountry or bivy permits that gained us a pilot car through the construction.  It just involved time, money, and a few white lies.  We bent the truth about where we were going to actually be climbing and that we might be staying over night but we were donating $20 extra to the park so we went for it and that is how our crew eventually learned how to cope with the construction.  Once you were past the backcountry office there were usually no questions.  The person at the gate would say something like “Oh you are going climbing, go right ahead” and wave us on giving us “climbers” the privileged to drive up the road.  One time it seemed a little iffy as a ranger checked us in at the gate was telling us that he had climbed the same route we were on our way to supposedly attempt on “Cinco de Mayo, that is how early the alpine season started here” he informed us.  After uttering that statement he realized that there were five us in the car with crashpads filling the back of the Hyundai and one attached to the top.  We drove away safely and the next time we encountered the park representative he simply asked if we were getting bivy permits to just go bouldering.  Yes indeed was the answer.  (Please not that not all climbers featured in the pictures below ever bent the rules).


Ironically on October 8th, the day before Bear Lake Road was scheduled to open to traffic, a fire started in the Cub Lake area closing the road completely for six days.  But the road has opened and we are free to move about but honestly I don’t think I am going to push it.  I will give it a rest until next year and climb the boulders that have been newly discovered in the Wild Basin area. I will focus the rest of my fall on these lower boulders, dedicating my time to training and working with the American Alpine Club organizing the 20th Hueco Rock Rodeo, oh and a fun girls trip to New York City to celebrate one of my greatest friends 40th birthday, Bronson MacDonald!!!!

lake isabelle & mike wickwire establishing Negra Modelo

Rain upper, upper chaos

bear lake road construction