It’s not all sunsets and campfires…

There’s a slackline in the middle. See it?

I was recently at an outdoor conference and we all got to talking about how media portrays the outdoors, adventure, and trying stuff. It seems that the partakers all seem to be beautiful fit people, the adventures are always wonderfully remote, and trying stuff goes without a glitch. It’s all so perfect it’s almost infuriating to both outdoor newbies and veterans. The newbies feel compelled to live up to media standards, and usually are so intimidated they don’t make it past the first attempt (or their local outdoors store), and the veterans know better.

So, here’s the deal. I usually try to write up a trip report for when I go climbing for a few reasons. First off, I like to share my experiences in hopes they’ll inspire others to get out and live a little. But second, I think it’s important to share the knowledge that comes from a trip report. However, I’ll warn you now… this trip report is all about a rather failed trip. Adventuring is not all beautiful people, you might never be far enough away, and trying stuff is a total (but worthwhile) gamble.

On Saturday, Rob and I decided to head up to Pawtuckaway for some top roping adventures. We got all super prepared the days before reading up in guide books, Mountain Project, and other resources about where we were headed, what we needed, and all that other good stuff (weather, maps, etc). After loading up the car Saturday morning with all of our gear, we made the quick and easy drive to Exit 5 off 101 East.

So here’s where it all started getting fishy. First off, New England weather is a beast. There’s this saying that I’ve heard used here and in the Pacific Northwest and it holds totally true: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Our original belief that it was supposed to be 88 F, clear skies all day, and reasonable humidity was quickly replaced by 94 F, questionable skies in the distance, and humidity in the mid 80’s. Together, that feels like over 100 F and the air is so heavy you feel like you’re lifting weights.

Second, Pawtuckaway is all funky shaped so this other New England saying comes to mind: “You can’t get there from here.” (Don’t say the R’s to be a true New Englander) There’s two main routes that somehow intersect with Pawtuckaway – 107 and 156. 156 will take you to the main entrance, but you can’t actually access any climbing from there unless you want to hike the entire length of the park (I don’t advise this). Sticking on 156 a little bit longer gets you to the bouldering fields, but then there’s a giant marsh and cove in the middle of where you want to go. 107 kind of sort of takes you to the other side where the cliffs where, so that’s where we were headed.

Now, I swear I read everything I could and NO ONE mentioned that the roads on the 107 side were mostly Class VI for the direction we were going. This means unmaintained and best done with a vehicle with 4 wheel drive and a high clearance (aka, the boyfriend’s truck). So, here we are trucking… er… sedaning it along the backwoods of Deerfield, NH in my fantastic Ford Focus. I must have asked at least a dozen times if my car was going to make it back UP a hill we just went down.

Finally, by some luck and skilled driving thanks to Rob, we finally made it to Lakeside Crag which was ironic since we were actually trying to make it to the Boulder Trail, but never actually found the parking pull off for it. We ended up calling Lakeside Crag the final destination because of course… the road was flooded in front of us (in all fairness, it was noted in the guidebook that it probably would be). Fortunately, there was a massive cliff right there so we were rather relieved.

Lakeside Jam (5.7)

Remember above how I mentioned that nowhere ever seems to be remote enough? The commercials always portray camping as middle of nowhere with the beautiful sunset, friends sitting around a perfect campfire, and all smiles. Ah. Lovely. Well, here’s the realness of yesterday. We drive miles and miles to the middle of nowhere. So middle of nowhere I actually managed to lose cell phone reception (this is an accomplishment in southern NH). Of course, there’s a bunch of vehicles at Lakeside Crag, which is fine. I am all for sharing the outdoors, especially with cool kids slacklining over the pond (I’m jealous) and other climbers.

But as Rob and I are trying to setup our anchors on the top of the cliff, all we hear is a bunch of banshees running around whacking their sticks on even bigger sticks. It sounded like someone was going nuts with an axe, and I was about to go all “Leave No Trace Behind” crazy on someone. Then out of nowhere comes this big stick wielding father with two little kids jousting with their own big sticks. They then decided it’s a WONDERFUL idea to knock dead trees over into a ravine. The moment the biggest tree fell, Rob bellowed out “Is that REALLY necessary?” I’ve never seen people scatter so fast. For one they didn’t even know we were above them, and second – an angry Rob isn’t a pleasant sounding Rob.

A tired, warm, and slightly fed up Rob. Almost got hit by lightning later too!

Anyways, with our anchor finally set, forest killers scattered, and my car secretly crying about me taking it off roading –  it was finally time to climb. Our first project: Lakeside Jam (5.7). It looked fun, and appeared to be a good warm-up so we figured it was worth a try. I gave a shot first, and fell. And then another shot… and fell. And then another four more tries, including one where I almost managed to destroy my back on a rock at the base. This climb just wasn’t happening. So up Rob went, and as usual he made it, but for a climb supposedly so well loved and considered to be such a classic…. blah. Oh, and that 94 F with 80% humidity? Also blah. It sucks the strength right out of you.

So, I hate to admit but after one rappel and one climb, Rob and I called it quits. Lakeside Crag was just not it, nor was the heat, or the psycho forest killing tourists who were now riding bikes around my crying car. And unlike the beautiful people in the REI commercials, I looked like frizzy poodle wearing neon colors, and Rob had some glorious sweat marks going on. We were some hot climbers.

Somehow we made it back out of Pawtuckaway State Park, and I’m really not sure how. I appear to now have a tire that is leaking air (ironic since it JUST got replaced Thursday after my nail debacle). Oh, and we made it out just in time too. A completely random epic thunderstorm rolled in soon after, and I’m thinking mud would have made the off roading experience significantly more hilarious.

All in all, I’ll consider yesterday a learning experience. We gained more knowledge about setting anchors, Rob found a new place to offroad, and I learnt my car kind of rocks. And the biggest lesson?

It’s not all glorious climbs and beautiful weather, but you’ll never know a good one if you don’t get out there. Go try stuff.

5 thoughts on “It’s not all sunsets and campfires…

  1. I could write a novel about how inadequate trail reports are for Mt. Katahdin. Every one i read completely glorifed the mountain and made the trails sound doable, possibly tough, but doable. Totally misleading. We even stopped at the ranger station and he didn’t even give us good enough warning about what we were about to encounter. Granted, I haven’t hiked a ton so maybe I underestimated the reports but I was with a well experiences hiker and it was rougher than he expected too!

    1. I always wonder who writes up some of these resources. I swear they always highlight the good stuff and epic wins, but leave out the warnings. Ironic, huh? You do your research so you’re well prepared for the bad stuff! And from Facebook, it sounds like you had one heck of a miserable hike. ugh!

      My whole goal with my blog here is to write up more down to earth and realistic reports and reviews. That’s why my ski area reviews cover stuff like parking lots, road conditions, cell phone reception, and even gas stations. It seems so trivial, but for 90% of the people out there – it’s the critical information and the difference between going for it and turning around.

  2. Good job! Driving off those anti-nature loving tree tossers was outstanding Rob. You get several brownie points for that. If you accomplished nothing else from this trip, at least these people will think twice before they seek and destroy.

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About Jillian Bejtlich

Hey! I'm Jillian Bejtlich. I’m a lifelong New Englander with a serious love of the outdoors, adventure, and a pretty serious inability to sit still. I’m plagued by the travel bug, and it seems I’ll try any relatively sane and safe thing once. My big goal in life: Get people outside!