I've been fiddling around for a while now trying to figure out how I wanted to start this blog, and the best decision I've come up with was to start where the photo's begin. After all, the entire purpose of this website is to further my photographic endeavors.
Now, when I say "all the photo's", I don't mean all the photo's - that would be one mighty post; summing up a 5 or so year digital collection of travels, tribulations, and the overall awesomeness that is life - just the ones that have been uploaded onto the new laptop, which is going to take us back to this past September when I arrived in Sundance, Wyoming to start my first season of work with a brand spankin' new company contracted by the Wyoming Forestry Department to survey the land for mountain pine beetle-infested trees.
I would like to go ahead and apologize for the low quality of many of these images. Most of the documentation was done on a not-so-smartphone. So with that out of the way and no further ado, I give you the inaugural season of Cheetah Shrub, LLC.
Cheetah Shrub is the brainchild of Elise Oren and Harald Bernard who were sick of working long hours for minimal pay, thusly deciding to start their own surveying company and share the wealth by employing roughly 15 of their friends. Crews consisting primarily of previous acquaintances/buddies reduced the risk of any serious altercations that might have come with shoving several people into a 1 bed/1 bath/1 kitchen apartment, and hiring primarily from within the raft guiding and rock climbing communities almost guarantees that the employees have previous experience with communal living and other forms of "roughing it". Now, I don't want to say that all raft guides and rock climbers are rough around the edges, but the ones that tend to 'work' as little as possible to allow more time for the pursuit their own individual interests usually have a certain "uniqueness" about themselves, and this was quite the motley cure that barged into the small-town scene of Sundance, WY population 1,222 this past Fall.
With Cheetah Shrub Headquarters located directly off the main strip it was probably hard not to notice 15-20 pierced, tattooed, and dreaded individuals pouring out of a reformed daycare center everyday, making their way across the road to the gas station for morning munchies and liquid energy. The occupancy of the Headquarters was literally spewing into the parking lot at times, with several living out of their vehicles, allowing more room for the rest of the crew to share the floor space in the carpeted playroom/bedroom. Repetitive drive-by's from the local police for the first week or so was reassuring to me, personally, that help wasn't far away should the deer, turkey, elk, or any other of the towns residence decide to attack.
What our job entailed as contractors through the forestry department was to walk in formation though pre-designated areas of Wyoming's remote wilderness in order to spot, tag, and mark GPS coordinations of "bug-trees" so that the cutters could come in after us and remove all the infected conifers, thusly controlling the pine beetle population as much as possible. Basically, we're getting paid from the Federal Government to navigate ourselves though the woods and observe wildlife in it's natural surroundings, which is an incredibly amazing gig for an outdoor enthusiast. Bald eagles feasting on cow carcass'. Stumbling 10 feet from a resting bull elk. Crossing paths with a large, solid white coyote. . . definitely not a bad way to make a few dollars.
Now, as a passionate rock climber and extraterrestrial enthusiast, I couldn't allow myself to be living within 30 miles of Devils Tower and not attempt to climb it, so when a friend from Colorado, Mary Grace informed me that herself and her climbing partner Dustin were going to be there for a week, I had to temporarily bail-out on my team and take a personal day to climb up "Solar"; one of the 7 routes that leads to the summit of Devils Tower, America's first national monument.
And here's the 3 photo's I took of that personal first ascent. . . ground, approach, and summit.
And so on Septermber 25, 2014, I finally reached the summit of the Bear Lodge - which was later named Devil's Tower after U.S. Army Colonel Richard Irving Dodge's translator misinterpreted the original Native label for "Bad God's Tower" - completing #173 on my life's "to do" list. Satisfied with the venture, I returned to Sundance only to be pulled back to the Bear Lodge just over a month later when another friend, Bryson, came out for a visit.
The conditions for the September send were flawless! Sunny and warm without a cloud in the sky. These were not the conditions that the Tower had in mind for us when Bryson and I arrived at its base in mid November. . .
The route we chose to climb that day was Tad; a route popularly know as the easiest of the summit routes on the tower since it has the least amount of 5th class climbing. People commonly warm-up on this route before getting on Solar, being the route Mary Grace, Dustin, and I sent a month before. Maybe it was the 30+mph gusts of wind. It could have been the residual hang-over and dehydration from the night before. What it likely was, was my complete lack of experience with crack climbing but either way that route kicked. My. Ass! Kicked my ass, thoroughly. Much more so than Solar, but then again solar actually had options for face holds other than this hand-jam crap that trad climbers love so much.
One hundred and seventy some odd feet of nothing but hand and finger crack, followed by the dauntless meadows free solo final pitch in the hellacious Northeasterly winds. Gotta hand it to Bryson for leading it to the summit when all I really wanted to do was go back to the hotel and curl up in a hot bathtub. Cheers to you, buddy, thanks for epic! Pretty funny how I forgot a helmet and you were the one to split your forehead on a rock once we were safely on the ground and your head protection was removed. . .
Devil's Tower was not the only option for rock climbing in the area. Spearfish Canyon, a sport climbing crag, is located just 20 or so minutes east of Sundance, and should you decide to venture a bit further into Rapid City, South Dakota there's a plethora of pegmatite granite boulders and sport/trad-pebbles located just behind Mt. Rushmore at the Wrinkled Rock climbing area conveniently marked with a sign off of Hwy. 244, which Bryson and I decided to check-out after our Devil's Tower venture in an attempt to have a nice, leisurely, epic-free day of climbing.
Being this close to Mount Rushmore I couldn't allow myself to get away without visiting the monument, so I payed the $11 fee, received my pass, and continued to follow all the other tourists to the many accessible viewpoints allowed by the concreted trail. While attempting to get some view's that might not have been so overshot by everyone and their grandmother I overheard some people talking about the Crazy Horse Memorial (currently the world's largest mountain carving) just a few miles away, which I promptly decided to investigate for yet another eleven dollars; though this entrance fee goes directly to the construction of the monument started by Korczak Ziolkowski in 1948; only seven years after he assisted in the completion of Mt. Rushmore. And just for a relevance of size, Mt. Rushmore is 59 feet tall where as the Crazy Horse Monument towers 564 feet over the ground; big enough to fit the entirety of Mt. Rushmore in the head of Crazy Horse alone. Point being: if you're already stopping in western South Dakota to check out Mt. Rushmore, might as well drive an extra few miles to see the Crazy Horse Monument! Donate a bit of dinero to keep this project going, and maybe check out some of the rock climbing in between, should that sort of thing be your cup of tea.
With yet another mini-vaca over it was time to return to Sundance and get back to work, and with the final days of Autumn rapidly fleeting by, the countdown to completion began. Work was assumed to slow down dramatically once Winter hit and though mounds of fresh, dry powder arriving on a daily basis intrigues me to no end, the thought of post-holing my way up and over rolling hills while avoiding ankle-tweaking debris buried under the snow didn't quite strike my fancy as much as if I were to be strapping myself into some bindings and a board in preparation to see how quickly and aggressively I could get to the bottom of that same hill. I started to think about the ascent to Cook Lake -the area we were now working in- and just how well my 4 cylinder, rear wheel drive pick-up truck would handle the commute into and out of the snow zone every day. I started to think about the minimal cold-weather gear I had, and no sooner than I thunk these thoughts, Winter hit.
As assumed, the amount of progress we were able achieve slowed, and even halted at times. The 10 mile per day average we were use to dropped significantly, but was beautiful none the less. With the proper attire as well as proper mentality the slow, slippery days roaming the Black Hills became even more enjoyable with the sheer amusement of watching my crew members slip and tumble into knee-high powder, and then misplacing my own step due to the schoolgirl-giggles which turned into roaring laughs as I orientated myself back into an upright position, realizing the only ramification was a bit of snow melting down my spine.
The area we were now hiking was a much steeper terrain than we were use to from the fairly mellow, rolling hills of the Moskee Preserve, but it made for some of the most amazing views during lunch breaks; being so high above the rest of the state that it seemed the entire topography just melted down into a smooth blanket of white on each horizon. On the days we couldn't even be bothered trying to make it up the mountain to walk a few miles, we were able to explore the town of Sundance a bit more in-depth. Primarily the Horseshoe Dime Bar, Longhorn Saloon & Grill when we were feeling extremely lavish (usually on paydays), and the one and only Higbee's Cafe which had up until this point never been open, even though the sign claimed just the opposite everyday from 6 am until 2 pm. It must be a Wyoming thing, but either way it proved to be well worth the wait! The claim-to-fame that I couldn't quite get enough of was "The Devil's Tower"; a sausage patty or ham and a fried egg on a large, made-from-scratch biscuit, smothered in sausage gravy. Add an order of hash browns decked in some veggies and cheese and you've got yourself a damn good reason to visit Sundance, Wyoming for something other than the hunting!
After so many months walking around the woods of eastern Wyoming the psych began to dissipate, and with the jobs completion right around the corner, plans for individual departures began to come up in daily discussions. As travel windows opened, more and more of the Shrub Club dispersed and before too long everyone left could fit comfortably into the Headquarters. One final throw-down was held at the Horseshoe Dime Bar and then just like that, it was over.
The first contract that was signed with the Forestry Department was for 10,000 acres. When all was said and done, we covered a grand total of 23,261 acres with over 95% accuracy on spotted pine beetle trees. Roughly 19,000 tree's were tagged and more than 3000 combined miles hiked in just over 3 months. To sum it all up, we kinda rocked out there! And as I made my way west to drop off Barnabas in Salt Lake City and then onward to central Oregon to begin a 6 month dog/house-sitting gig down the road from Smith Rock State Park, I couldn't help but smile and giggle to myself about the lifetimes worth of ridiculously awesome experiences had in 3 months while getting paid from the Government.
Here's the rest of the photo's that I feel are worthy posting; some from my Nikon, others from my Wal-Mart-special smart(ish)phone. They might not be that good, but they should make some people smile, especially those with firsthand experience. . .
And this concludes my first blog post, as well as the story I'm giving for the Pine Beetle Project, 2014. Next venture, central Oregon! Here's a few images to keep you intrigued while I figure out exactly what approach I'm going to take to the Oregonian Documentation. Thanks for bearing with me while I get myself back into the swing of blogging! Hopefully I'll be able to keep you entertained, even if only for a short while. . .
Thanks for checking out my blog, and please stay tuned for more ventures into the unknown!