Off-Belay: Panama – Searching for Cesar

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Story and Photos by Carson Bowlin

Story telling is deeply woven into the culture of climbing. Every crag has a first, followed by tales of triumphs and innumerable defeats. Traveling with climbing gear allows one to glean these stories, obtaining a key to communities that may otherwise be difficult to access.

With surf-softened hands we arrived in Panama. Hard-earned callouses were on their last legs but our resolve was strong to get back on the rock. Two months and over a thousand miles prior, we had received beta in the form of a cellphone photo about a unique rock wall in the heart of Panama. The image depicted sweeping horizontal lines that emerged from thick foliage. We were intrigued, and after a last hurrah of beach fiesta in Bocas del Toro, we set out toward the mountains in search of this compelling crag. Read More →

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Off-Belay: Costa Rica – The Pura Vida Lifestyle

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Entering Costa Rica offered a stunning visual of a country that chooses to cherish its environment.  The aesthetics of a healthy landscape are obvious and this vitality seemingly permeated through individual personalities and communities alike. Enthusiastic to soak in the tranquility we headed to the mountainous cloud forests of the northeast to explore the stunning Rio Celeste. Flowing with a hue unmatched in liquid beauty, the river cascades through boulders and basins protected by dark green jungle walls that hold the mystery of this unique place. Days passed by as we took in the surrounding landscapes via Land Cruiser and on foot. Our worn legs eventually carried us back to lingering evenings highlighted by traditional meals of rice, beans, chicken and plantains we collectively prepared. Pura vida lifestyle had quickly set in and from the easy reaches of our hammocks strung out beneath the flawless nighttime sky we could only imagine what was to come. Read More →

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Off Belay: High-Altitude Mexico

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After nearly three weeks of sun and surf south of the border, we were itching for some elevation and knew just where to find it. To the surprise of many, North America’s third tallest peak does not lie in one of Alaska’s formidable ranges, but instead 250km to the west of Mexico City. Pico de Orizaba is a standalone volcano with a staggering amount of prominence. The mountain dominates the surrounding countryside, and simply needed to be climbed.

Our siege of the mountain began with a pitstop in the small town of Tlachichuca to gather supplies and a bit of beta from the reputable Señor Reyes, proprietor of Servimont, the classic European-style climber hostel in the heart of downtown. After collecting our intel, we embarked on a roller-coaster two-hour drive up to 14,001 feet where the Piedra Grande Refugio stands and our acclimatization process began.


I would be lying if I said our acclimatization process was all day-hikes, mountaineering stories, and games of chess. Due to the fact we had spent the last month-plus at sea-level, we had a long way to go to adjust our bodies to the thin air and lack of atmospheric pressure. Señor Reyes’ recommendation was for us to hike down 2,000 feet to the tree-line the first day, as opposed to up. Of course, ever confident in our bodies physical capabilities we chose to ignore his advice and within 18 hours at elevation I was unable to hold down food or drink. Carson was able to squeak by without any major ailments beyond a small headache; I had no choice but to retreat back to town at lower elevation for a night of rest and eating as it would be impossible to tackle an 18,490 foot peak on an entirely empty stomach. Read More →

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Off-Belay: Beating the Early Winter Blues on Mt. Lemmon

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Photo Credit: Ben Neilson

Climate change has likely altered previous conceptions of the winter season timeline. If you’re from the Pacific Northwest as we are, you have learned to be patient because winter will come, but chances are it’s not going to be on time.”

Regardless of where you’re from, all winter freeriders have been granted a couple of extra dry months absent of white, fluffy precipitation. So, what’s a mountain brother or sister supposed to do while their skis or boards sit waxed, tuned and ready to go?

Our trick for survival during the early winter season blues is to head south.  Enter Mount Lemmon, an elevated craggy oasis perched high above the city of Tucson, Arizona.  Ascending from the desert floor takes one through five distinct biomes ranging from giant Saguaro Cactus stands poised in full salute to a distinct alpine setting clustered with quaking aspens.  The expansive views stretch one’s eyes over three separate states and southward toward Ole’ Mexico, culminating the journey from the burnt landscape thousands of feet below. Read More →

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Off-Belay Americas: Climbing in Joshua Tree

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As climbers, our path has led us from one crag to the next while we continue to push south to Patagonia. Two weeks in our route brought us to the community of Joshua Tree, California. I say “community” because Joshua is not simply a National Park or popular crag, but a winter season gathering place for dirt-baggers, weekend climbers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Eleven months had passed since our first visit to the lunar landscape of granite mounds in this unique place and we were stoked to be back. Read More →

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The Sprinter Experience: Living in a Van Down by the River…er Crag

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“Sarge,” our sprinter van, lures in curious parties wherever we go—Adam Ondra gets pumped checking it out!

Photos and Story By Ben Kunz

When Daimler Benz merged with Chrysler way back in 1998, it wasn’t even a blip on my radar, nothing that I needed to worry or care about! But within a year, I started seeing the Sprinter Van, Mercedes gift to North American mid-sized cargo carriers. When I first saw this hardcore Euro-styled van, I did some research and quickly did the math on these genius homes on wheels. Read More →

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