Educator Expedition: Climbing and Bike Touring in the Northwest

By NOLS Blog

Nov 25, 2015

By Sarah Martin, NOLS Instructor


Climbing the Wedge Climbing the Wedge. Photo courtesy of Sarah Martin.


Following an instructor mountaineering seminar in the Pacific Northwest in August of this year, it seemed like a ripe opportunity to visit some new areas to climb. After spending the majority of my climbing life in the desert southwest, I wanted to experience the feelings of discovery and adventure that I had not had in a long time due to climbing in the same places. In addition, I was reminded by a co-instructor this past spring of the importance of being on a journey within our own outdoor pursuits so that we can more closely align with our students’ experiences.

To begin this climbing trip, my partner Jerome met me post-seminar and we set out on a 30-day trip. Because of poor weather, we substituted a lot of climbing with bike touring.

Our first stop was in Squamish. I was interested in climbing some long routes in new areas. We spent the first day climbing shorter routes, going for a longer route the following day. After these brief climbing days, it proceeded to downpour for the rest of the week. Looking for something else to do to explore the area, we went on a bike tour, starting in Horseshoe Bay (just outside of Vancouver), taking three ferries up to Powell River, and then two ferries back to Horseshoe Bay. It proved to be a fun way to explore western British Columbia and eat a lot of cinnamon buns along the way!


Bike Touring in Canada Bike touring in Canada. Photo courtesy of Sarah Martin.


We then returned to Squamish, where it was still raining. After researching other areas to bike tour, we drove up to Jasper, Alberta and rode bikes down through Jasper National Park and finished our ride in Lake Louise in Banff National Park. We were hoping to ride to Banff but, again, we were stopped by more rainy weather. Biking was still a beautiful way to explore the national parks. We very much appreciated the stone huts with chopped firewood and wood stoves in all the campgrounds so we could dry out and warm up after long days of biking in mixed weather. Leaving Canada, we drove to Jerome’s parents’ house in Livingston, Montana and climbed a five-pitch route at the Humbug Spires along the way, just outside of Butte. Finally, a sunny day to climb! The rock quality was exceptional and it was so nice to be climbing in a new area. Shortly after arriving in Livingston, we drove south to just outside of Yellowstone National Park and climbed a five-pitch, alpine-feeling route on the Big One. After spending a few days in Livingston, it was time to return to Lander to work a course.

This trip was supported by money from the Instructor Development Fund (IDF). On this trip, I was reminded of what it is like for students to experience adverse conditions and to constantly have to change the plan due to poor weather. This was challenging and it was a good reminder for me to remain flexible. Highlights of this trip included visiting new areas and trying out a new activity, bike touring.


Living and learning in Patagonia Living and learning in the backcountry. Photo courtesy of Alex Chang - Cornell Leadership Expedition in Patagonia.


When I look back on this trip, I will remember how challenging the weather was to navigate, but what a good time we had with alternative plans. If it were not for such cold and rainy weather, we would never have biked to Vancouver Island or visited the Jasper area. Creating alternative plans help me to remain flexible and open-minded about what good outcomes can look like.

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About the Author: Sarah works climbing and horsepacking courses for NOLS.

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