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

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.

Photo Credit: Ben Nielson
Photo Credit: Ben Neilson

Early on, our trip brought us to the area to spend a few days with our ski touring/climbing/college buddy Matt Neilson and three generations of his family clan. Quick to tease and always full of laughter, this family is also active in the development of new rock climbing routes in the surrounding areas.  Jumping on Mount Lemmon’s classics and projects alike we ran the gambit of routes, all the while eating just enough food to save room for the evening’s feast and to keep our energy levels soaring high.

After a couple days of solid climbing our hands showed the wear, skin showed the sun, but we had hardly made a dent on the list of worthy routes the area has to offer.  Mount Lemmon offered up everything from airy, free standing towers, to cliff faces exposed to vast desert views.  The meal was served and it was our time to feast.

Photo Credit: Ben Nielson
Photo Credit: Ben Neilson

With the progressive changing of the seasons we too must change our habits of old.  Our wintertime migration to snowy mountains will by all accounts continue to happen, albeit a couple weeks late.  For those of us who still have it there is no point in being a retiree-style “snow bird,” but we can, if we’re feeling imaginative, call ourselves “crag birds.”  Migrating southward to feed on nature’s bountiful splitter cracks and climbing her chossy rock faces.  Sustenance comes in many forms and eventually, one has to follow the road on.  Leaving Mt. Lemmon we departed fully revitalized by the high desert sun, stark landscape and the inspiration of great friends.

Brothers hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Carson and Austin Bowlin are on an adventure of a lifetime traveling overland from Seattle to Patagonia, climbing, skiing and surfing along the way. Their trip partners include Mountain Safety ResearchNuunTorFab, and Kavu.  Their progress south is also recorded at   

Follow the rest of the Off Belay adventure:

Intro: Seattle To Patagonia

Joshua Tree

Home is Where You Park it