So before we get too far ahead of ourselves we thought we should give everyone a proper introduction. We are Brittany and Evan Matthews, the couple behind Crag To Vine Adventure Tours. We are both natives of North Carolina who in our mid-twenties were bitten by the “travel bug,” in a big way. Shortly after graduating from Appalachian State University, where we met and cultivated a love for both each other and for the outdoors, we traveled extensively around the world for about 5 years. During our travels we spent almost a year exploring the western United States, as well as several months in Alaska, Central America, South Africa, Europe, India, Nepal and Turkey. Throughout our travels two things stood out as common themes to us: 1) People are inherently good, and quality time spent with others makes us better human beings, and 2) experiences are FAR more valuable than material possessions. An experience shared with friends, family or even complete strangers is something that can’t be wrapped up in a box, or put on a shelf. Rather, it is something that nourishes our soul, creates stronger and more meaningful relationships and expands our perspective and understanding of this beautiful world we live in. For this reason, experiences are much more valuable to us than any material possession ever could be.
In 2016 Brittany and I got married in the mountains of North Carolina, surrounded by our closest friends and family – an experience that gets so much more valuable as time passes. One year later, we celebrated our first anniversary with a trip to California, during which I had planned a rather challenging adventure for us. The goal was to climb the infamous Half Dome feature in Yosemite Valley via the “Snake Dike” route (III 5.7 R, 2000’), a route established in 1965 by the legendary Jim Bridwell and his partner Chris Fredricks. This is the kind of climb that wasn’t necessarily that technically difficult, but would require a lot of teamwork, mental strength and physical stamina, so it required some training and preparation. In order to make the day of the climb a little more enjoyable, we decided to hike out and camp at a backcountry campground closer to the base of the mountain, about six miles from the John Muir trailhead in the Yosemite Valley. This meant we would have to carry not only our climbing gear, but also our camping equipment – about 50 pounds total for each of us – from the valley floor up to the campsite, which was 3,000 vertical feet up.
On June 13, 2017 we were joined by two close friends as we made our way out to the campsite. The hike was beautiful and camp was made long before sunset, which allowed plenty of time to relax and prepare for the climb the following day. At 4:00am on the 14th we awoke in our tent, geared up and began the approach out to the climb. Traversing the lower slabs in the early morning light was an incredible experience to share, and when we reached the base of the route there was not another soul in sight. For the first 500 feet or so we had Half Dome all to ourselves. This was a truly magical experience to have the opportunity to share space with one another in the solitary stillness of such a wild place.
As an icy early morning wind whipped off the Tuolumne Meadows and the peaks of the high Sierra we were quietly and steadily making our way through the more difficult pitches of the climb, bundled in our down jackets, trudging ahead in both discomfort and bliss, completely in tune with the task at hand. The act was meditational, moving fluidly together as a single entity, progressing up the cold and unyielding stone toward the steadily rising sun. As the first rays of light finally rounded the edge of the huge dome the rock began to warm, our fingers and toes began to warm with it, and our spirits became light and relaxed. The hardest parts were over, and we knew now that we were going to accomplish what we came here to do.
Seven hours after setting out from camp we finally reached the summit, and a feeling of relief, elation and total fulfillment washed over us both. Our training, mental preparation and hard physical effort had paid off, and we felt as if literally on top of the world, grateful for the moment, the place and for the result of the trust we had given each other.
This, we knew, was why we climb. It was a powerful experience, and that evening we celebrated in camp with our good friends and a bottle of whiskey around a fire, and all was right in the world.
The next day we hiked out of the backcountry and returned to our car, dirty and fatigued with aching muscles and big smiles on our faces. It was time for a shower and a hot (non-freeze dried) meal, but Brittany had no idea of what was in store for the rest of our time in California.
I had told her about the Half Dome climb because I wanted her to be able to prepare properly, but what I hadn’t told her was that I’d planned another four days of the vacation to balance out all of the hard work and physical depletion we had just put ourselves through.
Our sights were now set on another of California’s infamous valleys – Napa! It was time for some serious R&R, including delicious food and even better wine tasting in this palette enlightening paradise! Four days of taco truck magic and wine tastings at quait, family-owned, estate-grown wineries was just what our spirits needed to recover from the climb we had just completed. It was also a beautiful compliment to our time spent in the woods, and we realized that this was a winning combination for the ideal vacation – work hard, play hard as they say! Although in this case the “work” didn’t involve sitting in front of a computer, but rather pushing ourselves and testing the limits of our physical, mental and emotional abilities. After this revelation we began brainstorming on all of the places we could take a similar type of vacation, and realized that the possibilities were virtually endless – California, Arizona, Oregon, Spain, France, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa…the list goes on!
We had had such an incredible time bonding in this way, and decided that we wanted to share this type of experience with as many people as we could, in an effort to generate the sense of fulfillment and accomplishment that comes from a well-rounded and balanced vacation in others as we had come to know it. This trip was the genesis of Crag To Vine, and we look forward to getting more people connected not only with nature and with themselves, but also with one another. Let us show you how the value of these experiences can grow your relationships and strengthen your own sense of self, easily outweighing any material gift you could ever give yourself or someone you love.