Alycat's Walkabout bio picture

    Hi! I'm Alyson, a world traveling shutterbug. I started the Alycat's Walkabout blog in 2014 as a way to share my experiences while volunteering in Australia and New Zealand. Since then, the blog has evolved into sharing my traveling experiences, one walkabout at a time.

    Be sure to check back often for updates. You can also follow the adventure on Twitter and Instagram at @alycatphotos. Looking forward to seeing you out there!

    Happy Exploring!


    I truly believe that our national parks are one of America's greatest ideas! To celebrate the Centennial of America's National Park System, I was on a mission to visit as many new parks in 2016 as possible. After finishing with 28, I am hoping to do better in 2017. How many will I get to? Be sure to follow along!


Grand Teton Vs. Cancer: Owen Spalding Route

In July 2018, Alyson and Nathan will travel to Grand Teton National Park and attempt to summit its tallest peak, Grand Teton, at 13,776 feet. They will do so to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and funds for Vs. Cancer. They will blog their training and trip on You can contribute to their campaign here.

By: Nathan Rode

Welcome back, friends. It’s been a little bit since we’ve had an update on Grand Teton Vs. Cancer, but we’ll certainly be picking up the pace now. Last summer, we announced that we would attempt to summit Grand Teton to raise awareness for pediatric brain cancer and funds for Vs. Cancer and Duke Children’s Hospital. Saying and doing are two completely different things, but right after the New Year, we took an important step toward reaching our goal. On Jan. 3, Grand Teton National Park opened the process for reserving permits for backcountry camping. To stay overnight in the backcountry of the park, you have to have a permit. While it’s possible to summit Grand Teton without spending a night, it’s not easy—relatively speaking of course.

Before the permit process opened, Alyson had a conversation with a park ranger, who suggested we try to get a permit to camp at the Lower Saddle. If we couldn’t, we’d just work our way down the mountain until we secured an available site. Fortunately, we were able to get a permit for two nights at the Lower Saddle, which sits at approximately 11,600 feet. The summit is at 13,776. That means two things—first, we have dates! Our permit is good for July 17-19, giving us two attempts at the summit if we only hike to the Lower Saddle on our first day. Second, we’re less than six months out from the expedition, so it’s time to start training and planning!

Throughout the spring, we’ll have updates about the team making the trip, our training and visits to Duke Children’s Hospital. Somehow, we’ll squeeze all this in between our usually busy schedules with work.

For now, we’ll talk just a little about the route to the summit of Grand Teton. There are several ways to the top, but we’ll be going with the most popular one—the Owen Spalding route. It is named for two of the men credited with pioneering the route—William O. Owen and Franklin Spalding.

According to Mountain Project, a site that provides route information for climbs all over the world, Owen Spalding has a grade of 5.4. That number probably means nothing to you if you haven’t been climbing. There are a few different grading systems. The Yosemite Decimal System has five classes of climbing with the fifth class being technical climbing, which involves certain physical moves and the need for protective equipment in case of a fall. Climbing Grand Teton falls into that fifth category, but a 5.4 rating is pretty easy. I recently climbed a 5.5 route in a gym with my right arm in a sling, rendering it useless. Nonetheless, the challenge of this route won’t be its rating. It will be the elevation and exposure, which refers to the open space around a climber. Climbing a short wall in the corner of a gym lacks exposure. Get higher up or go outside where you can see for miles and a mental challenge can arise. You’re still hooked in and safe, but your brain could be telling you otherwise.

Our summit attempt will start very early in the morning, as we hope to be on our way back down by noon to avoid potential afternoon storms. From our camp at the Lower Saddle, we’ll hike to the Upper Saddle at 13,160 feet. There, we’ll rope up and continue to what is known as the belly crawl. It is, as stated on Mountain Project, “an obvious and well-named feature. It is a ledge not more than 18 (inches) wide with an overhang above. The exposure here is very exciting.”

I haven’t been there yet, but exciting might not be the word I’ll use. To be sure, this entire trip is going to be hard, but the hardest part for Alyson and I might be this portion. It’s a mental challenge. The thought of scooting ourselves across a rock with nothing but air for 2,000 feet below us, is…well, it’s something. See for yourself. There are plenty of videos on YouTube.

After the belly crawl, we’ll climb a series of chimneys, or narrow vertical gaps, and be just a short distance from the summit. To get back down, we have to complete a 120-foot rappel to the Upper Saddle.

Simple as that.

Our permit gives us a maximum of three chances at the summit, and that’s only if we’re feeling ambitious and try to summit the same day we hike in from the parking lot. The likely scenario is that we’ll hike to the Lower Saddle, set up camp and make our first attempt the following day. Should anything prevent us from reaching the summit, we’ll have another chance the next day. We would have to hike all the way back out that day, but if that’s what it takes to complete our goal, so be it.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Welcome to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site! Located primarily in Washington state, Fort Vancouver is situated along the Columbia River just across from Portland, Oregon. A portion of the park, the John McLoughlin residence, is located in Oregon City.

Fort Vancouver was founded as a fur trading post in 1825 by the Hudson’s Bay Company . When it was abandoned in the mid 1800’s, the US military took over operation of the fort. While the historical park is no longer in operation as a military post, there is still a heavy military presence and significant history at the site. This includes Pearson Field and the Vancouver Barracks.

View full post »

Grand Teton Vs. Cancer

In Summer 2018, Alyson and Nathan Rode will travel to Grand Teton National Park and attempt to summit its tallest peak, Grand Teton, at 13,776 feet. They will do so to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and funds for Vs. Cancer. They will blog their training and trip on You can contribute to their campaign here.

By Nathan Rode

A couple years ago, my wife, Alyson, and I joined a rock climbing gym—Triangle Rock Club in North Carolina. We’ve always been big outdoor enthusiasts and try to stay as physically active as possible in our busy lives. We never thought we’d venture outside on the rocks, but we have slowly developed the itch. Last September, we traveled to the Northwest for vacation—visiting friends in Seattle before heading to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. As we flew over Washington’s Mount Rainier, we thought about our climbing friends who had taken a trip to summit the fourth-tallest peak in the Lower 48 of the United States. Our sense of adventure started to lure us. How cool would it be to stand on top of a mountain, getting there with your own two feet—and hands—and looking out to the horizon with miles of beautiful landscape in between?

As we traveled to Grand Teton, we researched what it would take to summit Mount Rainier. Then we saw the Grand Teton Range for the first time in our lives. It’s absolutely striking. Our research turned into a compare and contrast. Rainier or Teton?

We decided on Teton and have been planning a trip since. One of our climbing friends is qualified to lead us so we don’t have to go through an expedition outfit. Going with a Teton group was our original plan, but our friend allows us to save some money and operate a little bit more freely in our attempt to climb.

We’re not so vain that we want to share our vacation plans with the world. Instead, we’re taking this opportunity to promote something we care about deeply.

As outdoor enthusiasts, Alyson and I are passionate about the environment. Anybody following our expedition can see just one example of what our country has to offer in its natural state. You don’t have to climb Teton to experience or appreciate its grandiose views. Our National Park system has so much to offer and is for everyone to enjoy.

Another passion we have is simply serving the community. We volunteer in several different facets and we’re going to use this trip to promote one of our favorite charities. Vs. Cancer raises funds for pediatric cancer research. Our friend, Chase Jones, founded the organization and we have supported it since its inception. If we can raise awareness for a cause while taking on our own personal challenge, why wouldn’t we seize that opportunity?

If you would like to donate to our Vs. Cancer campaign, we’ve set up a page with information. Half of the money raised will go toward research and the other half will benefit Duke Children’s Hospital, located in our hometown of Durham, N.C. Most Vs. Cancer campaigns are done by sports teams with athletes cutting or shaving their hair at an event. We don’t plan on being any different. Upon reaching the summit of Teton at 13,776 feet, I will pull out the clippers and Alyson will pull out the shears.

For the two of us, this will be the hardest thing we’ve done, but still easier than what hundreds of thousands of kids and their families go through fighting cancer. We hope you follow our journey and support our cause. We certainly look forward to sharing the story.

February 13, 2018 - 2:29 pm

Grand Teton Vs. Cancer: Owen Spalding Route » Alycat's Walkabout - […] Cancer, but we’ll certainly be picking up the pace now. Last summer, we announced that we would attempt to summit Grand Teton to raise awareness for pediatric brain cancer and funds for Vs. Cancer and Duke Children’s […]

The Sights and Sounds of New Orleans

Welcome to New Orleans! It’s a city rich in history and culture with its own distinct flare for music, food and a good time. I just love it!

This will be a somewhat different Alycat’s Walkabout blog post as I reflect back on my time in New Orleans as a disaster responder. I invite you to see how the city has changed since 2005 through my eyes and lens.

New Orleans and its people hold a special place in my heart. Almost 12 years ago, I was deployed on my first disaster mission for the American Red Cross to the area in response to Hurricane Katrina.  I spent several weeks working in and around New Orleans and even rode out Hurricane Rita with people I had been helping. It was a tense few days as Rita came roaring ashore, but I remember them fondly.

This was my first trip back to New Orleans since my deployment. In between work events, I stopped by a few of the places I had worked to see how things had changed.

A few of the photos I took during my time in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

A before and after of a local school.

Above: the deserted French Quarter a week after Katrina came ashore in 2005.

Below: a lively French Quarter eleven years later. The bubbles (and people) have returned!

One of the few places that stayed opened following the hurricane was the Famous Door. The owners welcomed in the military personnel, first responders, and disaster staff with open arms. When you had a day off, it was nice to visit the local places that were still open. The thought was that by visiting these places, we were also helping the community recover economically.

Below: a photo of me with a group of fellow volunteers back in 2005 enjoying a day off at the Famous Door. Above: a photo of the Famous Door on my recent visit. It was great to see it open and busy.

As I mentioned before, New Orleans has some incredible culture, and music is at the heart of it. Spend an evening walking around, you are guaranteed to stumble across some amazing local band jamming out.

You never know what you will find in New Orleans, especially in the French Quarter. A variety of street performers can be found on each corner. You may even be invited to crash a wedding parade!

I mentioned the rich history that New Orleans has. If you enjoy history, a great first place to stop is at Jackson Square.

Oh, the food! New Orleans certainly knows how to do food. Cafe Du Monde is famous for it’s coffee and desserts. The original location in the French Quarter is open 24 hours a day. Just be prepared to wait as the line is usually very long. I promise though, it is worth it!

If waiting isn’t your style, there are other Cafe Du Monde locations around the city and suburbs. While they are not open 24 hours a day, the lines are usually a lot shorter.

Antoine’s Restaurant is the oldest family owned restaurant in New Orleans. If you are looking for a nice meal, this is the place to go! While I am not a steak eater, I was told by several folks that this was the best steak they had ever had.

Looking for some good Bar B Que? Moe’s is the place for you! It was recommended to us by a local, and it certainly lived up to the expectations.

Our final meal was at Camellia Grill, which opened in 1946. This beloved local restaurant was closed after Hurricane Katrina and did not reopen again until 2007. It’s famous for its counter service and incredible food. The milkshakes… oh man. So delicious!

Of course, you can’t leave New Orleans without having a few of their famous pralines!

As someone who considers them self a huge World War II buff, I was greatly surprised to learn that the official United States WWII museum was in New Orleans. That seemed like an odd location to me until I learned about the huge role the city played in the war.

Higgins Industries, which was based in New Orleans, built many boats for the military during WWII including the Higgins land crafts that were used on D-Day. These ships played such a significant role in the war that Dwight D. Eisenhower was quoted as say that Andrew Higgins’s ship designs won the war for the Allies.

If you are a history buff or a fan of the history of WWII, I highly highly recommend building in at least half a day into your schedule to visit this museum. It is one of the best museums I have even visited. If you would like to do the movies, I recommend getting there earlier in the day as they fill up fast.

Thank you New Orleans for a wonderful visit. I cannot wait to get back!

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

This past fall, Nathan and I spent some time exploring gems of our national park system: Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP. Breathtaking, beautiful, mind blowing. The list of adjectives I could use to describe these two parks would fill a page. Whether you are a hiker, a wildlife fan or just looking to take in some incredible views, each park offers everyone the chance to explore their passion.

I honestly did not know what to expect when we first started planning our trip. I had heard great things about both parks, but it seemed everyone enjoyed them for different reasons. Anyone who knows me well knows I am the ultimate travel planner, especially when it comes to visiting national parks. So I spent some time researching the pros and cons we had been given to plan an adventure we would really enjoy. What we came away with was pretty awesome.

View full post »

M o r e   i n f o