Profile of a Van Dweller: Rock Climber Kaya Lindsay

kaya lindsay
Courtesy of Tiffany Nardico

“Currently on top of the South Six [Shooter],” Kaya Lindsay texted recently when I reached out to her for a story on her travels. Though she posts on her blog One Chick Travels and on her Instagram account, I wanted to know more. She continued, “Want to chat on Saturday when I head to town?”

She chose the name “One Chick Travels” because, “I was inspired by my initial fear of being alone. I saw a lot of representation of couples and solo men living in their vans. I didn’t want to be the only woman out there. When I hit the road, I was shocked to see all the women who were doing exactly what I was doing. One was working remotely and doing the 9-to-5. One works for the Canadian government, free solos 5.11 cracks (à la Alex Honnold), and lives in a van with her husband. There’s this whole community of women who aren’t telling their stories.”

kaya lindsay
Courtesy of Mike DeNicola

Lindsay is self-employed and works as a freelance writer and social media expert. Recently, after she climbed South Six Shooter just outside of Bears Ears, we connected from the parking lot of GearHeads, a climbing shop in the heart of Moab. She chose that spot because that’s where she fills up her water tanks for free, plus there’s a Laundromat and a grocery store nearby. It’s where she spends her rest period after weeks spent climbing in the desert.

She took a break between errands to give me a glimpse into her scene, where she and her friends climb all day in the crack climbers’ mecca of Indian Creek, free solo towers – specifically South Six Shooter – and host pancake parties on the summit. In fall of 2017, she got ordained and she’s since wed one couple on top of South Six Shooter and another on nearby North Six Shooter.

South Six Shooter, 6,154 feet above sea level and 60 miles south of Moab, is where she led her first crack climb, via the 200-foot South Face route that tops out at the left summit of the tower. (The right summit tower is 30 feet away.)

kaya lindsay
Courtesy of Lindsay

This spring, she and her boyfriend, Mike Denicola, have based out of Creek Pasture, a campground located east of Canyonlands National Park and a short drive from Indian Creek.

The area attracts the fringe-dwelling fanatical climbers, a ragtag group that doesn’t shower for weeks and lives on the cheap. They dress in the same clothes day after day and talk in a climbing-heavy speak that few outside their circle would understand. They say things like “butterfly jams,” “hand-fist stacks,” “slammer-hands,” specific moves used in their sport.

Since Creek Pasture attracts roadies such as Lindsay, a band of characters that don’t fit societal norms, she calls their hideout “the Island of Misfit Toys,” which comes from the animated classic “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (i.e. the area where all the discarded toys are sent).

Six years ago, Lindsay found herself going to college and living in her parents’ house in Santa Cruz, California, working as a hostess and making $85 a week at a restaurant. She asked her dad, who is also a freelancer, how to make more money and he suggested that since she was social media savvy, to offer her services for hire. She followed his advice, picked up a few clients and soon her income grew.

She also started climbing at Pacific Edge, the local gym in Santa Cruz. One day, she overheard a young woman talking about how she converted her van into a home so she could live rent-free and thus use the saved money for gas and to go climbing whenever she wanted. Though Lindsay wasn’t serious enough about climbing yet to dedicate her life to it full-time, she had a light-bulb moment – by living in her van she’d have her own place, one that she could afford, and she wouldn’t have to live with her folks anymore.

She soon transferred out of college at Cabrillo near Santa Cruz and attended Goddard College outside Montpelier, Vermont. There she specialized in interdisciplinary studies before transferring to community education. She bought a van and began building it out for school credit. She learned how to install insulation, run the wiring (with help from friends), build out a sink complete with plumbing, and build cabinets. She also filmed the project. When school ended she had herself a tiny home on wheels … and her travels began.

kaya lindsay
Courtesy of Lindsay

One thing her van doesn’t have is a heat source. She planned to get one, but the money she set aside was used to replace her transmission. Her solution? She sleeps wrapped up in sleeping bags and blankets. She also spends winters in warm areas such as Joshua Tree, Indian Creek, and Las Vegas.

In March 2017, Lindsay visited the Indian Creek for the first time with zero crack climbing experience, showing up with just a rope, harness, chalk bag, and a pair of climbing shoes. The characters she met out there showed her how to torque her hands and feet in the cracks (a foreign concept to her at the time). They also showed her how to place and remove camming units, which are the tools needed to climb in the area. They showed her so much, that by the end of the week she was ready to lead her way up South Six Shooter.

The following year, her friends Marlene Machemy and Schuyler Collett asked her to officiate their wedding on the summit. She wed another set of friends, Michael Loch and Kristen Selin, on North Six Shooter in November 2018.

kaya lindsay
Courtesy of Lindsay

She’s since climbed the South Six Shooter tower three more times, each time to share the experience with others, to celebrate simply being there, and to pass the joys onto the next generation.

Back to our recent phone call: I hear her take a gulp of water out of her steel bottle and set it down on the pavement. “Two days ago,” she says. “When I texted you from the summit, we decided to do a pancake event for someone’s first day in the area. We brought everyone up and stayed up there for two hours. At one point I threw a pancake to a random couple climbing 30 feet away to the summit next to us.

“I can’t believe they caught it. We were 200 feet off the ground and I threw that pancake 30 feet through the air.”

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