When you ask Patrick Perkins, Air Force Outdoor Adventures Programmer at Travis AFB in California, you can almost hear his smile as he talks about it.
It’s a multipitch climb (meaning you’re working through a series of climbs) in Washington. Along with offering a varied experience on each climb, by the time you’re done, you’re almost sitting on top of the world. “You look off to the side,” he says, “And there’s hundreds of feet of nothing below you.”
For some, this is the very definition of crazy, but for Patrick, there’s nothing like it. “It’s really good being up there, where the birds of soaring,” he says.
It might feel like reaching these heights is something that requires years of practices and thousands of hours spent hanging from a rock face (and to a certain degree you’re right), but the beauty of rock climbing, and one of Patrick’s favorite things about the climbs available through Travis AFB is just how accessible they are. With a little bit of practice, anyone can reach the top.
Travis AFB is in Fairfield, California, just outside of San Francisco in the heart of Northern California. If you know the area at all, you know there’s no shortage of things to do there. From wine tasting to whale watching, there’s never a dull moment if you’re visiting the area.
You’d think that the abundance of activities would make it hard to choose, but the nice thing about Travis AFB is that it gives you a way to get outside and explore the natural beauty of the region from a slightly different perspective.
Up above the treeline
Not surprisingly, there is also no shortage of options for how you can spend your time at Travis AFB. You can hike, camp, go white water rafting, surfing, but there’s just something about climbing in California that can’t be beat.
What sets climbing apart from almost every other activity is that you don’t need a lot of prior experience to get started. While it may seem counter-intuitive to think that even a complete beginner can book a trip, it’s not.
“All of our trips are for beginners,” says Patrick.
A good place to start if you’re not sure about climbing is with the day trips. With these trips, you meet at the ODR center, sign the paperwork, and collect your gear. Then, depending on the outing, you could find yourself on a mountain bike going down an old fire road (don’t worry, it’s flat).
Once you hit the cliffs, you get a crash course in mountain climbing to learn the basics and then you get started. From there, it’s an ever-evolving set of climbs that start easy and grow in complexity as you gain confidence. There’s no set time to wrap it up or go home, you’re basically there to climb until you’re tired.
One of the things that’s a bit surprising about the outings is that, while there are some magnificent views, it’s not a day dedicated to the views. “I like to make it more about the climbing,” says Patrick. “And pushing limits.”
For the more advanced climbers, there are multi-day treks you can take, as well as climbing excursion to nearby places like Moab, where you can test your limits with more technical climbs.
But what about the views?
It’s amazing to think that you could spend all day climbing up something without seeing the views, but in Travis that tends to be the way it goes. A lot of the time, you’re chasing the shade, as Patrick put it, to stay out of the scorching California sun.
But, if it’s views you’re after, they’re not that far away. “Some of the places we go have pretty amazing views,” says Patrick.
One of the better views you can find takes you to the top of Napa Valley for a spectacular view of wine country.
A level playing field when going up
The goal is to turn non-climbers into climbers. To help people find their way to the top of a rock face, and back down again. What’s cool about this is that while it may seem like are limits to who can climb, there really aren’t.
Because the trips are largely aimed at beginners, most of the climbs are for everyone. Patrick has led climbs for people who are visually impaired or have other disabilities. This includes being in a wheelchair.
Paraclimbing, as it’s called, has been growing in popularity in recent years as the push for greater accessibility makes its way into more and more aspects of life. It’s been a recognized form of sport climbing (competitive climbing) since 2006 and made its official debut at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
A little bit of extra safety gear and attention is needed when paraclimbing, most of the climbs are done using a top rope approach, meaning the climber is guided by a person, who pulls in the slack of their rope to make sure that if anything happens, they won’t fall.
Like all climbs, exactly what these climbs look like depends on you, your comfort levels, and how far you want to push your limits.
What you need to know before your trip
Fairfield, where Travis AFB is an easy hour(ish) drive northeast of San Francisco. However, if cars aren’t your thing, trains run regularly frequently San Francisco and Travis. The ride takes a little over three hours and is sure to provide a nice, relaxing trip before you spend the day climbing up a series of increasingly difficult rock faces.
As far as gear goes, you can get everything you need on-site (which is really only a helmet and harness), but if you have your own gear, you’re welcome to bring it along.
Anybody can climb
For Patrick, helping people overcome their anxiety around climbing is second nature. Mention you’re scared of heights and he confidently tells you he’ll get you up there, and back down, too. He sees it all the time. People want to climb, but they’re worried they won’t be good enough or it’ll be too much for them.
“It’s for everyone,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old. It’s about catering the experience to the skill level. Anybody can climb.”