Instatravellers: Meet Millie, the Rock Climbing Cat

July 9, 2015 by Helen Winter

Craig Armstrong is the proud owner of Millie, a beautiful, black fluffy cat. But unlike other cats, she doesn’t spend (all) her time napping around the house and meowing for her dinner. In fact, more often than not she’s off climbing the canyons and cliff sides of the great Utah plains. It’s not only us who love Millie and Craig, their Instagram @Pechanga has raked up 27.7 followers who can’t get enough of Millie’s climbing (and snoozing) antics.

We caught up with Craig to find out how this unlikely duo got into climbing and where they’d like to go next.millie screenshot

I’ve lived in Utah for nearly 7 years…

Utah offers endless exploring opportunities year-round, so you can always go somewhere where it’s t-shirt weather, like the desert in the winter or the mountains in the summer, it’s very stunning here. I got Millie a little over two years ago from an animal shelter. I go on weekend adventures constantly so I just started taking her with me. Having a housecat in nature is more work than a dog; you can’t just ignore her and know she’ll be okay. She’ll wander off, a coyote, owl, fox, eagle, snake; any number of things could really harm or kill her. So you have to watch them at all times, keep them safe.

My friend Zac, with his cat Kenneth, and I started doing trips just for the cats to see what level they could climb at. We started doing easy climbs that we could free solo, but wear our harness and have the cats attached to the harness so they’re protected. Then we started exploring slot canyons too which turned out to be super fun. They’re deep and narrow so Millie just follows along, and they’re absolutely beautiful. I always go at Millie’s pace, which is half the fun of it, as moving at a slow pace helps me to experience nature from a different perspective. It’s odd, for sure, but it’s kidlike fun.

Cravings.

A photo posted by Craig Armstrong (@pechanga) on

The highest Millie has climbed is…

To the summit of 1,000 ft. of Fun, which is located through the Three Finger Canyon in the Sandstone Alps. Millie has also been to the top of the Mount Olympus West Slabs, where you’ll find the most incredible views.

Summit of 1,000′ of Fun nearly half a year ago. Next up, big granite for little kitty. A photo posted by Craig Armstrong (@pechanga) on

The climbing equipment Millie uses is…

A standard harness from the pet store which I have modified a fair amount. I back up the plastic clips with tied cordage, I removed the weak die cast metal mid-point and replaced it with cordage as well. Everything is backed up to create a redundant system. I have locking carabiners that attach her leash/rope to her harness, and to my harness. So it’s easy to hook and unhook her. For the most part that’s it. I keep her own tiny water bottle and treats in my pack for her, and make sure I can give her shade if she needs it.

National Parks in the US only let pets in certain areas. So we have not gone to any of those…

But, Utah has vast amounts of public lands that are not National Parks, so we have endless places to explore. Wyoming and Idaho are within short reach as well.

Third weekend of rain. Missing desert time, badly..

A photo posted by Craig Armstrong (@pechanga) on

My favourite place that Millie and I have climbed is…

The San Rafael Swell, specifically the Eastern Reef region. It’s a huge area that has slot canyons, sandstone climbs, and endless desert exploring. The desert is the best as Millie mostly just follows along. In dense woods she gets curious and wanders off, so I have to either follow her or keep her on leash there. But in the desert, if I wander off, she typically just follows as it’s wide open and she doesn’t want to be left behind.

If I could take Millie climbing anywhere in the world…

I would take her to more desert zones, maybe Australia, but honestly, what keeps me in Utah is the world class climbing and exploring.  Right now I’d revisit Theatre of Shadows, a route in the City of Rocks, Idaho. We were denied on our first attempt but we’ll try it again one day.

Picking lines up mini FFAs at Stansbury.

A video posted by Craig Armstrong (@pechanga) on


Be inspired by Millie’s climbs by following her on Instagram.

Enjoy your own USA adventure with our Tailor-made Journeys.


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About Helen Winter

I'm a passionate (see: obsessed) traveller. I love to explore a new country on foot; whether it's through the narrow streets of historic towns, or along ambitious hiking trails in a national park. Have a travel story to share? Tweet me @winter_wanders