Sandra Samman was on a rock climbing trip 10 years ago when she first realized she wanted her very own “crag cat.”
She was climbing in Joshua Tree, California, when she came across a cat on a leash. “I vowed to have one, one day,” Samman told Adventure Cats. “Rock climbing is my ultimate favorite thing in the world to do, and I have traveled the world doing it.”
And as we all know, if there’s one thing to make your passion even more enjoyable, it’s having a feline friend to enjoy it with.
Denali came into Samman’s life when she needed him most. She’d just lost her best friend of 21 years, a veggie-eating cat named Baby. “I was so sad, and a piece of me was missing,” Samman said. The rescue cat that filled the hole Baby left in her heart also met a tragic ending, and Samman was overcome with sadness.
“I ended up taking off and traveling for nine months after this,” Samman said.
When she finally came home to Colorado, she knew what she had to do. She saw Denali’s photo, fell in love and drove straight to him — even though the shelter wasn’t open yet. She asked to see Marvin (that was his shelter name) and when they brought out a tiny, 2-month-old, 2-pound ball of fur, she melted.
“He came right up to me purring away, then explored every inch of the room,” Samman said. “I melted more and more with each second.”
The next day, she packed Denali up in the car, but he wasn’t having it in his carrier. She let him out, and the next thing she knew, the little guy was nuzzled in her neck for the rest of the ride.
“Happy tears were just streaming down my face,” Samman said. “So in love I was already.”
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“Little Marvin was in need of a name change, a name to suit his adventurous nature and what his future would hold,” Samman said. “It had to be fierce and strong. What other than Mt. Denali, our highest standing peak in North America?”
The training began immediately. Samman said she started by taking Denali everywhere, making sure that he felt comfortable traveling in the car. Then came the socializing and then the harness training. She used a ferret harness because he was such a tiny kitten. Then came the leash training, which involved rewarding him with back scratches and massages, and finally Denali ventured outdoors.
“It started with him taking us on walks, for it was the ‘Denali Show,’ and I went wherever the boss wanted to go,” Samman said. “We also have a few cat carriers we can put him in to take him where we want to go.”
But the two are often right in line.
“When I get his harness out, he comes running over since he knows some sort of adventure awaits,” Samman said. “He sits and purrs while I put it on.”
Their first camping trip together happened when Denali was a wee 3-and-a-half months old.
“We had our lamps on and he ran around the tent, chasing the shadows and any bugs on the outside of it that were moving,” Samman said. “Once the lights were out, he curled up on his favorite blanket and went to sleep.”
Soon enough, he was snuggled up right on the sleeping bag, the best little heater an adventurer could ask for. It seemed Denali was right at home in the tent.
“The net that goes across the top of most tents that you never use is actually a kitty hammock,” Samman said. “He loves being up there and looking down.”
Now, Denali accompanies Samman on outdoor adventures every weekend in Colorado.
“He has been rock climbing all over and loves it,” she said. Though she often climbs things under her grade, it’s always with Denali in mind, to keep him safe in his little pack. “He loves it and could not even care less that he is up the wall, hanging off my back. He just sits there with his little arms hanging out and chills, taking in the scenery.”
He’s so nonchalant about it, it’s not uncommon to see him grooming himself while he’s hanging out in that backpack, inciting giggles from nearby climbers.
“When he is not on my back, and [is] on his leash, some days he gets brave and decides to try and follow me up the walls,” Samman said. “He is really good at crack climbing the rocks at off-width.”
Samman said Denali has climbed at Boulder Canyon and Clear Creek Canyon, and he’s even traveled to Wyoming and Utah. At the local climbing gym in Boulder, he’s a celebrity of sorts.
“Plus, climbers always have dangling toys hanging off of them, and he is always ready to play,” Samman said.
Their adventures aren’t without their challenges though. Samman said her biggest concerns are dogs and burrs. While most dogs are sweet and curious, you just never know how they will react, she said. And the burrs? They’re attracted to Denali’s fluffy tail.
“I wish I could find a tail sock to cover his fluffy tail and keep it burr free,” Samman said. (Maybe we’ll consider such a contraption in the Adventure Cats store!)
Samman had a few words of advice for new adventure-cat owners: Start training early, know what to expect, keep cats stimulated both mentally and physically, and make sure their diet is on point.
She said she constantly calls Denali by his name and rewards him when he responds to it. “It’s important to have them respond to their name, so you can call them back if danger arises,” Samman said. “Cats are so ADHD, so don’t expect them to walk like a dog on a leash. They want to sit and smell every proverbial rose along the way.”
Samman never lets Denali off-leash. She created a super-long leash out of multiple leashes to let him have more freedom, but his safety is her number-one priority.
In addition to their exploration outdoors, Samman makes a point to stimulate Denali’s mind, with games of fetch and even a dry-food puzzle ball.
“I mean, he is a kitty genius after all,” she said.
Last, but not least, there’s a reason why Denali is so soft and shiny. His mom is a yoga instructor and a holistic nutritionist! From fermented fish stock for a strong immune system to farm-fresh eggs — with water added for hydration — this cat is living the good life.
But even with the training, the praise and the supplies, there’s something inside Denali that beckons to the outdoors.
“He loves being with us. He has an absolute ball each time,” Samman said. “There are rocks to climb, trees to climb, little rocks to chase in the dirt, bugs to chase. Most climbers are animal lovers, so there is always a stranger’s arms to be held and hugged in, or a lap to take a cat nap in.”
And many of the climbers they encounter remember little Denali, which makes his mom proud. “This kitty has brought so much love and joy to my life and others,” Samman said. “I long for the day we see signs that say dogs and cats are welcome here. It’s time things change in that direction.”