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Free to be me: Climbing, cats and Craig at CHG

On most weekends, you can find Craig Armstrong, an interactive marketing manager for CHG, climbing in the areas around Salt Lake City. He’s been climbing for about eight years, but three years ago he met his ideal climbing partner. She’s willing to take risks, never complains, but knows when to quit. She’s also a cat.

He taught Millie to love the outdoors when she was still a kitten, and now they’ve been in mountains, deserts and lakes. Craig posts photos of their adventures on Instagram, and after a Backcountry.com article about Craig and Millie’s journeys, his Instagram blew up he currently has just about 44 thousand followers.

Teaching Millie

Millie didn’t naturally start climbing on her own. Craig took the time to slowly introduce Millie to the outdoors. First, she went on drives with Craig, then he explored “Millie Island,” as Craig calls it’s a small island in Liberty Park in downtown Salt Lake City, where Craig could let Millie explore without worrying that she would run off. Then, he let her explore Stansbury Island, out by the Great Salt Lake. Craig would hike around and Millie would stay right by his side.

This wasn’t always easy. Craig had to commit to taking Millie outside just about every weekend, and sometimes she gets a little bit too adventurous. During one outdoor adventure, Millie decided to climb a tree. At first Craig was excited that Millie seemed to like climbing as much as he did, but then she started climbing higher and Craig was in flip flops.

“She started climbing and I was like, ‘Oh look!’ and then she kept going and I was like ‚ ‘Oh, no,’ Craig recalls.

But after rescuing her, she was perfectly fine. It seemed Millie was officially used to the outdoors and she had just as much fun as he did while exploring. So, they started going on more adventures.

Climbing with a cat

At first, Craig brought Millie to the climbing crag and kept tethered to his gear so that she wouldn’t run off the desert was a whole different world compared to Millie Island. But being on her own stressed Millie out, and Craig couldn’t have fun knowing that she was unhappy.

So, Craig and his friend who also has a climbing cat, decided to find an easier climb that’s far away from other people to see if the cats could climb a sloped wall. They could. And if the cats couldn’t quite make the climb, they just let the cats ride on their backs.

As Craig and Millie learned how to climb as a pair, Craig learned a few important lessons, primarily, cats have claws, and those claws dig in when cats get nervous. Craig responded by using a stylish and functional jean jacket.

“I’m fully cognizant of how completely ridiculous it looks,” Craig says. “There’s a dude in jeans with a jean jacket climbing with a cat. Or maybe rappelling with a cat on his shoulders. It’s silly. It’s really silly to observe from the outside looking in. But from the inside out, you’re like, whatever I’m just having a good time.”

The internet responds

Craig documented his journeys with Millie on his Instagram account, @pechanga, but he and Millie quickly achieved internet fame after Craig wrote the article for Backcountry.com. Thousands of cat and climbing lovers alike followed him, and all sorts of websites and magazines wrote stories about him, which only led to more followers.

He says that the response has been mostly really positive.

“This was not planned at all,” he shares. “People seem to dig it. I totally appreciate everyone that loves Millie. There’s a lot of fans that follow her and comment and like and are very into it. So that’s cool. Any joy I can bring into their life, hallelujah. The world could use more of that.”

Occasionally he gets negative comments, but he just responds with really positive messages, or if it’s particularly bad, he’ll just delete the comment. The best complaint he’s seen? When he posted a photo of his girlfriend, who has tattoos, someone wrote, “Less tat, more cat.”

For now, Craig still climbs with Millie. When he’s in the desert, social media and work are the last things on his mind.

“Climbing takes you to very beautiful places,” he says. “That’s an amazing part of it, the sights you get to see. And there’s a serenity in those places that you feel, which is nice. And it’s just freakin’ fun! The rest of the world does not exist for a couple days.”

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