Elaina Arenz, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing & Skiing, pushing her limits on her brand new dirt bike. ©Arenz collection

Elaina Arenz, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing & Skiing, pushing her limits on her brand new dirt bike. ©Arenz collection

I’ve always wanted to learn how to ride a dirt bike.

A few weeks ago, I went out, bought a bike and signed up for lessons!


I’m 44. What business do I have? A motorcycle?

I’m not strong, like a man. What if I get hurt? I’m not brave.

The other night I watched Casselli66, a movie about one of the winningest motocross racers of all time. It’s a documentary tribute to Kurt Casselli’s life and his many accomplishments with anecdotal stories from his loved ones.

Kurt lived by the words, “Do one thing a day that scares you.”

One of the scarier things for me is change. Change has so many unknowns. It’s full of the unfamiliar and unanswerable.

I’m human. I want to avoid stress and I feel the strong pull of staying in little, safe circles.

But, I do my best to prevent this fear from holding me back, especially when it comes to learning new things (like how to ride a dirtbike:) because when I venture out and push the edges of my comfort zone, I learn and grow.

I challenge myself in order to live a fulfilling life.

Otherwise I’d never know and that bothers me.

Also, change is scary, but the thought of plugging along through life locked in my comfort zone is even scarier.

Learning, growing, and experiencing new things makes me feel alive.

See you at the crag!

Tech Tip: How to Fix a Back Clip

Figure 1.

I just returned from teaching two back-to-back clinics at Rifle and Maple Canyon where the primary objective for our participants was either learning to lead or becoming a more confident lead climber on sport routes. And did they ever. At the Maple clinic, Tracy Martin and I, the two instructors for the program, didn’t lead a single route all weekend; the participants did all the rope gunning. They chose the routes, they hung draws, they cleaned the anchors when finished and moved on to the next climb. It was so gratifying to see everyone taking charge of the situation.

Clipping bolts can seem pretty basic, you just clip and go. However, there are a couple of pitfalls you need to be aware of that will need fixing on the fly. Let’s talk about the most common mistake and how to fix it quickly, the back-clip.

What is a back-clip?

A back clip is when the rope is clipped into the bottom gate of the quickdraw, well… backward. This means that the rope from your knot runs through the carabiner toward the rock, instead of away from the rock. (See Figure 1)

Figure 2.

How it should look:

Once the rope is clipped into the bottom carabiner of the quickdraw, the rope should run in a straight line all the way back down to the belayer. There shouldn’t be any twists in the rope or the quickdraw it’s clipped into. (See Figure 2)

Why does it matter if you’re back clipped or not?

The rope can unclip itself from the quickdraw should you climb above it and fall! (See Figure 3)

How to Fix a Back-Clip:

There are a couple of different methods to remedy this type of mistake, so let’s look at a few ways. The general rule of thumb is to add before you subtract for optimal security.

Method 1:
Clip the second quickdraw behind the first and then remove the offending quickdraw that is back clipped. By adding the second one behind, you stay clipped in at all times and no slack is created. This is the best method if the clip is at a hard section of the climb or anytime you’re not feeling confident.

Method 2:
Unclip the top carabiner that is clipped to the bolt hanger and rotate that carabiner in the proper direction and reattach it to the bolt hanger. You need to use your eyes and pay attention to which way to rotate the carabiner. With this method, the rope stays clipped into the bottom carabiner of the draw and you don’t end up dropping any slack down to your belayer. This a good method if you have a very secure stance and the climbing isn’t challenging for you.

Method 3:
Unclip the rope and reclip it correctly. I used to do it this way myself until I learned better. This is the LEAST preferred method, but for some reason, it’s the one you probably see most commonly at the crag. The reason I don’t recommend this method is that you are the least secure for the longest period of time. Undoubtedly you’ve already back clipped, then you fight to unclip the rope from the bottom carabiner, your belayer quickly takes in that slack to keep you from taking a bigger fall then necessary, then you have to ask for slack again, possibly getting short-roped by your belayer, FINALLY you reclip.


Figure 3.


Sigh of relief. Sounds stressful right? That’s because it is, for both you and your belayer. Use method 1 or 2 and you’ll feel much more confident on the sharp end.

Patagonia Vengas: Kitty’s new favorite pants

Kitty in her rolled-up Vengas on Dead Men Tell No Tales, 5.12, Kauai. ©Jay Smith


Why I love my Vengas

My son, who suddenly became a fashion expert upon entering Middle School, remarked that I did not fit in with other moms. He then told me that you have to look good to feel good.  If you feel good you will climb well. I told him that in fact, I set the standards since I am a Patagonia Ambassador.  He laughed and rolled his eyes.


I was just teasing him, knowing full well that I am slow to adopt new clothing trends because I become loyal to a product that performs well, even after it is discontinued.  For example, my favorite pants were the Patagonia Serenity tights because they were supple enough to wear while running, climbing, and doing yoga.  When the knees wore out, I made them into shorts.  When the seam wore out in the butt, I sewed it back.  When they stopped making them in any color except black, I decided I needed to try something else.


Enter the Venga climbing pants.  Now my son no longer pretends that I am someone else’s mom.  These pants are stylish and comfortable enough to wear at the airport as well as the crags.  They are made of lightweight organic cotton/polyester so they feel soft and stretch as well. They have a DWR finish to shed moisture – and they are more durable than my old Serenity tights.


The real test for the Vengas came when I went to Kauai and was encouraged to send in photos while climbing in long pants. I normally climb in shorts in the summer because I thought pants were too hot and constricting when I am sweating already.  But I was surprised to find that I forgot all about the pants when I got on my climbing project and sent it.  Indeed, maybe it was all due to the Vengas.

We Have What You Need

Heather V’s goal for this clinic was to push herself to lead higher grades. She’s comfortable on 5.9 terrain like this. On this trip she surprised herself by on-sighting her first 10a. Way to go woman! 
Photo by Elaina Arenz

Earlier this season, after our Indian Creek clinic, we at Chicks took on the mantra “We can do hard things.”

Later as the summer was in full swing, Chicks reminded us all ” that it was time to make Lemonade.” After a few months of this newfound power, I can see that a positive, focused mindset is the result. These sayings are no longer mantras; they’ve become a way of life.

Over the summer we have had many women come through our rock and alpine programs. Some ladies were there because a bucket list pushed them to experience the joys of rock climbing or the expanse of a glacier. Others came to the clinic with more defined goals of improving their climbing and gaining new skills. No matter what drew the ladies to the clinic in the first place, everyone was there for a reason.

When you let go of expectations and allow the learning process to unfold, great things can happen. At Chicks, we believe in each of you. We know you can do hard things. We know that you are capable of exceeding the goals you have. By incrementally stretching each individual comfort bubble, the guides watch climbing transformations happen at every clinic.

During the Rifle clinic and the Maple Canyon clinic, our guides were proud to say, “we never left the ground.” The Chick’s participants were tasked with picking the climbs, leading and belaying all routes, setting anchors, and cleaning the anchors at the end of the day. It was awesome to see everyone step up to the challenge and become an equal member of the team.  This atmosphere is only possible because of the solid foundations we have all helped to build. The level of trust between the guides and the participants is what makes this type of clinic day possible.

This advanced clinic is a source of pride for us at Chicks. Facilitating and witnessing your independence grow is why Chicks Climbing and Skiing exists. Don’t finish your rock season wishing or hoping to be “better.” Wishing and hoping are not strategies. Be proactive in your learning and actively challenge yourself to improve.  Our guides know what you need, even if you don’t! Come and see us soon to move your climbing self forward.

What Inspires You?

Diane Mielcarz enjoys the rewards of achieving her dream to climb in the Black Canyon. ©Angela Hawse

Why we climb, what motivates and inspires each of us is a personal experience.

It’s easy to lose sight of our own potential and compare ourselves to others.  Rock climbing has become a mainstream sport, sensationalized by images and stories of super heroine feats that plaster social and print media on an hourly basis.

We should remind ourselves frequently that climbing is about us.  The possibility that we have to enjoy it the rest of our lives is really quite remarkable.

Going inside and tapping into my own motivation is a healthy exercise that I do on a regular basis.  When I identify what I love about climbing, I can shape my climbing experience into a journey to fulfill it.   When I make the effort to keep it personal and internal, my day out climbing becomes more fun, more inspired and focused.

Whether I’m striving for a personal best or simply caught up in the joys of movement on rock and of sharing the rope with a partner, climbing should be what you want it to be because you enjoy it.

Whether you climb for fitness, the flow of movement, connecting with friends, enjoying nature, challenging your personal best, or because you love gear, it’s all legit.

Unplugging from distractions regularly and tapping into what makes your heart sing will help you set intentional goals that are on par with your passion.  If you can dream it, see it, and feel it, you can be it.

What inspires you to climb?


The new Osprey Mutant 38

Sleek black Osprey Mutant waits patiently for its owner. ©Karen Bockel

In the recent months I’ve observed a few of my friends sporting a new Osprey Mutant backpack out in the hills. I could recognize it from afar: trademark Osprey style with a tight package, slim design, a few attachment options, but no frills and no oversized hip belt. Hmm, I thought, that would be a nice upgrade to my well-loved original Mutant 38L which is starting to show signs of wear after many adventures in the crags and the high alpine the past few years.

So, I called up Sam Mix at Osprey and talked him into sending me the coveted new Mutant (thanks, Sam!). Straight out of the box, I took it to our Chicks Mount Baker clinic, a 4-day alpine backcountry trip with technical and overnight gear, meaning tents, sleeping bags, ropes, and more. I’ll give you an actual list below of everything that I crammed into the backpack.

I had asked for a S/M size, which fits great for a shorter torso, even when using a harness for climbing.  With the smaller size, I never catch the back of my climbing helmet on the backpack lid, which is key whether you’re looking up to scout the route ahead or leading an ice route and looking for the next swing. The smaller size does have a reduced volume, though.

My original S/M Mutant 38 had a pretty voluminous body despite its sleek appearance. The new version’s shape seems a little narrower, which caught me by surprise when it came time to pack my overnight gear for Mount Baker. On a good note, though, there are a few simple attachment points on the outside to carry extra gear.

Most importantly, the new Osprey Mutant has two separate side straps, simplifying the old zigzag system that was a bit cumbersome to use. Now you can simply unclip the buckles, tuck in your tent poles, snow pickets, or butterfly rope coils, reclip the buckle and you’re good to go. The straps can also be used to compress the pack when you’ve dropped your extra gear at the base of the route.

On the outside panel, there are two Toollocks with bungee tie-offs, convenient and easy to use ice axe storage. The lid of the pack is removable for when you’re really trying to go light.

There are a few more noteworthy features such as a helmet carry and an internal hydration sleeve– I don’t typically use them, but both can be very practical.

Overall, this pack stays true to Osprey’s mission of providing well-designed, functional packs. This new Mutant is definitely my new go-to for 1-day alpine missions, cragging, and other medium-sized adventures. And now that I know that the Mutant 38 has a bigger sister, the Mutant 52, I might choose that for my overnight climbing trips 😉

Mount Baker Gear:

Tent Poles (my co-guide Lindsey Hamm carried the body and fly)

Lightweight sleeping pad

Superlight sleeping bag

60 m rope


Snow picket

Crevasse rescue kit and climbing hardware

Ice axe

Lunch and snacks for 4 days

Long underwear, extra socks, hat and gloves

Compressible water bottle

Emergency locator device

Map, Compass and notebook

Sunscreen and phone


Yep, I had all that. Thanks, Osprey!


Training Corner: Expectations

We’re in the height of climbing season and hopefully you’re all getting out and having fun!

Whether you’ve set goals for alpine climbing trips, multi-pitch routes, just generally climbing harder, or learning this awesome sport of climbing for the first time, what I find consistent with all the athletes I coach is not having realistic expectations of progression, which ultimately leads to frustration.

It happens to all of us: I can remember a time in my early twenties (that was a long time ago mind you) that I got so frustrated with my “lack” of performance on a climb I swore I was going to sell my rack. Ok, so I didn’t, but I wanted to.

Sometimes frustration can be a motivator for sure, but sometimes it can undermine our confidence and even take the joy out of the sport.

Over the last few years, I’ve endeavored to give you all training program outlines for climbing and skiing fitness, outlined strength training programs, created progressions and tools for improving, but now I’d like to fill my role as a coach to talk about the “process” of climbing as far as getting better.

So often we are our own worst enemy, putting too much pressure on ourselves or having unrealistic expectations about progress, where we should be, and what it takes to break through a plateau in our climbing.

Repeat these words to yourself whenever you’re in doubt.

First: all climbers have been afraid.

Second: everyone worked hard to be where they are.

Third: everyone has had a bad day. (or ten)

Fourth: everyone has cried about it at some point, or had a tantrum, or sulked, or gone into some crazed depression…I know, just over the sport of climbing.

Embrace this and know it. If you see people climbing hard, understand they worked to get there. If they can’t admit their struggles to you, they are a douche bag. Ignore them.

All climbers begin by steadily improving and working through the grades, sport or trad. Just by going climbing and trying you will get better. At some point, however, you will hit your first plateau. 5.9, 5.10, 5.12 wherever it is; believe me there are many plateaus to be hit, you will hit yours. At this point the process requires a different approach.

Suddenly you need to “train” in a more structured manner, and you need to fail, and then try and try and try again to succeed if you want to gain the skill, strength, and ability to climb beyond your plateau. Many people are afraid of “failure” but failure is part of the process. Everyone that is good at anything has had to overcome failures. If you’re not trying hard enough to fail you won’t beget success.

Challenge yourself to try routes or boulder problems that you think you can’t touch. So you can only link a few moves at a time… Perfect. Two things happen when you try. First you become stronger, finger and contact strength, then your body begins to “learn” new movement. Feel confident and comfortable enough to rehearse movements. Then begin linking moves. If you try a new route or boulder problem and in one week you manage to get one move further you’ve made progress. Try and fail try and fail try and fail…then try and succeed! Once your body understands what it feels like, what it takes to climb the next grade harder the next route will be easier. Mentally and physically.

Try backcountry routes or longer trad climbs that make you nervous. Go with a competent partner. have the skill and knowledge to complete the climb but back off if you need to. Every time you are out you learn, over time that volume of experience will give you the confidence to try bigger, harder, more advanced climbs.

Many athletes reach out to a coach to give them guidance on a wide range of topics, including how to use their limited time best to train, video movement analysis to climb more efficiently, programming for specific training, or accountability to get the work done. Whatever the need, there are people to help support progressing climbers.

Seek the guidance of mentors as the support of others with more experience can be a game changer in giving you the confidence to try. A mentor can even save your life; in the big mountains where the game has greater consequences their advice may make all the difference.

Be patient with the process, remember climbing is a luxury, make sure you are having fun! Even if it’s type II fun ( :

Final Note:

It’s ok to be hard on yourself but not too hard…set reasonable expectations.

As always: for more detailed information regarding coaching or training you can contact me at  carolyn@rippleffectraining.com

Carolyn Parker

Founder Ripple Effect Training

Gym Jones Certified

AMGA Rock Guide

Uphill Athlete Coach


Zim’s Crack Creme

Just the thing for rock-worn hands

Zim’s Crack Creme is just what the doctor ordered.

Rock climbing takes its toll on your skin, especially your hands and feet. It’s a constant battle between keeping them dry when climbing and hydrated when not. It’s a fine line that is made more complicated by living in the desert. I basically can’t hydrate my skin enough and I’m prone to cracked heels and sensitive cuticles as it is.

Enter Zim’s Crack Creme.

The texture is light, it’s more of a liquid than a cream, which allows your skin to suck it up like a sponge. Every evening I apply it to my torn cuticles and to the cracks on my heels but you can use it on any troubled skin areas.

The combination of aloe vera and arnica ingredients helps to alleviate the pain of damaged skin. The scent is of a spicy clove-like mixture but it isn’t too overpowering.

It’s widely available at most major grocery stores and pharmacies so it’s easy to find and sample.

– Elaina Arenz

Smarter not Harder

Thanks to this little guy, I learned about the new Black Diamond Pilot, which is brake-assisted, with the bonus of having no moving parts. To belay a leader, the hand motion is easy and intuitive, effortless to give slack to the leader, and easy to catch a fall. It’s also lightweight so I can justify bringing it along on longer multi-pitch climbs. ©Dawn Glanc.

Smarter Not Harder

I am a cragger at heart. Yes, it is true. I truly enjoy single-pitch climbing. I love to push myself on trad gear in places like Indian Creek. If I am clipping bolts, I take on the mantra, “if I’m not flying, I’m not trying.” This attitude of trying hard and pushing myself is why I like staying close to the ground.

With trying hard comes hanging on the rope. Yelling take and falling are everyday occurrences. Taking significant falls, bumping, and boinking become part of the day.  Because of all the climber’s shenanigans, the belayer has to work extra hard, often putting in overtime hours.  This is why I recommend that every belayer becomes familiar with and uses a brake-assisted device. In my opinion, a standard ATC is no longer safe enough for a day of serious belaying.

Just this year alone, I know of two accidents where the brake-assisted belay device saved the life of the climber. Belayers are often in vulnerable positions, unable to run from rockfall or other dangers. This assisted brake can make all the difference if the belayer becomes injured or incapacitated. By using the modern brake-assisted devices, you simply stack the odds in your favor.

There are many brake-assisted belay devices on the market these days. Many companies are seeing the safety benefits of brake-assisted belay devices, and coming up with their versions on the theme. Just make sure you know the details of YOUR device.

No matter what equipment you choose, the belayer should be both diligent and familiar with techniques to belay a leader and a top rope climber. Advanced belay skills such as pulling up and boinking will be much easier as well with a lock-assisted device. Belaying is serious business, but with the correct device and the attention to match, we can work smarter not harder, which leaves more energy for sending!

– Dawn Glanc

Dawn is a certified rock and alpine guide. Her hobbies include climbing and long belays at the crag.




Elaina Arenz demonstrates how to fall while climbing, Maple Canyon, Utah. © Louis Arevalo

by Kitty Calhoun

Co-Owner, Chicks Climbing and Skiing

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at the International Climbers Fest in Lander, Wyoming, and was warmly greeted by a Chicks alumna, Amy Skinner.  She informed me that they were doing a podcast called the Hooligan Narratives (https://www.facebook.com/thehoulihannarratives/),  and wanted me to tell a story with the theme of Float.  I would have eight minutes to tell the story and there would be three other storytellers.

I decided to relate an incident from our 1987 Dhaulagiri East Face Expedition.  We were a team of four – Colin Grissom, Matt and John Culberson, and myself.   None of us had ever tried to climb an 8000m peak and I was the only one who had even seen one.  We were on a tight budget – $3000/person including airfare – and planned to climb alpine style with minimal gear and no fixed ropes.

Our intention was to do the second ascent of the Kurtyka-McIntyre route on the east face, but the ice ribbon was not frozen when we arrived.  In fact, it has never come in again and was an early victim of climate change, as I described in my Ted talk, Last Ascents.  Upon seeing water dripping over the rock, we decided to climb the Northeast Ridge in order to acclimatize. Hopefully the East Face would freeze in the meanwhile.

A Japanese team had fixed lines to a high point of 22,000’ on the Northeast Ridge and we agreed to break trail above for them. We were near the end of their ropes when the wind slab we were on avalanched.  It pulled us down the steep north face.  I made a couple of efforts to go into self-arrest, but each time the rope came tight and pulled me off my feet.  I curled into a ball and put my arms over my head to protect it as I tumbled down the slope.  After falling four hundred feet, we came to a stop.  The Japanese fixed line was anchored with eight pickets and they had zippered out one by one and the last one held.

In dire situations such as this, my senses are finely tuned and time seems to slow down. I do what I can to survive, but I feel a sense of acceptance of what may happen.  It is as if I am an outside observer to the action, a sensation expressed by an old family friend by the statement, “I am flotsam floating on the ocean of life.”

Though we were shaken by the fall, we decided to try to summit by the Northeast Ridge as fast and light as possible.  After a short recovery in base camp, we summited in five days, and hastily retreated back to base camp just before a monster storm enveloped the entire country of Nepal.

Other storytellers spoke of floating in terms of the release that climbing gives them, above the fray of life.  Another spoke of floating on the support of parents during turbulent times.  I recently thought of floating as I practiced falling at a sport crag.

What does Float means to you?