Trip Report: Subaru Adventure Team Women’s Ice Climbing Clinic Contest

Doing the Crampon Dance. Kelly Clarke, third from left, won the 2017 Subaru Adventure Team Women's Ice Climbing Scholarship @Elaina Arenz

Doing the Crampon Dance with an extraordinary group of women. Kelly Clarke, third from left, won the 2017 Subaru Adventure Team Women’s Ice Climbing Scholarship @Elaina Arenz

Chicks is an extraordinary group of women. Not just the amazing guides and leaders, but everyone that participates in a Chicks clinic has wisdom to impart, strengths to share and courage to elevate themselves and those around them. I recently had the opportunity to participate in the life changing experience of a Chicks with Picks ice climbing clinic through a generous scholarship from the Subaru Adventure Team.

 

Itseems a bit dramatic to use the term ‘life-changing,’ but with the Chicks program focused on giving you all around mountaineering, climbing and ice focused skills (or backcountry skiing and avy training in other cases), it’s assured you won’t approach your next outdoor trip the same. Since the clinic, I even hike differently.

 

This trip still seems quite unreal. I had gone ice climbing for the first time recently with a friend that I had met through a networking group for women climbers in Colorado Springs, belayHER. It was so much fun, but I knew nothing. I wanted to get gear to ice climb, but I had no idea where to start. I wanted to have more confidence, and an understanding of the basic skills, but it seemed like an insurmountable task. I am forever grateful to my friend for being a solid climber that I trusted as a leader. But often with adventure sports you can’t just trust your one friend’s opinion when looking to get to a place where you’re building knowledge and working to gain independence in that sport.

 

I had heard about the Subaru Adventure Team because they sponsor an event at my climbing gym. Just when I had been bitten hard by the bug to want to ice climb, they announced a contest giving away a women’s ice climbing scholarship. I dropped everything and submitted an entry right away. The premise was that you uploaded a picture and then asked your friends to vote for it. So I did that. Some of the other entries had an insane amount of votes right away, and I had resigned myself to thinking that while it looked like an amazing opportunity, it would not be for me. My sister saw it differently. She thought the contest was awesome, and really wanted me to have this opportunity to pursue ice climbing. She sent the link out to everyone in the company she works for. “Vote for my sister!” Then my friends started sharing the link on social media. Then friends of friends, people I have never met, started sharing the link. My campaign to solicit votes grew beyond anything I thought was remotely possible. And somehow I won.

 

I still didn’t really believe that I had won, even as I drove from Colorado Springs to Ouray. I was fully prepared to turn around and head home when I arrived, because there would have been a misunderstanding or it just wasn’t real. Not so. I arrived at the Secret Garden B&B, the main meeting spot for the weekend, and was welcomed with warmth, kindness and stoke for the weekend ahead.

 

We discussed our goals for the weekend and Dawn Glanc explained what to expect, how to dress and how to plan for the days ahead. I was awarded the prize package that was a part of the contest – an awesome Osprey backpack that I will now use year round for all different types of adventures, and coveted Black Diamond crampons and Black Diamond ice tools!! It still didn’t feel real, because it was just too good to be true.

 

After the intros, we got set up with demo gear. This was one of the invaluable parts of the weekend (Really, all aspects were invaluable). Gear is expensive, and it’s hard to know what you want with no baseline. For example, I’ve wanted to get a Patagonia puffy, but wasn’t sure what style would meet my needs so I never got one. Well, after getting to try one in an active outdoor situation, I now know exactly what I want. I was able to use a pair of Scarpa boots all weekend, and now I am sure of what size I want to get so that I have solid kicks and warm feet. My feet are always cold, and those boots kept them toasty all weekend. They were surprisingly light and didn’t feel awkward to hike in at all. And I was definitely swayed to get a particular pair of Outdoor Research gloves. I could go on. But it was great to leave at the end of the weekend having a clearer idea and general confidence for what I want to purchase as I become the self-sufficient climber that Chicks with Picks taught me to be.

 

Post gear grab, we had the most amazing meal. But then Sarah Sharpe at The Secret Garden continued to outdo herself each meal thereafter. Every detail is well thought out, and the entire weekend you feel like you’re getting nothing but the best that Ouray has to offer.

 

After dinner, we headed back to our accomodations at the Victorian Inn. There I thought about the tips we reviewed earlier and worked on smartly packing my Osprey pack with everything I would need for the next day. Grabber warmers? Thank you, and check! Extra layers packed in plastic bags in case things got wet (including five additional pairs of gloves). Check! A week’s worth of snacks that weren’t needed, because delicious lunches from Artisan Bakery in town were provided. Check! I packed much lighter on Sunday. I watched some YouTube videos on how to attach ice axes to an Osprey pack. Then I went through the generous sponsor bag with items from Petzl, Gu, Rock and Ice, ect. Things I will use and all from brands that I love! There was even a Sterling sling that will pair nicely with my favorite climbing accessory, the Sterling HollowBlock. Seriously, we haven’t even started and this has already been the coolest weekend.

 

Day One – South Park

 

For the first climbing day, we all met in The Vic’s parking lot and headed to the park. It was ridiculously close to where we were staying. Elaina Arenz was my guide for the weekend, but our group joined forces with Anna Keeling’s group, and it worked extremely well to combine forces. It made for more climbing opportunities, more belay buddies and learning from two experts! We headed to South Park in Ouray Ice Park for our first climbs, and on the way Anna talked about hiking strategies and how good footwork translates across to climbing. It always amazes me when people who are among the best at what they do are able to break things down to teach people with minimal experience. Both Anna and Elaina are great at this.

 

When we got to the trailhead for the South Park area, we reviewed the art of securing crampons. I still need to work on this, but I am also glad Elaina went over the process with me the night before. We worked on walking in crampons, up and down slopes. Again, Anna broke down the form in a way that gave us small aspects to think about and practice. While that was going on, Elaina was setting up routes for us. Before we headed down to the canyon, we took a short hike along the anchors and talked about ‘good, better, and best’ practices for setting anchors. Elaina was using full Sterling ropes with a simple yet redundant system. Some people were using thin cordlette that made me nervous to step over in crampons and over-complicated systems. Elaina obviously had the most rock solid anchors, but it was really helpful to break down the different variations we saw.

 

In the canyon, Anna and Elaina demonstrated the basics for what we would be doing. We practiced swinging ice axes and kicking in crampons on ground level. My form still needs a lot of work, but practicing this before climbing helps a ton, because when you get on a wall of ice it’s harder to think about good form. After a bit of practice, it was time to get to climbing!

 

We started with some less steep routes and then worked on steeper routes towards the end of the day. Sarah Moore, Amanda Hankinson and Jo Coulter adapted quickly and were even trying mixed routes by the end of the day. With the mention of Jo, I have to say that she had the coolest helmet in South Park that day – the Grivel Stealth. Amy Swanson seemed to pick up the techniques right away. Jamie Lin had only been to a climbing gym a couple of times and absolutely slayed the first day out ice climbing.

 

I had trouble keeping my heels down on climbs, but I got a lot of tips that I will continue to work on. It was great to get some experience on the ice, but it was also great to be able to watch other people climb. It was really cool to watch Anna and Elaina each climb a route. And after getting instruction from Anna and Elaina, it was easy to pick up on what other climbers in the canyon were doing wrong. On the whole, our group looked pretty great in comparison.

 

At the end of the day we headed back down the icy canyon. Both Amy and I took the ice slide down one steep portion, on accident. No one was hurt. We both laughed at ourselves and then remembered to keep in mind the tips Anna had bestowed earlier.

 

We met at The Secret Garden for another incredible home cooked meal by Sarah, a recap of the day and a breakdown of all the different gear options in ice climbing by the legendary Kitty Calhoun. This was another invaluable addition to the weekend. We learned the pros and cons of different ice tools, crampons, boots, clothes, nutrition, ect. Inevitably I decided my next pair of crampons would be Black Diamond Sabretooths and I was definitely going to get a bunch of Gu Summit Tea for later outings. Also, I am lusting after a set of Grivel ice axes for when I start delving into mixed climbing.

 

Day Two – Scottish Gullies

 

On the second day we walked up Box Canyon Road from The Vic to climb in the Lower Bridge/Scottish Gullies area. Again, we combined groups and Elaina set up the ropes while Anna coached us on the short but steep approach, but not without an adorable facetime between Amy and her daughter first. “Mama, don’t get hurt!” Quick aside: I love seeing moms doing adventurous things to better themselves and I love kids seeing their moms doing rad things. Go Amy!

 

This canyon had a river running through it and planks set up to get to the belay spots and climbs. It was gorgeous. I may have found these planks more daunting than the climbs to start, but by the end of the day I was traversing them with no problem, thanks to Anna’s attention and coaching.

 

The climbs in this canyon were a little taller and a little more advanced than the previous day. Sue Browning had a stellar day. She took a fall at one point and impressed me with how she overcame that challenge and kept climbing. Sue hadn’t been climbing in something like ten years, but you would never know it by how she climbed over the weekend. Sarah Rickel had a complete breakthrough day. All her past Chicks clinics came together and she found a new confidence in her climbing. It was awesome to see. It was also great to belay her on a few of these climbs!

 

By the end of the day, Jo, S’Moore and Amanda were trying more technical mixed climbs. Rickel, Jamie and I were practicing climbing with no axes or just one axe to work on better footwork.

 

Some had to leave early, but after the day of climbing we headed back to The Secret Garden for more delightful food, and to recap the weekend. We had a round table where we discussed our biggest take-away, then our guide would say what they thought we got out of the clinic. For me, I was really excited to learn the foundations for good form in ice climbing. I’ve by no means perfected it, but I know what to think about and what to work on every time I head out. It was really cool to hear about the other, more advanced groups that Dawn Glanc and Lindsay Hamm took out. Aimee, Diane, Gina, Nicole, Mary and Victoria worked on more advanced skills and even had their first lead climbs! I aspire to be like Diane some day, who has taken pretty much every clinic Chicks has offered in the past year and has transformed into a really confident and independent climber in a short amount of time.

 

It was great to meet everyone that participated in the 2018 Jiffy clinic. I look forward to coming back to another clinic when I am ready to take my ice climbing to the next level. I want to extend a huge thank you to Chicks Climbing and Skiing, The Subaru Adventure Team, Osprey and Black Diamond for letting me have such an unreal experience – and for supporting each other in a way that raises the climbing community. I’ve already been able to take my new skills and gear out on some climbs closer to home in Cheyenne Canyon and Hully Gully, and I can’t wait to get back to Ouray. Hope to see you all out on the ice soon!

 

 

Intro to Ski Mountaineering in La Grave, France

Get The Goods in La Grave, France

Intro to Ski Mountaineering

Click on any of the photos below for more information on Intro to Ski Mountaineering in La Grave. All photos are from a Chicks trip with Erin Smart in 2017.

skinning up. Ski mountaineering in la Grave

Working for The goods. Skinning up a slope in La Grave, France.

 

Rapelling. Ski Mountaineering.

Rappelling into couloir, La Grave.

 

ski mountaineering in La Grave

Chicks pause for a photo at the top of a couloir way above La Grave.

 

ski mountaineering in La Gave France

Too much fun! Look at that smile. Look closely, you can see tracks WAY down there.

 

ski mountaineering in La Grave, France

Making turns far above La Grave. See ya! Definitely want to be ya!

La Grave snow report. Click the screen shot below to see an updated forecast…

La Grave Snow Report

La Grave Snow Report

Chicks Climbing and Skiing Raises $4,800 for SheJumps

Bidding at the annual Chicks Auction

Real Social: Good times at Chicks Auction

“Thank you, thank you, thank you. We are so honored.”
Claire Smallwood, Director of SheJumps

Chicks Climbing and Skiing is made strong through support, community and the core value of giving back.

On Jan 6, 2018, the 19th Annual Chicks Climbing and Skiing Fundraiser raised $4,800 for SheJumps, an organization with the mission to increase the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities.

As usual, the evening began with socializing. To keep us hydrated, Ouray Brewery served beer and KJ Wood Distillers made stiff drinks.

Next came our signature and raucous Chicks live auction of sponsor-donated gear, followed with films presented by NoMansLand film festival. Of course, Mixtress, produced by Chicks co-owner, Dawn Glanc, about the coming of age of women mixed climbers, was our favorite.

For almost 2 decades Chicks events have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for women’s shelters, the Ouray Ice Park, and, now, SheJumps.

We are very proud of and grateful for our community. Together with our sponsors, our Chicks family, and all of our climbing friends who’ve joined us over the years to mingle, be entertained and to throw down for great climbing gear, we have raised over $230,000!

Can You dig?

Avalanche Rescue

Avalanche Rescue Course participants celebrate with their Certificate of Completion

Chicks Climbing and Skiing Joins Force with the Silverton Avalanche School

Avalanche Rescue Course trip report by Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, IFMGA Mountain Guide

Hello Chicks!

I could not be more stoked about this new partnership between Chicks Climbing and Skiing and the Silverton Avalanche School.

In December, Sandy Kobrock and I hosted three one-day Avalanche Rescue courses.

Despite lack of snow, the courses were hugely successful—17 women from all over the state, and as far away as California, joined us in Ouray, Telluride and Silverton.

The Chicks Avalanche Rescue course is recognized by the American Avalanche Association (A3) as a pre-requisite for the Level 2 course and as a requirement for the PRO Level 1 and 2 courses.

We’re just getting this Avalanche Beta party started! Oh yeah—BIG CONGRATS, HIGH FIVES, GO YOU to all those who took the initiative to train for the unimaginable. Your partners are lucky.

Going up a skin track in the backcountry ©AveryStonich

Going up a skin track in the backcountry ©Angela Hawse

Skiing deep powder snow in the backcountry. ©AveryStonich

Skiing deep powder snow in the backcountry. ©AveryStonich

 

 

 

 

Caution! The Avalanche Rescue Course could be habit forming; it might spark backcountry addiction. We’ll be proudly responsible if you take another course, get an alpine touring set up and learn how to backcountry ski!

 

 

 

 

Choose backcountry partners carefully, training matters.

Did you know that avalanche transceiver searches are easy to practice anywhere that has tall grass, sand, wood chips, etc?

1) There are no tracks in the snow leading to the buried transceiver, giving it away.
2) It’s easier to focus on the essentials—executing the signal, course, fine and pinpoint searches—without the added challenge of moving over snow with ski or riding equipment on.
3) A baseball field or vacant ski slope is very accessible. Folks are more likely to get out and train early season.

Practicing Companion Rescue in woodchips ©Angela Hawse

Practicing Companion Rescue in woodchips ©Angela Hawse

That said, there is nothing like the real thing:

1) It is essential that you are skilled in moving over snow with your skis or board on.
2) You must practice in a snowy environment when it comes to moving large volumes of snow in a short amount of time—it’s hard work!
3) Practice. Practice. Practice digging the way we taught when you have some snow to work with.
4) If you are wondering, “What’s the best way to dig?” visit the Silverton Avalanche School website for more avalanche courses and additional all-women’s backcountry winter offerings at http://avyschool.com/project/new-partnership-with-chicks-climbing-and-skiing/.

And, if you’re a backcountry ice climber, check out the Women’s Avalanche Rescue and Safety for Ice Climbers with Kitty Calhoun in January that focuses on the hazards and rescue skills specific to ice climbing.

Best in Snow,

Angela Hawse

Hangry?

Kitty's favourite GU flavours

Kitty’s favourite GU flavours

My most difficult ski tours have been approaches to winter alpine objectives—breaking trail for miles through deep snow toward majestic peaks that beckon with the satisfaction of a challenging route.

When I was younger, I commonly packed nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies for these long days out in the mountains. As a result, my energy levels spiked and crashed according to my Chips Ahoy intake, each cookie giving me decreasing returns.

Over the years, I learned that in terms of success and safety, proper nutrition in the backcountry is just as important as proper gear.

I’ve lived the truth in renowned climbing trainer and author, Erik Horst’s statement that “Most climbers can realize a 10-20% improvement in performance, recovery, concentration, and energy through thoughtful diet.”

Most significantly, I know that when I’m tired and low on energy I’m more likely to make judgment errors, which I can’t afford, especially if I’m navigating in avalanche terrain. My brain needs calories to process the information it’s taking in.

I need to stay focused and calm. I can’t be hangry.

This is why I take planned fuel breaks.

One of the ways I plan my breaks is with nature’s cues. For example, when the sun sets and the temperature drops, I stop, pull on another layer, rip open a GU and start to sip some hydration mix.

I’ve been using GU instead of chocolate chip cookies for about 20 years now. Actually, truth alert, I still eat chocolate chip cookies but not nearly as many. And, I supplement the cookies with timely gel intake and hydration mix. This makes all the difference. My energy levels stay even. I stay focused. And, I feel way better the next day, ready to do it all again.
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Are You Avalanche Aware?

Avalanche ClassHappy 2018 everybody! I’m so excited. It’s snowing.

As I watch the flakes come down, I feel a wave of joy. I want to run and shout, build a snowman, throw a covert snowball, and GO SKIING!

When I was a kid I dreamed of being a downhill ski racer, flying down mountain slopes. I was fearless and strong. Gravity was my best friend.

I chased my ski-racing dreams from North Carolina to the University of Vermont, home of many ski Olympians. But after a few years of over-crowded ski areas, I escaped to the backcountry where I found ice and alpine climbing. That’s when I discovered the pure joys of winter, where I feel the most at home in this world. I finished university six months early (so I could get on to what was really important!), moved into “Camp Subaru” and headed West.

A few weeks later I found myself with my newfound mentor, Lyle Dean.

Lyle and I were on skis approaching Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainer when a thick fog rolled in and Lyle said, “We need to stop.”

I said, “Why?” We weren’t near our intended camp.

“It’s dangerous to travel in a whiteout.”

Suddenly, there was a loud BOOM—and I was falling.

Everything went white and silent.

I remembered from the avalanche class I’d taken from Rob Newcomb, that I should

SWIM. And, once the snow started to settle I should
MAKE A SPACE FOR YOUR FACE, and
RAISE YOUR OTHER ARM so it might stick out of the snow.

I kicked my skis off, let go of my poles, and swam hard.

Finally, everything stopped. Both Lyle and I ended up OK and on top of the cement-hard snow.

It turns out that we’d been standing on a cornice. The cornice gave way under our weight, and the force of us hitting the slope below started an avalanche.

They say that failure offers an enormous opportunity for learning and that good judgment comes from surviving mistakes. While that may be true (as long as you get back in one piece!), I’ve learned many things from mentors, partners and the courses and classes I’ve taken over the years.

So, I want you to do two things:

1) Click the link (Know Before You Go), watch the video, and share with all your backcountry partners
2) Take an avalanche course

Take a Chicks Avalanche course!

Chicks and the Silverton Avalanche School have partnered to create all-women’s avalanche courses taught by the most bad-ass, knowledgeable and expert women in the industry.

In December, despite no snow, the partnership launched with three super successful one-day Avalanche Rescue Courses. Check out Angela’s trip report to find out how in the heck you practice Avalanche Rescue with NO SNOW?

Also, Chicks is offering Avalanche Rescue and Safety for Ice Climbers and an AIARE Recreational Level 1 course.  If you want to spend a day learning backcountry ski skills or making the transition from downhill to backcountry, join us on our Intro to Backcountry Skills course; If you want to combine turns with avalanche education while staying in a ski hut (so much fun!), we would love to have you on our Intro to Backcountry Skiing and Riding Hut Clinic; And, if you’ve got the experience and mojo for black runs in the backcountry, join us in La Grave, France for Intro to Ski Mountaineering with 7,000′ couloirs and epic fondue!

Lastly, don’t miss the opportunity to sign up for the Subaru Chicks Jiffy Ice Climbing Scholarship, Feb 2-4, 2018.  Check the guidelines for deadline http://www.subaruadventureteam.com/home/womens-ice-climbing-clinic-contest

Hope to see you soon—and look out for snowballs!

Kitty Calhoun

Growth Through Training and Education

Chicks Continuing EducationLife is an adventure and we never know where it will take us.

I was afraid of heights when I was a teenager, but by the time I finished college, all I wanted to do was to learn more about alpine climbing in ranges throughout the world.  I knew that I could only afford to do so by becoming a guide or a sponsored climber.  I never dreamed I could become a sponsored climber so I chose to become a guide and worked for the American Alpine Institute in Alaska, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Nepal.  Along the way, I did some personal climbs that attracted attention and eventually I did become a sponsored climber. As Chicks Co-Owner Karen Bockel states in her story of becoming a Certified IFMGA Guide, we all reach a fork in our path. When I was offered sponsorship opportunities, I chose that path over becoming a certified guide. I was doing what I loved, getting paid to travel the world and climb.

Why is it important to hire a certified guide?

I think Chicks Co-Owner Angela Hawse sums it up best. In this excerpt from her blog she explains why you should seek out certified guides:

AMGA Certified Guides come from many different backgrounds and have a variety of talents and ambitions but one thing unites them all: the desire to rise to their full potential, excel at what they do, and become the best mountain guide they can be. AMGA training allows mountain guides to realize these desires. As a U.S. member of the IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Association), our certified guides have undergone rigorous training and examination that meets and exceeds international standards.

Building a relationship and getting involved with an AMGA Certified Guide or Accredited Program is a great way to gain mastery of climbing and skiing technical skills or reach the summit of your heart’s desire. AMGA guides bring a unique set of characteristics to the mountains. With a combination of great personality, a focus on maximizing client reward, excellent teaching ability, and emphasis on safety, our guides are sure to improve your mountain experiences.

At Chicks, we believe that certified guides represent the best guide training there is – and that is why we only hire certified guides.  Amongst our ownership team, Angela Hawse and Karen Bockel are both IFMGA Certified, meaning they have passed rigorous exams in Rock, Alpine, and Ski disciplines… they pretty much have a Ph.D. in guiding. Dawn Glanc is Certified in both Rock and Alpine disciplines, and Elaina Arenz is a Certified Rock Guide and Apprentice Alpine Guide. Besides certification, we value education and improving oneself. Personally, I am looking forward to taking pro level avalanche courses this winter.

So here’s to those who dare to follow their dreams.

Here’s to education, training, and experience to enable those dreams. As Albert Schweitzer said, “The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives”. Carry on, Sisters and never stop learning.

Forging Self-Reliance

One cold, windy day many years ago Jay Smith, Doug Hall, and I eagerly donned our packs and began post-holing up a gully to do a first ascent of an ice route that rarely comes in.  The new snow was not particularly deep, but the gully was steep so we took turns breaking trail.  We were nearing the base of the climb and the wind had begun to howl overhead. My partners had stopped to pull out the 7ml tag line and were looking for an anchor.  “What’s up?” I asked, knowing full well that they were roping up because they were afraid of the avalanche danger and hoped a belay would save their lives should an avalanche drop down on us from above.  “If it’s that bad, I am going down!” I exclaimed.  After a lengthy discussion, Jay and Doug packed up the rope and followed me down the gully.  Because of my taking a stand, we did not make the first ascent.  The slope above never avalanched, but we will never know if the gully would have slid with our weight on it.

Still, I wanted to know more.  Was I being too conservative?  Was my tolerance for risk below those of my partners?  Perhaps the rope and anchor (a scrawny tree) would have held in an avalanche.  I consulted with a local avalanche expert and he stated that if he were in my shoes, he would have expressed the same concerns as I and retreated.  I realized that both Jay and Doug had listened to my arguments intently that day and had not treated me any differently because I had a lower testosterone level.  Any thoughts of personal doubts were ones that I brought on myself.

When Kim Reynolds started Chicks Climbing and Skiing nineteen years ago, she noticed plenty of women, in the Ouray Ice Park, climbing with men.  What bothered her was the fact that they were not leading or setting up anchors. They relied on their more experienced partners. 

Since 1999, Chicks has been working to increase the skill and knowledge base in women in rock, ice, and alpine climbing and most recently – backcountry skiing.  Recently, my four Chicks partners and I were discussing our purpose.  We had to narrow it down to two words.  We settled upon Forging Self-Reliance.  Brilliant!

Learning to Trust

What fundamental traits make for a successful rock climber? Many veterans of the sport would say leadership, adaptability, strength, confidence, patience, and composure, to name a few. None of which are traits that I would consider to be strengths of my own. I, on the other hand, am cautious and introverted. I meticulously analyze every decision and tirelessly plan for any scenario I might find myself in. I cringe at being the center of attention or when I am tasked with leading. In my recent years I’ve resented that about myself so I’ve begun making a conscious effort to step out of my comfort zone. Learning to trust myself and gain confidence were two things I hoped to accomplish with a trip to Red Rocks in Nevada for a weekend of rock climbing with Chicks.

My name is Chelsea Cordes and I am a Registered Dietitian in Memphis, TN. Dietitians are notoriously type A, we do not like surprises, we thrive in environments conducive to organization and which warrant endless hours of planning. We are, to be blunt, obnoxiously diligent and effective employees, but terribly uncomfortable with uncertainty or anything out of our control.

I mention this because outdoor recreational activities aren’t exactly environments which allow you to have much control. In the wilderness, mother nature is the boss. So you can see how I would naturally have an aversion to anything remotely unpredictable like rock climbing. Learning to trust was going to be a challenge for me.

But, as a person who also has a deep love for being active, solving puzzles, connecting with nature, and challenging myself, I fell in love with the sport, or at least the very controlled and comfortable version which I had been exposed to.

Close to six months ago a friend invited me to try it for the first time. It was with wide eyes that I walked in to find a 30-foot tall wall speckled with bright fluorescent climbing holds, and from the moment I tried it, I loved it.

So for months I would climb on that little wall every chance I had, and I would try to glean as much from the more experienced climbers as possible. For months I waited to be invited to go climbing outside, and, luckily for me, it eventually happened. I got a taste of what it’s like to climb on real limestone where I could soak up the beautiful views surrounding me and feel the sharp edge of rock dig into my hands. I loved it.

I wanted to go every weekend, and every weekend I didn’t get invited I was disappointed. Until one day when it occurred that I was being too passive. If I really wanted to grow, I needed to push myself instead of relying on others. So I turned to Google. “Okay Google, tell me where I can find some badass women that rock climb who can teach me everything I need to know.”

Chicks Climbing & Skiing popped up. After reviewing each option in thorough detail (true to form), I booked my trip to travel with Chicks to Red Rock, Nevada at the end of March 2017. It was in no time that I was making my way to the airport, climbing gear in tow and eager to begin my journey. When I arrived at the house in Las Vegas I was greeted by smiling women hauling loads of generously donated demo equipment.

petzl spirit screwlockHelmets, backpacks, shoes, harnesses, you name it, all at our disposal to be tested for the remainder of the week.  It was a gear junkie’s dream. And it didn’t take long for me to notice shiny blue Patagonia travel cases carefully spaced on the dining room table, one for each of us bursting with goodies. When the time finally came for us to open them, I felt nostalgic, like a kid on Christmas morning picking through my stocking all over again. The contents included everything from Petzl Spirit Screwlock carabiner to an Osprey Pack 6L dry sack. I was pleasantly surprised.

The house wasn’t bad either. And by not bad I mean very well decorated, clean, and spacious. I was fully expecting to be slumming it for four days but what I got instead was a very relaxing retreat after each day of adventure. I had a room to myself, a queen bed to lounge on, and five pillows to doze with. Awww yeah!

As more women began to filter into the house I introduced myself and quickly learned my guides for the trip were Dawn Glanc and Elaina Arenz. It didn’t take long for their high level of expertise and climbing knowledge to be evidently clear.

red rock accommodationsOur first night in the house the ladies called a meeting among appetizers to go over the general plan for the trip. At this time both Dawn and Elaina gave us a little history and a background into their climbing experience. They also tasked us each with determining a measurable goal for our trip which they promised to help us achieve.

As I sat and listened to each of the women at the table divulge a little about themselves and their personal goals, I couldn’t help but feel inspired. Some of us had less experience than others *cough* me *cough*, some of us were mothers, some of us had worked in Antarctica and some of us were recovering from serious disabling injuries and were looking for a climbing rebirth. 

At the end of the night, each of us decided on a goal.

My goal was a bit broad-I wanted more confidence. Confidence to feel like I could take others out to climb rather than relying on being invited, which meant learning to lead and learning to trust myself.

Leading to me at this point was the big scary monster lurking under my bed. I had been climbing outdoors before, but I had only ever top roped with the exception of one very low graded route which I “lead” on.

The idea of falling above my anchor on a sheer face of rock terrified me. The dietitian in me wanted to prepare and train as best I could before even attempting to lead to eliminate the risk of falling altogether. I quickly learned that would not be possible.

Over the course of three days our guides were very diligent about answering our questions, keeping us safe, and guaranteeing us fun. Dawn was particularly good at teaching the technical aspects of climbing and did an exceptional job of explaining the ‘why’ portion of everything we were doing. Not to mention, Dawn is an excellent cook (as a person who chose to center her career around food, I would know.)

And Elaina had a very calming and therapeutic energy which made scary situations incredibly more manageable. At the end of the trip I felt like asking her to be my full time psychologist.

The first incident when it was abundantly clear that I could trust my guides was day one about 10 minutes into the trip when we hiked to our crag under wind advisory. It was surprisingly very cold for being late March in the midday desert, and I needed cold weather gear, something I had questioned about the packing list I had received prior to leaving. I later learned that trust would be a recurrent force of momentum for the remainder of my little adventure.

Day one we went over the basics of climbing. Day two we got a more technical experience building anchors and learning to lead belay with a Grigri. I’ll admit, I had my reservations about the Grigri starting the trip but that later changed. There’s that recurring theme of needing to trust my guides again.

But what was most beneficial to me on day two was the practice we did mock leading and falling. That’s right, intentionally falling… but in small incremental steps. Dawn volunteered me to go first. She had me climb up the route and bounce around a bit to get comfortable, then the more intimidating instruction came.

“Just climb up to that third bolt, step up like you are reaching for a hold and fall back into a seated chair position,” she said nonchalantly.

“Oh you want me to climb all the way up there … Okay?” I replied with obvious trepidation. And while I was nervous about it and apparently frightened, the voice in my head reminded me to trust my guides.

I climbed to the third bolt, took three deep breaths, and on the third exhalation, I let myself sit back. Just like that it was over with and to my surprise it was actually pretty fun. We did it again, and again, and again, until the fear vanished completely.

Whohoo! I felt so relieved. One small step for beginner climber, one giant leap for overbearing, controlling, and paranoid personality types womankind.  Until day three.

On day three Elaina challenged our group with the final test. We were to do everything-put the rope up, belay one another, clean the route, everything. Elaina picked the first route, and when I saw what we would be leading, the fear started trickling back in.

Looking out into the vast open space of desert below it became apparently clear that I was not in Memphis. The routes were easily twice the height of what I was climbing back home not to mention they were up on a legitimate mountain. The only other routes I had climbed outside were little bluffs which you could easily see the anchor on.

People were clambering up and down the path along the wall, bounding across boulders with excitement and conversing about which routes to select. I began to feel like my inexperience was palpable.

And so the two other women in my group lead our first route before me, each of which sent it with relative ease. Then it was my turn. With my confidence dwindling I asked to mock lead it first and did it relatively well, with no slips or hesitation at least. Next it was time for the real deal and Elaina had offered to belay me.

I climbed past the first bolt and up to the second no issues. Gazing up above me I spotted the crux of the climb and the fear came rushing in. Nothing had changed about the route, it was the exact same one I climbed mere moments before with no problems. Why was I suddenly afraid?

As I let the fear wash over me it began to be visibly obvious in my hands and legs. People walking up the path were probably unsure if it was me or Elvis climbing the way my legs were shaking uncontrollably.

“Breathe” I heard from Elaina below.

“Oh yeah! Duh! You have to breath Chels” I thought to myself.

So I took some controlled breaths and a back step, looked around at my options and came up with a plan. I began to climb again only to get to the same spot I had stopped before. Fondling the rock in hopes a magical jug would appear from nowhere, the doubt and fear crept in again.

So I took a back step and some more controlled breaths, and the same sequence occurred for several minutes over and over again. And in the midsts of being coached and encouraged through the problem I had an epiphany.

Trust.

I need to simply trust, trust my feet as I had been told several times, trust my belayer and guide, trust myself that I could do this.

And with that momentum I stepped up on my right foot to reach for the next hold, all doubt and fear aside, only relying on trust, and…. I fell. And not only did I fall once, but I fell at that same spot at least three more times.

I know, that was a bit anticlimactic and is not how these stories are supposed to go, but that was the most influential and valuable detail of my whole experience with Chicks.

The falling was a little scary but nothing like the horrific event I had pictured in my mind. And I was perfectly fine, not a scratch on me. Eventually I figured out a way to get past that move and finish the route.

But falling on a lead unplanned did so much more for me than sending the route with ease. It removed some of that crippling fear I had of anticipating my first fall. It reminded me that it is okay that I’m still a brand new climber with a lot to learn. And, it allowed Elaina to personally coach me through my greatest challenge which turned out not to be physical or technical at all, it was all in my head.

The strategies I learned to deal with that mental challenge will be essential for me far beyond the sport of rock climbing. They’re concepts which will help me to be a less controlling, anxious, and doubtful person in general.

At the end of the day, nobody waltzes up to a wall and climbs it perfectly every time regardless of whatever inherent characteristics you possess. It’s more about growing in confidence and trust in knowing that you are equipped to figure out what the answer is to your next big project, that’s ultimately what it means to be a successful rock climber.

Ironically, I think I left the trip feeling more proud of myself for falling on a lead than I would have if I sent it with no problems. I sure as hell learned a lot more about myself which is exactly what I was looking for.

The amazing thing about the guides with Chicks is, they will help you safely and effectively navigate the space between comfort and discomfort, and within that very narrow space is where the learning and growing happens.

No matter what your goal is big or small, or whether you realize it at all, Chicks can help you achieve it.

Real Chick: Dede Rosenburg, Subaru Scholarship Winner 2016

Last year I was the lucky winner of one of Subaru Adventure Team’s big prizes: a trip to City of Rock in Idaho to attend a climbing clinic put on by Chicks Climbing. In the spring, a friend of mine told me about the essay contest SAT was having. He thought it would be right up my alley, and it was! I have been an aspiring mountaineer for many years and the one piece I was working hard at (but struggling with in Minnesota!) was rock climbing. I wrote my essay and submitted my photos. For days after, I talked about how amazing it would be to have this opportunity. And as more days went by, it sort of fell off my radar. Like contests do. Much to my surprise, months later, I received an email that I had in fact won. And that I had two weeks to figure everything out for travel, because Idaho was calling! And there was no way I would miss out on such a rare and rad event.

In order to get to Idaho from Minnesota, I had to drive by so many beautiful parts of the country. So naturally this turned into a glorious road trip of National Parks and National Forests. Dirtbagging steadily out west. Surviving on quick oats, tuna packets and instant coffee. It was bliss. Every day that I woke up, I was somewhere new and glorious. And so aware that none of this would have been possible without winning the climbing scholarship.

When I got to City of Rock, I was greeted with some special sights that I didn’t expect at all. Prior to this, I had no clue how lovely and rugged Idaho was. I was dazzled and honestly, quite scared for my car; a 10 year old Chevy Aveo that has seen more wilderness than most of the people I know! The color of this landscape was bright gold, with splashes of green and red. The sky a pop of blue with puffs of white cloud. The air was hot and dry and sensational. Getting to the parking lot, I saw a sign that I recognized directing me towards a campsite about a quarter of a mile in.

My things for the next few days were unloaded and I was left for the weekend. I began to set up my tent and organize my gear as some of the other ladies rolled in and began to do the same. I was struck by how windy our private site was. Putting my sleep system together, everything hit me all at once; how lucky I had been to win this opportunity, how wonderful it was that it all worked out- my job agreed, my car agreed, everything was lining up in a lovely way. When I finished setting up and emerged from the tent, I was pretty surprised to see that most everyone was doing the same. We were asked to come around the fire ring in a few to do intros and get the lay of the next few days. I think this is the part I was most nervous for at the time. I had realized while in my tent, that most of these women seemed to know one another. Through hearing them chit chatting and talking about past climbing adventures. I was a little apprehensive about being the only woman to have won my way there. And about very clearly being the least experienced climber.

During intros, my mind was eased by the friendly nature of everyone there. We all chatted some and were given very fun “gift bags” that were actually just wonderful presents- a bag from Patagonia, a hat from OR, a few Petzl items and many little items for skin care and climbing. Totally unexpected and very appreciated. We had some dinner and retired to our tents for the night. We had a big day ahead of us, with a pretty early start!

The next morning I woke up feeling refreshed and emerged from my tent to a pre-sunrise City of Rock. No one else was awake, so I took to opportunity to take a sunrise stroll down the main roads of the area. It was warm with a cool breeze and the sky was slowly turning into a rainbow of painted colors that reflected vividly off of the rock that surrounded everything. I returned to camp and was greeted by Chick Guides, Angela and Aimee, who were busy starting to get coffee going and arranging the table for breakfast. We had some great conversation and the other ladies began to rise. Breakfast was a lot of coffee and many food choices, served up buffet style. There was something for everyone, including gluten free options. I don’t think anyone ever went hungry during the next few days- between our ample breakfasts and dinners that were provided, most of us brought hearty lunches and many snacks.

Day one of climbing began with some lessons on ropes, knots and basic safety. We went over gear and were able to test out various shoes, helmets and anything else you might need! I enjoyed this part of the day. I have some sports arthritis in my left foot and have difficulty finding climbing shoes that feel okay. I tend to stay loyal to specific brands and being able to try on and use alternative brands was awesome. I particularly liked a pair of Scarpas- not too aggressive and wide enough for my crazy foot. I was most comfortable with gym-climbing at the time and had no idea what slab climbing was. Enter: the slab climbing crash course.

I was so timid about this style of climbing. Quite frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever shown such restraint in a new physical pursuit. Between the new kind of exposure and the uncertainty of almost nothing to hold on to, I had some trouble. I took two attempts at two different routes that morning. I found a lot of peace watching the other women climb, noticing the technique they used and paying close attention to where they were putting hands and feet on this seemingly very smooth but sticky rock. Smearing was everything. Using your hands to balance was everything. I took note and rested my foot a bit. I had one more attempt, using some of what I saw the other women doing, and was stunned by the reaction I had to the exposure as I climbed higher. It was enough to call it a day for me- so many new emotions and observations! Angela could tell I was feeling a little uncomfortable and took me aside to practice smearing on a small boulder nearby. “Trust the gear” was something she said a few times. And I realized that was something that I had never been told before and it was not something I had ever done. I understood using gear, but until that point I didn’t understand that to use it properly, you must trust it. This little lesson boosted my confidence and gave me something to really look forward to for the following day.

Later that day, I was given the opportunity to belay a few times. It was a great rest for my tired foot and a fun way to get to know some of the ladies more. We were out on the rock for many hours and when we wrapped it up for the evening, hunger set in. There was a big healthy feast and we all gathered together to discuss our day and our plans for the next day. We decided to go to Castle Rocks State Park, which was very nearby and would hopefully provide much more shade.

When we went to bed that evening, everything from the day caught up with me and I slumbered. Hard. I woke up around sunrise and again, had some great conversation with Angela and Aimee. We had breakfast and hit the road- it was a short drive to the state park and a beautiful walk to the area we would be climbing at. I was shocked to see so many flowers and so many lizards. I also noted the couple rogue cows grazing the field and hanging out near the trail. It all felt a little surreal. We set up our ropes and began climbing. I belayed a bit and learned a lot in doing so. Any time I had a question it was answered and many tips were given to make the task easier and more comfortable. When it was time for me to attempt climbing for the day, the exposure got me good. Only this time I was encouraged from below by everyone and I went a little further than before. I knew what I had to do and how to do it, but my muscles and brain were fighting with one another. My calves gave out before my brain allowed me to get much higher. The sun was hot. I felt overstimulated. It was time for me to sit back, investigate gear, take some photos and have a bite to eat.

Later in the day I sent my first wall. It is still something I am very proud of. I was scared and unsure, but I was determined to complete a route on this trip. Even if it was one route. Going from never slab climbing to jumping right on in; I counted it as a major victory. The wind was so strong, my rope was whipping all over. I couldn’t decide if it was best to look up, down or to either side. Eventually I decided to just keep it simple, with eyes pointing only to where I needed to go. When I topped out, I could just barely hear some friends cheering below. Seemingly just as happy I was for this overcoming of fear and powering through.

It is immensely difficult to be vulnerable and not your best in front of new people. But there was no judgement, only kindness. Praise over and over again. Reminders from everyone that we all start somewhere and usually it’s from a place of complete unknowing. I took all of these encouraging and gentle words and to this day, remember them often.

After climbing, most of the ladies went to the local hot springs. I didn’t come prepared for that and stayed behind at camp. The plan was to read, write and reflect on the past couple days. But that is not how it worked out. In The City, cellphone service is quite hard to come by. As it turned out, friends and family had been trying to get ahold of me for a while. There was a family emergency back in Minnesota and before I was able to comprehend any of it, my boyfriend arrived at our camp to break this news, help me pack up quickly and make the long drive home. An imperfect ending to a life changing few days. I had made connections, achieved goals and learned so much. It felt like a haze to leave in such a rapid and surprising manner.

It’s been a handful of months since my scholarship to City of Rocks. So much has changed in my life. Profound changes that have been difficult, scary and often times like groping around in the dark. And I have thought about my time in Idaho constantly. I learned more in those days about climbing than I could possibly imagine. From technique, to language, to gear. I was able to learn about the outdoor industry in a deeper way. And I was encouraged to chase my dreams; live my life wildly and fully. I felt supported in a group of women. It was a beautiful and inspiring thing. I daydream about how excited I was when I topped out. How shocked and proud I was. It is empowering beyond words to defeat fears so big. I carry that feeling with me whenever I face sticky situations in daily life. Normal struggle seems a hell of a lot easier to handle when you’ve battled your own mind in a dangerous situation. And being supported by these strong and athletic women is empowering in a different way. I find that these days I am a bit more encouraging of others. I trust a little easier and open up a little quicker. I feel a safety with women that I never had before.

I grew leaps and bounds in The City. In many ways, my life began there. Or rather, I evolved into someone else there. Someone I care for and appreciate more. A grown woman who is braver and calmer and unafraid of the unknown. Climbing will always be a large part of my life and through this clinic, I have knowledge, confidence and a higher skill level to propel me further. Prior to this, I didn’t know slab climbing. Since that time, I have used this skill countless times. It is a technique I am proud of. My time spent in Idaho was raw and magical. It is an experience that is constantly teaching me lessons and that I will remember for the rest of my life. I am excited to return some day to conquer more fears, develop further and reminisce on the crazy few days I spent with Chicks Climbing.

Words and photos: Dede Rosenburg