The Journey to IFMGA Certification

Do you sometimes wonder which fork in the road led you down this wild and precious path you’re on?

Karen Bockel IFMGA

When I was a kid, I wanted to become either a Nobel-Prize winning Physicist working at CERN in Geneva or a Certifed Mountain Guide. The latter seemed so far-fetched and impossible – my only connection to the mountains was the countless hours I spent in my hometown library pouring over coffee table books of Reinhold Messner climbing the 8,000m peaks, that I stuck with Physics.

I studied atomic and laser physics and spent most of my graduate school days and nights inside a lab.  The black blinds shut out any stray light, and any sign of life or weather outside.  I spent the daytime hours tuning the lasers and solving page-long differential equations, and the nighttime hours, when everyone else and their perturbations had left the building, running experiments.  Laser cooling of atoms, Rubidium atoms to be precise, was my project, and it required a lot of planning, calculating and designing to eventually create a vacuum system containing a cloud of atoms in the crosshairs of 3 perpendicular laser beams. When everything lined up one fine day, a few weeks after having passed my Master’s thesis, the diode laser measuring the atom cloud’s temperature finally produced the expected signal, and the pale image of my Rubidium atom cloud hovered there, suspended in space, at a temperature of a few microKelvin.

Not long afterwards, I realized that, while I loved the research and academia, I missed the outside more, and something had to change.

After sneaking away for several trips into the mountains, I finally told my advisers that I was headed for the hills for good. I moved to a little mountain town in Southwest Colorado, learned to ski on leather boots and tele gear, worked as a carpenter, and spent most of the next few years either above treeline or on some rock wall, exploring all the beautiful San Juans had to offer.

I started ski patrolling and traveling to ski in far away places. I planned and took part in an expedition to ski Denali with three other women, and through two of my teammates got introduced to expedition guiding. I was intrigued. My neighbors owned Mountain Trip, a company guiding the 7 summits, and I timidly asked if I could hire on as an apprentice.  They took me on, and the next summer I found myself back in Alaska. Under the tutelage of Dave Staeheli, who when I asked him to teach me, basically provided me and the other co-guides (and even all our clients) with an entire alpine course while slowly climbing our way up the West Buttress. We got caught in a major storm at High Camp, leaving us stranded at 17,000’ for 8 days, before we fought our way back down to more livable places. It took perseverance, teamwork, and skill to get the teams down safely. The hard work of expedition guiding felt good.  I was hooked.  I was finally on my path toward this old, nearly forgotten childhood dream of becoming a mountain guide.

Karen Bockel IFMGA

The following fall, Mountain Trip offered a contract AMGA Rock Instructor course to their lead guides taught by Angela Hawse and Vince Anderson, and I, the rookie, somehow got in. I frantically tried to find some climbing partners to get ready for the course, but most my friends were runners and bikers. Nonetheless, I showed up on the first day, eyes wide open. It was great.

I’ll never forget that moment of Angela telling me when I was short pitching, braced behind a small boulder “that rock is not strong enough to hold us if we fall – look for a better solution, keep it real.”  I got that one, not just for right there, but for life!

I also remember that she taught us a ‘munter pop’ maneuver to get two clients safely established on a single rope lower – she might as well have spoken Chinese.  Mostly, though, the guiding instruction and climbing were really informative, fun, and inspiring, and I felt at home on the rock and on the rope. In the evaluations, Vince told me I had mountain sense, the ultimate compliment. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about that ever since.  Needless to say – I’d found my path with the encouragement from these two extraordinary mountain guides.

Fast forward seven years, many vertical feet, footsteps, rope lengths and a couple knee surgeries later, and I found myself tied to my examiner and a co-candidate, breaking trail up the Quien Sabe Glacier of the Boston Basin in the heart of the North Cascades. We are on our last two days of the alpine exam, my final AMGA program on the path to IFMGA certification. It is only fitting that I finish the alpine track last, the queen discipline that combines the worlds of skiing and climbing, the one with the most tradition, the one I dreamt of as a kid. The moments of sunshine from earlier have given way to dense clouds, crevasses and handrails have disappeared into the mist, and I can see nothing, and yet somehow I see everything.  Years of training, experience and guiding days come together. I find the top of the glacier, lead the rope across the moat and climb onto the ridge above. We keep going into the clouds, in the cold wind, a fresh foot of snow covering the rocks. As we move together, chilled to the core, precariously but perfectly counterbalanced on the ridge, the sentiment I felt on Denali years prior returns: we are at home in the mountains.  For me, the exam finished on a high note in a wild and amazing place. I couldn’t have been more stoked.

It’s been an amazing path, and I have been lucky to share the rope with great friends, co-guides, mentors, and clients.  I have also been lucky to work for a number of great guide services.  I am thankful for every moment (except maybe the many hours on the trail down from the Grand Teton). In particular, I want to thank my Chicks Co-Owners for our partnership and friendship.

  • Angela Hawse for encouraging me at the start and always having my back
  • Bill and Todd at Mountain Trip for opening the door to the guiding world
  • Kitty Calhoun for climbing El Cap and becoming friends along the way
  • Dan Starr for letting me tell him all my guiding reflections and for practicing rope tricks in the garage
  • The Telluride Ski Patrol for the best early morning ski runs and letting me stick my head into the snow
  • Eric Larson for being there for me in spite of telling me not to become a guide
  • Emilie Drinkwater for an amazing climbing trip to the Alps
  • Larry Goldie for turning me loose in the Cascades
  • Thomas Olson at Howard Head Sports Medicine for getting me back onto two legs
  • And for my family who allowed me to take the fork less travelled.

What it takes to be an IFMGA Mountain Guide

mountain guideMeet IFMGA Mountain Guide & Chicks Co-Owner Angela Hawse

Outside Magazine recently interviewed Angela Hawse about her path towards becoming the sixth American Woman to become a IFMGA Certified Mountain Guide. This is a huge accomplishment and it doesn’t come easily.

Aspirants spend years honing their skills in the mountains and must past a series of grueling courses and exams in three mountain disciplines: Rock, Alpine & Ski. To hold a certification in all three disciplines like Angela has, is the equivalent of having your PHD in Guiding.

She is in the small circle of elite few who can call themselves an American Mountain Guide. We are so proud of Chicks Co-Owner Angela Hawse and the folks at Outside Magazine were pretty impressed with her too. Read more

 

Avoiding a Ground Fall & DIY Stick Clip

Written by: Dawn Glanc

Bolts. They are the protection that make face climbing possible. However, the first bolt is often placed higher than you may feel comfortable climbing to unprotected. A high first bolt can result in a ground fall if you fail to clip it.  The consequences can be so high, that a climber may decide to retreat from the route. There is no need to be reckless at the crag – use a stick clip to help you mitigate the risk of a ground fall!  Here is a quick stick clip recipe to help you send those beautiful routes that have high first bolt placement.

How to make a stick clip:

 

StickClip1

Ingredients:
1 extendable painter’s pole
1 spring clamp
2 hose clamps
Various stickers are optional

Tools needed:
Flat head screwdriver

Step 1:

Slide hose clamps onto the painter’s pole (do not tighten yet).

StickClipStep1

Step 2:

Slide spring clamp onto pole, trapping an “arm” of the spring clamp into the hose clamps.

StickClipStep2

Step 3:

Tighten hose clamps with the screwdriver to secure the spring clamp. Alternate tightening each hose clamp to be sure you make the hose clamps as tight as possible. Decorate handle of pole with stickers if you so choose.

StickClipStep3

How to Use the Stick Clip:

Step 1:

Insert top carabiner of the quickdraw into the spring clamp. Use spring clamp to hold the top carabiner of the quickdraw open. Clip the rope with a big loop of slack into the bottom carabiner on the quickdraw.

StickClipUse1

Step 2:

Extend the pole. With patience and grace, hook the bolt with the carabiner.

StickClipUse2b

When the quickdraw is secure to the bolt, pull down on the stick clip with force to free the spring clamp of the quickdraw.

Once the carabiner is hooked, pull down on the stick clip to pull the quickdraw from the spring clamp. The first bolt is now clipped and you are ready to climb!

StickClipUse3

Dawn Glanc is a co-owner and a guide for Chicks Climbing and Skiing. Dawn has been climbing rock and ice for nearly 20 years. When she is not working you can find Dawn out climbing with friends. She loves sport climbing and considers herself a cragger at heart. “I have been using a stick clip for years,” says Dawn. “Sport climbing is meant to be fun, there is no need to risk a ground fall.  You can use this ‘stick clip’ trick to help keep yourself safe whether you are rock climbing or mixed climbing.”

Dawn and the other guides will be hosting a variety of rock clinics this fall in some of the premier climbing areas in the U.S. Look for Chicks in the Red River Gorge, Keene Valley, Red Rocks and Rifle. Beginner to advanced climbers are welcome. Don’t miss your chance to learn new skills and techniques from some of the best female guides in the industry.

The Trip by Kitty Calhoun

Girly Guide, Kitty Calhoun, gives us a taste of her latest adventure on El Cap.  She reminds us that while our lives have many moving parts, you can never stop learning from climbing and applying those lessons to everyday life.  To read the full blog post, check out Patagonia’s Cleanest Line Blog.

Written by: Kitty Calhoun

Kitty_CleanestLineArticle

Look close: Kitty leading pitch 4, bewildered at the crux. Photo: Tom Evans

I anticipated the change with dread and excitement. My son was leaving the nest for college and I was determined to return to my former goal-driven climbing lifestyle. Fred Becky would be proud of me. After a night of mourning, alone under the desert stars, I promptly returned home, found my address book, and started calling all the girls I knew who might be interested in my next project.

I had become fixated on Tangerine Trip, VI A2 or C3F, on El Cap for a number of reasons. Nothing compares to the nights spent sitting on a portaledge, hundreds of feet above the valley floor, where only a few have earned the position. There is nothing to do but eat dinner—a bagel with cream cheese and tuna, perhaps—and slip into the sleeping bag. I savor the brief escape from the concerns and busyness of the world, where silence is broken only by the whoops of joy from other souls perched high on the wall and swallows swoop through the air, enjoying themselves just as much as the climbers.

Even though aid climbing is out of vogue, I’ve found that leading hard aid pitches challenges me and scares me just as much as any other form of climbing. No, I’m not ready to live vicariously just yet.

But the slip into retirement started to feel inevitable as my phone calls were returned. A couple of girls were recovering from surgery, two more couldn’t fit it into their schedules, and another two didn’t feel qualified. My own work obligations were piling up and free time was disappearing. So when my friend, Karen Bockel, showed up at Red Rocks and agreed to climb The Trip as soon as I finished work, I didn’t look twice at the metal knee brace she was sporting. My old attitude—that I could get myself and my partner up anything—had taken hold of me once again.

Read the full post here.

Climbing in Iceland with Loki the Deceiver

Kitty setting new route in Iceland

Kitty setting a new route in Iceland.

Girly Guide and Patagonia Ambassador, Kitty Calhoun, recently returned for an amazing trip to Iceland where she, Jay Smith, John Catto, and Beth Goralski put up eight new routes and two partials.  Most of which were two pitches of WI 4-5+.

Below is an excerpt, read the full article on Patagonia’s blog, The Cleanest Line.

Iceland is a land of extremes – stark beauty within a harsh, unforgiving landscape and an equally daunting climate. Volcanoes are still erupting, earthquakes are nearly constant, yet the geothermal water provides Iceland with most of its energy needs and natural hot springs ease the cold of winter. Eleven percent of the country is covered with glaciers. Sighting of the aurora borealis is common. The coast is dotted with steep cliffs, overhung by glaciers and blasted by wind off the ocean. Yet over 300 species of birds nest in these cliffs, eider ducks (think eiderdown) float in the ocean and the fishery is Iceland’s largest source of income.

In such a stark and dramatic landscape, it is easy to imagine events being controlled by the Norse gods. In fact, on our quest for virgin ice climbs, we too felt their power – one in particular: Loki the trickster, deceiver, god of chaos.

Read the full article on Patagonia’s blog, The Cleanest Line.

Fire Up for Red Rocks – Climbers Paradise

Red Rocks Climbing Clinic

Kitty demonstrating moves at a Red Rocks clinic.

It’s that time of year, we’re peeling off our layers and getting ready to hit the rocks in “Climbers Paradise” Red Rocks, Nevada.  We checked in with Girly Guide and lover of all desert climbs, Kitty Calhoun  to talk about starting the season off right!

“What better way to start out the rock climbing season than by spending it in Red Rocks?  Seriously, spring in the desert is awesome because you don’t have to put up with mud season or a shoulder season.  You get a jump on rock climbing season, and on your tan.  I really like starting out in Red Rocks in particular because it is so user-friendly.  There are mostly short approaches and such a variety of types of climbs and grades of climbs.  This means I can warm up on climbs that I feel comfortable on and get a lot of mileage.  Also, the daylight hours are getting pretty long, so I can get in a full day of climbing and still have light to just hang with friends and tell stories – in shorts and t-shirts.  And oh yeah, Vegas is so convenient and inexpensive.  And to think… it is coming up soon.  Yahoo! I can’t wait and hope to see you there!” – Kitty

Mountain Project says it best:

A few thousand routes, generally warm weather, every kind climbing from short sport routes to big 20-pitch outings, nearby Las Vegas for off-rock activities. Who could ask for more?

Throw in climbing with an amazing group of women and that’s all any Chick could ask for!

Fire up for Red Rocks coming up April 2 – 6th

Last Ascents – Ted Talk with Kitty Calhoun

Below is excerpt from Kitty Calhoun’s recent Ted Talk entitled Last Ascents.  Watch the video to see all of her amazing presentation.

I’m morphing, changing from one role to another.  But I needed something in my life that didn’t change.  Something that was permanent.  Until I found God, I found that in the mountains.  The mountains have been used as my techer for over 30 years and it’s hard to admit that mountains are changing but they are.  I’m here to tell a story about a Last Ascent.  A route that I climbed that may not get a repeat because of climate change.  It’s hard to admit that the mountains are changing but they are.  We may or may not be able to affect climate change, but I think we should at least try and I have a new approach.

Initially I wasn’t interested in climbing at all, because I was afraid of heights.  But I went to Outward Bound and rock climbing was part of the course.  I learned my fear would dissipate if I would just focus on the next move that I needed to make to move upward.

Climbing was totally engaging.  At a certain point I wanted to as Thoreau would say, “suck the marrow out of life.”  To live each day as if it were my last day on Earth.  I went to the University of Vermont and I learned to ice climb, afterward, I lived to climb.

Learn how Kitty’s ascents all over the world shaped her views on climate change, minimalism, micro-goals vs. micro-possessions and our relationship with the mountains in her Ted Talk – Last Ascents.

Balance Training for the Ice Season

 

Written by: Dawn Glanc, Chicks Girly Guide

Balance exercise on a Bosu Ball

Thank you Bosu.com for the photo!

Many think that ice climbing is all about the power.  Swinging your tool and kicking your crampons in will only get you so far.  To take your ice training to the next level, try this amazing balance progression exercise.  This will take time but be patient and stick with it.  This can be done at home or in the gym, all you need is a Bosu Ball (the thing that looks like a yoga ball cut in half and placed on a black platform).

Phase 1: Place the Bosu Ball flat side toward ground.  Put right foot on ball and try to stand on that foot.  Make sure you are standing straight and not leaning forward.  This will help awaken your glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors and core.  Balance for 2 minutes and then switch feet.

Start with just 10 reps on each side.  The idea is to make you aware on how to fire those muscles. 

Phase 2: The next progression is flipping the Bosu Ball so the platform is up and the ball side is down.  Try to stand in the center of the flat on one foot at a time.  Once you get this down, try a yoga pose (like tree) for count of ten. 

Phase 3: Ditch the Bosu Ball and bust out a medicine ball.  Yes, I just said medicine ball.  I assure you this is possible.  Try the 10 pounder – it’s a little squishy.  Start with assistance, like a broom handle, to help you stand with balance.  Practice standing with TWO FEET. 

Once you can stand for 5 minutes.  Start doing squats.  Then after that, the world is your oyster! Try moving up to a 12 pound medicine ball (less squishy) or adding more squats.  I have found this is best thing to help me with my balance and my muscle awareness.  This translates to an overall improvement with my footwork and is very noticeable when I’ve had to stand on a foothold in a precarious way.

These exercises help your brain store muscle memory about how you need to push off your foot and transfer power up your leg into your glutes.  That’s where we want the power coming from while climbing.  In addition, the balance portion of the exercise activates the tiny muscles in your feet, ankles and calves, which keep your legs from tiring quickly.

Yoga and Pilates can also help you build your muscle and body awareness which means you can start to move with grace and efficiency on the ice instead of perfecting the kickin’ chicken.

 

Considerations in Making the Transition From Indoor to Outdoor Climbing

Kitty Calhoun placing solid protection

Kitty Calhoun reaching to place a great piece of pro.

Recent beautiful weather calls a lot of climbers outdoors.  Kitty Calhoun offers great insight into making the transition from gym climbing to outdoor climbing.

Times have changed. Rock and ice climbing are growing exponentially. This wave of new climbers outdoors is primarily due to the ease of getting into climbing in a rock gym – there is  relatively little expense, instruction is readily available, and all peripheral concerns are taken away indoors so you can just focus on the movement and basic mechanics of belaying, top-roping, and leading.

In making the transition to climbing outside, there are safety, ethics, and Leave No Trace (LNT) principles which should be observed so that you have fun and others around you have fun as well.

Safety issues include the following:

*Be aware that some rock is loose.  Test suspicious rock before pulling on it.  Yell “rock” if you pull off a rock, or drop a carabiner or any other hard object.  If belaying, do not be anchored in the fall-line. Consider a helmet.

*Do not climb below other parties or too close to other parties so that if you do pull off a rock or drop an object, it will not hit the other party.  Do not pass another party unless you ask and they give permission.

*Do not lower your partner off the end of the rope.  Either tie in, tie a knot in the end, or pay attention.

*If you are trad climbing, learn how to place gear from someone experienced first.

*Do not automatically trust someone else’s anchors without inspecting them first, unless you know the experience level of the person who built the anchor.

*Do not assume that a climbing partner you do not know is a good belayer or a safe outdoor climber.

*Inspect your equipment, especially ropes and webbing.  There are stories of accidents in which ropes or webbing were weakened as a result of exposure to chemicals and an accident in which a draw failed because a biner was clipped into the rubber gasket rather than the webbing.

*Learn how to back off a route (you can’t lower off webbing without the rope first going through a biner).  Learn basic self-rescue skills in the back country.

Ethics issues include the following:

*Do not chip or modify any routes.  Do not add bolts unless you have permission from the first-ascent party.

*Observe local ethics and management policies as pertains to putting up new routes.

*Do not take others gear off a route.

*Avoid top-roping directly off the chains so as to prolong the life of the chains.

*Do not project a route if there are parties waiting for your route.

*Limit the size of your party.  Spread out.  Go to different cliffs if you have to.  Social engagement can take place bouldering or in the evening.

*Do not leave your barking dog tied up at the base of a cliff while you go do a multi-pitch climb.

*Leave the ghetto blaster at home.  If you need music, plug into your iPod.

Leave No Trace issues particularly pertinent to outdoor climbing include:

*Do not leave micro-trash such as bits of climbing tape.

*Do not build new trails without permission of land managers.

*When taking a dump, dig a 6-8” hole at least 200 yards from the climbing site, trail, or water.

*If you bring a dog, bring a bag and pick up after your dog.

If we all observe appropriate safety, ethical, and LNT principles, then the exploding numbers of climbers transitioning into the outdoors will ultimately be a good thing.  After all, I think climbing brings meaning and happiness to our lives and a world full of happy people would be a good thing.

By Kitty Calhoun

Devils Lake Trip Report

By Girly Guide Dawn Glanc

In 2009, Chicks With Picks decided to expand their horizons and offer rock climbing. A number of guides and a few Chicks alumni put their heads together to come up with Chicks Rock!.  The rock climbing programs were an instant success. Thanks to the help of Chicks Alumni Anne Hughes, the Devils Lake clinic became a reality and, this year, completed its 5th year of awesome clinics.

ShannonEnteringChimney2013 Devil's Lake Clinic

Nothing but smiles at Devils Lake. Photo by Dawn Glanc

The Devils Lake clinic was one of the first Chicks Rock! programs to run in 2009. This Midwest climbing destination has been a popular favorite since the beginning (see Anne’s post Why Climbers Cut their Teeth at Devils Lake). The Wisconsin location is perfect, allowing women from all over the Midwest to drive a few hours to the clinic. The location draws mostly Midwesterners, however we have had some foreign visitors attend the clinic because it was a reason to come and check out the middle of the country. No matter what a person’s background is, the Devils Lake climbing area seems to be accessible, inviting and non-threatening.

The 2013 Devils Lake clinic was unusual due to the weather. The cool 60-degree days made for great climbing temperatures. The sticky rubber seemed to work on just about anything. The friction was extra high on the hard quartzite. The lack of heat and humidity allowed us to focus on skills, movement and the perfect nature of the climbing.

The Chicks Rock! clinics are perfect for women of all ability levels. The guides help foster an environment that allows the women to feel supported and safe. This atmosphere allows women to push themselves and really explore their boundaries. This energy is what allowed five of the women to try rock climbing for the first time ever at Devils Lake. The shared cheers of encouragement and unlimited patience pushed the women to try hard and have fun.  In the end, fun is what we are truly striving for.

Thanks to all the ladies and my fellow guides for an amazing clinic. As always, I am inspired by the women I met and the stories we shared. I look forward to another great Devils Lake clinic next year. Climb on and have fun!

Want more?

Check out Dawn’s photos of the Devils Lake Clinic:

Facebook.com/dawnglanc

Facebook.com/chicksclimbingrockandice

Check out upcoming Chicks Rock! clinics:

September 20-22, New River Gorge, WV
October 4-7, Keene Valley, NY
October 24-27, Red Rocks, NV