A is for Alpine

Karen Bockel, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, on the Peuterey Ridge, Mont Blanc--the longest ridge in the Alps ©Emilie Drinkwater

Karen Bockel, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, on the Peuterey Ridge, Mont Blanc–the longest ridge in the Alps ©Emilie Drinkwater

Alpine Climbing is Awesome!

Pre-dawn starts, a bit (or a lot) of suffering, an adventure in a high and wild place.

Can I Go?  These three words changed my life forever.

Southern Germany, 1992. I was 17.

I’d never been to the mountains, or done as much as a hike in the hills.

I was a runner. At a summer, Friday-evening, track meet, I overheard two of my older male friends, Heiko and Damian, making plans for the weekend.

They were going to the Alps to climb mountains. I stared at them.

I knew of climbing through coffee table books of Reinhold Messner’s 8,000 meter ascents – a foreign and unconquerable, yet intriguing world to me.

“Can I go?” I asked.

They agreed and Heiko’s mother loaned me all her gear.
I packed my rain jacket and tracksuit.
I called my Mom from a payphone along the way and told her, “I’m going into the mountains.”

Finally, after ever-smaller roads we parked in a long valley guarded by high, snow-covered peaks—the Oetztal, Austria.

We shouldered our packs, which seemed enormous and filled with things I had no idea how to use. The leather boots felt stiff on the rocks and they rubbed on my anklebones. The path was steep and I breathed as hard as if I was still in the race the night before.

We dropped gear at the hut, ate some snacks and then headed up for our first peak. My head pounded (from altitude I would later come to know), my shoulders felt crushed and my hips were bruised.

Brockenkogel was our objective.

We climbed along a path then we scrambled. Clouds swirled around us and I had no concept of height or distance.

I asked Heiko, “How far?
“10 minutes,” He said. The time it took me to race 3,000 meters—an epic distance and effort! I stumbled with my head down. Then, I saw a large iron cross. The summit! I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Back at the hut, I crawled into my bunk. Damian nudged me to get up for dinner, but everything hurt. All I wanted was to sleep.

Before dawn, the hut guard rang the breakfast bell. Soon our little team found itself donning harnesses and helmets again.

Today we were going for the Wildspitze. This involved a lot of elevation gain, then a scramble up a rocky, ice-filled gully, and finally a long, summit snowfield.

I was too tired to think. I put one foot in front of the other and shivered in my tracksuit when we stopped to put on crampons. I watched and copied my teammates as best as I could, glancing nervously at the knot that tied me to the rope. I remember sharp steel scratching over rocks. It was barely light.

Then, just as we gained the immense snowfield, the sun emerged above the ridge and the snow glowed in orange light and the world dropped away.

We marched and I smiled, and we hugged and cheered when we got to the summit. This was amazing. I was exhausted, but somehow it didn’t matter at all.

The descent caused a few more stumbles and bruises, as did the walk down from the hut. My feet were raw and bloody. Every part of my body hurt, but my mind was blown. I had visited the world of alpine climbing that I had only known from books. And, I intended to return.

Want to have your mind blown?

Chicks are going Alpine Climbing at Mount Baker this summer.

You Should Go!

How to be the World’s Greatest Climbing Partner

Diane Mielcarz and Olga Lopatina belay during 2017 Chicks Maple Canyon Clinic, Utah © Louis Arvevalo

Diane Mielcarz and Olga Lopatina belay during the Chicks Maple Canyon Clinic, Utah. © Louis Arvevalo

I’m often asked, “How can I get outside and climb more?”

Many women feel limited by a lack of climbing partners. It’s intimidating to make climbing plans with someone you’ve just met.

Tackle this problem by becoming the world’s greatest climbing partner.

Here’s the truth: all the other person wants to do is get out and climb more too.

So, if you’re an asset to their climbing, you’ll be well on your way to climbing to your heart’s content.

But what does being the world’s greatest climbing partner mean exactly?

The world’s greatest climbing partner is competent, psyched and able to perform a wide range of technical skills. The world’s greatest climbing partner can shoulder the responsibility of a day at the crag.

Here are 5 tips to get you on your way:

1. Be an Ace Route Caddy

Just like golfers need someone to help them call the shots, your climbing partner needs you to be proactive and useful.

If your partner is going to lead, then get things ready for them to simply shoe up and tie in. Prep the rope by flaking it out and tying a stopper knot in the end. Stick-clip the first bolt. Do a draw count or gear assessment to make sure she has everything she needs. And, once she’s back on the ground, pull the rope so it’s ready for the next person to top rope.

If the route is a top rope, make a plan to set it up from the top.

2. Know How to Clean an Anchor

This will help keep the climbing train rolling and you’ll get more pitches in.

Remember, the leader bears the burden of getting the rope up. This is hard enough. Taking the rope down shouldn’t rest on their shoulders too.

Don’t forget to communicate your plan. How will you clean the anchor and get back down. Will you lower or rappel?

3. Be Positive, Try Hard and Don’t Make Excuses

We all have bad days. Keep your excuses to yourself. No one wants to read that book.

4. Don’t Bail

If you make climbing plans, keep them. Life happens but there’s nothing worse than a climbing partner who bails, especially on short notice. If bailing is unavoidable, notify your partner ASAP and help them find a replacement partner.

5. Be the Best Belayer You Can Be

Give your climber your undivided attention. Don’t chat up others when belaying. It’s distracting and can compromise safety.

Know how to give a soft catch.

Don’t spray the climber down with beta (unless they ask for it).

Do offer words of encouragement (but not too loudly).

Do remind her to breathe.

Finally, if you’re still not comfortable approaching strangers to make climbing plans, try connecting with partners through the Chicks Alumni Facebook group, “Friends of Chicks Climbing & Skiing.”

It should give you confidence knowing that everyone in the group has received the same high level of instruction and should be on the same page with climbing best practices.

See you at the Crag!

“It Makes More Sense to Live in the Present Tense.”

Crusher Alli Rainey works Last Man Standing, 5.13a, Wild Iris, Wyoming © Louis Arvevalo

Crusher Alli Rainey works Last Man Standing, 5.13a, Wild Iris, Wyoming © Louis Arvevalo

Green grass, blue skies, 60°F on the rock, tank tops, camping, climbing and focus.

The nearest springtime rock-climbing destination for me is Lander, Wyoming.

Pale-orange walls, greasy and reachy warm-ups, sharp pockets, throes of weekend warriors sending their projects, families with dogs and babies, “crushers” climbing the big routes around the corner, waking yellow-jackets, and tiny yellow bitterbrush flowers.

The crag is alive with people and their plans below the steep walls and amongst the blooms.

And, I exist in the middle of all the colorful noisiness. I’m tuned into all the going-ons, the chaos, the distractions.

I’m a mountain guide so my situational awareness knob is turned up to ten. I forecast events and outcomes as I absorb the variable inputs and outputs of the system around me.

It’s a key skill to fit all the pieces together to make a big climb or long ski-tour work: How are we doing on time? Is the weather holding? Who’s getting tired? Are we on the right route? Is that the right ridge?

But when I’m sport climbing, I have to remind myself to dial the knob back.

“It makes more sense to live in the present tense” is a quote from the band Pearl Jam.

When I’m sport climbing only the rock right in front of me matters. Not Time. Not impending rain.

I need to block out the chatter, let go of thoughts and focus on my next move.

Because, if I am right here, right now, in the present tense, then I can make that next pocket!

Happy Climbing everyone!

You Can Do Hard Things

Chicks Indian Creek Closing Meeting, a celebration of having done hard things.

Chicks Indian Creek Closing Meeting, a celebration of having done hard things.

It’s good to be home after a whirlwind of Chicks rock climbing clinics.

Vegas, Bishop, Joshua Tree, Indian Creek.

Early in the month, Elaina and I teamed up with Mountain Gear to present clinics at the Red Rock Rendezvous. Over four days, 1000 climbers took part. We are always honored to participate in this amazing climbing festival.

After the Rendezvous, came Flash Foxy’s Women’s Climbing Festival in Bishop, California, where Kitty and I taught a clinic together in the Owen’s River George. Flash Foxy is an excellent place for Kitty and me to spread the good work of Chicks.

Next, a small, intimate clinic over Easter weekend in Joshua Tree: only five of us allowed us to really minimize our impact on the crags. Chicks works hard to be respectful and low-profile when visiting National Parks and other sensitive areas.

Indian Creek clinic finished up the month with a different level of engagement. Indian Creek is remote. There’s no wifi or cell service. I watched everyone let go and focus on the moment. Unplugging allowed for a childlike playfulness—needed to climb splitter cracks!

All month, I worked with women, supporting them to tackle objectives with power and confidence. They all came with goals and I watched them all obtain and surpass their goals.

Now, it’s my turn. I must practice what I preach, walk the walk, climb the climb.

But I’m lucky, I take with me the infectious spirit and empowerment of each woman. Their courage emboldens me.

In summary, I leave you with a very short story:

A mother was climbing with her daughter.

The daughter said, “This is hard.”

Her mother replied, “You can do hard things.”

I take it with me; My mantra: You Can Do Hard Things!

Happy Spring,

Dawn Glanc

Bittersweet

Chicks guides and participants digging a snow pit during a recent avalanche training course.


Chicks guides and participants digging a snow pit during a recent avalanche training course.

Hello friends, old and new!

It’s the middle of March and I’m in Park City, Utah, in the middle of teaching an avalanche course.

I went for a walk this evening and spring filled the air. I walked without a hat or a jacket and I had to slow down and adjust to the warmth step by step. The sun, lingering low in the evening sky, had been strong all day. Earlier in the day, the snow under our skis and shovel blades turned to slush as the solar radiation pushed its way through the surface of the snowpack.

As guides, we at Chicks spend all year in the mountains and each season has its own emotional meaning. For me, winter is especially meaningful because of my love for skiing.

From the weightless bouncing through powder snow, to peaceful walks in snowy woods, to the gratifying effort of climbing a peak on skis and skins, skiing is dear to my heart. I enjoy nothing more than exploring the winter landscape on skis.

For this reason, over the last few years, we’ve expanded our ski program. Our goal, as always, is to share our love of mountain adventures with women, AND support the learning and skills for inspired women to get on the sharp end, to break their own trails.

Our ski program has been an amazing journey. Backcountry hut trips, far-off ski adventures in La Grave, France and Japan, and our avalanche education programs have been really special.

Traveling in the mountains is not easy. Traveling in winter in the mountains is even harder. Sub-zero temps threaten to freeze your fingers solid; fierce winds whip your face; fiery hot sun suddenly puts everything and everyone around you into melt-down mode; deep powder, that’s too deep; and windblown hard sheets of snow.

Winter mountain travel—Backcountry Skiing—has it all.

But here’s what’s really special and amazing: we learn to overcome these challenges together. We persevere in solidarity, keeping our fingers and toes intact, smiling even as we drown in deep powder snow, laughing as we sprint for the shade of the northern aspect. Learning together we stomp right past the fleeting, transitory, and way-too-easy feelings, to find instead a state of satisfaction and contentment. As much as the beautiful mountains teach us, as fun as skiing is, without connection, without face-to-face sharing, without trading our smiles and tears, we’d fall short, yearning for something more.

This is what is truly amazing and special about the Chicks experience: the strong bond that forms in our groups. When the trip ends, we part ways as friends, knowing that we are together, even as we head back home, alone.

So say goodbye to winter, and hello to spring.

It’s still a great time to ski if you’re willing to earn your turns. Read Angela’s Top Tips for Spring Skiing.

And, of course, spring is time for rock climbing! We’re off to Joshua Tree, CA in a few weeks and Indian Creek, UT soon after that.

As much as I’ll miss the lessons of the snow, I look forward to getting schooled in the rules of rock climbing pegmatite dikes and splitter sandstone.

I hope you’ll join us!

Karen Bockel, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, IFMGA Mountain Guide

Spring is in the Air and I’m Dreaming of Winter

Dawn Glanc, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, ice-climbing, Second Gully, Silverton, Co

Dawn Glanc, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, on the prowl for spring-time ice with a wild-child smile, Second Gully, Silverton, Co. ©Pat Ormond

March is my favourite month.

It’s still winter. The skiing and ice climbing are at their best. My desire to get out and play is childlike and wild.

Yet, I feel winter slipping away. The stronger sun is trying to help spring arrive.

Ice climbing season is ending in front of my eyes.

As the ice melts, I continue to feel the need to climb it. The sun warms my face, and I also feel the need for spring.

It is a weird dichotomy. Some call it March Madness. I want my first love, which is ice. I also want the ease of sport climbing—to be comfortable in only one layer of long underwear. A tank top would be too much, too fast.

They say March “comes in like a lion, and out like a lamb.”

For me, this means it’s the month to hunt down and tackle the last of winter, then gambol about on some sunny, spring rock.

I urge you to take on the last of winter. Roar and rope up, or click in, before the magical winter wonderland melts away.

At the same time I urge you to get ready for rock climbing. Go to the gym during the week and follow the Chicks: 8-Week Rock Climbing Training Program outlined below.

Bluebird rock climbing days will be here soon enough and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself dreaming of winter.

If you’re not like me, and, instead you think I’m mad for wanting winter to stick around, the good news is, it won’t. Spring is in the air!

I hope to see you all on the rock this season!

Ski Mountaineering is “The Goods!”

 

Angela Hawse ski mountaineering in Antarctica

Angela Hawse ski mountaineering in Antarctica

There’s an illicit and secret connotation in the expression, “The Goods.” It’s as if anything that is really good must somehow be too good to be true, in other words, wrong.

Winter has finally arrived and my backyard, Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, is ripe for getting “The Goods.” There’s nothing better, nothing more complete, and nothing more right, than ski mountaineering.

I learned how to ski when I was 17, straight off the YMCA bus, schooled in hard knocks and anything goes.

Free-heeling was the rage; and for years I got more face shots from falling on my face than I got from powder turns.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid 40’s and serious about guide certification that I finally fixed my heel, thus fixed my face-plant problem, and found my calling.

I love climbing mountains but non-technical descents are not very enjoyable.

I’ve found with skiing, I can dance with gravity on the descent, linking turns with the wind in my face. And, cut the time down in less than half!

Ski mountaineering makes what was already fun, more fun, and in large part adds a degree of safety. I’m more nimble. I can move through terrain faster and more efficiently. This broadens my scope of possibility and minimizes my exposure to hazards.

But what I love most about skiing is that that it requires digging deeply. From just getting started, all the way to ski mountaineering, backcountry skiing encompasses big picture stuff like weather, avalanche hazard, communication, and technical skill. It requires homework. You don’t just show up when you go skiing.

Which is why I couldn’t be more stoked that Chicks has rounded out its mountain sports collective with backcountry ski basics, avalanche courses and ski mountaineering for a full line up the mountain and more fun on the way back down.

 See ya on the slopes!

 

Angela Hawse, Co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, IFMGA Mountain Guide

Hey! I Didn’t Die.

Total Bitch. Dawn Glanc wrestling with the first log, 2013 Ouray Ice Festival Competition ©Marcus Garcia

Total Bitch. Dawn Glanc wrestling with the first log, 2013 Ouray Ice Festival Competition ©Marcus Garcia

Many women who take Chicks Climbing and Skiing clinics are not athletic—I mean, they did not grow up being active. Women in their fifties and early sixties (we’ve even had seventy-year-olds) come who’ve had no sports opportunities in their entire lives. Chicks is their first athletic experience, ever.

When I’m teaching a clinic, I’ll often watch a woman realize that there’s another world, an athletic, active one, and all they have to do to live in that world is to step into it.

They wrestle with the contradiction, the shifting mental model, “Hey! I didn’t freeze to death. I didn’t die? I climbed a vertical wall of ice!”

As their guide it’s easy for me to see that what they really did was conquer themselves. They conquered their fear, their fear of heights, of failure, lack of skill, the belief that they are weak. In an ice climb, they grew strong as they pushed themselves out and over their comfort zone.

And, the best part? It was fun!

Two weeks ago, I competed in the Ouray Ice Festival Competition. I’ve competed in this competition 10 times now and each time it’s been a different experience.

At first I was just stoked to be in the finals, competing against the best climbers in the world. I felt like the luckiest person alive.

Then, I wanted to win.

Mixed climbing and ice climbing were my every thought. I trained uber hard phsically AND mentally—visualizing my success. For four years, 2009 – 2012, this dedication paid off with podium spots and cash prizes. I was on cloud nine and felt invincible.

Then, in 2013, I did not meet my competition goal and I became a total bitch.

It turns out my competitive nature is my biggest downfall. In 2014 and 2015 disappointment plagued my entire winter season. I decided to give up competition until I could learn to be a better sport.

I started commentating which came naturally: I knew the rules; I had first-hand experience; I know the competitors; I provided comic anecdotes. However, inside I suffered. I had a serious case of FOMO.

So, I decided to compete again.

Instead of winning, my goal was to be the first elected official to compete in the Ouray Ice Festival. (I was elected to town council in 2016.)

All I had to do was show up, tie in and climb.

I felt I could manage this goal and still feel successful. With this new attitude, I felt free and had fun competing for the first time ever.

Am I back? No. I’m still a terrible sport; I don’t deal well with poor performance. I’m hyper-critical of myself. Competition brings out the worst in me.

However, I met my goal. I feel really good about my climb. Instead of falling, I timed out. And, I stopped along the way to wave at the crowd. This is how I honour the competition that has taught me so much about myself, an event that I will always hold close to my heart.

See you in the Ouray Ice Park next year for some serious learning and some serious fun,

Dawn Glanc, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, AMGA Rock and Alpine Guide, Mixtress

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

Opening Up

Funny how the Thanksgiving season is followed by Christmas. During Thanksgiving we are to take notice of all that we are to be thankful for and one of the greatest gifts we have is each other.  So on Christmas, we demonstrate that appreciation and love with gifts.  This is a reaffirming occasion since much of the time we can become focused on protecting ourselves.  In our busy lives we tend to concentrate on what we need to do to make sure we get done what we need to do by a certain time.  Others either help us or they hinder us. The ego gets fed and the journey is forgotten.  At least that’s what happens to me, as I wrote in my blog for Subaru, “Dropping the Ego

Arno Ilgner, in his book, The Warriors Way, discusses how ego gets in the way of the climbing experience.  “For most of us, when it comes to meeting challenges, our own worst enemy is ourselves.  Our self-image and our self-worth are far too wrapped up in achievements.  Ego controls much of our behavior.  We constantly act out of fear and avoidance, rather than out of the love of challenge or of climbing itself.  Our mental habits raise unnecessary barriers and often, unconsciously, drain the vitality from our performances.”

At Chicks, we recognize the importance of awareness in climbing and skiing and believe that our women’s environment is a place that is supportive, yet asks each participant to push their comfort zones rather than protect the ego.  I think one of the greatest gifts that climbing continuously gives me is the humbling experience that it often is – and at the same time I gain confidence.  Sharing this with my belayer or teammate, where I have to open up and let down my guard, or ego, is an experience that I rarely get in my every day life.