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!