Hello, Snow!

Hello, Snow!, Karen Bockel, Chicks Climbing and Skiing co-owner, IFMGA Mountain Guide, selfie in a snowstorm ©Karen Bockel

Hello, Snow! Karen Bockel, Chicks Climbing and Skiing co-owner, IFMGA Mountain Guide, selfie in a snowstorm ©Karen Bockel

After last year’s dry and warm winter, I’ve been worrying about this year’s ski season. All fall, these questions looped through my mind:

Will it snow before Thanksgiving?
Will the Colorado ski areas open on time?
Will Chicks be able to run early season avalanche courses?
Is climate change ending skiing as we know it?

Suddenly, the warm autumn (and my climbing season!) ended. The ski season announced itself with a bang: two sizeable storms hit Colorado in two weeks. Wyoming and Utah aren’t far behind.

Yay for snow! I’m breathing a little easier now.

Of course, I don’t know how the winter will unfold. El-Nino isn’t a surefire ticket to powder snow in the San Jaun Mountains. But at least the backyard of Chicks headquarters has got something to start with. The mountains are wearing a nice white blanket.

Despite the early snow raising my spirits, the tenuous state of winter has me doubling my efforts to protect my favorite season. I’m taking the bus to the ski area, walking to the gym, bringing my own containers and bags to the grocery store and eating less meat.

“Thank you Mother Nature,” I say to myself as I check over my winter gear, put fresh wax on my skis and head out to practice companion rescue skills.

See you in the hills!

 Natural American

Stars and Stripes! Karen Bockel, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, at her US Citizen Naturalization Ceremony under the Rooselvelt Arch, North Entrance Yellowstone National Park, MT. ©Yoshiko Miyazaki-Back

Stars and Stripes! Karen Bockel, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, at her US Citizen Naturalization Ceremony under the Rooselvelt Arch, North Entrance Yellowstone National Park, MT. ©Yoshiko Miyazaki-Back

Congratulations! 

Karen Bockel, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, US citizen!

Close friend and AMGA rock guide, Yoshiko Miyazaki-Back, was at the ceremony.

Yoshi reflects on Karen’s accomplishment:

Having witnessed first hand my husband going through the same process, I was reminded of the time and the emotional and financial commitment it takes. There are reams of paperwork, mandatory interviews. You must provide biometric data. There’s a test on US history, culture and political institutions. Candidates must show good character and financial responsibility.

Becoming a naturalized US citizen is a long, hard and committing process. It’s been remarkable watching Karen work her way through the process , all the while travelling for work as a guide, running a successful and inspiring business, and becoming an IFMGA Mountain guide!

All of us at Chicks are so proud and inspired! Go Girl!

Begin It

Karen Bockel, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing & Skiing, Beginning Les Grand Galets, Cap Trinité, Quebec, Canada. ©Forest McBrian

Karen Bockel, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing & Skiing, Beginning Les Grand Galets, Cap Trinité, Quebec, Canada. ©Forest McBrian

Now at last let me see some deeds!
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Summer is gone.

Cool nights, blue skies and yellow leaves announce another Rocktober—fall climbing season.

I’ve been thinking, “How is this one going to be different?”

Have you set a goal? Have you committed to step into the unknown? Will you push a new grade? 

My plan for this fall is to connect with my environment, take things as they come, and give myself room to try new things in climbing.

I was just on a climbing adventure in Northern Quebec, Canada.

The plan was to climb a little big-wall via canoe access.

At the bay it started to pour. The next day we paddled across, set up our bivy and began to think about fixing the first pitches when it started to rain again.

We sat in our tiny camp below the wall, lost in the sound of the drops pattering on our tarp.

Climbing seemed impossible. Our climbing window was shrinking.

Slowly the sound quieted and we felt a breeze. Stars came out. Wind dried the rock and we awoke to the wall bathed in sunlight.

Even though we knew we didn’t have time to fire for the top, we decided to begin and go as far as we could. We climbed beautiful rock all day, and then we rappelled back down and packed up everything for a pre-dawn paddle back to the bay.

It was a grand adventure, and success wasn’t measured by getting to the top, but by getting out and beginning it. And that’s exactly what I want to do more of!

Right?

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

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

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I challenge myself in order to live a fulfilling life.

Otherwise I’d never know and that bothers me.

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

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

See you at the crag!

We Have What You Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Inspires You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What inspires you to climb?

 

Floating

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

by Kitty Calhoun

Co-Owner, Chicks Climbing and Skiing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does Float means to you?

The Joy of Alpine Climbing

The Joy of Alpine Climbing

by Angela Hawse

Angela contemplating one of her first big alpine objectives, Kedarnath Dome in the Garwhal Himalaya, India, in 1988. Photo credit Mike Goff

 

A flood of images overtakes me as I reflect on 30+ years of alpine climbing: pre-dawn starts by headlamp over noisy stoves, crawling out of cramped tents and roping up under starlit skies. The sound of my crampons biting frozen surfaces, cold fresh air filling my lungs, the thrill of navigating by headlamp and recalling the route I previewed the day before. Where are the crevasses, which section do I need to pick up my pace and what zones can I cruise with a little less attention? Is my partner on the other end of the rope awake and will they arrest my unsuspecting fall into a crevasse? How honed are their crevasse rescue skills anyway?

Images of suffering and discomfort easily slip away and I head to the high mountains again and again. The stunning combination of rock, ice, and glaciated terrain compels me to keep coming back for more. I love that it demands all of my skill sets as well as a resolute will to succeed.

Getting to the top is always the goal, but never a given; that unknown adds to the adventure. It requires the journey, not the destination mindset that encompasses active problem-solving, decision-making, and thinking on my feet in order to weigh risk against consequence.

Alpine climbing is the ultimate mountain dance; it includes sunrises, alpenglow, endless horizons, and comaradery through shared effort. It takes us to the most beautiful places on the planet and requires us to dig deep, disconnect from modern day life, and re-connect with nature and our partner on the other end of the rope.

We hope to share that rope with you one day and are stoked to tie in with a full team of Chicks on our Mt Baker clinic coming up.

 

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

 

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!