Iceland Sailboat Skiing

iceland sailboat skiingI’ll never forget the moment I first laid eyes on the Aurora Arktika, Captain’s Siggi’s beautiful, modern but historic merchant Dutch style sailboat, anchored in the harbor of Isafjordur.  It’s two masts swayed gently above the wooden deck and the red and black painted hull.  Two small hatch doors were open to the area under deck and up came Captain Siggi to greet us and load our skis and gear onboard. 

We started by sailing across the waters to the Hornstandir Natural Reserve, a beautiful, remote mountain area where snow covered slopes lead directly to the fjords below.   Yearning to explore, we set anchor in a small fjord, caught a ride in the zodiac to shore and began to skin up perfect spring snow into the mountains.  We headed for a high pass that would connect to the basin on the far side, planning to meet the ship after Siggi would sail around the rugged coast to meet us.  Clouds had formed at that moment, and Siggi called us on the radio to make sure we were up for the adventure.  Of course we were, unable to resist the curiosity of wanting to see the other side of the mountains.  We gained the pass after a couple hours of skinning uphill, climbing over a few rocks near the top, and were greeted with stunning scenery and a long, winding ski run down a large alpine basin, carving turns past waterfalls and cliff bands.  Far below in the fjord, we could see the Aurora anchored.  Siggi picked us up from shore and once back on the sailboat we dug into a big dinner of fresh fish and stew.  Content and happy, we relaxed in the cozy dining area below deck.  The Aurora felt so welcoming and comfortable, that it did not take long to call the boat our home. 

For the next six days, we skied.  We explored anything from big open slopes to enticing couloirs, climbed up to high peaks and passes, and anchored in a different fjord each night.  Even during a couple days of mediocre weather, we were able to get out and enjoy good snow.  We took sea kayaks and paddle boards out on the water to watch seals play, we hunted for mussels, and we sat on deck with a glass of wine enjoying the purple midnight sky of the long Nordic spring days.  We felt like pioneers.  Sailboat skiing in Iceland was an unforgettable experience.

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.

Chicks in the City of Rocks

chicks in the city

The Chicks in the City (of Rocks) are back in town and we are all still grinning ear to ear!  We just returned from an amazing wom
en’s climbing weekend at the City of Rocks National Reserve in Idaho. There’s no better way to spend a long weekend away from the constant connectivity to our digital world and plugging back into our natural one.

city chicksThe world-class climbing mecca lived up to its name and provided us with extensive opportunity to climb routes of any difficulty and type: We climbed anything from slabs to cracks to face climbing. We also worked on skills, building up to lead climbing, cleaning anchors, and multi-pitch climbing by the end of our stay. We saw impressive achievements all around, from venturing out on the sharp end for the first time to pushing one’s limits on new terrain.

Camping life was great, too, with a sweet spot in the aspen trees located close to all the rock formations. Without cell service or nearby towns, we were able to just enjoy being out in high country, away from the stress and fast-paced everyday life, eating meals grouped around the picnic tables, telling stories, and becoming friends.

On the last evening, we scrambled up to the Cowboy Route to the top of Bath Rock, one of the largest formations in the City of Rocks.  We sat on top of the mountain, taking in the views under the evening sun.  It was spectacular.

city chicksAll in all, Chicks in the City was an experience to take home and remember for a long time.

Go Alpine! Mt. Baker vs. Tetons

Chicks in Tetons

The Real Deal. Photo by: Angela Hawse

Every time I go into the mountains, I learn something,” said legendary climber Michael Kennedy once, and I find this statement conveys the essence of mountain climbing.  The mountains always provide adventure, and often in unforeseen ways.  May it be figuring out the early morning route finding when the sun is barely cresting the horizon, or hustling to put your waterproof layers on as a squall moves in, or simply rounding the corner of a foot path into a beautiful alpine valley – opportunities for learning are plentiful.

The unpredictability of climbing in the mountains is exiting, but also requires a hardy soul.  The alpine is not a place for the faint of heart.   A spirited sense of adventure, and a learned skill set is required.  At Chicks, we take learning seriously.  We start with the basics, building a foundation of snow and ice movement, rope skills, and travel techniques.  Along with the hard skills comes the less glorious sounding but equally important knowledge of taking care of oneself, while out climbing as well as in camp.  We also incorporate big picture thinking and making decision in the mountains.  Knowing how to read the weather and the conditions, when to push on and when to turn around are keys to a happy-ending adventure.

Intrigued?  You should be.  Mountaineering is hard earned, but more rewarding and fulfilling than anything else.  Check out our alpine programs for summer 2017:

Tetons: We will be climbing in the Tetons June 29 – July 2, using the beautiful rugged mountains of Grand Teton National Park for our training grounds.  This program is focused on snow travel and alpine rock climbing.  Fitness is the main requirement for this program as we climb up several thousand feet into a beautiful alpine canyon to our High Camp at 11,700’.  It’s a great program to refine your alpine skills up high on the mountain or venture into the alpine realm for the first time.

Mt. Baker: If you are interested in heading out onto glaciers, join us for our Mt. Baker Mountaineering Program July 29 -August 3.  This is a comprehensive alpine training camp in the heart of the North Cascades.  We will be camping for 3 nights, working on snow skills and glacier travel.  This program is a great step up from the Tetons, as we will get into more advanced skills such as crevasse rescue.  Good fitness and basic camping and snow hiking experience is a great starting point for this program, as we will be carrying all our gear into camp, but no prior experience on glaciers is required.  The choice is yours!  Take the road less travel and come with Chicks on an alpine adventure.

The Wild West – Ice Climbing Cody, WY

marilinakim


Ice climbing Cody is 
Written by: Marilina Kim, Chicks Alumni

 


One of the great things about ice climbing in Cody, Wyoming is its combination of Wild West and wilderness.  You can easily feel like you are in a different time and a million miles away from development.  From the Shoshone Valley where we were at, the possibilities for climbs seemed to go on forever, and they made the seven chicks – four participants and three guides – super excited to climb.

Women Ice Climbing Cody WyomingThough each day, was different they shared the following sequence in common.  Start the approach on a flat path (we were so thankful they were already broken!), continue gaining some altitude, and, suddenly around a corner: WHOA! Hello ice!  The ice climbing in Cody in drainages, so getting to each pitch can be a mini adventure in and of itself.  You meander up them, do some ice scrambling, find yourself in little amphitheaters with a chunk of ice to climb, repeat to the next pitch.  It was like nothing I’d ever seen.  The surroundings were so beautiful; it was hard to not stop periodically to gaze while hiking around.

The seven of us set off in separate groups, and we climbed the same climbs on different days. Broken Hearts offered a full day of sunshine (i.e. nice, sticky ice), and each pitch was super fun.  We were lucky to get last licks on good ice for the season, or for a while at least, at the top of pitch three.  We got to the bottom of pitch five – a fat, tall pillar – twenty minutes before our turnaround time.  A bummer, but it made me all the more excited the next day.

A totally different but equally fun climb was Cabin Creek.  Though we climbed fewer pitches, each was long and distinct from each other, so I felt like we had climbed more.  I was really sad when the day ended, and I couldn’t believe we only had one more day to climb.  I felt like I could climb for days and days!

women ice climbing in CodyWell, I woke up with a change of heart the next morning.  I was definitely feeling the cumulative effects on my calves and arms.  It was a good day to work on V-threads and mock leads and blow out all that we had left climbing top-roping different sections of Too Cold to Fire.  By the end of the day my hands struggled to unscrew my water bottle.  I was very happy!

Of course, it can’t be a Chicks trip without good food.  Matt at the Double Diamond X Ranch whipped up delicious meals using local and environmentally conscious meats.  And the desserts.  Let’s just say that the dessert tray was never left empty, and the leftovers served us well as delectable snacks the next day.

Karen Bockel, my Chicks guide, was a constant source of wisdom and tips.  She patiently answered my many questions thoroughly and pointed out a whole slew of things I wouldn’t have thought to ask about.  Equally important, it was so much fun to climb with someone as stoked on the place and moment as I was.  This is what keeps me coming back to Chicks.

Mixing Up The New Year – Women’s Mixed Climbing

Chicks Climbing and Skiing wrapped up the 2016 climbing season in Ouray. The inaugural Chicks Mixed Climbing clinic was the perfect way to end an amazing year of climbing. The weather was great and the stoke was high.


Womens Mixed Climbing

Each morning we were shuttled to the trailhead by Andy at Western Slope Riders. It felt like valet service as we never had to worry about driving the snowy mountain road or finding parking. Plus each day we got into a warm van to ride home. It was deluxe.

Western Slope Riders

Seven out of the eight women who attended the clinic were Chicks Alumni. We knew we had some very talented climbers in the group.  As guides, it is awesome to watch the ladies use all the movement skills from rock climbing and translate it to mixed climbing. Grades were no obstacle for the ladies. No one turned down the opportunity to climb a route even if it looked challenging.

Womens Mixed Climbing

The last day, half of the group went to the Hall Of Justice, a dry tool cave above Ouray with some of the hardest lines in town. Kitty took three ladies to the Ouray Ice Park. This day was amazing to see how far each woman had come in just three days. It was a beautiful process to watch and be a part of.

Mixing It Up

If you missed your chance to attend the Chicks Mixed Climbing clinic, don’t worry. We have added another clinic the weekend of March 3-5. Our guides will be looking forward to the opportunity to climb with you.

Mixing It Up

Attacking the Legendary Rifle Limestone

Written by: Diane Mielcarz

Diane rock climbing rifle

Diane enjoying all Rifle has to offer. Photo by: Monika Leopold.

Take six eager participants, throw in a little bit of snow, rain and temps in the 20s, add two awesome guides, temps in the 70s, great food, a blazing fire, challenging routes and what do you get – another successful Chicks Climbing Clinic.

Although the weather made every effort to discourage us from our objective of attacking the legendary Rifle limestone (we fell asleep to the sound of rain and woke up to a covering of snow) our badass Guides Elaina Arenz and Dawn Glanc were not to be deterred. As we waited for the weather to improve, we spent a very productive morning inside the Community House learning various skills and techniques for belaying, clipping rope, setting/cleaning anchors and knot tying.

Once the weather cleared, there was no stopping this determine group of women as we headed to the snow cone wall to put together all of our new skills. We worked on climbing movement as well.

Sunday the group awoke to sunny weather. We headed to the middle ice caves area with a mission to lead as many routes as possible. By the end of the day everyone had a chance to work on leading. We also learned skills to help project harder grades.

Rifle Canyon

Rifle Canyon. Photo by: Dawn Glanc

As an Alumni of Chicks, I am continually amazed and impressed by the camaraderie and teamwork that develops among the participants during these clinics under the tutelage of the guides. During this clinic, as with others, the skill level varied from one extreme to another (i.e. never having climbed outdoors to climbing and/or leading 5.9s or higher), however, the guides are adept at molding the group into one cohesive unit that enables everyone to achieve their personal goals. These ladies kicked some butt leading, lead belaying and sending. I know each participant walked away from this clinic on Sunday feeling a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

A huge thanks to Elaina and Dawn (and Chef Dawn), my fellow clinic climbers and Chicks for a truly enjoyable and rewarding weekend. You have provided me with the skills and encouragement necessary to be a competent and capable climber.

Chicks On Steep Standstone – Red River Gorge Trip

Written by: Laura Sabourin

Chicks Rock Red River Gorge. Photo by: Brendan Leader.

Chicks Rock Red River Gorge. Photo by: Brendan Leader.

Fifteen ladies joined Chicks Guides Dawn Glanc, Elaina Arenz, Rachel Avallone, and Laura Sabourin for a beautiful Labor Day weekend in the Red River Gorge. The three day clinic was jam-packed with climbing, skill development, and laughter. The participants ranged widely in experience, from beginning climbers tying in and belaying for the first time to chicks alumni honing their trad skills and learning to give the perfect lead belay. It was so inspiring to see the women support each other over the three days to push their limits and achieve their goals.Our days were spent enjoying the steep sandstone of Muir Valley Nature Preserve, a privately owned climbing area in the southern region of The Gorge. Muir Valley is the perfect learning environment for climbers of all levels. The crags host a high concentration of moderate routes to work on new techniques, and the practice anchor stations at the base of each crag are perfect for practicing technical skills.

While the women came from diverse backgrounds, climbing together helped them bond and form life-long friendships. One woman came to the clinic on her own with no climbing experience. As a single mom of two teenage daughters-working full time and going to school- it was difficult to get time off for herself. She had been interested in attending a clinic for a long time, and finally made it work over the holiday. She had many personal breakthroughs over the weekend, from learning to belay to getting to the top of her first route. On the last day, two groups joined together to encourage her to climb a 5.8, her hardest route of the trip. This is the magic of Chicks events; the community comes together to support each other and discover abilities that they never knew existed within them.

Chicks Refueling. Photo by: Brendan Leader.

Chicks Refueling. Photo by: Brendan Leader.

After a full day of climbing, the Chicks returned to their luxury accommodations at the Cliffview Resort. The spacious kitchen offered Dawn space to prepare delicious meals for the crew, including her famous, made-from-scratch salsa and guacamole. After dinner, we bonded over games of pool, relaxed our muscles in the hot tubs on the back porch, and shared stories and pictures in the common area. This beautiful, comfortable staging area was the perfect setting for our clinic. We cannot thank Cliffview Resort enough for sponsoring this program!

Our participants left the weekend with smiles on their faces and a new community of friends and climbing partners. It is always hard to leave after so much fun, but the women have plenty of skills to practice before their next clinic. We are so proud of all of the ladies’ achievements this weekend. Another great clinic at the Red River Gorge is in the books.

Save the date for 2017 when we return on Sept 1-4, 2017.

That’s It – We’re New River Chicks

NRG1aChicks Climbing and Skiing held their inaugural New River Gorge rock climbing clinic July 15-17. Erin Larsen and myself were the guides for the weekend. Seven energetic and motivated ladies joined the clinic. Some ladies came with friends and others came solo in hopes to find new partners. We even had a mother and her 13 year-old daughter come to the  clinic. We all came together as strangers, but left as friends and future climbing partners.

This rock climbing clinic was unique in that all seven ladies considered themselves level 3 climbers. This meant that everyone had some climbing experience and wanted to work on skills for leading sport climbs outside. As guides, this made our jobs easy. Our goal was clear – we were to focus on lead climbing skills to ascend and descend single pitch climbs. The information was delivered in a fun and memorable way. Each woman left the clinic with the skills and confidence to go and climb safely on their own.Even though the women had prior knowledge and exposure to rock climbing, the group still experienced some firsts over the weekend. One woman camped and climbed outside for her first time ever. Many women learned the appropriate use of a Grigri. Other women finally learned the importance of body positioning. For the guides, facilitating this growth and providing a comfortable environment for “firsts” is very rewarding.

Overall the clinic was a huge success. The American Alpine Club campground was a perfect base camp. The Fayetteville climbing community welcomed us with open arms and the Chicks felt the local love. The Gorge is a magical place and we will be back again next year to do it all over again.

Tired, Hungry, Happy: Alpine Chicks

Teton Alpine Camp – Trip Report

Alpine climbing with Chicks

Chicks Alpine Alum! Photo by: Angela Hawse

Our first flock of mountain climbers has returned to the valley after our inaugural Chicks alpine clinic, and when everyone got together for a celebration dinner, they all showed the true signs of alpine climbing:  Tired, hungry, and happy faces.  Nowhere else does success come as hard earned as in the alpine, and nowhere else is the reward as great.

Taking place in the famed Grand Teton National Park, the first ever Chicks alpine clinic was completed just a couple weeks ago with three Chicks guides and nine Chicks climbers.  At the helm was lead guide Angela Hawse, an IFMGA Mountain Guide with extensive alpine climbing history and a longtime career in guiding on the Grand Teton for Exum Mountain Guides.  The group of Chicks climbers encompassed seasoned climbers from the Cascades, strong young guns from California, a Texan turned Coloradoan who fell in love with mountaineering at age 64, and few veteran ice and rock climber Chicks.  A fine team, and that was of importance:  Teamwork is a large part of alpine climbing, and this team showed it’s true colors of camaraderie, trust, and friendship up in the high country.  When the going got hard, the steps got steep, anchors had to be built, and climbers belayed, these women were there for each other.

The clinic began and ended at the American Alpine Club’s Climber’s Ranch in the national park, a home in the mountains that is both comfortable and rustic.  We started the opening meeting with a good introduction to what was to come, and everyone got outfitted with demo gear and boots, before fueling up on a big homemade dinner.   During the first day spent at the Hidden falls training area accessed by boat across Jenny Lake, the group got to ready themselves with the tools of the trade for alpine climbing:  They practiced movement skills in their approach shoes, worked on rope management, completed multi-pitch climbing, learned to belay each other with alpine techniques, performed overhanging rappels, and refined their down-climbing skills.  The evening was spent back at the Climber’s Ranch with another home-cooked dinner and prep-work for the next morning’s departure into the mountains.

Chicks Alpine Tetons

Getting Alpine Skills. Photo by: Angela Hawse

Now came the real deal, as the group climbed 7 miles and 5,000’ to the Exum Hut on the Lower Saddle, a beautiful flat perch below the Grand Teton, towering above at 13,784’.  It was a long day, complete with gentle to ever steepening trails, snowfields, and stormy clouds.  It was a great accomplishment when the group was assembled at the hut and cozied up inside with hot drinks and dinner made on the propane stoves as the sun set bathing the mountains in a purple glow.

The next morning dawned beautifully, and no time was wasted getting to work on full day of snow climbing.  The guides used the Glacier route on the Middle Teton as their venue and the group split into climbing teams, practicing self-arrest, ice axe and crampon use, snow anchor building and belaying.

Chicks in Tetons

The Real Deal. Photo by: Angela Hawse

Another night was spent at the hut, followed by a pre-dawn start for part of the group to put their skills to use on a climb up to the West Summit of the Grand Teton, also known as the Enclosure.   Then came the long descent of the whole group back to the valley floor, where the climbing teams had to use their freshly honed snow skills to belay each other down the steep headwall before reaching the steep, rocky trail through boulders and around waterfalls that finally gave way to a hiking trail in the timbers below.  Sun, blisters and tired legs were the companions on the descent, but so were the feelings of accomplishment and pride.

Alpine climbing does not come easy, and the whole group deserves a big hats-off for their hard work and fine performance in completing this first ever Chicks alpine clinic.  From all of us at Chicks, we can say this:  We are so proud of what you all accomplished during these 4 days!