Trip Report: Subaru Adventure Team Women’s Ice Climbing Clinic Contest

Doing the Crampon Dance. Kelly Clarke, third from left, won the 2017 Subaru Adventure Team Women's Ice Climbing Scholarship @Elaina Arenz

Doing the Crampon Dance with an extraordinary group of women. Kelly Clarke, third from left, won the 2017 Subaru Adventure Team Women’s Ice Climbing Scholarship @Elaina Arenz

Chicks is an extraordinary group of women. Not just the amazing guides and leaders, but everyone that participates in a Chicks clinic has wisdom to impart, strengths to share and courage to elevate themselves and those around them. I recently had the opportunity to participate in the life changing experience of a Chicks with Picks ice climbing clinic through a generous scholarship from the Subaru Adventure Team.

 

Itseems a bit dramatic to use the term ‘life-changing,’ but with the Chicks program focused on giving you all around mountaineering, climbing and ice focused skills (or backcountry skiing and avy training in other cases), it’s assured you won’t approach your next outdoor trip the same. Since the clinic, I even hike differently.

 

This trip still seems quite unreal. I had gone ice climbing for the first time recently with a friend that I had met through a networking group for women climbers in Colorado Springs, belayHER. It was so much fun, but I knew nothing. I wanted to get gear to ice climb, but I had no idea where to start. I wanted to have more confidence, and an understanding of the basic skills, but it seemed like an insurmountable task. I am forever grateful to my friend for being a solid climber that I trusted as a leader. But often with adventure sports you can’t just trust your one friend’s opinion when looking to get to a place where you’re building knowledge and working to gain independence in that sport.

 

I had heard about the Subaru Adventure Team because they sponsor an event at my climbing gym. Just when I had been bitten hard by the bug to want to ice climb, they announced a contest giving away a women’s ice climbing scholarship. I dropped everything and submitted an entry right away. The premise was that you uploaded a picture and then asked your friends to vote for it. So I did that. Some of the other entries had an insane amount of votes right away, and I had resigned myself to thinking that while it looked like an amazing opportunity, it would not be for me. My sister saw it differently. She thought the contest was awesome, and really wanted me to have this opportunity to pursue ice climbing. She sent the link out to everyone in the company she works for. “Vote for my sister!” Then my friends started sharing the link on social media. Then friends of friends, people I have never met, started sharing the link. My campaign to solicit votes grew beyond anything I thought was remotely possible. And somehow I won.

 

I still didn’t really believe that I had won, even as I drove from Colorado Springs to Ouray. I was fully prepared to turn around and head home when I arrived, because there would have been a misunderstanding or it just wasn’t real. Not so. I arrived at the Secret Garden B&B, the main meeting spot for the weekend, and was welcomed with warmth, kindness and stoke for the weekend ahead.

 

We discussed our goals for the weekend and Dawn Glanc explained what to expect, how to dress and how to plan for the days ahead. I was awarded the prize package that was a part of the contest – an awesome Osprey backpack that I will now use year round for all different types of adventures, and coveted Black Diamond crampons and Black Diamond ice tools!! It still didn’t feel real, because it was just too good to be true.

 

After the intros, we got set up with demo gear. This was one of the invaluable parts of the weekend (Really, all aspects were invaluable). Gear is expensive, and it’s hard to know what you want with no baseline. For example, I’ve wanted to get a Patagonia puffy, but wasn’t sure what style would meet my needs so I never got one. Well, after getting to try one in an active outdoor situation, I now know exactly what I want. I was able to use a pair of Scarpa boots all weekend, and now I am sure of what size I want to get so that I have solid kicks and warm feet. My feet are always cold, and those boots kept them toasty all weekend. They were surprisingly light and didn’t feel awkward to hike in at all. And I was definitely swayed to get a particular pair of Outdoor Research gloves. I could go on. But it was great to leave at the end of the weekend having a clearer idea and general confidence for what I want to purchase as I become the self-sufficient climber that Chicks with Picks taught me to be.

 

Post gear grab, we had the most amazing meal. But then Sarah Sharpe at The Secret Garden continued to outdo herself each meal thereafter. Every detail is well thought out, and the entire weekend you feel like you’re getting nothing but the best that Ouray has to offer.

 

After dinner, we headed back to our accomodations at the Victorian Inn. There I thought about the tips we reviewed earlier and worked on smartly packing my Osprey pack with everything I would need for the next day. Grabber warmers? Thank you, and check! Extra layers packed in plastic bags in case things got wet (including five additional pairs of gloves). Check! A week’s worth of snacks that weren’t needed, because delicious lunches from Artisan Bakery in town were provided. Check! I packed much lighter on Sunday. I watched some YouTube videos on how to attach ice axes to an Osprey pack. Then I went through the generous sponsor bag with items from Petzl, Gu, Rock and Ice, ect. Things I will use and all from brands that I love! There was even a Sterling sling that will pair nicely with my favorite climbing accessory, the Sterling HollowBlock. Seriously, we haven’t even started and this has already been the coolest weekend.

 

Day One – South Park

 

For the first climbing day, we all met in The Vic’s parking lot and headed to the park. It was ridiculously close to where we were staying. Elaina Arenz was my guide for the weekend, but our group joined forces with Anna Keeling’s group, and it worked extremely well to combine forces. It made for more climbing opportunities, more belay buddies and learning from two experts! We headed to South Park in Ouray Ice Park for our first climbs, and on the way Anna talked about hiking strategies and how good footwork translates across to climbing. It always amazes me when people who are among the best at what they do are able to break things down to teach people with minimal experience. Both Anna and Elaina are great at this.

 

When we got to the trailhead for the South Park area, we reviewed the art of securing crampons. I still need to work on this, but I am also glad Elaina went over the process with me the night before. We worked on walking in crampons, up and down slopes. Again, Anna broke down the form in a way that gave us small aspects to think about and practice. While that was going on, Elaina was setting up routes for us. Before we headed down to the canyon, we took a short hike along the anchors and talked about ‘good, better, and best’ practices for setting anchors. Elaina was using full Sterling ropes with a simple yet redundant system. Some people were using thin cordlette that made me nervous to step over in crampons and over-complicated systems. Elaina obviously had the most rock solid anchors, but it was really helpful to break down the different variations we saw.

 

In the canyon, Anna and Elaina demonstrated the basics for what we would be doing. We practiced swinging ice axes and kicking in crampons on ground level. My form still needs a lot of work, but practicing this before climbing helps a ton, because when you get on a wall of ice it’s harder to think about good form. After a bit of practice, it was time to get to climbing!

 

We started with some less steep routes and then worked on steeper routes towards the end of the day. Sarah Moore, Amanda Hankinson and Jo Coulter adapted quickly and were even trying mixed routes by the end of the day. With the mention of Jo, I have to say that she had the coolest helmet in South Park that day – the Grivel Stealth. Amy Swanson seemed to pick up the techniques right away. Jamie Lin had only been to a climbing gym a couple of times and absolutely slayed the first day out ice climbing.

 

I had trouble keeping my heels down on climbs, but I got a lot of tips that I will continue to work on. It was great to get some experience on the ice, but it was also great to be able to watch other people climb. It was really cool to watch Anna and Elaina each climb a route. And after getting instruction from Anna and Elaina, it was easy to pick up on what other climbers in the canyon were doing wrong. On the whole, our group looked pretty great in comparison.

 

At the end of the day we headed back down the icy canyon. Both Amy and I took the ice slide down one steep portion, on accident. No one was hurt. We both laughed at ourselves and then remembered to keep in mind the tips Anna had bestowed earlier.

 

We met at The Secret Garden for another incredible home cooked meal by Sarah, a recap of the day and a breakdown of all the different gear options in ice climbing by the legendary Kitty Calhoun. This was another invaluable addition to the weekend. We learned the pros and cons of different ice tools, crampons, boots, clothes, nutrition, ect. Inevitably I decided my next pair of crampons would be Black Diamond Sabretooths and I was definitely going to get a bunch of Gu Summit Tea for later outings. Also, I am lusting after a set of Grivel ice axes for when I start delving into mixed climbing.

 

Day Two – Scottish Gullies

 

On the second day we walked up Box Canyon Road from The Vic to climb in the Lower Bridge/Scottish Gullies area. Again, we combined groups and Elaina set up the ropes while Anna coached us on the short but steep approach, but not without an adorable facetime between Amy and her daughter first. “Mama, don’t get hurt!” Quick aside: I love seeing moms doing adventurous things to better themselves and I love kids seeing their moms doing rad things. Go Amy!

 

This canyon had a river running through it and planks set up to get to the belay spots and climbs. It was gorgeous. I may have found these planks more daunting than the climbs to start, but by the end of the day I was traversing them with no problem, thanks to Anna’s attention and coaching.

 

The climbs in this canyon were a little taller and a little more advanced than the previous day. Sue Browning had a stellar day. She took a fall at one point and impressed me with how she overcame that challenge and kept climbing. Sue hadn’t been climbing in something like ten years, but you would never know it by how she climbed over the weekend. Sarah Rickel had a complete breakthrough day. All her past Chicks clinics came together and she found a new confidence in her climbing. It was awesome to see. It was also great to belay her on a few of these climbs!

 

By the end of the day, Jo, S’Moore and Amanda were trying more technical mixed climbs. Rickel, Jamie and I were practicing climbing with no axes or just one axe to work on better footwork.

 

Some had to leave early, but after the day of climbing we headed back to The Secret Garden for more delightful food, and to recap the weekend. We had a round table where we discussed our biggest take-away, then our guide would say what they thought we got out of the clinic. For me, I was really excited to learn the foundations for good form in ice climbing. I’ve by no means perfected it, but I know what to think about and what to work on every time I head out. It was really cool to hear about the other, more advanced groups that Dawn Glanc and Lindsay Hamm took out. Aimee, Diane, Gina, Nicole, Mary and Victoria worked on more advanced skills and even had their first lead climbs! I aspire to be like Diane some day, who has taken pretty much every clinic Chicks has offered in the past year and has transformed into a really confident and independent climber in a short amount of time.

 

It was great to meet everyone that participated in the 2018 Jiffy clinic. I look forward to coming back to another clinic when I am ready to take my ice climbing to the next level. I want to extend a huge thank you to Chicks Climbing and Skiing, The Subaru Adventure Team, Osprey and Black Diamond for letting me have such an unreal experience – and for supporting each other in a way that raises the climbing community. I’ve already been able to take my new skills and gear out on some climbs closer to home in Cheyenne Canyon and Hully Gully, and I can’t wait to get back to Ouray. Hope to see you all out on the ice soon!

 

 

Intro to Ski Mountaineering in La Grave, France

Get The Goods in La Grave, France

Intro to Ski Mountaineering

Click on any of the photos below for more information on Intro to Ski Mountaineering in La Grave. All photos are from a Chicks trip with Erin Smart in 2017.

skinning up. Ski mountaineering in la Grave

Working for The goods. Skinning up a slope in La Grave, France.

 

Rapelling. Ski Mountaineering.

Rappelling into couloir, La Grave.

 

ski mountaineering in La Grave

Chicks pause for a photo at the top of a couloir way above La Grave.

 

ski mountaineering in La Gave France

Too much fun! Look at that smile. Look closely, you can see tracks WAY down there.

 

ski mountaineering in La Grave, France

Making turns far above La Grave. See ya! Definitely want to be ya!

La Grave snow report. Click the screen shot below to see an updated forecast…

La Grave Snow Report

La Grave Snow Report

Can You dig?

Avalanche Rescue

Avalanche Rescue Course participants celebrate with their Certificate of Completion

Chicks Climbing and Skiing Joins Force with the Silverton Avalanche School

Avalanche Rescue Course trip report by Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, IFMGA Mountain Guide

Hello Chicks!

I could not be more stoked about this new partnership between Chicks Climbing and Skiing and the Silverton Avalanche School.

In December, Sandy Kobrock and I hosted three one-day Avalanche Rescue courses.

Despite lack of snow, the courses were hugely successful—17 women from all over the state, and as far away as California, joined us in Ouray, Telluride and Silverton.

The Chicks Avalanche Rescue course is recognized by the American Avalanche Association (A3) as a pre-requisite for the Level 2 course and as a requirement for the PRO Level 1 and 2 courses.

We’re just getting this Avalanche Beta party started! Oh yeah—BIG CONGRATS, HIGH FIVES, GO YOU to all those who took the initiative to train for the unimaginable. Your partners are lucky.

Going up a skin track in the backcountry ©AveryStonich

Going up a skin track in the backcountry ©Angela Hawse

Skiing deep powder snow in the backcountry. ©AveryStonich

Skiing deep powder snow in the backcountry. ©AveryStonich

 

 

 

 

Caution! The Avalanche Rescue Course could be habit forming; it might spark backcountry addiction. We’ll be proudly responsible if you take another course, get an alpine touring set up and learn how to backcountry ski!

 

 

 

 

Choose backcountry partners carefully, training matters.

Did you know that avalanche transceiver searches are easy to practice anywhere that has tall grass, sand, wood chips, etc?

1) There are no tracks in the snow leading to the buried transceiver, giving it away.
2) It’s easier to focus on the essentials—executing the signal, course, fine and pinpoint searches—without the added challenge of moving over snow with ski or riding equipment on.
3) A baseball field or vacant ski slope is very accessible. Folks are more likely to get out and train early season.

Practicing Companion Rescue in woodchips ©Angela Hawse

Practicing Companion Rescue in woodchips ©Angela Hawse

That said, there is nothing like the real thing:

1) It is essential that you are skilled in moving over snow with your skis or board on.
2) You must practice in a snowy environment when it comes to moving large volumes of snow in a short amount of time—it’s hard work!
3) Practice. Practice. Practice digging the way we taught when you have some snow to work with.
4) If you are wondering, “What’s the best way to dig?” visit the Silverton Avalanche School website for more avalanche courses and additional all-women’s backcountry winter offerings at http://avyschool.com/project/new-partnership-with-chicks-climbing-and-skiing/.

And, if you’re a backcountry ice climber, check out the Women’s Avalanche Rescue and Safety for Ice Climbers with Kitty Calhoun in January that focuses on the hazards and rescue skills specific to ice climbing.

Best in Snow,

Angela Hawse

Shuttle to Ouray with Western Slope Rides

Thinking of ice climbing with us in the Ice Park this winter but concerned about driving on snowy roads? Don’t stress, Western Slope Rides is the answer. They’ll pick you up from the Montrose airport and deliver you to your accommodations in Ouray and just about anywhere in between.
Ouray is a small town with no traffic lights. The main street is considered a highway, but the traffic is minimal. Most days you can cross the main street diagonally with no worry.  There are a few other roads in town which are paved; the rest are hard packed dirt roads. If you are coming from the city, you will welcome the change of pace.
When flying into Montrose airport, there is no need to rent a car to get to Ouray. Andy and his crew at Western Slope Rides (WSR) will pick you up from the airport and drop you off at your destination. The Shuttle service staff are always friendly and reliable. They serve as a perfect welcome wagon for our community.
If you plan and utilise the online shopping option at The South Townsend City Market, WSR will stop for you to pick up your grocery order. *This only applies to online orders. This courtesy does not allow you to get out and shop.
WSR has even shuttled Chicks to the County Road 361 trailhead. The driver took away a significant stress of the day by dropping me off at the trailhead. Parking was never an issue for our group. The driver picked us up in a warm vehichle and delivered us right to our doorstep.
I have personally used WSR for an airport shuttle. Andy shuttled a group of us into a remote trailhead, eliminating the need for a car shuttle. I don’t know how we ever got by without the shuttle service before.

Skiing the Andes

It’s early September and I’m heading to Chile in South America to ski the Andes, direct from rock climbing in New Hampshire and I couldn’t be more stoked.  I arrive a few hours after my guests, who are waiting at our lodge at the head of the Maipo Valley for 6 days of big mountain skiing. 

Within an hour of my taxi ride out of the Santiago airport, I come across an accident on the road that looks bad. I see someone laying prone, vehicles stopped and lots of people standing around.  I jump out to see if I can help.  An elderly lady, Señora Rosa, is on her back not moving with blood oozing out of her forehead. There’s easily a half a liter already pooled on the pavement.  I fire through my duffel to find a first aid kit and apply heavy dressings and direct pressure to stop the bleeding.  Although I get by in Spanish generally, the entire scene was chaos.  I asked someone to call 911, hold pressure on the bleed and I checked out Señora Rosa from head to toe but hesitated to move her until the ambulance showed up 30 minutes later.  By that time she was still coherent but deteriorating and I realized I probably saved this woman’s life by stopping her bleed and being a trained first responder. Training matters. After helping lift her into the gurney, I left the scene in a daze, jet-lagged and sad that I’d probably never know the outcome of Señora Rosa. I think of her often. What a crazy start to the trip! Continuing up the Maipo Valley was sobering but my mood changed significantly when I took in the stunning scenery of huge snow-covered peaks rising to the sky and a raging river full of whitewater enthusiasts enjoying themselves.  A lone condor circled low and I knew this was going to be an amazing trip.

I arrive at our world-class lodge at the head of the Maipo Valley and enjoy a hearty welcome for my first visit. This trip has been on my bucket list for years and I’ve got four of my favorite people who have adventured the world with me for a week of heli-skiing in the Andes.  Powder South Heliski Guides is owned by a long time friend and guide who has been trying to get me down here for years. I can hardly wait to get out and experience their terrain and wonder what the heck I was waiting for.  It looks much like the San Juan Mountains on steroids, times three.

After moving into my spacious room I meet the other guide from France, the Operations Director from Mexico and our pilot from Santiago.  I’m the first woman guide they’ve ever had at Powder South and am greeted with nothing but respect, professionalism and very little ego. We talk, laugh at our language hiccups and I sense it’s going to be a fun week working with these guys.  Communication is a crucial aspect of heli-skiing. Prior concerns I had about language challenges were immediately put to ease.

My guests are thrilled with the luxury accommodations and hospitality of the lodge.  I’ve got two gals from my hometown of Ridgway in tow and a lovely couple from Jackson that I’ve skied within Antarctica over the past 3 seasons.  At a 4:1 ratio, it’s pretty unusual to only have one dude along with 4 women, especially for heli-skiing!  It’s a semi-private week with only one other group, composed more typically of all men.  They’re pretty stoked to see how much fun we are about to have as my group doesn’t hold back at all in that regard.

We are treated to an incredible week of seemingly endless vertical feet of skiing down open bowls and stunning couloirs.  Day one we muster over 25,000 feet of turns for our first day of the season.  Legs quivering and cheeks numb from smiling all day, we revel in one of the most spectacular places any of us have ever skied.  The terrain is too big for pictures to capture with most runs ranging from 4000 to 6500 vertical feet.  With early September rivaling spring in the Northern Hemisphere, we enjoy conditions ranging from corn on north aspects to boot top powder on the southerlies. We couldn’t be more stoked to make our first turns of the season together in such a remarkable part of the world.

I’ll be back next year for my first turns of the season in the Southern Hemisphere.  If there are any Chicks out there keen to do the same, let us know and we can put together a Chicks trip to make it happen.

The Dawns do Iceland

Many years ago I met another Dawn. Her name is Dawn Rathburn, but she became known as Other Dawn soon after showing up to the first Chicks Rock clinic at Red Rocks in 2009. At this clinic I taught Other Dawn to tie her figure 8 and other rock climbing basics. I then talked Other Dawn into taking a Chicks Ice Clinic in Ouray where I taught her how to ice climb. Over the years Other Dawn has been to many Chicks clinic. I love to climb with Other Dawn. During our Chicks Clinics I always try to have her in my group.


In February 2017 Chicks Climbing and Skiing offered a trip to Bildudalur, Iceland to climb remote and wild backcountry ice climbs. This description was enough for Other Dawn to register for the trip. Seeing her name on the registration, my already high level of excited peaked. I knew we would be in for a great adventure together.

 

Kitty and I landed in Iceland, already fighting off the jetlag. We took a taxi over to the small domestic airport where we met Other Dawn at the only gate there. She had been in Iceland for a few days getting over jet lag with her husband. Other Dawn was alert and stoked, which quickly infected Kitty and I. Soon we were heading to Bildudalur to scout ice climbs and rendezvous with the rest of the Chicks participants.

Once in Iceland The game was on. The other Chicks participants arrived and we broke into 3 smaller groups for 5 days of climbing. Naturally I picked Dawn as my partner. I knew she would have the skill and the attitude needed to push hard and get some climbing done. Other Dawn is as stubborn and tenacious as I am, and this proved to be key to our success each day.

Climbing in Iceland is unique. There are no guide books, trailheads, or maps, just photocopied pictures taken from the road years ago. To figure out what and where you will climb, each  has to go and scout the area. The day before we climb, we drive around looking, scouting, for ice. Once we find something we try to gauge how hard it is and how far away it is. The next morning the team arrives back to the place the ice was last seen. We park on a random spot in the road, and start walking toward the climbing. Finding quickly that we have no sense of scale or how hard things will really be.

One morning we faced our most difficult and challenging approach of our trip. It was steep talus with a shallow dusting of snow. It was hell. At the top of the hill, Dawn and I put down our packs to discuss the climb in front of us. The climb was nothing more than a bunch of pencil sized icicles over wet rock. It was a no go and I was bummed. Even though Other Dawn was challenged by the hike, she never lost her fire. Other Dawn turned to me and said, “If you had told me 8 years ago that I would be here in Iceland  with you I would never have believed it. Look at us!”

In a matter of seconds Other Dawn validated every hardship we had faced that day and every other day on the trip. This statement filled me so much joy, I wanted to cry. Through Chicks she had progressed from zero to sixty, and I was a part of that progression. I was so moved. We then shared a Snickers bar and tackled another heinous approach to a climb in marginal conditions.

Traveling around the world to ice climb is a gamble. It takes an adventurous soul to want to take on an objective like ice climbing. Not every moment traveling or climbing in the mountains is perfect. Typically we only remember and boast about the good times. I will proudly remember all the awful post-holing and vertical talus slopes. I will gladly tell about the overhanging detached ice we climbed. Inside Of me, I will smile with glee because I am proud to have given Other Dawn a few small tools needed to become the climber she is today. This trip was as perfect as can be for me because of the opportunity to climb with my friend, Other Dawn.

Chicks will be offering the Iceland trip again this year. Join us in February of 2018 to climb the wild ice climbs of Iceland. We hope you can join us this February when we return to Bildudalur for Ice Climbing in Iceland Trip.

 

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.