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!