A is for Alpine

Karen Bockel, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, on the Peuterey Ridge, Mont Blanc--the longest ridge in the Alps ©Emilie Drinkwater

Karen Bockel, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, on the Peuterey Ridge, Mont Blanc–the longest ridge in the Alps ©Emilie Drinkwater

Alpine Climbing is Awesome!

Pre-dawn starts, a bit (or a lot) of suffering, an adventure in a high and wild place.

Can I Go?  These three words changed my life forever.

Southern Germany, 1992. I was 17.

I’d never been to the mountains, or done as much as a hike in the hills.

I was a runner. At a summer, Friday-evening, track meet, I overheard two of my older male friends, Heiko and Damian, making plans for the weekend.

They were going to the Alps to climb mountains. I stared at them.

I knew of climbing through coffee table books of Reinhold Messner’s 8,000 meter ascents – a foreign and unconquerable, yet intriguing world to me.

“Can I go?” I asked.

They agreed and Heiko’s mother loaned me all her gear.
I packed my rain jacket and tracksuit.
I called my Mom from a payphone along the way and told her, “I’m going into the mountains.”

Finally, after ever-smaller roads we parked in a long valley guarded by high, snow-covered peaks—the Oetztal, Austria.

We shouldered our packs, which seemed enormous and filled with things I had no idea how to use. The leather boots felt stiff on the rocks and they rubbed on my anklebones. The path was steep and I breathed as hard as if I was still in the race the night before.

We dropped gear at the hut, ate some snacks and then headed up for our first peak. My head pounded (from altitude I would later come to know), my shoulders felt crushed and my hips were bruised.

Brockenkogel was our objective.

We climbed along a path then we scrambled. Clouds swirled around us and I had no concept of height or distance.

I asked Heiko, “How far?
“10 minutes,” He said. The time it took me to race 3,000 meters—an epic distance and effort! I stumbled with my head down. Then, I saw a large iron cross. The summit! I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Back at the hut, I crawled into my bunk. Damian nudged me to get up for dinner, but everything hurt. All I wanted was to sleep.

Before dawn, the hut guard rang the breakfast bell. Soon our little team found itself donning harnesses and helmets again.

Today we were going for the Wildspitze. This involved a lot of elevation gain, then a scramble up a rocky, ice-filled gully, and finally a long, summit snowfield.

I was too tired to think. I put one foot in front of the other and shivered in my tracksuit when we stopped to put on crampons. I watched and copied my teammates as best as I could, glancing nervously at the knot that tied me to the rope. I remember sharp steel scratching over rocks. It was barely light.

Then, just as we gained the immense snowfield, the sun emerged above the ridge and the snow glowed in orange light and the world dropped away.

We marched and I smiled, and we hugged and cheered when we got to the summit. This was amazing. I was exhausted, but somehow it didn’t matter at all.

The descent caused a few more stumbles and bruises, as did the walk down from the hut. My feet were raw and bloody. Every part of my body hurt, but my mind was blown. I had visited the world of alpine climbing that I had only known from books. And, I intended to return.

Want to have your mind blown?

Chicks are going Alpine Climbing at Mount Baker this summer.

You Should Go!