It was a year of “digging deep.” Everything just felt more harsh…more cold…more sharp. This year on the ice brought with it a host of emotions. I was just starting to peer my head out over the horizon of a heart-wrenching 2012. A year of letting go, understanding different elements of pain, and what it takes to move through those layers.
There is nothing that will make you, simultaneously, feel more “raw” & more vulnerable that the cold thickness of waterfall ice. Its exquisite beauty and volatility hang like a delicate thread in the forefront of your mind at all times. The fine line between pleasure and pain, the warmth of the sweat on your body with the coldness of the environment. Ice climbing does all these things…and more. You don’t just see the vapor of your breath…you watch it freeze before your eyes.
One of the Ouray, CO. locals said it was the coldest “Ice Fest” he’s attended since the late 80’s. Several of the days, post festival, were in the negatives. It almost felt too cold to get out of bed. Strong willpower, a motivated climbing partner and several strong shots of espresso seemed to be the ticket.
This was my 3rd year in a row, heading to Ouray, during peak ice climbing season. January is when the “Ouray Ice Festival” is held, and the vertical “greats” all convene upon the small town that is also known as “Little Switzerland.”
Ouray has been made, essentially, into a “ski town,” with no skiing. The main attraction? The “Ouray Ice Park.” A large, man-made, “playground” for the climber “junkie” with a hankering to get their feet off the ground, even before the ground thaws.
This year, I had the privilege of connecting with some women that have greatly influenced my life, and have driven my desire to experience the vertical world. Margo Talbot, Kitty Calhoun, Angela Hawse, Dawn Glanc, Kim Reynolds…these women have all contributed to the fabric of women in climbing (whether it be alpine, rock, ice or mixed). Really, what we’re talking about here are legends. Women who have pioneered the sport, and have paved the way for other women, such as myself to enjoy them.
Margo Talbot is someone I hold very close to my heart. Ice climber, alpinist, mountain guide, writer. There is little she doesn’t do with flair, style, whole-heartedly, and with an infectious laugh. When I met her 3 yrs. ago at the “Ouray Brewery” I felt an instant kinship of spirit with her. She has been someone who continues to influence me daily, through her profound connection to nature, and her journey.
The first half of my climbing trip, I had the opportunity to climb with a dear friend, Keith Young. I met Keith in Ouray 2 years ago. His kind smile, enthusiasm for the ice, and down-to-earth nature alerted me that we would be instant friends. We spent the first part of the week working with negative temperatures, “getting our feet wet” with the intricate techniques of ice climbing again (since it had been a year for me). When we could, we would hastily retreat to one of 9 local hot springs to fend off the wind and cold-to-the-bone temperatures.
For the climber the temperature is fine, for the most part. For the belayer? Brutal. Standing there, doing your best to contain body heat, while paying the utmost attention to your partner, is a mental chore. In addition, the cold “zaps” energy from your core. You are burning more calories than you know, and are burning them in excess, just trying to stay warm, let alone climbing. We were very grateful that “PocketFuel Naturals” sent us over there with healthy-for-you-fat-filled-staying-power, because we burned right through them.
Exit Awesome guy climbing buddy…Enter pro. climber, “Kitty Calhoun.” Kitty has guided all over the world. Her resume is so stout and so long, that women like me had posters of her hanging in our dorm rooms in college. Undergrad. book reports have been done about her legendary alpine, rock and ice feats. When she’s in Ouray, she guides for a women’s climbing company called, “Chicks With Picks.” This company is a wonderful venue for women to try their hand at ice climbing, and to experience the majestic beauty of climbing ice.
Kitty gave me all kinds of great “pointers,” and even a pg. of handwritten “homework” notes for me to work on over the next year. I was brutally honest with her that ice is a once-a-year medium for me, so she said “You like rock? Good. Then, we’ll mix it up for you.” It was the first time I had ever tried “dry tooling” or “mixed” routes (rock & ice). I found the lack of tactile contact with the rock (instead having crampons on & using ice axes vs. my hands) to be foreign in the way I was used to relating to that medium. It was tricky to pull off rock moves that I normally felt comfortable with, “dangling off of 2 toothpicks.” It was a completely new way of me relating to the rock. A more “primal” way, where my senses were stripped from feeling its texture, & I had to go by the sense of how I was hanging off of a small, sharp point. It disarmed me a bit. The fluidity needed, to move between rock and ice, was a phenomenal experience. One that was both challenging and exhilarating.
To work with Kitty was a great honor for me. I’ve deeply admired what she, and the other previously mentioned women, have done for women in the climbing community.: putting up first ascents, paving the way for women at comps., getting women into the alpine backcountry, getting women sponsored, etc.
I look forward to seeing how the spring climbing season shapes up, and what lessons I can bring, down from the mountains of Ouray, to the world of splitter cracks, basalt lines & the volcanic tuft of my “backyard,” “Smith Rock State Park.”
“THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BAD WEATHER. ONLY DIFFERENT TYPES OF GOOD WEATHER.”
Almine Barton is a licensed acupuncturist and certified personal trainer and “CrossFit” coach. She runs two sports medicine clinics in Bend, OR., and Portland, OR. She works closely with climbers, Olympians, and competing “CrossFit” athletes in her practice, and enjoys seeing her patients achieve their fitness and wellness goals. Almine lives near “Smith Rock,” thoroughly enjoying the immense climbing opportunities that Central OR. has to offer. She is an avid sport and trad climber, “CrossFitter,” mountain biker, trail-runner and Adventure Racer. She is sponsored by Flux, GoGoGear, PocketFuel Naturals and Team Tough Chik. Almine has two Malamutes named Tallon and Anok, who keep her running trails all winter long. Learn more about Almine at her new website http://www.alminewellness.com/.