Whorehouse Hose, Eureka CO

1st Pitch (photo: Sandy Heise)

1st Pitch (photo: Sandy Heise)

Whorehouse Hose is another San Juan classic that is tucked up in one of those really cool places deep in a narrow canyon. You can see the first pitch from the road, but the rest is always a bit of a mystery as it steps up and meanders to the third pitch several hundred feet above. I love being there tucked away, out of site and out of mind. It’s places like this that first drew me to the aesthetic beauty of ice climbing.

I ventured here with my X-office assistant, Sandy Heise, since Mr. X was off doing his Cop thing in Crested Butte. Besides, I do love climbing with the girls! Especially Sandy after having shared plenty of office time together at the Chicks with Picks head quarters, it was fun to get her out to play! Sandy left the job three years ago after falling in love with a man from Durango…sweet. I’ve missed her calm presence amidst the chaos of the never-ending to do list that being self- employed offers.

Photo: Sandy Heise

Photo: Sandy Heise

The first pitch was really thin and I could see the water rushing underneath it about an inch away at times. The climbing was so delicate and fragile that I was grateful that I am relatively light at 110 pounds. The first pitch is an honest full rope length followed by a small snow field and easy 2nd pitch that was a snow ramp. Then you have to walk a little ways to third pitch around the corner. This pitch looks so different each time I’ve climbed it, this time it was easy with a lot of small ledges for some super fun climbing. Two rappels and you are down. Great day out with a good friend.

Alta Lakes Hut Trip, Telluride CO

Now for more girl-time at Alta Lakes Lodge near Telluride with 14 women skiers, best known as the annual mom’s hut trip. How did I get invited since I’m not the breeding type? That’s easy, Sara Ballantyne asked me to go so she would have someone to ski with. Sara is a world-class athlete: two-time world mt. bike champion and winner of the Eco-challenge, leading her pack of boys to victory. If there is someone to get my Grrr back in the realm of backcountry skiing, Sara’s at the top of my list.

Dropping into Ophir

Dropping into Ophir

Day 1 – Feb 27
As a warm up for the hut trip, we skied from Trout Lake to Ophir dropping into one of the many couloirs off the ridge. This turned into a five-hour tour as our local guides Donna & Nan, got us a wee bit lost…but who’s counting. Sara and I still had a 5-mile ski into Alta Lodge that same day, so after 7 hours of sliding on skis, we crashed at the hut and I could barely move. A good warm up for our spring tic list to come!

Sara & Kim

Sara & Kim

Day 2 – Feb 28th

We climbed a ridge and spotted this beautiful shot that is featured as this sliver of sunlight between Sara & I – so off we went descending, traversing and finally booting up the couloir for a variable ski down. With one more ridge to climb, we dropped into the hut via a steep face that sits above the hut with all mom’s watching and cheering us on as they drank beer in the sun. Once again, Sara and I were the last to return to the hut that evening. A great day with three fun descents.

Silver Chute - above & to the rt of Sara

Silver Chute - above & to the rt of Sara

Day 3 – March 1st
The entire weekend, we eyed the Silver Chute above the hut that is certainly the most classic line in the area. As the mom’s skied out to their cars, Sara & I skinned up to check out the conditions. When we got to the couloir, we decided to give it a go, threw on some crampons and up we went. I always love climbing the terrain I am going to ski as it gives me a good feel for the snow pack and the exposure. This line certainly had plenty of both! At the top, we did a few Brain Gyms to calm and center our nerves before skiing down. The snow was soft enough to hold a solid edge as it was not a place you would want to fall. That was the icing on the weekend and we skied to the car pretty jazzed. God I love to ski!

Sara half way down Silver Chute

Sara half way down Silver Chute

Ames Ice Hose, Telluride CO


2nd Pitch

OK truth be told, I haven’t been on the sharp end of my rope in a few years, but who’s counting? I got busy, I lost ambition or didn’t feel like I had it in me to lead anything sort-of hard anymore. Who knows?

So here we go. My new climbing partner actually showed up as planned so we headed off for our first climb together on Ames Ice Hose near Telluride – a classic three pitch climb that offers steep, narrow and long leads. We hiked in and had to wait for the second shift, getting us on the route around 2:00 PM which was perfect. Kitty Calhoun and I had been on it a week before though we only had time to each lead one pitch before she had to pick up her son Grady at the ski area. I lead the first pitch with Kitty so I let Mr. X jump on it this time before I took the 2nd and 3rd as to complete my goal to lead the entire route this season. Mr. X looked solid enough and I thought to myself that he will make a fine partner…plus he was proving to be a lot of fun.

Kim pointing to the third pitch

Kim pointing to the third pitch

When I was half way up the third pitch a certain unnamed party came up and ruined our wilderness experience by the seriousness of their need to climb everything in one day, pass us by and set the world’s record on speed coiling. Whatever. After the satisfaction of making fun of their serious mood, we hiked out after a successful and fun first climb together. Nice! Off to dinner in Telluride before Mr. X had drive home to his girlfriend. What a pity.

My new climbing partner

Mr. X

Mr. X

I love climbing with women and by the nature of my work, I do quite a bit of it but this winter I was blessed with a new climbing partner…a cute, humorous, 39 year old, unavailable, cop from Crested Butte. Quite the package deal wouldn’t you say.  Practicalities aside, I was certainly ready for a little excitement in my life…especially since he let me do all of the leading.

So here’s the deal, when I turned 50 I didn’t feel as if my life was suddenly passing me by or I needed to head on some major adventure that would put me on top of a symbolic summit to my soul. Instead, I felt grateful for my life and the fact that I’ve always done exactly what I wanted to do.  Even so, I still  felt like a total looser for not setting any “goals” for this milestone. With that said, I quietly decided it would be fun to lead all of the major backcountry ice climbs in the San Juan’s and ski some of the classic north faces of the peaks I gaze upon everyday.  Somehow the simplicity of this goal, close to home, sounded perfect and besides, I found a new belay slave. Sweet.

Getting my Grrr Back

It’s been quite a year: not only did we celebrate our 10-year anniversary at Chicks with Picks, host the first full-on women’s ice festival and start a new program called Chicks Rock…. I turned 50, got an amicable divorce, remodeled a house, took a group of women to Nepal and got my grrrr back.  Not necessarily in that order.


The Head Chick

Over the past ten years, I’ve been busy starting things such as Chicks with Picks, Mind Over MountainsdZi Foundation and becoming a certified Life Coach. That all looks good on paper & web sites, but the truth is the adventurous aspect of my life, not to mention my confidence, has suffered in the last few years. It was Kitty Calhoun (one of my Girly Guides) who looked at me this winter, saw the wind knocked out of my sails and encouraged me to “get my grrr back”. She kept throwing me back on the ice to do lap after lap until my arms fell off. So thanks to her, I decided it was time to reclaim my passions.

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CURCUIT TRAINING: creating power endurance

Circuit training is invaluable when done well, not only does it take less time which many people have very little of but you not gain strength and also a CV benefit from this style of training. As well, it may more accurately mimic what your body is going through when climbing demanding terrain.

How to build a circuit: this can seem challenging and often is so once again I will keep it simple to begin:
Four to five exercises combining these critical components:

  • Squat: (ex) squats, dead lifting, lunging, step-ups, box jumps, side lunging
  • Sit: (Core) sit ups, back extension, rotational strength, leg raises, med ball throws, and balance
  • Push: Push-ups, dips, over head press, bench press
  • Pull: pull ups, high pulls, cable rows, bent over row
  • Metabolic (optional): rowing machine, running intervals, jumping rope

These are all the functional Ranges of Motion that our bodies can and do work in. We have to train them all and in harmony with one another. You will rapidly discover that a weakness in one area will diminish your capacity to perform specific movements. We want to train away those weaknesses. Those weaknesses are what will lead to inability to perform any complex endeavor such as ice climbing, skiing, and biking, at your absolute best.

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Strength and Flexibility

I always put Strength and Flexibility or ROM (range of motion) together because they should be inseparable in your training. Simply put, your muscles have a functional ROM in which they can apply force, that functional ROM is determined by your level of flexibility. It is that simple. Gymnasts, Martial Artists, Dancers are a perfect example; most people are impressed by the display of strength of these sets of athletes. As well, most injuries (unless they are the result of trauma) occur when there is an imbalance in either strength or flexibility in the system. My experience has shown that the first aspect of training many athletes fore go is stretching or increasing functional ROM.
The most important point I want you to take away from the following segment is that of training the system as a whole. Muscle isolation exercises are inappropriate for anyone but a body builder, the elderly, inexperienced population or injury rehab. We as athletes do not ever use our muscles in isolation. We use our bodies in complex movements, ergo: we need to train our bodies using complex movements, challenging our strength, increasing our flexibility, testing our balance, and opening new neuromuscular pathways.

Simple ROM to work on:
After a warm up and in between sets you should stretch.

  • Aboriginal Squat: this is a full squat with your heels on the floor, toes relaxed, and torso upright. You can prepare for this by stretching your hamstring, quads, and calves in a traditional manner, however we want the flexibility to equate to a functional ROM for an exercises like Squats, dead lifting, lunging, step ups, box jumps etc.

Imagine climbing, you can only pull your leg up and stand in relation to the body as far as you can squat down and stand up.

  • Arms Over Head: Can you stand up right and hold your arms straight over head, elbows even with your ears, without arching your low back or lifting your shoulders? If yes, great! If not, this is a ROM we need to develop. Practice an overhead squat with a stretching belt or dowel rod over head, between your hands.

Imagine swinging an ice axe overhead with enough FORCE to penetrate the ice, you need all your functional ROM to generate enough force correct? Perfect correlation to the sport, you will be able to swing that ice axe more effectively if you can access all of your functional strength.

  • Chest Opening: Stand in a doorway, door open, place your arms out at 90 degrees, elbows just below shoulder height and step forward to stretch your chest/pectoral muscles. This will help with posture, delivery of force from the muscles of the back and shoulders, and breathing capacity (making room for your lunges to expand with air).
  • Hip Opening: Frog stretch on the floor or against a wall. Lean against a wall, move your feet/legs as far away from one another as they will reasonably go, squat down so your legs are at 90 degree angles. Place your hands on the inside of your legs open them further while holding the squat position, hold this for 30 sec to 2 minus. Repeat.
  • Rotation of the body: Back lying twist. Lying on the floor, raise your knees to your chest, then bring you feet up so your legs make a 90 angle, move you knees away from your chest until they are over you hips. Keep you right shoulder on the ground as you let your lower body twist to the left try to touch your left knee to the floor. Repeat opposite side. You can do this with your legs straight as well, it makes it more difficult to bring your legs back to center.

These are examples of ways to increase flexibility in these key areas.
If you aren’t sure about how to stretch and gain ROM in these areas, I highly recommend taking a GOOD yoga class. Yoga not only develops strength and flexibility, but teaches you to become more body aware and has elements of relaxation and meditation. Some of the mental components that are beneficial to being/becoming a climber.



Specifically Cardiovascular training. This element can often be over looked by climbers, who just want to be “STRONGER”. In actually it is as critical as strength as it allows your body to manage the demands of the climb while you are in the midst of it. We need to train your heart/lungs in two capacities, aerobic and anaerobic. I’ll keep this simple for now:

  • LSD: (long steady distance) – “cardio” hill climbing, hiking, running, biking 45 minutes or more. Steady state fitness for the long climbing effort so you can recover on the go.
  • Interval training (speed/power) – This capacity of CV fitness is often overlooked by a recreational athlete. Yes, LSD is important however to increase your absolute capacity we need to push the threshold at which you perform higher. There are many techniques for interval training and it can get crazy, so picking a simple format to begin this practice is best:

5 minute warm-up, 2 min interval, 2 min rest, 2 min interval, 2 min rest,…a total of 4 intervals then a 5 minute cool down. Rest periods should be rest, do not stop but decrease your output so your body can recover. Intervals should be difficult. If using a perceived exertion scale of (1 – 10) Rest 5- 6, Interval 9 -10. If using a heart rate monitor, Rest 50 – 60 % of Max, Interval 90 – 98% of max.

Muscle specific endurance, you often hear about muscle specific endurance training for ice climbing, like calves and forearms. We will deal with this in the next piece, Strength and Flexibility.