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by: Sarah Goldman
My words hung, suspended in air above the table. I could see each member of my fire department duty shift processing what I had just said. “I am resigning, effective immediately. I’ve accepted a contract firefighting position in Iraq.“ The only thing louder than the silence in the room was my heart thumping in my chest and my throat. I watched the words sink in; I could see the judgments forming. It was the same each time I had told someone about my decision and upcoming adventure.
What makes me, a woman on the brink of my 30s with a solid secure job and the freedom to find as many climbing days as the calendar allows, chuck it all and travel 8000 miles away to a seemingly endless, unpopular war with zero opportunity to climb, enjoy a microbrew, or sport a nose piercing? Change? Risk? Adventure? Opportunity? Hope? The pursuit of a wild dream? All of the above?
As I think more about these words and the spirit behind them, I realize these are the reasons so many of us are drawn to climb. As climbers and adventurers, we look at a massive granite spire and think, “what if?” It is in the same spirit that we eye a job opening in Boulder from home in Cincinnati and think “why not now?” I left stability in Virginia and came to Iraq because I was due for an adventure and even more ready for change.
I’ve known it was time to shake things up since my first Chicks With Picks experience nearly 2 years ago. My life, while exceptionally comfortable and one no doubt worthy of envy, had left me feeling cornered, firmly entrenched in a rut and just plain bored. I liked my job as a firefighter, but I knew that it wasn’t going to be my life’s work. I’d spent the past 20 years in Virginia and finally accepted its highest point tops out at barely 5000 feet, so I knew a change of scenery was needed. I suppose I was happy enough, but passionate? Excited? Energized? Not so much.
There are many who don’t understand why I would walk away from what I had, but these often seem to be the same people who don’t understand why we clip bolts, plug gear and stick hard ice. For the most part these same people value, consistency over spontaneity, financial stability over chance, and resorts over road trips. Adventurers are people of courage, people of faith. Faith that things work out, that the universe will provide. They are doers and decision makers. Most often they are not shy and they are not timid. They act when others choose to idle. They choose the risk, when others choose security. Adventure is both a state of being and a state of doing. It is in some, and definitely not in others.
I applied for the position in Iraq and kept expecting for it to somehow not work out. When the doors kept opening and the reality set in that this decision was now going to be up to me, and not the universe to make, I knew, being me, I had to take the chance. Just as any of you cant deny an offer to scope a new crag, or try a new route. I got the call while sitting on a park bench in Calgary, after three amazing weeks in Alberta. My life in Virginia was literally and figuratively thousands of miles away.
I have been in Iraq now for nearly 3 months. The time both crawls and flies depending on my mood. I live in a firehouse on an Army Forward Operating Base with around 25 other firefighters. Each day is the same. Morning meeting, eat, train, eat, work out, eat, call home, dream, repeat. The work is not hard, and I feel fortunate that through my adventure I have the opportunity to support and protect thousands of men and women in the military. Whatever your views on this war, these men and women are sacrificing on our behalf and that cannot be overlooked or underappreciated.
Unlike the members of the military, who do not have an option, I don’t plan to be here long; as I mentioned, being a firefighter is not my life work. I‘ll be here until next summer, or maybe a bit longer. For me, this is a year of transition. It is my first move. Due to responsibilities back home, changing my life couldn’t happen overnight, and I’ll venture to say for anyone over the age of 21 this is probably the case. If it, the adventurist spirit, is in you, which, if you have found your way to this blog it most likely is, and you feel the stink of stagnation into your life, then act. Consider your wildest dreams; consider the life you wish you were having. I don’t know what is next for me, but I take comfort in knowing what is not. I plan to pursue my wildest dream, or dreams as it may turn out to be. As we say in climbing, make the first move, and the next will appear.
Perhaps one of the greatest compliments I have ever been given came from the Head Chick when I told her I had skipped the states and would be working in Iraq. She called me a true adventurer. Thank you Kim, and all of the Chicks touting picks. I didn’t get here alone and Ill enjoy the help finding my way home. Leave the anchors set, I’ll be back soon.
Piper Musmanno’s been exploring Colorado’s fourteeners for several years now, and she’s just about summited them all. Piper’s not one to go up the easy way, either. She chooses the exciting routes. Piper recently completed the traverse between the Maroon Bells. Well known for its extreme beauty as well as its challenging terrain, this route in the Elk range offers a scenic , steep snow climb followed by some tricky route finding up fourth class rock to the first summit. At this point the fun is only part way through. The traverse offers exposure and more route finding followed by continuing to stitch one’s way down through more challenging rocky geometry back down to the finale of a beautiful alpine meadow.
While Piper is a strong mountaineer and climber, she has faced a few of her own challenges to reaching her climbing goals. Last — Piper took a lead fall resulting in a badly broken leg. The injury might’ve delayed her progress, but it did not deter her spirit. As many of us know, the steepest terrain does not always present in the geographical topography, but often, surmounting our own emotional hurdles offers the greatest challenge.” Overcoming the mental aspect has been the hardest part of my recovery. I am slowly gaining confidence back in myself and my body.”
Mental fortitude goes a long way in climbing and mountaineering. One must have the ability to stare down her fears as well as retain an unerring belief that her body will see her through the rough spots. Consistent work on technique is also a given, but the ability to believe in one’s own strength can (and will) save the day. After Piper’s hip gave out, leading to having her hip resurfaced in June 2007, Piper faced a steady, long road to physical recovery. Following this up with a lead fall and subsequent broken leg has forced Piper to be more mindful than ever as she recovers her physical and mental strength. “I can no longer just run all night if I need to get out of bad situations… I’ve gotten much more skilled and better w/ maps, decision making and general mountain skills to keep myself from getting in bad spots.”
Knowing what it’s taken for Piper to continue to reach her climbing goals is inspirational. When you meet Piper climbing with Chicks, you’d think she’s just like you- and she is- (with an exceptional amount of mental fortitude) as well as a few extra metal pieces helping to hold her together.
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by Caroline George
This Fall, I set my eyes on a 12a route in Little Cottonwood Canyon: Trinity Right. I had followed it once last year to clean it after Adam had been on it. The route traverses so much that it even goes down a little and I was terrified following it. The potential for pendulum was scared me.
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BOILER PLATE ICE. BUTT COLD.
By Mattie Sheafor-Hong
Conditions yesterday were as hard as they get, barring avalanche. disease, pestience or famine. The ice was boilerplate hard, prone to this specious, wicked fracturing calledl “dinner plating” (every contact strike makes a discolored shape about the size of a turkey platter, which means it has fractured around and under the ice and you trust it at your peril). It means a boat load of work on the sharp end and your belayer is probably going to get shelled unless you’ve been very wise and very thoughtful and luck doesn’t hurt.
by Hillary Nitschke
It’s pre-dawn on Saturday, and I’m happily cruising down the interstate on my way to meet some friends for this season’s first winter mountaineering adventure. Despite the awfully early alarm clock, and the true shiver in this morning’s coming dawn, I’m happy. While I haven’t had to pack this much gear for a few months, I’m going over the day’s potential in my head, and I’m appreciating my place in the world.
Some of us switch purses to suit our needs, and others among us switch back packs. Suddenly I recall… the pee funnel! I will spend enough of the day in a harness, and it’s going to be chilly, too. I’d rather not shimmie out of my harness and bare my butt to the wind when nature calls today. I’d rather not be in a spot where harness removal is not an option. My bladder was still recovering from several pitches earlier in the week!
Alas, no pee funnel. What’s a girl to do but cope? I have a great fondness for my funnel. I knew the day would be just a little different without it. I must say, I liked it especially on a rope team where I was the only woman. I will admit, however, to one occasion of equipment failure. That is to say…yes, I’ve peed down my leg instead of in to the funnel, but only once! A couple of times I simply couldn’t make myself let go standing up. It takes a little practice. When all your life you’ve done it another way, and then you pee down your leg… Well, it gets even harder after that. I’ll now admit when I peed down my leg, all sorts of more accomplished climbers and guides were right nearby. I felt really silly (I wasn’t new at this great and complex skill after all, and to top it all off, I’d practiced at home before taking her out on the trail), but until now, no one ever knew.
To learn more about pee funnels, and have a good chuckle click here: