Good Story, But It Didn’t Happen That Way

Kitty Calhoun, expedition leader, on the first female ascent of Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain. 1990. Nepal Himalaya. ©Kitty Calhoun Collection.

Kitty Calhoun, expedition leader, on the first female ascent of Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain. 1990. Nepal Himalaya. ©Kitty Calhoun Collection.

Revelation came to me while relaxing with friends. It was after giving a slide show at a climbing festival.

“Good story, Kitty, but it didn’t happen that way,” John, my Makalu Expedition teammate, said with a smile.

“Yeah?” I asked.

Then he went on to describe the events of our climb totally differently than I had experienced them. According to him, the weather had been horrendous with high winds and numerous large storms. I remember feeling blessed with clear skies and sunshine! Hearing him tell the story, I could not believe we had been on the same expedition. And, it occurred to me that we saw the same things but interpreted those things differently, through lenses shaped by our individual pasts.  

In a recent sermon addressing racial injustice,

Pastor Scott Fine built upon my concept of lens when he said that no one sees everything and no one sees perfectly. Everyone is of infinite value and we are all connected. Build bridges of understanding; lift others up through caring.

Meanwhile, Zahan Billimoria, a black Patagonia ski ambassador, exhorted a group of us to act driven by love and compassion, not by guilt. When he said this, I felt tension rise in my gut. Z doesn’t know my history. 

He doesn’t know that I spent every weekend skiing or playing tennis with my dad. My dad, who modelled minimalism for me, was also a proud Southern attorney. His great, great grand uncle, John C. Calhoun, led the state’s rights movement and was vice president of the confederate states. When the colleges decided to rename buildings that were named in honor of John C Calhoun, or tore down statues of him, I thought about dad and the stories he had told.

Dad had explained our past like this,”It was a socio-economic system where black people were treated like family and all their needs were provided for in exchange for work. Some white people mistreated black people, but those were bad apples. And, the bad-apple-stories were the ones that got told.” That was my father’s lens, and it was also what I chose to believe.

However, because of Z––what he said and how he said it––I am looking at history through a different lens. I can see systemic racism and discrimination rather than merely a few bad apples. All my life, I’ve heard stories told about black people, but now I am hearing black people speak for themselves. 

So what now?

The next steps can not be a performative act, but must have depth to carry lasting change. They will be motivated by a genuine desire to lift others up and in recognition of our intrinsic interconnectedness and equal worth rather than a sense of guilt or obligation. I, and my partners at Chicks, look forward to creating change, and to reporting more in the next newsletter.


Bethany Lebewitz and Genevive Walker practicing AMGA Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) Skills. Red Rock, NV. ©Irene Yee

Foundational to Chicks’ ethos and mission is gender equality in the outdoors, specifically in climbing and skiing. We stand for human rights and oppose violence and systemic racism. We do our best to be an ally to women who wish to improve their climbing skills.

A few years ago, in partnership with the AMGA, The American Alpine Club, Flash Foxy, and Brown Girls Climb (BGC)*, I taught an all women’s Single Pitch Instructor Course to a group composed almost exclusively to women of color.

This pilot program aimed to help bring diversity to climbing instructors by teaching women of color the skills they need to become certified Single Pitch Instructors.

The first course was a huge milestone: in addition to being an all-female course, it was the first time an all-female instructor team had been assembled to teach. Along with my co-instructors and fellow Chicks Guide, Tracy Martin, and Erica Engle, we spent long days in the field teaching the curriculum building technical skills, answering questions, sharing laughs, wiping away tears, and passing on our experience and knowledge to a new generation of climbing instructors.

Women of color in leadership roles will serve as role models for generations yet to come. It’s a bit of a ripple effect. If black and brown girls see women in these leadership roles, it will have a huge impact on them and maybe even inspire them to become a climbing guide one day. Climbing is an excellent vehicle for affirming the message that you can do hard things, you are strong, independent, and confident. 

Since that first course, we’ve held a total of three courses and one assessment. As a result, we’ve added four women of color to the ranks of Certified Single Pitch Instructors. Even though this is only a small step towards bringing diversity into outdoor spaces, it’s a step in the right direction. But there is so much more work to be done and we need your help.

How can you help out? Be an ally in the Black Lives Movement.

Join us in the common goal of bringing diversity to our world. There are many levels of engagement and BGC has put together a great resource guide on how you can be an ally in the Black Lives Matter movement. Visit the Ally Resource Guide on the BGC website. You can choose one that works for you:

  • Register to Vote
  • Make a Donation
  • Sign a Petition
  • Contact Representatives and Officials
  • Listen, Watch or Read Anti-Racism Resources

*Brown Girls Climb is a Women of Color owned and operated company with the mission to promote and increase the visibility of diversity in climbing by establishing a community of climbers of color, encouraging leadership opportunities for self-identified women climbers of color, and by creating inclusive opportunities to climb and explore for underrepresented communities.

Wild Risk

Peace and inspiration. High above Chamonix, in the alpine, for the first time in 2 months. ©Karen Bockel.

Sometimes I like to live wild and dangerously . . .

Hello from Chamonix, France, the alpine-climbing capitol of the world.

Since early March, I’ve been confined the French way but it hasn’t been all baguettes and cheese.

Regulations here were very strict. We were locked down for two months. Everyone kept to his or her houses with minimal interaction. Police enforced the rules and allowed only short trips for necessities. In the end, infection rates here stayed low.

Now we are in a slow de-confinement progression. As of recently, we can go trail running and mountain biking. We can go rock climbing and we can go high up into the alpine world to go mountaineering.

Hotels, restaurants and bars are still closed, as are the borders. We wash our hands frequently and keep hand sanitizer close by. We are careful with shared climbing gear. Most importantly, we keep to small groups and only go out with the same few climbing partners.

The other day, however, I’ll admit it. I took some risk.

I rode the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi with 30 strangers.

Why would I risk a ride in an enclosed cable car with 30 others?

I risked it because I couldn’t contain the fire inside me. My need to go into the mountains burned. I had to be high above the valley, where there is nothing but rock, ice and snow. I hadn’t been to my place of inspiration and peace for two months and it felt like a lifetime!

The tram only ran for a few days over the holiday weekend. On the last day, I decided. I got up early and packed everything, including plastic gloves, glasses and a facemask. At the base, quite a few mountain addicts were already in line. We stood 1-meter apart, wearing masks. Each of us had to pass a temperature sensor to enter the bin. Markers indicated where to stand. The tram holds 90 but they only took 30.

The top of L’Aiguille du Midi is almost 4,000 meters (just over 12,000 feet). Fresh, overnight snow gave everything an extra brilliance. I went for a glacier tour and came back smiling, my heart full.

At home, I washed everything: my hands, face, body and clothes. I did my best to minimize my exposure to the virus. But, I couldn’t eliminate the risk that came with stepping into that tram.

We often choose some level of risk to do the things we love.

In alpine climbing and mountaineering, especially, we have to deal with risk. There are so many objective hazards and conditions change very quickly. Climbers constantly think about risk and decide what to do. Go? No go? Maybe, go around?

I thought about the risk to take the tram and I decided to go. Meanwhile, I’m still careful about who I interact with. I disinfect my gear and I wear my mask in public.

Climate Change on Dhaulagiri

High camp on Dhaulagiri at 25,000 feet

Kitty Calhoun, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing,  at high camp on Dhaulagiri. Circa 1987. ©Calhoun Collection.

When telling stories, I often choose to focus on climate change and sustainability.

During a recent Instagram Live session, Brad Wertnz, of Boulders Rock Gym asked me to tell some stories for younger climbers who might not have the depth of experience to process the current times – both in terms of perspective and lessons learned.

Just like Covid-19, climate change sneaks up on us. We don’t recognize the significance until it’s well under way.

I first ran into the effects of climate change in 1987 when I tried to make the second ascent of the East Face of Dhaulagiri.

After months of dreaming, planning, traveling and climbing through icefall, we finally saw the East Face. But, where the ice should have been was only running water. I was devastated.  After much discussion, we decided to acclimatize by climbing the standard Northeast Ridge, and maybe the face would freeze in the meanwhile.

We had to get permission from the Japanese who had the permit for the Northeast Ridge.  They readily agreed if only we would help them break trail.

We were clipped into their fixed rope, pushing through deep snow when we stepped onto a wind slab. The wind slab broke and started to slide down the North Face, pulling us with it. One by one, the top seven anchors ripped until finally the last one held.

We fell nearly 400 feet.

Just like an expedition, Covid-19 teaches us that if we act together, we can overcome challenging problems.

After a re-group, we made it to the summit of Dhaulagiri a few days later. In the end, we were not able to climb the East Face. No one has since, and I believe it has seen its last ascent.

Today, stripped of accustomed luxuries due to the stay-at-home order, I’m reminded that my favorite expedition lesson is about voluntary simplicity. I really enjoy knowing what I can do without. Doing with less makes me feel free and renews my gratitude for what I do have.

On expeditions, we willingly go without. We put ourselves in discomfort, suffering hunger, cold and fear! But it’s a good trade because the things we get back are much greater­­––gratitude, humility and compassion.

Coincidentally, I believe the lessons of voluntary simplicity and the feelings of gratitude, humility and compassion are what our environment needs to recover from our short-term thinking, abuse and neglect.

One of the unexpected gifts that the Corona virus leaves in its wake for me is an increased desire to listen and to spend time with others. I feel power in being inextricably connected and how, together, we can overcome critical challenges.

As with the virus, the science says we can’t allow climatic conditions to get past the tipping point.  Get informed, and get ready to vote!


Angela Hawse makes a heart silhouette

With love from Angela Hawse, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing. ©Ace Kvale.

Rarely do things slow down enough for me to take time to just be. 

I’m usually well into the rock climbing season by mid-April. 

Now, I’m confined to climbing inside, on my own walls––I’ve got a home climbing wall, a hangboard and a pull up bar.  

With gyms closed and crags shut down, I’ve had to rely on other resources like creativity to keep my stoke and fitness high. I do this because I want to be ready for my beloved sport of climbing when I can get back on the rock.

Although I know that fitness is extremely crucial for pushing my climbing limits, the mental aspect of climbing is equally as important. Almost imperceptibly and unknowingly I’ve noticed that all the forced stillness is improving my presence. So, I started paying attention and getting back into mental fitness with a dedicated mindfulness / meditation practice.

As I take advantage of this time to practice quieting my mind, I know this will translate tenfold to when I get back on the rock. Think about it–– when you’re climbing well your mind is nowhere else but in the present moment.

While meditation provides me with a solid foundation to quiet my mind chatter, these days I also look for every opportunity to practice. I’m taking my mental fitness a step further, practicing mindfulness with whatever I’m doing and whoever I’m with. 

Not only will this mental training and fitness benefit my climbing, but the quality of my life benefits immensely and I’ve come to need stillness as much as I need fitness.



Now, It’s Like This

Now, its like this. Remembering the view from tent on Mt Baker

“View from my tent looking up towards the North Ridge of Mt Baker. Note my toes are blue from nail polish, not from the pounding they received.” ©Elaina Arenz Collection.

Right now, it’s like this. I’m spring cleaning. As I clean, I think about the time I climbed the North Ridge of Mt Baker and what I learned.

On the descent,

the sun cast filtered patterns in front of me. It tricked my eyes as I plodded along. Placing one foot in front of the other, I lost count of my steps and started counting over, again. One, inhale. Two, exhale. Three, inhale. Four, exhale. And on, and on.

My feet were barking, like angry dogs. My toes were especially pissed, they were cramping and it felt like my toes were trying to flee into separate corners of my boots. I’d have given anything to stop and take my boots off––to let my toes be free. 

But stopping wasn’t an option. A glacier is no place to stop and take your boots off and I still had a lot of ground to cover. Before too long the sun would plunge, leaving me in the shadows of the Cascade Mountain range spread out all around me. It was a long way down to our high camp, and longer still to the trailhead. 

My only option was to keep calm, breathe and march on.

I turned my mind back to my breath, focusing on in and out. As a Warrior’s Way Trainer, I knew that I needed to keep my attention in the moment, on the task. The task was to put one foot in front of the other and focus on the quality of my breath. 

In moments of stress, my mind tries to escape from the discomfort. I start wishing, hoping and willing for the situation to be different. But I know, rationally, that wishing and hoping is a waste of energy. I know there’s no escaping the present moment. I kept on, marching down from the summit of Mt Baker.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic,

I know that I have no choice but to take things one day––one step––at a time. Worrying about the future is like succumbing to barking, angry feet and stopping on the glacier. Wishing the current situation was different won’t change anything. All I can do is deal with it the best way I know. I know I need to stay focused on the task and breathe. Right now the task is spring cleaning. You wouldn’t believe how organized my gear room and my closets are!

To reward myself for my spring cleaning efforts, I’m teaching myself how to play the acoustic guitar. My mind commands my fingers to contort themselves into different shapes to play the chords. I strum the strings. My forearm cramps. The guitar twangs sharply––it’s barking at me. I take a deep breath and slowly let it out. I place my fingers on the frets and strum, again. Again and again, until I get it right.

Right now, it’s like this.

Confined to Dream – Isolation in Chamonix, France

Confined to Dream, Karen Bockel, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, armchair mountaineering during Covid Isolation in Chamonix, France. ©Karen Bockel Collection.

Confined to Dream, Karen Bockel, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, armchair mountaineering during Covid Isolation in Chamonix, France. ©Karen Bockel Collection.

Hello Friends,

I’ve been in Chamonix, France since the beginning of March and strictly confined for a week now. Strict confinement means no excursions beyond the grocery store and the occasional neighborhood sport walk. No mountain activity is allowed: no skiing, no climbing, no trail running, no biking.

These are tough rules but ones I support to help protect the vulnerable and the front-line health care professionals. Those who can, work from home. Those who can’t, try to occupy themselves (and their families) with indoor projects, home exercise programs, yard work and the like. The financial impact is only beginning. Most of us have never experienced such a time of uncertainty.

As I sit here, underneath granite and glacier behemoths, having lost my entire spring season of ski guiding work and possibly that of the summer as well, my longing for the mountains, I am now not allowed to visit, remains. Yet I’m at peace.

While mountain guides aren’t used to being confined, we’re used to uncertainty.

Guiding includes a near constant stream of uncertainties: Is this itinerary appropriate? Is everyone healthy and prepared? Are the conditions as expected? Will the weather hold? When do we need to turn around? Do I have the right gear? What’s my margin for error? What if we have to bail? What if we get lost or get hurt?

In the valley, I have a garden. I have a comfortable little studio. And, most of all, I have beauty to behold. I don’t even have to lift my eyes to see my beloved peaks. Tiny flowers are blooming. The grass is a shade greener every day. The neighbors little cat comes to visit.

I built a slack line with an old rope and a block-and-tackle tensioning system.

I’m reading a mountain literature classic: Lionel Terray’s Conquistadors of the Useless. As I read, I stop and look up the route descriptions for all the incredible routes Terray climbed.

And I dream, endlessly inspired to go climbing again when the time comes. Until then, take good care of yourselves and those around you!


What Inspires You Now? | Chicks Climbing & Skiing – Angela Hawse

What Inspires You? Angela Hawse, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing working on the Grand Teton, Grant Teton National Park, WY. ©Angela Hawse Collection

What Inspires You? Angela Hawse, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing working on the Grand Teton, Grant Teton National Park, WY. ©Angela Hawse Collection.

Given the gravity and chaos in the world all around us right now, I turn to inspiration. And I wonder, “What inspires you?”

We are all experiencing loss, struggle, uncertainty and fear of the unknown on many levels. Many have it far worse than being asked to hole up and not go on trips. Schools are closing and people are suddenly working from home. I’m cancelling upcoming trips to Iceland and Svalbard.  Many guides, and I’m sure many of you, are out of work into the foreseeable future.

As we self-isolate and social distance from each other, I’m reminded how Chicks serves as a foundation of treasured relationships and shared experiences. I think about the skills I’ve learned from climbing and skiing like managing stress under adversity, problem-solving, will power and thinking on my feet.

Our goal at Chicks is to inspire and support emerging, female climbing and skiing leaders. And, in the spirit of service, we hope the lessons of climbing carry over to support women as leaders in their communities at large.

In these difficult times does it help to ask, “What Inspires Me?” Can you focus on inspiration and motivation instead of fear? Can you adopt a spirit of service to help others in need if you’re able?

Climbing has taught me many healthy exercises.

It’s taught me to go inside to find my own passion instead of looking outward at streaming distractions of media-sensationalized narratives of super-climbing heroines. Comparing myself with my heroines only belittled my efforts and obscured my inner drive and motivation. Focusing inward taught me that I have the ability to shape my experiences into a fulfilling and meaningful journey that is my own.

It doesn’t matter if you’re striving for a redpoint or simply caught up in the moment of moving over rock, what matters is unplugging and tapping into what makes your heart sing. This exercise helps, not just in climbing, but in everything.

We all have an “Everest.” Currently, a novel coronavirus is our collective Everest. Try to remember in these difficult times that climbing has taught us, no matter how high, how far or how difficult the mountain, it’s ultimately the journey that matters.

Wherever you’re holed up, isolated or socially distanced, you have the ability to tap into the presence you’ve learned from climbing. Focus and try not to get distracted by fear, sucked up in following the news every hour or anxious with uncertainty.

Take this opportunity to focus, just like you do on every pitch and be present. That will create a ripple effect that positively influences everyone around you.  It’s living in the moment that inspires me, whether on the rock, a high mountain or in line at a grocery store behind someone hoarding toilet paper.  It’s the energy we bring to every moment that determines its outcome.

What inspires you?

Stay healthy and strong!


Play – Summer Solstice in the City of Rocks

chicks city of rocks participants enjoying dinner together after a day of play, learning to climb

Chicks City of Rocks Climbing clinic participants enjoying a summer dinner with the telling of heroic climbing deeds ©Kitty Calhoun.

Ah the benevolence of God to provide mortal climbers with such a place to play as the City of Rocks!

One of my favorite things to do is climb during summer solstice in a landscape littered with giant, granite domes and towers! Lucky for me, that is exactly what I’ll be doing this summer solstice in City of Rocks, Idaho at our City of Rocks Climbing clinic.

It’s just March, but last week, during a brief warm-spell, I caught myself thinking about summer. Especially the part about wearing nothing but a long-sleeve shirt and shorts. Summer evenings––gathered with fellow climbers to laugh and tell stories of heroic deeds, both real and imagined––are the best. Then, I was brought back to winter as the wind picked up, temperatures plummeted and it started to snow.

You may not think of a rock climbing Mecca like City of Rocks as a playground. You may not think play is important.

But, think again… Play is a “voluntary, intrinsically motivated activity normally associated with recreational pleasure.” And, according to Play, Creativity, and Lifelong Learning, there are many benefits to playing:

“Play is a doorway to learning. It stimulates our imaginations, helping us adapt and solve problems. Play arouses curiosity, which leads to discovery and creativity.  The components of play – curiosity, discovery, novelty, risk- taking, trial and error… are the same as the components of learning.”

Not only does City of Rocks fit the description of a climber’s playground. With over 1000 traditional and sport-climbing routes, the City of Rocks is endowed with tons of high-quality granite climbing classics. Renowned for solution pockets and chicken-heads, good footwork and balance are key climbing skills at the City. Meanwhile patience rewards you as you learn to play the fine-granite long game, figuring out sequences and learning to trust small holds.

It’s a pity that for most, “play” connotes triviality because it’s just as important for adults as it is for children. Remember, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,” said George Bernard Shaw.

So, stop growing old! Come and play with Chicks at our City of Rocks Climbing – Idaho Rock Climbing Clinic over summer solstice.

Slaying Dragons with my Six-Year-Old

Grady Grissom age 6, ice climbing with his mom, Kitty Calhoun

Slaying dragons with my six-year-old. Kitty Calhoun, Co-Owner Chics Climbing and Skiing ice climbing with her son Grady.©Calhoun.

“Look, Mommy, this is re-credible!” my six year old son exclaimed as he hit the ice with his ice hammer as if slaying dragons.

The concepts of precision and balance, using the tool as a point under which to center his feet, were uninteresting to him. What was interesting was the fantasy-land of ice.

Slaying dragons with my six-year-old I realized I too have a dragon to slay, but it’s the beast within – the beast that always wants to be more – perfect mom, stronger climber, lovelier wife, astuter business partner.

I battle with this beast until I remember that Super Woman is a misguided ideal and that it’s not within my power to protect my son from challenge.

What is within my power is to guide him with wisdom gained from my experiences.

I know that adventure, reflection, play, creativity and deep learning take time. 

It’s so easy to get caught up with instant gratification and convenience. 

Even though going to the climbing gym regularly helps protect my sanity, it’s not enough.  I need to get outside, to push myself and have an adventure.

There’s more to me than what I can learn inside the four walls of a building.

Sometimes, when I find it hard to jump off the treadmill of an endless ticklist, I’ll wonder where the time went. Then I’ll think back on my life, marked by expeditions and slaying dragons with my six-year-old: open doors to adventure, summits, people, and dreams come true.  

“Yes, climbing is re-credible!”

 Join us for a re-credible start to 2020. 

We only have three spots left in our 4-Day Ice Climbing Clinic.

and two spots left in our 3-Day Mixed Climbing Clinic.

And our rock climbing programs are filling fast!