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!

Climbing Partner – Who Can you Trust?

Kitty Calhoun belayed by climbing partner, Cheryl Wallace

Kitty Calhoun and climbing partner, Cheryl Wallace, on The Bone, Colorado. ©Jay Smith.

My climbing partner sniffed out the seldom-formed ice pillar like a hounddog on a scent. It was a 100-foot, WI 5+, slender column of loosely associated icicles, aptly called The Bone

 The trick to climbing sustained ice pillars is to avoid panic. Take the time to find balance, to climb efficiently. I could tell the hardest move would be at the top, pulling over the bulge while pumped.  

Jay, who believes in saving-strength-by-running-it-out-rather-than-placing-screws, racked up with all the screws he had. Then, he methodically worked his way up the pillar. Pulling over the crux bulge he disappeared from view but I heard a shout of joy. 

I followed the pitch, thinking “I would never lead this.”  

At the top Jay said, “You should lead this and I’ll take pictures!” 

Suddenly, my only thought was, “Who would be my partner?”  

I’d walked out of “never” and into “Ok” in an instant. Still, what if I panicked? What if I ran out of strength? What if I backed off the first screw? 

Who could I trust? 

I need a climbing partner who knows what to say and when to be quiet. 

Regular climbing partners synch like clockwork–no need for discussion. Efficiency in small things while approaching and preparing for a climb breeds confidence.

 I called my partner Cheryl who happens to be a Chicks alumna. Cheryl is always game, which is a great trait in a partner, but more importantly, I trust her.

As Cheryl flaked the rope out at the base of The Bone she said, “Kitty, what are you going to focus on?”  

I laughed. I’d asked her that question many times. 

I’d forgotten my own advice:

Focus on movement

  • to help you climb more precisely
  • & create a positive path for emotional stress.  

I said,  “OK. I’m gonna keep a relaxed grip and keep breathing.”

Within minutes I was in the zone with no sense of time or distance. My only sense was breathe, swing, kick, kick

I paused to place a screw at the crux. “Keep breathing,” Cheryl called.  

“Breathe, swing.” I took a deep inhale.

Suddenly, I was at the top. I almost couldn’t believe it. 

Belaying Cheryl up, I thought about all of our shared adventures together and about how grateful I was for her.

As we say farewell to 2019, I want to thank the Chicks community, my friends and climbing partners. Y’all are what I value most!

Here’s to strong and intense partnerships in the new year.

It Takes 20 Hours To Learn A New Skill

It takes 20 hours of practice to become skilled enough to enjoy a new activity

Chicks Ouray, Ice Climbing 3-Day clinic participant progressing on steep ice in the Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, Colorado. ©Angela Hawse.

It takes 20 hours, not 10,000 hours to learn a skill.

Last week I stood on the beach in Kauai and jealously watched kids catch small waves on their surfboards.

Even as they fell off their boards they laughed. But, I hesitated.

Why start now?” I asked. Surfing has a slow learning curve and requires regular practice. I only get to do this once a year.

My friends beckoned from the waves and called, “The conditions are perfect!”

“Okay,” I thought, “I have to work up to this. I can’t be afraid.”  I had no illusions that I’d figure out how to catch and ride a wave in the hour before sunset.

Kneeling on my board, I let a few waves pass under me. Then I paddled as hard as I could, my friends yelling, “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!”

“Holy S—!” I rode the wave into shore like a big kid.

Musing over my surfing misgivings, I came across an interesting interview, Josh Kaufmen: It Takes 20 hours, Not 10,000 Hours To Learn a Skill, by Dan Schawbel.

Most of us are deeply disturbed at the prospect of being horrible at something, even temporarily. When you try something new, you’re usually very bad, and you know it. The easiest way to eliminate that feeling of angst is to quit practicing and go do something else, so that’s what most of us do.

The early hours of trying something new are always challenging, but a little persistence can result in huge increases in skill. The human brain is optimized to pick up new skills extremely quickly.”

It turns out it takes 10,000 hours to reach the top of competitive fields. However, for most of us, the aim is not the top of a field but to be skilled enough or proficient enough to enjoy an activity.

Kaufmen’s research suggests people can usually reach a level where they can have fun in just 20 hours of “deliberate practice.” Deliberate practice is marked by targeting performance levels, breaking skills down into smaller parts and practicing the most important, or “base” skills first.

At Chicks, our gold standard is the 3-day (24 hours of climbing) course.

Learn where you are in your progression of skills on our Ice Climbing Levels page.

Bring It! – Ski Season

Karen bockel and friends during 2019 ski season on the Zermatt to Chamonix haute route

Karen Bockel, Co-Owner Chicks Skiing with Chicks enjoying 2019 ski season on Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route. ©Karen Bockel Collection.

It’s November and the ski season is chasing us down in big steps—

The high mountains glow with their white slopes. I’ve had to scrape my windshield a couple times. And I drove through a snowstorm coming back from my last climbing trip in the desert Southwest. Some ski areas have announced early openings.

Bring it!

I feel like a kid (almost!) at the beginning of every new winter, barely able to contain my excitement. And, why not, it is FUN to be excited!

Time to go into the basement, dig out the ski gear, give my boards a fresh coat of wax, put new batteries in my beacon, fill the backpack with shovel, probe and extra layers.

Then, I’ll have to wait some more. Because it isn’t actually time to go skiing yet, at least not out-of-bounds or in the backcountry.

I don’t go into the backcountry much in early season conditions because I find it too dangerous. Thinly hidden obstacles like rocks and roots could end my ski season in a hurry. So I wait patiently until there’s a bit of a base on the ground. I might take a few laps on a groomer at the ski area just to hold me over until the backcountry games begin. And when they do, backcountry skiing is about the best thing on earth.

So, be patient. And then, have fun!

If you need a little help with the fun part, come join us for an early-season Avalanche Rescue Course. 1-day Avalanche Rescue Courses are essential for backcountry newbies and as refreshers for experienced backcountry travelers. They’re a fantastic way to kick-start the ski season.

If you are just starting out in the backcountry, Chicks has a 1-day Intro to Backcountry Skills in January and a Backcountry Hut Trip in February.

If you’ve got some backcountry experience and are looking for a mind-blowing, powder-skiing extravaganza, come join us in Hokkaido, Japan.

What is Effective Support?

 

Guide Elaina Arenz giving support and teaching an ice climbing clinic to Chicks Climbing clients in the Ouray Ice Park

Chicks Ouray, Colorado | Ice Climbing participants lend support by watching the climber attentively in the Ouray Ice Park.

What is support?

Arno Ilgner, of  The Warriors Way – Mental Training, once told me,

“Don’t belay as you would have others belay you.  Rather, ask your partner how they like to be belayed.”

I thought about this recently as I watched a young woman struggle to lead an off-fingers crack.

Slowly, but surely, the woman climbed through deceptively difficult sequences until she reached the off-finger section. Then she yelled, “take” and grabbed the gear she had just placed. A few moments later, she continued until the crack widened to tight hands. There she tried to stuff her feet into the finger crack below and when she looked down, she saw her belayer putting on a sweater. At that point, the woman placed two cams, clipped through them and asked to be lowered. On the ground she changed her shoes and walked away without a word.

I imagined that she had hoped to look down and see an attentive belayer giving her the thumbs up and saying, “You’ve got this!”

I wish she had said, “Watch me!” and kept climbing instead.

Why do we need support?

Confident, competent, independent women, shouldn’t need support. Right? We just need to focus on the task at hand…

Wrong.

When I’m pushing my limits, I need to feel safe – both physically and emotionally. It’s hard to feel safe when my partner is apathetic or critical. Meanwhile, a supportive partner helps me get into the “zone.”

Everyone is different. Although, for the record, I don’t think anyone likes shouts of unsolicited beta! Ultimately, listening to a person and giving them personal attention is the best way of supporting, respecting and belaying them.

Further, note to belayers: even a brief hand on the woman’s shoulder from her partner would have made a positive impact.

No one is great in a vacuum. Behind every great person is a great person. Certainly, behind every great climber is a great belayer!

So, belay not as you want but as others would have you!

Frequently Asked Questions About Chicks’ Ice Climbing Clinics

ice climbing in Ouray Ice Ice Park

Chicks Ouray Ice Park Ice Climbing Clinic 2019. ©Kitty Calhoun.

Even though the mountains are starting to see their first glimpse of winter across the country. At my home in Las Vegas, NV, the temperature has only just fallen below 90ºF. Finally, the weather is comfortable enough to climb in the shade.

It’s hard to believe that in a few short months I’ll be trading in my rock climbing shoes for boots and crampons but it seems to be true as I’m currently in the process of planning my annual winter trip to Ouray, Colorado.

Every winter, Chicks hosts a series of climbing clinics in Ouray. This winter we’ve got our usual 2-day, 3-day and 4-day Ouray Ice Park Ice Climbing Clinics. We’ve also got a 3-day Ouray Ice Park Mixed Climbing Clinic.

Since, ice climbing in Ouray is always a highlight of my winter, I thought I’d answer a few frequently asked questions about ice climbing and our Chicks Ouray Ice Climbing clinics:

How much climbing experience do I need to try ice climbing?

None. Although, it’s helpful to have the basics (like how to wear a harness, tie-in and belay), it’s definitely not necessary.

When you sign up for one of our clinics we match you in small groups with women who share similar experiences and goals to yours. Climbers of any level, from complete newbie to developing lead climber, can take one of our clinics.

Click on Chicks Ice Climbing Levels to learn more.

What kind of gear and clothing do I need for ice climbing?

All you need are the clothes on your back!

One of the signature attributes of a Chicks clinic is that we can outfit all of our clinic participants from head to toe in the latest and greatest technical gear and clothing. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of all-women programming, you are welcome to try out anything that strikes your fancy from Patagonia, Black Diamond, Grivel and Petzl.

When you sign up for a clinic, we send you a clothing and equipment checklist. Together we’ll help you be sure you’re outfitted properly.

Which program do you recommend?

That depends on how much time you have and when your schedule allows for a trip to Ouray.

The more time you have for climbing the better of course! Each Chicks clinic accommodates all levels.

However, here are some additional things to consider:

Register now for all of our winter ice programs. Spots are filling up fast.

If you need further help deciding which program is best for you, please don’t hesitate to drop us an email or give us a call.

Practice

Karen Bockel guiding in the Alps, Summer 2019. ©Karen Bockel Collection.

Karen Bockel guiding in the Alps, Summer 2019. ©Karen Bockel Collection.

Everyone has to practice. There is no free lunch. Although, I often think there should be, as in, “When am I finally going to get a break? I’ve been working so hard!”

The reality is all things take work.

I just got back from a long summer of alpine climbing in the Alps. This means I spent lots of time in big boots, navigating on glaciers, and sleeping in huts.

Great days!  After all my favorite type of climbing is alpine climbing. However, big boots and glaciers don’t really help my rock climbing game.

Now, all of a sudden, I’ll be in the vertical and managing two ropes while I guide two climbers.

Systems in vertical rock climbing are different than in alpine climbing.

So, today, I spent a few hours practicing rock-climbing systems in the garage.

I pulled out two ropes and put two imaginary climbers on belay. I refreshed my memory as to how to make efficient multi-pitch transitions. I reminded myself of many little things like how to orient the carabiners, in which order to securethe team at the belay, and where to re-stack the ropes.

I went through all the small steps that together make the difference between smooth operating and struggle, between fun and frustration.

And maybe most importantly, my practice might make the difference between being confidant and safe verses making a potential mistake.

Yes, it felt like work to get my ropes out and to put my harness on in the garage. However, I know practice pays off. And, truth be told, this bit of practice was not even that painful, once I got started…

See you on the rock,

Karen

Game On

Kitty Calhoun climbing Filo e ferru, 6c+. Cala Luna, Sardina, Italy.

My climbing partner, Pete, and my son, Grady, and I are competitors.

The first one to redpoint a route on lead gets to win.

Though I’m younger, Pete is stronger and a foot taller.  Pete and I have been climbing for decades. Grady has only been excited about climbing for a year—but he’s 23 and when climbing he reminds me of a racecar going full speed until he runs out of gas!

The other day we were projecting a short, powerful climb.

First, I belayed as Pete methodically linked all the moves on top rope.

Then I fell off the crux again and again. I felt like beating my head against the rock.  Near the end of summer, I always feel like time is running out.

I needed to make a powerful twist-lock move to reach a pocket. I’d visualized the move over and over. But I kept falling.

“This is a dumb game,” I thought.

Then Pete said, “Try the twist-lock from the hold at your chest instead.”  I started to say, “Yeah, but…” Yet it sounded like he really believed I could do it, so I had to try. To my surprise, his suggestion worked and I found myself miraculously making the reach.

Then Pete led.  The higher he led, the more sure he became. At the chains he was practically floating.

Back on the ground, Pete caught my eye and handed me the rope. “You can do this,” he said matter-of-factly.

Inspired by his support, I tied in. My friends Elaina, Diane and Nikki were there too and they encouraged me.

With Pete’s beta I climbed the crux without falling and sent the route. Grady gave up a whole-hearted cheer.

Later, at the Cheesecake Factory, I raised a toast. “As much as I learned from The Game, the greatest pleasure is sharing, talking and experiencing climbing with my competitors.”

We Joined

We are proud to announce that we have joined the UNFCCC’s Sports for Climate Action initiative as a signatory to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework.

This UN initiative acknowledges the contribution of sports organizations to climate change and our responsibility to actively and collectively strive towards climate neutrality.

As a signatory, Chicks Climbing and Skiing has committed to get on track for the net-zero emissions economy of 2050, in line with the aim of the Paris Agreement.

Through collective action and bold leadership, we have the power to make this fast and drastic transformation.  By signing the Framework, we have demonstrated our commitment to playing our part to ensure the sports sector is on the path to a low-carbon future.

In line with the five core principles enshrined in the Framework and the aims of the Paris Agreement, Chicks Climbing and Skiing will strive to:

  • promote greater environmental responsibility;
  • reduce the overall climate impact from sports;
  • use our platform to educate for climate action;
  • promote sustainable and responsible consumption; and
  • advocate for climate action through our communications.

Speaking at the launch event for the Framework, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa explained that sports organizations and athletes are in a unique position in the race against climate change “because sports touches on every cross-section of society”.

With this in mind, we hope our commitment will inspire our fans, community and government to raise their climate ambition in a united effort to limit global warming to 1.5oC.  This is a race we can—and must—win to avoid significantly worsening the risk of droughts, floods, extreme heat, increased mountain hazards and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

For the love of mountain sport we hope our leadership in joining this initiative will inspire a team spirit amongst our community to take action and responsibility for our own climate footprint.

Stay tuned for tech tips on how Chicks is working to reduce our carbon footprint, raise awareness and offset the footprint of our programs.

Rifle Colorado Climbing – You Can Do All of the Things

Rifle Climbing Clinic participants group photo

Rifle Colorado climbing teaches us many things.

“You can do ALL of the things. You can do ALL of the things.”

Fresh out of our Rifle Climbing clinic, I repeat, “You can do all of the things!”

At Rifle Colorado a group of rad women learned new skills and discovered climbing strengths (and muscles) they never knew existed.

“You can do all of the things” encompassed everyone’s goal at Rifle because if you can do all of the things, you’ll be more confident and independent climbing partners.

Sue, back on the rock for the first time in 10 years, updated her past experience with current best practices. Rope gunning on Day 1, Sue continued to push herself through Day 3.

Caitlin and Evana are regular climbing partners. Together they learned how to project a climb at the edge of their ability. Taking turns, they tag-teamed to get the rope to the anchor. Along the way, they learned how to stick clip through moves that were too hard and to French free (pull on a draw) instead when possible.

Jennifer wanted to improve her climbing technique. Also, on lead from day 1, she successfully practiced opposition type movements.

Taz and Katie both walked away with the confidence to catch a lead fall. They also practiced mock leading to gain comfort and experience being on the sharp end.

Tracee has tons of alpine climbing and mountaineering experience. Her goal was to improve her rock climbing skills in order to move more quickly through technical sections in the mountains.Tracee mastered lead belaying with a GriGri and improved her footwork immensely.

Last but not least, we had Michelle. With tons of experience and knowledge, Michelle showed us her method for anchor cleaning and helped teach this skill—a great way to reinforce the knowledge. Michelle also worked on her lead head, took some practice falls, and was leading more confidently by the end of the weekend.

I and fellow AMGA Rock Guide, Tracy Martin facilitated this fun weekend of sport climbing in one of the nations best (and hardest) climbing areas.

Rifle Colorado climbing is amazing, the camping is super convenient and perhaps the best part is that the approaches are all of 5 minutes or less. Rilfe is the perfect place to advance your sport climbing skills, especially if you want to work on leading.

It was great to see the progress that each of these rad women made during three short climbing days. All of us at Chicks get so much satisfaction seeing women transform into confident climbing partners and leaders who can do all of the “things!”

Until next time,

Elaina