There’s always something to learn!

No matter what your experience level in climbing, there’s always something to learn at a Chicks with Picks clinic.

In fact, even the Head Chick benefits from the experience and teaching of our top-notch guides! Check out the video below as the 2011 Ouray Ice Fest women’s comp winner, Dawn Glanc, coaches the Head Chick on an M6+ climb.

Being open to learning means measurable improvements are also on the way!

Women in Ouray Ice Festival competition

In response to the question as to why there were only four women admitted into the Ouray Ice Festival Competition this year, the Head Chick went to the director of the Ouray Ice Fest competition to get answers.

Here’s what she found out:
“Historically, there have only been 15 men and 5 women in the comp. This year 25 men and 7 women applied. Two women didn’t make the cut. So they narrowed it to a field of 15 men and 5 women.

When one woman dropped out – the two alternates were called and both denied. So they only have 4 women this year. The comp. director said it’s nothing against women, it’s that no-one applied.”

Here are the four women that will be competing:

Zoe Hart
Emily Harrington
Dawn Glanc
Jen Olson

Best of luck to all of you!

*Update* This post was edited 1/11/11 to remove a metaphorical comment made by a third party when we were trying to find out the real deal behind the four women in the competition. The comment was not an opinion by the Head Chick on the difficulty of the route or any of the competitors’ climbing abilities.

Instant karma: my first fall

The following guest post was written by Krysia, a woman who just a few years ago discovered her love for climbing. It’s a great reminder to remain aware while climbing!

Falling.  It’s part of climbing, nobody likes to talk about it, let alone do it.  Well, I will tell you about my first fall on lead; and it wasn’t a text book fall to brag about.  No, it was sort of  the fall you never want to happen.  But hey, it happened, no one was hurt, and now I have it out of the way.

So, there I was, on my second trip to The Red, as a relatively new climber, and had never led a route.  My friend Ashely and I were the only two who weren’t leading routes in our group, but were feeling pretty good, like we could.  So on day 1 I led a 5.5 for the practice of clipping in and then after top-roping a slabby 5.8, led it and sent it, without any problem (I love slabby routes).

However, the next day, I was not so fortuitous.  I wasn’t feeling at the top of my game from the get go and I didn’t have much of a breakfast.  Not consuming enough calories a big no-no for me.   I must have a pretty fast metabolism because I bonk easily when doing any physical activity and have to constantly consume calories to avoid getting shaky. This was my first mistake, not eating enough.

So there I am, ready to onsite a juggy 5.7 , a lower grade, yet different climb than the day before.  My friends gave me the beta on it. It was pretty straight-forward; everything was right there except at the last clip, there was not much, so it was suggested to go right then traverse back left to clip in.  I moved through the first three bolts just fine, plenty of hands and feet, no problem.  But then I made my second mistake.  When going for the last bolt, I simply went on the beta I was given and didn’t take time to first analyze my options.

This was what caused me to fall, not plotting out my last move.  I had done everything else on my own terms prior to, but when I got to this point I just reacted.  I made it up to the level of the top bolt but was too far over to clip in.  It was during my traverse that my legs started to shake and I knew I was bonking.  I started talking to my foot, telling it to stay where I had placed it but, it had other ideas.  Before I knew it I found myself falling.

The cool thing was I wasn’t scared.  I knew there was nothing I could do, so I may as well just relax.  That is what I did, I called out “Falling” and just took a deep breath. I didn’t scream or get panicky.  I started to think, “Ok, so what should I be thinking about?  I guess keeping my feet out toward the wall, and relaxing, and gee, this fall is lasting longer than I imagined it would…”   And then I stopped.  “But, hmm… I am upside down that is weird and unexpected.”  And SMACK, I hit the wall, with my butt.  Everyone was pretty freaked out and I said I was ok, at least it wasn’t my head and righted myself.  And then I noticed how far I fell.  Three bolts down, (including the one I should’ve clipped into) not just one.  That was also unexpected.  So then I was a little freaked out.

Instead of stopping and looking and seeing what options I had I just blindly took advice I had been given.  This is not the way I usually climb.  Believe me, I like to get advice from other climbers and I can take advice well; but I also know, inherently, by looking at a move what may or may not work for me.  Sometimes someone from the ground will yell something for me to try and I know right away for me that would be totally wack, because something I already concocted in my head is the way for me to go and so I just go for it, and oh snap, it’s done and I’m past it.  That is how I climb, a series of stopping to think and then movement.

After my belayer and I chilled out after the adrenaline rush we just got, I watched another girl not in our group redpoint the same climb.  When she got past the fourth bolt she went straight up.  She didn’t go right like I did.  I didn’t even consider doing that.  I didn’t even look! Which means I wasn’t even present or conscious during my climb.  No wonder I fell, I deserved to.  That was all me.  Instant karma is a b*tch.

Krysia Hepatica is a mother, climber and adventure seeker.  Her love for climbing was serendipitous; what started out as a hobby for young her son became a passion for her. She’s now addicted to rock and re-arranges her life around both the local climbing gym’s hours, and the all-important road trips to the Red River Gorge! Follow her blog on climbing and all of life’s wonderful adventures here at venturesome krysia.

Chicks Climbing networks stretching far and wide!

Photo by Ilana Marcus Rock Climbing Instructor and Founder, Thrillseekers Anonymous

We love hearing from our Chicks Climbing alumnae!

This week, alumna Caroline Doucet sent us this fun photo of Santa Claus getting after it on some ice (which we thought was pretty cute), along with a note saying this winter she will be doing her ice climbing with fellow Chicks alumnae Karen, Cheryl, Kate, and Sarah in the Canadian Rockies!

Even when our Chicks take a break from visiting us here in Ouray, we’re happy to see those ladies sticking together in their climbing! Developing a strong climbing network is just one of the many great things our alumnae get out of joining us at Chicks events.

And, speaking of another Chicks sighting, we got a report from alumna Sarah Goldman in South America that she bumped into her roommate from Chicks with Picks (2008) in Argentina! They were both down in South America with the same goal – to climb Aconcagua! How random is that?

We truly believe that one of the best things about the Chicks experience is those lifelong friendships and climbing networks that naturally form during the clinics. It’s only natural to easily relate to other ambitious women climbers that are always up for an adventure – be it in South America, the Far East, or Canada!

Thanks Caroline and Sarah for letting us know about your past and future Chicks sightings, and make sure to share those trip reports with us!

“I can do this”

Hillary Nitschke first came out to join us in Ouray at a Chicks with Picks clinic a few years ago and has ever since served as an inspiration to us as this fierce woman now takes to climbing everything – rock, ice, plastic – you name it! As Hillary tells us below, climbing has lead her to be more quick and practical in everyday life, and given her the perspective and experience to understand the difference between a crisis and a mere obstacle. In her own words:

My life changed due to Chicks. I’ve remained inspired by so many of the women I met there (I’d spend more time with you all if the budget allowed). I came never having spent a moment on vertical ice, and not much of a rock climber, either! I saw, quickly, that the women who were already ‘accomplished’ rock climbers were taking much more easily to ice; so, I returned to Denver ready to climb as much rock, and pull as much plastic as my single mom schedule would allow so that I would be stronger (even as a novice) on ice. It took all of the following summer for me to really identify myself as a climber – not just as someone who climbed sometimes. It took another year before I considered leading (I climb trad). I thought I really never would consider leading. I started by learning to place gear with my feet on the ground. I liked it. It felt like doing puzzles, and it helped me focus on one more awesome set of aspects in the majesty of nature.

Suddenly, I thought: I can do this. I can climb above my gear! I can find this incredible freedom of how to make my way on a rock wall and in my Iife. This has caused me to be much more honest and present with my approach to fear, and I am more sure footed (with and without crampons) in so doing. Rock and ice climbing are so much more than just something that you do. They become part of who you are! You need to be quick and practical. You must learn to succinctly understand what is a crisis, what is an annoyance and what is just a small obstacle. You become so much more pragmatic in life when you allow who you are as a climber to pervade who you are in the rest of your life. I am still really a novice. I have so much more to learn, and I love that about life – not just rock and ice…I like the beginner’s eye and child-like awe it inspires. I like the constant reminder of humility. We are so big and small all at once, aren’t we?

This will be my third season on ice, and I am looking forward to finding some strength, and while I love Ouray, I’m looking forward to stepping out more as well!

Full Circle (guest post by Margo Talbot)

Photo by Chris Giles

At the age of twenty-eight I was introduced to ice climbing, and it literally changed my life. And the biggest reason is that it taught me how to be in the present moment. I was plagued with an over-active imagination, a barrage of endlessly streaming thoughts, and bouts of debilitating depression interspersed with periods of mania. As I neared the end of my third decade of life I could not remember a time when my mind had been still, absent from all of my attendant fears and anxieties. But I had also never dangled from a thin rope hundreds of feet off the ground…

On that winter’s day in February of 1992 I hiked into Melt Out, a 200 foot flow of frozen ice 45 minutes south of Jasper on the Icefields Parkway. I had begged, borrowed and bought gear for the outing. My partner and I got out of my truck at 8:30 a.m. and started the thirty minute trek into the climb.

I listened to the squeak of the snow under the soles of my boots as we negotiated the approach. I felt the cold air on my face and far from being uncomfortable I felt truly alive. There was snow everywhere, all over the ground and all the way to the tops of the surrounding peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Before I knew it we were standing at the base putting on our equipment.

I watched as my partner started up the pitch. I listened to the sound of his axe going into the ice and to the rhythm of his crampons moving upward. I allowed the rope to slip through my belay device as needed. Before I knew it he was at the top yelling down to me that he was secure.

It was my turn, and I felt the rope come snug onto my harness as I slipped on some lighter gloves and grabbed my axes. I swung my tools into the ice, and then brought my feet up just the way my partner had done. I wasn’t ten feet off the ground when everything in my mind disappeared. Gone was the never-ending stream of consciousness that was all too often filled with negative thoughts. Gone was the psychic onslaught of deeply buried painful emotions. And gone were the over-active ramblings of a fearful imagination. In its place: peace, tranquility, the feel of cool wind on my face and the rhythmic sound of metal hitting ice.

The etymology of the word ecstasy, translated from Ancient Greek, is “to stand outside oneself”. In other words, outside of the constant barrage from the thinking mind, the superficial fears of the personality, and the programmed reactions of the emotional body. The first time I climbed a frozen waterfall, I was hooked. But it wasn’t just the climbing I was hooked on; it was also the feeling of freedom I experienced from the tyranny of my mind. Slowly, over the years, I felt its power wane, and in its place I found a peace and stillness that I can only describe as joy.

Six years after I started to climb I was invited by the owner of a local sports store to instruct the women’s clinics for the Canmore Ice Climbing Festival. That same year Kim Reynolds, a woman I had met while competing at the ESPN X-Games the year before, began hosting all-women’s ice climbing clinics at her home town crag in Ouray. These two events were the genesis of women’s ice climbing clinics in North America. In the ensuing years I helped organize the ice festival in my home town at the same time Chicks with Picks continued to grow. Few things were giving me as much joy in life as introducing others to the activity that had brought me such a profound sense of inner freedom.

In the summer of 2006, Kim Reynolds called to ask me if I had time in my schedule to be one of her Girly Guides for the upcoming season in Ouray. I couldn’t have been more pleased than to see our respective careers convening at these world-renowned ice climbing events, and in a world-class venue. As a Chicks guide I have witnessed my clients experiencing the joy of their very first forays into the world of waterfall ice. Many of these women climb and stay in touch with me to this day. I am blessed to be able to share my passion with others, and to be able to witness women being transformed by the same activity that continues to transform and inspire me.

Margo Talbot is a world renowned ice climber whose love for the mountains sprang from her discovery of the Canadian Rockies over 20 years ago. Margo shares her passion for ice through guided expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica and through courses she teaches for The Glitter Girls and Chicks with Picks. Margo co-founded The Glitter Girls with Karen McNeill in 2003 and continues their mission of helping women find and grow their own inner goddesses through guided adventures on ice, rock and snow. Her book “All That Glitters” will be published in the Spring of 2011, check out her website at

Rethink what’s possible

A couple of weeks ago the head chick sent out an e-mail to Chicks alumnae asking for a few words on how the Chicks Climbing program has influenced, inspired, or changed our alumnae’s lives. We’ve gotten quite a few responses (and would love more if you’ve got the time!), including the one below from Jenn Fields. You might already feel like you know Jenn because we anxiously await her Field Notes column each week and love to include it in the Gossip Report. Jenn is an amazing chick inside and out and wrote the following e-mail to us:

Unlike my friend Cheryl Wallace, I showed up at my first Chicks weekend already knowing how to tie in — I went straight into intermediate clinics. So for me, going to Chicks and climbing ice wasn’t the immediately mind-blowing experience that it is for some. Rather, the power of the experience came over time, from the people, like Cheryl, who is one of the strongest and at the same time most grounded people I climb with now (several years after meeting her through Chicks).

Likewise, Piper Musmanno and I met each other at the Boulder Rock Club a few weeks before our first Chicks, roomed together at the Vic and have been climbing together ever since. Piper and I have had parallel journeys in our climbing lives, and it’s been an incredible experience to grow together as climbers…and sometimes be rather competitive with one another. 🙂 But we always remember that our friendship is more important than which one of us leads ice first or sends the mixed route we’re both projecting. Chicks stick together.

Finally, last winter I took the most important Chick in my life, my mom, to the Betty Ice Ball. Like Cheryl, Mom had never climbed outside before, so she walked out of the Ouray Ice Park with war stories, exhaustion and a massive smile lifting her cold, rosy cheeks. But the icing on the cake was watching all of the Chicks thrill at the idea of bringing their moms out to climb ice. Mom’s tougher than me, so I knew she could do it. But seeing the Chicks embrace Mom, I realized they were also embracing new ideas about how they could help other women in their lives — even their moms — expand on what’s possible.

And that’s the point of Chicks, right? To rethink what’s possible and build a long-lasting supportive community for exploring that. Like my husband always says: Once a Chick, always a Chick.

*Jenn’s friend, Cheryl Wallace, was the first “graduate” of the Chicks program. We are in the process of interviewing this amazing woman and will hopefully get her story up on the blog soon!

Caroline George’s Technical Alpine Climbing Week

We’ve got a lot of catching up to do with Girly Guide Caroline George, who’s been super busy this summer guiding in Europe. This will be the first of at least four posts to catch you up and keep you up to date with the adventures she’s having taking clients up some of the most iconic peaks in the world! First up – some technical alpine climbing instruction with the International School of Mountaineering!

My first guided trip in the Alps this summer was working for ISM – The International School of Mountaineering – based out of my home town Leysin in Switzerland. My Dad had worked from them back in the ’70s and I grew up surrounded by the guides who worked there and was mesmerized by them. It’s probably then that my secret desire of becoming of guide budded. And hence ISM seemed like one of the obvious companies I wanted to work with.

I would be working with Adrian Nelhams, as I had the previous year. Adrian is British, has a little son named Monty and is an examiner for the British Guides. I really enjoy working with him.

We met the day before the start of the course in Leysin to discuss the plan. We decided to climb the SW ridge of the Grand Cornier in the Valais and the west ridge of the Dent de Tsalion in Arolla, along with the nearby Aiguille de la Tsa.

We hiked from Ferpecle up a rugged trail and then glacier to the Dent Blanche Bivouac. It was raining and snow conditions were completely isothermic, which made for difficult travel. But the beautiful little rounded shaped bivouac made it all worth it. After a night of heavy rain, we woke up to perfect blue bird skies and great views of the mighty Dent Blanche north face and of our climb, the SW ridge of the Grand Cornier.

4000m, but its surrounding giants have nothing on him. There is no easy way up or down it and the SW ridge offers amazing climbing up its sometime snowy or rocky but always knife edge arete. With the previous night’s rain, the snow was very punchy all the way up the climb, which made for strenous trailbreaking.

After many hours of breaking trail and climbing up the amazing SW ridge, we climbed down the normal route, which is just as hard and long. There were lots of precipitation in June and the snowpack hadn’t yet fully transformed, which made for hainous postholing down to the Moiry Hut, where we spent the night. The Moiry hut was just remodeled this year, so we got to enjoy this beautiful new facility! The following day, we hiked down from the hut and drove back to the Arolla valley.

Day 4, we climbed a technical via ferrata right above the little pittoresque town Evolene. It was very steep to overhanging in many sections, which got some of the client’s hearts going!

That afternoon, we hiked to the beautiful Tsa Hut above Arolla, to climb the west ridge of the Dent de Tsalion and the Aigille de la Tsa.

We woke up in the early morning to hike up a boulder field to the base of the climb. The few first pitches instantly wake you up, climbing up steep and beautiful rock. The whole 600m. of ridge climbing is up perfect cracks and nice ridge features. A nice and long journey.

From the summit, we scrambled down to the glacier and joined the start of the Aiguille de la Tsa, a striking mini Matterhorn like peak.

We then hiked up and over to the Bertol hut. The view from the Bertol Hut stretches to the Dent Blanche, the Tete Blanche and the Bouquetins to the south and over to the Pigne d’Arolla and the Aiguille Rouges d’Arolla to the north. Although this is a great hut, the toilets are the biggest shame. I thought I was going to pass out from the smell.

This was another great week with the International School of Mountaineering.

All photos by Caroline George. See more photos from Caroline’s technical alpine climbing week on her Web site Into The Mountains, where she and her husband Adam George share their passion for climbing with others by offering guided trips and instruction on rock, ice, and alpine climbing in the European Alps and North America.

Angela Hawse on the Spirit of Service

This week we are going to have a couple of features on infamous Chicks Girly Guide Angela Hawse. The following is an article she wrote about the “Spirit of Service” for Marmot, but shared with us as well because she felt it had a lot of relevance to the women involved in Chicks Climbing.

In a world driven by numbers, measurements and achievements, we are too often discouraged by super-human feats that continually push the envelope of human potential. When we measure ourselves against our heroes we are apt to belittle our own efforts and loose sight of our passion and personal motivations.

Most of us have an “Everest” that we aspire to, no matter how high, how far away, how difficult the journey – inward or outward. When we find the inspiration to pursue our own dreams, climb our own mountains – no matter how big, how small, what shape or what form – we realize that it is our journey that matters most and what we take away from it is often the key to unlocking our dreams.

I am most inspired by those who have gone quietly beyond personal ambition and made a concerted effort to give something back with their passage. To me, these are the real heroes of the day and I aspire to follow their example. Offering my resources and something of myself opens me more fully to the beautiful diversity of mountain life and the intricate connection I share with all life on earth. We too often pass in our own bubble, unaware of the impacts we bring, unaware of the changes we influence. These are the important challenges before us and the integrity of the places we love to death is at stake.

In the fall of 2003, I had the great privilege of traveling to Nepal to lead an all women’s expedition on Ama Dablam, 22,487’. Our team (The Mamas Dablam) went where many have gone before, ascending the aesthetic southwest ridge up technical mixed terrain to the steep ice face leading to the summit. We went light and unsupported, carrying our own loads and fixing our own camps.

Our ascent was not notable as a first ascent, as a speed ascent or any record-breaking achievement. Our goal was to climb the mountain together in good style. Our mission was to raise money and support the dZi Foundation’s work improving the basic quality of life for the women, men and children in the Himalayas. Through our endeavor we helped further the cause of women in developing countries, and brought more light to the issue of young girls at risk.

Our fundraising efforts, which exceeded $23,000, assisted the dZi Foundation in starting up the “Sikkim Happiness Home” in 2003. Many girls are at risk in this remote region of the Eastern Indian Himalaya. The funds we raised for this project will ensure young women with a safe haven, health care, education and a chance for a brighter future.

Most of us have the ability and resources to go one step further and add a little altruism to anything we do. With a little awareness and effort we can provide priceless opportunities for many in need of hope. Adopt a “spirit of service” and wed it with your next adventure.

Thursday we will be publishing one of Angela’s most recent adventures – a corporate speaking gig on leadership and teamwork, talking about Himalayan Mountaineering as a metaphor for Leadership and Teamwork in the work place. Angela’s now busy guiding in the Tetons, but will be at the Chicks Rock! Devil’s Lake Wisc. Sept. 9-16, and at the Chicks Girly Gathering Sept. 24-26 in NRG! You can check out Angela’s Web site here at Alpinist007.

Kitty Calhoun’s triumphant return to El Cap!

Chicks Girly Guide Kitty Calhoun has generously shared with us her  newest story on her return to El Cap to climb Aurora, a perfect “rehab” route Kitty said, for her return to big wall climbing two years after having both of her hips resurfaced with metal. What follows is the delightfully honest recount of her experience on Aurora with climbing partner Kate Robertson.

Comeback – n Informal or vb come back (intr. adverb)
1. a return to a former position, status,etc.
2. a return or response, esp. recriminatory
3. To become fashionable again

I am just leaving the belay on Pitch 5 of Aurora (5.8, A4), a steep, difficult aid line on El Cap. It has been five years since I was last on El Cap, and the experience had left me crippled. The arduous hauling and long descent with the haulbag “pig” was the last straw for my hips, eroded by a career as an alpinist and mountain guide with a passion for running. Two years later, both hips were resurfaced with metal and now, hopefully, I am “good to go.” I am about to clean the pitch distinctly noted as “no fun” on the Supertopo. It takes me way too long to clean the pitch but both my partner and I are patient and we carry on.

Kate Robertson loves equipment, so naturally she was drawn to ice climbing and it was in Ouray last winter that I met her. I expressed a secret desire to see if I could return to unfinished goals and a life of adventure. I am afraid of losing my mental and physical “edge” if I have to live with “restricted activities” – I am just not ready to lower the bar. So plans were hatched. 

She had already climbed most of the easy routes on El Cap and wanted to climb Aurora, a perfect “rehab” route. It is hard, but she would take those leads. It is short – only 16 pitches – and steep, so the hauling would be easy. Plus, we could hire some burly young guys to carry the pigs down. We decided to start on my birthday, June 4.

My second day of cleaning Kate’s lead, I cut my time in half. We are making good time – two pitches a day. We are working together, in a routine, and the rhythm feels good. Calm nights, sitting alone in my porta-ledge, hundreds of feet off the ground, and surveying the stars is the highlight of my days. I open the music birthday card mom sent me and it plays the tune, “I just want to celebrate ANOTHER DAY OF LIVING…”.

The fourth night on the wall, I start rationing my food. Our progress is too good to be true. I am starting to feel a bit worked. My hands are too swollen to grip the pull-tab on my zippers. At best, we have four more days, but it could be more if we make some mistakes or the weather changes.

Day 7 – We are hoping to spend the night on the summit tonight. Kate had the first lead and I have the last two. My mind is muddled, dehydrated. I am trying to hook over to a bolt when I should have gone straight up to a fixed piece before traversing. When I finally finish the lead and look at my watch, which says that I am slow, and I break down into tears. I must have been dreaming to think I was up for this. Despite my ranting and raving to myself, I have set up the haul for both loads in record time and Kate arrives with a smile on her face. She says my lead was a full 70m and we can finish in the morning.

The next morning, as Kate and I easily finish the last pitch to the top of El Cap, we are met by the two burly young guys who shortly disappear with the pigs. I have forgotten my temper tantrum from the previous day. The Aleve is doing its job and life is good again. Seems like this wall went smoothly. What if it wasn’t a good test? Maybe I need to do another wall on El Cap to see if I have really made a comeback. It is too good to be true – that the door I thought was closed might actually be cracked open.

Photo credits: Top photo – Kitty at belay station, before cleaning the “no fun” pitch, photo by Kate Robertson.
Middle photo – Kate takes off on one of the crux pitches, photo by Kitty Calhoun.
Bottom photo: Kate and Kitty celebrating the comeback, photo by Kitty Calhoun.

Thursday, September 9, at 6:00 p.m. Kitty Calhoun will be giving a slideshow at Boulders Climbing Gym, Madison WI on big wall climbing, and something tells me all the lucky attendees will get to hear a lot more about this trip!