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

How Do You Know When You Know Enough?

Kitty Calhoun on the Cassin Ridge, Denali, AK 1985

Kitty Calhoun on the Cassin Ridge, 1985, Denali, AK.©Kitty Calhoun Collection

Many years ago I climbed Denali’s Cassin Ridge. I decided to climb the Cassin even though I had never climbed in Alaska before. And, although my partner had some Alaskan experience—he had climbed Denali’s West Rib— we were generally equal in climbing experience and ability.

Undertaking the Cassin was daunting. Yet, I knew that if I didn’t challenge myself, I would never learn and grow as a climber.

For me, success in climbing is all about strategy. For example, I diligently push myself little by little to build confidence, but I also understand that I’ll never know unless I give it a shot.

However, if you’ve been diligent, pushing boundaries little by little, then you should know enough to commit with confidence within your risk-tolerance level.

So how do you come to know enough?

  1. Start with climbs that are short and easy. Work up to longer, more technical, and more remote routes.
  2. Choose your partner(s) carefully. Even if your partner is more experienced, you must be able to exercise your own judgment. Be an active voice in all decisions. The best partners are team players with similar goals, time, money, and risk tolerance.
  3. Read all accounts of the climb. Study the best season, approach, gear, descent, possible challenges, and alternate routes or peaks. Also, make a plan in case of emergency or the need to evacuate.
  4. Carefully consider your equipment, food, fuel, first-aid kit, repair kit, communications devices, and permits. Poor preparation leads to poor performance.
  5. Be mindful. I’m always thinking, “What’s the worst thing that can happen and what are the chances?” If I’m willing to accept the risk, then I think through what I would do if things went wrong.After I have a plan, then I refocus on the next task at hand.
  6. Enjoy the experience and be open to whatever it has to teach you.

Outdoor Climbing | Tips for Outdoor Rock Climbing

Climbing Outdoors, Devil's Lake Climbing Clinic participants learning outdoor climbing anchor systems. Devil's Lake State Park, WI.

Devil’s Lake Climbing Clinic participants learning outdoor climbing anchor systems. Devil’s Lake State Park, WI.©Kitty Calhoun

One day I was climbing outdoors with a partner who was less experienced but physically very strong.

I climbed first, putting up the draws and figuring out the moves.

Then, when it was my partner’s turn to lead she decided to start further right than I had. Even though the rock was more overhanging, the holds were bigger, so she thought the climbing would be easier.

However, when she got to the crux at the second bolt, she was completely pumped.  As she tried to clip she fell with the rope out. Luckily I was able to run downhill as she fell and take in slack quickly enough to keep her from hitting the ground.

If I had not been familiar with this outdoor climbing technique she could have cratered.

As summer rolls along and you look to outdoor climbing to test the movement skills and fitness that you’ve practiced and gained in the gym, please remember that there are a number of differences between indoor and outdoor climbing.

From Leave No Trace ethics, to reading the rock, to belay and anchor systems, to understanding the limitations of gear, outdoor climbing is not the same as indoor climbing!

We teach outdoor climbing skills and more at climbing Mecca’s across the country like Rifle, CO, Devil’s Lake, WI, Maple Canyon, UT, City of Rocks, ID, Red River Gorge, KY and others!

Go to all Chicks Rock Climbing programs.

 

Climbing Outdoors – Tips for Outdoor Rock Climbing

  1. Make sure your rope is long enough – Unlike the consistent height of a gym, natural cliffs are variable. One route can be longer than the next.  Either have the belayer tie into the end of the rope, or tie a knot into the end. This way the climber can’t get lowered off the end of the rope.
  2. Someone should know how to set up and clean the anchor. In the climbing gym, you top-rope through fixed anchors. At the crag, it is not proper to top-rope through the fixed anchors because this causes undo wear on the anchor. Instead, it is expected that you will top-rope off of your own gear clipped to the anchor. Therefore, the first person has to set up the anchor and the last person has to clean it.
  3. Practice clear communication. Verbalize your plans with your partner. Who will clean the anchor? Will they rappel or lower?
  4. Learn to read a guidebook and recognize features like dihedrals and arêtes.
  5. You need experience reading sequences on rock. The holds are not color-coded outside!
  6. It is handy to know how to use a stick clip and also how to clean an overhanging route.
  7. Be wary of loose rock – both leading and belaying. Know how to test the rock and how to use it if you must.  Know where to safely position yourself for the belay if there is rock fall hazard.

Re-mindfully yours!

Kitty Calhoun

Find More Climbing Partners – The Art of Being Solid

Find more climbing partners at a Chicks Climbing clinic. 4 Chicks participants lined up to show off their Chicks chalk bags

Find more climbing partners at a Chicks Climbing clinic. Chicks participants line up to show off their Chicks chalk bags!

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is, “How do I find more climbing partners?”

My answer, “You don’t have to be a super sender to find climbing partners, you just have to be solid.”

In order to be solid, I have some advice for you:

Be honest, be reliable, be skilled, and, most importantly, be fun.

Find More Climbing Partners

 

Be Honest

We all want to put our best effort forward, but rarely do we climb at our top level.

For example, even though I’ve climbed a 5.13a (once… over 5 years ago!), I don’t tell a prospective climbing partner “I’m a 5.13 climber!” Instead, I say, “I’m comfortable leading 5.12 sport, but I really love to climb 5.11.”

Be Reliable

No one likes it when their climbing partner cancels. Consider that they probably rearranged their life to go climbing with you and are counting on you to do what you said you would do. Be on time, ready to go. Don’t bail.

Be Skilled

Know how to take care of yourself. Know your technical skills forwards and backwards. If you lead, great. If not, be a solid second: learn to remove gear efficiently, climb quickly, belay attentively, give soft catches, clean anchors, pull the rope and stack it. The day will pass smoothly and safely if you are skilled.  As a result, you’ll get more climbing in.

Need skills? Chicks teaches technical skills at all of our clinics. We’ll get you up to speed and confident in no time.

Be Fun

When it comes right down to it, climbing is fun and the most solid climbing partners are the most fun.

Solid Climbing partners say interesting things and they make me laugh. It doesn’t matter how hard they climb. What matters is that they’re positive, funny, and willing to share interesting stories.

Solid partners don’t complain or make excuses. They leave the drama at home and don’t melt down, scream, or throw wobblers.

Lastly, you will find more climbing partners if you make decisions!

Solid partners decide and they don’t say sorry endlessly. Unless, of course an apology is in order, then they own it and get on with it.

Learn more about being solid at How to be The World’s Greatest Climbing Partner.

And for an amusing take on climbing partners in general read Your First 7 Climbing Partners.

Small Steps

Emilie Drinkwater taking small steps on the approach to Dent du Geant, Mont Blanc

Emilie Drinkwater takes small steps on the approach to Dent du Géant, Mont Blanc, European Alps, Summer, 2017. ©Karen Bockel

Small steps can turn big challenges into something quite manageable.

“Kleine Schritte, Kleine Schritte!”

“Small steps.” In German, I heard someone repeat, “small steps” to the group of Swiss climbers in front of us just as pre-dawn light touched the peaks.

My partner, Mary, and I had been climbing by headlamp.

Roped together, we’d steadily gained ground up the steepening glacier.

Surrounded by quiet, all I could hear was the sound of our breaths and the crunch of hard snow under our boots and crampons.

A snow couloir would eventually give us access to the rock ridge and then the summit. But, first, we had to climb over a bergschrund and some rock steps.

In the faint light, the massive abyss below the bergschrund looked dark. The exposure felt like a cold breeze.

I held the coiled rope tightly in my hand and felt Mary behind me through the tension.

Then, I turned to her and said, “kleine schritte, kleine schritte!”

In careful unison, we tiptoed around the icy void and then over the rock ledges.

Step-by-small-step, it didn’t take long before we’d reached the couloir and were back to steady upward progress again.

Thinking back,

I’m sure that crossing over the bergshrund would have been harder and potentially more dangerous if we had tried to force our way through or fight the terrain, using big steps. I’m convinced that taking big steps makes climbing harder and less safe.

Taking smaller steps, on the other hand, can turn what looks like a big challenge into something quite manageable.

So, try “small steps” next time you face a seemingly impossible challenge.

And, if you don’t feel confident in your skills and abilities, join me on one of these upcoming Chicks trips: Chamonix – Alpine Climbing Course or Rock Climbing – City of Rocks.

I’ll help you gain climbing experience and get quicker and more dialed with your climbing.

Muscle Memories | Building A Strong Climbing Base

Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, building muscle memories on Cathedral Peak, Tuolumne CA 1986

Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, having fun with her sister and building muscle memories on Cathedral Peak, Tuolumne CA 1986. ©Angela Hawse Collection

 

Why A Strong Climbing Base Is So Important 

Going into my 37thseason of rock climbing I’ve learned that I can count on my muscle memories to know what to do and how to do it.

All the easy and moderate climbing I did for years built up an invaluable base that’s supported me through many challenging climbs all over the world and back again.

Building a strong climbing base takes time, mileage and training. There’s no quick fix.

Not long ago, rock climbing was considered practice for mountaineering and you had to find a mentor to learn to climb. Experienced climbers mentored less experienced climbers to deepen their pool of potential partners.

Now, sport climbing is its own “sport” and people learn to climb in climbing gyms. But the 10,000-hour rule, Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book, Outliers, still applies. In order to achieve mastery you have to put in the time. There’s no way around it.

If you want to climb harder, steeper, or bigger, if you want to clip bolts, place cams, or breathe thin air, you have to put in the time to build a base.

Like a solidly built foundation supports a house, your base will support you for the rest of your climbing life.

How do you build a climbing base?

You build a climbing base by doing lots of climbing, especially on routes well below your limit.

Lots of mileage on easy and moderate routes teaches you good technique and efficient skills, and it builds your bank of muscle-memories. These muscle memories are called engrams.

Not only can you rely on these engrams forever. Engrams will serve you well as you push your limits.

Seriously, advance your climbing grade by climbing lots of “easy” routes first!

Sounds backwards?

Climbing lots of easy routes lets you build a bank of engrained skills. These engrams allow you to move in balance and without so much as thinking when you are pushing your limits.

And, finally and most awesome is that base building is fun!

We all start somewhere and have to endure the frustration of over-thinking, overcompensating and dealing with our inner voice challenging our every move.

Repetition, steadfast determination and putting the time in are what it takes to get good at anything and rock climbing is no exception.

Alex Lowe said it perfectly, “The best climber is the one having the most fun.”

Don’t miss out on all the fun you can have moving up the grades.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested to read:

Mentors | The Climbing Fast Track | Chicks Climbing

Fun | “It Doesn’t Have to Be Fun to Be Fun.” | Chicks Climbing

Mentors | The Climbing Fast Track

Elaina Arenz, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, mentors aspiring female climbers

Elaina Arenz, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, mentors aspiring female climbers.

Which is more important, what, how or why?

I was lucky to have a mentor when I started climbing. His name was Seiji (Say-Gee) and he was a co-worker when I was in college. Seiji took pity on me for not having a life. I worked, I went to school and I partied. Work, study, drink, repeat, is not a life.

Under Seiji’s wing, I learned how to top rope and lead climb my first day out on the rock.

Yes, you read that right.

I led a route the first time I climbed—Meet the Flinstones 5.9, Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin, TX.

I was on the fast track and I didn’t know it.

Not knowing what I didn’t know, I’m lucky I survived. There were some close calls and poor decisions, but I lived and I learned and I was fortunate that I had Seiji’s mentorship along the way.

In the mid-90’s this type of mentorship, or informal instruction, was the norm. This is how people got into climbing. More experienced climbers took less experienced climbers out and showed them the ropes. In those days it was easier to find someone who knew more and was willing to teach. They did this so they’d have more climbing partners.

Times have changed. Today there are over 450 climbing gyms across the U.S. Each year, more people are being introduced to climbing and falling in love with it. Consequently, the general experience level in climbing has tipped towards less experienced and beginner. New climbers outnumber experienced climbers. And, in most cases, more “experienced” climbers are only slightly more experienced than total beginners.

So, how do you learn in the absence of experienced mentors?

  • Take a Chicks Clinic
  • Read books. Two of my favorites are Rock Climbing, Mastering Basic Skills and Climbing Anchors, both by Craig Luebben, published by Mountaineers Books.
  • Watch how-to-climb Youtube videos.

But reading books and watching videos will only teach you what and how; and, what and how are only part of the solution. You need to learn Why.

Knowing Why informs your decisions. Knowing Why allows you to be responsible for your own safety as well as the others in your climbing party.

Combine the WHAT and the HOW with WHY and you’ll be the most marketable climbing partner.

To learn the Why of climbing, you need time under a mentor’s watchful eye. That’s where Chicks comes in.

Focus On Your Strengths

Focus on your strengths when you are having a hard time. Kitty Calhoun crying into her blood-stained hands

Focus on your strengths when you are having a hard time. ©Krysiek Rychlik

“Focus on your strengths.” I write these words with a heavy heart.

There have been several deaths in our community this year due to avalanche fatalities – most recently with the passing of my friend’s son, Jess Roskelley, along with his climbing partners, David Lama and Hansjörg Auer.

The shock of this monumental loss weighs heavily on me. And, I find myself so tired of our tendency to judge and to pick each other apart.

It makes me wonder, can we change our paradigm to focus on our strengths instead of our weaknesses?

The following story is an example of what I mean:

It was around 5 am on an early June morning.

I was near the end of one of the last pitches of the Salathe on El Capitan. There was just enough pre-dawn light to see without a headlamp; my partner was belaying me from her sleeping bag.

Even if her eyes were open, she couldn’t see me, much less hear me. I was out of sight, near the end of the rope when the aid placements ran out. My only choice was to bust a series of free moves onto a run-out slab.

I started trembling. But, what could I do?  Falling would be a big whip. How?  Focus. Focus. Right!

“I have God and sticky rubber,” I said, suddenly knowing with conviction that they’d get me up.

Not only on El Cap, but on many other climbs and instances in my life, I’ve found it helpful to focus on my strengths when I am having a hard time.  It’s my strengths, not my weaknesses that get me through.

However, recently, I’ve noticed that when I am teaching climbing skills or trying to improve my own skills, I tend to focus on weaknesses. I am very critical.

I wonder why, when I’m learning or teaching, my go-to is to be critical?

We improve the quickest when we work on our greatest weakness!

But is that true?

Is it true that we improve the quickest by focusing on our weakness?

Sure, we need to be aware of short-comings, but I wonder what would happen if our go-to attitude was one of recognizing strengths, appreciation, and support rather than “constructive feedback.”

I used to read the AAC Accidents of North American Mountaineering, believing that I could learn to avoid mistakes.

The problem is that hindsight is 20/20 but foresight is blurry.

The problem is also that when it comes to loss and broken hearts we can’t explain accidents. There is more at play, something much bigger than we can understand intellectually.

At any rate, I feel like we should be quicker to encourage than to criticize. Those who helped me see my strengths over the years were the most impactful to my life and my climbing.

With gratitude.