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.

You Can Do All Of The Things!

Rad Rifle Women: L- R Caitlin, Taz, Katie, Evana, Tracee, Sue, Michelle, and Jennifer. Rifle, CO. ©Elaina Arenz

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

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

At Rifle, a group of rad women learned new skills and discovered 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.

The climbing in Rifle Canyon 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.

Climbing Outdoors | 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!

I encourage you to sign up now. Learn more about the nuances of climbing outdoors.

 

Climbing Outdoors – Tips for Outdoor Rock Climbing

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Practice clear communication. Verbalize your plans with your partner. Who will clean the anchor? Will they rappel or lower?
  • Learn to read a guidebook and recognize features like dihedrals and arêtes.
  • You need experience reading sequences on rock. The holds are not color-coded outside!
  • It is handy to know how to use a stick clip and also how to clean an overhanging route.
  • 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: Chicks Alpine Climbing – Chamonix or Chicks 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