Begin It

Karen Bockel, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing & Skiing, Beginning Les Grand Galets, Cap Trinité, Quebec, Canada. ©Forest McBrian

Karen Bockel, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing & Skiing, Beginning Les Grand Galets, Cap Trinité, Quebec, Canada. ©Forest McBrian

Now at last let me see some deeds!
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Summer is gone.

Cool nights, blue skies and yellow leaves announce another Rocktober—fall climbing season.

I’ve been thinking, “How is this one going to be different?”

Have you set a goal? Have you committed to step into the unknown? Will you push a new grade? 

My plan for this fall is to connect with my environment, take things as they come, and give myself room to try new things in climbing.

I was just on a climbing adventure in Northern Quebec, Canada.

The plan was to climb a little big-wall via canoe access.

At the bay it started to pour. The next day we paddled across, set up our bivy and began to think about fixing the first pitches when it started to rain again.

We sat in our tiny camp below the wall, lost in the sound of the drops pattering on our tarp.

Climbing seemed impossible. Our climbing window was shrinking.

Slowly the sound quieted and we felt a breeze. Stars came out. Wind dried the rock and we awoke to the wall bathed in sunlight.

Even though we knew we didn’t have time to fire for the top, we decided to begin and go as far as we could. We climbed beautiful rock all day, and then we rappelled back down and packed up everything for a pre-dawn paddle back to the bay.

It was a grand adventure, and success wasn’t measured by getting to the top, but by getting out and beginning it. And that’s exactly what I want to do more of!

Right?

Elaina Arenz, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing & Skiing, pushing her limits on her brand new dirt bike. ©Arenz collection

Elaina Arenz, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing & Skiing, pushing her limits on her brand new dirt bike. ©Arenz collection

I’ve always wanted to learn how to ride a dirt bike.

A few weeks ago, I went out, bought a bike and signed up for lessons!

Right?

I’m 44. What business do I have? A motorcycle?

I’m not strong, like a man. What if I get hurt? I’m not brave.

The other night I watched Casselli66, a movie about one of the winningest motocross racers of all time. It’s a documentary tribute to Kurt Casselli’s life and his many accomplishments with anecdotal stories from his loved ones.

Kurt lived by the words, “Do one thing a day that scares you.”

One of the scarier things for me is change. Change has so many unknowns. It’s full of the unfamiliar and unanswerable.

I’m human. I want to avoid stress and I feel the strong pull of staying in little, safe circles.

But, I do my best to prevent this fear from holding me back, especially when it comes to learning new things (like how to ride a dirtbike:) because when I venture out and push the edges of my comfort zone, I learn and grow.

I challenge myself in order to live a fulfilling life.

Otherwise I’d never know and that bothers me.

Also, change is scary, but the thought of plugging along through life locked in my comfort zone is even scarier.

Learning, growing, and experiencing new things makes me feel alive.

See you at the crag!

What Inspires You?

Diane Mielcarz enjoys the rewards of achieving her dream to climb in the Black Canyon. ©Angela Hawse

Why we climb, what motivates and inspires each of us is a personal experience.

It’s easy to lose sight of our own potential and compare ourselves to others.  Rock climbing has become a mainstream sport, sensationalized by images and stories of super heroine feats that plaster social and print media on an hourly basis.

We should remind ourselves frequently that climbing is about us.  The possibility that we have to enjoy it the rest of our lives is really quite remarkable.

Going inside and tapping into my own motivation is a healthy exercise that I do on a regular basis.  When I identify what I love about climbing, I can shape my climbing experience into a journey to fulfill it.   When I make the effort to keep it personal and internal, my day out climbing becomes more fun, more inspired and focused.

Whether I’m striving for a personal best or simply caught up in the joys of movement on rock and of sharing the rope with a partner, climbing should be what you want it to be because you enjoy it.

Whether you climb for fitness, the flow of movement, connecting with friends, enjoying nature, challenging your personal best, or because you love gear, it’s all legit.

Unplugging from distractions regularly and tapping into what makes your heart sing will help you set intentional goals that are on par with your passion.  If you can dream it, see it, and feel it, you can be it.

What inspires you to climb?

 

The Joy of Alpine Climbing

The Joy of Alpine Climbing

by Angela Hawse

Angela contemplating one of her first big alpine objectives, Kedarnath Dome in the Garwhal Himalaya, India, in 1988. Photo credit Mike Goff

 

A flood of images overtakes me as I reflect on 30+ years of alpine climbing: pre-dawn starts by headlamp over noisy stoves, crawling out of cramped tents and roping up under starlit skies. The sound of my crampons biting frozen surfaces, cold fresh air filling my lungs, the thrill of navigating by headlamp and recalling the route I previewed the day before. Where are the crevasses, which section do I need to pick up my pace and what zones can I cruise with a little less attention? Is my partner on the other end of the rope awake and will they arrest my unsuspecting fall into a crevasse? How honed are their crevasse rescue skills anyway?

Images of suffering and discomfort easily slip away and I head to the high mountains again and again. The stunning combination of rock, ice, and glaciated terrain compels me to keep coming back for more. I love that it demands all of my skill sets as well as a resolute will to succeed.

Getting to the top is always the goal, but never a given; that unknown adds to the adventure. It requires the journey, not the destination mindset that encompasses active problem-solving, decision-making, and thinking on my feet in order to weigh risk against consequence.

Alpine climbing is the ultimate mountain dance; it includes sunrises, alpenglow, endless horizons, and comaradery through shared effort. It takes us to the most beautiful places on the planet and requires us to dig deep, disconnect from modern day life, and re-connect with nature and our partner on the other end of the rope.

We hope to share that rope with you one day and are stoked to tie in with a full team of Chicks on our Mt Baker clinic coming up.

 

Angela Hawse
Co-Owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, IFMGA Mountain Guide

 

Inspiration at 80

Rocking it out 80s style with Chicks Alumna Kris Machnick

by Elaina Arenz

One of the best things about Chicks is getting to know the women who attend our clinics. They represent a wide range of ages from teenagers to septuagenarians. There’s one woman in particular who has been a constant inspiration for me and who falls in the upper end of that age scale. While my own mom isn’t the adventurous type, Kris Machnick is the exact opposite. Kris isn’t afraid to get out and try new things, she pushes herself to her physical limit on the end of the climbing rope and in her life.

She immigrated to the United States from Norway, earned an MBA, and went to work as the Director of Finance for the City of Santa Clara. She’s married to a Lockheed scientist from the Czech Republic, has a daughter, a granddaughter with whom she is very involved, does crossfit on the regular and enjoys hiking the stairs with Balder her standard poodle. Not only that, but Kris has also kicked breast cancer in its teeth not once, but multiple times.

Kris is the definition of badass and there is no slowing her down.

So how does a woman like Kris choose to celebrate her upcoming 80th birthday? Well, she decides that she is going to do the #8for80 challenge. That’s right. Her plan is to climb 8 major climbs (rock, ice and alpine) and raise $100,000 for Parkinsons and Alzheimers research while she does it.

It’s a cause near and dear to her heart. Over the past few years Kris has lost several good friends plus a brother to these diseases. She is bound and determined to help fund research and discover preventative measures to stave off the onset of these lethal brain diseases. She believes that the key to mental health is physical fitness and having fun doing it.

So I sit here in the Lofoten Islands of Norway, Kris’s motherland,  awaiting her arrival to take on the next few climbs on her birthday ticklist. She’s also enlisted the partnership of another Chicks alumna, Diane Mielcarz, whose strength, wit, and wry sense of humor will no doubt contribute to the fun factor.

Please consider supporting Kris’ cause and donate if you are in a position to do so. Every little bit helps and this mountain is one to be climbed with a little help from our friends.

http://www.krisclimbingforlife.com/

One of Norway’s blue lagoons. @Elaina Arentz

Chicks Climbing and Skiing Raises $4,800 for SheJumps

Bidding at the annual Chicks Auction

Real Social: Good times at Chicks Auction

“Thank you, thank you, thank you. We are so honored.”
Claire Smallwood, Director of SheJumps

Chicks Climbing and Skiing is made strong through support, community and the core value of giving back.

On Jan 6, 2018, the 19th Annual Chicks Climbing and Skiing Fundraiser raised $4,800 for SheJumps, an organization with the mission to increase the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities.

As usual, the evening began with socializing. To keep us hydrated, Ouray Brewery served beer and KJ Wood Distillers made stiff drinks.

Next came our signature and raucous Chicks live auction of sponsor-donated gear, followed with films presented by NoMansLand film festival. Of course, Mixtress, produced by Chicks co-owner, Dawn Glanc, about the coming of age of women mixed climbers, was our favorite.

For almost 2 decades Chicks events have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for women’s shelters, the Ouray Ice Park, and, now, SheJumps.

We are very proud of and grateful for our community. Together with our sponsors, our Chicks family, and all of our climbing friends who’ve joined us over the years to mingle, be entertained and to throw down for great climbing gear, we have raised over $230,000!

Are You Avalanche Aware?

Avalanche ClassHappy 2018 everybody! I’m so excited. It’s snowing.

As I watch the flakes come down, I feel a wave of joy. I want to run and shout, build a snowman, throw a covert snowball, and GO SKIING!

When I was a kid I dreamed of being a downhill ski racer, flying down mountain slopes. I was fearless and strong. Gravity was my best friend.

I chased my ski-racing dreams from North Carolina to the University of Vermont, home of many ski Olympians. But after a few years of over-crowded ski areas, I escaped to the backcountry where I found ice and alpine climbing. That’s when I discovered the pure joys of winter, where I feel the most at home in this world. I finished university six months early (so I could get on to what was really important!), moved into “Camp Subaru” and headed West.

A few weeks later I found myself with my newfound mentor, Lyle Dean.

Lyle and I were on skis approaching Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainer when a thick fog rolled in and Lyle said, “We need to stop.”

I said, “Why?” We weren’t near our intended camp.

“It’s dangerous to travel in a whiteout.”

Suddenly, there was a loud BOOM—and I was falling.

Everything went white and silent.

I remembered from the avalanche class I’d taken from Rob Newcomb, that I should

SWIM. And, once the snow started to settle I should
MAKE A SPACE FOR YOUR FACE, and
RAISE YOUR OTHER ARM so it might stick out of the snow.

I kicked my skis off, let go of my poles, and swam hard.

Finally, everything stopped. Both Lyle and I ended up OK and on top of the cement-hard snow.

It turns out that we’d been standing on a cornice. The cornice gave way under our weight, and the force of us hitting the slope below started an avalanche.

They say that failure offers an enormous opportunity for learning and that good judgment comes from surviving mistakes. While that may be true (as long as you get back in one piece!), I’ve learned many things from mentors, partners and the courses and classes I’ve taken over the years.

So, I want you to do two things:

1) Click the link (Know Before You Go), watch the video, and share with all your backcountry partners
2) Take an avalanche course

Take a Chicks Avalanche course!

Chicks and the Silverton Avalanche School have partnered to create all-women’s avalanche courses taught by the most bad-ass, knowledgeable and expert women in the industry.

In December, despite no snow, the partnership launched with three super successful one-day Avalanche Rescue Courses. Check out Angela’s trip report to find out how in the heck you practice Avalanche Rescue with NO SNOW?

Also, Chicks is offering Avalanche Rescue and Safety for Ice Climbers and an AIARE Recreational Level 1 course.  If you want to spend a day learning backcountry ski skills or making the transition from downhill to backcountry, join us on our Intro to Backcountry Skills course; If you want to combine turns with avalanche education while staying in a ski hut (so much fun!), we would love to have you on our Intro to Backcountry Skiing and Riding Hut Clinic; And, if you’ve got the experience and mojo for black runs in the backcountry, join us in La Grave, France for Intro to Ski Mountaineering with 7,000′ couloirs and epic fondue!

Lastly, don’t miss the opportunity to sign up for the Subaru Chicks Jiffy Ice Climbing Scholarship, Feb 2-4, 2018.  Check the guidelines for deadline http://www.subaruadventureteam.com/home/womens-ice-climbing-clinic-contest

Hope to see you soon—and look out for snowballs!

Kitty Calhoun

Inspiring Women Meet the first person to ski the seven summits

Kit DeslauriersKit Deslauriers is the first person to ski the seven summits, a The North Face athlete, and amazing ski mountaineer. I caught up with her the other day and here is what she had to say.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself: Where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what life is like now, what’s important to you?
I’m a skier, and really a mountain lover of all sorts, with a deep love for backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. I’ve been a member of The North Face athlete team since 2005 (?!) and lived in Teton Village, WY since 2000.  In 2006 I skied off the top of Mt. Everest which was the last mountain in my project to be the first person to ski the Seven Summits but I’ve also skied from some much more obscure peaks, like Mt. Aspiring in New Zealand and Mt. Belukha in Siberia which was where I met my husband, Rob.  Now we [sic] are raising our two daughters to have a profound (we hope!) appreciation for the natural world while also letting them be their own unique selves.  It’s important to me that kids these days have a sense of feeling comfortable and welcome in the outdoor world, this should always feel like their home.
2) It’s November, and there is already a couple feet of snow on the ground in the Tetons.  After so many winters and summers of skiing, do you still get excited for skiing when the snow starts to fly?
I LOVE TO SKI!  Although I will say that my approach to early season skiing was tempered many years ago by snapping a ski pole on a buried tree in the steep woods above my former home in Ophir, CO which made me realize that it just as easily could have been my tib/fib at no fault of my own.  So in the early month or so of late autumn skiing, I tend to focus on ski fitness, elk hunting, and even a family trip to the beach where I keep up on my beginning intermediate surf skills. Then I hit the skiing with passion around the 1st of December and I’m reminded how much I love skiing more than anything else!  I keep this feeling straight through mid-June as I love climbing and skiing the high peaks in spring conditions as much as I love powder skiing.
3) How do you prepare for the ski season? Do you use a gear checklist for your first outings?
A physical checklist for my first ski outings of the season would be a good idea, but these days I just have it in my head. My habit of packing the night before does help though. I never go out without a first aid kit and part of my every other year preparation is to recertify my Wilderness First Responder in October or November so I did that about a month ago.  It’s my strong belief that we should all be able to step up in the case of an emergency.  I also practice with my beacon and even if I didn’t ski during the first storms of the season, I was diligently studying the snowpack and making observations that I’ll be able to recall throughout the year.
4) What are your strategies for skiing early season?
My strategies for early season skiing revolve around safety and conservative decision making. It honestly takes me a bit to get re-familiarized with my comfort level in the risk assessment process of backcountry skiing so I will head out for low hanging fruit first to get my systems back in place. Also, I don’t hold back on training just because it’s ski season.  Since I’m cautious early on, I’m usually not throwing myself into long days so I need to keep upping my fitness level until I get into that full on winter mode when it largely takes care of itself.  Core fitness is my personal love lately, as I’ve been learning to go uphill from my glutes and abs which takes fatigue off from quads and hip flexors.  Some of these tricks we have to figure out as we get older!
5) How do you stay sharp and make good decisions in avalanche terrain?
I literally make notes to myself in my calendar to study my snow science since otherwise I wouldn’t do it. One of the things I love most about making decisions in avalanche terrain is how it puts me in touch with honest, open communication and reminds me of my humility. I get scared of wind, for instance, as I’ve had a bad experience with how it can quickly form a slab avalanche so I pay careful attention to the recent direction of wind, amount of wind, and am comfortable backing away from that hazard when I see it. Last spring I was up and out the door at 3 am many mornings, but we didn’t have great freezing temps overnight in the Tetons so the snowpack didn’t have the stability I wanted and I often just went back to bed. It’s important to know your comfort level and then have metrics to gauge it against.  Of course, it’s also important not to give in to the ‘monkey mind’ if it’s not a realistic concern. That translates to going for big objectives whenever they line up!
 
6) What advise do you have for women skiers and riders new to the backcountry?
Get training and experience and then be compassionate with yourself as it’s a process.  If you really love it like I do, then the backcountry is a lifelong friend and you should treat it as such.  Sometimes you and that friend will go on a really long expedition together, but more often than not it’s a quick lunch date or coffee break and those moments nurture your relationship, too.  We all have the ability to become really good at the things we love.

Opening Up

Funny how the Thanksgiving season is followed by Christmas. During Thanksgiving we are to take notice of all that we are to be thankful for and one of the greatest gifts we have is each other.  So on Christmas, we demonstrate that appreciation and love with gifts.  This is a reaffirming occasion since much of the time we can become focused on protecting ourselves.  In our busy lives we tend to concentrate on what we need to do to make sure we get done what we need to do by a certain time.  Others either help us or they hinder us. The ego gets fed and the journey is forgotten.  At least that’s what happens to me, as I wrote in my blog for Subaru, “Dropping the Ego

Arno Ilgner, in his book, The Warriors Way, discusses how ego gets in the way of the climbing experience.  “For most of us, when it comes to meeting challenges, our own worst enemy is ourselves.  Our self-image and our self-worth are far too wrapped up in achievements.  Ego controls much of our behavior.  We constantly act out of fear and avoidance, rather than out of the love of challenge or of climbing itself.  Our mental habits raise unnecessary barriers and often, unconsciously, drain the vitality from our performances.”

At Chicks, we recognize the importance of awareness in climbing and skiing and believe that our women’s environment is a place that is supportive, yet asks each participant to push their comfort zones rather than protect the ego.  I think one of the greatest gifts that climbing continuously gives me is the humbling experience that it often is – and at the same time I gain confidence.  Sharing this with my belayer or teammate, where I have to open up and let down my guard, or ego, is an experience that I rarely get in my every day life.

The Journey to IFMGA Certification

Do you sometimes wonder which fork in the road led you down this wild and precious path you’re on?

Karen Bockel IFMGA

When I was a kid, I wanted to become either a Nobel-Prize winning Physicist working at CERN in Geneva or a Certifed Mountain Guide. The latter seemed so far-fetched and impossible – my only connection to the mountains was the countless hours I spent in my hometown library pouring over coffee table books of Reinhold Messner climbing the 8,000m peaks, that I stuck with Physics.

I studied atomic and laser physics and spent most of my graduate school days and nights inside a lab.  The black blinds shut out any stray light, and any sign of life or weather outside.  I spent the daytime hours tuning the lasers and solving page-long differential equations, and the nighttime hours, when everyone else and their perturbations had left the building, running experiments.  Laser cooling of atoms, Rubidium atoms to be precise, was my project, and it required a lot of planning, calculating and designing to eventually create a vacuum system containing a cloud of atoms in the crosshairs of 3 perpendicular laser beams. When everything lined up one fine day, a few weeks after having passed my Master’s thesis, the diode laser measuring the atom cloud’s temperature finally produced the expected signal, and the pale image of my Rubidium atom cloud hovered there, suspended in space, at a temperature of a few microKelvin.

Not long afterwards, I realized that, while I loved the research and academia, I missed the outside more, and something had to change.

After sneaking away for several trips into the mountains, I finally told my advisers that I was headed for the hills for good. I moved to a little mountain town in Southwest Colorado, learned to ski on leather boots and tele gear, worked as a carpenter, and spent most of the next few years either above treeline or on some rock wall, exploring all the beautiful San Juans had to offer.

I started ski patrolling and traveling to ski in far away places. I planned and took part in an expedition to ski Denali with three other women, and through two of my teammates got introduced to expedition guiding. I was intrigued. My neighbors owned Mountain Trip, a company guiding the 7 summits, and I timidly asked if I could hire on as an apprentice.  They took me on, and the next summer I found myself back in Alaska. Under the tutelage of Dave Staeheli, who when I asked him to teach me, basically provided me and the other co-guides (and even all our clients) with an entire alpine course while slowly climbing our way up the West Buttress. We got caught in a major storm at High Camp, leaving us stranded at 17,000’ for 8 days, before we fought our way back down to more livable places. It took perseverance, teamwork, and skill to get the teams down safely. The hard work of expedition guiding felt good.  I was hooked.  I was finally on my path toward this old, nearly forgotten childhood dream of becoming a mountain guide.

Karen Bockel IFMGA

The following fall, Mountain Trip offered a contract AMGA Rock Instructor course to their lead guides taught by Angela Hawse and Vince Anderson, and I, the rookie, somehow got in. I frantically tried to find some climbing partners to get ready for the course, but most my friends were runners and bikers. Nonetheless, I showed up on the first day, eyes wide open. It was great.

I’ll never forget that moment of Angela telling me when I was short pitching, braced behind a small boulder “that rock is not strong enough to hold us if we fall – look for a better solution, keep it real.”  I got that one, not just for right there, but for life!

I also remember that she taught us a ‘munter pop’ maneuver to get two clients safely established on a single rope lower – she might as well have spoken Chinese.  Mostly, though, the guiding instruction and climbing were really informative, fun, and inspiring, and I felt at home on the rock and on the rope. In the evaluations, Vince told me I had mountain sense, the ultimate compliment. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about that ever since.  Needless to say – I’d found my path with the encouragement from these two extraordinary mountain guides.

Fast forward seven years, many vertical feet, footsteps, rope lengths and a couple knee surgeries later, and I found myself tied to my examiner and a co-candidate, breaking trail up the Quien Sabe Glacier of the Boston Basin in the heart of the North Cascades. We are on our last two days of the alpine exam, my final AMGA program on the path to IFMGA certification. It is only fitting that I finish the alpine track last, the queen discipline that combines the worlds of skiing and climbing, the one with the most tradition, the one I dreamt of as a kid. The moments of sunshine from earlier have given way to dense clouds, crevasses and handrails have disappeared into the mist, and I can see nothing, and yet somehow I see everything.  Years of training, experience and guiding days come together. I find the top of the glacier, lead the rope across the moat and climb onto the ridge above. We keep going into the clouds, in the cold wind, a fresh foot of snow covering the rocks. As we move together, chilled to the core, precariously but perfectly counterbalanced on the ridge, the sentiment I felt on Denali years prior returns: we are at home in the mountains.  For me, the exam finished on a high note in a wild and amazing place. I couldn’t have been more stoked.

It’s been an amazing path, and I have been lucky to share the rope with great friends, co-guides, mentors, and clients.  I have also been lucky to work for a number of great guide services.  I am thankful for every moment (except maybe the many hours on the trail down from the Grand Teton). In particular, I want to thank my Chicks Co-Owners for our partnership and friendship.

  • Angela Hawse for encouraging me at the start and always having my back
  • Bill and Todd at Mountain Trip for opening the door to the guiding world
  • Kitty Calhoun for climbing El Cap and becoming friends along the way
  • Dan Starr for letting me tell him all my guiding reflections and for practicing rope tricks in the garage
  • The Telluride Ski Patrol for the best early morning ski runs and letting me stick my head into the snow
  • Eric Larson for being there for me in spite of telling me not to become a guide
  • Emilie Drinkwater for an amazing climbing trip to the Alps
  • Larry Goldie for turning me loose in the Cascades
  • Thomas Olson at Howard Head Sports Medicine for getting me back onto two legs
  • And for my family who allowed me to take the fork less travelled.