The Adirondacks: Small Mountains, Big Training Ground

With our Keene Valley, Adirondacks Chicks Rock Climbing Clinic in just a few short months, I caught up with Emilie Drinkwater – friend of Chicks and Co-Owner/Guide for Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides in New York.  Emilie has climbed some of the most amazing routes and peaks, is a professional (sponsored) athlete, and an all around amazing person.  Emilie cut her teeth in the Dacks, so as we all consider signing up for the clinic, I asked her to remind all of us why climbing in the Dacks is so special.


In 2001 I moved to Lake Placid, NY with $30 in my pocket and no idea what to do next.  I’d recently graduated from college with a fancy degree in Anthropology and African Studies but all I wanted to do was rock climb.  Mostly, I dreamed of all the exotic places I could go to climb (you know, Colorado, California, West Virginia).  Ice climbing, alpine climbing, and ski mountaineering never even crossed my mind at that time so neither did places like Alaska, the Himalaya, or the Alps.

If you’ve never been to the Adirondacks, you should know that there’s a lot of climbing to be had.  A lot as in, more than 3,000 routes spread throughout the vast and pristine wilderness of the 6 million acre Adirondack State Park.  And the quality of the rock is, for the most part, excellent.  Geologically, much of the rock we climb is Anorthosite (the same rock type found on the moon!); cracks, slabs, and faces ranging in height from short, single pitch climbs to nearly 1000′, make for a lifetime of climbing in the Adirondacks alone!

Though the park is huge, Keene Valley and the High Peaks region are often considered the epicenter of climbing activity (but if climbing isn’t your thing, there are also lakes, streams, rivers, trails, and historical sites, to name a few).  My first introduction to the area and to outdoor climbing (during those early days of having no money and no life plan) was on the ever-popular Beer Walls crag.  I fell in love with climbing that day, even though by the end of it, my arms were so tired I could barely grasp the steering wheel to drive myself home.

Focus_KeeneValley_EmilieToday, I’m a full time mountain guide, athlete, homesteader, and writer.  My climbing background on the traditional and high quality, technical routes of the Northeastern mountains has led to adventure, exploration, and sometimes even success, in climbing venues, big and small, around the world.  Though I spend a lot of time in other ranges, the Adirondacks will always remain my home base and the place I credit with introducing me to the pleasure and challenge of climbing mountains!

For more information on attending the Chicks Keene Valley Clinic this Fall, click here.

Saddle Up – Chicks are Heading to Rifle!

CanyonShotRifle Canyon, Colorado is emerging as one of the best hidden gems of sport climbing in the United States.  This two-mile canyon boasts hundreds of limestone routes, beautiful views and short approaches. Rifle also maintains quite the reputation and is a dream destination for many sport climbers.

The Chicks Rifle Clinic has been added to the Chicks Climbing’s repertoire because the area is creating a buzz in the climbing community and women want the chance to master this tricky limestone.  “Rifle has a technique that is very specific to climbing on this type of limestone.  What makes it great for Chicks is that, once learned, these techniques are extremely transferrable,” explains Dawn Glanc, Girly Guide at Chicks Climbing who developed the Rifle Clinic.

“Spending several days focusing on a few specific techniques means that you are more equipped to efficiently move through problems on routes in your home crag.  For example, at the Rifle Clinic, we will be working on overhanging routes that are not full of jugs.  Clinic participants can then transfer that skill to easily pull overhanging roofs common in a variety of climbing areas,” explains Dawn.  In addition, Chicks participants will be working on the ultimate transferrable skill, mental training – facing intimating routes, breaking them down and ending the day with a feeling of success.

While Rifle has a reputation of being an intimidating climbing area that humbles even your most aggressive sport climbers (see Climbing Magazines blog), there is also a lot of route development happening in the canyon that allows a wider variety of climbers to visit, but beware, that reputation was earned and climbers can’t just waltz in and expect to climb at the same grade as other places.  “Rifle has a technique that is very specific to climbing on this type of greasy limestone.  In the clinic, we will spend hours working on enhancing skills for sidepulls, open handed slopers, tiny crimps, underclings and a variety of other oppositional climbing techniques,” explains Dawn.  “You won’t believe how this clinic will improve your foot technique!  You’ll be climbing a grade harder when you leave and possess the confidence to continue climbing at several areas similar to Rifle and push your lead grade at your favorite crag.”

Join us in Rifle, September 18-21, 2014

For more information:

Check out new routes at the Rifle Climbers Coalition website.

Rifle Mountain Park Guidebook by Dave Pegg

Fire Up for Red Rocks – Climbers Paradise

Red Rocks Climbing Clinic

Kitty demonstrating moves at a Red Rocks clinic.

It’s that time of year, we’re peeling off our layers and getting ready to hit the rocks in “Climbers Paradise” Red Rocks, Nevada.  We checked in with Girly Guide and lover of all desert climbs, Kitty Calhoun  to talk about starting the season off right!

“What better way to start out the rock climbing season than by spending it in Red Rocks?  Seriously, spring in the desert is awesome because you don’t have to put up with mud season or a shoulder season.  You get a jump on rock climbing season, and on your tan.  I really like starting out in Red Rocks in particular because it is so user-friendly.  There are mostly short approaches and such a variety of types of climbs and grades of climbs.  This means I can warm up on climbs that I feel comfortable on and get a lot of mileage.  Also, the daylight hours are getting pretty long, so I can get in a full day of climbing and still have light to just hang with friends and tell stories – in shorts and t-shirts.  And oh yeah, Vegas is so convenient and inexpensive.  And to think… it is coming up soon.  Yahoo! I can’t wait and hope to see you there!” – Kitty

Mountain Project says it best:

A few thousand routes, generally warm weather, every kind climbing from short sport routes to big 20-pitch outings, nearby Las Vegas for off-rock activities. Who could ask for more?

Throw in climbing with an amazing group of women and that’s all any Chick could ask for!

Fire up for Red Rocks coming up April 2 – 6th

Why Climbers “Cut Their Teeth” at Devil’s Lake

By: Anne Hughes – Devil’s Lake Guru

Happy Summer Solstice!  The long days of summer quickly become a climbers best friend and it’s when many of us midwesterners head to Devil’s Lake.  With 500-foot, pink and purple cliffs rising above a pristine spring fed lake, Devil’s Lake State Park is not only the center piece of the Wisconsin park system but it is also one of the premier rock climbing areas in the nation.  Mike Ferris, author of The Falcon Guide to Rock Climbing in Wisconsin and Minnesota, says: “Devil’s Lake is the best known climbing area in the midwest… there are over 1,700 recorded routes to choose from, access is easy and it’s close to Chicago — no wonder it’s popular.  The Lake has the highest concentration of hard routes in the Upper Midwest… The layout of the cliffs does permit easy socializing and there is certainly more of a climbing scene here than at any other area in this guide.

It is amazing and beautiful, but “The Lake” is also one of the best places to cut your teeth as a rock climber, or to hone your technique and/or your lead climbing skills.  Climbers have been visiting these stunning cliffs for fun and adventure for more than 80 years.  Famous climbers through the decades have put their technique to the test at The Lake, pushing the climbing envelope on this unique rock.  The redish-purple quartzite is very solid but doesn’t have much friction.  It has great cracks for leading and jamming, as well as climbing features on the faces which tend to be edges.  These characteristics cause Devil’s Lake climbers to refine their climbing technique more quickly than climbers whose back yard crags feature rock with a high friction factor.  All this combined makes it a perfect place for Chicks! rock climbing clinics.

Chicks! clinics are held at the famous East Bluff, where there are so many quality climbs, so close together.  At the end of a fun day pulling down hard, The Lake also offers one of the best post-climbing activities…a refreshing swim in the Lake! In addition, camping is made easy at this state park as restroom and shower facilities are provided, however, you don’t have to be an expert camper to join Chicks! clinic, we have loaner gear including Marmot tents!

Devil’s Lake is only an hour drive from the Madison Wisconsin airport and four hours from Chicago or Minneapolis.  What are you waiting for — Chicks clinics provide comprehensive quality instruction and personal inspiration.  Join Chicks! in Devil’s Lake!

Anne Hughes rockin' Devil's Lake, Wisconsin

Anne Hughes Rockin’ Devil’s Lake

Moab trip report

Chicks with Picks alumna Almine Barton is one kick-ass lady! She crushes the ice with us in Ouray every winter, and spends the rest of the year surfing waves, running the trails (with snow shoes in the winter), CrossFit-ting, doing Bikram Yoga and of course climbing rock! She spends much of the year climbing in her backyard of Smith Rock, but took her first trip to Moab just a few weeks ago to experience some of the infamous desert splitter cracks and boy did she love it! Read all about her adventure here: 

I was hoping to get this trip report out last month, but we were waiting on a few pictures to insert in the trip report to give you a better sense of where I was, the landscape & what I was up to.  A big “Thank You” to Chris Hunter, from “Hunter Imagery” ( for the beautiful pictures.  Chris was able to capture the desert light like I’ve never seen, and from angles that would’ve been challenging for the rest of us.

First and foremost, I have to say what a complete honor it was to climb with one of the women, who I  admire most, in the world of climbing, Ms. Steph Davis.  Steph’s legendary feats in the world of climbing and BASE jumping are awe-inspiring:  Here is an excerpt, from Wikipedia, about Steph’s record-breaking accomplishments:

“In 2003, Davis became the second woman to free climb El Capitan in one day. Two years later, she became the first woman to freeclimb theSalathé Wall, on El Cap, and to climb Torre Egger, a difficult summit inPatagonia, of which she made the first one-day ascent, with her then partner Dean Potter.[3]
Davis has soloed routes on Colorado‘s Long’s Peak‘s east face, The Diamond, a thousand-foot granite wall at 14,000 feet. In the summer of 2007, she free-soloed the Diamond four times, with the final solo recorded by Peter Mortimer, of Sender Films. Soon afterward, she free-soloed and BASE jumped Castleton Tower, in Moab, Utah.[citation needed]
Davis has made first ascents around Moab including the Tombstone. In 2008, she climbed Concepcion, one of the hardest pure crack climbs in the world. Steph has been on successful international expeditions to climb new routes in alpine, big wall, and solo styles, including in Pakistan,KyrgyzstanBaffin IslandArgentinaItaly, and Patagonia. Davis was the first American woman to summit Fitzroy in Patagonia and to summit all seven major peaks of the Fitzroy Range.”

To have a mentor, such as Steph, give me instruction, tips & pointers, in a medium where she eats, sleeps and breathes climbing and BASE jumping was a treat.  One that I plan to repeat in March 2013.  In addition, I was lucky enough to receive instruction and gear placement feedback from her climbing partner, Lisa Hathaway.

The desert was a new medium for me.  Yes, I live in the high-desert of Central OR., but I had never placed gear in “soft rock” before (sandstone), and was intrigued at the art of doing so.  I primarily climb on the volcanic tuft of “Smith Rock,” and on local basalt crack columns.  I was not only thrilled at the opportunity to work on a new rock medium, but to experience crack-climbing in one of the world’s renowned “meccas” for it, Moab, UT.

Me, On A *Fun* Off-Width Crack in Moab

Moab is known as a crack-climbing “proving ground” & paradise for the best-of-the-best.  The “splitter” crack columns there have been the “playground” for some of the world’s elite trad. climbers.  Steph is one of them, as is her partner, Lisa.

The smoothness of the sandstone was something I was surprised at, and quickly had to “shift gears” into climbing, like I do on basalt.  The smoothness of basalt is a quality that I like about climbing it.  It lends well to smearing, and gear placements.  I found the sandstone to be similar.

Me, Climbing In Moab

The majestic light of the desert is something that simply cannot be put into words.  The lightning and spectacular desert towers lent itself to some of the most scenic climbing I’ve had the opportunity to do.

Steph is a master at finger cracks.  Finger cracks often lend themselves well to small fingers and hands.  Even though women tend to have the advantage in this department, the stamina and technique is not easily conquered by either gender.  It is an art.  One that I’m new to.  A “fist jam” is my favorite size crack hand placement technique (#3 & #4 “Black Diamond”).  A “double fist stack?”  Even better.  Its where I feel most secure and safe, but Steph could see that I needed to move outside my comfort zone, and had me work on a 5.12 finger crack, which I only got a little over half-way up.  Finger cracks take small gear, and “ring lock” finger placements, often being quite strenuous on the digits. But if you work certain techniques consistently, which Steph shared, a sense of ease with them will ensue.

Mock-Leading Exercise With Lisa Hathaway Checking My Gear Placements Behind Me.

The comraderie I experienced with my fellow climbers there was priceless.  Climbing is a sport based on trust.  Trust in your belayer.  Trust in yourself.  Trust in your gear.  Trust in your gear placements.  This is something I love about the sport.  It brings people into your “circle of trust” very quickly.   When you come down from a climb, with someone, and look at one another with a deep sense of satisfaction, there is an established trust between you two that cannot be broken.  I had the opportunity to climb with some phenomenal people in Moab.  People who live for the thrill of the vertical world, the sights that they will behold, the friendships they will make along the way, and the knowing that they got to the top of the climb through their own effort.  It is a thrill like none other.

Mock-Leading Exercise, Take 2 🙂

You walk away from a climb with a different view on life.  You see the world “from up above,” or from the “bird’s eye view.”  This can help put things in our lives into perspective.  It can put the problems in our lives into a framework of understanding and knowing that they really are small in the grand scheme of things.  You also look down upon the beautiful earth with a sense of humility, and wanting to assist the creatures who inhabit it.  You gaze at it, wanting to make it a better place.

Every time I travel somewhere to climb I come back feeling this way.  I feel grateful for climbing in my life.  It is a moving meditation for me, in the “playground” of nature.  It makes me feel small, insignificant…like an ant crawling on a rock.  I believe its important to view ourselves that way, from time to time.  It helps us understand how small we all are, but what a big impact we can still make.

I look forward to continuing my learning with Steph and Lisa, and am excited, already, for my return trip there in the spring….xoxoxo,  Almine

A Big “Thank You” Goes To “PocketFuel Naturals” for fueling my journey:

Thank you for sharing Almine! We can’t wait to have you back in Ouray in January!!! 🙂

Almine Barton is a licensed acupuncturist and certified personal trainer and “CrossFit” coach. She runs two sports medicine clinics in Bend, OR., and Portland, OR.  She works closely with climbers, olympians, and competing “CrossFit” athletes in her practice, and enjoys seeing her patients achieve their fitness and wellness goals. Almine lives near “Smith Rock,” thoroughly enjoying the immense climbing opportunities that Central OR. has to offer. She is an avid sport and trad climber, “CrossFitter,” mountain biker, trail-runner and Adventure Racer. She has two Malamutes named Tallon and Anok, who keep her running trails all winter long. Learn more about Almine at her new website

Bugaboos! Part 1: Kain Route

This trip report from the Bugaboos is long overdue. And in all honesty, it is kind of only getting done now because I have another trip coming up to the CREEK which I AM THIS EXCITED ABOUT. Why? CRACK, CRACK, CRACK, CRACK, CRACK…I am sure I will come back looking like I was shoved head first into a food processor. Ahhh, the good life 🙂 there is no question this year is going down as the best climbing year EVER for me. I’m trying to cram it in because I know the opportunities in 2013 will be much different.

We are ready to go! Once we put these packs on, of course.

OK, the Bugs. This summer we took a trip to the Bugaboos. This trip made me fall in love with Canada even more, which I didn’t think was possible. It was actually my first trip to Canada in the summer. Even as a kid we only went to Canada in the winter to play hockey (or ringette as it were, which is a huge sport in parts of Canada). Anyways. The boy had been talking about the Bugaboos for a few years now, and it was just one of those destinations I always heard him yammering about, but didn’t really listen to until some of my girlfriends also told me about their experiences in the Bugaboos. That’s when my interest piqued in the Bugs as a climbing destination. To top if off Jen Olson, who has guided me all over the Canadian Rockies in the winter, plays in the Bugs during the summer as often as she can – essentially it is her backyard. I knew that with her knowledge of the area we’d be sure to have  a solid trip, which we totally did.

Jen is super rad. And happened to know EVERYONE at Appleby, of course.

However, I can’t write about the WHOLE trip here or I will bore you to tears. So, I will be breaking it up into sections which will allow me to tease you with all the eye candy of the beautiful alpine granite we climbed in the Bugs.

Look at all of that GRANITE!

So, let’s begin! We flew into Calgary to approach by way of Canmore  for two reasons: 1) Jen was going to be driving for us and 2) if the weather was looking bad in the Bugs, we would still likely have lots of options for climbing in the Canmore/Bow Valley area instead. It was good advice I got from my friend Cheryl, and we actually ended up taking advantage of this routing when we got weathered out a couple of days early, and came back to climb in the Bow Valley.

Snowpatch and Bugaboo spire from Appleby campsite.

We had the earliest start ever for a day of hiking in to camp up at Appleby, which was primarily because it was going to be a H-O-T day. And it was. Egads. It is also a very steep hike, and with a 50+ lb pack, it made my grind-y, ol’ arthritic knees hurt so bad I literally felt on the verge of tears by the end of the day. They HURT like they haven’t, pretty much ever. That was partly because I had not taken my prescription medication for my knees in a few days (traveling makes me tend to forget to do stuff like that) so I was in way worse shape than usual. But, we made it in and set up camp (with an extra trip back down to the Kain Hut to grab gear we had paid porters to carry. Yes, we had THAT much stuff – I mean our essentials like fresh fruit, veggies and meat for alpine camping and of course our wine & vodka!).

Even with achy knees you can’t deny the beauty of this hike.

Getting our stuff organized & into the tent.

The setting at Appleby is just absolutely AMAZING. There is a valley the camp looks over to the South and is surrounded by Snowpatch Spire, Bugaboo Spire and East Post Spire. Once you climb up higher you can see there are actually several lakes very close to camp. But, there was still a LOT of ice in the lakes and when I was so hot I’d be tempted to jump in, I was usually nowhere actually *near* those gorgeous lakes! There are two lovely pit toilets at Appleby, that have awesome views of  Snowpatch and Bugaboo Spires. The most shocking thing about the toilets though, were that some people camped right above them. I know the views were probably great, but dang! They still are pit toilets and therefore smell not awesome. But whatever, I guess it was worth it for them.

Room with a view

View from the pot.

There was a lot of talk about weather, and so on day 1 we decided to go for a longer day since the weather was actually looking really good. The objective was the climb up the Kain Route on Bugaboo Spire. This necessitated an alpine start out of camp before 5 a.m., after we wrassled down some oatmeal, and by some I mean like a pound of oatmeal each, or at least that is what it feels like at 4 a.m. As we made our way up the South Col, between Snowpatch and Bugaboo,  the sun started to rise and it was just amazing – the most brilliant sunrise that totally makes alpine starts worth it!

This photo doesn’t even capture 1/100th of the amazing-ness of this sunrise!

Even I can look nice bathed in a beautiful pink light!

But, I don’t look as nice as Pigeon Spire in the pretty pink light!

We roped up to travel up the Col with Jen in front, me in the middle, and the boy in the back. This is pretty much the way we traveled everywhere over the next week on glaciers and on a lot of the climbing, which on some routes – like the Kain Route – consisted of scrambling for a long ways with a few “real” climbing pitches towards the top. Traveling like that is actually kind of an interesting experiment in relationships and patience. You really have to pay attention to keep yourself the right distance from the person in front of you. If you are too slow you pull the rope; too fast and you create slack that can easily get tangled in crampon-covered boots. I was pretty darn proud of how well the boy & I tolerated each other in this configuration, even after 12 years of marriage!

Near the top of the Col where the snow runs out.

At the top of the Col we took a quick break to stuff some more food down and then started to scramble, and scramble, and scramble. We were un-roped scrambling for quite some time. Now, I am a pretty coordinated person as far as throwing and catching footballs, baseballs, and the like – or ice skating, skiing – more “traditional” sports go. However, I am not a natural at scampering up or down rocks; I do not have not enough experience to know where the best place is to step on a rock so that it doesn’t roll over onto my ankle, for example. So as we walk up I have my head down, which is why I have no idea how Jen could even “see” the route at all. But we scrambled away and then roped up for a few short pitches of climbing with our mountain boots on. This was the first time I have ever climbed rock in mountain boots.

The boy and I climbing together.

I was not a fan.

I think I could literally feel my climbing shoes burning a hole in my pack right now.

There were ample cracks for jamming, but the boot just doesn’t want to jam. (stupid boot!) The boot instead wants to edge (and is awesome at that) which is something Maija doesn’t like to do. We short-roped pitch after pitch, with the boy and I climbing together so we had to be very communicative with each other to keep things moving smoothly. We did great at this! We actually climbed so much in our mountain boots that I whispered to the boy as Jen climbed up another short pitch “does she *know* I have my climbing shoes right here in my pack?!?!”

Views from the Kain route

Eventually we got to the point where it is time to actually really climb. And we put on our climbing shoes for what amounts to about three-four pitches of climbing. As we put on our shoes a couple was rapping down – too early in the day to be doing so (as in they obviously didn’t climb up and come back down already) Jen started talking to them and it turns out they had spent the night on Bugaboo Spire having underestimated the time it would take to climb the NW Ridge route. Ooopsies. The dude got beta from Jen about the descent while the girl looked thrilled (not really). If it was me, I probably would have been crying. Maybe. It sounded like a nightmare, but they were safe and moving slowly and carefully.

We have our CLIMBING shoes on now!!!

Super fun exposure!

So fun!

So the real climbing begins and it is just some fun granite cracks. And pretty much I think there is NOTHING better to climb than granite cracks. It was totally FUN climbing (as in easy, no stress I’m going to fall climbing) and in no time we made it to the Gendarme which was the false summit. From there it was a fun couple pitches, including one long slabby reach, up to the top where I ate a can of tuna, having wisely decided to save my chocolate Lara bar & almond butter for the way down.

Jen leads the first “proper” climbing pitch on the Kain route.

I had such a blast on this climb. Super fun through-and-through!

The boy enjoying some tasty alpine granite.

The Kain Route

The “Gendarme” (sp?) aka the false summit of Bugaboo Spire.

At the top we met a pair of guys who had made their way over from their climb up the NW Ridge. We rapped with them for a couple of pitches before they sprinted down ahead. Now, I am terribly slow going down, which was probably really annoying for everyone else, but I didn’t feel like breaking my neck on the first day, and after you’ve been going for 14 hours I tend to get sloppy and tired anyways. And my knees hurt. And I needed to use the toilet. And I just wanted some GD almond butter and on and on and on. Soooo, I did get a little pissy with the boy on the way down since he insisted on walking a million miles ahead of me instead of WITH me, which I let him know about when he stopped to wait for me one time. [Side note: we have this way of communicating with each other that to most people probably sounds like we are fighting – but it is seriously just how we are, we actually never fight, but that’s probably because we never hold anything in, it gets hashed out right away! I have a new friend who is like this too with her husband, and I take great joy in knowing we are not alone in how we communicate. So I think the overall effect was bad since it made it sound like we were ending the day on a low note, but in all actuality I just wanted him to WAIT for me, which he totally did once I asked.] The trip down the Col sucked, and I’m pretty sure at some point I ended up falling on my ass and sliding down, which happened on every snow descent we did (this was after we took crampons off you safety freaks so obviously it was relatively low angle!).

And we rap…does anyone else get tired of rappelling?

Long days mean lots of calories. Re-fueling with a delightful combo of Lara Bar & almond butter.

We rolled back into camp and quickly got to work on making dinner which we scarfed down with a mug of wine before falling into bed before it was even dark. The next day was going to be a lot shorter, as we were headed over to The Crescent Towers to climb The Lion’s Way.

Summit shot on top of Bugaboo Spire

How I came to have a zombie leg in Canada

In late March, after days of anxiously watching the temperatures warm up for weeks in Canmore, I headed back for one last ice climbing trip of the season with Ryan. How on earth was I going to Canada – again?!?! Well, we had a couple of years of Delta miles and I happened to find a ticket that was only 25,000 miles each, so off we went! Our plan was to climb a classic the first day there with Sarah Hueniken, climb on our own the next two days, then hook up with Jen Olson for the last two days for some more Canadian Rockies classics.

So psyched to be climbing in Canada!

The first day out we went with Sarah to Moonlight, which was in full-on sun the whole time we were climbing – it was not cold. As a result, the ice was definitely plastic-y, which I was more comfortable with thanks to all of my Ice Park climbing, but made it a bit more work for Ryan to get his tools out after every bomber swing he was sinking. The first pitch of Moonlight was long and steeper than it looked from the base, but it was a good exercise in how to climb relaxed. Despite the fact that I was on top rope during the middle of the pitch I started feeling anxious. I’m not sure what it was about though…maybe thoughts of leading for the next two days started filtering through my mind. As I got to the TINY (and very wet) ice cave with Sarah I confessed my anxiety and she helped get my mind in check by telling me to just focus on the climbing I was doing TODAY, which was just what I needed.

Sarah leading pitch 1 of Moonlight

Leaving the ice cave for the second pitch felt weird, or maybe it was just awkward I suppose!  I was glad I wasn’t doing it on lead – first Sar thought she’d go right, but ended up going left, all the while getting soaked from the melting ice. This pitch I saw not one move of her climbing and just heard her talking about CrossFit and thrusters until she got too high and out of ear-shot range. A CrossFit WOD a few days prior had left her with some residual soreness, which I could appreciate 😉 ! Thankfully, pitches two and three seemed a lot easier – perhaps because I was more relaxed – and we topped out and rappelled down to a team of two ready to hop on the climb. I took the opportunity with Sarah to make sure my EDK skills were good to go since I was going to be the team leader for the next two days.

Making my way into the teeny, tiny ice cave. Photo by Sarah Hueniken.

That night in the shower I noticed a “bug bite” I’d had for a few days on my left calf was really getting red and swollen – I was sure I’d been bitten by some poisonous spider here in the south before I left. Ryan assured me it was nothing. However, that night it began absolutely throbbing with pain – even the sheet touching it in bed felt excruciating. It hurt to bear weight on that foot and sitting down with a bent knee put a tremendous amount of pressure on the quickly swelling red area! By Thursday morning when Ryan woke up (since I’d been awake) he realized there was definitely something wrong. Some phone calls for insurance checks back home led us to the ER where it was diagnosed as Cellulitis – a staph infection. Sweet. I got a prescription for some antibiotics but didn’t want the day to be a total wash, so we decided to head up to Grotto, which was a super easy climb in February, and one that I was sure would not be too taxing on my zombie leg.

Creepy snowman spotted on Lake Louise after we climbed Grotto and before we ate some AMAZING nachos!

The creek was definitely really wet, and we actually saw a few sport climbers out thanks to the nice temperatures. “His” was totally out, and I don’t think anyone would be trying to send “Hers” anymore this season. We had Grotto all to ourselves. The second pitch was in full-on sun but since the bottom ice still felt pretty good, we decided to give it a go. I led up to the chains with no problems, where it was almost blinding thanks to the sun on the second pitch. Ryan came up and I headed out on the second pitch where – about halfway up – I started feeling like I was climbing a snow cone. I placed screws despite feeling that they wouldn’t probably hold a fall, and really took my time testing each tool placement to make sure it wouldn’t “slush” out when I weighted it. Luckily everything went fine – Ryan coming up confirmed my feeling that this climb was probably on the last days of being in, as he commented on how quickly the screws had melted out by the time he removed them. Two quick rappels down to the base and my zombie leg, which had shut up while climbing, began complaining loudly, as I gimped back to the car.

Zombie leg!

Friday morning the swelling on my zombie leg had more than doubled from the day before. I started wondering if my antibiotics were even working! It was pretty painful and difficult to straighten. However, I didn’t want to waste a day, and so we headed out to climb Chantilly, which has an hour-long mellow approach that got my leg warmed up and ready to climb. It had snowed several inches the night before so half the work of climbing Chantilly was clearing snow to swing tools. It was a very different ‘feeling’ climb than the last time I went up, thanks largely to the drastic change in temperature (first time it was -21 C, this time it was probably between 2-4 C). I also led this climb in two pitches, something we had not done in February (as we were working on our anchor-building skills and such) so it was fun for me to try and figure out where the best belay stations were, based on which line I wanted to climb. I was psyched that the climb FELT so much better than it had in February – it made me feel like I was definitely making positive progress.

Here we are at the top of Chantilly!

Saturday & Sunday we were psyched to climb some classics with Jen Olson, who was just at the end of her recovery from a broken back this January. She was feeling strong and healthy, which was fantastic! By Saturday morning the swelling and redness of my zombie leg still hadn’t decreased, but it wasn’t as painful so I began feeling like it actually *was* getting better. We drove out to Field to climb Guinness Gully. We met up with Sarah and her client who headed up just ahead of us. There were about five pitches of climbing, and an equal number of snow walks in between. I got the opportunity to lead a short pitch towards the top (as well as some snow walks), which I was totally psyched about, of course! It is always fun to do so under the watch of a guide who can offer guidance and tips on how to be more efficient. A long series of rappels led to a steep down climb which was when the zombie leg really started to hurt again, so really it was great timing!

Placing my first screw on Guinness Gully lead. Photo by Jen Olson.

Sunday we had big plans to head into the Ghost. Ryan had never been and Sar and her client were also heading in so we’d have a team to help us out if things went sideways, and vice versa. As we went into the Ghost we made it past vehicle crux No. 1, then No. 2, and No. 3. It was looking good! We were fairly close to hitting up Beowulf when Sar & Stefan’s vehicle got stuck. And I mean STUCK. We spent several hours digging, pushing, pushing and digging until we finally got it turned around and out of the snow. At this point we needed a shorter objective since all five of us wouldn’t get up Beowulf and out at a reasonable hour, so we headed to the south Ghost to climb Wicked Wanda.

It’s not a real Ghost experience without getting stuck – right? Photo by Jen Olson.

If you’ve never seen Wicked Wanda it is a sight to behold! It has just a wildly crazy formation of ice at the top that looks ridiculously overhanging from the bottom. We still didn’t have a ton of time so Jen & Ryan wasted no time getting up pitch one so she could lead up pitches two and three, tying a rope together so we could all climb it on top rope, rather than multi-pitching it which we simply didn’t have time for. While they did that I led up pitch 1 and brought up Stefan, then watched Jen beautifully lead what is pitch three of Wicked Wanda – very difficult to protect because of all the features, but a super-fun climb once you are in them. We were each given a ‘time limit’ of sorts to do this climb so we’d get out at a reasonable time, and unbeknownst to me I totally blew past that. I climbed up the steep center of the first pitch and rather than fight the pull of the rope by traversing to the (easier) left side, decided to climb up some crazy mushrooms. These were not like Ice Park mushrooms though – they were absolutely hollow! It was a good learning point for me, as I ended up going way far right (and simply fighting the rope in the other direction) to go left again. I wonder how much climbing left and right I did just to move up. Sometimes it just happens!

Leading up pitch 1 of Wicked Wanda on some junk ice. Photo by Sarah Hueniken.

Oh yeah, Wicked Wanda!

Finally I got to the fun stuff – tons of wild features inside the top pitch of Wicked Wanda before you make an exit from a feature as similar to an ice cave as you can get, and climb up a short steep section to the very top. I cannot describe in words just how fun this pitch was, and what an AMAZING end it was to the awesome ice climbing season for me. Psyched doesn’t even begin to describe it!

In the heart of the fun stuff on Wicked Wanda. Photo by Jen Olson.

After we got home I realized my zombie leg had started draining fluid that day, so I was relieved it was my last day in those pants 🙂

All in all, I don’t know if I will ever have as fun of an ice season as I did this year. I really wanted to focus on the mind game – which I did especially during “The Complete” at Chicks this year under the guise of Kitty – and it resulted in SO much growth. I am really excited to see what next year brings! Now, if only I can keep up the mental mind game on rock as well, Indian Creek is just over a week away (eeeeekkk!!!!) 😀

Thanks to Sarah & Jen for making it such a fun & productive trip! Ryan and I are looking forward to heading to the Bugaboos this summer with Jen for some high alpine granite climbing!

The amazing & fun Sarah and Jen!

Oh, and that old zombie leg – well it has almost completely healed! I was lucky it didn’t really hinder the trip at all, other than making me slower than normal on approaches, which I’ve never been particularly speedy at.

Maijaliisa Burkert is the Marketing & Social Media Chick for Chicks Climbing. Learn more about her work at High Altitude Media here.

Zion Women’s Climbing Trip

Hey ladies, we recently got word of a really cool climbing festival coming up that we wanted to share with you! The Zion Women’s Climbing Trip is scheduled to take place March 30-April 11 at Zion National Park. There is no charge for people to attend, other than the cost of the campground fee which is $3/night. This event – even though it’s called a women’s climbing trip, is open to guys too. The goal of the event is to foster an exchange of experience between climbers from different countries and show support within the international rock climbing community.

From the trip organizer Sergey Dremin:
“This trip follows a lineage of other similar trips around the world by a group of Russian women rock climber and mountaineers. We want to meet other American and international climbers while at Zion. All levels of climbing experinces are welcome, as long as you have enough brains not to get hurt. Check out our Facebook page for more information at:”

Here’s the lowdown:

The participants:
25 Russian rock climbers and mountaineers, and you. About 15 women, with multiple women-only climbing teams. More info from past events:

The plan:
March 30: Meet up and settle down at the group campsite E5 at Watchman Campground, 20 spots available between March 30-April 7 at $3 per person, per night.
March 31-April 1: Try out shorter routes in a common location. (Sport climbing, short trad routes.)
April 1: Meet-up at a venue (Majestic View Lodge) for afternoon festivities.
April 2-6: Climb longer multi-pitch routes. Please remember to let somebody know where you are going for safety. Multi-day routes are discouraged, you will need additional permits from Zion NP for those. (Trad climbing)
April 6: Party at the campsite in the evening, get some interesting outdoor schwag.
April 7-11: More climbing. Watcham group campground E5 is ONLY reserved until the 6th.

Interested in learning more? The main contact in the U.S. is: Sergey Dremin, in Denver, CO, who you can reach at 970-214-7653,

Happy climbing! 🙂

Aconcagua; going full circle

Chicks guest blogger Nicky Messner is a high altitude mountaineer with five of the seven summits under her belt, including Mt. Everest. She has recently decided to share her climbing experiences with other women. Her goal is to expand horizons & change lives through alpinism. She successfully led her first all-female team to Kilimanjaro in July of this year and has another trip scheduled for June 2012. Visit her website Be the Exception…not the Rule for more information.

One online dictionary states that ‘If something or someone has come full circle after changing a lot, they are now the same as they were at the beginning’.  You can post my Aconcagua summit photo by that definition; I can’t imagine a better way to describe my recent climb.

Nicky and Bob on Aconcagua summit

When my climbing buddy Bob mentioned that his December Aconcagua expedition had an opening, I jumped at the chance to go back and my visit my old mountain friend.  Aconcagua, The Stone Sentinel, stands 22,841 feet tall in the Andean mountains of Argentina.  My first major mountaineering expedition was to Aconcagua in January of 2003 (I had climbed Cotopaxi in 1997, but that was a one night gig, not a full length trip).  I really had no idea what I was getting into; I just saw a documentary on tv and decided I’d like to give her a try.  We were living in Baku, Azerbaijan at the time, and none of my friends had ever done anything like this.  Nor did I have a local REI that I could pop into for advice.  It was just me, the gym, and my online gear purchases, trying to figure out what the heck we were doing.  That trip changed my life.  I am not sure if the expedition released a ‘me’ that had been hiding within, or if it created a new ‘me’.  Either way, I was not the same person when I came home.  In brief, I came back an expedition junkie.  Hooked.  Addicted.  Needing more.

Aconcagua summit from Camp 2

I’ve since gone on to climb five of the seven summits, including Mount Everest.  I’ve followed the standard progression: a winter seminar on Rainier, a climb of Denali, and a jaunt up Cho Oyu.  I didn’t have Everest on my radar from the beginning, I just enjoyed taking each climb a bit further than the last.  In doing so, I added more skills and altitude to my resume, therefore adding to my confidence level.  And added to my climbing craving, of course.  So when my husband suggested I try Everest (yes, I blame him), my addiction was strong enough, and my confidence just high enough, that I only said no once.  I capitulated the second time he brought it up!

I have always, mistakenly, confused acknowledging my skills with being arrogant.  It took a couple of years for me to openly discuss my Everest summit with people without my feeling like a braggart.  Some of my fellow teammates had written books and been on tv before I admitted to my success.    Just recently however, I came to terms with being an ‘Everest Summiter’, and started to appreciate that I was truly an experienced, and pretty darn good, climber.

The shadow cast by Aconcagua as the sun rises on summit day

This was the climber who returned to Aconcagua, to the scene of the crime, to the place where her life had originally changed forever.  It was a passionate reunion, to say the least.  We started up a different valley this time, and when we joined my 2003 route, I started crying like a baby.  It was a joyful yet teary-eyed confession that I am a climber, and always will be.  That I still love every ounce of pain, filth and oxygen deprivation associated with expedition length high altitude climbing.  It was an admission of, and a resignation to, the fact that mountains and mountaineering now own me.

I knew then, at that very moment where our routes joined, that I had gone full circle with my climbing.  I had certainly changed a lot, gone from novice climber to Everest summiter, and was back at my beginning.  Back in that first space where Aconcagua took hold of me and my love of high altitude expeditions was born.  After all my changes, I am just as enthralled with mountaineering, every bit as enamored with expedition life, as I was the first time I climbed Aconcagua.  Hooked.  Addicted.  Needing more.  Full circle.

For more about Nicky and her upcoming all-female climbs, please visit her website  A Kilimanjaro trip is scheduled for 6/23/12, and Nicky is currently putting together a ‘Hiking & Haciendas’ trip, with climbing add-on, in Ecuador at the end of May. If interested, please send Nicky an email at

Chicks climbing in the Dolomites

This Chicks sighting comes from an e-mail sent earlier this fall from Cheryl Wallace (our original Chicks “graduate”) to Kathy Cosley, who was one of Cheryl’s guides at Chicks. Kathy and her husband co-own Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides. It’s fantastic to see two of our Chicks alumnae taking on major climbing trips on their own! 

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Wallace

Kate Higgins and I just returned from the Dolomites. I had been there once before two years ago with Kitty Calhoun, her husband Jay and his climbing partner. Obviously, this trip was going to be a little different because I couldn’t give all the tough leads to Kitty! Kate and I selected some routes that looked fun that we found in guidebooks and (this is where you come in), we looked at your web site and pictures with clients and we prioritized our list with input from your descriptions of cool routes. We owe you a fine bottle of wine!!

Our routes…
Cinque Torre Torre favorites were Lusy, del Barrancio, Torre Quarta Bassa and Torre Grande Cima Ovest;

Paternkofel (got this idea from you…I bet your clients just love this climb. It has it all…cool approach next to Tri Cime Lavaredo & the super bad ass feeling of peeling away from the folks on the via ferrata and heading up the scree pitch.) We were the only ones on the route and oh was the route finding interesting! We were the only team on the summit! We hiked out alone as the sun was setting and the full moon was rising. Kate had never done any alpine climbing before & she was just in awe.

Via Ferrata Cesare Piazetta to Piz Boe’…a cardio workout with people sprinting up the route…on cell phones! Still a great experience.

Sport climbing days: (we moved to Canazai area) Settore Grotto (next to our apartment) in morning and Palestral Marmitta in afternoon. Fun! Then a full hard core day at Frea…we had the place to ourselves! Stopped at Chalet Gerard for an awesome dinner on the way back to town.

Vajolet Towers (thank you for this one!!!)…what an approach! Wish we had spent a night(s) in a refugio here because we loved the climbing/atmosphere. Enjoyed Delago Tower…one of my favorite days on the trip.

Punta Delle Cinque Dita…we wanted to complete the traverse but were getting a little tired (it was day after Vajolet Towers) & we decided to just enjoy the Thumb. We did until we messed up the descent! Yep…it took me a bit to find the 1st rap bolt (the downcllimb/traverse from summit) & then we got sucked into the rap trap & missed the shoulder…i think the book we had was confusing. Anyway, 11 sketchy raps later & we were scree skiing back to the car. This was Kate’s 1st ever “things aren’t going as planned” moment but we made it back safely to the car & we made great decisions together as a team.

Anyway…just wanted to thank you for helping us make good route choices and for being such an inspiration to us…through meeting you & studying your book. I had never ice or rock climbed before I went to Chicks…and to think that I could lead us through this amazing Dolomite trip blows my mind. [Emphasis added by Chicks] I have learned so much from all of the guides. I hope this makes you smile…you have helped make our world so much bigger.