Drus North Couloir: Guest post from Caroline George

Girly Guide Caroline George checks in with Chicks to talk about a climb up the north couloir of Les Drus that already had her ice climbing this season!

Les Drus, The Drus. A beautiful granite monolith that stands proud above the Chamonix valley, burning like a flame as the sun sets down on it.

There is no easy way up the Drus. There is no easy approach to it either. It’s a mountain that you have to earn. I first climbed it back in 2001, upon graduating from law school. I was with my brother and we had wanted to climb the American Direct, a stunning line up the center of the west face. We had little experience and carried way too much with us – we had over 5 liters of water for our bivouac half way up the face! – and we didn’t make it to the summit. The route doesn’t end at the summit, but with a mountain like the Drus, the top matters. I had always wanted to get back on the Drus. In 2003, I climbed the north faces of the Eiger, the Matterhorn and the Grandes Jorasses, all in just over three months. A week later, I was climbing the north face of the Piz Badile, another one of the six great north faces. I was hoping to climb all six in six months, but that summer had been very dry and the Drus was falling apart. An ascent of its north face would have been suicidal. I tried the north face of the Cima Grande too. We left after work on a Friday evening, drove 8 hours to Cortina d’Ampezzo and tried to climb the route the following day. It was already late in the fall and very cold, but moreover, the local rescue team was conducting a training, rapping 300m down the face. Their ropes were hitting the face, triggering lots of rock falls. We had to bail and drive back to be on time for work the next day. I hadn’t given that project much thought until this summer.

With a very wet August in the Alps, I figured conditions were going to be amazing for early season ice climbing in the mountains. I didn’t have a precise idea as to what I wanted to climb. Adam was desperately looking for a partner to climb the north face of the Eiger but I had no real interest in climbing it again, I had been working non stop, guiding pretty long routes back-to-back and felt that I needed to rest more than go climb a big face. But since he couldn’t find anyone, I motivated to go with him and started to look forward to a bivouac on the face. Yet at the last minute, he found a partner. The next day, I woke up to intense FOMO desperately longing to do something big too. The weather was perfect, conditions were perfect and I was dealing with shuttling cars and house work instead of being in the mountains. During a failed attempt on the Lessueur route, I saw that the approach couloir to the Dru looked like it was in condition and I was excited to give it a go.

I first went with a girlfriend, Ildi Kiss, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time: we had first met competing in ice climbing world cups back in the early 2000. She hadn’t been in the mountains in a while but was motivated and it was really fun to reconnect with her and try this route with her. We left early in the morning and simul-climbed some of the approach couloir. Things spiced up after that. I led the first mixed section and she led the second one but ended up way left of where the route was.

So, we had to lower off and climb back up to the base of the Nominee crack – a 30m long overhanging crack filled with fixed pitons. We climbed it but when we got to the top, we realized it was a little late and that we would most likely get benighted on the route if we kept going. Night falls at 6.30pm at this time of year, so we only had a few hours of daylight left and I wasn’t keen to search for rappels in the dark (the rappel route doesn’t go down the climbing route). So we rapped but I knew I would be back before I flew back to the U.S., providing I found a motivated partner. I couldn’t pass up the perfect conditions on the route and the beautiful Indian Summer.

The crux indeed proved to be the lack of partners: people were either down south rock climbing, or working, or on expeditions and no one was really motivated to hike up there when you can access it more easily on skis in the winter. I guided the Midi-Plan traverse on the day following our return from the Drus. On the way back, I got a message from my friend Ueli Steck saying that he was really motivated to climb this route with me. I was bursting at the seams with excitement: not only I had a solid partner, but I also knew we would for sure make it to the top! My only worry was that I was worked from too many big days in the mountains and from lack of sleep, but motivation was all I really needed to get me up the climb. The body would follow.

We met the following afternoon at the Montenvers train station to sort out gear. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years and it was fun to catch up as we hiked back up to the bivouac. We made good time hiking through the heinous talus field and reached the rocky knob at the base of the Drus in 2h30. We weren’t alone. Another party was going to climb the Lessueur route and two others were going for the same route as us. Since it’s an ice climb, we didn’t want to have anyone ahead of us, so we got up at 1am to start up the route.

There was no moon, so it was pitch black out, but I knew the way and thought I could figure it out in the dark. Ueli led out and went off route pretty much right away, but it enabled us to climb a pretty fun pitch, so that was all good. We rapped down it and I led to the start of the difficulties. It was still dark when we got to the Nominee crack.

Ueli led it in style, freeing this very steep/slightly overhanging crack. I so wished I would have had monopoints to free it too, but with dual points, I couldn’t reach inside the crack and my feet would skit, so I resorted to stepping on some of the pins. Two more sustained traversing rock pitches with rotten ice and lots of wideness took us to the base of the ice couloir.

From there, we found perfect ice to the top. We simul-climbed it in two sections and made it to the Breche des Drus, embracing the sunshine. We kept going to the “antecime” of the Petit Dru, sorted out the gear and started back down to the Breche des Drus.

We had to build V-Threads (ice anchors) on the way down as there weren’t any, which made us think that we might have been the first to top out the route this season.

I lost count of the number of rappels we did down the 800m long face, but we were back at the bivouac by 3.15pm. After a little soup, we packed our stuff and made our way back down to Chamonix. The train had closed for the season, so we were forced to hike all the way down to the valley floor. We were down when the bells rung 7pm.

The north couloir of the Drus is the best climb I have done in a long time. It was sustained and varied, with lots of ice and mixed terrain. It’s one of those routes I could do over and over again! Of all the peaks in Chamonix, the Drus is the most striking and proud one. It’s every alpinist’s dream to tick this one off and I was all the more happy to reach the top by climbing this stunning line! It felt good to want a climb this badly again. I have spent the past couple of years focused on getting my IFMGA certification, almost forgetting about the lines that had haunted my dreams. Climbing the Drus has enabled me to reconnect to who I was before I decided to become a guide: an extremely motivated alpinist, climber and ice climber. I am already looking forward to the next big climb!

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

The Bietschhorn: Guest blog post from Caroline George

There are so many mountains to climb in the Alps and this summer Girly Guide Caroline George has been pretty busy taking clients up and down these massive monoliths! In this blog Caroline gives us her trip report from the Bietschhorn!

Once upon a time, the Bietschhorn was a 4000m peak. This mountain reigns proudly on the northern slopes of the Valais and is the only snowcapped mountain visible from anywhere in the Rhone Valley. Its the pride of the locals. So much so that on old maps, the Bietschhorn reached 4003m. This was thanks to a local Lotschental girl who seduced the geographer who had first measured this mountain into adjusting the elevation to a number greated than 4000m. When the correct altitude – 3934m – was finally put on the maps, the local wrote a threatening letter to the President of the Swiss Confederation, vouching that “The Bietschhorn was and would remain a 4000m peak!”

I first climbed this peak in 2005 during a Swiss Alpine Club training during which we climbed most of the routes one can access from the remote Baltschiederklause hut: The north ridge of the Bietschhorn, the south ridge of the Jaggihorn and the Arete Blanchet on the Lotschentaler Breithorn. I remember being blown away by this pristing remote valley, by the Chamonix like rock quality and last but not least, by the hut keeper’s yummy butter ladden cakes. I knew I would be back.

After the Meije traverse, I had hoped to take Flo on the Obergabelhorn-Zinalrothhorn traverse. Yet, recent storms had brought too much fresh snow at higher elevations. I suggested going into the Baltschieder Valley, which is at a lower elevation and south facing. She was excited to discover a new valley in her own backyard.

The hike to the hut first follows the Bisse de Undra. The southern slopes of the Bernese Alps drop so steeply into the V-shaped Rhone valley that they hardly ever see rain. The fields are therefore deprived of any humidity. As a result, the locals built and dug water runnels to get the water flowing from the glaciers all the way to the fields.

With 1850m of elevation gain, the hike to the Baltschiederklause hut is one of the longest hikes in the Bernese Alps. After the Bisse, the trail climbs to a little ghost village where we had a nice lunch before climbing steeply through fields and moraines to the hut. We arrived just in time to see the sun setting behing the following day’s climb -The Bietschhorn – and on the Mischabel range across the valley.

We woke up the following day to stars in the pitch dark sky. Following little dotted reflectors along the trail (Yup, that is Switzerland for ya!), we walked in the stilness of the night, with no one but us on the way. We reached the glacier by day break. We put crampons on and traversed the 2km long stretch of the Ausser Baltschieder glacier to the base of the North Ridge. After climbing up really poor rock and a 300m long snow/ice face, we reached the ridge proper: a snow and ice knife-edge ridge which leads to a more rocky ridge to the summit.

The view from the summit extends southward from the Monte Rosa to the Mont Blanc range and to the north to the Bernese Oberland (Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau). We climbed back down the way we came up and were back at the hut in the early afternoon, in time for a slice of straight-out-of-the-oven cake.

We woke up the following day to gray skies. We headed anyway, hoping that clouds would burn off as forecasted. The ascent starts litteraly five minutes from the hut and climbs up perfect granite. Half way up, we were caught by a snow storm and strong winds. By then, it would have been longer to go down than to keep going to the summit. The storm died a little and we reached the summit. A quick note in the summit book and we headed down, following cairns to the start of the 6x20m rappels back to the trail.

Again, we were back at the hut in the early afternoon, but we still had a long day ahead of us, having to hike back down to the car, 1850m below. We had a bite to eat and made our way down, marvelling at the surrounding summits and already dreaming of other climbs to guide in the area: The Arete Blanchet on the Lotschentaler Breithorn and the south ridge of the Stockhorn.

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

Caroline George’s Cosmiques climb with Mom

I don’t know if it’s even possible to totally catch up with Girly Guide Caroline George’s adventures this summer, since she’s been crazy busy all season guiding in the Alps. Although this post was originally written a few weeks ago, I think it deserves attention as it is such a touching story of a daughter climbing with the woman who inspired her – her mother.

I like to think that climbing is in my genes because my parents were climbers. We travelled the world to climb. And it’s still with great pleasure that I go climbing with them. My mother, Martine, is always excited to go on an adventure. At 65 though, her knees are giving her much trouble. So, I try to pick climbs which don’t involve much approach or descent.

This year, we headed to the Cosmiques Ridge on the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix, France. After a frothy capuccino and still warm croissant in town, we rode the cable car nearly 10’000ft up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi. There, the view stretches out to Mont Blanc and onward to Italy. The Aiguille du Midi is also the gateway to the Vallee Blanche, a classic ski run in the winter, which ends 10’000ft later back in Chamonix.

Hiking out of an ice cave, we made our way down the knife edge snow ridge which drops steeply down 3500ft to the north, and down to the col du midi on the other side. You don’t want to fall down on either side there. The terrain eases up passed the ridge. We contoured the base of the striking south face of Aiguille du Midi, which rises like a bright orange flame out of the glacier below and kept heading west to the start of the ridge proper.

Although I had already done this climb with my mom, she was thrilled and excited, blown away by the beauty of the scenery around, as though she was there for the first time. It felt so special to be here with her. We climbed up mixed terrain, some time on snow, some time on the reputable Chamonix granite. This ridge is climbed and guided so often that locals have drilled holes in the rock to make it easier to climb with crampons. Only in the Alps could you see that! We traversed a snow couloir, contoured gendarmes – one of them has the highest 5.13 crack in the world: Digital Crack – and made it to the crux of the route, a diagonal slanting crack up a used-to-be blank-now-drilled-all-over-wall. This section is always a bottleneck, with people struggling up the 10m high crux. We killed time rehydrating, soaking in the view and enjoying each other’s company until it was our time to climb. My mom made quick work of the section and we climbed on, traversing into the north side of the ridge before reaching the summit, where a crowd of people coming out of the cable car was snapping picture after picture of us.

My parents opened my eyes to climbing and taking my mom on climbs now is not only a way for me to give back, it’s also very rewarding to take such an accomplished climber with me. My mom has pushed the boundaries of woman climbing in her own way when she was younger. She climbed great classic such as the Gervasutti Pillar, the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey, did the first female ascent of the Naranjo de Bulnes in Spain, climbed in Peru, came first in many ski mountaineering competition. She is a true model for me and I am greatful to be able to share time with her in the mountains.

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

Alpine Climbing in the Northern Cascades

The following is a guest post from Chicks alumna Carolyn Riccardi, who has generously shared the trip report from her experience a couple weeks ago alpine climbing in the Northern Cascades.

But it’s much more than just a trip report, it’s an open and honest piece about climbing and its challenges, especially training the mind and the body. Her beautiful slide show immediately follows, but please don’t skip a word of this compelling piece.

“I know the pieces fit. I know the pieces fit. I know the pieces fit. I know the pieces fit.”

I can remember being the happiest  kid in all of Flatlands, Brooklyn after a heavy snow would fall in the winter. I would walk for hours and hours to find the biggest snow piles in the freshly plowed parking lots of the Kings Plaza shopping mall a few miles from my home. With the wind picking up off the water and light fading fast, I would throw myself, again and again, down the grey and black snow hills. And proclaim to all those within earshot that I was king of this snow pile. My gloves would been soaked with ice water, my cloth jacket weighted heavy from the wet snow and the leather on my pumas cracked from nights of thawing them out too close to the radiator.  The Kings Plaza parking lot or the empty land fills in Georgetown were about as far as I could get from home when I was 11 years old. They were as close to nature and the mountains as you might get in the southern tip of Brooklyn. I was trying to touch something out there. Something in the cold was comforting. Something in the cold made me alive.

I am not Rested. Relaxed. Or satisfied. I look in the mirror and I see compromise. I look back on my trip and I am gripped by every little mistake I made. Everytime I was too tired to contribute fully. The leads I passed up. The many times my head felt heavy with exhaustion. Too drained. Too tired. Too sore to think straight. Is this alpine climbing? Am I totally over my head? I note half measures in my training. Crossfit. Long hikes. Runs. Bikes. Where did I go wrong? How can I be so fit and not fit enough to keep it together? What I did and what I could have done but didn’t. What sounds good on paper, in books and in training journals. I look at my photographs and I see all the mistakes I made. A week later my body is still wreck.  My hair and skin feel dry. My shins are brushed, scratched with one nice size puncture wound that continues to pain me. Always a slow healer, the past week I am healing at a glacier’s pace. I want look at my photos and feel pleasure. I want to look at myself and just be pleased with myself. I want to be 100% proud at being an alpine badass. But I don’t.

Last week my friend Ryan Stefiuk (bigfootmountainguides.com) and I headed to the Northern Cascades to climb some classic alpine routes in Washington State. For me the Cascades seem to be a natural stepping stone into larger climbing objectives in the lower 48. While some friends practice aid for Yosemite and others head to sport climbing areas that are close to beaches and bikinis, I look for a great white and chilly reprieve from the sweltering humidity of New York State.

Mt. Shuksan
Ryan and I planned on two routes for our trip. The North face of Mt. Shuksan and the Mt. Torment to Forbidden Peak Traverse from the Boston Basin. On Shuksan we concluded the No. Face was getting too much sun and the snow far too soft so we opted instead to ascend the White Salmon Glacier to the top of Willey’s Slide. From here we would be in a good position to get an early start and make a summit push if we desired on our third day. The crux of the route ended up being the gnarly approach where a bulldozer and a machete was needed to battle the dreaded Cascades Slide Alder. the approach to the white salmon glacier is called a Bushwhack grade 4 or BW 4 by our friends in the Alpine Club of Canada.. A BW 4 is defined as “Pace less than one mile per hour. Leather gloves and heavy clothing required to avoid loss of blood. Much profanity and mental anguish. Thick stands of brush requiring circumnavigation are encountered.” Friends I lost some blood on this one. It was 4 grueling hours of punishment though we might have made it in 3 if we hadn’t gotten slightly lost).

While the first two days the temps were perfect on the evening of the second night at our small exposed bivy on Willey’s there was a shift. I woke up freezing around two am shaking from the wind and the cold. The formerly clear night was gone and it seemed like we were in a dense cloud with winds whipping down Hells Highway onto our camp. I was freezing. I technically had great gear. I had an excellent clothing system (MHW chockstone jacket, Patagonia capilene top and Nano puff pullover. Patagonia wool and Marmot Scree Pants) and sleeping gear (EMS 25 degree down bag, MHW bivy shell) for the 30 degree temps but i think after two full days on the move I was unable to generate enough heat to be warm during the rest of the night. I had to shake out repeatly to stave off the chills a few times before day light but was able to feel okay-ish in the morning. By the time we broke camp without breakfast or coffee we were in a full hail storm. The descent down Fisher Chimneys proved an ample white out navigation challenge as we tried to move as fast as possible in wet cold. Having never been in a white out before and wondering if my body wasn’t getting a little hypothermic I was starting to get a little nervous. Experience and a solid skill set is everything Cascades as Ryan taught me a thing or two about navigating us down the rest of the Fisher Chimneys as we made it back onto the Lake Anne trail. We soon made it to the town of Sedro-Woolley and filled our belly’s with pizza and beer.

Schism: The Mt. Torment to Forbidden Peak Traverse
“The poetry, That comes from the squaring off between, And the circling is worth it, Finding beauty in the dissonance”

As I describe the very exposed 50 degree snow/ice traverse, the crux of the route, to my friends Jason and Courtney over a lazy brunch in New Paltz, Court meets my eyes and she asks me if I cried during the climb. It’s the first time anyone has asked and I feel a sense of comfort in her question. “Oh yeah,” I say “a bunch of times.” She says she would have done the same. Kathy Cosley and Mark Houston describe steep snow climbing as “a common Achilles heel” among alpinists and I would agree. Though I have a passion for ice and snow most I spend most of my time playing in both in the winters of the north east. Climbing on the exposed crux of the TFT was a humbling education.

The TFT almost didn’t happen as we arrived at the Marblemount Ranger Station only to find out there were no permits for the Boston Basin. Both Ryan and I had been to the BB on previous trips and there was something comforting in heading back into familiar terrain in the second leg of our trip. Now with no permit available we opted for the Torment Basin a considerable steeper and more challenging approach with little water available for the first 3,000 feet. My stomach did a little backflip as I filled out the paperwork and half read the approach description in the guide book.

The approach was all uphill, steep, soft dirt in a densely wooded forrest with no water until you make it to the Basin. We made good time but it was hard work. Every step was earned. We made our camp in the late afternoon and I felt good as we made dinner and absorbed the stunning views of Mt. Johannesburg and Eldorado Peak. We got to bed as early as you can when its bright day light until 10pm, knowing we would be getting a 3am alpine start the next day. Day two proved to be the crux as we made fast time to the summit of Mt. Torment only to have a hard time finding the notch to the small glacier on the north side of the ridge. The route finding challenges are definitely on the first half of the Traverse with easier exposed 4th class climbing over loose rock done after the snow/ice section of the route. After completing the aforementioned snow and ice crux on the traverse we made a welcome bivy and celebrated my 42nd birthday with a snickers bar. 14 hours of being on the go I was crushed. The next morning we finished up the ridge and opted to descend one of the snow gullies and out the Boston Basin.

Our days had been long 9-14 hours and while we did make stops to rest, refuel and eat for my body it was never enough. I think our caloric intact was pretty good though breakfast was the hardest meal as you’re struggling to consume calories while getting ready to break camp. Hydration was a different story. I imagine I was only averaging 3 to 3.5 liters of water per day. This during a 9 plus hour climbing day. Woefully short of what Mark Twight recommends in Extreme Alpinism. Hydration and nutrition were a real challenge for me in the mountains. At the end of the day you need to refuel but your body is so exhausted and your past hunger. The climbs also spoke to my inexperience of travel fast in 4th class terrain climbing with a pack and mountain boots. The instability of the terrain caused me to be extra cautious while climbing. My toes felt destroyed and my knees pained me. It was like doing 10,000 squats in a day. Snow climbing is a whole world unto itself with marginal at best protection and self arrest being far more difficult on steep slushy ice with serious consequences. The newness of all these experiences were wicked heady during most of my trip. It turns out I was more of an alpine noob than I had imagined and I felt a heavy weight of this self awareness as we headed out to our rental car.

Digging Through Old Muscle
I am in the best shape of my life. I crush crossfit WOD’s and my June deadlift PR was 313. Despite a minor tendon injury with my right ring finger that happened in early spring I am climbing well. I am confident and strong. My lead head is improving and I’ve got the heart and passion on an army of spartan women warriors. I thought I had this. I thought it was going to be a comfortable win. I was over confident. I got destroyed. Now mind you it’s important to love yourself, take care of yourself and not wallow would of’s and could of’s. I am a young alpinista. It’s going to take time to learn and train my body and mind. that’s the point. But to become better I have to really look in the mirror, assess my performance and work hard to become a better climber. Become a better me. And that what this is about. My cardio endurance on this trip was off. Way off. I gassed and gassed again on this trip in exactly the ways Mark Twight and Gym Jones have pointed out can happen if you rely on the high intensity workouts of crossfit. I didn’t train sports specific nearly enough to met the tasks at hand. I hiked and climbed but didn’t put in the long days off training to mirror the long days I would do in the Cascades.

Reaching out for whatever may come
“I wanna feel the change consume me, Feel the outside turning in. I wanna feel the metamorphosis and Cleansing I’ve endured within”

I am drawn to the ice and snow, a place that others move away. When I climb ice and snow I am trying to touch something. A perfect state of trust in myself and my abilities. I am trying to transform. To connect with the snow and ice and unforgiving terrain. And in the process re-embrace myself and what makes me strong. I guess it’s not alpine climbing until you shed a few tears behind your glacier glasses. It’s perfect cause no one can see. During the climb tears felt like submission. My struggles were crystal clear indications that I didn’t belong on these routes. I couldn’t keep up. I was lagging. I was afraid. Now I realize that all those moments were the heart of the climb not top outs and summits. I was wrong. The tears are self knowledge. They apart of who I am. It’s not simply that I pushed through the tears and become this alpine amazon its that I own my tears. I own my fears. I own my short coming and failings as I own my hard work and my climbing skills. My heart and my passion. It’s all me.

Check out a slideshow I did of our trip (above). And don’t forget to hit up Ryan at http://bigfootmountainguides.com/.

To learn more about Carolyn see her bio. here, and follow her blog here.

Guiding on Rainier

Special guest post from Girly Guide Caroline George

Early June, Adam and I left the comfort of our Salt Lake City home to work on mighty Rainier, a 14,411ft (4,392.5m) high volcano in Washington State, for Rainier Mountain Guides.

We drove 15hours straight to Ashford, where RMI and its facilities are located. Lodging is provided for the guides and we share two areas: The “upscale” Ranch, and the “Farm”. It was super fun to stay with the great community of guides who work at RMI, cooking dinners or going out to dinner together.

Adam and I worked the Four Day Summit Climb, which climbs the classic Ingraham Direct route at this time of year, and later in the seaon, the Disappointment Cleaver. For the Four Day Summit Climb, we start the program with an orientation, which includes a gear check, talking about Mount Rainier’s history, conditions on the route, how the climb will unfold and what he expect of the clients.

The following day, we meet the clients at the RMI Basecamp after the daily guides meeting. We drive up to Paradise and hike to find snow to do the snow school. Right now, there is so much snow left at Paradise, that we can get on snow right away. We teach clients skills that will help them summit Rainier with a guide. This includes how to walk efficiently and safely on snow, with and without crampons, how to use an ice axe, how to self arrest, how to travel with a rope properly and how to be be efficient during breaks on the mountains. We also teach them Leave No Trace principles to keep the mountain as clean as possible and preserve the mountain as it is for future generations.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of moisture in the NW while we worked on Rainier. The weather forecast never looked great and we often had to do the snow school in the rain, or hike to Muir in the rain.

The Gambu sleeps 18 clients. It’s a pretty old building that was built for temporary use a long time ago and was never taken down, so we still use it. Clients only spend a few hours in there, since we get up around midnight to climb Mount Rainier.

Depending on the weather, we wake up clients anywhere from 11pm to 2am or even later. If the sky is clear and conditions on the mountain are good, we get up very early. We leave camp with helmet and headlamps on, crampons and harness on and ice axe in hand.

We start our climb by headlamp and walk for about an hour in the dark, crossing the Cathedral Gap and making our way to our first stop: the Ingraham Flats. This is where other guide services have their high camp. So this is a “safe” place. But this is also how far the cloud from the June 6th avalanche came down!

On our first trip, conditions on the mountains weren’t very good. It had been snowing for a few days at Camp Muir and the wind had been howling at upper elevation. That, together with cold temperatures, made the perfect combination for an avalanche to occur. We hiked to the Ingraham Flats and had decided that we would go no further. We broke the news to our clients and explained why we were going to turn around. There were 11 people ahead of us, so it was hard for clients to understand why we wouldn’t keep going. Sometimes you wish that there would be a small benign avalanche in the distance to prove your point. We were about to dig a pit for clients to understand how the snowpack works. But as we looked up, a massive avalanche was coming down toward us. We definitely thought that it was headed for us, so we all started running. The snow was so deep though that we were not going anywhere in a hurry. So, we hunkered down expecting to get hit. But like a fist turned into a caress, we were merely sprinkled by the cloud. Adam was a little higher up than me and he saw a glove sticking out of the snow. The 11 people ahead of us had all been caught in the 300mx1200m avalanche. Adam and a few other guides (Tyler Jones and Mark Falender) dug out two more Koreans. One of them was blue already, wasn’t breathing and was unresponsive. I organized for clients to go down with another guide, Tom, so they could be out of avalanche hazard and then went up to watch over the rest of the crew to make sure no other avalanche was coming down on them.

1 person is still missing in action, and all the others survived.

Recently, Adam and I decided to get a van to travel in. I guess, as you get older, comfort becomes more and more valuable, especially when you spend so much time on the road. Sleeping in a tent gets a little old. We randomly found this super cheap VW van. I think the guy didn’t realize what he was selling, which we were happy about. I grew up travelling with my parents in these kinds of up-pop vans and loved it. I am so excited to experience that again.

During my stay, we tried Rainier three times. The first time, we got shut down my the avalanche. The second time, conditions were still too unstable on the mountain. But, as the saying goes, third time is the charm. We woke up to nice weather and decided to climb. We woke the clients up at midnight and headed out. By the time we hit the second rest break at the top of the Disappointment Cleaver, we were in a complete white out. But with a good track, reasonable temperature and little to no precip, we made it to the summit by 7.30am. It was nice to end the seaon up there with a summit of Mount Rainier!

Adam and I are spending the rest of the summer guiding in Europe. Stay tuned!

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

Girly Guide Dawn Glanc reports on May trip to Alaska Range

Root Canal, photo by Dawn Glanc

Girly Guide Dawn Glanc took a trip up to Alaska last month to do some climbing in a section of the Alaska Range, making camp at Ruth Glacier.

She traveled to the glacier with Patrick Ormond, with plans to do some climbing in the area.

However, it seemed the weather had other plans and refused to cooperate as the two faced whiteouts, snow, and wind, spending nearly every other day tent-bound.

However, Dawn reported that they were able to climb a few things including a summit of Mount Barille, as well as Ham and Eggs to the ridge of Moose’s Tooth.

You can read all about her trip and check out some of her photos here at Hardware Sessions (Mountain Hardware).

Trinity Right

by Caroline George

This Fall, I set my eyes on a 12a route in Little Cottonwood Canyon: Trinity Right. I had followed it once last year to clean it after Adam had been on it. The route traverses so much that it even goes down a little and I was terrified following it. The potential for pendulum was scared me.
Click here to read more…..

Viva Las Vegas

My family visiting the world of make believe

My family visiting the world of make believe

Here’s a good one….for my 50th birthday (last December) my mom wanted to take our entire family somewhere to celebrate the fact that I had actually made it this far. The destination was to be a surprise, so you can imagine my astonishment when I found out we were going to Las Vegas  – not to climb at Red Rocks but to play in the bright lights of that overwhelming city. Yikes.  Admittedly, I’m a good sport and I choose to see the best in most situations….so being wined, dined and entertained was rather fun I have to admit.  For an avid adventurer who seeks the solace of those quiet places where nobody goes…I was shocked into the reality of the human race. A city on steroids with ‘super-size me’ written all over it. If variety is the spice of life, then that trip was Hot! But there’s no place like home….there’s no place like home…..

Stairway to Heaven, Eureka CO

Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven

The ice climbing season is quickly coming to an end with an unseasonably warm stretch of weather. Drat, I hate to see my favorite sport melting away.  My last climb on my San Juan backcountry tic list for this season is Stairway to Heaven outside of Silverton.  Mr. X and I had tried to climb it together but two feet of snow and high avalanche danger kept us away a few weeks before. In celebration of getting my ice climbing grrrr back, I decided to solo it. I haven’t soloed anything this long so I was excited to be there by myself with that intense presence and focus I love so much. It took a little over an hour to climb it and walk off back to my pack. The ice was soft and starting to get drippy, yup, it’s time to hang up my tools.

For me, soloing (climbing un-roped & alone) magnifies the fine line between the edge of the abyss and of life itself. As a climber, skier and kayaker…I have walked on that edge for thirty years and I have seen many friends fall off into the darkness of death. The awareness of the fragility of life is always with me.

Bridalveil Falls, Telluride CO

Bridalveil Falls, Telluride CO

Bridalveil Falls

It’s been 11 years since I’ve climbed Bridalveil Falls in Telluride and back then, I didn’t lead the difficult 2nd pitch. For some reason, the climb has always intimidated me and for years it was closed, making it illegal to climb. This San Juan classic is now open to climbers and it sees ascents almost daily. It was the climb on my 50th year hit list that I most anticipated because for some unknown reason, I had decided that leading all of Bridalveil was something I didn’t want or have to do. But now that I was getting my grrr back…that perspective changed.

Mr. X and I headed up for the second shift on March 11th with a guided party ahead of us. As we walked up to the climb the beginning of the route wasn’t obvious to either of us and I kept staring at it wondering if I’d actually get on it. The party coming off happened to be good friends and we got a little beta which helped my confidence… at least I knew where to go. We got on the climb around 2:00 PM for the second shift, which was perfect.

Putting in a screw on the 2nd pitch

Putting in a screw on the 2nd pitch

This year, both the first and second pitch proved to have some interesting climbing on it and to my surprise, I actually had a lot of fun leading it.  Poor Mr. X got a scare right off the bat when I took off on the first pitch and my crampons skidded out from under me, on what we now refer to as the “gerbil ramp”. Luckily after that (not so) impressive start, I got my act together and enjoyed weaving my way through the ice on this sometimes convoluted route. As the belayer, you can only see the leader on the first few feet of each pitch – so to reassure my nervous partner, I yelled down occasionally to let Mr. X know how I was doing. I remember saying two things: “I’m having fun” and “watch me, this is tricky”, the irony being that he couldn’t actually “watch me” at all. That about sums it all up.

Kim & Mr. X

Kim & Mr. X

Climbing is an intense internal dance and I love holding it together while solving the pieces to the puzzle as I go. The complete and total focus of that moment, the camaraderie and trust of my climbing partner makes for a powerful shared experience. When Mr. X reached the top of the first pitch, we made eye contact and he said to me “who are You?”  Now that I think of it, I often wonder that myself.