That saying appears everywhere and while it is super cliché there is something to be learned from this. There are so many seemingly uncontrollable factors at play when you’re climbing. There is one thing that you can control that has a profound effect on your physical and mental status, your breathing.
Breathing is an autonomic bodily function, meaning you just do it without having to think about it. But, the most important thing to be aware of when climbing is your breath.
So the question is, how do you keep calm, cool and collected when climbing? I think you already know the answer…breathe deliberately. Do the following exercise and see if it makes a difference to your mental and physical state:
Choose a route that is easy for you to climb without exerting too much effort. You will climb this route two times.
Lap #1. Set an intention to be aware of your breath. Notice if you’re holding it, breathing evenly, rapidly/slowly, deep/shallow.
Lap #2. Breathe Intentionally. Climb the route a second time, this time making a conscious effort to breathe the whole way from top to bottom.
Compare the two. Did you feel more relaxed and focused on the second lap? Did you feel less scared?
When you’re stressed, most people have tendency to hold their breath. This elevates your heart rate which causes you to breathe more shallowly and rapidly. This in turn makes the mind anxious, so you lose focus and get tunnel vision. Your climbing performance suffers as a result.
Be more aware and set an intention to breathe, ask your belayer to remind you, breathe evenly and deeply and you’ll feel much more focused, relaxed and less anxious when climbing.
If you want to learn more about this technique and many others to help improve your climbing performance, sign up for the Red River Gorge, Red Rock and Rifle clinics. We will share lots more of our secrets of success.
Written by: Chicks co-owner and guide, Elaina Arenz.
Written by: Elaina Arenz
I’m going to let you in on a little secret of mine. I often hear people comment that it appears as if I’m floating up the rock effortlessly. I sure to have them fooled. The key to conserving energy and appearing like you’re levitating on the rock is to build a solid foundation to stand upon. Follow these tips below and you will find the flow too.
The 70/30 rule. Your feet should support 70% of your weight and your arms support 30%. To do this you must look down at your feet 70% (or more) of the time while you’re climbing. Look down and place your feet precisely every time to ensure you are placing your foot on the best part of the foothold.
By Monica Esposito
I loaded my Grigri backwards and felt like a complete fool. Now, I can recognize this mistake as a win because the only consequence of my mistake was the realization of my own stupidity. In climbing, an act of stupidity could actually kill someone.
I went to Rifle Mountain State Park this past April. A perfect storm of distraction and excitement started me off on the wrong foot that day. One of the first warm spring days of sport climbing outside and I was excited. I’ll admit, I was nervous that day, I needed to get myself psyched to lead and I wanted to climb well. I wasn’t thinking about the basics and checking systems like I always do. I have probably loaded a Grigri hundreds of times in my years of climbing and it should be second nature. But, as I loaded my device I was also chatting with a couple of friends nearby and I did not notice I had loaded the Grigri backwards (the climbers side of the rope was threaded into the brake side).
Before my husband was about to lead our morning warm up climb, we peeked at each others harnesses briefly but my husband forgot to check my device as I was checking his knot. Normally, I would have demonstrated I was locked and loaded properly, why was this morning any different? As my husband ascended up the climb, I was thinking how strange it felt feeding the rope and how my hand positioning seemed awkward. But, yet I still had not comprehended that it had been loaded backwards… I was chalking up the awkwardness to one of my first days outside for the spring season, just feeling a little rusty? He hadn’t yet had any weight on the rope; so the mistake wasn’t discovered until he yelled, “take” at the top of the climb. As I started to try to take in slack and felt the device catching, the whole feel of braking seemed wrong. It was difficult to actually brake because the brake end of the rope was lying on the wrong side of the device!
My husband had tied in direct to the anchor with a quick draw once he recognized I was fumbling. The friends (whom I had been chatting with nearby only moments before) also happened to be trained AMGA guides, so while I was still fumbling with the rope and looking completely confused, one of the friends jumped in and took over as a rescue belay. My husband then unclipped from the anchor, weighted the rope and was lowered to the ground safely. All the while, I am literally still standing there dumbfounded.
I cannot imagine what could have happened if he had taken a big fall. I suppose there is some amount of friction in an improperly loaded Grigri and I did have my left hand on the brake end of the rope, but I wouldn’t say I have any faith that a big fall could have been properly arrested with that faulty setup. I could have potentially dropped my husband 50 feet and it will bother me for the rest of my climbing years ahead. We didn’t check each others systems like we normally would have; otherwise the mistake would have been caught before he had left the ground. I hope that by telling my tale, a little voice in your head reminds you to check your knot and check your systems! Whether you’re climbing at the gym, at your favorite crag or climbing El Cap, it shouldn’t matter.
Monica Esposito lives in Fort Collins, Colorado and is a long time Chicks Alumni.
If you are like me, you threw your rock gear into the garage or gear closet at the end of the rock season in anticipation of the forming ice. The rock gear was stored away without much inspection. Now the seasons are changing, and the ice is melting away. It is time to dust off your rock gear and get ready for another great season. As you sort through your gear you should include an inspection of each item to be sure you start the season off with a clean kit. Here are a few high use items to give some extra attention to during your preseason checkup.
Belay devices do not last forever. It is important to look at the climber side/back side of the device. The rope friction can cause sharp edges to form. This photo shows a device that has developed grooves that are quite sharp. If your device is developing this type of groove, consider replacing it.
GriGris can get very dirty. This dirt transfers to your rope and drives particles into the nylon strands. Take an old toothbrush and quickly scrub away the black gunk that accumulated last season. No water or special cleaners are needed.
The carabiners on the market today are very lightweight, unfortunately this often means the durability is low. Take a look at your belay carabiners and the carabiners on your quickdraws. If you can see a groove, feel for the depth and for any sharp edges. If you have any doubt, replace this carabiner. The questionable carabiner can be rotated into your quiver to become a utility carabiner. I typically retire the carabiner to a job that does not involve movement of the rope.
The rope is our life line. We must be sure this piece of equipment is ready to for a long season. If rope has fuzzy spots, be sure to examine this spot thoroughly. Check for soft spots and white core strands coming through. You can cut out the bad spots, but be sure to remember that the rope will be shorter and middle markers will be offset.
If your rope is black with dirt, consider washing the rope. To wash the rope, lay it in a bathtub. Fill the tub with warm water, swish and agitate the rope in the water. Drain the tub. REPEAT until the water runs clear. To dry, hang the rope over the shower curtain rod. Be sure to lay a towel down to collect the dripping water. If you choose to use a rope wash, follow the manufacturer’s directions.
The lightweight helmets available are not very burly. They typically cannot take multiple seasons. Take a look at your helmet and look for cracks and dents. If your helmet is looking beat up, consider replacing it.
It is up to you to be sure your gear is clean and ready to go. Don’t hose your partner by showing up with neglected dirty gear. Set yourself up for success with a little attention ahead of time. Happy climbing everyone!
Brrr! Over the New Year, we had many cold, cold days in Colorado and Wyoming. A strong inversion kept the valley in cold fog with temperatures below -10F. Even with the sun on your face, the bitter cold air had a bite on any skin exposed, and it was hard to stay warm when you were out all day in subzero temps. It made me think of how important to was to be prepared when I went to work teaching skiing on the Jackson Hole Mountain resort during those days. Here are a few tips to keep warm in the mountains in winter:
Layer up. I know our Captain Kitty Calhoun taught you that you need only four layers: baselayer, insulating layer, shell to keep wind, snow and ice out, and lastly a warm puffy coat that fits over everything. Well, you should have seen our Mixtress Climber Dawn Glanc walk to the gym one of those cold mornings, I think she probably had seven layers on! An extra layer or two of the insulating variety can go a long way, but make sure that they fit with your other layers (no, I don’t mean they all have to be purple), rather they need to work within your layering system. These days, I often wear a baselayer, a fleece hoody, and then a light puffy jacket underneath my shell.
Don’t Sweat. If you are performing a strenuous activity such as hiking uphill to your ice climbing destination or carrying your skis up a long boot pack, it is important to regulate your body temperature before you start to sweat. If your skin and therefore your underlayers get wet, you can loose heat a lot more quickly because water is a good conductor and leads heat away from your body. Do your best to take of some of those warm layers before you get too hot.
Break time means puffy coat on. As soon as you lower down from a climb or take a snack and water break during your ski tour, put a warm layer on. This will keep your body heat insulated before your furnace slows down and you cool off too much. Missing this window takes a lot of energy and jumping jacks to reverse.
A warm core keeps your feet and hands warm. Especially for women, it can be hard to keep hands and toes warm in the winter. Start with keeping for core warm. Also, have an extra pair of gloves to change into for skiing downhill of for belaying your partner. My friend Carol Baker (she coming to Japan for her first Chicks trip) uses this trick: In the morning, she cracks open a pair of Grabber Handwarmers and pre-loads them into her extra gloves in her backpack. When she pulls them out to wear, they are toasty warm already. When I go skiing on a cold day, I stick some Grabber toewarmers on the outside of my ski socks, right over of my toes. That way, they don’t bunch up underfoot when I ski, and they get more air flow to stay warmer. These little patches are a lifesaver on cold days!
Wow, the snow is flying, ice is forming, and winter is here! It’s December, and the ice climbing season is starting. The Ouray Ice Park is slated to open December 19, just a few short weeks away. This is a great time to review a few skills related to toprope or slingshot belay set-ups for ice climbing, and think about the differences between rock and ice (don’t worry, if you ask the Captain Kitty Calhoun, there is really not too much of a difference, and you’re just extending your season either way you look at it).
Ice – A low friction environment!
If you have been busy rock climbing this fall, and have been toproping on rock, it is worth remembering that ice provides a low friction environment. When the rope runs over the rock, a fair amount of friction is in the system, which is taking part of the weight of the climber on the other end of your toprope belay that you have to counterbalance when you hold her. In ice climbing, there is very little friction between the rope and the ice. Therefore, you, the belayer, take the full brunt of the system. With this in mind, practice these good habits:
– Use a back-tie anchor for the belayer.
– Always keep a strong hand on the brake strand of the rope. Using gloves can help your grip, and having a back-up belayer is great, too.
– Communicate with loud and clear commands between climber and belayer.
– Pay close attention to avoid slack (which can lead to higher forces) in the system.
Coming from rock season where it is much more customary to be belaying right underneath the climber for the best angle of taking the weight of the climber, it is important to remember that ice breaks and shatters and falls… and often in big chunks, right down to the base of the climb! So, keep out of the impact zone! Find a protected belay spot away from the fall line of the climb. Use these techniques:
– Use a back-tie anchor. When you belay away from the cliff, the rope angle is your vector of force. A back-tie anchor keeps you from getting pulled forward or sideways.
– Watch for open water in the canyon. In the Ouray Ice Park (OIP), you often climb on one side of the river and belay on the other. Manage your rope carefully, tie in a secure spot, and look for safe crossings.
– When you climb, alert your belayer and other bystanders of falling things by yelling “ICE!!”
All us Chicks guides are excited for the upcoming ice climbing season. For us, the Ouray Ice Park is not only a great training ground and fantastic ice climbing venue but really the home of Chicks with Picks. This is the place where Kim Reynolds started our company 17 years ago, and where we still go strong today. So many of our ice climbing days are spent in the park, and we have come have a special relationship with the OIP over the years. A great way to support the OIP is by becoming a member, check out their website for more information.
Chicks with Picks is offering three women’s ice climbing events in the Ouray Ice Park this winter. First up is The Sampler Jan. 22-25, followed by The Complete Jan. 27-31, and ending with The Jiffy Feb. 19-21. Every event offers all the Chicks clinic levels 1- 5. All our clinic levels are designed to build on each other, giving you a great foundation to be a well-rounded ice climber. The OIP is a great location to progress your skill level. Come join us at one of our clinics, we look forward to seeing you in the Ice Park this winter!
Written by: Karen Bockel.
In 2010, Karen began guiding on the West Buttress of Denali and now guides year-round in the mountains. Karen is an AMGA Certified Rock and Certified Ski Guide, is Avalanche Level III certified, and is a member of the Search and Rescue Team in San Miguel County, Colorado.
Written by Karen Bockel
There is a winter storm warning in effect in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and the Eastern Sierra. El Nino is just about to visit you! Chicks is psyched for the snow to fly, and we want you to be ready for the first powder day of the season. Here a few things you can do ahead of time to be sure you’re first out the door when the snow is building up and the mountains are calling.
1) Give your skis some love. If you didn’t have storage wax on them over the summer, then clean your bases and give them a nice thick coat of wax to sink in for several days. Get the burrs off the edges from the last spring, and check your bindings for settings, rust, and broken parts. Or, take ‘em to the ski shop for a pre-season tune.
2) Have a look at your ski boots. Check the buckles, soles, and straps. I often end up with a fairly worn liner at the end of a season, and might replace it for the next. Sometimes, just re-heating a thermo-fit liner can improve the fit of your boots.
3) Take your skins out and pull them open to check them. Remove any debris from the glue, trim loose flaps, and re-glue with gold seal if you see dry patches.
4) Dust off your avi gear. Collect your shovel and probe and assemble them to check their functionality. Get new batteries and install them in your beacon. Go through a function check with your beacon.
5) Convert your backpack into backcountry ski mode. Pack your avi gear, goggles, an extra warm jacket, a pair of gloves, and a water bottle into your pack. Add your ski repair kit, a couple hand warmers, and sunscreen. Then set your pack in the mudroom, ready to go then snow starts to fly.
Interested in taking your skiing to the next level? Check out our Chicks with Stix programs!
Karen Bockel is an AMGA Certified Rock and Ski Guide and a new proud owner of Chicks.
Written by: Sheldon Kerr
Having not been in a mass casualty accident, a war zone, or a Justin Timberlake concert, I was not accustomed to hearing the shrieks, cries, screams and growls that echo throughout Rifle Canyon. The venue is so very steep and the climbers are working so very hard that they can’t help but whelp with joy, pain and anguish as they work their way through difficult projects. I’ve spent days and days here this summer at the behest of my frientor (friend and mentor), Dawn Glanc. She dragged me (her 5.9+ partner) out to play with the big kids (her 5.12+ friends) this summer and I’m climbing 2 grades harder and have 200% more fun than I have my previous seasons.
So why on earth would a newer, less-sendy climber want to enter this lion’s den? What could we possibly get out of this fabled canyon?
You get to climb with hard climbers.
People aren’t born with some magical gift of talent. The climbers who are crushing 5.12 just love climbing. Yeah, sure, they are athletic and skinny and physically able. But climbers like Dawn just love climbing, so they do it all the time and they get good at it.
I read some Malcome Gladwell piece in the New Yorker (because I am fancy) on “talent” and how we shouldn’t think of it as an inherent trait but more of a skill developed from love/passion/obsession with something. I say all this to encourage people to climb in hard places because that is where you are going to find the people who love climbing.
You’ll find climbs at every grade.
There are spots where you can project your 5.10 next to your partner’s 5.12. There are even spots to work on your 5.7 next to your new friends 5.13.
You’ll find partners soooo easily.
No one cares how hard you climb. Seriously. If you are a patient belayer, give a good catch, and bring awesome snacks, you fit in with any crowd. And the passionate climbers in Rifle have worn out their friends and lovers with their climbing projects, so they will be so very happy to see a fresh face who isn’t sick of catching them over and over and over. Plus, hard projects require long rest periods between attempts, so they have plenty of time on their hands to return the belay favor.
You’ll have dozens of rope guns at your beck and call.
It is called Rifle for a reason. It is as if you are climbing in the middle of a Texan secessionist’s stockpile. You’ll have access to all sorts of artillery. Want to work your way into 5.10 climbing? Ask your neighbor to put up the rope for you. Dawn needs a warm up anyway, so I am actually doing her a favor (you are welcome, Glanc).
You’ll be forced to focus on process, rather than outcome.
Over the past years, I’d become so obsessed with wanting to be a better climber that I’d be emotionally crushed when I “failed” to finish a climb. But Dawn, and the other send-bots in this canyon, approach every single climb as a project. She is never attached to outcome. We’ll walk up to things and she’ll say… “why don’t you work on this one.” Because that is what we are all here to do, figure it out and put it together. There aren’t any gimmes so you have to coach yourself, and your partners to roll with it.
You’ll realize climbing is hard for everybody.
What a place to watch struggle and heartache and fear and commitment! It is the same mental and physical push at 5.8 as 5.11 as 5.13 and everyone here gets it. People watch you battle on your 5.10 and are psyched for you because their climb is just as hard for them. They are on a different climb but on the same physical and mental playing field.
You get to fall!
The steeper the climbing, the safer the falls, so the easier it can be to push yourself. So, yes, a Rifle 5.11 is intimidating and perhaps un-top-outable but it isn’t scary the way a run-out Red Rocks 5.7 can be. There is some something deeply, deeply unjust in the learning process of climbing where the falls are significantly more dangerous at the easier grades. Rifle corrects that injustice.
Sheldon Kerr is an AMGA Certified Ski Guide and an Ambassador Athlete with Outdoor Research and La Sportiva. Though she is not officially on the Chicks payroll, the owners rely heavily upon her as a dance enthusiast, climbing partner, fashion consultee, and gracious host when weather-bound on the wrong side of Red Mountain Pass. At work she guides extreme skiing, backcountry touring, technical ski mountaineering and heli skiing. Her personal accomplishments include first descents in Alaska, Norway and Colorado; technical ski objectives in the Alps and the Wrangell St Elias; and collecting a group of badass women to call her friends. She’s looking forward to adding you to that list.