Best Belay Ever

As many climbers know, a good belayer is hard to come by. Sure, most climbers know how to belay, but few actually do it right. Most of the time the climber just assumes that their partner has the skills to keep them off of the ground. No one wants to look down while climbing a crux sequence close to an obstacle to see the belayer daydreaming and not paying attention. Here are a few tips to help you be a better belayer.

Stack the rope
Start at one end of the rope and flake it onto a rope tarp. This will help keep your belay area neat and orderly, and allow you to pay out slack smoothly. By flaking the rope, you take the time to eliminate knots and kinks in the rope. Using a ground cloth of some sort will keep the rope from catching on roots or around rocks.

Stand up and stand close
When belaying, most of the time you should remain standing. If your stance is precarious, perhaps a seated stance or using an anchor point would be more acceptable. Be sure you stand in a balanced athletic position to allow for taking and giving slack smoothly. By standing close to the route you can avoid being slammed into the wall if the climber falls. Oftentimes, standing below the first bolt will also help keep the climber from hitting the ground.

What not to do while belaying.

What not to do while belaying.

This is a photo of what NOT to do. This woman is standing way too far away from the route. She will get pulled forward very quickly when the climber falls. Also, she needs to keep her hand in the brake position when the climber is not moving.

Pay attention and watch the climber
When belaying, limit your talking to others and ask others to limit talking to you. Too much chatting can be distracting and you may miss communications with the climber. Stay focused on the task of belaying. This is not the time to be reading guide books or checking your phone. If you cannot see the climber, you may try a pair of belay glasses to help. When you give your full attention to the climber, confidence is provided to make the scary moves.

Give them some slack
Belaying is a give and take relationship. You must be on your game when you have another person’s life in your hands. Avoid giving huge loops of slack. The “sport” loop is not always acceptable. Keep enough slack so that the climber can move freely without being tugged on. However, adjust your slack if the climber is close to the ground or a ledge. Keeping the climber close, or with little slack, will keep them from hitting the obstacle. If the climber is moving over a ledge or is on a very overhanging route, more slack is needed to keep the climber from slamming into the roof or overhang in the case of a fall. You must constantly adjust the loop of slack for the terrain the climber faces.

Use the right tools for the job
When belaying, use the tools available to help make your job more efficient. Wearing gloves will protect your hands and reduces the friction you feel as the rope slides through the device. Many people complain about neck pain. Belay glasses can be used to help alleviate neck pain and help you see the climber. If sport climbing or top roping, consider using a lock assisted device such as a Petzl GRIGRI or a Mammut Smart. These devices have a lock assisting design to make it much easier to catch and hold falls.

Great belaying technique.

Great belaying technique.

In this photo Dawn demonstrates the proper stance, hand position and provides an adequate loop of slack.

You can learn these and many other techniques at our upcoming Rock Clinics.

Dawn Glanc is a certified guide, sponsored athlete, avid climber, and an awesome belayer.  When not belaying, Dawn likes to send.

Dawn Glanc enjoying sending and not worrying about her belayer.

Dawn Glanc enjoying sending and not worrying about her belayer.

How to Stay Fueled & Hydrated on Long Summer Days

By Karen Bockel

Summertime and the livin’s easy… Beautiful sunny days have you up early and heading out in the hills.  Maybe you’re planning to scramble up a Fourteener in Colorado, hike to an alpine lake in the Tetons, or climb a glaciated peak in the Cascades.  Here are a few strategies to help you keep up your energy on long days in the alpine:

FoodDrink1) Breakfast of Champions

Don’t skip this important meal, even for a pre-dawn start.  Eat something that gives you sustained energy, instead of a flash fuel like simple carbs.  I often have a sandwich made with fresh whole wheat bread, an egg, spinach, and swiss cheese.  If I’m driving to the trailhead, I can eat it on the way.  Muesli with fruit and plain yogurt is another favorite.  Heading out on an overnight?  Bring a boiled egg and a croissant.

2) Drink Every Hour

Stick to a hydration schedule.  Half a liter of water (16 oz.) per hour for low to moderate intensity hiking and climbing works well for me on hot days.  It’s also true for hiking at altitude where you exhale more moisture due to increased breathing rates.

3) Know the Source

I admit it, I like going light and fast.  Carrying three litres of water on my back is, literally, a pain.  Instead, I use what’s out there.  I bring a steripen or iodine tablets so I can refill on the go, and I research water sources along my path ahead of time, so know how much water I need to carry for each leg of the trip. Springs, creeks, lakes are shown on maps and referred to in trip reports, and even a melting snowpatch can help.

4) Eat Early, Eat Often

It’s easy to blow off eating in the first few hours of your hike.  Before you know it, your stomach has gotten used to running on empty and the desire to eat vanishes…bonking happens next.  Avoid depleting your body by having small snacks right form the start of your day, just enough to keep your digestive system running.   If you’ve gone too long without eating, and don’t feel like putting any food into your mouth, try adding an electrolyte supplement with simply sugars to your water followed by some shot blocks or Gu to ease your stomach back into working.

Kitty Calhoun refueling with a tuna and cream cheese bagel on El Cap.

Kitty Calhoun refueling with a tuna and cream cheese bagel on El Cap.

5) Skip the Picnic

Have you ever had a big lunch on the trail?  I have, with the result of wanting to stop and take a nap.  Instead, I now have a few bites every hour on my days out.  If I am climbing something strenuous and don’t have the time to take off my pack, I make sure to keep snacks in my pockets for quick access.  A handful of almonds and some dried fruit at each break keep me going.I cut my homemade sandwich into four pieces.  When I am climbing in cold environment, I eat a bit of cheese and salami, and crackers.  At altitude, I keep it simple with easy-to-digest energy bars, candy bars and shotblocks.

6) Don’t Drink Like a Camel

It may sounds funny, but don’t overhydrate!  Drinking too much water without the appropriate amount of electrolytes to replenish what’s lost from sweat can lead to a serious condition called hyponatremia.You can feel nauseous, fatigued, and confused when sodium levels in your blood drop too low.  Avoid this by hydrating with electrolyte mix.

Hope this helps, and have a good day in the mountains!

Karen Bockel is an AMGA Certified Rock and Ski Guide and a new, proud owner of Chicks.  She spends a lot of her summers in the Alpine, hanging out above tree line, and climbing the Grand Teton.  Her favorite on the go snacks are dried mango and dark chocolate (well, she is German, after all).

Avoiding a Ground Fall & DIY Stick Clip

Written by: Dawn Glanc

Bolts. They are the protection that make face climbing possible. However, the first bolt is often placed higher than you may feel comfortable climbing to unprotected. A high first bolt can result in a ground fall if you fail to clip it.  The consequences can be so high, that a climber may decide to retreat from the route. There is no need to be reckless at the crag – use a stick clip to help you mitigate the risk of a ground fall!  Here is a quick stick clip recipe to help you send those beautiful routes that have high first bolt placement.

How to make a stick clip:



1 extendable painter’s pole
1 spring clamp
2 hose clamps
Various stickers are optional

Tools needed:
Flat head screwdriver

Step 1:

Slide hose clamps onto the painter’s pole (do not tighten yet).


Step 2:

Slide spring clamp onto pole, trapping an “arm” of the spring clamp into the hose clamps.


Step 3:

Tighten hose clamps with the screwdriver to secure the spring clamp. Alternate tightening each hose clamp to be sure you make the hose clamps as tight as possible. Decorate handle of pole with stickers if you so choose.


How to Use the Stick Clip:

Step 1:

Insert top carabiner of the quickdraw into the spring clamp. Use spring clamp to hold the top carabiner of the quickdraw open. Clip the rope with a big loop of slack into the bottom carabiner on the quickdraw.


Step 2:

Extend the pole. With patience and grace, hook the bolt with the carabiner.


When the quickdraw is secure to the bolt, pull down on the stick clip with force to free the spring clamp of the quickdraw.

Once the carabiner is hooked, pull down on the stick clip to pull the quickdraw from the spring clamp. The first bolt is now clipped and you are ready to climb!


Dawn Glanc is a co-owner and a guide for Chicks Climbing and Skiing. Dawn has been climbing rock and ice for nearly 20 years. When she is not working you can find Dawn out climbing with friends. She loves sport climbing and considers herself a cragger at heart. “I have been using a stick clip for years,” says Dawn. “Sport climbing is meant to be fun, there is no need to risk a ground fall.  You can use this ‘stick clip’ trick to help keep yourself safe whether you are rock climbing or mixed climbing.”

Dawn and the other guides will be hosting a variety of rock clinics this fall in some of the premier climbing areas in the U.S. Look for Chicks in the Red River Gorge, Keene Valley, Red Rocks and Rifle. Beginner to advanced climbers are welcome. Don’t miss your chance to learn new skills and techniques from some of the best female guides in the industry.

Why Climb Keene Valley?

By Emilie Drinkwater

Keene Valley ClimbingChicks Rock Keene Valley is one of my favorite events of the year….but sometimes I can’t pinpoint why. Maybe it’s because of the camaraderie. Maybe it’s because of the climbing. Maybe it’s because, last year, I laughed so hard my stomach was sore for days. But really what I love most is the opportunity to expose women of all backgrounds, skill levels, and abilities to all that Northeastern rock climbing offers.

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′ makes for a lifetime of climbing in the Adirondacks alone!

Keene Valley Rock ClimbingIn our 3-day Chicks Rock clinic we focus on what you want to learn. Whether you’re new to climbing, or trying to become more efficient on multi-pitch routes, these small ratio clinics will work on everything from fundamental techniques (think: good footwork, how to read the terrain, and how to be a great belayer) to anchor building, rappelling, and self-rescue. And more significantly, what you’ll come away with is a new sense of confidence, a network of like-minded women climbers, and a weekend of laughter, good food, and new friends.

Chicks are heading to Keene Valley October 2-5.  Click here to learn more and register.

Getting Pumped for Elevation Weekend

It’s hard to believe, but there once was a time when you didn’t have to queue up for a route at the crag, or get up at 3a.m. – not to beat the weather, but to beat the other party to the climb.  I recently heard that Discovery Channel was going to kickoff their Elevation Weekend (this weekend) with Valley Uprising, a film that explores the stories of those pushed the limits and pioneered our sport in Yosemite, and I couldn’t help but think of the few bold women who helped champion the sport at a time when there was no crag crowd.

I was discussing climbing during this era with Chicks Guide, Kitty Calhoun, who began climbing in the late 70’s and quickly became an inspiration for many women with a multitude of radical ascents  including the first American female ascent of Dhaulagiri, the first female ascent of Makalu, new Grade VI rock routes in Kyrgyzstan, a new Grade VI new route on Middle Triple Peak in Alaska, and a rare ascent of the Diamond Couloir on Mt Kenya.

We actually didn’t talk much about her accomplishments, because when you talk about bold women and Yosemite, one woman came to Kitty’s mind….you guessed it, Lynn Hill.

7-Lynn-Hill-on-Half-Dome,-ph-Charlie-Row-1977“Lynn Hill and I grew up in the same generation and each of us faced the same challenges – we were trying to find our way in climbing which was, at the time, dominated by men,” said Kitty.  “I met Lynn for the first time in the early 90’s and at that time, she was a World Cup sport climber and most of those women were primarily concerned about their strength to weight ratio. Not Lynn – she ate as much as any man at the table.  Since then, we became fellow ambassadors for Patagonia and I have grown to appreciate her appetite for knowledge (she is always asking questions) and her analytical style.  I am very excited to see her highlighted in Elevation Weekend.”

Set the DVR, VCR, or maybe even stay home to check out some of Discovery Channel’s Elevation Weekend this weekend.  This event takes viewers to rarely seen, striking destinations, following men and women on their journey to conquer the elements. A weekend of epic documentaries, Elevation Weekend documents new conflicts and obstacles as well as reflects on the history of heroic expeditions and how they inform modern explorations.

Elevation Weekend commences with the premiere of the award-winning documentary, VALLEY UPRISING, on Saturday, April 25 at 8 PM ET/PT. VALLEY UPRISING explores the stories of those who pushed the limits of what’s possible at Yosemite Valley, CA, going beyond the risk and commitment over the span of 50 years as rock climbing evolved from a group of self-reliant, bold mountain men who took months and years to scale the peaks of Half Dome and El Capitan into the sports of aid climbing, free climbing, speed climbing and freebase climbing, where both legendary peaks could be scaled in a single day, leading to today’s extreme sports that include BASE jumping.


Crack Climbing Tip: Use Your Thumbs

As we near desert season, we asked Kitty Calhoun to give us a bit of beta on an important, but rarely focused on, crack climbing technique.  It’s not just for hitchhiking and texting anymore, Kitty has us considering the thumb as we’re sending splitters at Indian Creek.

Your thumb is the most important digit you’ve got.  Think about it.  Which finger do we automatically use as toddlers to suck on?  The thumb of course.  It gives us security and stability. (See image to left – who hasn’t used their thumb for this?)

Pinching & Crimping

No seriously, your thumb has the most power.  On face climbs, often on cobblestones, it pinches.  On crimpers, it wraps around and sits on top of your index finger to add support and aid in stability.

Thumb Crimping.

Thumb Crimping.


But did you ever think about how you use your thumb when crack climbing?  First off, you can use your thumb to provide opposition when you are laybacking a thin finger crack.

Thumb providing opposition.

Thumb providing opposition.

Offset Finger Cracks

Secondly, your thumb is critical in offset finger cracks (too big for finger locks and too small for hands).  In this case, you place your thumb under your first two fingers and then slide in the wide part of a crack, bring down to the constriction, and cam.  All the while, your thumb is pushing against the other two to provide stability.

Thumb in offset finger crack.

Thumb in offset finger crack.

Hand Cracks

Lastly, you use your thumb in hand cracks – especially when the crack is insecure and you are in thumbs down position.  Exact use depends on whether if is thin hands or cupped hands.

Thumb in hand jam.

Thumb in hand jam.

Suffice it to say, that the thumb is vital for leverage and stability.  To find out more about use of your thumb and other body parts in cracks, please attend our Indian Creek Climbing clinic.

Written by: Kitty Calhoun

Dust Off Your Crampons! Tips to Prepare Your Ice Gear

The temperatures are dropping and ice is forming, it’s time for you to take stock of your inventory and prepare all your gear for the season of screws, picks, and pillars.  You’ll be surprised at how being proactive will ensure you have a bomber start to the season.  Girly Guide, Dawn Glanc, helps walk us through the prep process.

Make repairs – stitch up the holes in your gloves, fix any broken buckles/straps, clean out last year’s coffee from your thermos, and fix any minor damages to your favorite baselayers.  Also, for those that wear lightweight helmets, make sure there are no punctures or damage from last season.

WinterGearSharpen, sharpen, sharpen – We love the feel of brand new picks on the ice.  Get the next best thing by taking the time to sharpen your crampons and picks.  Better yet, give our friends at Ouray Mountain Sports a call and see if you can send your poky objects (screws, picks & crampons) to them now and have them ready to go for your first trip to Ouray!

Re-waterproof – Did you know that all that dirt, oil and grime on your waterproof/resistant layers actually clogs the membranes which affects its ability to do its very important job of keeping you dry?  Wash and re-waterproof these layers with the appropriate Nikwax product.

Adjust – Does your harness and helmet transition from rock to ice?  Add ice clippers to your harness (remember the awesome clippers Chicks participants got from Black Diamond last year?  They are perfect!) and adjust your leg loops and chin strap early so you are not fumbling with them while wearing mittens at the base of your favorite climb while the party behind you beats you to the first pitch!  You also don’t want to be worried about your crampons day of, so make sure your crampons are configured to fit the boots you will be wearing next.  Lastly, it’s time to make the switch from nut tool to v-thread.

Restock – Have a favorite energy snack or drink?  Stock up now and don’t forget to check leftover Grabber Warmers for expiration date and order in bulk for the entire season!

Place orders –  After all repairs and adjustments are made, inventory your gear.  Don’t forget to try on clothes you haven’t worn for a while to check the fit (hey, you drop a lot of pounds rock climbing!).  If you need to purchase replacement gear or need new gear for your 2014/2015 adventures, now is the time.  Winter gear has a tendency to fly off the shelves!

Use Your Power Center (a.k.a The Butt Story)

We recently posted this Kitty Calhoun quote on Facebook, “Your butt is your power center….use it!” We received such a great response that we asked Kitty to elaborate in a blog post giving all of us the opportunity to think about our tush in a new, positive way.  So, let’s listen to Kitty and Sir Mix-A-Lot and celebrate our gifts!

Written by: Kitty Calhoun, Chicks Girly Guide


Susanne working her glutes!

I always thought my hips were like an anchor on a ship, weighing me down, until one day I saw a woman using her hips powerfully for momentum as she easily sent an overhanging sport route. Then, I started rethinking my opinion of my hips. What if, I thought, the more big and powerful your hips are, the stronger of a climber you could be – if you used them to your advantage.

As soon as I got home, I went to my book collection and pulled out Performance Rock Climbing, by D Goddard and U Neumann, to see if by chance they could confirm my new theory. I went to the index and low and behold, there it was – a whole chapter devoted to gender differences. Under the subheading “Power Center” it states…”The wider frame of attachment for the abdominal and gluteal muscles translates to a greater capacity for torsional stability and body tension from her power center.” Yes! I am a genius.

So, what this means is not only do you want to move your hips over your feet for balance, but you can also use the power of your hips for momentum. And furthermore, when turning sideways to reach a hold, “with proper foot choice, the lower body can generate a twisting force that, relayed through the more powerful core, rolls the upper body on the shoulders in a twist-lock”. This is powerful stuff.

If you need practice, consider taking one of our Chicks Rock programs – there are still just a few spots left in our October clinics. Turn that liability into your greatest asset!

Considerations in Making the Transition From Indoor to Outdoor Climbing

Kitty Calhoun placing solid protection

Kitty Calhoun reaching to place a great piece of pro.

Recent beautiful weather calls a lot of climbers outdoors.  Kitty Calhoun offers great insight into making the transition from gym climbing to outdoor climbing.

Times have changed. Rock and ice climbing are growing exponentially. This wave of new climbers outdoors is primarily due to the ease of getting into climbing in a rock gym – there is  relatively little expense, instruction is readily available, and all peripheral concerns are taken away indoors so you can just focus on the movement and basic mechanics of belaying, top-roping, and leading.

In making the transition to climbing outside, there are safety, ethics, and Leave No Trace (LNT) principles which should be observed so that you have fun and others around you have fun as well.

Safety issues include the following:

*Be aware that some rock is loose.  Test suspicious rock before pulling on it.  Yell “rock” if you pull off a rock, or drop a carabiner or any other hard object.  If belaying, do not be anchored in the fall-line. Consider a helmet.

*Do not climb below other parties or too close to other parties so that if you do pull off a rock or drop an object, it will not hit the other party.  Do not pass another party unless you ask and they give permission.

*Do not lower your partner off the end of the rope.  Either tie in, tie a knot in the end, or pay attention.

*If you are trad climbing, learn how to place gear from someone experienced first.

*Do not automatically trust someone else’s anchors without inspecting them first, unless you know the experience level of the person who built the anchor.

*Do not assume that a climbing partner you do not know is a good belayer or a safe outdoor climber.

*Inspect your equipment, especially ropes and webbing.  There are stories of accidents in which ropes or webbing were weakened as a result of exposure to chemicals and an accident in which a draw failed because a biner was clipped into the rubber gasket rather than the webbing.

*Learn how to back off a route (you can’t lower off webbing without the rope first going through a biner).  Learn basic self-rescue skills in the back country.

Ethics issues include the following:

*Do not chip or modify any routes.  Do not add bolts unless you have permission from the first-ascent party.

*Observe local ethics and management policies as pertains to putting up new routes.

*Do not take others gear off a route.

*Avoid top-roping directly off the chains so as to prolong the life of the chains.

*Do not project a route if there are parties waiting for your route.

*Limit the size of your party.  Spread out.  Go to different cliffs if you have to.  Social engagement can take place bouldering or in the evening.

*Do not leave your barking dog tied up at the base of a cliff while you go do a multi-pitch climb.

*Leave the ghetto blaster at home.  If you need music, plug into your iPod.

Leave No Trace issues particularly pertinent to outdoor climbing include:

*Do not leave micro-trash such as bits of climbing tape.

*Do not build new trails without permission of land managers.

*When taking a dump, dig a 6-8” hole at least 200 yards from the climbing site, trail, or water.

*If you bring a dog, bring a bag and pick up after your dog.

If we all observe appropriate safety, ethical, and LNT principles, then the exploding numbers of climbers transitioning into the outdoors will ultimately be a good thing.  After all, I think climbing brings meaning and happiness to our lives and a world full of happy people would be a good thing.

By Kitty Calhoun

What to wear….what to wear

Ever find yourself wondering why your shirt won’t stay under your harness or wish your pants had a tiny pocket perfect for a third pitch Tram Bar?  There’s a lot of competition in the performance wear market and with more women in the “active” scene, the demand is even higher.  Mountain Hardwear wants to know more about your needs so they can more properly fit today’s active Chicks!  This survey is important for all ladies and will take five minutes with simple questions about your chosen activities.  So share your voice, be heard, give them your opinion – this is your chance.  The more the merrier, feel free to pass this on to your active lady friends.