Rain, Snow, and Adventure Climbing: Tales from a week making it work in the Canadian Rockies

The following is a guest post from Chicks alumna Sarah Goldman (featured this week on the front page of Chicks!) who has spent the last couple of months climbing all the epic rock she can get her hands on. She’s graciously allowed us to re-post her blog on a week of climbing (well, what ended up being 3 days of climbing) in Canmore, Alberta here. So continue reading to learn all about the Canadian adventures of this super woman following her alpine dreams!

For the past six days I’ve been calling Canmore, Alberta home. In fact, for most of the week prior while I was basking in the sun of interior BC, I would actually tell people, when asked, that I was from Canmore when I felt like having fun and/or wasn’t up to the longer truer answer that used to be simple but for now remains complicated. Canmore sprawls along the Bow River in the Bow Valley just outside of Banff National Park.

I pretty much fell in love with Canmore on my first visit here last summer. The Rocky Mountains stand on either side of this valley, they loom really, like extremely proud teenagers. They aren’t old and green like the Appalachians that welcome you and make you feel at home. Quite the contrary, these mountains almost dare you to enter them. When I first saw them last year I had only one thought, “I need to climb better.” It’s easy to quickly feel outclassed in these hills. But still, these mountains more then any other I have encountered, compel me to enter them. I want to learn and train and develop the skills necessary to earn their respect so that they may grant me safe passage. To me, these mountains present a challenge from which I simply cannot walk away.

To that end, I came to Canmore to work with my favorite guide and mentor, a Canmore local and Canadian Rockies superhero Sarah Hueniken. She doesn’t wear a cape, or have knee high boots and blue tights…that I know of anyway….but her professionalism, proficiency and stymieing ability are nothing short of super powers. This is not a love fest of smoke blowing, but a truly honest assessment that if these mountains outclass most mere mortals, then Sarah and her group of peers that guide here, are truly a cut above.

– The Bow Valley finds some sun. The Three Sisters on the left.

My goals for this week weren’t especially outrageous. I mean, after all, I just started climbing again after a year off. I am though at a point in my climbing where there is still much to learn, but I’m also not interested in necessarily just going after an objective and being lead around all day. Ive been fortunate to work with Sarah before and know her commitment to helping folks increase their self sufficiency so when I emailed her and said, “I want to hire you for a week, but I want to lead most of it,” I knew she would be keen.

The story this week was the weather. To quote, “this is the worst f#*&@ing weather we have ever had.” Our first day, Monday, was a total washout and turned into a rest day for me which was probably a good thing given I had just spent five days clipping bolts and getting pumped in Skaha. Sarah and I agreed to remain optimistic about Tuesday even though the forecast was poor. We decided to check in with each other in the morning and after a short delay we finally met up and headed out on Tuesday around 8 a.m. …in the rain. We spent two hours driving around the entire area trying really just to see some routes through the low gray clouds. We struck out completely, and in an effort to salvage the day we headed back to Canmore and the local crag Grassi Lakes.

Grassi is a sport crag full of pocketed overhanging walls with friendly bolts. Knowing that I was interested in getting on the sharp end, Sarah offered up the first lead to me. Given conditions and my general insecurities that creep in when climbing around amazing climbers, whether they are your guide or not, it was actually a surprisingly bold move on my part that I accepted the rope and jumped on the route. It was an overhanging 5.8 or 9 with a million bolts that I managed to climb cleanly. When I was back safely on the ground, Sarah offered up some much desired, and apparently needed, advice on my form and movement. First words out of her mouth, “Ok, this isn’t ice climbing.” You wouldn’t know it given the temps, but her point was that my movements weren’t dynamic. Hands, hands, feet, feet, more like climbing a ladder rather than actually being dynamic and utilizing the features of the rock in the most beneficial way. We talked about twist locks, using both sides of my feet, extending my reach, and using the most appropriate part of a hold even if its not the most positive or intuitive feeling.

These are pretty basic concepts, but Ill admit, I hadn’t really thought about it in the ways she had described, nor had I really been on routes tough enough that it demanded that solid of technique. We spent part of the day climbing routes just above my grade so I could apply the lessons of my first climb and when I was thoroughly pumped we switch into some rescue technique reviews and quizzes. All in all a shitty weather day but we made it work.

Wednesday turned out to be one of our best weather days of the week but given the snow in high elevations, chilly temps, and threat of afternoon rain we decided on an objective right in town, the East Ridge of Lady Macdonald. Lady Mac is one of those proud mountains that looms over town so I was definitely keen to get on the climb. In what turned out to be on of the nicest surprises and addition to this week, Sarah’s friend Claire joined us for the day. The plan was to let me have a go at leading the route with Claire as my second. This allowed Sarah to solo around on the easier bits and provide coaching for both of us. This is a wickedly awesome opportunity not often dealt out by a guide and really priceless in terms of developing climbers. After a tough 2 hour approach requiring multiple stream crossings and a steep scramble we roped up and headed towards the ridge.

This was my re-introduction to the crumbling rock of the Canadian Rockies and climbing in mountaineering boots and while it got my attention I felt pretty comfortable. Its most likely because Sarah was normally just a few feet in front of me giving me what she called “a false sense of security.” When we got to the business pitch of the trip, I changed into my climbing shoes and Sarah tied into the rope. Pretty good compromises I think. Sarah offered to take my pack, but in my continued random acts of boldness I kept it on and headed off. I brought them both up and we continued on to the ridge and short pitching and short pitching and short pitching.

– Getting down to business on the East Ridge of Lady Mac. A quick pitch to gain the ridge proper.  Mad kudos to Sarah H., my Fairy Guide Mother, for a sweet photo!

In my limited experience short pitching along a ridge seems to equal: Take up coils, climb for 15 meters, maybe put in one piece of pro along the way, find something remotely resembling an anchor, straddle some rock and bring up or over your second. Repeat. Repeat and repeat. While at times it became tedious the experience of doing it over and over again actually really just reinforced the lesson of what we were doing. It was a great learning experience. All along the way Sarah was dropping hints, I mean, educating me, about ways to be more efficient because speed is safety in mountains…and we were cold and the skies were looking ugly. Good bits of wisdom like when you are bringing up your second, look ahead to the next pitch, if you are going to transition modes do what you can while they are climbing to be ready for that…ergo…if you have the full rope out and are switching to short pitches, start taking up coils while you are belaying. At the time, the thought of doing that pretty much blew my mind, I had enough to manage, but I look forward to continue practicing that and the other things we covered. We topped out on Lady Mac and after a brief stop at an abandoned tea house where we finally were allowed to eat, drink, and pee and laugh, we headed down the hikers walk off in the rain. Claire was a super trooper, a patient climber and an absolute joy to have along. Awesome day.

– Working the 5.5 ridge.

Thursday turned out to be a full on weather day and we elected to go to our corners stay dry and rest up for another big day on Friday. I got a good gym workout in the hotel fitness center and felt pleased that my body wasn’t wrecked from the 10 hour effort the day before. Sweet, all that time in the gym in Iraq paid off.

Fridays weather was tenuous. Big kudos for Sarah and her part time work as a meteorologist. Constantly checking all of the websites and webcams to find the warmest and driest routes for us to get on. Basically just trying to find a way to make it work. On Friday we were joined by Laurie, aka Zippy, one of my favorite people to get out with, and we headed to Takkakaw Falls optimistic that the snow line would be above us and that we might by chance get some afternoon sun. It wasn’t actively raining and we were all in good spirits so we set off to what rockclimbing.com calls “the worst rock climbing in North America in the most amazing setting in North America.”

The plan was for Zippy and I to swing leads on the 10 pitches of traversing and 5.6 climbing. When we got to the base of the quartzite route the first pitch was dripping wet with puddles in the positive holds. Sarah decided it was best for her to jump out front so we could get used to the wet rock, climbing with gloves, and socks in our climbing shoes. A pretty good idea given the mind fuck that wet rock can cause. After the first pitch we did swing leads and had a great time wondering up the large face alongside a gigantic waterfall.

We got to one of the more difficult pitches and it was my lead. Just before I left the anchor Sarah mentioned that there is a move on this pitch that always gets her attention. Even though it was protected by a bolt I could probably have done without that level of honesty from her whereas I climbed up to the crux and completely unfocused took a short whipper. Bummed but not pissed that I didn’t climb the route cleanly I did jump back on, work through it and finish the pitch complete with a crappy .75 placement that it’s probably good I didn’t fall on. I brought up those two gals and Sarah linked up the rest of the pitches which ultimately dead ended in a 60 meter belly crawl through a cave! Wtf! Awesome adventure climbing. We stripped everything off our harnesses, donned our plastic pants (rain paints) and headed into the abyss. I love caving, always have, and the best part is always the accompanying soundtrack of laughter, grunting and most often when it involves adults, an exceptional amount of cussing. This was no exception.

The tunnel opened up to the very top of the falls. We were tucked away where none of the myriads of binocular touting tourists could see us. We sat and enjoyed the view and had a very serious, all be it bizarre and troubling conversation about how we would jump across the falls to the rock on the other side if for some reason our lives depended on it. Thankfully we were safe that day and didn’t have to test any of our theories. We ducked back in the cave, repeated the string of grunting and expletives, and set off on reversing the route through a series of rappels and traverses.

– Zippy and I pondering how we would make the leap across.

As we finished the route blue skies were nearly everywhere and the bright sunshine warmed our very chilly bodies. Rockclimbing.com’s description of the route was really only half true, the climbing was fun and not terrible but it just might have been one of the most beautiful places in North America. We ended the day with beers and dinner at the Post in Lake Louise satisfied from a great day. As usual we were probably a bit rowdy with laughter for the Post, but it was awesome nonetheless.

Two girls and their guide on the summit. No Jumping allowed.

So what was initially planned to be five full days of climbing turned into three weather driven and differently challenging days.  I can already tell that I am a better and more confident climber than I was a week ago.  I’ve identified some weaknesses, one in particular that could really fuck me some day, and got some really positive feedback about the things I’m doing well.  Under really difficult circumstances Sarah pulled together some very educational and fun days.

Chicks Rock! Vegas Style

Chicks Rock! at Red Rocks took place this past weekend, Oct 1-5. The clinic was held by myself, Dawn Glanc, and my fellow Girly Guide Kitty Calhoun. The goal was to have fun and help the women become confident and competent climbers. I believe we met the goal.

The climbing clinic itself was three days long, with a final optional multi-pitch day. Of all the participants in the clinic, only one woman chose not to do the multi-pitch day. All the clinic participants had prior climbing experience, but their abilities varied. We broke into two small groups so that we could have more focused goals. Despite the iffy weather, we got three full days of climbing.

Day one we went to the Mass Production wall to work on face climbing techniques. The routes varied from 5.8-5.11b. Everyone surprised themselves with the grades they climbed. Day two we went to the Flight Path area to work on crack climbing techniques. Everyone experience the pain and joys of crack climbing. A few women even completed the 5.9+ OW crack that we had set up. Day three we went to the Willow Springs area to bring crack techniques and face climbing techniques together. That day Kitty and I saw that our work had paid off. Each woman showed incredible gains in their confidence and climbing techniques. It was awesome to see the success that each woman achieved.

The optional multi-pitch day was a great way to wrap up the clinic. Two women went with Kitty to climb Wholesome Fullback and Our Father. I climbed with two women for their first ever multi-pitch experience. We climbed Geronimo with style. It was an amazing and powerful weekend. It is always great to meet strong women who enjoy climbing. We are all walking away from this weekend as friends and climbing partners.

– Girly Guide Dawn Glanc

Our Fantastic Girly Gathering at NRG!

Sterling: an awesome rope company who sponsored the event.

Girly: don’t be afraid of this word, yup we are girls who aren’t afraid to be tough and feminine at the same time!

Gathering: like-minded, kindred-spirits together in one place…namely, to go rock climbing.

When you drive into Fayetteville, the sign says “coolest little town”…a bit presumptuous but true! It’s an awesome location for the Sterling Rope Girly Gathering! Especially when you have a contact like Elaina Smith at New River Mountain Guides to show us the ropes. It’s not her first rodeo as she helped organize this event when it was the Sterling Goddess Gatherings a few years back. We’ve resurrected these clinics with a new twist “Chicks” style.  It’s hard to describe what that style is, but it I do believe it’s unique to Chicks Climbing.

Girly Guide Angela Hawse and I traveled together from Ridgway to the event and arrived a couple days early to check out the area before the ladies arrived. Most women stayed at the group campsite at Cantrell Ultimate Rafting which was a great base camp five minutes from town and 10 minutes from the climbing areas. Our other local Girly Guides were Diane Kearns from Winchester, VA and Jill Gallagher from Tallmadge, OH. Both amazing women and wonderful additions to Chicks Rock!

The participants arrived Friday night in time for pizza, salad and beverages. We handed out demo gear, signed waivers and did introductions. The tone was set with talk about the history, philosophy and intent behind Chicks Climbing. Then the women broke off into their smaller climbing groups with their guides and talked about their aspirations for the weekend. By this time, everyone felt familiar with each other and learned they each shared similar desires for the upcoming two days.

On Saturday the groups climbed at the Bridge Buttress and the Junkyard, both offering a wide variety of climbing and with moderate routes for our beginner to intermediate climbers. The ladies were out all day learning new techniques and skills according to the level they were signed up for. It was a full day! We had time for showers before our catered dinner arrived at the pavilion near our campsite; the women enjoyed chatting and getting to know each other over a BBQ style meal. Afterwards, we gathered around the campfire and opened it up for the women to ask our professional guides questions.  Things like greatest accomplishments and future goals came to mind. We then turned it around and asked our participants the same question. It was fun to learn what we each of us dream and aspire to do with this one precious life.

Sunday the groups switched locations and continued to learn rappel and anchor techniques beyond getting mileage on the rock. It started to rain, so both groups retreated to dry caves to continue with more elaborate anchor systems before it was time to wrap up at 2 p.m. We met one last time as a group and our guides gave the ladies their certificates and said something about each woman. The women in turn, talked about what they learned and are taking away with them.

I guess this is what gives Chicks our unique “style” I spoke about – that value of the experience that goes far beyond the rock.

You can check out photos from our time at NRG here on Flickr or here on Facebook.

Yosemite: Guest Post from Sarah Goldman

The following is a guest post from Chicks alumna Sarah Goldman who has spent the last couple of months climbing all the epic rock she can get her hands on. She’s graciously allowed us to re-post her Yosemite photo blog here, and we’re looking forward to hearing more from her latest trip to Canada!

Back in August, me and some of my homies, yeah these guys are some of them, went to Yosemite….and got SCHOOLED! There is just too much to say about this trip so Im just going to throw up some photos.  All in all…battleing frigid and scorching temps, mind blowing runouts, and some really long approaches we had a great time and major learning occurred! This trip represented my official full-on return to climbing and while my climbing wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I’m psyched I went and was super lucky to have wonderfully patient and fun partners.

So the picture above is taken in Tuolumne….we spent a few days up there trying to get used to the rock and the weather…9,000 feet and full on snow, hail, rain, etc.

As a result of the temps and us getting our bearings we went out to do some top roping for a bit and even that proved to be difficult!  Colleen busted out all of her SPI magic although my favorite quote from this day was uttered just after I was lowered over the edge: “Oh, this is never going to work.” Pretty sure this picture was taken just following what never worked.

It was warm for a second, and I got bored…so, well push ups seemed like a good idea.

This is Ana topping out on Holdless Horror, a sweet 4 pitch 5.6 in Tuolume that we swapped leads on. Ana got the business pitches and did an awesome job. Super fun day on Dozier Dome.

This is Dozier Dome….Holdess Horror and Bull Dozier routes are to the right of center.

After a few really cold, but clear days in Tuolumne, we were all ready to head to the Valley where we heard it was still summer. We had dreams of climbing in capris, (yes, the boys too!) and tank tops and generally feeling our extremities again.  Our drive down into the Valley was spectacular and our first glimpse of the great ones was awesome….

Unless you live under a rock instead of on one, you probably recognize these guys…the jewels of the Valley El Capitan and Half Dome.

On the major list of “donts” that we learned about the hard way was Curry Village. On paper, err,  I guess on line it seemed like a good idea at the time. Little tent cabins and amenities near by.  Sure, there were little tent cabins, and they were cute, but there were 900 little tent cabins and this isnt my usual hyperbole.  We had just come from a nice quiet campsite up in the meadows and we all experience major culture shock when we rejoined “the people” and the American LARGESS in Curry Village.

These rows of tents went on and on and on…..we got lost numerous times trying to find our shanty.  They were though warm and comfortable with nice beds and linens.  I had the extreme pleasure of having the next door bathhouse light in my face each night which added extra charm.

In an effort to get on one of the major classics, Colleen and I opted to share a guide for the 16 pitch 5.7 A0 Royal Arches.  It was a long long meandering day but definitely worth the time and energy…even if it meant 10 rappels in blazing hot sun.

On the last climbing day of our trip, three of us, Colleen, Edwin and myself went after another classic, this time the 5.7 on Half Dome.  With a daunting six mile approach, a million pitches of runout slab, and a nine mile descent, we were successful in making it a complete epic that took 22 hours including wandering around on top of Half Dome in the super dark looking for the descent cables, some granite steps, and trying desperately to quite literally not walk off a cliff.  I hate to say it, but if Colleen hadn’t been able to pull up some much needed beta on her iPhone, we might still be up there.

Snake Dike follows the left horizon…forever….and tops out with 2000 feet of Class 3 slabs to nowhere.

Better get out the flag while we still have sunlight…the summit was at least another hour away at this point, but it still made for a good picture! Thanks Edwin and Colls for a helluva a day!

It was a great trip full of interesting surprises, challenging moments, loads of laughter, singing and the occasional speeding ticket. We encountered nearly every weather condition imaginable and definitely got ourselves into climbing that got our attention.  Ill look forward to going back a little bit stronger and a whole lot wiser!

Devil’s Lake Wrap Up & Testimonials!

Devil’s Lake Wrap Up
We just completed our visit to the Midwestern jewel near Madison, Wisc., the gorgeous Devil’s Lake State Park.  Here, we set up camp for the week at the group campground located close enough to where we can walk to the cliffs every day. We had shoes from Scarpa, tents and sleeping bags from Marmot and Jetboil stoves.  We provide breakfast and lunch on-site at Chicks Rock! Devil’s Lake, and brought in catered diners and had a night on the town as well. It’s great because all the ladies need to do is show up ready to climb!

Weekend  Skills Clinics
This year we offered specific skills clinics the weekend before the official Chicks Rock! kickoff, and even opened it up for boys; but, they were too intimidated (?) and didn’t show. We ran “ground schools” that focused on topics you rarely spend dedicated time on, i.e. all day. Our participants learned the finer points of placing gear on lead, red pointing a project, anchor systems and multi-pitch systems. Our ladies learned a lot and appreciated getting schooled by the likes of Kitty Calhoun.

Sunday Night Slideshow
This year we hosted a free slideshow in the Union at the University of Wisconsin (thank you Hoofers!) KItty Calhoun put on a great show on her Epics (life experiences) on the Big Walls. We gave away a free pass to Boulders Climbing Gym to the first 50 people who showed up. Cool! Then we gave away two Sterling Ropes to the person who could name which 8,000 meter peak Kitty did the first female ascent of; then they had to guess a number between 1 and 100. Pretty good deal for a free show! Kitty can sure weave a great story and everyone enjoyed the up-close and personal experience with that little southern girl.

Womens Three-Day Intensive Course
It’s amazing how much women learn over three days of climbing with great instruction. This is the clinic where we camp together, share meals, hike from camp to the climbs, sit around the campfire and share stories. The magic of Chicks is this full experience with the camaraderie of women sharing in an activity they all love. It’s an invaluable experience for our participants to have access to our guides both on and off the rocks.

Special thanks goes to alumna Anne Hughes for being my local contact, airport shuttle driver, gear provider, food shopper, camp manager and guide to the local crag. This program would not happen without her dedication and support. She’s huge!

One of my favorite parts of the program is when the Chicks receive their certificate and talk about what they are taking away with them. They not only learn a plethora of technical skills, they walk away with confidence and the knowledge they can tackle most anything with a little determination.

Get it from the Chicks!

Here’s what two of our newest Chicks – Ruth and Janice, had to say about their Chicks Rock! experience (thanks to Pemba Serves for the share!)

Ruth: Wow! What an experience I had at the Chicks Rock event! When I first arrived I thought I was getting a little course on rock climbing. Instead, what I received was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Kitty Calhoun, my instructor, is an amazing woman. She taught and showed me things I couldn’t even imagine.

We began our mornings with breakfast, and after putting together our lunch we hiked up this beautiful mountain to amazing sights to behold and rocks to climb. Little did anyone know the fear I have of heights, something I wanted to overcome while on my trip. On my first climb I was afraid and excited all at once. Kitty helped me to focus on those fears and use them to my advantage. Once I was at the top, the amazing views from way up top was so exhilarating.

After a full day of climbing we all hiked back down the mountain to our camp for a time of relaxation by the fire and getting to know each other. And then off to bed to get a good nights sleep so we could do it all again the next morning. I just remember thinking “Wow! We get to do this again tomorrow!!!!”

Being out at Devil’s Lake with these amazing, strong women was just awesome. What I found out about myself is that I am also a person with my own accomplishments and desires. At first I did this for my children and my husband, but in the end I really did it for myself and that was such a fulfillment of my own desires. I still have fear of heights put learning to focus help me to forget about those fears if only for a little bit to make it up that rock.

On our last day I didn’t want it to end, the time seemed to pass by way to fast. And I need to say at our closing ceremony I did cry, because I met some amazing women and took away some of the best experiences I will ever have. I wish that all women could take a trip like this, one that they would never forget and an experience of a lifetime!

Janice: Packing has never been easy for me, and after having a little girl 10 months ago it seemed to get harder! Needless to say I was lost as to what to bring to the Chicks Rock climbing Intensive clinic at Devil’s Lake. I had emails and emails with packing lists, but still! What would I forget?! It had been awhile since I’d “roughed it” and I was embarking on a adventure that was completely new to me.

Rock Climbing? Yeah I’d thought about it – A LOT. Brad and Vera and Boulders are just a stone’s throw away. Steve, my coworker here at PEMBA, is OBSESSED. Between these three, I have climbing power-houses all around me and yet I had not taken the plunge. I had never climbed before, except for a few stints at Boulders. Well, suddenly an opportunity came my way that I couldn’t pass up!

Brad’s wife Vera picked me up and drove me with Ruth (PEMBA’s Office Manager Peter’s wife) towards Devil’s Lake. As we rolled out of my condo complex en route to Chicks Rock, I had no idea what to expect. I have spent a lot of time TALKING about climbing, with little to nothing to show for it.

Lately – with the baby and all – I’d been looking for something different. Sure, running and biking have places in my heart, but climbing is this invigorating, physically and mentally challenging activity that is a passion of not only my coworkers but their friends and families. I wanted to see what this is all about. I need to do it, if for nothing else, to be IT: A new interest; a new activity that I can beg Bryan to stay home with Hayden for that will allow me to escape (and don’t get me wrong, I’ve been told many times Babies are welcome at Boulders, and Hayden is seriously a peach.) In addition to a new interest I was hoping to learn a little bit more about climbing and the equipment involved. After all, Pemba Serves does rep PETZL in the Midwest!

So we rolled into BEAUTIFUL Devil’s Lake (if you haven’t been there, GO!!) late afternoon and found our site. Devil’s Lake is a true gem. Not only do you feel “off the radar” but I literally was, with little to no cell service. I have been in the “industry” (that’s the Outdoor Industry, or #OIBIZ, for those of you who aren’t) for only about 4 years but have loved being outside for as long as I can remember. I did a lot of camping when I was younger and through high school, and it had been some time since I had “roughed it!” After we assembled our new (prototype, even!) Mountain Hardwear 6 Corners Tent (nicknamed the “Taj” at the campsite because of its size – hey I am FINE with camping in comfort), Chicks was officially rolling. Vera left in the van, and Ruth and I just gave each other a “here we go” stare.

The first night was the most sitting we did, as the group got settled in camp and met around the picnic bench for dinner. After a slightly awkward get-to-know-you dinner, we lit the campfire and talked Chicks Rock. We took turns around the fire and explained how we all got there and what we hoped to get out of the next few days, and then signed our lives away on some waivers. Ruth and I were a little freaked out about the “paralysis and death” part of the waiver, but signed any way knowing it was just a formality. Even though it’s not THAT funny we had a good (albeit nervous) laugh about that the first night.

Before I go on I should introduce you to the group: I had the opportunity to camp out with four other “Chicks” and the instructors led by none other than Kim Reynolds. “Head Chick” and life coach are just two of the titles that Kim has so humbly earned. Her goal was for us to have a positive experience no matter what, so something we worked on doing was to look at the positive in each situation. The other part of the team consisted of renowned alpinist Kitty Calhoun, who’s adorable low-pitched cackle earned her the nickname of “Evil Kitty” on this trip. While that name is the exact opposite of who Kitty is, it made us laugh a few times to joke about. Kitty is not only an introspective devoted teacher, she is a stand-up mom, “extreme” sledder and baker extraordinaire (the things you learn while sitting around at camp!) Her patience and attention to detail made us all feel important and cared for! And last but not least, there was our assistant guide Annie Hughes. What can I say? I call her “coach” sometimes and that’s exactly what she is: Patient, encouraging and – did I mention? – an AMAZING climber herself?

The other participants in our group consisted of two novice climbers who knew each other from Houston where they did triathlons together (both have done 3-4 Ironman competitions!) While Dara lives in New York City now the two have remained dear friends and enjoy taking adventurous trips together. Dara and Ange are a fantastic duo with a lot of positive energy and some good experience to add to the group. The other woman in the group, Chris, drove all of the way from Montana to join the group! I learned that she has a friend in Baraboo she came to see as well, but what a drive! Chris was a beginner with Ruth and I, so we worked together for the time we were there.

Rolling out of bed at 7am the next morning I knew that Day 1 was ON. Kim had already revealed the lunch spread, and sat patiently waiting for us to assemble sandwhiches and grab baggies of gorp for the day. I walked directly over to the coffee table to get my morning fix. Then, timely as we learned to be (Kim keeps a wonderfully tight schedule) we headed directly up the CCC trail to our site for the day. What a perfect 20 minute stair-stepping hike! From there it was stretching led by Kitty and then some hands-free bouldering up a nearby slab. This activitiy showed us BALANCE and reminded those of us who didn’t have any! Then we worked on the details: Belaying, knots, harness fit, and finally CLIMBING! We always said what our goal was for the climb before we took off and were asked to debrief after the climb. I personally worked a lot on my focus and on trusting my leg strength!

After a long but exciting day of climbing we trudged back down the path to our campsite, sore and happy. That second night we made our way into the cute little neighboring town of Baraboo and had dinner at the fantastic Little Village Cafe. Afterwards it was off to bed to rest up for the next day. The next night it was an amazing catered dinner down by the Lake and a campfire.

The next couple of days had similar outline and brought with them completely new experiences. We watched Kitty demo techniques on using your leg strength and shifting your hips/weight over your feet for stability. The learning curve between day 1 and day 3 was insanely high. We could not believe how far we’d come. We were able to revisit some of the activities we did the first day, including that “slab” and a route we couldn’t finish to see how we’d improved. One of my favorite climbs we did was up a chimney – so fun!

The last day we ended a little early to have a closing ceremony down by the lake. We received our certificates and got a chance to state what we got out of the clinic. Some were brought to tears of joy and there was a lot of laughing. I never knew how emotional this could be! Kitty also kept a journal for each of us describing our progression over the last few days – down to what we did right or needed to work on each climb. I don’t know how she did that! What special notes to have from a professional!

I am in denial that it’s over. I am bruised and a little sore, but these are just testament to the fun I had at Devil’s Lake Chicks Rock this past week. I left feeling renewed, focused, and strong. I made plans to go to Boulders Climbing Gym at least once a week with Ruth. I miss those cool nights filled with small animal banter in the woods and those damp, quiet mornings. I miss every thing about the exhilaration of climbing with those girls. Mostly, I can’t wait for another Chicks event some time in the future!

Devil’s Lake Weekend Skills Clinics report

Something we pride ourselves in at Chicks Climbing is not being afraid to try something new; after all,  it’s something we ask our participants to do at our clinics.

Taking calculated risks is part of our business and it’s part of what makes life interesting and alive. So this year we offered very affordable Skills Clinics over the weekend and we even invited men.

Well, the men didn’t show up but a small group of women did. What we offered were ground schools that will elevate climbers to new heights: anchor building, multi-pitch transitions, placing gear or making sense of the head games when working a project. The women loved it and learned more than they ever would have imagined without even leaving the ground.

To top off the weekend, Kitty Calhoun gave a free slideshow on Sunday night at the University of Wisconsin about her “Epics on Big Walls” – her disclaimer was that an epic is simply an experience and a journey that the “hero” brings back to tell. She said “not that I’m a hero or anything, I’ve just simply returned to tell you about it.”

Kitty has a way of captivating an audience with her southern charm and infectious laughter, plus she can spin-a-yarn better than anyone I know.

With that behind us, today we launched our three day Chicks Rock! women’s intensive rock climbing course where the women will get a lot of vertical and experience off the ground. Check out our Twitter feed, Flickr Pool, and Facebook page for regular updates from Chicks at Devil’s Lake!

Chick report: climbing the North West Couloir of Middle Teton

Michelle Smith recently submitted a trip report of her July climb of the North West Ice Couloir of Middle Teton with Jessica Baker in July. Michelle is an east coast native who moved west to Jackson, Wyoming to follow her passion of snowboarding in the Tetons, and has developed a site dedicated to documenting and writing about those that make a lifestyle out of “getting after” their passions in the mountains. Jessica is not only the founder of Ski Divas Women’s Ski Camps, she also guides heli-skiing in Alaska, and is a ski mountaineering, alpine, and climbing guide for Exum Mountain Guides among being just a general all around bad-ass! Check out Michelle’s blog of their ‘grand’ adventure together below!

The alarm went off at 1:30 a.m. I anxiously rolled out of bed to go meet up with Exum Guide Jessica Baker at the Lupine Meadows trail head in Grand Teton National Park. From there we would start our mission to ice climb the Northwest Couloir on the Middle Teton. It is July in the Tetons, and the ice climbing in the high peaks is just starting to get good!

We started our hike at about 3 a.m. The combination of nerves and excitement was pretty overwhelming for me as we began hiking up the trail. I had never been ice climbing before, but I had no doubt in my mind that I could do it. I had spent the entire spring climbing and snowboarding big routes in the Tetons and Rockies. During these outings I would ascend the routes using crampons and a mountaineer’s axe. The snow on the routes was sometimes very firm and variable. I also had a fair amount of climbing experience. Last summer I climbed the Exum Ridge on the Grand Teton with Jessica and an all women’s crew. I also spent much of my time in the summer sport/trad climbing and trail running to stay physically strong.

After about an hour or so we got into Garnet Canyon and started making our way to the saddle between the Middle and Grand Teton. First light was hitting the high peaks and as usual, it was beautiful. The weather for the day was looking promising. There was not a cloud in the sky, it was warm, and there was no wind at all. These are the kind of magical summer days in the Tetons that you have to take advantage of. Weather in the high peaks can change quickly though, so we weren’t taking any of it for granted.

During the approach to the saddle we discussed our game plan for the day. Climbing the North West Couloir is a serious route in the Tetons because of all that it involves. Getting to the base of it requires 5.4-5.6 rock climbing on exposed and loose rock. The couloir itself rests on what I would call a hanging snowfield. The base of the couloir ends with an 1000 + foot cliff, and you definitely sense that cliff when you are climbing it. The couloir is about 1,000 feet long, and is pretty darn steep. The route is usually a combination of neve and ice climbing during the summer months.

At the saddle we changed into some warmer clothes, put on all of our climbing gear, got a bite to eat, and rearranged our packs. Now it was go time, and I really started to feel the anxiety of what was in front of me. The couloir was now staring me in face, and it sure did look scary. I started asking myself questions like if I was really ready for this, am I crazy, is this worth the risks, etc. Luckily my determination and drive to do this took over these feeling of uncertainty. There are few things in this world that are more fulfilling to me than challenging myself in the mountains. It was time to send it.

We scrambled up to the rock climbing section, and then began the fun part. The climbing was definitely spicy. Jessica was leading and kept yelling at me to climb the rock, but not to really touch anything. This made the usual 5.4-5.6 easy rock climbing pretty tricky. The last thing we wanted was to grab onto a loose rock and send it barreling down on top of us. There were sections that were very exposed too. I could see clear down into Idaho and into the Teton basins at every moment. I took deep breaths and stayed relaxed the whole time. Although I was feeling pretty gripped, I was starting to have one heck of a good time.

Not before too long we were at the base of the couloir. Jessica and I went over the route one more time. It was going to be done in 6-60 meter pitches. She was placing all the protection and setting up the anchors, and I was following and cleaning everything. I was extremely excited about this part. I am just at the point where I am ready to learn to lead climb, and I couldn’t wait to see exactly how she placed all the protection and made the anchors on each pitch. Plus, I was excited to take out all the ice screws she was going to place. Those tools are fun to play with. Jessica started climbing and before I knew it it was my turn to begin. I grabbed my ice axes and started up. As soon as I began I felt like I was in my element, and immediately fell for climbing ice. I loved that robotic feeling you got swinging the axe into the ice and then kicking your crampons in. It was very rhythmic. It also felt completely bomber and secure as well. I relaxed right away and was ready to really start having fun getting up this thing. I yelled up to Jessica and told her everything felt great. I felt way more comfortable on the ice than I did climbing rock for the first time.

Once we got going we worked like clockwork up the couloir. The conditions couldn’t of been more perfect. The ice was smooth and solid. The weather was calm….no wind whatsoever. It was warm too. I probably could of ice climbed in a t-shirt if I wanted to. And still, there wasn’t even a cloud in the sky! The looming abyss below me and anxiety associated with that was forgotten. I was fully in the moment and completely focused on the task at hand. I was having a blast.

For the next few hours we swung, picked, kicked, placed and removed gear, belayed each other, set up and cleaned anchors, and could not stop yelling such remarks as “oh my god, i can’t believe how amazing this day is!”

Before we knew it we were at the top. The feeling of accomplishment was unbelievable. We wallowed in our stoke for a little while, and then climbed up to the summit of the Middle Teton. There was another pair of women climbers up there with us that came up the south west route. A great day in the Tetons for us ladies! The summit was beautiful. It was hot up there too and again, no wind! Such a rare day in the Tetons. After enjoying the summit for a little while it was time to start climbing down.

I wouldn’t call down climbing the South West Couloir enjoyable at all. The rock was loose, and the snow patches were rotten and icy at the same time. We got down to a lower snowfield where Jessica went over self arresting with an ice axe with me in case I fell. She wanted to practice this, but not here because it was dangerous. About half way down this lower snowfield the snow I stepped in gave out on me. I was suddenly on my butt sliding down the steep snowfield. Jessica was yelling, “arrest, arrest!!”. Luckily it was very intuitive. I flipped over onto my stomach and pressed the axe into the snow. Before I knew it I had stopped. I was shaken up a little bit, and realized that we didn’t have to practice self arresting anymore on the way down. I had already done it for real:)

After we got off the Middle Teton we took a break for a while as we fueled up with food and water. We still had a long way to get down to the valley floor, and decided to take our time and enjoy the rest of this amazing day. Luckily we were in great spirits, and had a good time hiking down while cracking jokes and enjoying the high from our successful day.

At 9pm we got down to the trail head. There was a full moon out. We had been going at it for 18 hours! It had seemed like decades ago that we started up the trail at 3am. I had some cold beers from New Belgium brewery waiting for us in the car. We cracked them open, made a celebratory toast, and finally rested our physically exhausted bodies. At a spiritual level though, I don’t think I could of felt any better!

North West Ice Couloir-Middle Teton-7.25.10 from getungrounded on Vimeo.

I can’t wait for my next adventure in the mountains. Jessica Baker was a blast to climb with. I can’t thank her enough for teaching me so much, giving me the confidence I needed to succeed, and being such a knowledgeable and passionate mountaineer!

For more information on Jessica and all that she has to offer to those interested in challenging themselves in the mountains , check out her site at Ski Divas.

Thanks to Michelle for submitting her Trip Report to Chicks Climbing! If you want to get YOUR trip report featured here drop us a note!

The Chicks Experience: Beth Elliott

Beth Elliott at Chicks Rock!, Red Rocks, April 2010

A Chicks Climbing clinic – whether it is Chicks Rock! or Chicks with Picks – is about so much more than climbing. It’s about really opening the eyes of the women who participate to the possibilities and opportunities that are available for them to grab a hold of, not just in climbing but in life.

Every woman that attends a clinic is given the opportunity to explore her own mental and physical strength in a safe and supportive learning environment. Whether you have never climbed before or are ready to lead on your own, we’ve got a bounty of opportunities to improve your climbing at a Chicks clinic. Our next big intensive Chicks Rock! clinic is just about a month away, Sept. 13-16 at Devil’s Rock, Wisconsin. This is within an hour of Madison, four hours to the Twin Cities, and only 3.5 hours from Chicago.

Earlier this summer we talked to Chicks Rock! and Chicks with Picks participant Beth Elliott about her most recent clinic – Chicks Rock! in Red Rocks this past spring. Check out what she had to say about her Chicks Rock! experience below, and let us know if you are interested in participating in and learning more about this upcoming intensive rock climbing clinic.

How many other Chicks Climbing clinics have you attended?
Two – Chicks Rock at Red Rocks in the Fall, and the Betty Ice Ball in January.

What did you learn about rock climbing at the Chicks clinic?
That it’s more mental than I realized! Kitty spent a lot of time with me working on my breathing and my approach – not as much on other, more technical skills, although we certainly covered a lot of technique.

What did you learn about yourself at the Chicks clinic?
That I really love pushing my limits, both physically (i.e. trying harder climbs than ever before) and mentally (e.g., committing to a longer and more difficult multi-pitch climb than I’d ever done before…and then loving it!).

Did you have fun at the Chicks clinic? What was the best/worst part?
YES! The best part for me was the whole multi-pitch day – it was great to work with Dawn and Tonya like that, and I really enjoyed the challenge.  And I didn’t really have a “worst” part…..

Have you been able to use what you learned upon your return home?
Yes. I think about what Kitty said about my breathing a lot when I’m climbing, particularly when I’m trying something new or hard.

Did your Chicks experience inspire you to make a change in your life in any way? (If so, please explain).
Climbing with Chicks has certainly improved my confidence in other areas of my life.  Knowing that I’ve accomplished what I’ve done with Chicks inspires me to take on new challenges and try new things.

Would you recommend a Chicks clinic to a friend?
YES! Without question or hesitation. The quality of the guiding, combined with the women-only experience, makes Chicks unique in my experience.

Are you interested in sharing your Chicks experience with the community? Let me know by sending an e-mail to maijaliisa.burkert[at]gmail.com.

Mental Fortitude, Piper Musmanno

piperPiper Musmanno’s been exploring Colorado’s fourteeners for several years now, and she’s just about summited them all. Piper’s not one to go up the easy way, either. She chooses the exciting routes. Piper recently completed the traverse between the Maroon Bells.  Well known for its extreme beauty as well as its challenging terrain, this route in the Elk range offers a scenic , steep snow climb followed by some tricky route finding up fourth class rock to the first summit. At this point the fun is only part way through. The traverse offers exposure and more route finding followed by continuing to stitch one’s way down through more challenging rocky geometry back down to the finale of a beautiful alpine meadow.

While Piper is a strong mountaineer and climber, she has faced a few of her own challenges to reaching her climbing goals. Last — Piper took a lead fall resulting in a badly broken leg. The injury might’ve delayed her progress, but it did not deter her spirit. As many of us know, the steepest terrain does not always present in the geographical topography, but often, surmounting our own emotional hurdles offers the greatest challenge.” Overcoming the mental aspect has been the hardest part of my recovery. I am slowly gaining confidence back in myself and my body.

Mental fortitude goes a long way in climbing and mountaineering. One must have the ability to stare down her fears as well as retain an unerring belief that her body will see her through the rough spots. Consistent work on technique is also a given, but the ability to believe in one’s own strength can (and will) save the day.  After Piper’s hip gave out, leading to having her hip resurfaced in June 2007, Piper faced a steady, long road to physical recovery. Following this up with a lead fall and subsequent broken leg has forced Piper to be more mindful than ever as she recovers her physical and mental strength. “I can no longer just run all night if I need to get out of bad situations… I’ve gotten much more skilled and better w/ maps, decision making and general mountain skills to keep myself from getting in bad spots.

Knowing what it’s taken for Piper to continue to reach her climbing goals is inspirational. When you meet Piper climbing with Chicks, you’d think she’s just like you- and she is- (with an exceptional amount of mental fortitude) as well as a few extra metal pieces helping to hold her together.

Girly guide Mattie Sheafor-Hong gets down to business

By Mattie Sheafor-Hong

Conditions yesterday were as hard as they get, barring avalanche. disease, pestience or famine. The ice was boilerplate hard, prone to this specious, wicked fracturing calledl “dinner plating” (every contact strike makes a discolored shape about the size of a turkey platter, which means it has fractured around and under the ice and you trust it at your peril). It means a boat load of work on the sharp end and your belayer is probably going to get shelled unless you’ve been very wise and very thoughtful and luck doesn’t hurt.

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