Monday, July 14, 2014


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Sunday, June 22, 2014

REVIEW: My favorite things for this season!

I've never done a 'gear review' post before. I don't get free gear to review from companies or anything like that, so I never thought my opinion mattered that much. Then I realized that most folks are average users like myself. So I thought I would take a crack at it and just share with you a few of things that I am totally love with this season.

1. Stonemaster Skinny Climbing Pant- I have been eyeing up these pants for awhile at my local shop (Rock and Snow in New Paltz!) and finally took the plunge. All I have to say is 'why did I wait so long????' I would have worn them all spring if I had gotten them sooner! I love the stretch in them that that doesn't inhibit my climbing movements at all and the skinny-leg, three-pocket styling is super cute. In fact, the first day I wore these to the crag, I also wore them later that night with a pair of super-sexy pumps to a nice dinner with my climbing partner. These are also a great choice for ladies who want to rock the skinny leg look but find regular jeans to be too binding in the hips/thigh area.

2. La Sportiva Women's Katana- Personally, I LOVE the new color for the women's Katana, but it wouldn't mean much if they didn't climb well also. I feel like a climbing ninja in these shoes!!! They edge on a dime and smear like nobody's business. My confidence has gone up so much climbing in these! Best of all, I personally find them comfortable enough to climb in for most of the day. I've climbed in super-tight shoes before and its just no fun to be in so much pain you can't think about the climb and the first thing you want to do when you get to the belay is rip your shoes off! The strap closest to the ankle is a little long for me and sometimes gets caught on things, but it hasn't caused me any serious problems, especially since the shoes have broken in and the molded a little better to my foot. As long as they make them in hot pink, I will be buying more of these puppies!

3. Petzl Micro Traxion- I was introduced to this little gizmo for top-rope soloing this spring. It rocked my world! I could set-up a top-rope and in a few hours climb hundreds of feet- without needing to find a partner! It made for a great way to train/exercise for a few hours on a nice afternoon and it helped me on a mental level too. I climbed on TR solo much like a would on lead even though I had the back-up of the top rope. It really boosted my confidence and empowered me with a new set up of skills for climbing. I think this is one of the biggest reasons I'm having a lot of success on the sharp end so far this season!

4. Patagonia Women's Merino 1 Silkweight Tank- How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! So I know its going to sound a little gross, but I wore this top for almost a week straight before I finally took it off and washed it- and put it right back on again! But that's the beauty of it! Its merino wool, so even in the hot-hot-hot of summer, sweatin' up a storm while bakin' on the cliff, this thing doesn't stink! It's like miracle fabric! The other beautiful thing about wool is how little material it takes to do its job well. This top is very lightweight and breathes like a dream. The scoop neck cut is super-flattering while providing the perfect amount of coverage. I want more of them!!!!

5. SheJumps trucker hat- When I take my helmet off at the end of a climbing day- it ain't pretty. My hair is either all over the place or plastered to my head after sweating in the sun all day. This trucker hat saves my bacon by giving me a stylish way to cover up that mop. But the real beauty of this hat is that sales support SheJumps- a non-profit who's mission is to increase female participation in the outdoors. Win-win! Who doesn't want more awesome women to climb, ski, bike, paddle, run or lift with????

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Get the Girls Out"

One of the things I value most about my life of climbing and skiing is that it gave me an out. It gave me a different measure of success then what I think our society gives most women and girls.

Look at the major magazines sold to woman. The same articles appear every month about how to lose 10 pounds, how to get the latest hair or make-up style, what the latest fashion trends are, or how to make your boyfriend think you are a sex goddess. Where are the articles about being happy? About being a strong, badass woman? About pursuing your dreams and living life on your own terms? About being unique and being yourself?


These are things I have been ruminating on my entire adult life, but recently, I have come to realize that this insidious message actually starts much earlier then when a girl can start reading Teen magazine.

My nieces are really into all the Disney Princess stuff. I say "stuff" because there is a TON of it. Dress-up clothes, dolls, books, DVDs... even marathons now! I know some folks might think I'm being a bit ridiculous about it, but I think the messages are pretty clear if you can keep your eyes, and mind, open to it long enough. Your life, as woman, doesn't start until you find your Prince to come and kiss you awake. 

How do I know I'm not being ridiculous about this? Because that was the story I grew up with and we didn't even have all the Princess themed stuff they have now. As I was growing up, I dreamed constantly of meeting the right guy, being kissed and living happily ever after.

That's why I say climbing was my 'out,' my big, red EJECT button from that fantasy (delusion?). I started climbing at 19 years old and it started me on a trajectory that led to the development of my own thoughts about what a 'successful' life looks like and what kinds of things really matter.

For instance, I think experiences are more valuable then stuff (unless its GEAR you need for said experiences and then it is TOTALLY valuable!) See my previous post about summit shots. It also means that the ladies I look up to the most aren't models or actresses. They are everyday women who crank hard on the rock or can totally rip on the slopes.

So with this internal milieu, I drove home for Thanksgiving and my niece's sixth birthday. I hadn't gotten her birthday present yet and was worried about showing up empty handed. When I stopped at Barnes and Noble and saw a copy of the new book Women Who Dare, I got an idea.

I would take my nieces climbing. I know there is a climbing gym nearby- I use to work there in college. I'd take them 'Princess climbing"- let them dress up in princess clothes and go climbing. My hope was that they could begin to see that princesses can be strong and self-reliant. That they could adventure and climb and still wear pink :-).

They both ended up having a great time. So much so, that the next day, they asked me if I could take them 'princess climbing' again. Music to this aunt's ears!
The birthday girl

This one loved going "so high."
Hopefully, I planted a seed. Only time will tell for sure, but experiences like this are why its so important to "get the girls out."

Monday, December 9, 2013

Summit shots

I worked for a woman once who had a wall in her office covered in photos. She was a big skier and most of the shots were of various mountains with various friends.

Even though I really disliked the woman and thought she was a hack, I had to admire her wall of photos. If I had to be like her in one way, that would be it. I wanted to have a wall in my office full of summit shots.

To me, that's the way to capture the moments that count. Things come and go, but the experience in beautiful and wild places with good friends- no one can ever take that away from you.

To me, that's the way to capture a life well lived. No one is going to talk fondly of the years of their life chained to a computer screen at crappy desk job or wants to hear someone brag about how much house cleaning they got done last Saturday. My friends know my motto is "a clean house is the sign up a wasted life," so if you can't handle dog hair everywhere, don't come over to my house.

To me, that's the way to show people another side of me. Yeah, I'm more then just your doctor, I have life beyond these walls a heart that seeks to be free as well.

To me, that's the way to start a conversation with someone about what ignites their passion. When you can help someone tap into the inspiration that comes with being aligned with your passion and purpose, that's where magic truly happens.

To me, that's the way to remember part of what I work for. Being an entrepreneur is hard; I routinely have to do the jobs of several different people, but with a much narrower skill set. Some days it seems like it would be easier to just give up and get a 'regular' job. But then I think of the freedom I'd have as a successful entrepreneur and the places I could travel because of that… and suddenly a few extra hours behind the computer screen ain't so bad.

Slowly I'm building my wall of photos. They are mostly in digital format for now as I still need a place to put them! How about you? What do summit shots mean to you?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Fisher Chimneys route Mt. Shuksan, Day 2

If you missed Day 1, you can go check it out here

4 AM and the alarm goes off. My body aches from carrying a heavy load to get here. It also didn't help that we were literally camped on bunch of rocks. My Thermarest helped, but its not magic. Slowly, I get moving, attending to necessities, trying to not to get too anxious about the climb ahead. Choke down some dehydrated chow. Melt snow for water. Put the essentials in the pack and gear up. Somehow my pack still seems too heavy even though there is hardly anything in it. The sun begins to rise and we head across the first snowfield towards the Chimneys.

The Chimneys themselves are a combination of 3rd and 4th class terrain. I personally felt that a few short sections were even 5th class. We found the path pretty well worn, with cairns along the way. Still, after seeing what the previous party had gone through, I was a bit paranoid about getting back down through the Chimneys. I took care to be hyper vigilant and take a mental picture of what the trail looked like at certain points, even looking back on occasion so I would know what it looked like in reverse. Nervous about trusting my memory alone, I used my smartphone to snap a few pictures along the way of rappel anchors we needed to get to and other key landmarks in the travel. Aside from worrying about getting back down, scrambling through the Chimneys was actually a lot of fun. I was definitely glad not to have a full pack while doing some of those climbing moves though! After gaining the col, you are deposited briefly on the White Salmon glacier. Here we changed over our gear for glacier travel.

At this point, there was a brief moment of panic as Partner realized she had forgotten to pack a pair of gloves. They were back down at camp. Being really conservative, this is the sort of thing that could have ended our summit attempt right then and there. Frozen hands and frostbite were not a risk we were willing to take. That moment made me realize the razor's edge we danced on. A team of two, far away from any sort of help or assistance, we had no choice but to completely trust one another with our lives.  One slip, one piece of forgotten gear, one moment of inattention, could make all the difference. I relied on her to arrest my fall should I end up in a crevasse and she expected the same of me. It was both humbling and frightening to be trusted with such a responsibility.

People (non-climbers) often look at me with a mixture of pity and awe reserved for the outcasts of society when I tell them what I like to do 'for fun.' Why on earth would I spend my vacation time hauling my ass, plus a bunch of other gear, up the side of a fridgid mountain- where I could die- when I could be relaxing on a perfectly safe beach with a Mai Tai and a hot cabana boy to look at? Sometimes I swear I can see smoke come out of their ears as they attempt to comprehend the depths of this brand of masochism. But in that moment of forgotten gloves- it was there. The reason I am drawn to this activity, like a moth to a flame. Walking that tight rope of focus, the possibility of death or severe bodily injury makes all the 'fluff' of life drop away and what really matters snaps sharply into focus. Its almost like a sort of meditation or flow state. Bills, kids, husbands, cars, student loans, what's going to happen tomorrow--- none of it matters. All that matters is this present moment. If you've never experienced this, I will warn you now, don't try to go after it. It is an intoxicating and addicting elixir. Once you've had a taste, you'll stop at nothing to get more. And as far as I know, there is no 'Mountain Climbers Anonymous' 12-step programs out there.

A base layer with thumbs loops and an extra pair of wool socks meant we could continue our summit bid. We had backup gear to warm cold hands if it should come to that. We checked our ropes, knots, and coils one more time, shouldered our packs, and forged ahead. Our first 'obstacle' was Winne's Slide. A steep (80 degrees perhaps?) section of snow slope that was maybe half a rope length high. It looked quite intimidating. It did require using the front points of our crampons and using our ice axes more like an ice tool then a piolet. Since there were already steps kicked in, it actually wasn't too bad, and by the top, I was enjoying it. However, it was still very much a 'no-fall' zone. With no protection between her & I, if I slipped, my end of the rope would pull on my partner and rip her from her stance as well. You can accelerate pretty quickly on a snow slope like that, enough so that may not be able to self-arrest. In effect, we were soloing, so I had to bring the soloing mindset to the fore.
Winnie's Slide is just ahead. It looks deceptively low-angle in this shot.
Above Winne's Slide, we negotiated a rocky col and then ended up on the Upper Curtis Glacier. We climbed up the icy glacier several hundred feet and then had to descend it. That was a little heartbreaking to lose almost a thousand feet of elevation. Sure it felt good in that moment, but I knew it would suck on the way back to camp. At then end of this trek down the Upper Curtis you reach another 'obstacle' known as Hell's Highway. It's perhaps a tad steeper and much longer then Winne's Slide. In fact, it make Winne's Slide look like child's play. Again, we had to employ some front point technique to get up it, but already existing steps from the parties above us made it a bit easier. I don't even think we protected this, though some parties we saw used snow pickets to create a belay of sorts. We were riding the line of wanting to move quickly, but safely, jumping back and forth over that line. I will say that for people who don't think much of Northeast climbing, I felt pretty prepared and comfortable climbing this after some of my ice climbing forays in NY and NH.
The view across the Upper Curtis Glacier. The top of Hell's Highway is bathed in sunlight.

At the top of Hell's Highway you are deposited on to the Sulphide Glacier. This becomes an interesting backcountry crossroads as the route joins the more popular Sulphide Glacier route. Since we were on the mountain over a weekend, we ran into LOTS of people on the Sulphide Glacier. It's deceiving up here, the summit pyramid looks like it is right. there. but it still took an hour to get to the base of it. There is no way to get around it, this was an hour long s l o g. The sun was beating down and at that elevation on snow, it seemed like I had to stop every 5 minutes to smear sunscreen on (I still ended up with a pretty good negative of a helmet strap burned into the side of my cheek and was apparently trying to make a new fashion statement by rocking a big old glop of sunscreen IN my ear). This was also an hour spent worry about our time. For safety purposes, we had set a turn around time of noon. From teams coming back down, we heard estimates that it could take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours to negotiate the gully of the summit pyramid depending on traffic and how fast your team moved through it. Fifteen minutes we could make, 2 hours and we would be going home empty handed.
Looking up the Sulphide Glacier at the summit pyramid

Smiling through the tedium of the Sulphide Glacier

At the base of the pyramid we ran into a guide short roping two clients up the gully. They were moving very slow and after negotiating the first little step, he decided to turn them around. Less then 100 feet from the summit. We asked him how long he thought it would take to get to the summit and he thought it would take 2 hours. Its was 11:50 am.
Looking up the gully to the summit. That big crack in the center of the frame is about chest high and was the first step we had to negotiate.
When I looked up though, it seemed he had to be wrong. I mean, I know he's a guide, and probably does this route frequently, but my eyes were telling me that summit was very close. At hearing the estimate of 2 hours, I think Partner was ready to turn back right there, but I pleaded to keep going for the next ten minutes and then see where we were. Something in me dug deep and let the hammer drop and I started to move. It was almost a flow state, scrambling up and over 4th class terrain, negotiating around the various parties rapping down. We passed one party and I asked how much further the summit was. They confirmed that it had not been a trick of foreshortening so common in the mountains, the summit really was right there. I raced on with sure and graceful movements, Partner following behind and at 12:15 PM we stood on the summit of Mt. Shuksan.

Since we were already 15 minutes behind our pre-negotiatied turn around time, we didn't terry long. Take some pictures, refuel and then it was time to rappel. By the time we got back down through the summit pyramid, we appeared to be the last summiting team of the day to be heading back down. The trek on the Sulphide Glacier went much more quickly. Downclimbing Hell's Highway got the heart rate up, especially at the point of 'going over the lip.' As I feared, climbing back up the Upper Curtis when we were that tired, in a word, sucked, but scarier still was getting back down to the col. That part of the glacier was steep and very icy. In order to avoid risking a bad fall, the equivalent of a fumble on the 10 yard line, we escaped across the route to a rock outcropping and climbed through that to make it down to the col. Here we ran into a fellow Gunks guide and it was nice to see a friendly face and hear some encouragement & congratulations for all we accomplished. Back down through Winne's Slide and the Fisher Chimneys, neither was as bad as I expected. We arrived back in our camp exhausted, but elated that we had accomplished what we set out to do. The next day, we would pack up camp and head back out the Lake Ann trail on a journey that seemed to never end. Those celebratory margaritas always seemed just out of reach...

From the hike out, looking back on the cirque we had just been in.  Shuksan's summit is on the upper right, just next to wear the sun is shining through.

Finally! Celebratory margaritas and a mess of Mexican food!!!

Special thanks to some people who without them, this climb wouldn't have happened. Partner, of course, for always being up for an adventure in the mountains, Mr. ClimbingBetty for his patience and willingness to indulge me in these kinds of climbing trips, Ma and Pa ClimbingBetty for helping out with a couple of pieces of crucial gear for the trip and of course, to the American Alpine Club for choosing my dream and giving me the grant to pull off this whole thing in the first place. If you're a climber of any sort, you should be a member. Go join. NOW.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fisher Chimneys route Mt. Shuksan, Day 1

Oh my poor, neglected little blog. What can I say? Sometimes you're just too busy doing it to write about it. :-) Right now, we seem to be in between seasons, so I have a little extra time to write.

Let's see, when last I left off, I was spewing about my Live Your Dream Grant from the AAC to climb the Fisher Chimneys route on Mt. Shuksan. If you prefer the Reader's Digest version (SPOILER ALERT) we did it!
Betty & partner on the summit of Shuksan
If you prefer the whole story, well, grab a blankie or some down booties and your favorite adult beverage and sit back….

It was a bit of an auspicious beginning when we arrived in Seattle late at night and had a bit of trouble securing a rental car, but by the morning we were ready to spend a day gathering supplies and making our way to North Cascades National Park. We planned to hit REI for fuel then head to Sedro-Wooley to get our permits for the climb. We would spend a night there, then launch the next day. Unfortunately, when we got to the ranger station in Sedro-Wooley, we were informed that we could only get permits for Shuksan at the Glacier ranger station, an hour's drive away. They called ahead for us and from the sounds of it, if we waited until the following day to get our permit as we drove into the park, there was a better chance then not that we would miss out on getting a permit for the days we planned to be on route. Fortunately, it was still early in the afternoon, so we had the time to drive two hours round trip just to get the permits.

We did meet with a lovely park ranger at the Glacier station who seemed pretty... impressed? pleased?… to see a team of two women and no dudes getting a permit to do a route like this. I won't lie, that did feel kind of cool. I definitely felt like a pretty badass chica in that moment. However, it also made me sad. Where all the ladies at? Why is alpine climbing such a male dominated sect of the sport? Are the gals afraid, uninterested or unskilled? Or all of the above? Sure, I see females out when I'm in the mountains; its not like we are an endangered species out there, but on Rainier and Shuksan, the few women I did see were almost 'token' members of a male team. On both mountains, I was fortunate enough to be part of an all women's team. I'd like to think that maybe that was an inspiration to those 'token' females in the other groups- 'you can do this, you can be the leader, you can be self-sufficient in the mountains'- or maybe that was just a pipe dream of mine.

After a great Mexican meal that evening, we packed our stuff and got ready for the climb ahead. In the morning we drove north into the park on 542. There is a small little crossroads of sorts right at the border of the park. This is the last place to get gas for quite awhile. Unfortunately, we had driven about 45 minutes into the park before we realized this. Since we were kind of low on fuel as it was, we opted to turn around and fill up rather then getting stranded somewhere. This turned into a not-so-funny comedy routine when we drove into the park a second time, only to realize that we had forgotten to buy lighters while we were at the gas station- facepalm! Luckily we had only driven about 10 minutes in the park this time. When we finally reached the trailhead, it was 1:30PM instead of the 12 PM start we had planned on. Once we finally got started, we had a scenic and thankfully, uneventful, hike into Lake Ann.

After arriving at Lake Ann, the real fun begins. You start to gain some pretty significant elevation rather quickly in a seemingly endless series of switchbacks. Then there is your 'test run' for the Fisher Chimneys where you have to cross the lip of snowfield on to slimy, mossy covered rock, then gingerly scramble up a Class 3-ish chute. There is a rappel anchor at the top of this section if that gives you any idea. Passing this obstacle leads you to a part of the trail that is quite steep with loose sand and rocks for a trail. Careful attention to your feet is necessary to avoid sliding backwards two feet for every one forward. From this section, we gained the top of a shoulder of the Shuksan mastiff and entered a cirque that is at the bottom of the awesome hanging, Lower Curtis Glacier. (For the record, I am no geologist, so geologists and cartographers of the world, please forgive me if I am using terms like 'mastiff' and 'cirque' incorrectly. But they sound cool and after all, blogging is all about sounding cool, right?)
The Fisher Chimneys go right throughout that center couloir.

The Chimneys still lay head, but at this point we had been hiking for hours. It was nearly 6:30 pm and while we probably had 2 solid hours of light left, the shadows were getting longer. It also didn't help that we could see a party trying to descend the Chimneys and looking lost. My partner seemed to want to press on, climbing through the Chimneys, then setting up camp at the top of them, making for a shorter summit day. This would increase our chances of summitting. I argued that we should make camp in the cirque, go to sleep early and then we would be able to climb through the Chimneys unencumbered. It would a bit longer, but we could make up for it by moving faster. So we set up camp, cooked a nice meal of dehydrated something or other and watched the sunset over Mount Baker.
The view of Mt. Baker from out campsite. Those are my green Scarpa boots in the pic.

As twilight deepened, we could see the headlamps of the climbers still in the Chimneys. They still appeared lost. At one point we couldn't tell if one of them was trying to signal us or if the flashes of light were just the glint of sun reflecting off of a snow picket at just the right angle. After some deliberating and a few phone calls (yes, there was cell service here!) for some respected advice, we decided not to go after the lost party. They were all still moving, no one appeared injured, and with us being unclear if they even wanted assistance, we determined that it was best not to put ourselves at risk by entering the fray especially in the waning light. When we went to sleep, they still hadn't made it down. The last we saw of them, it appeared that they decided to backtrack through to entire chimney in order find where they had left the proper trail. We heard them come through and were awoken by their headlamps about midnight. I thought about how long the day had been for them if they had gotten an alpine start. I hoped we would not meet that same fate.

Still a smiles after Day 1
And that seems like a good place to leave this story for now. Come back and read the next blog post where I'll tell you all about summit day. I promise not to make you wait 6 months!!!!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sometimes dreams do come true.

The dream: climbing on the summit pyramid of Mt. Shuksan, photo by Ryan Stefiuk at Bigfoot Mountain Guides

I have been rock climbing now for 15 years. In that time, I have mostly pursued trad climbing. To me, trad climbing is about freedom- freedom to climb anywhere, anytime, no need to have bolts placed for you. (I don’t want to start a trad vs. sport thing with this post, I’m just pointing out how I saw it as new and na├»ve climber.) Trad climbing was the key to bigger, bolder climbs- the climbs that really captivated my attention, the bigger alpine climbs in the mountains. As a newbie climber, I cut my teeth on and stoked my imagination with the classic stories from the lexicon of mountain literature- stories from ascents in the Himalaya, Alaska, Patagonia, the Alps and the like.

One little snag in my dreams of big adventure in the big mountains- it turns out, that as a climber, I kind of suck. I’m not pushing big numbers. I’m a mediocre climber at best and I get crazy scared on lead, so I’ve never really led anything harder then 5.7. Despite being a sucky climber, I enjoy it well enough to sink most of my free time and way too much of my financial resources into doing it. The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun right? In my opinion, though, this is one of the truly great things about climbing- there are challenges to be had at all levels. At the end of the day, I like to think that what we really respect in our fellow climbers is that they push themselves, not the numbers.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to take on the challenge of Mt. Rainier. Never having done any sort of technical mountaineering before, the mountain would definitely challenge my skill set. I fretted about ‘succeeding’ on the mountain, by which I mean summiting, but finally surrendered that fear and decided I would learn a lot no matter the outcome. I had always assumed Rainier was the sort of climb that I would have to spend a lot of time and energy working up to, learning the ropes on smaller mountains first. So when I stood on the summit that August day with the other two women of my team, the experience was surreal. And addicting.
Gunks goils on top of Rainier, August 2012

Before I even left the Cascades that trip, I knew I wanted to come back, to do more. A whole world had opened up before me. I challenged myself and met that challenge. I found a strength and confidence that I never knew before. Instead of Rainier being a culmination- an end point, it was just the beginning. The mountains were calling me and I had to go. My climbing partner and I talked about logical ‘next step’ climbs. She proposed the Fisher Chimneys route on Mt. Shuksan. She also gave me another invaluable suggestion- why not submit an application for one of the American Alpine Club’s Live you Dream grants?

Folks, I’m here to tell you dreams do come true. I received an email from Sarah Garlick, the Northeast Regional Coordinator for the AAC on Friday afternoon to notify me that I was one of 3 people in the northeast region receiving a Live Your Dream Grant. I cannot tell you how elated and honored I am to be receiving this grant!!! *jumping up and down* I get to go climb Shuksan this summer!!!

Receiving the email filled me with so much gratitude, so I want to take a moment to say a heartfelt thank you to the AAC for sponsoring this wonderful grant program and especially for the Northeast selection committee who wadded through many worthy applications and somehow saw fit to fund my humble little project. (If you’re not an AAC member, you should be!!! If for no other reason then to support awesome stuff like this!)  I also want to thank my climbing partner for providing some inspiration for the dream. Her ambition to go after her mountain dreams has definitely inspired me to work to materialize my own as well. I’m also going shout out to all my awesome female climbing partners- you ladies kick axe! The fun I have climbing with you all is a wonderful source of inspiration and a great reminder to simply get out there and enjoy it, whatever “it” might me. And last but not least, I want to thank my DH for all his love, support and understanding when the house is a wreck because I went climbing instead of cleaning J