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

Friday, April 12, 2013

BIG News!!!

I got some big news today. HUGE! I am floating on the proverbial cloud 9 and still a bit incredulous that it is really happening to me. I want to tell the whole world, which is why I am blabbing it here.

But not yet.

Because I'm evil like that. OK, not really. I'm not posting yet because well, you probably have a life and are out doing something awesome on a Friday evening (you are doing something awesome, aren't you???). Hopefully you are doing something way cooler then, I don't know, ironing socks. Since I am way excited and I want to share my news with everyone, I figure I'll wait until Monday morning, when you are more likely to be held hostage at work in front of your computer anyway.

Until then, here's a clue, courtesy of Ryan Stefiuk at Bigfoot Mountain Guides.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The climber you think you are vs. the one you really are

I recently came across this little meme on Facebook, posted by Strong is the New Skinny. It really resonated with me because in many ways it sums up how my winter season has gone.  Which, in one word, is AWESOME!!!

To begin with, I never considered myself much of an ice climber. I always felt a bit weird on ice, like the movement never flowed. My footwork was terrible and I'd pumped out by the top of 50 ft WI3. Of course, the more pumped I got, the more stressed out I became, the more I over-gripped the tools, etc. We all know this goes nowhere good. So even though I've been climbing ice over 8 seasons, climbing 2-3 times a season wasn't really getting me anywhere.

I can't even remember how it began, probably one of my climbing partners who prefers ice climbing to rock. Or it could have been getting ditched by my partner on Christmas for a desert climbing trip, but somehow, back in November I got a wild hair to do some training for ice season. I kept it simple- some deadhangs off my front porch on my tools. Then doing some ladder sets of assisted pull-ups off the tools, then doing some endurance-focused stuff, using small feet to pull-up and lock off on the tools while I 'swung' them and repeating that movement for as many minutes as I could hold on. I even got lucky enough to do a little dry-tooling at the local gym back in December, while we all sat and waited impatiently for the ice to come in.

The routine was modest, but I kept at it. More curious then anything else to see what, if any, affect it would have on my ice season. From the first day out, I noticed a difference. It wasn't huge or obvious, but I did notice that I climbed 3 or 4 pitches that day without having a major flame war in my forearms. I took that as a good omen.

My next trip out was pure fun. I went climbing for the weekend with several girlfriends and we had as much fun giggling and laughing as we did ice climbing. The beauty of this experience was that by having such a fun time climbing, I was much more motivated to continue to going out climbing. In fact, this season, I have climbed more then the last 5 years combined and almost all of my days out have been with other ladies. I think that has had a lot to do with having such a great season. Watching them push themselves and succeed is so inspiring and intoxicating, one can't help but want to push themselves a little bit too. In fact, thanks to those ladies and their incredible energy, I took on one of my first leads on ice. Then my third, fourth and fifth.
photo credit: Ryan Stefiuk of Big Foot Mountain Guides

I never thought I would lead on ice. For the longest time, I had been content to let others do that, but never thought I would be a strong enough ice climber to pull it off. Turns out, the ice climber I thought I was was no match for the one I really am.

Another thing I never thought I would do happened to me yesterday at the climbing gym. My first full body weight pull-up. I'm still so surprised by it, I have this urge to do pull-ups off of everything now, just because I can. I didn't intend to do a pull-up that day. I came to the hang board with the intention to simply do some hangs off the open-handed slopers to build some contact strength. For whatever reason, I grabbed the small jugs at one point and began to pull and was shocked when my chin was suddenly level with my hands. I've never been able to do an unassisted pull-up before, but then again, I've never really worked this hard before. I've been running nearly every day and cleaning up my diet in order to lose a few extra pounds that gravity likes to toy with when I'm climbing. I've also been doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats. Achieving a pull-up for the first time is validation that the hard work I am doing to optimize my strength to weight ratio for climbing is working. I still have a ways to go, but getting that pull-up is a milestone along the way that just motivates me to keep working hard. It's also a great reminder that I'm stronger then I think am and that I am more limited by my thoughts then my strength.

I hope to take this lesson with me into the rock climbing season. For awhile now, I have been limited in my leading abilities, mostly by my head. My goal this season though is to take the achievements of ice season to heart and remember in those moments where I am gripped with fear, that I 'can' and that the climber I am is stronger then the climber I thought I was.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Climbing & The Power of Vulnerability

My partner had sent an early morning text. He wasn’t feeling well and needed to bail on our ice climbing plans for the day. I was secretly glad. The previous day as I waited for him to come pick me up, I had had just enough time to ruminate about the sanity of leaving the safety and comfort of a nice warm bed and house for a day of standing out in the cold freezing my ass off, possibly getting hit by chunks of falling ice and contending with something so terrible it has been dubbed the ‘screaming barfies.’ No wonder the rest of the world seems to cast looks of pity on the ice climber.

So now, with the whole day free, what to do?  My initial thought was to go for a run and hit the gym for some plastic pulling. Despite my earlier plan of ice climbing, I decided that it was too cold to run outside and since today was a major construction day at the gym, it was best to be avoided.  I briefly thought about going skiing, but the thought of contending with the weekend crowds and the lack of uninspiring snow pack made me quickly put down that idea too. So I went with my last option: a fuzzy robe, down booties, hot coffee and a copy of Alpinist 40. It was going to be an armchair mountaineer kind of day.

I do the armchair mountaineer thing really well. Too well actually. For me, being an armchair mountaineer means being lazy. Engaging the beauty and freedom of climbing without the weather, without the discomfort and without the risk. It also means giving into my inner gear whore. As I flip through the glossy pages, I see ads for this new boot or that new soft shell hybrid jacket and I buy it. No, I don’t mean that I literally buy it, but I buy what the marketing guru behind that ad is selling, “buy this piece of gear and you too can climb like a badass, just like athlete X, pictured here. All of your dreams of a rockin’ bod and hard sends will come true for a mere $399.99 plus applicable taxes.” So while I do enjoy my armchair mountaineer days on a certain level, I am also disgusted by them. Or more accurately, disgusted with myself and my laziness. At some point in the day, my inner critic will oh-so-lovingly remind me that my climbing dreams won’t be realized through the purchase of a new piece of gear, but through hard work, dedication and commitment to be something other then a fat-ass on the couch in a fuzzy robe with the down booties on.

Today is no different, perhaps even a little worse. I don’t make resolutions but somewhere in January, I got a wild hair and decided to set some goals for myself. I was going to change up my diet and exercise routine (I say ‘change up’ but since I didn’t really have a routine in the first place, that’s a bit disingenuous), lose a few pounds and get a better strength-to-weight ratio going, you know, for climbing of course. Not because I think I’m fat and unattractive and people would like me more if I was skinnier. But that's a post for another day. No, in my mind, getting a hotter bod means climbing harder will be easier. At least, that’s the motivation I’m using when I really want to eat another chocolate bar. I figure it’s better then pure self-loathing.  I also decided to start doing some training. I’ve been climbing for 14 years and never once have I ‘trained’ for climbing. I just go out and do it and have some fun. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, one of the things I love about climbing is traveling and the sense of freedom, My sense of freedom with climbing is seriously hampered when I look in the guidebook for a new area I want to visit and realize I can only do about 20% of the climbs because the rest are too hard.  So I need to up my game. I’ve been doing some training and I have been seeing some progress. I have to use a magnifying glass, but hey, it’s only early February right? I can’t expect to be crushing 5.13 after only one month of training and while still being on the pudgy side. So, with all theses goals in mind, what do I decide to do with my day? Sit on my ass and essentially do nothing. Nothing that gets me further towards those goals, at least.

But sometimes you need those days, those days of rest. It allows the body to rest and gives space for growth of the mind and heart.  And today the Universe decided to give me a little guidance about vulnerability.  It started when I came up in this video of Brene Brown’s TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” You should definitely go watch it, after you’ve finished read my drivel here, of course. She started off trying to study connection, which she ended up understanding more through stories of disconnection, ironically. One of things she found though is that in order to experience connection, we have to be vulnerable.

The problem is, none of us like to feel vulnerable. Whether its pulling a hard move when you’re run out above your last piece or loving someone knowing they might eventually hurt you, vulnerability is scary because it comes with a real risk of being hurt.  People use all kinds of things to numb themselves from having to deal with the pain of feeling vulnerable- drugs, addiction, food, and in my case today, simply being lazy. From her research, Brene found that there are basically two categories of people when it comes to dealing with feelings of vulnerability: those who feel worthy and those who don’t. People who don’t feel worthy don’t feel they are enough and so that vulnerability carries with it the heavy weight of shame. These are the people who tend to numb themselves out so they don’t have to feel so vulnerable. The other group, those who do see themselves as worthy- believe they are enough- don’t like being vulnerable anymore then the rest of us, but understand it’s a necessary part of the human experience and are more accepting of it. With the knowledge that they are worthy and they are enough, being in situations where they are vulnerable becomes an opportunity to connect, instead of turn in on themselves and protect. And this place, this place of vulnerability turned into connection, is where love, joy and happiness are rooted.

Back to my armchair mountaineer day, I flip open the copy of Alpinist 40 and started reading Katie Ives’ The Sharp End and came across this:

“’Peering over the edge attunes you to mortality,’ Michael Kennedy says. ‘Climbers have already seen it. It’s not mysterious.’ For the most part, mainstream Western culture shifts the subject of dying into the periphery, where it hovers in the shadowy, almost taboo realm. To discuss it explicitly seems “morbid.” To engage willingly in activities that might incur it, we’re told, is ‘irresponsible.” But there are other hazards that come from losing the awareness of our end: the risk of not experiencing, fully, the raw and urgent joy of life: of not taking conscious responsibility of our brief presence in the world.”

After reading that last sentence, it sounded a lot like what Brene Brown had said in her talk about vulnerability and about how that is where true joy and happiness were forged.  In that moment, it occurred to me that that is the true joy of climbing. We willing put ourselves into physically vulnerable situations in order to appreciate and experience true joy. It’s what George Mallory meant when he said, “what we get from this adventure is just sheer joy.” Freezing cold, falling ice, scary run-outs above marginal gear, yes, to the mainstream world we are nut cases. But I’ve never known a group of people who love and experience life so simply and beautifully as climbers do.  Now I understand why. And with this understanding, I’m going to make another goal for myself for this year- to be more willing to engage the risk with the knowledge that I am enough. Take on that hard lead that I know I can do, even if it is going to scare the crap out of me. Train harder even if I know its going to hurt a bit before it get better. Stand out in the cold, freezing my butt off, if for no other reason then to know within the depths of my soul that by being vulnerable, I have also proven that I am strong and I can survive. To love myself just the way I am, no matter how hard I climb and to train for harder climbing for the sheer joy of climbing, not the need to prove anything to anyone else. 

And on that note, I think I'll go for that run now. :-)