Friday, January 25, 2008

To the Beach!

Update: I am an idiot. Maui does not contain the highest point in the state, so ignore my comment below. In my defense I was tired when I wrote this.

I am suffering from severe sleep deprivation right now. I haven't really gotten a full nights sleep in two weeks. I have a ton of things to do to get ready for my trip to Hawaii. Brian and I leave Saturday afternoon.

I have not been to the beach in four years. Unless of course you count the mud flats of the Cook Inlet. I do not. On top of that, this is the first real vacation Brian and I will take together. Unless of course you count skiing 40 miles in minus 15 degrees, carrying a 50 pound pack, eating dehydrated food, not showering for a week, using the snow as a restroom, and sleeping in an 8x10 foot hut with 8 people. I, of course, do not.

Needless to say I am looking forward to Hawaii. Out of the 8 days that we will spend there I think we have alloted half of them for lying around on the beach and doing nothing. I plan on having a surf board at my side for those moments when I'm feeling like I've been to lazy. I'll ride a few waves and then back to my lounge chair, book and frosty beverage.

Actually there is a lot we want to see in Hawaii so I could see a few of the beach days getting bagged. Maui boasts the highest point in the state, so maybe we'll climb a peak? Um, I think you can actually drive up to the top. Perfect. Maui has a ton of good mountain biking, hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, and my friend that lives there knows a surf instructor, so this might not be that relaxing after all! We shall see what inspires us when we get there.

I also have not run in a week in a half. I started to develop what I think is shin splints in my left leg and do not want to mess around with that. It helped that it happened during my vacation so that I didn't feel too guilty about skipping runs, but now I feel a little out of shape and a little extra squishy around the middle. Now that my shin is feeling better, Hawaii will be a great place to start up my running routine again. The hard part will be coming back to Alaska to train through the rest of the winter.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

6 days of Ouray

Adjusting to the sunlight and elevation...the first few days were rough. I think my camera was having trouble adjusting to the sunlight as well.

Our first glimpse of the monstrosity that is Ouray. Kim kept saying, "It really does exist!"

Friday. The crowds started rolling in.

Fundamental Footwork Clinic.. climbing this Grade 4 ice without tools?

Advanced/Intermediate Ice clinic and climbing Grade 5. At the last minute, Ines Papert was added as an instructor.

Saturday - the Mixed Climbing Competition. Ines took second overall and first amongst the women. She makes this look easy.

Watching Kim take a stab at Grade 5. Nice work Vu-dogg!

Sunday we climbed with Ralph, from Anchorage, who is retired and drove down to house sit and spend a month in Ouray. We climbed more Grade 5 ice, but I forgot my camera.

Monday Danika helped us out with leading. The crowds were all gone. A quiet day down in the canyon to soak up all that we have learned.

I am very impressed with this area of the country. South Western Colorado rocks! And it is close to Salt Lake City where their are 7 ski resorts within 30 miles. There is a ton of ice climbing, rock climbing, mountain biking and skiing going on there. And they just get pounded with snow in the winter. Before I moved up to Alaska I was thinking about moving to Colorado. Brian and I may end up there at some point!

My climbing has improved so much from this trip. It was like ice climbing boot camp. I will definitely be back to Ouray! I never did get to ski Telluride, the climbing was just too good.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

There's no place like home

A few pictures from my ski weekend in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Although I have had so many amazing experiences in Alaska and all over the country, nothing will beat spending time with my friends and family in Pennsylvania. Thanks guys for a great week...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Last Day in Ouray: Day 6

Yesterday was the last day of climbing in Ouray. One of Kim's instructors from the festival took us out and said she would help us with our leading. It was a mellow day of climbing. The crowds were all gone and the excitement had died down. She took us down to the only area of the park that we hadn't climbed in called South Park.

We learned so much from her and it was great to talk to a woman about leading. She said she had at one time been leading Grade 5 ice (scary sustained vertical ice), but she had since gotten freaked out and hasn't been able to lead anything above a 4 in awhile. It was good to hear a climber as good as her gets scared too. She talked about something that I have been discovering over the past month or so. There are two kinds of fear when you are climbing. One kind is the kind that is mild and you can work through it. This kind of fear doesn't really have any base in reality. You know you can climb the route 10 times over without falling, but you still get nervous. She said this is normal and you can work through it by taking a deep breath and staying in control. The other kind of fear is the crippling kind. The kind that makes you freeze up and panic in the middle or even the start of a climb. This is the kind of fear you need to recognize and back off immediately. If you don't have your head straight you should not be on lead.

She walked Kim and I both through a lead. We were actually still on belay from above though so that we could relax and work through our problems, so we were not actually leading. When it was my turn I picked out something that looked a little above my ability level and went for it. She talked me through it. She told me to squeeze my cheeks and pull my hips in, try using my left hand to place screws (this is difficult), walk up further on my tools so that I don't have to swing as much, and most importantly kick out good foot placements for my feet and breathe so that I can relax before I attempt to put in a screw.

She also encouraged us to go leashless. Before a few years ago most tools were made with leashes that loop around your wrist. You can rest in your leashes and loosen your grip and it prevents you from dropping your tool to the ground if you happen to let go. But you use a ton of energy getting in and out of your leashes when placing screws. Also, when climbing with the leashes on you can never switch hands on your tools. Sometimes you swing a tool with your right hand and then realize that you want to swing your next tool to the right of that. With the leashes you have to move your right tool first, then put your left tool in the spot where your right was. It can be dangerous to traverse like this and it wastes energy. Leashless tools allow you to rest the left tool on your shoulder, grab the right tool with your left hand and then swing the rested tool with your right. I'm sold. I did this twice during my lead and it felt more elegant.

I worked my way through the vertical part of the lead, stemming my back foot out onto some rock and even putting in a screw with my left hand. It still felt a little awkward leading on vertical ice, but I learned a lot and have a ton of things to work on when I get back to Alaska. But that is not for another week.

I'm in the Salt Lake airport right now, heading out to PA for a well needed rest. I never did get to go skiing. The ice was just too good. I'm sort of sad that I did not get to ski at Telluride since it is so close, and they just kept getting pummeled with snow, but I came here to learn how to climb steep ice and I succeeded in that so I'm happy. I'm going to ski and party in PA!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ouray: Day 4 and 5

Yesterday was pretty mellow as I woke up super sore. I wasn't able to get into the Beginner Mixed class so no mixed climbing for me this time. I really wanted to get some basic mixed moves in case I encounter rock on any ice climbs, but I don't really have any high aspirations just yet to be a mixed climber. So I hung out and watched the climbing competition, watched Kim kick ass in her clinic, drank some hot Chai and checked out the latest climbing gear.

I also took about 150 pictures. Ines Papert, my instructor from the day before took first place in the women's division and also climbed faster than all of the men. It's great to be a part of a sport where there is an even playing field. There are many women climbers who climb better than men.

Today we wanted to do some more climbing, but we also wanted to get some well earned sleep. The good thing about Ouray is that you can sleep in till 10 and still get a decent day of climbing in. We called this guy Ralph who is from Alaska and happens to be spending a month here in Ouray house sitting. He has been climbing for over 20 years and is a great guy.

We met Ralph at the festival and he said we should go over to the area where they have these big chain anchors. He told us it was steep Grade 5 ice. He said he would meet us there in about 40 minutes. We hiked over and found that it is basically a ledge that you rap down over and you can't see what you are actually going to climb until you get down. Once down there you are pretty committed and have to climb out, so you better be pretty sure that you can. Your belayer stays at the top and there is very little communication.

Kim and I picked the last anchor that was left and started to set up. It was crowded and we wondered why no one was climbing on this route. We flaked the rope, got our crampons and helmets on, set up the anchor and I got ready to rappel. Kim thought maybe we should find out if there was ice all the way down the cliff at this drop in point. One guy answered, "No, actually there is no ice there. It's a big rock cave with a huge overhang."

After averting having to be rescued from the bottom of the canyon, we moved to a different climb and hooked up with Ralph. I decided to go down first after being assured there was ice all the way down. It's always fun to rap down a route before you climb it. You slide down the ice scanning the area for the route you will take on the way up. This ice had so many features, blue ice caves, and overhanging icicles. There were long stretches of vertical ice followed by small gaps where there was no ice at all. As I rappelled down the route I became more and more nervous about how I was going to get out.

The first part was pretty straight forward. Vertical ice for about 20 feet. There were so many features that it was easy to practice the footwork that I learned on Friday. It's amazing how much energy you save when you get your footwork right. You can stand on the side of a vertical wall without putting much pressure on your arms.

I climbed up into this cave of ice and looked up at the blue spears staring straight down in my face. They were taunting me, as if to say, "Try and climb over us Julie, and see if we stay attached to the wall." I stood inside this cave contemplating how the hell I was going to get out. I turned to my right and saw a small pillar about 2 feet wide that was not attached to the rock but touched down. I tapped my pick on it, "Dink!" It was completely hollow. I looked to my left and saw chandelier ice and tapped my pick on it, "Crumble!" The delicate ice came crashing down.

I knew Kim, who was belaying me from above was probably wondering why I wasn't moving. Finally I told myself, well, I can't go down. The only way to go is up. So I hooked my pick into the back of the cave, planted my feet in good, pulled my hips in and leeeeeaaaned back. I guess I'll just have to go right over this overhang, I thought.

I hooked my pick in at the bottom of the overhang and started to stem out on the two pillars. I was moving and it wasn't that bad. I kept moving methodically, keeping my hips in and hooking in between the icicles the whole way. I pulled myself up over the overhang and onto a ledge. All of a sudden the rest of this climb did not seem that bad. I worked my way around the ice, using my feet for balance and my picks to steady my upper body. It took a long time but I gracefully got to the top.

After finishing a climb like that I realized that anything was possible. If I would have been able to communicate with my belayer I may have given up in the cave, but after I got out and believed that I could do it, the rest was easy. It's amazing how the mind works. If you believe that you can do something, you can be pretty sure that you will succeed. If you believe that you can't you most certainly are not going to succeed. It's kind nice to discover what is really possible. It opens your mind to so many possibilities.

I showed up at Ouray completely intimidated by the long steep climbs. Grade 4, 5, 6 ice like I have never even seen before. I was pretty sure most of the ice was out of my league. I'm leaving Ouray in a day and a half and now I'm sure I could work my way through most of the ice in the canyon. It has been an incredible transformation and I will go back to Alaska with a new outlook on what I can do.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ouray: Day 3

Today we woke up at 7 and headed into Ouray for some breakfast and to meet up for our clinics. We walked into the Cafe and saw Will Gadd at the counter. Kim kept nudging me and motioning towards him. I was like, I know I see him.

If you don't know who Will Gadd is, he's this famous ridiculous climber guy who wrote a book on ice climbing that Kim and I read last year. No sorry, we didn't just read it, we quoted it and lived by it for an entire season of ice climbing. We would say things like, "What would Will do?" and "Well, Will said... [fill in the blank]". I'm generally not a star struck kind of person but it was interesting to see what he was having for breakfast before a day of climbing. Kim strolled up to the counter afterwards and said, "I'll have whatever he's having!"

So I probably said this yesterday, but Ouray is awesome. It is completely spoiling me and kicking my ass at the same time. Spoiled because I can drive right up to the canyon, hike a quarter mile and rap down to unlimited possibilities in ice climbing. The temperatures around 30 during the day, toasty warm, and the sun shines until after 5pm. At the top of the climb there are vendors with food, and booths with all of the latest climbing gear for us to demo for free. It's kicking my ass because the climbs are harder than anything I've even attempted in Alaska.

In the morning I had a class called "Fundamental Footwork". We hiked down into the canyon and suited up. Our instructor, Olivia said, "Today we'll be climbing without tools." I looked up at the proposed routes and realized that I was going to climb without tools on Grade 4 ice which is more difficult than most of the climbs I have done. After 3 hours of climbing without tools and falling repeatedly I was exhausted and thoroughly convinced that before today I have been hanging on my tools way to much.

In the afternoon I had Intermediate/Advanced Ice. When I showed up at the climb they said that an extra instructor was going to be added to the clinic, and that the instructor was going to be Ines Papert. Ines is the best woman ice climber in the world and in the top 5 best ice climbers in the world. Two years ago at Ouray she beat out all the guys and took first place overall in the climbing competition.

So I found out being instructed by one of the best ice climbers in the world really pays off. First we watched Ines dance up the climb like she was walking down the street. Then she watched us each climb and individually critiqued us. My climbing improved more today than any other day that I have climbed.

I found out that I accidentally signed up for the Advanced Mixed Climbing for Women class, which is absurd because I have never climbed a mixed route in my life. The clinic is being held on one of the most difficult mixed routes in the canyon. Sooooo, I'm going to try and switch out of that class and get into the Beginner Mixed course. Even if I don't get to try mixed I have already learned enough to make the trip worthwhile.

Okay gotta go to bed now...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ouray: Day 2

Wow. That is all I can say. I wish I could post just one of the 40 pictures I took today. This place is amazing, beautiful, and totally overwhelming. Kim and I drove the ten minutes into the town of Ouray today to check out Box Canyon, where the Festival will take place this weekend.

We drove up to the canyon, parked the car and walked up the road to the bridge. We looked down over the bridge into the canyon and were completely awestruck. Ice everywhere. As far as we could see down the canyon to our left and to our right. And as far as we could see down. Beautiful blue, green, yellow and white formations of hanging ice and enormous pillars touching down to the canyon floor 400 feet down.

We were totally excited and intimidated at the same time. Have the little climbs we have done in Alaska prepared us for this? I guess we will find out. We hiked around and checked out the town. Watched some of the qualifying rounds of the climbing competitions. Got our Ouray Ice Park memberships. Ate at a cute little cafe with delicious scones and hot soup.

We checked out the climbing store in awe of the selection of tools, packs, and gear that we don't have in Alaska. I asked about a Simond Ice clipper that I tried out when in Canmore last year. I've been looking for it ever since, but you just can't find them in the US or online. The owner of the store actually got on the phone with the Simond representative and was going to ask them to send me one, but he just got voice mail.

Then we went back to the canyon and suited up and decided to find a climb. Since we only brought our dinky 60 meter rope we didn't have many options. You can't really hike down into the canyon. You have to rappel. And you can't really see what your rappelling into and you are not really sure if you will be able to climb out once you get down there. What if we rap in to some crazy overhanging mixed route?

We talked to some people and ended up finding an area at end of the canyon where the climbs were all in the 30 meter range and rapped in. It was late in the day so we got in a few laps, still huffing and puffing from the altitude, then I climbed out and belayed Kim up.

I'm feeling better now that we got some warm up climbs in. Tomorrow we have two clinics each. I signed up for Advanced Ice in the morning, but after seeing what advanced is here in Ouray, I'm not so sure that I am advanced. We'll see. I may totally make a fool of myself tomorrow, but that is what I do best.

That's all for now....

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I'm in Colorado!

Hi, I haven't posted all weekend because I have been getting ready for this trip. I just realized that I forgot my camera connector for my laptop so there will be no pictures until I get back.

Kim and I arrived in Ridgway Colorado around noon today. We are totally disoriented, so I apologize if this is incoherent. We flew the red eye to Salt Lake then hopped over to Grand Junction, Colorado on a commuter jet. My fear of flying and the fact that right before we started descending the pilot said something like, "There is freezing fog in Grand Junction right now that might make our little jet into a flying Popsicle, so we are gonna do our best to get you on the ground." has given me some anxiety in the past few hours. I'm sorry did I just hear that correctly?

We landed fine and realized there was just some snow on the ground and it was a balmy 33 degrees. Kim and I stripped off our jackets as if we had just arrived in the tropics. We laughed at signs that said, "Ice may be slippery." and "Temperatures below freezing, be careful on roads."

We drove about 2 hours to the town of Ridgway in the snow, all the way commenting about how bright the sun was. "What is this strange thing they are calling daylight?" "Why is the sun still shining at 4pm?" We arrived at the hotel in a daze hobbled over to the local brewery for some food and beers. We were huffing and puffing the whole way trying to get used to the altitude. All of these changes have hit us all at once and seem to have seriously messed with our minds. Altitude? Sunlight? Lack of sleep? All three of these things are contributing to the fact that I need to take a nap.. now. More later...

Friday, January 4, 2008

Mt. Marathon, Round two

Wednesday I officially entered myself in the Mount Marathon race again, set for July 4, 2008. Since I was a finisher last year, I can automatically enter again without having to enter the lottery. My outlook on that race is quite a bit different than it was last year.

Last year I signed up on a whim and never really expected to get in. Once I found out I was in, I was nervous because I had never been on the mountain and didn't know what to expect. I heard only crazies do this race. You can read about my pre-race jitters here.

Now that I have been on the mountain, completed the race, and had an awesome time, I am super excited for this years race. I can now set some new goals.

Because there are 350 women in the race, there is a staggered start. The first 150 women finishers from the previous year start in the first wave. The rest of the finishers from the previous year and all of the rookies and rif-raf, start in the second wave. Don't get me wrong, being amongst the rif-raf is definitely a fun place to be. I spend a lot of time there. The people at the back of the pack don't take themselves too seriously and always have a good time no matter where they finish. But I imagine there is also a certain kind of fun to be had out in front too. Maybe I will never be out in front, but I think I can get close in this race.

My goal this year is to finish in the the top 150, so that in 2009 I can start in the first wave. Which means finishing in about 1 hour and 30 minutes. This is an attainable goal. Last year with minimal training I got up the mountain in 1:20 and down in 35. I just need to get up the mountain in under 1 hour and I am set.

My plan is to hike as fast as I can up any mountain I can find in the months of April, May and June. That includes making a few trips down to Seward to scope out the mountain, find the fastest path, practice running down the most perfect scree field ever, and work on coming down the cliff in the chute more quickly and efficiently. Also to prepare I plan on entering some of the other races in the Grand Prix of Alaska Mountain Runners.

So there it is. It's fun to put my goals out here in the public. It makes me more accountable for them. And if I fail miserably you guys can all have a laugh at my expense, eh? So it's a win, win situation.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Starting off the New Year right

Usually my New Years Day is spent recovering from the night before. I wake up around noon, eat some greasy food, and settle on the couch in my pajamas where I stay for the rest of the day watching movies. I get up periodically to rehydrate and visit the fridge.

This year was a bit different. Brian and I spent New Year's Eve with his parents, eating dinner and drinking wine, but the next day I woke up at 9 and packed my ice climbing bag for the first trip into Eklutna Canyon of the year.

With the high of leading last week still looming in my brain, I was itching to get back out and lead something, anything. Kim was eager to lead too. We passed Ripple, which is starting to get fat and lovely. There was already a party on it so we continued down to Boonesfarm. At the end of the season last year, Kim and I climbed the first pitch of this climb, only to be backed off of the second pitch because it was melting out and crumbling. So I had not been to the top of the climb as of yesterday.

The bottom of Boonesfarm is low angle ice, to series of short bumps, and a little vertical section that leads to the first anchor. Kim lead up it, and I followed. I was feeling the affects of the wine I drank the night before, and thought, maybe I won't be leading today.


It's funny how my mind goes through different stages on a day out ice climbing. On the hike out I was ready to go. We got closer to the climbs and I started to get nervous and I thought, well maybe I won't lead today. I saw Ripple and I was psyched to lead it again. We stood under it as we were passing by and I thought, yikes, that looks scarier than it did last year. Kim wanted to lead Boonesfarm, because she didn't think she was ready for Ripple so I relaxed again. I started following up and felt strong. I got to the vertical section and my calves were burning, my arms were tired and the damn rope above me was pulling me and annoying me again.

Looking up Ripple

When I got up to Kim I hooked in to the anchor for a rest and she said she was done leading for the day. I looked up at the vertical curtain and it looked harder than anything I've led thus far. But something in my mind clicked and I knew I could do it. I had no nerves, no doubts, no fear. It was like a moment of clarity. All of the fear and anxiety about leading that normally cloud my brain were washed away.

I took advantage of this moment and told Kim that we could swing the lead. Which means, now that I have just climbed up to her, she had the rope neatly stacked on the anchor, and she already had me on belay, I could just continue on lead up past her.

The curtain was steep, but the ice was just about as good as it gets. Leading on a vertical curtain is tricky because there are no nice little bumps to make you feel secure when you stand up. You have to kick your crampons into the side stand up and hope that they stay. I felt confident that even if my feet slipped out, my tool placements were bomber enough to catch me. At one point I had to stand with most of my weight on one leg to put in a screw. Usually you try to get your weight balanced over both feet with your left tool overhead to form an "A", while you push in the screw at your hip. But sometimes you can't avoid standing in an awkward position. And it hurts.

It made me think about the issue of working at your full potential. I read a blog post recently about how most people could accomplish more than they actually do, but their minds get in the way. Your mind tells you to stop, you think your muscles are fatigued, but really you could push a lot further. This situation where you have to put a screw in and you have to keep standing on your feet in order to not fall proves this theory. I stood on that one leg long after I normally would have stopped if I were doing a calf raise. After I believed my muscles was fully fatigued, I stood on it for another full minute. The pain was excruciating, and exhilarating at the same time. It made me wonder how long I could actually stand there before my calf gave out.

Looking down from the top of Boonesfarm

I figured hanging on the side of a climb 200 feet off of the ground is probably not the best place to test this. I finished the last leg of the climb with a feeling of complete control and comfort. Leading is starting to feel so natural for me. I had so much fear last year that I thought I would never get to this place. I don't doubt there will be more fear in my future once I move on to more difficult climbs. But this comfort is giving me the leverage to do just that.