Sunday, March 23, 2008

Brittle Ice

Today I went out to Eklutna Canyon and led Ripple again. One last time before the season ends. The plan was to check out Annie Greensprings but it's tough to walk by Ripple when no one is on it and not climb it.

The lead up Ripple ended up being the hardest lead I have done thus far. On Thursday the ice was soft and sticky which made for easy climbing. Today it was so brittle I was knocking down torso sized pieces of ice. Yikes.

I was hanging three quarters of the way up the climb on a vertical section that looked less than vertical from the ground. My last screw was about 15 feet below me and totally useless, because there was a ledge directly below it. I knew I had to put in a screw, so I wanted to swing my tools (complete with my reattached leashes) in good. I swung with the left, whack, and I saw and heard a two foot wide and three inch deep dinner plate crack around my pick. I pulled it out and the ice crashed off of my elbow and onto my foot almost knocking me off the wall. I yelled "Ice!" to Kim down below.

I guess my voice sounded a bit frantic because I felt a tug on the rope. Kim had taken the rope in and stepped back. "If I fall now, it's gonna hurt." I thought. I later found out that Kim thought that I yelled, "Take!" which means... well, it's not good when you are in the middle of the climb and nowhere near your last screw.

I took a few deep breaths and tried again. Once you remove a piece of ice that size the next swing is a usually a really good stick. But not today. More ice came off again and again, until I finally got a good enough placement to throw in a screw. As I hung there from the side of this waterfall, calves burning, exhausted, I wondered what this was all about. What exactly was I doing up there? I am not usually a huge risk taker and I don't really get the whole adrenaline junkie thing, but I have to admit there was a certain thrill, looking down the vertical wall of smooth blue ice, knowing that at any moment I could fall off. I guess the thrill comes from coming close disaster, knowing that you can get yourself out of the situation, and then doing it. But I'm not sure.

I calmed myself down and realized that this is no different than climbing on easy ice. I just have to swing a bit more. If I take it one tool, one foot placement at a time, I can work my way through it. My instinct was to start climbing as fast as possible to just get to the top of the climb, but I know that is when accidents happen. So I took myself back to the slow and methodical approach and came to the realization that I have been afraid of brittle ice all this time for no good reason.

Kim followed up and we were both exhausted. Probably because I put so many screws in! We decided after we rappelled to call it a day. A good day.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Ripple is the climb that first got me hooked on ice climbing. Last year it was my big goal to lead it by the end of the season. Every time we walked under it, it loomed over me and put this big massive weight on my shoulders. I finally got to the top of it in March of last year, and was on top of the world.

I hadn't been on the climb at all this season, but had walked under it many times on my way to other climbs. Today I finally got back on it. The ice was actually dripping down on our heads. But it was big and blue and beautiful.

I have recently decided to go leashless. I was talked into it by some women in Ouray, but when I was up there leading today I thought I wouldn't mind having my leashes back. My thought was that if my feet blow out and I don't have leashes I'm going to fall. Even if I have the best stick in the ice with my tools, without the leashes I'm not guaranteed to still be attached to the tool.

This is an interesting turn of events because I thought that I was hooked on leashless tools. In reality I felt extremely vulnerable up there without my leashes. I guess I haven't noticed much yet this year because I haven't led on steep ice since I took them off. So back on they go.

It was good to get out during the week!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The best of both worlds

I have never been so inspired by a group of women before I went to the Ice Pixies Festival in Valdez this weekend. These are the best women ice climbers in Alaska. They not only kick ass on the ice, but they really know how to have a good time.

For awhile I thought I probably will never reach my full potential in ice climbing. I see these super focused people in the rock gym, in the canyons or down in Ouray that climb 5 days a week and live, eat and breath climbing. Every conversation seems to lead back to climbing. Ugh. That is not appealing to me, so I was okay with the fact that I will probably be just an average climber for the rest of my life.

Sometimes I wonder if they ever get to stop and have fun. My friends and I hike into canyons laughing and giggling and joking around the whole way. Occasionally we'll comment on something we want to work on, but our main goal is to have a good time, and there is no pressure to "get to the top of something" or to "do a first ascent". These have been some of the best days of my life.

This weekend I realized that you can have the best of both worlds. I met some amazing women who are the best in ice climbing, but they also have families, dogs, careers, and other activities like skiing, yoga, and biking that they participate in. And they are good at ALL of them. But the most inspiring part of it all is that they don't take themselves to seriously. We laughed and joked around all weekend. We painted the ice climbs with food coloring, ate salmon, pulled the keg up to the bottom of the climbs and then drank beers and danced into the night. All the time, not really talking about climbing at all. It was perfect.

The next day as we drove out of Valdez, through Keystone Canyon we saw the same women we danced with the night before halfway up Bridalveil falls (picture above). And it made me realize that some day maybe I can be one of the best. I can work hard and have fun at the same time. I can have variety AND focus in my life. The one thing I won't give up is laughing with my friends, but I don't need to give up the idea that I can also be a great climber.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Off to Valdez

photo courtesy of

Tomorrow I'll be heading out to Valdez for the Ice Pixies Festival. An all woman ice climbing festival with climbing in Keystone Canyon, backcountry skiing, Yoga, live music and beer. From what I hear we will get to top rope some Grade V climbs. Sweet! I missed it last year because I was on the ski train. It will be interesting to meet more woman ice climbers from around the state and learn from them. Also, I have never been to Valdez!

Be back Sunday!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Another 10 miles

Niko and I got out for another 10 mile run tonight along the coast in 3 inches of new snow. I'm getting faster, but I need to reevaluate my goals for the half marathon. Because I took a few weeks off due to injuries, I'm not on track for an 8 minute mile (1:45). My new goal will be to finish under 2 hours. That will put me at a 9 minute mile and if I end up doing it faster, great.

I need your help!

I have just over a month left to raise money for my Team In Training Race in Vancouver in May. I have raised over $2000. Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me thus far! I really appreciate the generosity.

I have over $2000 left to go, so I need your help to meet the rest of this goal. You can read the story in the link above, and follow the link on the right to get to my donation page. Any little bit you can donate will help out.

Thank you!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I recently read on another blog that the first hundred leads on ice are the most difficult mentally. After that it gets easier. I figure I'm about one quarter of my way there. Lately my mind has been racing about leading.

On one side I believe that I am an ice climber, that I can work my way up to difficult ice in the next few years, and that I belong on the sharp end of the rope. The other side of me usually comes out when I am following someone on steep ice. I tend to panic a bit, the rope pulls me in the wrong direction, I climb really fast and have thoughts that I don't belong on the ice. As soon as I regain control, take a few breaths and relax I feel great and am back to knowing what I want and believing in what I can actually do.

This weekend I headed out to Nebesna with Carlene and Jayme. Carlene has been climbing a few more years than me and Jayme has been on the ice for 10 or more years. The plan was to drive out Saturday, scope out the climbs, stay in a cabin that night and climb all day Sunday.

Saturday we arrived to snow covered Nebesna and 34 degrees at around 4pm. Nebesna is an old gold mining town and seems somewhat deserted now. We didn't see another car on the road. We hiked and drove around a bit and picked out a spot we would try to get to the next day.

Sunday morning we started at 8am, snowshoeing for 3 and half hours, taking turns breaking trail through hard crust and sugar snow...

We ditched our snowshoes as soon as we got to the ice and free climbed a few short steps to get the base of the actual climbs...

Jayme led up a few pitches of a "Wing and a Prayer" and Carlene and I followed up side by side

The views from up there were amazing. I could get spoiled climbing in places like this. No other parties to be seen anywhere, just us and the Caribou.

We rapped out by 6 pm and hiked out quickly under the sunset of pink and purple, admiring our nicely laid trail on the way back...

Monday more climbing in Caribou Creek on the way back. Jayme led up the first pitch of Kids Corner. This is the climb that had both me and Kim backing down back in December. Carlene and I followed side by side as thoughts of "What am I doing here?" passed through my head yet again. For some reason those thoughts very quickly passed when Jayme suggested I lead the next pitch. I went over to it, swung a tool into it and had that feeling of, "Yeah, I can do this." I have come to recognize that feeling and have learned to take advantage of it, because it seems to be fleeting.

I guess when I get somewhere around 100 leads I will stop having this battle in my head. I suppose then I'll get bored and need a new challenge.

Friday, March 7, 2008

In search of winter

So breakup seems to be happening early this year. It's March, it's 40 degrees, it's raining, and I'm leaving town. Does this sound familiar? I remember these words ringing in my ears in November. Where is winter?

I'm off to Nebesna tomorrow morning for an all girl ice climbing trip. Not that my climbing usually involves any men, but it's fun to get out for a whole weekend with a bunch of lady climbers. Next weekend will be more of the same with the Ice Pixies festival in Valdez.

It's funny how different an opinion of winter people who live in Alaska have. I remember when I lived in the lower 48 I would constantly hear people complain about the cold, the snow, the winter in general. Spring was a welcome change to the considerably milder winter of Pennsylvania. I hated listening to them. I loved the little bit of snow we would get, but it would be ruined by complainers.

It's different here. People are not happy about the winter ending early. We are slowly watching all of our beautiful snow turn to a slushy brown mess. The sky is gray and all of the garbage and gravel is melting out onto the streets and lawns. Winter is ending. The good news is that it's still winter somewhere and I'm hoping to find some of it this weekend.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Happy Birthday Brian!

I ran 10 miles today without pain! I underestimated the amount of snow on the Coastal Trail. I was going to try and do 12 miles, but had to stop at 10 because my legs felt like two lead weights slogging through the snow. But I feel good now. I ate two huge bowls of pasta and don't have any pain in my back or my legs.

I was trying to find a ridiculous picture of Brian to embarrass him on his birthday. Unsurprisingly I have an extensive catalog of pictures that would work... but I think this one will do for now...

Shhhh.. Brian and I are playing hookie today on his birthday to go skiing at Alyeska! Hope my bosses aren't reading this.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Beer climbs

I finally got back out climbing today. My back is completely healed. I did a few short runs last week and felt great.

Not much to say about today. We went out to the beer climbs for an easy day. I think they are called the beer climbs, because you can climb them even if you have a beer belly. Or may it means they are so easy you can climb them drunk. Kim led up the left and I followed. We did a few laps and rapped out by 2pm.

It is amazing how fast you can lose climbing fitness. I was huffing and puffing by the top of the climb and felt kinda awkward. I need to go back over my notes from Ouray. I wrote down everything that I learned so that I can pick a few things to work on.

In two weeks is the Ice Pixies festival in Valdez. It will be my first time climbing in Valdez so I'm psyched. This post is boring. Here is an ugly picture from the beer climbs today. The approach is short but fun, because you have to free climb this low angle ice that weaves in and out of the trees and devils club.