Friday, July 31, 2009

In Memory Of...

Jonny Copp in Joshua Tree, Photo Mark Reiner

Apres Film Festival, a great local french band

film fest

film fest

How do you honor the people in your life who you lose far too soon? How do you carry on their memory? How do you embody all the things they taught you, showed you, helped you to grow into?

My mind wanders through these questions after a week of climbing with Matt K and his mission to raise awareness and money for Climb For Kids,, in memory of his daughter. While climbing Mont Blanc, AGAIN, isn't my favorite work, the mission, to climb it for a reason was, though still painful!!, rewarding. As Matt delved into his heart, mind, and memory on the summit of Mont Blanc, all the steps that had taken him there, both physically and emtionally, and tears poured from his eyes I had to respect his journey, his mission, and his commitment to honor the memory of his daughter and the journey of his family, and try to help others through raising awareness and funds.

My most recent loss, and I say most recent, because while we live in a life of passion, and passionate people, we embrace a lot of loss as well, was of a close friend and mentor, Jonny Copp. Jonny Copp, Micah Dash, and Wade Johnson were tragically killed in an avalanche in China just a few months ago.

The last time I saw Jonny, he and Micah Dash were living in my semi-demolished new apartment. I had ripped walls out, and doors off, but not started any renovations. Jonny asked if they could crash there. I said sure, but there is no shower and the toilet has no walls, so you might want to get a shower curtain. Ahh and there is not stove. But it fit the bill, it was free 40 square meters of roof, a flushing toilet, running water, a fridge, and a bed in Chamonix.

When I returned from Alaska there was a plastic shower curtain with blue fishies on it, hanging around the toilet. There were a handful of camping stoves set up on the counter, and stuff (mostly mine) piled in every corner. There were thermarests tucked into each corner and a guitar Jonny had found to borrow for the time he was here. My semi-demolished home was full of wine, laughter, and music. The first night I slept there, I remember meandering through conversation with Jonny perched in a corner on the floor, and me tucked cozily in my bed, as lightning flashed in the window and thunder resonated across the glacier perched precariously up the valley above my apartment. We giggled and conspired, our conversation ran deep and wide as it always did with Jonny.

We spoke of the film festival he had created and a vision of brining it to Chamonix. I was thinking small, a few films, Jonny was thinking HUGE as he always did. It scared me the thought of huge.

What if no one comes, what if it fails?
It won't, said Jonny with conviction. If you build it with your heart.

That sort of conviction in his passions, in his dreams was so large it was hard to fathom. I wanted to have a fraction of that sort of confidence. As we started working on the festival, life became too busy, too complicated and my bank account too empty. So I had to step away from working on the festival, sadly.

In the light of hearing of Jonny's death, I realized that the festival had fallen, in part, into my hands. It was up to me to carry on Jonny's spirit, dreams, work, and conviction. So I asked to re-join the team and help to finish one of Jonny's last projects.

With a lot of effort, hard work, time, a bit of red tape, by a handful of amazing people at the Adventure Film office in Boulder Colorado, Dylan Taylor (who joined the team to help make things go), Raphael LaGrange (who was already working with the Festival), the town hall (especially Cathy Meot), Patagonia Europe and USA, and many other locals and seasonaires, we sent off the first film Adventure Film Festival in Chamoinx!!!

Over two nights there were more than 500 attendees, fantastic beer and food served by the MBC (Micro Brassarie de Chaomnix) and the Vert. Paraponting air spectacles performed by the Acro-twins. After parties with local bands and DJ's. And many diverse films watched.

As the festival wrapped up, I was exhausted and satiated. I was left wondering how Jonny juggled so many balls. How he dreamed so large and made them all come true. How he inspired people into action and motion and life. And I was sadened to have lost him. But only in body, not in spirit, or action.

So, I guess, in conclusion to my own questions, how do you honor the memory of someone, you act through their inspiration and through that you keep their spirit and essence alive eternally.

So...I hope to see you all next year at the 2nd ANNUAL Adventure Film Festival in Chamonix, because we will continue to keep Jonny's spirit, inspiration, and dreams to share art, adventure, stories, erase boundaries, and just take time out of our life to be together with friends and meet new people, through Adventure Film Festival Chamoinx!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Photo: Zoe Hart
A solitary rope and a blue door...what is behind the door, what adventures has the rope participated in...I leave it to your imagination, perspective...Zawia, Haute Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Matt Kowalczyk (yes that's how you spell his name, I didn't just punch random keys on the keyboard, and imagine trying to spell that out to a French person...not easy)....back to Matt, my client for the week, here to climb Mont Blanc and take in the views in honor of his non-profit organization Climb For Kids (you can read more on Climb For Kid's mission on

Ok, there was no thread on where that was going, so now that you know who Matt is, on we go.

Matt and I settled into the Torino hut for an early afternoon nap. After a nice bimble across the Vallee Blanche, traversing from Chamonix, France, to the Italian side, with a few eye opening crevasses and snow bridges to cross, we decided to take advantage of the quite hut while it lasted, before the snorers invaded our room.

Dark, billowing, black clouds, that grew from whisps, to horse tails, to towers, floated in and out of the sky as the light refracted through our window like a prism.

"How can you sleep right in the middle of the afternoon? And if you sleep now, will you sleep tonight?" Matt wondered.

"Ahh, but the hut, in the afternoon is the best place to sleep. There is nothing else to do, but read, sleep, or listen to music, pod casts or books on tape. I take the opportunity to have no "to do list" guilt, and catch up on all the sleep I miss the days I wake up at 2am to start climbing."

A smile crept across Matt's face, he understood.

Before the book fell onto my face, and my breath slipped into a rythym only achieved in a dreaming state, I was reading a book called the Spell of the Sensuous by David Amram. The book is full of interesting philosophies, concepts, mental meanderings, some of which I believe in others which interest me but I haven't yet formed a perspective on, and others I don't buy at all. But fundamentally his discussion is about Ecology, and the human connection to the earth, nature, animals, all that exists outside of us as individuals, all that we affect with our daily choices, all that we experience and experiences us.

I find this interesting because Nature is essentially my job, or being in it, and interacting with it, and experiencing it.

He discusses Merleau-Ponty's description of perception
'as a mutual interaction, an intercourse, "a coition, so to speak, of my body with things."

Abrams discusses the argument of Science versus Phenomenology
'Phenomenology....would turn toward 'the things themselves,' towrd the world as it is experienced in its felt immediacy. Unlike the mathematics-based sciences, phenomenology would seek not to explain the world, but to describe as closely as possible the way the world makes itself evident to awareness, the way things first arise in our direct, sensorial experience.'

I don't want to delve too far today, but these thinkings made me question and evaluate how I perceive the world around me, specifically the natural world, and how I interact with it. My impact, my contribution, my life.

So I leave you with the task of thinking about the same thing, can you do more, can you take less (can I?) least think about it...I will as well.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Guides are Human Too!! The tale of the solitary crampon.

Photo: Maxime Turgeon, cold, clear and windy up high in the Mt Blanc Massif, gearing up for Pinnochio (winter mixed climbing) unrelated photo of similar area.

Hard as I try, it's certainly a chore for me to pack my pack the night before. Max, my logical, organized, engineering brained other half encourages me endlessly to embrace this as part of my normal routine. It works when I go climbing with Max because he packs my pack, no joke, totally serious. I'm completely ok with this! But when I'm guiding, and especially guiding a lot, I usually fail.

But last night, I managed. Maybe it was because I had the house to myself and less distractions as Max and Jonno were up in the mountains attempting to climb some heinous rock route on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, maybe it is because I thought about that extra half an hour of sleep the following morning, maybe I had over ambitious ideas that I would wake early, run, do yoga, read a book, read the New York Times, write in my journal, but really I hit snooze and slept that extra half an hour. Regardless, I succeeded. I packed my pack the night before.

As I stopped to dump the trash and recycling down the road from my house I realized I had forgotten my ice axe. No stress, I was less than two minutes from my house. Upon returning I saw a lonely crampon in the front yard, close to our storage "cave's". Without much thought, I tossed it into the rest of the pile of Max's gear I had dumped from his box last night looking for my missing crampons.

A few hours later, after doing the bits and bobs in town we needed, Matt, my client for this week, and myself arrived at the top of the midi, on a stellar, sunny day, with ambitions of climbing the arete des Cosmiques. As I unloaded my pack, harness, rope, gear, helmet and CRAMPON! NOT CRAMPONS!! I instantly realized where the other one was. For a moment, I convinced myself that I could walk down the steep, narrow, exposed, icy arete, safely while keeping Matt safe, with one crampon. That dream dissipated quickly and I swallowed my pride and headed to the worker's room.

I poked my head through the door. And with the biggest, cutest smile I could muster, asked if I could interrupt their lunch and ask for a favor.

The man looked at me and told me I had gone through the wrong door.

No room left for modesty, I pulled out the stops. I pulled back my top jacket flashing egotistically, and hopefully, my Guides badge. I think half of them choked on their first bite of lunch.

I am a guide. And I arrived here with one crampon. Is there ANY chance I can borrow a pair, I will bring them back in a few hours. I asked desperate, and at their complete mercy.

The mood quickly changed with the understanding that I, a female, was also a guide! The man, once skeptical man, Jean Michel, hopped to his feet, and brandished a pair of crampons out of his locker. Another, unrelated worker popped in right at that time and laughed out loud. Ahh you are lucky you are cute!

So yes, I worked it. I took advantage and in the end, we safely climbed the Arete des Cosmiques in crampons, safely. And I promised to bake brownies for the kind gentleman in return!

The thing is most people make mistakes, or forget things, but when you're guiding it usually happens in front of an audience and it's quite embarrassing!!!

A plus, a humble zoe.,

Friday, July 24, 2009


I ran into a friend, Cecile, on the telepherique today as we downloaded from the Flegere lift.

"Have you been working lots?" She asked?
"Ah, a bit, but not too much." I responded

"Oh I haven't seen any posts all summer on your blog so I figured you were super busy!" She giggled.

Ah right, again that category of best laid intentions. The idea to share stories, triumphs, failures, adventures, mental meanderings through a blog. To challenge my writing in a public, relatively non-critical (yeah right) forum. And, even maybe to use it to take account of my path and purpose in life. Ah, but I've been comsumed by busy-ness. Or a perception of busy-ness.

There are so many things I, we, want to make time for in our lives, and writing is always one of them, so why do I let it fall to the side.

Ok, maybe I'll save this personal reflection for my hand written journal and leave you with some stories.

Today's post is called simplicity.

After the tragic, and unexpected death, of very close friends, I am left wondering, yet again, maybe always, the purpose of mountains, climbing, climbers, in my life. Your attention span is too short and my thoughts to unconcluded to go too deeply into that here so instead I will approach my response. Simplicity.

I have been remembering the joy of running, mountain running, trail running. A day where I enjoy nature, the landscape, the mountains, from a different perspective. From a safer perspective, where I don't walk across a glacier. Where I don't traverse under a hanging serac. Where I am not exposed to rock fall. Where pushing myself means controlling my mind and my pace and my breath and my focus, not working through a pump on an ice pitch where falling could be deadly. Not fumbling with a piece of gear as my hand jam slips. Not precariously perching a front point of a crampon on a granite nub on a mixed pitch.

There is certainly value in each of those moments. Personal growth, reflection, mind control. But do we need to live in that space all the time? Do we, as Alpinists meet the criteria of "thrill seekers" that some non-climbers write us off as? Can I find pleasure in a sport that pushes me through those mental challenges without fearing for my life? I think so.

I find Ultra Running to be one of the most inspiring sports I can think of. The discipline, the commitment, the time inside your head. My interest has been peeked. I have been asking friends for the recipe to try to delve into that world. For sure I won't be entering any races any time soon. But for now, I will embark upon a new-ish sport, and see where it takes me.

The simplicity of it all. A trail, a pair of running shoes, and ME!! No ropes, rack, backpack, no partner even.

So today, despite an urge to go climbing, I joined some friends to hike a portion of the TMB, The Mont Blanc Trail. We hiked, caught up on life, on 5 or so years that saw us each leading different lives and on different paths, we laughed, we got yelled at for being too loud and "infringing" on someone's nature experience, we picked wild blueberries off of bushes, we indulged in a coffee at a hut, Dana braved the icy glacial lakes for a dip, and we laughed, SIMPLY.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On my way Home!

On the 5th of January we packed our bags into my Subaru and headed to the airport. I was sad to say goodbye to all the wonderful people of Canmore, but not to the cold. I left dreaming of alpine lines, and warmer temps, so I know I will be back.

When we landed in Montrose, Colorado, the sun was shining, the mountains were plastered in fresh snow, and we had to dig in the bottom of our packs for our sunnies. Peeling off layer after layer of clothing after a month of -30 to -40 temps in the Canadian rockies, the sun made us smile.

I have lived in Ouray/Ridgway Colorado a few times over the years, and every time I come back I miss living there! It is one of the few towns in North America I could imagine living in.

The weekend was full of friends, festivities, parties, clinics, hot springs, and competitions.

Despite the cold temps in Canmore I had enough time to train at the Vision gym, where there is an awesome cave with holds for dry tooling, and Haffner Creek, the Playground, and other local mixed crags. For the first time I showed up at the competition with a bit of strength and lots of psyche.

I was lucky to draw my climbing number towards the beginning of the day, but not too early. The morning was crisp and cold with a blanket of fresh snow covering everything, and clear skies. Majka Burhart, another competitior, and myself warmed up on some easier mixed and ice routes. We forced ourselves into the screaming barfies, it was our tactic. If we got them first thing in the morning, maybe we wouldn't get them in the competition. As I climbed my first pitch of ice, on top rope, with my hands gripped as tight as I could on my leashless tools, with the lightest gloves I could find, and tons of fresh snow, the goal was accomplished. It was not fun, but it worked.

The warm up was a fun atmosphere, a handful of competitors from across the USA and Canada traded ropes, smiles, laughs, nerves, words of encouragement. I love the atmosphere. We are all super competitive, and want to do well, but mostly I think we are competitive against ourselves, and love the drive of others that pushes us.

After a few pitches my time was almost up. The temps had warmed up to a sunny day and I knew it would be a perfect day for the comp route.

We get to preview the route from a distance and get an idea of what the climbing is like before the comp, but we are not allowed to scope it with binoculars, or photos, or watch anyone climb on it.

Local Hard Man Vince Anderson put the route up this year. I was for sure intimidated!! The route climbed 20 or so meters of grade 4 ice on top rope, a good warm up, to a belay, and then you are on lead. You get two or three moves up a rocky slab, and then the route is in your face. It is a full on roof, angling at 45 degrees, traversing up and left. I could see some of the holds that were marked with green spray paint to at least give us a chance, but I couldn't figure out what you did with your feet. And I knew for sure I couldn't do twelve figure 4's!!

I get super nervous before comps or before performing for a crowd. It's kind of funny because I am by no means shy, or introverted, but the pressure of performing weighs on me. Though just like Division 1 sports at University, or guides exams, I always seem to find the groove once I start.

Full of nerves, with a twisting stomach, I dropped over the lip into the canyon, feeling like I couldn't even remember how to rappel!

I got to the bottom to find a familiar face, Bill Whitt, with a huge smile, the organizer of the comp, super hard worker, and wonderful guy. He always gives a big smile, a pat on the back and words of encouragement.

I worked my way up the wierd, ice park, ice, or snice...Without too much trouble. It felt like it took me forever, but it only took 5 minutes. While at the change over point, from top rope to lead, I took a deep breath and warmed up my hands while looking at the route. I'm not much of a sport climber, or competitor for that matter, I don't do well at working routes, or reading them. But, after a few weeks of training and some good advice from Max, my boyfriend, I decided to read the route, or at least try to see where my moves would take me. The route was steep from the start, so I wouldn't have a lot of energy to waste.

I saw the first four or five moves, my hands were warm, and I took off. I moved up the slab thinking, this would be a crap place to fall off, but easy to fall as well, the slab was not hard but insecure and an intimidating start.

I reached to the first hold sinking my tool, and testing it, up and right I found a great crack for my other tool. Looking down at my feet i found a few nubs to move on and then made my first clip. After two moves I was leaning back hips pressed in and fully IN the roof. As I tried to clip the second clip, my not a good sport climber, showed itself as I fumbled the clip and had to drop the rope. After shaking out I gave it as second go, sucessfully. Moving up a few more moves, my arms were fully pumped. I did my best to shake out, but could feel the blood pooling in my arms.

I pulled with all my strength to have a look for the next hold, but knew there was no way I could actually move, and that was me off!

In the end I climbed well, placed second, there was a three way tie for high points in the women's division, so it went to time, I was second fastest, and likely placed around 10th overall of 20 including the men. I am content with my performance, but super motivated to take the training to the mountains and climb some trad mixed lines surrounded by big peaks back home in Chamonix, where I am headed right now. And, i hope to have more time and motivation to train next year, when the hard women come back (Audrey Gipery, Ines Papert, and Jen Olsen were in nepal this year trying an alpine line) and see how it goes!

P.s...I"m not canadian, but that's not a bad nationality to be mistaken for, he he he!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bike, Hike, Climb, Get Pumped, Suffer, Spindrift, do it all over again!!

Ahh the glory of early season....Canadians have the luxury of climbing ice from October to April or May in a good year. Us non-Incredible Hulk, American types, get a few wily months in and we call it good. I would have to say that I'm not a natural born waterfall ice climber. My years of climbing have taken me through more of the Alpine Style ice, smooth couloirs choked with ice, if you're lucky, or snice (snow ice), or neive. Or mixed rock lines or crampon points teetering precariously on minute, granite edges, tools torked in small fissures, cams stuffed in ice choked cracks.

So...I agreed with Max that we would spend a few months in the Candian Rockies getting fit and strong, and me getting reaquainted with ice (if you look into the archives you will see early season ice from last year explaining my fall on ice two years ago). After a long summer of house renovations

feeling severely unfit, we made the trek to my car in Salt Lake City, Utah and drove North. We settled into our less than romantic, house, to be shared with a few local mice, a handful of dog food in the utensil drawr, an overflowing bathroom sink, a leaky bathtub, and then washed all the dishes in clorox bleach before daring to eat off them, unloaded our tools, ice screws, and bundles of kit and packed up to go play in the snow and ice.

After one day of mellow warm-up at the back of Lake Louise

, we headed up to the Trophy Wall, a huge North Facing wall just outside of Banff on Mount Rundle. The wall is full of gems, lusted over by locals, and visitors. I have always wanted to make my way up there.

We borrowed bikes from a friend and cycled as far down the road as possible

The 3 hour, 1000 m acent, approach was a long haul for me feeling desperately unfit! And, for the record biking in the snow on thin road tires is less than enjoyable.

The ice on The Replicant, was steep and featured, hooked out and fun climbing, but the snow kept falling and the wind picked up. So, we decided to bail, or maybe I convinced Max to bail. There was so much snow on the trail we ended up having to push our bikes most of the 5km back out that we had been able to ride in, NOT FUN!

A few days of drytooling at haffner creek and ice climbing on Carlsberg in Field, and we headed back up to the Trophy Wall.

This time feeling a bit more fit we woke up before light and headed in by headlamps. The snow had mostly been blown clear so the hiking was much more fun! Ok FUN is an overstatement, but not as painful.

This time we were going to try Terminator 2, the mixed start to the Terminator. Climb ice blobs to an anchor just below the daggar. From here Max traversed out onto mixed terrain, then hooked onto the scary looking dagger, and over onto the top of the hanging icicle. I luckily maanged to avoid barfing while watching. From there the climbing doesn't get any easier, steep steep, climbing, unprotectable, three fractures clean across the pilliar, freezing hands, cold temps, and windy weather coming in. It was a pump fest!!

I managed to make my way up behind him with out too much grace. We made it back to the forest before dark, and to the bikes with head lamps...Back home and could barely walk the next day!!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Facing the Dark Side

Photos: Top: Jeff Banks giving a Kiss to Mark Ryle, a fun day out on the South Face of the Aguille du Midi, rock climbing sunny granite. Middle: Mark Ryle on the crux pitch, as Jeff Banks and I heckle from below. Bottom: Three Amigos Mark Ryle, Me, and Jeff Banks, at the top of the route after a day full of laughs, hand jams, and back in town for dinner!

I went down to visit my friend Mark Monday, it's weekly ritual. An hour and a half drive to Rumilly. Usually I have a small bag of his laundry, some home made treats, soup, cakes, salad, and a handful of letters. It's usually either heaving with rain as I descend the auto route, or its one million degrees. I park at the old church, and walk into the sterile building, pushing the elevator button to arrive at the first floor. Passing each room marked with a name I find my way to Mark's. He's sitting in a chair eating his lunch or dinner, or on his bed reading a book. His face lights up as he sees me. He's likely been waiting, wondering who will visit today. He smothers me with a huge kiss and I feel needed and loved. He sighs "Ahhh great, now I can take my helmet off." I"m ready for him to take his helmet off now, the first time it was a little traumatic. As he lifts the white plastic helmet off his head he unveils his injury. The right side of his head sags into a depression the size of a large grapefruit due to the fact that he is missing nearly a third of his scull bone.

"Do you have any news about when you will have the plate put in?"

"Yeah, the 1st of October, I can't wait!! I hate this helmet, it's like having to wear a wooly cap in the middle of summer, while walking on the treadmill doing physio."

"What is the surgery like?"

"It's not supposed to be too bad. They will take me back to Geneva which is good, because that's where I was right after the accident so the doctors know my story there."

"Yeah, I remember Geneva."

I remember the whole thing, rockfall on a relatively normal day out in the mountains. Climbing a day route off on the Blatiere, just to the left of the Aguille du Midi. A dozen or so climbers on the face and Mark got hit....I sit there and face Mark, we chat, he's hopeful, he's positive, he's just taking it as it comes. I can't help but wonder if he's in denial, if he's putting on a brave face for me. I can't help but change places with him, or put Maxime, my boyfriend there, it could have just as easily been someone else.

But I am amazed, as we dance through topics ranging from literature, to physio therapy, to Chamonix gossip how "Mark" he is. I can't believe how well he is doing.

We talk about the parts he doesn't remember, the coma, the two brain surgeries, coming out of the coma, not knowing he had a head injury, being restrained to the bed, initially not being able to move his left side, and all the progress until here.

Once we have exhausted all the topics of conversation, he's eaten the tomato soup I brought him, and the fennel (wierd, but he loves fennel), we pretend like we're having a dinner party together, Mark is getting tired, visiting hours are coming to an end , and I have an hour and a half to drive back to Chamonix.

We say our goodbyes, give traditional French cheek kisses, patented Mark hugs and I go back for just a few more, before I leave, not really wanting to leave. Knowing how close it all was to not having any of this.

The drive home is hard, it leaves me to my head for an hour and a half. I process his progress. I process his deficiencies, due to the head injury. I process his bad luck. I process my chance, my luck. And I wonder.....why we take the risk? I have to answer to family, friends, loved ones, and I want to have good answers.

I go through his past two months, a week in a coma, two brain surgeries and all the progress since. And I am amazed. Mark is lucky, he is strong, he is brave, and I can't help but wonder if I would be so composed.

It's the dark side of what we do, I think about how fragile life is. I think about loving the people in my life harder, being more forgiving of others and myself. I think about the great days, the glacial sunrises, the shiver bivies with Max or a good friend, I think about the laughs, the little epics, and I think about the risk. I think about car accidents and randomness of life and balance that into the risk I take in the mountains. I think about my Dad who died of a heart attack at 42 on a run, and my Uncle who died in the World Trade Center.

I know the dark side of climbing is always there. I know we only face it on occasion otherwise, if we processed it every day, we would be too scared to go climbing. But I know the dark side of life is there too. If we processed it every day we would never get out of bed.

So I take moments and events like this to value life, experience and people more, and to be honest with myself about why I climb. And by the time I get home, with the panorama of mountains laid before me, the Aguilles, the ridges, the rock, the snow, the ice...I am excited to share another adventure with someone I love, to tie into a rope and trust my fragile life and theirs to the partnership of sharing a rope. Because that's why Mark is so special to me, because we shared dozens of days like that in the mountauns, and we know friendships that lies deep in the elements of sharing each other's fragile lives.

And that's why we climb, and that's what I'll tell those who ask me!