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!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Other Side of the Guide/Climber Life

The glory of the past few months, the accomplishments, the travels, the summits, alpine days, suffering, Guide Exam Completion, becoming a home owner (sorry I know, I'm dropping a half a dozen stories that I left untold due to slow internet, too many travel days, and too little computer time, but maybe I'll work both backwards and forwards), have metamorphosed into plain old blue collar hard work.

I'm a home owner! YAY, the American Dream, only it's in France, in Chamonix, and I managed to convince French authorities I was a good person to trust a loan to....he he he. Sometimes the arbitrary nature of the French culture works in my favor, and m I be bold enough to say the cultural massogeny?

Can I have thousands of Euros please? I begged with my sparkles and cutest Patagonia water girl skirt I could find.
Oh what do I do for a living I'm a Guide de La Haute Montagne.
Bah Non! Une Femme Guide!
Bah OUI!!
What do I make annually? How much money do I want?
Hmm they don't seem to balance out but heck why not....

So that was it. Between the help of my fantastic mother, who opens my mail, deposits my checks....basically cleans up all i leave behind. After almost 10 years of trying to separate myself from my family, and become INDEPENDENT, I have digressed, I am on my mom's family plan for a cell phone, cheapest option when living out of the country most of the year. I have given her access, check books, bank cards to my meager bank account, and asked numerous favors of her in the process of procuring a home. Then there are my friends Miles and Lisa, the savy business peeps.

It started on a whim on a weekly run in the mountains, it proceeded with begging for my family to invest in the property, it continued with sweat, concrete, and tiling my step dad's chalet floor in hopes of helping him sell and convince him to support my blind ambition.

And it ended in January, with me running around Ouray inbetween ice climbing competitions, teaching clinics, unpacking from a month of climbing in Patagonia Argentina, and a day before leaving for Nepal and Oman for a month.

Papers were signed, notariezed, fed-exed to France (again by another integral friend Tony Brent), and a few days later, in the Khumbu Reigon of Nepal, in Namche Bazzar, I recieved an email saying I was a homeowner, with my new address!

A month later I stumbled back to Chamonix, my home base for the past 8 years, and found a set of skeleton keys with my name on it. The apartment 40 square meters, around 400 square feet, is small by American standards, but reasonable by European, especially Chamonix.

The work that I remembered as being aesthetic mostly as it turns out is now a complete gutting, removing a structural wall, trenching the house to dry the concrete walls that are home to dozens and dozens of earth worms.

I looked at my skeleton of a home, that is now a meager 4 concrete walls! The electric and plumbing removed too...and realized that I had devalued my home about 50,000 Euros. A brief panic attack, hyperventillation, and the commitment of my amazing boyfriend Maxime, a set of amazing and knowledgable hands, and I began wrapping my head around the idea of a mortgage, and a "working space".

To follow you will see the progress of our small home as it unfolds the challenges of working in another country, language, metric system, etc.

Ahh an adventure to begin.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Do You Really Want My Life??

Ahhh the less glorious side of travel, transience, and the climber/guide/dirtbag lifestyle....Packing, Packing, and Packing again...I'm pretty sure I spend more of my life doing this than climbing.

Thanks for the help Max!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In My Own Backyard

We stood on the flats, Max and I, squinting in thrashing winds and sideways snow. If I squinted, lowering my frosted sunglasses, maybe I could see which way the slope was dropping, or whether there was a crevasse or serac band beneath my skis. Max looked left and right hoping that the skies would clear for a moment and the pillars of granite we knew surrounded us would appear behind us so we could orient ourselves. My neck gaitor was stiff and frozen, basically useless. I kept reaching my frosty, gloved, hands to my face to warm my cheeks in fear of frost nip. Mentally, I inventoried what we had in our backpacks, a stove, half a small bottle of fuel, a few bars, some tea, two sleeping bags, two pads. We could spend the night out if we had to. Max and I stood silently, in our own worlds, desperate for something to appear in the white fog. We had been standing there long enough to lose track of which way was up or down. Our tracks were covered by the swirling snow and winds already, we couldn't backtrack.

I stood awestruck. I was lost in my own backyard. Less than an hour ago we stood, with our backpacks packed, at the tram ready to go down to town, watching the winds swirl loose snow around the Aguille du Midi from the safety of the other side of a window. We chatted kindly with the station Gurdian Nicola, in hopes that he would let us sleep again another night in the bathroom to save the $70 for a night in the Cosmiques Refuge, even though it was INTERDIT!! And maybe even give us a few more hot chocolates and espressos when we returned from a long day in the mountains and missed the last tram down. Just as the cable car arrived, the sun poked through the clouds giving false hope and Nicola pushed our buttons, with casual arrogance, and a small modicum of demeaning "Ah, c'est pas trop mal, j'imagine tu peut ski le Vallee Blanche, et peut etre avec une peu de poudre, tout seul"

Which translates loosely to you wimps, the weather is not that bad suck it up, ski the Vallee Blanche, you'll have some good snow and be all alone. In the Alps, you're never alone unless you are on some scary obscure route, a really hard route, or in super bad weather.

So there we stood, totally lost, no compass or map, and we had only skied because our tender egos had been bruised a bit. Peer pressure, complacency. I was in my own backyard. I had skied the VB more than 50 times, but not this year. And here I was completely lost.

"Maybe we should rope up Max?" I shouted in the wind. "Yeah." He agreed.

My mind flashed to the snowboarder who had just died last week on the "Salle a Manger", the "Lunchroom", falling through a snow bridge into a crevasse after unclipping from his snowboard.

Even roped, the light was so bad that one of us could easily just step INTO a crevasse.

Looking left and right, still not moving up or down, I finally shouted "Maybe we should just skin back up, it's safer. Even though we're totally turned around now, we'll eventually hit a wall of granite that we know and be able to locate ourselves."

Max tossed down his pack in annoyance, agreeing that it was the best idea, remembering the same situation last year with Freddie.

As we skinned back up, or at least what we thought was up, I thought about all the people who take the Alps lightly. Of the group of guys who set off for the committing Biannossay Ridge on Mont Blanc last summer with the worst weather forecast I've ever seen in the valley and ended up dying of hypothermia while on the telephone with the Helicopter Mountain Rescue. I thought of all the people who skied down the Vallee Blanche or climbed Mont Blanc thinking they would just follow guided groups. Or set out for routes that were far too difficult for them with the idea that they'd just climb until they got scared and call a helicopter. I thought of the few extra ounces the map and compass would have weighed in my pack, and was glad that we had bivy stuff from the night before with us, and even more glad that I was familiar with the landscape, and strong enough to skin until I hit a wall the I recognized and could orient myself.

As we got to the base of the last hill, Max finally smiled and laughed. "That was so stupid it's almost funny."

"Yeah, we stilll have to climb back up the Arete, let me know when the story get's funny." I still wasn't convinced, my legs were jello, and my cheeks stinging from the cold and wind.

"We were five minutes from taking the bin down and eating pastries in Chamonix," Max grinned.

"Yeah, and then our egos got pushed and we went for the bait. And we were a few hours away from an epic." I scolded aloud, but more to myself for being complacent and succeptible to the peer pressure that exists in popular mountain ranges.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Christmas Cracks and Kisses

I think that Christmas changes lots over time. From the days as a little kid, opening each door of an advent calendar, and leaving chocolate chip cookies (which my mom definitely ate!!) and carrots for santa and his reindeer to keep him going to each good little boy and girls house delivering treats, writing christmas wish lists, hanging lights, and spending time with family and friends ( this year I sadly didn´t get to ring in Christmas with my family, but I carried them in spirit on christmas day, and thank them for their support, encouragement and understanding of all of my adventures) to what we dream of as young adults.

Santa did show up this year though, I guess I was a good enough girl not to get coal. Or, in Patagonia, it would be storms. My letter to santa wished for sunshine, clear skies, beautiful hand cracks, granite spires, and a summit with some of my favorite people. It all came true, a week of rain and grey skies parted just before christmas. We packed our bags and headed the 7 hours back up the trail to high camp, Maxime, Kirsten Kremer and myself. The day was sunny and clear, a bit windy, but nice by patagonian standard. We made it to camp around 3pm, set up tents, packed our bags and hoped the forecast was right. The alarm rang at midnight on the morning of christmas eve, we brewed a hot tea, choked down some oatmeal and set off into the warm, calm, starry night to St. Exupery to an about 20 pitch route Ciara de Luna, a striking Granite spire that rises well above Raphael, the peak I climbed last week, with a beautiful black dike stretched across its girdle.

We hiked beneath the full moon which wrapped around the edges of the peaks lighting the valley and our way. We had just a small route finding debauchle though didn´t lose much time and made it to the base of the route right when the sun began to spill across the horizon and dip the Torres, the peaks on the other side of the valley, in a pink alpen glow.

Kremer had already been on most of the route, so route finding was easy and, pitch after pitch was a glorious gift of the most perfect hand cracks, laybacks, and clean granite rock. The kind that makes my stomach flip with butterflies at how great it feels on my finger tips. We made good time, taking turns leading every few pitches. Climbing in threes is great because at the belays there is time for giggles, stories, and jokes....or if you´re climbing with your boyfriend, a few cheeky kisses, he, he, he!!

Progress was good, but the afternoon brought unforcasted winds despite the deep blue skies. Little by little we made it closer and closer to the top. The last few pitches were climbed with billowing jackets full of wind, ropes that were floating in huge arches towards the sky from the belayer to climber, and gusts that attempted to knock us off huge hand holds.
Kremer and I followed Max up the last pitch (he was our knight in shining armor, our rope gun in super strong winds) where the two of us climbed side by side, giggling at how tired we were, and how the wind might just be strong enough to knock us off! We crossed our fingers that max wasn´t shivering in the bitter winds, and popped our heads onto the summit to find him tucked in a little nook with no wind, smiling!!

We dipped our heads into the winds shooting straight up from the front face and were happy that our descent was down the other side.

We drank in the views, laughed at the madening wind, and relished a summit with close friends. It was the most amazing christmas eve i have ever had. I thought of every one of you and wished you could have been there with us. It was 6.30pm, and we decided it was time to go, descent was long and the wind would likely make us work for it every step of the way. Max yelled ¨No free summits in Patagonia¨ and we started down.

The first two rappels were in the respite of the calm, until we wrapped back down the main face. I wached the ropes as we threw them down, where we wanted to go, ripple up in the wind straight above our heads.

We had to rappel with only one rope, so that if it got stuck when pulling we could climb back up and free it, and so that we would have no knot to get stuck. This took much more time, the rope got stuck 4 times, that we had to go back up and free it. Finally on steep walls the wind started to subside. We made it to the base of the wall without too much drama. But, the couloir leading back to our packs was icyer than we thought and we were in little slippery climbing shoes with no boots, crampons or axes. Darkness fell just as we got to the couloir and we spent a few more hours rappelling down by the light of our headlamps to the ledges where our packs were. Hungry and tired, dehydrated, and ready for camp, we all laughed in a Merry Christmas as it was well past midnight. Still 2 and a half hours to get back to camp in the dark, bouldery descent. We made it home to our tents just as the tip of rose tickled the scattered clouds and shadows of the peaks. We tried to stay up for sunrise but all fell fast asleep.

On Christmas morning, we woke leasurly to steaming hot tents, baked in the sun, and clear skies. Our minds wished us atop another peak, but our bodies ached in yesterdays adventures. Achy arms, raw fingers, tired eyes, and exhausted bodies allowed us to relish the unusally sunny, hot, calm day in camp. Surrounded by Granite christmas trees all around, and gifts of just being there. We sat in the sun, a few of us got sunburned (hmmm that would be me!), drank ample amounts of coffee, laughed with friends of all nationalities, and thought of our other friends out on adventures on chrismas day (Colin Haley and Carsten climbed a new route on Christmas day on Desmochada, and Sam and Rob climbed De La S, and Crystal and her partner maybe a new route, on Bieffeda), Our christmas feast was dried beef tortellinis, sauce from a bag, and sweaty cheese, but damn it tasted good. We slept from 6pm until the morning. Woke leisurly before the storm clouds rolled in, packed our bags, and swilled Ballentines´Scotch Whiskey for breakfast!! HA!!

THis morning we celebrated christmas as a family, a big hodge podge climbing family, with french toast, fruits, and honey butter, not the same as my mom´s pan full of bacon, and pancakes cooked in bacon grease!! But everyone was happy. tonight we will have a huge ASADA, a big beef barbque, thanks to our wonderful hostel owner, Eduardo, and have our Christmas dinner.