Saturday, January 16, 2010

4. Try ice climbing

So, of all the things on The List, I think ice climbing had the most strikes against it going into the experience. For starters, it just plain seemed too hard. Climbing up a frozen waterfall by the spikes strapped to your boots and the curved ice picks in your hands looks pretty tough (and I have to admit that, at least for me, it turned out that looks were not deceiving.) There was also the cold factor. Like my beloved and remarkably fat cat, Peanut, I am a heat-seeking creature, and spending a day getting as close as possible to a solid sheet of ice is totally contrary to my nature. And then there is the problem of gear. I am all about simplicity. Running is my exercise of choice, despite a lack of any particular talent for it, because it's so simple. Throw on a pair of shoes, a t-shirt and some shorts, walk out the door almost anywhere in the world and you're good to go. When I travel, whether to Tacoma or Tanzania, it is a point of pride to travel light. It fits in a carry-on, the only bag I bring, or it doesn't go. So when I saw the gear-filled packing list for our single day of ice climbing, loaded with clothing and accessories I've never worn (like gaitors and crampons) and tools I'd never seen, I seriously considered bagging the whole thing. I thought about just throwing up a note on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to meet me for Manhattans (a drink I've never tried) at the Half Lounge (a place I've never been to) and calling it this week's New Thing. But where's the challenge in that?

So instead, on Saturday morning I put on what felt like a hundred layers of (non-cotton) clothing, grabbed my borrowed pack full of borrowed gear, and headed up to the student center at Saint Mike's to meet the rest of the group. The place we were were going is at Smuggler's Notch about a 45-minute drive away, and the first thing I discovered is that you don't drive directly to it. You park about three quarters of a mile away and walk uphill on a road closed for the winter in your ice climbing boots with all your gear. When we got to the area of frozen waterfalls, we learned how to put on our harnesses and crampons (the spiky torture device-looking things you strap on your boots) and practiced walking without spearing ourselves in the legs with the crampons. Then we tried out swinging our tools (the ice pick-like things) into the ice wall. Our leaders, Eben, Jeremy and Drennan set up the ropes for us, did a bunch of demonstration and instruction, and then got us started climbing and belaying (basically, keeping the anchor rope tight from below for the person climbing). There were five of us learning (Randall, Alex, Chris, Danielle and me), and so we had lots of one-on-one coaching and help from our three instructors. Around 2:30 everyone was tired and cold but pleased at having done battle with the elements and the ice wall. It was time to break down the climbing equipment for the day, do the walk back out to the car (past a number of snow boarders and skiers sharing the road) and come home.

Here are a few lessons I learned and thoughts I had from my day of ice climbing.

1. It's less like rock climbing than I thought it would be. The rope part is obviously similar, but the actual climbing motions are pretty different. In rock climbing it's a lot about stretching and finding holds where you can for fingers and toes, whereas ice climbing is about trying to keep in a vertical line with your climbing tools (like a ladder) and kicked-in feet (as you can see in the picture of me here, I wasn't doing such a hot job at that on my first climb).

2. Another way it's really different than rock climbing is that the cold is a huge factor -- at least it was for me. We were actually really lucky because we went out on an ideal day, weather-wise. It was relatively warm (high 20s and low 30s) and there were only a few cold gusts of wind. Still, by the end of the day, the nature of the sport -- bursts of serious effort while you're climbing followed by periods of standing still while you're belaying or resting -- really wreak havoc with your body temperature. When I got dressed in the morning I thought all the layers were silly, but a very important lesson I will take away is that there is no such thing as too many layers. Better to have them and be constantly taking them on and off.

3. One thing that my first experiences of rock and ice climbing had in common is that it was the instructors and fellow climbers that made all the difference. Eben and student leaders Drennan and Jeremy somehow managed to be totally professional but easygoing and funny at the same time. It's a little mean, I suppose, that their mastery of the sport made their demonstrations look deceptively simple, but their patience and help more than made up for it, and I came away more impressed than ever with our school's Wilderness Program. The same was true for the other participants in the group. Alex, Chris, Danielle and Randall made the whole experience great with their senses of humor and general attitude. I'm particularly grateful to Randall, who, as an experienced climber, patiently helped me with my ropes and gear, and belayed and coached me up my first climb. There's a picture of him climbing here that unfortunately is from a bit of a distance, but does show a better view of what the ice structure we started on looked like.

4. Spiders are awesome. I have always liked spiders anyway, probably from reading Charlotte's Web when I was little, and when I was a kid I would run to the rescue if my brother, Jim, who hated them, was about to squash one. But my climbing experiences have given me a whole new appreciation, and I now think they are among the most impressive of all God's creatures. It's amazing to me that this activity that requires so much gear, effort and muscle strain on my part is just what spiders do every day, all day, as a matter of course. It's pretty remarkable, really.

5. Although I'll definitely keep going with rock climbing, I'm less sure about ice climbing. I'd like to give it another go, and may sign up for another day-long session this winter, but the cold thing is a problem for me. It's a great workout (my arms and shoulders especially are definitely feeling it today), and really rewarding (though my knees are both a collection of bruises right now). Overall it was a very cool way to spend a day doing something I'd never contemplated was within my ability to try with a group of excellent people. If you're looking for a challenge, this is definitely one to add your list!

52 Ways to Say I Love You

I'm a little tired and sore from yesterday's climbing, and so I'm going to cop out with an easy language today...French.

I love you. Je t'aime.
May I have two beers, please? Est-ce que je peux prendre deux bieres, s'il vous plait?
Hello Bonjour
Good-by Au revoir

Coming Attractions

All the plans listed in previous posts (ballet class starting this Wednesday, January 20, mozzarella-making on January 28, Penguin Plunge on February 6)are still on tap. However, I have one change and one new plan.

Snowshoe Nebraska Notch on Sunday, January 24 instead of Snake Mountain on January 23. The Nebraska Notch trip is being led by one Saint Mike's best student activists (and Wllderness Leaders) Josh, and I think some Social Justice League students are going to sign up too.

Full Moon Snowshoe Saturday, January 30. Doing a night-time winter outing is another activity on The List, and I am thinking of doing this Wilderness Program outing to complete it, especially if any of my student or colleague friends at Saint Mike's want to sign up, too. Let me know!


  1. Trish! You are so awesome and such an inspiration! Good for you doing all these awesome new things. I have to say I find myself stuck in the "wish I could do that.. " mentality and you make it look so cool and easy! I cannot wait until our reunion - I need to start making carpooling plans now with the Boston crew! See you soon- keep rockin' life!


  2. So amazing! This looked particularly tough! I'm so proud of you! Miss you lots xx

    PS:- I CAN NOT believe you're going to do the Penguin Plunge. It makes me shiver just to think of it!

  3. Hi Dear
    It is very nice to climb in the ice and enjoy it.We go to the ice peaks in the top level. So We seems good in the ice.............................Ice Bagger

  4. You're a better man than I, Gunga Din. Congrats - looks like you're well on your way to conquering your 52 new things. In fact, I suspect you'll end up lapping yourself and start pushing for 104 new things.