Feature in Base Camp Magazine

I am always astonished by the people who happen to stumble across my blog. One such person was Cass Légér, the Editor of Base Camp Magazine. Taken by my life and stories, she reached out and asked if I could write an article about my accident and road to recovery and back to my life in the mountains. I am usually pretty prompt about attending to tasks and matters in my life but, for some reason, when it comes to writing about myself, I put things off till the very last minute. I know exactly why. So much has happened in my life; so much tragedy and joy, so many emotions and feelings experienced. The volume and enormity of these events and emotions are so overwhelming that the idea of attempting to convey even a sliver of it all is almost paralyzing (no awful pun intended).

I am really glad that Cass’s offer forced me to write this little piece. I do not think I find writing to be cathartic. But the process of writing always helps organize my thoughts and notice how I can go from being completely clinical about things to unexpected weeping. Writing for an audience who will quickly lose interest in a verbose, rambling article discussing every single detail forced me to prioritize and be selective about what I wrote about. I hope you enjoy reading the final article.

Aiguille du Midi and sense of history


Aiguille du Midi on the far right

The weather on my last morning in Chamonix was clear, so we decided to take the cable car (Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi) from Chamonix up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi. Since the cable car ride is expensive (around €60!), there is no point in paying this sum of money for a day with poor visibility.

We had originally floated the idea of taking the cable car up to ice-climb a route, Chèré, and then take the last cable car back down. However, the time of year was not ideal for this; the refuge where we could have stayed overnight was closed meaning we would have to carry a lot more stuff like sleeping bags, stove etc.; so it was not certain whether I would be able to climb fast enough to make the last cable car down. Hopefully we can get on this route a little later in a future season. The concept of huts is foreign to me, as I am  used to packing everything in/out and camping when skiing/hiking in the backcountry.

The Aig. du Midi is a striking feature certainly, but like a lot of the geography of Chamonix, I was most excited about just getting to be so close to the history of it and its surrounding peaks. This sense of history was a dominant feeling I felt while in these mountains. The closest thing I have felt to this is climbing classic, hard routes that Yosemite greats first put up. Except here, I was not climbing these routes, so it was not quite the same emotion. I have never seen peaks/routes as things to be conquered; but, rather, the process being a personal test; and, hopefully, a fun and rewarding time with a partner. I used to be much more of a loner in the mountains, happy to take off into the backcountry skiing/climbing/hiking by myself. That has changed given my disability, but also as I have gotten older and soon after my accident, I realized one of the most fulfilling aspects of climbing/skiing is sharing the experience with a good friend/partner.


Base station of the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi

The cable car ascends from the base (1,035m) to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2,317m); then a second span up to the upper station (3,777m) vertical distance of over 2,700m! The second span is particularly cool, as the opposite side of the triangle you can imagine, is larger than the adjacent side of the triangle (remember your geometry lessons? 23+ years later, I still remember my SOH CAH TOA :))) Passengers wanting to get to the top need to disembark from the cable car at the mid-station and get on another cable car.


View from the platform of the mid-station

While the Aig. du Midi is not one of the six great north faces of the Alps, the imposing north face always elicits a slight shudder in me.


The imposing north face

Unlike the rest of my time in Chamonix, the temperatures at the top were quite low, and the wind high, meaning not much time was spent outside taking pictures. I was able to see many storied peaks, like the Grandes Jorasses, and the Grand Capucin.


Panoramic view from the upper station. The Grandes Jorasses are in the distance; Pyramide du Tacul, and the Grand Capucin sit behind the Glacier du Géant in the foreground. We had just been on the other side of the Grandes Jorasses ice-climbing

I hope to ski down from the Aig. du Midi in the not too distant future.

Skiers making their way down the Aig. du Midi ridge

Skiers making their way down the Aig. du Midi ridge


Grand Capucin on the far left. Mont Maudit and Mont Blanc in distance.

While we were standing comfortably warm inside the enclosed upper station walkway, we saw a helicopter rescue taking place on the Glacier du Géant.


Helicopter rescue on the glacier


View of Chamonix-Mont Blanc on the cable car ride down

Given this sense of history I experienced, I really enjoyed visiting the Maison de la Montagne, which also houses the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix (founded in 1821), and the small Espace Tairraz museum in Chamonix.


Climbers/skiers can get information on the latest conditions on route through messages left by other climbers/skiers in these message books in the office.



A to-scale 3-D model of the Mont Blanc massif inside the Maison de Montagne

While the Espace Tairraz is small, I really enjoyed our visit, specifically because of the interactive displays of the five great peaks of the Alps: Les Drus, Grandes Jorasses, Eiger, Mont Blanc, and the Matterhorn.


The exhibition hall with the interactive displays

At each of these displays, you can use your fingers to rotate the displays in every direction, and reveal various routes up these peaks.


The Directe Americaine route put up by Gary Hemming and Royal Robbins

The interactive display for the Grandes Jorasses

The interactive display for the Grandes Jorasses

I am not sure if a non-climber would have been as interested as I was in this space, but I thought it was well worth the less than €5 as a rest-day diversion.

Ice, Ice baby: Cogne, Italy (round 2)

Based on weather, and because ice-climbing aggravates my leg much less than skiing, we returned to Cogne a few days later to do a route in the adjacent valley to Valnontey, Lillaz. The short approach was very welcome. As usual, Yves carried all the heavy stuff. I always feel kind of lame about my partners shouldering most of the load, but it is for the good of everyone involved.

The familiar drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmeyer

The familiar drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmeyeur and Aosta

It was pretty cool for the initial “approach” to the climb go through the small village. I have not experienced this in North America.


Yves’ route choice was  spectacular.


The starting pitches of Cascade del Lillaz

The adjacent single pitch Chandelle de Lillaz

The adjacent single pitch Chandelle de Lillaz

Unfortunately, the short approach and spectacular nature of the climb meant that there were a ton of other parties (Brits, Italians, Germans…Yves and I were the only French/Asian dynamic duo :)) arriving at around the same time as us, or right after. I have never been surrounded by so many other ice-climbers on a route; we could have been in sport-climbing area. It detracted from the peace and serenity that I seek when I climb, and having so many other climbers around me makes me feel a certain pressure. When I am rock climbing, my leg brace is apparent; however, I do not wear the brace when I ice-climb (and it would be under my pants anyway), so other climbers might be wondering why I move/climb the way I do. However, this did allow me to glean a little insight into other climbing cultures.

Perhaps because climbing is more popular in Europe, and population density is higher, such crowds are not uncommon. I am used to crowds on popular Yosemite Valley and other Sierra climbs; but nothing like I experienced here. Parties seemed to hurry and hop on climbs as fast as they could. In the States, if there are multiple parties at the base, the party that arrived first usually has priority to climb first, unless there are discussions about one party being much faster over the party that started ahead of it.

Climbers here seemed to have no problems climbing under/over ropes, without communicating with the other parties. The Brits were quite respectful; the Italians and Germans were atrocious, aggressive, and not particularly skilled. Of course, these few data points do not allow me to make generalizations about all the climbers from these countries. But I was surprised that Yves and I (the supposed loud, obnoxious “American” :)) were the ones that brought civility to the party :)


I am looking kinda pissed in this picture because Yves and I had hurried up to escape the many other parties, some of whom were quite rude and aggressive. I’m parked here by a waterfall, seeking shelter from the ice raining down from the other parties above us. (Photo: Yves Durieux)


I included this picture to show how many other people there were, and how at one point it was a rope shit-show (Photo: Yves Durieux)

Fortunately, the crowds cleared significantly after the first pitch or so.

It is too bad the website asianposes.com is now defunct

It is too bad the website asianposes.com is now defunct (Photo: Yves Durieux)

I was pretty psyched to place my first ice-screws in Europe!


Getting ready to lead (Photo: Yves Durieux)


(Photo: Yves Durieux)


My happy place (Photo: Yves Durieux)


(Photo: Yves Durieux)

One really cool aspect of this route was that instead of just going straight up, you need to skirt around picturesque pools of water, snowy ledges etc. to move between some pitches.


Moving around little ponds


Yves humping the ropes around


Looking at the final pitch

I feel very lucky to have been able to experience such a place, with a great partner. The snow and clouds made the drive back through Gran Paradiso very atmospheric.


Clearing clouds


Beautiful Gran Paradiso

I hope it is not too long before I see you again, Cogne!


Heading back to France

Cham area and Cogne, Italy (round 1) ice-climbing

I was fortunate enough to have a great tour guide in Yves for ice-climbing around Chamonix. This was actually my first European climbing experience, rock or ice, and what an introduction. Beautiful setting, great partner, fun leads. I am glad Chamonix is a multi-sport destination and we could ice-climb when I could not ski.

Since Yves and I had not climbed outside together before, we started off with a mellow trial run close by, at La Cremerie, Argentière. I often feel a bit bad about having to limit our routes to ones with not very long approaches.

I do not move well in deep snow, so the recent snowfall was a challenge for me. But it made for some beautiful scenery.

Looking up Mont Roc from the base of the climb

Looking up Mont Roc from the base of the climb

Snowy but warm temps (Photo: Yves Durieux)

A snowy day (Photo: Yves Durieux)

Through the trees...

Through the trees… (Photo: Yves Durieux)

This went quite well, so we next headed over the border to Italy and did climbs in the Valnontey valley, and Lillaz valley in Cogne, Italy. A place so nice we had to go there twice.

I guess it is pretty neat for my first visit/experience in Italy to be via ice-climbing! I know it doesn’t really count…not like when someone visits a city in Russia, and can then colour out half the world map.

Yves suggested ice-climbing in Cogne in Gran Paradiso National Park in the Aosta Valley, Italy for the setting, and the route because he knew it was in good condition. One thing I really enjoy about Chamonix, and many parts of Europe for that matter, is being able to cross national borders so easily and ski, ice-climb, rock-climb etc. in different places and countries.

The drive to Cogne involved passing through many tunnels, including the rather famous and long Mont Blanc tunnel. As one might imagine, accident/fire mitigation inside the tunnel is a big deal. Within the tunnel, cars are asked to leave 150m between them and the car ahead of them. This is so sensible for avoiding traffic jams due to accidents/breakdowns etc. I doubt that drivers in the US would adhere to such a rule.


Cogne is about an hour away from Chamonix, just over the border in Italy

Mild temperatures made me realize ice-climbing could actually be Type-I fun and not entirely a freezing suffer-fest. While the approaches to these areas is mostly flat, the abundant new snow at La Cremerie and Valnontey made the final kick up to the climbs challenging for me.

The two climbing experiences in Cogne could not have been more different. We had Sentiero dei Troll entirely to ourselves on one day; and I have never been in more of a multiple parties shit show than Cascade del Lillaz another day. The setting for both were beautiful though; the latter was particularly striking. I have never climbed in a place quite like this before and am super psyched about returning to do more ice climbs here and around Chamonix. It has also gotten me more excited about doing more ice-climbing in my backyard of New England. Separate blog posts to come for each of these days…

The first route, Sentiero dei Troll, is located in the Valnontey valley. We drove through a number of small, mountain villages, which struck me as being quite run down. Perhaps it was just the age and state of some structures; I’m sure the quality of life of the residents is not bad at all.

A beautiful approach to the climb

A beautiful approach to the climb

It was a wonderful surprise to have the entire route/place to ourselves.

View of the valley from the base of the route

View of the valley from the base of the route

Avalanche danger can be an issue around here because of the south facing climb, accumulation of snow higher up and the steep valley walls.

Yves ready to blast off

Yves ready to blast off


Cool clouds

We saw some Chamois, which you do not find in North America. The couple we saw seemed quite unperturbed by humans.


What goes up…


…must come down

...must come down

The climb itself was enjoyable. Convenient belays, comfortable temperatures with ice that was not bullet-proof. What really made the climb great was the setting and views. We made good time on the route, descended without incident, and made our way back to Chamonix.

Ice-climbing in the adjacent valley, Lillaz, in a future post…


Chamonix – Journey and arrival

Close to three weeks after departing for Chamonix, I am finally getting around to writing and posting about my experiences there and the surrounding areas. While I was on my big skiing road trip I felt compelled to blog about a place and/or experience quite quickly, so as not to forget details I wanted to document; and also so as not to let things build up so much that writing would feel overwhelming. I know that I have a tendency to be quite emotional/volatile when I am documenting my emotions and feelings soon after an event. While there is something to be said about letting time pass and processing thoughts, I am at that point where it feels like there is too much to write about.

This was my first visit to Chamonix, and came about by the kind invitation of my friend Yves who I stayed, skied, and ice-climbed with the entire time. I am surprised we were able to spend close to a fortnight with each other, in a small space and with each other all day, without killing each other. I could not have asked for a more accommodating, generous, and wonderful host.

My journey to Geneva got off to an inauspicious start. My original Boston to Montreal to Geneva route got completely wiped out after my original Boston to Montreal flight was cancelled due to weather (hard to believe since the snow was very light in Boston), and then my later Boston to Montreal flight was sure to be delayed thus ensuring I would miss my connecting flight. While I was pissed with Air Canada (there will be an Air Canada-shaming post later) for the original flight cancellation, I will say they did try hard to find an alternative and called me to ask me to come to the gate when I was outside security killing time for the later Boston to Montreal flight, when it was apparent I would miss my flight. After a bit of scrambling on their part, and even the gate attendant holding the departing plane for me while he made phone calls, I agreed to get on the Boston to Toronto, Toronto to London Heathrow (LHR), LHR to Geneva flights. Of course having to go through two connections instead of one did not make me happy, but the alternative was arriving in Geneva one day later versus 4 hours later. Connecting through Toronto and LHR did have me going through nice airports with plenty of amenities, and incidentally, places where I have family should I needed to spend a night/long time in each of these places.

It was a real treat to fly into Geneva on a sunny day; I could not believe it was wintertime. The views of the Alps in the distance (I think I was looking at Parc naturel regional du Haut-Jura) were spectacular. I was struck by how clear the water was in Lac Léman; it could have been an alpine lake, or even the clear waters on a Pacific Ocean beach. I was also struck by how much wealth there was, as I saw the châteaux and boat docks around the lake. We also know how the Swiss acquire(d) their wealth in a clandestine and dishonest manner, which leaves a rather bad taste in my mouth.

Yves picked me up in Geneva, and as we drove to the Chamonix-Mont Blanc valley, you could see the western part of the Mont Blanc massif. It was quite a sight to see the snowy peaks, including the Dômes de Miage and Mont Blanc behind it, but I knew more spectacular views awaited me in Chamonix.


Mont Blanc massif East (Source: Wikipedia)

Mont Blanc Massif West (Source: Wikipedia)

Mont Blanc Massif West (Source: Wikipedia)


Yves picked me up in Geneva, and as we drove to the Chamonix-Mont Blanc valley, you could see the western part of the Mont Blanc massif. It was quite a sight to see the snowy peaks, including the Dômes de Miage and Mont Blanc behind it, but I knew more spectacular views awaited me in Chamonix.

From left to right, you can see the peaks of the Aiguille du Grepon, Aiguille de Blâitiere, Aiguille du Peigne, Aiguille du Plan, and the Aiguille du Midi:

View of Aiguille des Charmoz to Aiguille du Midi from the town

View of Aiguille des Charmoz to Aiguille du Midi from the town

Chamonix church

Chamonix church

I also got my first taste of the hearty Savoie food of the region: ridiculous amounts of cheese smothering a baguette with big morel mushrooms on top, served with even more bread. This pretty much characterizes the cuisine of the region: simple, rich, hefty, mountain fare, developed and consumed by the farmers who occupied the region before it became a winter sports destination.

I had a little bit of time to myself the next morning, and as I walked through the town to sort out some lift ticket inquiries, I saw why the location of the village is so spectacular.

View of Brévant from the front door of where I was staying

View of Brévant from the front door of where I was staying

Chamonix is really quite uniquely situated in a valley surrounded by a lifetime of climbing/skiing/mountaineering. The peaks in this part of the Alps are so striking. I can see why it would be difficult to leave if you are an ambitious mountain (wo)man.

How can one tire of these views

How can one tire of these views

Yves brought up the good point that being surrounded by all these peaks and terrain can make a person feel a certain pressure. I am sure being surrounded by lots of very skilled skiers/climbers does not help. While I am not totally old, I think I am at a point in my life where orienting my life around chasing hard lines is not really practical any more, especially given my disability. Nevertheless, there is still an internal tension around leading a comfortable, financially-stable life, and being a bit more of a dirt-bag. While Cham was a great place to visit, and I would love to go back there for more climbing and skiing, Cham, for me, is not a practical choice for year-round, permanent living; I don’t have EU citizenship/residency, I don’t speak French, and there is not enough culturally/intellectually outside of winter sports.

I love that Cham is at the intersection of three countries and that we were driving so casually between Italy/France, France/Switzerland. It gets a lot of tourist traffic, but mostly from Europe/Britain. Goodness, there were a lot of Brits there. It is not ethnically diverse at all, but what mountain town is, I guess (I know I do a lot of “white people sports”). The search for the “perfect” mountain town for me continues…

Ice-climbing in Canmore

The ice-climbing in Canmore/Banff is world-class, and there is just so so much of it in a concentrated area. One reason for me making a stop in Canmore was to continue to get more experience leading on this medium that is relatively new to me (compared to rock). It was pretty incredible to have my first days of the ice-climbing season be in this location.

A typical 9am in Canmore

A typical 9am in Canmore


Yeah, it was a wet start to this route.

Here is a picture of me before I got really really cold, and in a rare moment when more than the bridge of my nose was showing. So yes, it’s like a lot of Facebook pictures which are not representative of reality most of the time :)

Who needs a pushup bra when you can stuff a couple of gloves into your chest.

Who needs a pushup bra when you can stuff a couple of gloves into your chest.

Our second day was colder, with the humidity making the perceived temperature be around -20 degC. You know something is wrong when you are so fuckin’ bundled up, you cannot see your climbing harness and the ice-screws sticking out from it.

The first pitch of yesterday's climb

The first pitch of yesterday’s climb. A nice sheltered belay.

You can maybe start to see why Canmore ice-climbing is considered world class, and why the Alpine Club of Canada headquarters are here. So so much waterfall ice here.
Got ice?

Got ice?

However, yesterday’s conditions and my own maladies made it border on one of those “I don’t give a shit if I never ever ice-climb again” times. Considerable snow fall on top of even harder more bulletproof ice made for slow going today. Without getting good sticks in, I felt the insecurity of my left leg even more and felt pretty depressed about it, as big plate after plate of ice would come down and I struggled to get screws into the ice. Ice-climbing, to me, is much more lower-body-centric than rock climbing because of how centered and symmetric you want to be, when moving and when placing a screw in, in tougher conditions. And the low angle stuff is all lower body. I suppose stranger things have happened, but I am pretty sure I will never feel in my element while ice-climbing. Wet, then frozen every thing. But it’s a nice diversion I suppose, I like expanding my knowledge of all kinds of climbing, and being pushed out of your comfort zone is a good thing.  I’m sure I will be stoked on it again some time in the not too distant future, especially if I can climb in more comfortable conditions.

Ouray, CO – Too much to summarize

Unfortunately, weather delays meant that Lonnie (the visually impaired fellow I mentioned in Thursday’s post) did not make it to Ouray in time for Danika and myself to climb with him today. So we went climbing at the Ouray Ice Park together. I learned a lot from Danika, who still guides part-time; and we also fit in a lot of fun ice and mixed lines.

Ouray Ice Park: I love this place

Ouray Ice Park: I love this place

Climbing under/near this dangling formation

Climbing under/near this dangling formation

In particular, I learned some new ice-climbing techniques that help me a lot in getting my feet higher up and thus minimizing the number of swings I need to take. In particular, I am matching and crossing tools a lot more when traversing; stemming off ice with my hands; and choking up high on the tool and “daggering” it. I love climbing mixed-routes on top-rope because I can just play around without fear of falling. In the interest of time, we didn’t do any leading. I would like to do more of that this season, but it seems like I am spending my free time skiing.

Starting off on a mixed route. You can see I can twist my right leg into many different positions.

Starting off on a mixed route. You can see I can twist my right leg into many different positions.

I often extend my left leg and lock it out.

I often extend my left leg and lock it out.

Stemming and exerting outward force on the left leg is hard for me

Stemming and exerting outward force on the left leg is hard for me


It's like a mother's womb

It’s like a mother’s womb


Topping out

Topping out


The line follows the inside corner, with the ice on the left and the rock on the right side

The line follows the inside corner, with the ice on the left and the rock on the right side

The Paradox Sports crew also arrived on Friday evening so I was able to say Hi to a few familiar faces, as well as meet some new ones.

My experience this year was very different to my previous two years as a participant. Danika kindly let me shadow her and help her with all the work the guides were doing. Each morning, we met early and walked into the Ouray Ice Park to set up all the belay and fixed lines, and all the rigging to lower participants without the mobility to walk or lower themselves into the gorge. It was an incredibly informative experience; learning more about rigging, really solid anchor building. At one point I yelled to a guy whose name I did not know, “Hey! Guy in the purple jacket!” to ask him if he could see whether the fixed line I had set up was touching the ground. The guy turned out to be Steve House! And Kitty Calhoun was also helping out, as well as so many experienced alpinists and ice-climbers. It was so great to be in their company, interact and learn from them. Rigging is very hard work, physically, and my body paid for all the lowering and hauling. As well as lowering people, we were also lowering things like propane tanks/canisters, a large canopy, camping chairs and other things to make things more comfortable for participants, especially for those who may have difficulty sensing temperature.

Down in the gorge, my role was also very different from the previous two years. Rather than being a rather passive participant who just waited to climb some routes, I was busy making myself useful: catching people/loads being lowered down, checking in on participants and offering ice-climbing instruction and tips, packing up, and belaying. On Sunday, I belayed a woman with limited use of her lower body up a route for literally two hours. It was tiring work because I had to keep her on a super tight belay, and she was heavy. It is always interesting to assess my feelings as I observe other handicapped people climb/be active. On the one hand, I was psyched for her, that she made it to the anchors. On the other hand, I thought, well, if you took better care of yourself, worked out, was lighter, stronger etc. you would be able to use your upper body more effectively, like I do. I sound like a bit of a dick, but it is sometimes difficult not to make comparisons between myself and someone with lower-body disabilities.

It is also interesting to note my feelings and interactions with people with disabilities that are very different to mine. For example, I interacted with a blind fellow, who had lost all his vision when an IED blew up near him while he was serving in Baghdad. I also spoke with a fellow who was missing most of his fingers and part of his hand, but also had severe burns on his face. I thought it was super cool that all he put down on his form to describe his physical deficits was, “Missing a few fingers”. I wonder how he views himself? Does he look at himself in the mirror? What does he see? I think he is incredibly brave to face a world where appearances are so important and judgments are made upon. I have also wondered whether my interactions change with people with different kinds of handicaps. Do I react differently to people with physical disfigurements? Or people with cognitive issues? And why? Is it due to unfamiliarity on my part?

At one point on Sunday, a volunteer (and part-time guide) remarked to me as I was belaying the heavier person for a long time, that it was quite inspiring to see these participants get on the ice and climb. I nodded in agreement, and also thought, Wow, he doesn’t know anything is wrong with me. As usual, I kept quiet about my own gimpiness. That tends to be my modus operandi: I only let people know if I feel like they need to know. For example, I will offer it as an explanation for why I am walking slowly on an approach, or if I am climbing, where I usually just say, I have a less than conventional climbing style because of a partly paralyzed leg.

Saturday night’s Fundraiser was also a memorial to Mark Miller, a local guide and big supporter and chief rigger of the Paradox event. I did not know Mark at all, having only run into him twice. Yet, I was quite emotional, crying as it was clear what a big part of the Ouray community he was, and what a loss this was to the town and his family. Many famous alpinists were present, including Steve House and Jim Donini.

I wish Ouray was not such a pain in the ass to get to; but I plan on offering my time and skills next year. I am keen to take a Rigging for Rescue course and learn a whole different skill set that will be useful if I want to guide informally in the coming years.

Smuggs Ice Fest and Thermal Management

Despite my usual anxieties about these group events, I drove up to Jeffersonville, VT (a bit outside Burlington, VT) for the annual Smuggs Ice Fest, held at Smugglers Notch. I wanted to check out a different ice climbing area, conditions for ice climbing seemed good (it had been very cold in the run up to the Fest), the conditions for skiing were not good this weekend, and I just wanted to get more ice-climbing practice in. As usual, I was very anxious about holding other people in the group back on the non-trivial uphill approaches on un-maintained roads. I contacted the organizers to tell them about my physical circumstances and after deciding that I would be able to manage the approach to the climbs (if it didn’t snow a ton), I decided to go for it. I signed up for a mixed-climbing clinic on Saturday and a personal guide on Sunday because all the clinics I was interested in were filled up.

The approach to Saturday’s climbing area was challenging for me. Even though the incline was not steep, it was sustained and long enough to tire my leg(s) and back when carrying a pack. I was at the rear end of the group, as I expected. I still have a really hard time accepting/dealing with being the slowest one on approaches/descents, since I had always been one of the people at the head of these group hikes/backpacking trips. But, I found that my fears about holding the group back evaporated once I got on vertical terrain. I think I was one of the strongest climbers on the wall. I really enjoyed learning more about mixed climbing and the menu of options/moves that I am just not familiar with. I found that my  core and lock-off strength was very useful. It is a bit more like rock climbing in that the core and precise foot placements are important. Having mono-points on my crampons helped there. It also helped that Saturday’s temperatures were very temperate, ranging from the 20’s to low 30’s (Farenheit).

Sunday was a totally different story. Temperatures were in the low single digits (Farenheit), with wind-chills bringing perceived temperature into the negative range, and the temperatures only dropped (and wind picked up) as the day progressed. The climbing area for Sunday was also farther than Saturday’s, and I was very very slow plodding uphill. My gait degrades significantly when I am wearing heavy boots, so the combination of those, fresh snow, carrying a heavier pack with more clothing and gear (pro) made it a pretty miserable experience for me. I got on some steep W5 pillars, but soon lost feeling of my hands and just couldn’t place my tools properly. I completely shut down when I am freezing cold, and I was miserable to the point of tears. One challenge with staying warm is that because I am worried about having a bowel/bladder accident, I do not drink or eat much when I am climbing outside to try and boost my metabolism. This is especially important when ice-climbing; continually sipping a hot drink is so effective, yet I am/was so worried about peeing in my pants that I only took little sips of the hot chocolate in my thermos, and that was not enough to keep me from becoming cold enough to the point of being non-functional. It bums me out that I might only be a fair-weathered ice-climber, and that some options may be eliminated for me because of my plumbing defects. But I am trying not to be too discouraged and find encouragement in knowing that being pushed out of your comfort zone is, generally, a good thing (I think).

Newfound Lake Ice Climbing – Type 2 fun when it is -2 degF (-19 degC)

I often feel bad about limiting my partners’ choices of climbs because of my difficulty with long approaches. My partners tell me not to be so silly and that I don’t hold them back at all; but I still have a hard time not feeling bad about it. A lot of it is due to my history of being Sherpa Wendy; being all about dividing the load 50/50 even if my partner was much bigger than me, and usually being front of the pack and moving at a fast clip on approaches. I still have a hard time not feeling crummy asking my partner to carry something for me.

We decided to check out some routes by Newfound Lake, in Bristol, NH because we weren’t sure if some areas in North Conway had filled in yet with much ice. The approach is steep and up a talus field, but short, so I found that I managed all right.


Nice lakeside view. The photo is deceptive though; the sun belies the fact that it is -2 degF and we were in the shade for the entire day.

Because of such cold weather and little moisture/precipitation recently, the ice was extremely brittle and hard. It took a lot of work to whack our tools and crampons in multiple times to get a somewhat secure placement. As a result, I really wasn’t comfortable leading any of the routes. Fortunately, Lian was there to be our rope-gun! In the past, I would have felt like a real pussy not leading and just following. But, I think my attitude about this has changed since my accident. To me, the risk of having a bad fall again is just not worth it.


First climb of the day. As you can tell, this formation is a waterfall in warmer weather.


Here I am being very cold.


I think this picture gives a better sense of the temperature. Can you tell I really don’t like extreme cold??

This has to be the best picture/caption combo ever, courtesy of my good friend Mike. I look so sad and, you guessed it, cold :)


“What do I do with these?”

And here I am looking like the Michelin man. This is what one looks like when they are wearing a tank, baselayer, fleece, down-jacket, hardshell, another huge oversized down jacket over all that and two pairs of big gloves stuffed under their jacket.


I swear there is a figure underneath all these layers….

At the end of the day, as we descended back to the road down the talus, me doing my usual butt out down-climbing, Mike said “Man Wendy, you’ve got balls.” I really appreciated hearing that from Mike and him having a comprehension of how hard some of this stuff is for me. I told him, “Thanks. I’m really trying to resist the constant urge to apologize for slowing you guys down”. Mike replied, “I know. And I know you have to live with this every day, but you really don’t hold people back as much as you think.” Again, self-perception versus objective truth. Sigh.