Friday, November 29, 2013
Friday, January 18, 2013
|Power Puff Girls, circa 2001|
Typical college kids, we woke up bleary eyed November 1, 2001, after one of the infamous Ravin’ and Misbehavin’ Halloween parties in Dover, New Hampshire. Bayard and Josh were psyched to go up north for their first ice climbing day of the season and dragged me along for my first day of ice climbing ever.
I can’t remember how we procured gear for me or how Marc Chauvin ended up joining our motley crew. I do remember following that first pitch up Standard Route on Frankenstein Cliff. It was 500 feet of pure slush and both hands were soaked after my first two swings. My feet were buried at least 6 inches with every kick. Still, we climbed to the top. We laughed and suffered and laughed some more. It was weird, uncomfortable and memorable. I was *not* hooked on ice climbing afterwards. And that has kind of been my relationship with ice climbing ever since.
The contrariness abounds in this sport: How cumbersome it feels to wear boots and crampons the first few times out, and thus how liberating it is to transition into rock climbing again in spring; How miserably cold and then hot we often get several times over one ice climbing day; How terrible the screaming barfies feel but amazing for those moments after they subside.
|Marc, Bayard and Josh, Frankenstein, 2001|
I’ve learned to love ice climbing because I live in New Hampshire and it’s what people do. Winter is long and the ice is good. I do treasure 'hero ice' days when I can lead all day with no fear…and soloing long easy gullies deep in the mountains…and the extraordinary fall or spring conditions that allow for a link of Cannon’s Black Dike followed by sport pitches at Rumney in a day. Catching up with old friends at the plethora of ice climbing festivals each December through February and teaching newbies little tricks to make the silly sport just a little more tolerable and fun and safe is actually kind of a fun way to spend those long winter weekends.
Still, it's funny to me to spend time at a sport I am not entirely passionate about. But I guess it is not my only love-hate relationship. I never know if my dread in anticipation of black fly season in New Hampshire or my joy at its end is a more strong emotion. And although I certainly complain about the humid nastiness of July here, I also might just love my little summer swimming holes more than life itself.
As I settle into my 30’s I am learning that life is defined by that contrariety. Think of your complex feelings about your career, creative endeavors, family and closest friends. They are certainly not perfect relationships, and probably sometimes frustrating, confusing and downright difficult. But what would life be without them? Ice climbing is that to me. The more I do it the more I realize I love it because I just kind of hate it, and that's ok.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
What's your best mouse story?
My husband Freddie, Tagger the dog-child and I live in a 12-foot by 12-foot cabin we built in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We have electricity but no running water. We have an outhouse with no door on it. We have lived here full time since 2007. We have a great life.
I’ve diagnosed myself with pre-nostalgia as we prepare to break ground on a ‘real house’ this spring. This is the first ‘Shabin Life’ entry that I'm writing as self-treatment.
|At home in the Shabin|
Part 1: The Mama Mouse
The Shabin was actually supposed to be a shed when we built it. The south wall has a 4’x6’ hole meant for a sliding door, to allow access for a small tractor. In those first years, I loved sitting in the open doorway with a cup of coffee, squinting into the morning light, or watching the bats flit around hunting mosquitoes at twilight.
But the unsealed slider setup had one major problem. The mice. I hate mice in my living space like Browns fans hate the Steelers. I hate their uncanny ability to sniff out the smallest crumb of food, leaving behind a pointy little turd in mocking gratitude, and I hate their graveyard shift working habits, taking over as we sleep, noisy and unafraid.
One night, I remember waking several times to faint scratching and chewing noises in the kitchen corner below the sleeping loft. I woke in the morning to find one of the ends of the paper towel roll had been thoroughly razed. I didn’t think much of it (if anything, I thought, we were finally winning our battle and the mice were having to eat paper towels to survive!), made my coffee, and went on with my day.
That afternoon, I was digging through one of the milk crates stacked in the mudroom corner, looking for an external hard drive. Suddenly, a gray flash of fur popped straight up in the air, out of the crate, between my legs and darted behind the greywater bucket, deep into the kitchen corner.
I jumped too, and then simultaneously chuckled at myself for being so startled, and felt embarrassed for living among mice.
As my heart rate normalized, I leaned over to continue digging. I heard a faint peeping noise and stopped again to listen closer. I looked toward the kitchen corner, thinking the mouse had returned, but saw nothing. I looked down again, picked up the drive, and right beneath it was an empty checkbook box filled with white fluff that looked like shredded paper towels…and…8 hairless, pink, hours-old mice. Their eyes were sealed shut and their bodies writhed in rhythm as if they were one being. Exposed to the cooler air and brighter light, their peeping got louder.
I stood straight up. Then leaned over to look again. They were beautiful.
After a few moments, feeling suddenly resolute, I picked up the entire crate, opened the door, set it down on the porch, went back inside, opened the fridge, grabbed two beers, stepped back outside, and yelled for Freddie who was out working on the land.
I handed him a beer and pointed into the crate. We laughed, looked, laughed again, looked again.
What were we going to do? We obviously couldn’t let her raise these newborns in the Shabin with us. But I couldn’t bring myself to kill them just because she chose to make her home in our already cramped quarters.
I stood with my back to the open door. Freddie was standing opposite me, and his expression suddenly changed as his eye caught something moving across the Shabin floor inside. As I turned to follow his gaze, mama mouse hopped over the threshold, inches from my toes, and crawled up into the crate between us.
Her fur was silky and her body smooth and soft and so delicate. I was reminded of the caged gerbils of my youth, who taught me to be responsible and gentle. How could I have loved those critters so dearly, yet despise with such intensity their wild cousins?
Then we watched in stunned silence as she ever so gently gathered one of the pinkies into her mouth and crawled, a bit more prudently, out of the crate, and shuffled back over the threshold into the Shabin, directly into one of the other stacked crates.
She was going to relocate her entire family before our eyes!
Suddenly, Freddie jumped into action. He grabbed the crate with the checkbook box and the other 7 Pinkies and walked around the corner to the woodshed.
“Grab the other one!” he called over his shoulder.
I obliged and Mama stayed in, along for the ride with Pinkie #8. I placed Mama’s crate on top of the nest crate. We decided it was the best we could offer her, to leave the two crates there for the night in hopes she would relocate the whole family -- out of the crates, yet also out of the Shabin -- to somewhere safe and more permanent.
The next day all that was left was the nest of shredded paper towel and the checkbox. She had moved them, and, we imagined, all was fine.
That winter we put a panel of insulated wall with a window into the sliding door hole, and accessed the Shabin via a ‘normal’ door on the west wall. The winter system seals us from the varmints, or vice-versa, and we have never reinstalled the summer sliding system again.
|Freddie takes the first watering can shower of the year. 3/14/2012|
What's your best mouse story?
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
|Emilie Drinkwater, India|
“So, are you bringing insulated pants?” Kirsten asked as we sifted through gear the afternoon before a climb this past summer.
|Kirsten Kremer on Aguja Mermoz|
This question is not easy to answer. Kirsten and I have a history dating back to a fateful Christmas weather window in 2006 when we had two unplanned bivies in three nights in Patagonia’s Fitz Roy group. Bringing insulated pants is our *wink, wink* way of saying that we may not get the climb done in a day. Bringing those pants meant that I was willing to consider an open, 'unplanned' bivy the following night.
Behind that question about insulated pants is my main answer to why I think more women don’t alpine climb: It is heavy. It simply is hard for women (especially smaller framed ones) to climb technical terrain with a forty+ pound pack full of days of food, fuel, sleeping bags and tents.There are so very few women active in the alpine climbing world, and I can’t help but think that the heaviness of it is just the tip of the iceberg. We also can’t pee with one hand while belaying or while laying down in a sleeping bag...many of the highest mountains in the world are in countries where women are not recommended to travel without men...and the prime age for cutting edge alpine climbers is their 30's - how many of my 30-something climber girlfriends are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant right now? Most. Then add in the psychological aspect that requires a lot of women to "need a bit more space to put themselves first," as Sarah Hueniken said so eloquently, and there's a lot of reasons to go sport climbing (don't get me wrong, I LOVE sport climbing!).
|Ladies in the Karakoram, photo Freddie Wilkinson|
I love that alpine climbing brings together every discipline of climbing, added to the adventure of travel. Certainly, if that was all there was to it there would be more women AND men doing it. But it is also fundamentally dangerous, time- and money-consuming and requires a degree of self-confidence, athleticism, fortitude and willingness to suffer that the majority of us probably do not possess in that magically perfect combination to make it all feel fun.
Three women competed in the Ouray Ice Comp this year, compared to a maxed out men's lineup with many on a waiting list. I serve on a climbing grant committee for a grant initiated in memory of two women climbers, and only one all-women team applied to it for funding this year. Why am I pleasantly surprised that two women teams and one solo female (along with several unisex teams) were in the Piolet D’Or listing of the most significant ascents in 2011 – shouldn’t there really be more?
|Caroline George on the Aguille du Midi|
On that same trip with Kirsten with the insulated pants question this past summer, our ladies team was constantly embarrassed by the way life works in base camp on a major expedition: Tea served on a silver tray in bed in the morning, meals cooked for us, a whole supply chain from the city could provide us with anything at our beck and call...it was a weird colonial-military way of operating. Not to mention the bureaucratic craziness of the permit process. It all left us feeling like little girls in a man's world. Is it simply because the other three men on our team had each been on a dozen plus expeditions like this so weren’t as struck by it or are women just more naturally averse to such top-down militaristic feeling arrangements?
I read a great article about how some of the most talented businesswomen may be transforming the economy by saying 'no' to typical patriarchal corporate structures and starting their own businesses instead with their own management structures. This isn’t about Title IX-type equality measures, it’s women bucking the system and creating something better.
|Sarah Garlick and me, St. Exupery photo Kirsten Kremer|
Chicks with Picks is an example of the positive impact some good public relations can have on a manly sport. I regularly meet women now while out rock climbing who got into it by ice climbing in those programs - that was unheard of just a few years ago. And because of that growth there are now more boots and tools and clothing lines available for the ice climbing chika than ever before. It's awesome and it's a great start.
If alpinistas really want it, the innovation can happen - in terms of how expeditions are planned and managed, how equipment is designed, and perhaps even how many hands are required for us to pee. A few small changes and who knows, maybe I'll stop going for day-and-a-half climbs armed only with insulated pants and finally choose to bring the entire kit for a big multi-day mountain climb like the big boys do.
|Emilie and Kirsten, Peak 6135, India|
|Aguja Guillament, photo Kirsten Kremer|
|Sarah Garlick and I headed into the Wind River Range, 2002|
|Kirsten and her insulated pants, morning after a bivy|
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Super proud to share this movie trailer for The Old Breed. Freddie and Rufus/CBN have been working their tails off to have the full film ready to premier at the American Alpine Club Annual Dinner on March 3 in Boston. That is one reason you should buy a ticket and be there.
Other reasons to spend the first weekend in March in Boston with the AAC:
Read more about the event and reserve your ticket here. See you there!
Other reasons to spend the first weekend in March in Boston with the AAC:
- Help raise money that makes the American Alpine Journal, rescue and insurance programs, grant programs, huts and camping areas, climber gatherings and more possible. $100 of each ticket helps these programs directly!
- Find out if your fellow climbers are more recognizable in goggles and helmets out in the mountains or in suits and dresses out on the town.
- Celebrate climbing, the climbing life and the spirit of adventure - in style!
Read more about the event and reserve your ticket here. See you there!
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
It’s the darkest week of the year. Here in Madison, that means it’s just getting light at 7 am and pitch black again by 5. I have been swinging back and forth on a pendulum of motivation because of it.
We admittedly don’t usually make our bed (a mattress in the loft of our little cabin) in the morning, but I am a huge stickler about going to bed at night with the sheets in proper order, which often means re-stretching the fitted one over at least one of the four mattress corners. But I’ve noticed that some nights recently I just go to bed without even bothering. And some mornings I turn over and sleep in for a while too, even knowing I am missing some of those precious few daylight minutes.
Luckily, the pendulum usually swings back and I heed the alarm, wake up before dawn, stoke up a fire and cup of coffee and read my magazines (current choices are Rolling Stone and the New Yorker), the stories from which inspire me to go - either to my office to ravenously work on the dozen different projects, or to wander our property wrapping up the long list of fall/winter chores (that the weather gods are letting us get away with doing now since winter is just getting here in late December). Of course, the holidays most cultures around the world recognize this time of year force the pendulum to stay on that motivated, sometimes-stress-inducing end of things, so that we all get out of our bed, and, if you are not Freddie and me, maybe even make it.
Anyway. I was sheet mulching the other day around our apple and pear trees, thinking about permaculture. Ever since I first heard of it, I cringed at the name. It makes me think of the ‘perms’ my mom put in my hair in the 80’s, those chemical treatments that cause a curly frizzy mess for months to a head of hair even as straight and fine as mine. Of course the word permanent also comes to mind: And nothing is permanent.
The idea behind permaculture is to create stable food systems modeled from nature. Think fruit and nut trees providing shelter for edible greens and perennial vegetables like asparagus, which in turn provide nutrients and attract beneficial critters. All this while diminishing or eliminating the need to water, weed and fertilize.
Like doing yoga, I think permaculture gardening is a perfect complement for my climbing/traveling life. After a month on the road giving slideshows and visiting friends and family and rock climbing, it was simply heavenly to collect a car full of cardboard from the transfer station, lay it out around all the young trees as a weed barrier, and dump dozens of buckets full of compost and topsoil on them, creating rich new raised beds.
In the new beds, I planted garlic and Egyptian walking onions (one of few ‘perennial’ onions, though not truly perennial, they just grow new bulb sets at the top of their stalk, and when the stalk dries and falls over at the end of the season, they reseed themselves), which I’ve read will naturally help repel apple loving pests, plus little bits of comfrey root, the magical green compost, the taproots of which will dig deep down for nutrients and encourage the fruit tree roots to spread. That’s what I love about the permaculture ideology; everything is planned for multiple purposes, and to create self-perpetuating systems.
Just like the climbing world, there is a thriving subculture in the ‘permie’ world. While our climbing community banters about retro-bolting and charging for rescues, the ‘permies’ of our region busy themselves debating carbon farming, requirements for permaculture design classes and how our gardening can encourage or fight climate change.
I am a quiet observer at this stage in the game, reading the books, surfing the Internet, scrolling dozens of emails from the regional Listserv and most importantly experimenting with methods on our property. I may jump in deeper at some point, say, to work on changing that stupid name, but am thoroughly enjoying being a beginner and an outsider in a field I am so newly passionate about for now. And of course I am also happy to have one more hobby to keep me swinging through the long winter pendulum season. Thank goodness nothing is permanent.
Some permaculture resources for other newbies:
Edible Forest Gardens - a great books series for DIY permaculture, focused on New England
Fedco - Northeast resource for local, organic trees, seeds, bulbs and more
(All photos shot and edited on my new fancy schmancy iphone)
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
|Emilie Drinkwater on a failed attempt of Peak 6135, Ladakh, India|
My initial thesis for this blog entry was that attempting first ascents is the ultimate way to seek the unknown, and so failure is one of the most beautiful tragedies. Luckily it was my driving shift, somewhere between DC and Fayetteville, WV, so I had a few hours to think it through and conclude that I was completely wrong.
Our trip to India was framed by failure. Kirsten, Emilie and I were given a photo of a beautiful mountain halfway around the world and spent more than a year planning an expedition to try to climb it. We day-dreamed and night-dreamed about it. We emailed, conference called, wrote lists, bought gear, trained, raised money, gave up work, strained relationships at home and went into debt to get there. We trekked for days, built trails and kairns, stashed gear, slept poorly and endured headaches while acclimatizing, established a high camp and sat and watched the mountain for days.
Finally, we attempted it. Several times. The reasons why don’t matter for this story, but we failed. We turned and walked away, leaving a mystery behind for another party, another year.
But by going to plan B for the remainder of our trip, I had one of most memorable and successful weeks of mountain climbing in terms of summits attained, lessons learned and fun had. Success because we failed.
We went to the mountains thinking our goals were to do all-women first ascents and to go rock climbing. Plan B involved letting both of those things go. There was a literal period of mourning. But the outcome we were really after – pushing our physical and mental selves through remote exploration – was what mattered, as it turns out (duh!).
Each and every decision we make, every day, is an opportunity to assume a beginner’s mind and tread into the unknown...and I am pretty convinced that failure is the best path towards it.
I’ve talked to middle-aged people who say they understand less now about life than they did ten or twenty years ago, and to divorcees who regret assuming they understood the nature of their partnerships or the recipes for a successful marriage. Beginners at poker tables around the world make the pros livid when they win the entire pot.
The intentional return to a beginner’s mind feels almost religious in practice. As the expedition drew to a close, I journaled obsessively about modeling my life after basecamp living. I thought creating days in my normal life that are like rest days in basecamp - defined by simplicity, rest and thoughtfulness - would encourage boldness and open-mindedness (I've been trying to not start my car or answer my phone or turn on my computer one day every week to get started on this). But it is not just the physical, structural space that makes the beginner’s mindset possible.
In a beginner's mind, failure is not tragedy at all. Failure probably cannot even exist in such a mind. But I'll be damned if I don't find myself still daydreaming about what might have been if we'd kept going up instead of down that mountain that day...
|Bivied at our high point on 6135|
|6135 - A mountain for another day, or day-dream|
Mountain Hardwear W's Phantom 15 sleeping bag
Polartec test jacket
Sterling Fusion Nano Ropes - especially the PINK one!
Petzl Myo XP Headlamp
La Sportiva Ganda Guide shoes