Tuesday, December 8, 2009

From the Archives

Tis the holiday season, which for me brings a lot of reflection and often sadness. Writing this piece for Climbing Magazine helped me through some of the grief of losing one of the people I looked up to most, on Christmas. Posting this is not intended to be a downer for readers, but simply a reminder to celebrate what really matters this season.

Nothing Lasts for Long
By Janet Bergman

(Published in Climbing Magazine, Issue 236)

The plan that hatched on the long drive from California to Ohio that December was to pay my family dues over the holidays, before departing for Asheville, North Carolina, where I’d likely max out my VISA card while getting settled. It seemed so simple. Armed with my newly acquired B.S. from the University of New Hampshire, and drained of all energy and money from a half-year climbing trip, I was ready for life. Whatever that meant.

Our extended family traditionally spends the holidays together in a nonstop train of parties. My cousin Tim and I caught up at the first party on December 23, 2002, exchanging stories, reminiscing, and musing over the state of the world. Tim promised to visit North Carolina that spring, and reminded me to keep up with my writing.

The family gathered again at Aunt Betty’s on Christmas morning, but Tim never arrived. Hours later the news came that he had committed suicide early that morning, after a last night out with his siblings and friends. The family remained together through our initial periods of disbelief, pain, and anger. Funeral and memorial services, and days and nights of mourning, replaced the family parties. The dizzying days rolled into weeks.

Some mix of having grown up together, yet having chosen different paths, has made for unusually close and always interesting relationships with my cousins, and Tim was no exception. He was always present, always interested, always observing. He was committed to his family and friends, but insisted on experiencing his life alone as well. He was eccentric in his thinking and his ways, and an individualist in his every action. Tim’s suicide flipped my life upside down, presenting me with a crux I didn’t know how to surmount.

In my usual way, I pushed through with plans to “start my life” in Asheville, still rocked from my loss. After weeks of aimless bumbling, indifferent to a new city and unmotivated to find my bearings, I realized that fighting through my grief wasn’t the same as topping out a boulder problem or cracking tricky Beta. I soon retreated to my family in Ohio, only to lapse into a confused depression that spanned the next six months. Tim’s act profoundly affected me more than anything I knew.


Sarah, my friend and climbing partner, graduated that spring and began a climbing trip. We made plans for “big-wall school” in Yosemite. Though I consciously avoid expectations, climbing keeps me in the present and always lends new perspectives to the past and future. Ohio life had me feeling … flat … and I needed this trip to free me from the consuming weight of reticence, apathy, and sorrow.

Reuniting with friends at Camp 4 was like going home. Sarah and I shared a vague, lofty dream to climb El Cap, which we discussed between daylong free climbs. Enough talking, heckling, and begging landed us in a party of four, complete with more food, gear, and perspectives than we needed. Our objective was the Nose. Sarah and I quickly jumped at an open spot in line, and together we fixed to Sickle Ledge while our other partners finished the Zodiac.

We spent the next four nights on the wall. Sarah and I got schooled -- five day’s worth of exasperation from the boys while we learned wall climbing on lead. Flowing through my fear on the Nose put me in a place I’d been sorely missing; absorbing the sunset and the moonrise over the Valley soothed me. The simplicity of the demands on us -- to move ourselves and our gear up the wall -- was both enlivening and taxing. The higher we got, the more engaged I became. It was enough to finally awaken me from my depression. Dozing on a ledge one morning, Sarah and I made plans to meet at the end of her trip for the beginning of my “start my life, take two” mission -- this time in New Hampshire.

That August we descended upon the Mount Washington Valley, joining the usual suspects for a late summer and fall of climbing, swimming, exploring, and general bliss. I felt at home, fueled by the strength of my friendships, partnerships, and adventures, carried along without thought or worry.

After my time in Ohio, the stimulation of an active climbing life was thrilling. Those experiences -- not successes or failures on climbs, but those moments when movement and rhythm are all that exist -- were familiar to me, and lie at the heart of my climbing obsession. But depression had weighed me down for so long that those experiences soon felt unwarranted. I wanted to “move on” emotionally, but any attempt served only to veil my remnant confusion and sadness; thoughts of Tim lingered in the periphery of my conscious. Unreconciled grief mixed with an indulgent sense of satisfaction from climbing, and, once again, I found myself rocked emotionally.

I needed to convince myself that Tim was wrong, that life is worthwhile. But why should I keep living if life wasn’t important to him, someone I’d looked up to my whole life? The deeper I searched, the more I concluded that life is futile, and living painful. Climbing continued to be my escape.


As the holidays approached, the rock got wet, the ice hadn’t formed, and the one-year anniversary of Tim’s suicide loomed. Friends migrated for the winter, others returned from fall trips abroad. I forced myself to stay busy -- unable to be alone lest that veil pull back, spiraling me into painful, unanswerable questions, remembering times past that couldn’t be restored.

I wanted to smash my radio whenever Christmas music played during the drive to Cleveland. The family parties commenced, but I was faltering. I couldn’t communicate with those I loved most, and I cried myself to sleep nightly. The anticipation was agonizing -- I was sure we’d relive the pain tenfold. But Christmas came and went. That day will never be the same, but for me, it won’t ever be as painful. It was then that I realized that I’d survived the worst of my pain.

Until Tim’s suicide, an oblivious and idealistic perspective lulled me into believing that life was understandable, and that I was unshakable. But understanding didn’t follow this experience. Climbing has taught me to accept the process, and experience the results that naturally follow. The less cerebral I am, the more likely it is that I’ll pull through. This simple-yet-complex realization offers a powerful outlook on life, and gives me a way of dealing with the emotional scar that I’m forced to bear.

Tim lived a good life, savoring every moment. His passionate ways -- down to his last act -- inspired me to search within. Before his passing I ascribed to the theory that climbing is separate from life. But climbing isn’t separate from life. Right now, it is my life, my cause, my harmony and melody, and often my reason to live today and look forward to tomorrow.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Roshambo, Newfoundland

Just home from an amazing trip to Newfoundland (that is pronounced by Canadians with an emphasis on the LAND part by the way). Here is a clip from our first day, a wicked game of roshambo between Sarah and Kirsten before heading up what was to become the Squid Cracks.

More soon on this fun adventure...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Polartec's New Athlete Advisory Board

I am really excited to be part of this new advisory group for Polartec, the Boston-based insulation guru:

Link to original release

Polartec® Creates Athlete Advisory Board
Ten world-class athletes will consult on performance fabric development.

07.30.2009 – Polartec, LLC, the developer, manufacturer and marketer of Polartec® performance fabrics, announces the creation of a new athlete advisory board. The diverse, international group of world-class climbers, skiers, alpinists, cyclists, adventure racers and multi-sport athletes will test product year round and meet regularly with Polartec’s development team to provide feedback and discuss performance fabric technology.

“We’re incredibly excited to have such an amazing group of athletes on our team,” states Nate Simmons, global director of marketing for Polartec®. “Polartec extensively tests new fabrics both in the lab and the field and our advisory board will take real-world testing to a new level. We have a long list of new developments that they will be evaluating for consumer launches in 2011 and beyond.”

The new Polartec® Athlete Advisory Board consists of:
• Sari Anderson (30, Glenwood Springs, CO) is a national XC mountain bike champion, a world champion adventure racer and a top randonnĂ©e ski racer.
• Antoine Barthelemy (54 of Annecy, France) is an accomplished alpinist and ski mountaineer.
• Bill Belcourt (45, Salt Lake City, UT) is a crusty alpinist and champion paraglider pilot.
• Janet Bergman (29, Madison, NH) is an accomplished all-around climber and consultant to outdoor nonprofit organizations.
• Gord Betenia (47, Vancouver, BC) is a talented ice climber, mountaineer and gear flogger.
• Kelly Cordes (40, Estes Park, CO) is a renowned alpinist, climber, writer and self-proclaimed dirtbag.
• Nick Devore (24, Aspen, CO) is a telemark freeskiing world champion and ski mountaineer.
• Doug Heinrich (47, Salt Lake City, UT, is a world-class all-around climber and multi-sport athlete.
• Mike Kloser (49, Vail, CO) is a world champion mountain biker, adventure racer and legendary multi-sport athlete.
• Laurent Valette (39, Rotherens, France) is an accomplished ultra runner and adventure racer.

Friday, July 17, 2009

When It Rains...

When it rains it pours here in New Hampshire it seems. And that it did for about a month straight in June and early July. So what are we climbers to do?
Just when the forecast had us ready to relocate to California or Australia, Sarah Garlick and I decided we needed an attitude adjustment, and some time outside to clear our heads of working too much (another outcome of all the rain). So we headed out for a fun, wet morning of aid climbing on our local cliff, Cathedral Ledge. Sarah wanted to try out short fixing, so I got to jug lines and listen to the birds. Nice work Sarah!

Sarah, getting ready for the hook moves off the ground on Mordor Wall, Cathedral Ledge, NH

I will let Ed Webster give the description of the Mordor Wall (IV 5.7 A2+), from the Second Edition (the Third being the more current one) of Rock Climbs in the White Mountains of New Hampshire:

“Still regarded as one of the classic Big Wall climbs on the East Coast, much of the route has been free climbed in recent years…the blank, black-streaked wall in the center of Cathedral Ledge offers climbing similar to Yosemite Big Wall. It is a popular training climb; a standard aid rack should be carried, including bashies and pointed skyhooks…at the base of the wall is a curving, expanding flake leading into a narrow dihedral. DO NOT aid P1 with pitons.”

“History: Joe Cote and John Merrill aided the first pitch in 1967 with no intention of going any higher. In the Summer of 1970, Joe Cote and Steve Arsenault climbed the route to the sidewalk on Pendulum Route. The Mordor Roof was added later that summer by Steve Arsenault and Scott Brim, who approached the pitch from above. Arsenaults original lead of pitch two (ed: THE DEATH TRAVERSE!) used only one bolt, placed after friends on the ground convinced him he was risking a ground fall. In 1979 Ed Webster free climbed the Mordor Roof with Choe Brooks. Jim Surette led the first pitch free in 1985.”

Left page, Jim Surette, the sending machine, in his hand sewn lycra.

Here are some photos and video from that.

Sarah moves across the expando flake.

Sarah on the famous Death Traverse, now protected by several bolts and fairly straightforward if, unlike us, you remember to bring TWO pointed hooks!

Sarah, reaching a thank-god bolt after five bashees in a row.

Sweet rappelling video

Wet and refreshed.

A little sun goes a long way!

Friday, May 22, 2009

New River Rendezvous - tug of war and more

Freddie and I made the LOOONG drive down to the New River Rendezvous in Fayetteville West Virginia last weekend.

Being an Ohio girl, I have many fond memories of white water rafting there with my family, and, years later, of hot summers learning to climb on that world famous sandstone.

The highlight of this most recent visit, however, was a a whole new sport: tug of war.

The fabulous folks at Waterstone Outdoors put together two you tube videos chock full of the Pros vs Joes competition:

I really think it is perfect sport for me - all it requires is a bit of competitive spirit (I have never had a problem with that one) and some grit.

The coolest part was that the team we were up against in the finals gave us a big mason jar of peach moonshine afterward.

Many thanks to Maura, Gene, Kenny and the whole crew for putting together a fabulous, fun, very green Rendezvous!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cuban X-ray Machines

I clipped gear to my harness while Pat put me on belay. I complained jokingly about getting the only slab pitch on the route as I clipped the first bolt and traversed a slabby face to start. The terrain almost immediately got steep and juggy.
I remember reaching with my right hand into a big hueco, looking down, stepping high up to a small nubbin for my right foot, and then flagging my left foot under and swinging with all my weight on that right hand, and looking up to reach towards the next hueco jug, the bolt at my ankles to the left.
Then I was flying through the air past the bolt, past Pat and Ray at the belay, bouncing off the slab, and the finally being stopped by the rope, swinging about ten feet below them.
The huge right hand hold exploded on the ground 60 meters below and somewhere from deep within me came the F-word, about five times, as the reality of the situation hit me.
(Anne, who was on the same wall but out of eye site, said she was sure it was Ray who had been yelling, it was so guttural)
Two simultaneous thoughts came to me – “I am hurt” and “I am in Cuba”.
My right ankle had hit first and it was already ballooning. I peeled my climbing shoe off and looked up at Ray and Pat, crying. Boys never know what to do with a crying girl.
Tears clouded my vision as I rappelled toward the ground. Alone, sliding down the rope in space, blood rushed to my foot intensifying the pain.
Below was a farm and I heard the click-clack of horse hooves on the road, pulling a carriage. Beyond was the impossibly blue Caribbean Sea.
A few piggy-back rides and a cab ride later, I gathered all of my money from Oscar’s house where we were staying and headed to the hospital.
Oscar pulled the car up to the gray cement structure and he and Tino jumped out to lend their shoulders. The entryway had no door, and latticed cement walls. The large waiting area was just inside the open entryway, with polished floors and a handful of people sitting on wooden benches propped against the whitewashed wall, watching TV. There was a hallway and private (ish) rooms on the left, another hallway leading to the ‘ortopedia y traumatologia’ areas straight ahead, and the x-ray room on the right.

Oscar led us down the hall on the left and we waited while he went into one of the rooms. I made eye contact with a woman, apparently in labor, in the room opposite where Oscar had gone in. The door to her room was wide open and she didn’t seem to care.
Oscar led us back to the entryway waiting area and we sat on benches next to the other folks. Within a minute two good-looking men in white uniforms shouldered me to the x-ray room.

I’ve had my share of x-rays, on that foot especially due to a previous injury and surgery, so the process was more entertaining than intimidating. The machine was clearly from the early 70’s, but they really don’t appear to have changed that much in 40 years.

After taking a few images, the strong white-shirted men helped me back to the waiting room, returned to the x-ray room, and soon re-emerged, holding my x-rays. They brought them directly to one of the other TV-watching people in the waiting area and I laughed, thinking they were just randomly showing them to another patient. Turns out she was a doctor too.

She did in fact have the teal green cotton pullover top that is telling of medical personnel, but with skin-tight jeans, pointy-toed matching teal flats, long polished fingernails and lots of gold jewelry. Even doctors have style in Cuba!
She held the x-rays toward the light flooding in from the open entryway and then turned and walked to me, grabbing my ankle and prodding around. ‘Doloroso?’ She asked. Painful?
‘No entiendo’ I replied, I don’t understand. I was relieved to even get that out, as my (limited) Spanish comprehension and speaking capacity seemed completely MIA at the moment.
‘Este es doloroso?’ she asked louder, pressing harder on my grapefruit-sized ankle.

‘Si, si!’ I said, finally understanding, pulling it away from her. She rolled her eyes and turned away, taking the x-rays to a proper light board for closer observation.
The men in white returned a couple minutes later to take me back for more x-rays, apparently the film was scratched. The whole process repeated and then my stylish doctor showed me, this time with Tino and Anne as my crutches, down the hall to the trauma room, a glorified closet.
She signaled for me to sit down and turned to her task of unrolling casting material on a stainless steel countertop. I stood up to look at my x-rays, hanging from a small light board above the sink.

‘No es fractura’, she said, it’s not broken, holding unrolled casting material under running water.
Then why was she getting ready to cast it? I asked Tino and Oscar. More of the tense, lost-in-translation conversation followed, until I learned that she was simply making a removable splint out of the casting material, as they don’t have plastic splints to use there for sprains and strains.

She finished the job and the handsome Cuban men in white helped my back down the dimly lit hallway and into another small room with an old man sitting at a desk. This guy was much more obviously a doctor. I sat next to him while he prescribed me five days of bed rest and ibuprofen on small sheets of newsprint paper. I took out my wallet and he waved it away. Not a penny exchanged.
I suppose that’s a good thing because it would have meant, according to the US government, that I was trading with the enemy.
An hour after we had arrived we headed for the car, treatment completed. Next on our list were to find a pair of crutches and endless mojitos.

Thanks to mama Skidz (Anne Skidmore) for documenting the hospital trip, and for endless middle-of-the-night visits to Oscar’s freezer for ice in the week after this happened.

Happy birthday C9

I miss you my friend.

A lovely horse is always an experience.... It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words. ~Beryl Markham

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Thinking Spring: Community Supported Agriculture

It took me ten years of living in New Hampshire to realize that CSA's are not just for people from Vermont!
Check out two local options for buying farm shares for Mount Washington Valley area residents:
A new CSA provider, with options of veggies AND meat at the Alma Farm in Porter, ME
A very successful CSA has been in existence for years at the Community School in Tamworth

A CSA membership is a perfect supplement to my meager (for now) but cute vegetable garden.

We were members of the Community School CSA last year (one share for Freddie and I and our friends Anne and Bayard), joining as a way to eat locally and save money. We found several added benefits:
-Interesting cooking challenges (how many ways do YOU know to cook eggplant and tomatoe?);
-All you can pick herbs and flowers for the entire season;
-And for me a fun and relaxing escape to the farm on the weeks that I did the pick up of our share.