Swinging Ice Tools and Other Self-Help Exercises – A Study of Ice Climbing

I went up to Ouray on Wed., the day before the official start of the 16th Annual 2011 Ouray Ice Climbing Festival. Driving through Silverton and up and over Red Mountain brought back great memories of the Festival. I basically met my husband on the ice climbing comp “circuit” and was at my first Ice Fest that year, in 1997. To me, Ouray means friends and fun memories.

This year it also meant business, as PrimaLoft’s global marketing meetings were also on the docket for the weekend. (PrimaLoft is a client of Verde PR & Consulting, the communications agency I founded and now serve as CEO of.)

Pulling into the Beaumont (love the Beaumont!), I was ready to settle in to my stay in the teeny tiny box canyon anchored by the Ouray Ice Park. I found out from the proprietor of the Beaumont that the PrimaLoft meeting was actually Friday and Saturday. “What?” I stared at her blankly. Then, the moment of “duh” occurred followed quickly by confusion and then. … Well, excitement! When the hell do I ever have a free day in Ouray? Hell yeah!

After I plugged in and re-read all of the emails that came through between the “dead zone” (the week between Christmas and New Year’s) to make damn sure that yes, in fact I did have a free day, sure enough, it was true – BAM! Quickly, I pieced together a plan B, calling my good friend Jack Tackle. Over baskets of chips and cocktails, we hatched a plan to hit the ice park together the next day. He was already going and willing to let me tag along with him, Jay Smith (read about Jack and Jay’s excellent adventures in AK here), and Jim Shimberg.

Jack is a treasure. … We shared a fun dinner talking about everything from work to our awesome spouses to the industry, which is typical of our time together. He is truly one of the most genuine, fun and approachable people on the planet who also happens to be a complete (humble) bad-ass. I got up to my hotel room, set out all of my gear and apparel, and tried to go to sleep.

Thoughts started to creep in to my head just as I was trying to sleep. My Husband calls this challenging mental space “Kristin Land.” I was experiencing a mix of pure excitement iced with terror (iced is a fitting word, eh?). I lay there in the four-poster Victorian room staring at the mix of dragon fly wallpaper on the cieling. I knew what was coming. …I knew that I was going to do something bigger than what The Husband and I did between the holidays at the Ouray Ice Park. And. … I knew that I would need to man up and not show that I am usually afraid in these instances. I knew that I would not have my usual “Guidey Pants” (The Husband), who is used to my fear issues (after 12 years, the poor man). I would be swinging tools and sharing a rope with a new Guidey Pants, and I wanted to live up to the kind of partner that I was thinking he would expect me to be.

Keep in mind, Jack would never have an expectation around me being any sort of “level” of climbing partner. This was completely my own mental deal. He is so chill (thank CHRIST). The fact is, I am an ace belayer (years of experience in that department) and have climbed ice for 14 years. But having babies has made me even more of a head case than I normally am (!).

Morning came and I made my way up to the park. It was pretty empty – awesome! I met Jack, Jay and Jim at the upper bridge and was told that we were going to climb the easiest climb in that neighborhood of the park. Jack geared up and rapped down a fixed line. It was then that I realized that I needed to do the same, without Guidey Pants at my side (he would be down below, 130-feet down in the gorge). Hanging the ol’ ass over an ice mushroom and into the abyss is not super easy for anyone to do, I’m convinced. Especially when you haven’t done it in a few years. It reminded me of the time I climbed Castleton Tower with my Diva buddy Nora. We reached the summit, and it was gusting 80-mph. She coiled the ropes under her arms and dissappeared over the side. I stood there alone at the top, unable to hear when it was my turn to rap. I realized that I had to just hang my ass over and weight the rope, and go for it (turning Kristin Land off). It’s now one of the best memories I have, but at the time, I was close to booting. The anchors, I recall, were expertly put in by Jay Smith, who happened to be standing close enough to me at the top of this particular climb in Ouray, for me to ask if my harness and belay device/rope set up were as they should be. He gave me the nod and well, you trust Jay Smith. Jim kindly shared with me that rappelling always “freaks the sh*t out of him,” which did make me feel better somehow. Me and my Elvis leg set about the business.

About an hour later, I was down (kidding, sort of). Jack quickly took the lead with four dull ice screws and did a phenomenal job leading the route. He pulled the rope tight and I knew I was up.

The ice was variable; great in spots and rotten as choss in others. I got to his ice screws and removed them, creating a complete cluster on my harness, but whatever, it worked. There was one ice screw that succombed to the dreaded freeze and thaw, and I could not for the life of me remove it. I tried to climb past it when the Sheriff, Jay, gave me a subtle “deal” – which I did and thankfully the new angle I was perched on allowed for me to clean it.

When I finally made eye contact with my belayer, Jack, up at the top, he noted happily that I was smiling! I really was. Not only because I was almost done, but really …. not even secretly? I was having a GREAT time. I really truly love to ice climb and when I topped out, I had something meaningful to say to Jack. …

“I feel all empowered and shit!” I said to him. He laughed. He looked at me. Then he laughed again. And you know what? It was true. I couldn’t wait to go again. Something moved back into place inside of me, and I’m psyched beyond belief!

I need to thank Jack, Jay and Jim for the help, even though they would not say they helped at all. They actually moved me out of “Kristin Land” – no easy task.

The Ice Park delivered a turning point day, one that I will not forget. I reconnected with my core and redefined living authentically as a Mom, business owner and, um, climber! I can’t wait to voluntarily turn off “Kristin Land” and go do the Ice Hose or something! Bring it on!