Saturday, November 21, 2009

Trinity Right

This Fall, I set my eyes on a 12a trad route in Little Cottonwood Canyon: Trinity Right. I had followed it once last year to clean it after Adam had sent it. The route traverses so much that it even goes down a little and I was terrified following it. The potential for pendulums is what scared me.

A year later, I couldn’t remember the fear, I could only remember how striking the line was: an easy unprotectable start leads to an extremely thin underclinging traverse with no feet. The first pieces – a semi equalized small nut and red C3 - sits at the end of the traverse, 15ft above the ground. That first traverse gave me so much trouble. I could not make that tiny tiny undercling crimper work for me, and with no feet, I couldn’t reach the end of the traverse, where the holds got slightly bigger, but still required lots of body tension. After this little 8ft long traverse, the thin right arching crack offers a few good finger locks, before branching two ways. You can stem there for a few moves until you have to commit to the right crack and lay back, fingers in a thin thin crack, and feet on non existing holds, above thin gear. This is a powerful section, which leads to an overhanging but good rest. From there, the crack becomes overhanging and horizontal, heading sharp right. Again, some really thin and powerful undercling moves with bad feet lead to a positive hand jam in a parallel upper crack. Then, the crack angles slightly down, offering a mix of burly underclinging moves and jams with great gear. One last reachy move enables you to clip the fixed carabiners on the anchor.

Early November, it was a little cold to go climbing in Little Cottonwood Canyon's shady Green A Gully. Yet, with a few layers of down jackets on, the climbing was perfect. Granite can be really slippery when it’s a little too warm. On day 1, I had followed Adam's lead to clean it again. It felt like I would need quite a few days to work the route and figure it out. The following day, Adam led the route first and I then led it clipping the preplaced gear and trying to work out the moves. I just couldn’t figure out the first move on the traverse. Maybe I was scared to “go for it” on such small gear – and the only gear above the ground. Adam was patient. Finally, I realized that if I placed my feet way higher on a far left foothold, I could use that tiny undercling that was giving me so much trouble. Next, I had to figure out the powerful layback, which had seemed so hard at first with the lack of footholds. Yet, seeing Adam climbing it, I saw that you could use the left crack for both feet and fingers. Eventually, after hanging to fiddle with with some gear, I committed to the right crack and made it up to the much welcome rest. The thin undercling holds that followed which had seemed so impossible the day before suddenly felt really solid. I stayed with it and made it to the chains. Now, I had to put all the sections together. We cleaned the route and I got right back on it. And sent on the next try. That same day! I was all the more psyched that I have only climbed a handful of times in LCC and am therefore not very familiar with this style of climbing.

The route that I thought would be my Fall project and would take me many tries came to me way quicker than I ever thought it would. I was really excited and motivated for more. Yet, winter took over the next day, leaving with me many dreams of other routes in my backyard for next year!

PS: am not the one on the pictures!!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Beginnings: Surfing

You see the wave swelling the distance. You turn your board to face the shore. You lay down on your board. You start paddling. You look back to make sure the wave is worth paddling for. You look back to make sure the waves isn't going to crash on you. You feel the power of the wave lifting you. Should I stand up now? Am I too late, is it too soon? You try. You get it and you try to stand. You don't and you sit back on the board. Either way, you look back and see the other waves forming. Now, you're too far in to catch the coming waves and you know that they are all going to crash on you. You swim back toward them, duck diving or turtle flipping, each time, to minimize the impact. You swim again toward the next waves, and repeat the motions. Eventually, you're back where you started. Someone asks: " did you catch the wave?". You sit still for a moment, catching your breath, thinking and eventually answer: "Wow, I can't even remember now!"

Surfing is that intense, it's that "in the moment". There is so much to think about all that once, that for the rookie that I am, it felt completely overwhelming. Paddle, paddle, paddle, watch for people around you, put your hands flat on the board, push up, kick your feet forward, but not too far forward or the nose of your board will dip in and you'll go flying, not too far back either or you'll fall backwards, lower your stance, speard your arms, look in the direction of where you want to go (hmmm.... never felt like I had a choice!), never let go of your board. There is so much going on. You go from sitting calmly on your board, your legs floating in the warm Mexican water, to 100% intensity.

I met my friend Sarah in Puerto Vallarta. We had talked a month back about going somewhere together. Climbing, as always, was the first option. Yet, when she mentionned surfing, I was in. I knew nothing about it, I had never done it and I hadn't taken a non climbing trip in as long as I can remember. After so many AMGA courses and exams back to back and guiding, I was excited to have something else to look forward to. I was also excited to postpone the start of winter and the interaction with the cold. I had always wanted to go to Mexico and it happened to be the cheapest destination. Adam was going hunting with his Dad and brother in New Hampshire. The timing couldn't have been any better.

Sarah organized the house rental: a beautiful white Mexican house with two huge bedrooms, an open kitchen with the perfect smoothie blender, and a bean shaped swimming pool
to sunbath at. We quickly settled into the following routine: an A.M. surfing session/breakfast/sunbath my the pool/ a P.M. surfing session/ Margaritas with Chips and Salsa/watching sex and the city/Mexican dinner/sleep. Repeat!

We rented board from Lily and Carlos at Pazport Surfing School (do go there if you are going to Sayulita. The best deal in town). The first day, Sarah helped me get on the board by pushing it to give me momentum. I think I was blessed with some beginner's luck as I was able to stand up pretty much right away at the beginner waves area. But, that didn't last long.

As soon as I headed to the regular break, reality hit hard. Without someone pushing your board, you have to paddle a lot harder and it's really hard to find the perfect timing to get the wave right. I did get a few, but spent a whole day getting owned by the waves. I just couldn't get it right. With my period starting simultaneously, I could have cried. How could I suck so bad? Sarah, in the meantime, was totally crushing it, standing smoothly with her bright turquoise rashguard on her beloved red board, hair in the wind...smooth sailing! That is the great thing about surfing: you can go with people of different levels and still have the time of your life because you're both in it for yourself, yet you can still share in the experience.

Luckly for me, the next day was a full on Tropical day with gigantic waves
and we opted for just watching the pros do what they do. I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of being in those waves: as the crash you can feel the power, the force they carry and getting crushed by them must be horrifying.

We woke up early the next morning to get to surf one last time. We were flying out that afternoon and had to catch the 2$ bus back to Puerto Vallarta. It was still dark out as we hiked down the stairs into the still sleepy town and onto the beach. Lily gave me a longer board - 9.6 - which made it a million times easier to catch the waves. The waves came, I paddled hard. And I got it. I got three in row. I would stand up, and wobble heavily until I would totally loose balance and fall. Yet, although I lacked any style, I felt the desire for more. I knew then that I would have to come back.

There aren't many activities out there that force you into being fully present. Surfing is definitely one of those sports. As Sarah says, it's not like climbing where you can try a move over and over again, lower, start again. With surfing, it's either you catch the wave or you don't. And you will never get to try that wave again. It's gone, for ever. So you really need to get your act together at exactly the right time. It's an amazing thing to be a beginner at a new sport. A new sport that you fall for that is. It felt so good to have no expectations of myself, just be there, learn, do my best and actually enjoy the process.

Now back in SLC, I can still picture the waves swelling, I want to paddle, I want to feel the waves swell below me, I want to push up and stand on the board, and obviously, from the comfort of my chair, I can see myself riding the board all the way into shore... Thank god for the power of visualization! :-) Instead of surfing for real now, I can surf the web in search of the next place to go and get schooled again by the waves. My dream, is to someday, surf a wave while touching the face of the wave with my hand... dreams, dreams, dreams...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Part II: Rock Exam

Part II: Rock Exam in Red Rocks, Nevada

Transitioning from an Alpine Exam to a Rock Exam isn't so hard. No more snow, no more ice, which means no more snow/ice gear to carry around, no more alpine hazards (crevasses, seracs, white out navigation, etc.), no more camping on snow, no more multiple hour long approaches, no more carrying your living quarters and several days worth of food on your back like a turtle. Of course, you're totally out of climbing shape, with big legs and small arms (hmmm, that actually is never my case). But a month between exams felt just like the right amount of time to rest up, remotivate, and train enough to be at or above the minimum standard: 5.10c trad.

The date was set for my friend Jonathon Spitzer and I to leave our respective homes in Salt Lake City and head south on Sept 8th to start our training. The exam was due to start on October 1st and with 22 days at hand, we headed down to Vegas to start the process. One route in 100F shade instantly made us get back in the car and drive on to the coolness of one of California's very hidden treasures: The Needles.

The Needles is a little paradise of splitter, flashy, yellow lichen-covered granite cracks lost in the heart and shade of giant Sequoia trees, miles and miles away from anything. It's an enchanted kingdom given away by the names of the Needles: The Sorcerer, the Witch, the Charlatan, etc. and the routes: Spellbook, Spooky, Spooked Book, to name a few. We spent three days hiking 3 miles in and 3 miles out from the free campground at the trailhead to the base of the climbs, climbing our hearts out. This was the perfect place to get back into rock climbing: all the cracks protect well, the climbing is amazing and we were both motivated to get as much mileage as possible. We totaled 22 pitches in 3 days of climbing.

We used our rest day to drive back to Vegas and get there early enough to get the best spots in the house the 12 exam candidates had rented. Pulling into the driveway reminded me of Wisteria Lane or worse, the Truman Show. I wondered if people really lived in these cookie cutter off-white houses or, like everything else in Vegas, was it all for show? Yet, that's what I love about Vegas the most: the extreme contrast between the fake and flashy, and that intense wilderness found within Red Rocks Canyon, just a few miles to the north of Vegas. After days spent bushwhacking in the scrub oaks, boulder hopping in the washes, running down vast multicolored slab systems, climbing on multipitch red, white or varnished sandstone routes while enduring the blazing sun and the relentless heat - even in the shade, it felt soothing to go back to the bright lights, the tamed cleanliness of our neighboorhood, give into the drastic cold of the A/C and wash off the sweat, the stinging leaves and the invading sand off our bodies, share the days adventure with the other housemates and later rest our heads on a clean pillow all while surfing the web and watching Grey's Anatomy. OK, I may sound spoiled.

Yet, if you've ever spent weeks at a time in Afghanistan - aka, the campground outside Red Rocks - you'll appreciate all the more what I am talking about.

Living with 12 people training for an exam can be overwhelming - beta overload, nonstop talk of climbing - but as well, very stimulating.
For someone like me who suffers from acute case of FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out - it can be a little hard to manage. So, out of 18 days of training, I only took two days off. When I started crying at the sight of gear, and had to hold on to the railing to walk down the stairs because every bone in my body was screaming out for me to take it easy, I decided to head out to Lake Mead to soak in the water. In past years, it was easy to train. The same routes were used over and over again: Community Pillar, Epinephrine, Triassic Sands, Dark Shadows to the top, Black Orpheus, Solar Slabs, Frigid Air Buttress, Ginger Cracks, etc. Obviously, all candidates would go out and do these routes ahead of time, figuring out how to break down the route down - the goal being that you always try to see your client and the guidebook's recommended belay stances don't always fit that goal - , where to extend anchors, when to transition from one rope to two ropes (with two clients), whether to lower clients or do a prerigged rappel, where to short rope, etc. Having these sections dialed alleviates a lot of the stress on an exam. Yet, it takes away from the examiner's ability to test your onsight skills. So, with word on the street that only "new" routes would be used, we ransacked the place climbing just about every other possible option of routes in the 5.8 to 5.10c range.

With 100+F temperatures, it was only possible to climb routes in the shade. Joe Stock, Jonathon Spitzer - for both of whom this was the last exam to get the IFMGA certification, aka, The Pin - and I regrettably ventured one day on a sunny varnished climb. At the end of the day, Joe was showing blisters on all his finger tips from the sizzling black rock. , Not having been able to preview sunny routes, we all started praying that the temperatures would remain high so that we would only climb the shaded route we had previously sussed out during the exam.

Yet, Murphy's law ruled again: as we neared the exam, temperatures dropped from 105F to 75F in a day! Now, we were all granted to do routes in the sun, routes we had not done before: there was no way around onsighting. And indeed, out of 6 days of exam, I only got to do one route I had done before: Epinephrine, a 2000ft long sustained 5.9 route in Black Velvet Canyon, which is renown for what the European that I partially am doesn't do: blank varnished chimneys, well...chimneys alltogether. Ok, they are protectable and thankfully, Jonathon and I had stopped to do this route on our way to the Needles. So I was somewhat ready for them. The crux on these exams is that you climb with two single rated ropes in tow and that adds to the weight and to the rope drag. That, plus managing your back pack that is dangling between your legs and leading runout (I didn't bring enough gear) sections on what might as well be 12a in my book, and still pretend that my examiner and the other candidate are my clients and should be treated as such (haul their packs!) was the crux of my exam. A good crux though, one that makes me want to get better at wider climbing.

Day one of the exam, all the candidates went sport climbing to get tested on our climbing abilities. My group of four - Josh Beckner, Mark Smiley, Chris Werner and myself - headed out with our examiners - Marc Chauvin and Dale Remsberg (the same examiners I had on my alpine exam) to The Gallery at the Second Pullout off the Loop road. The goal was to climb 7 pitches with at least one route at the standard. If we could onsight the classic slightly overrated 5.11d Yaak Crack, we would only have to climb 5 routes. Since we all onsighted the route, our day ended early enough for us to get ready for the following four days. The third day was cancelled due to a huge wind storm that ripped through Vegas with 77mph winds. In exchange for our rest day, we were assigned a bigger day the following day. Mark Chauvin assigned Mark Smiley and Myster Z to Nightcrawler to the Hourglass Diversion, down the Gunsight notch, which awarded us with 13 pitches of climbing, some bushwhacking, lots of walking, some interesting claustrophobic tunnelling and a hike out with my Petzl e+LITE headlamp showing the way. The last day, Mark and I were assigned Cat in the Hat with Dale. Dale is a 5.12/13 climber, who, on that day, was playing the role of a 5.5 climber getting on his first ever multipitch. Upon reaching the base of this very popular climb, we heard voices of several teams gearing up to get on the climb. What to do? We didn't have the whole guidebook with us, we had a "weak" client along, options were really limited. I pulled the "it's our last day on our rock exam, we are all guides" card and thankfully, it worked. Did I mention how grateful we were to these two parties for letting us pass? The alternative would have been a really bad/stressful way to end the last day on this rock exam.

After a quick debrief back at the campground with our examiners, we all got ready to do what Vegas is really known for: partying into the wee hours of the morning. Adam - my husband and I - had rented a cheap - 19$ room right on Fremont - aka Freakmont - street to make sure we could indulge guiltlessly in the Vegas experience. We celebrated the end of our exam, which meant for Joe Stock and Jonathon Spitzer getting their IFMGA certification. But we also celebrated Adam's Pin, which he had just received two weeks earlier after completing his alpine exam in the Cascades.

We drove back to snow in Salt Lake City. Winter is now right around the corner. And it'll soon be time for me to start focusing on my last exam: the ski. With two exams down in a little over a month, I am now secretly hoping that maybe, sometime sooner than later, will come the time for me to celebrate my own IFMGA pin. Sweet dreams are made of these...

Thanks to Joe Stock and Christopher Wright for some of the pictures...

Check out Joe's website for more pictures of the exam and Christopher Wright's blog for a full story of Adventure Punks

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Alpine Exam

Lows and high of becoming a mountain guide

Part I: Alpine Exam

As I flew back to Seattle from a summer of guiding in Europe in early August, I was really excited to explore a little more of the Cascades and check out some the routes we were going to do. I called my friend Willie Benegas to see what his plans were. He said he was going with Craig Luebben to climb the unfamed Torrent-Forbidden traverse in Boston Basin starting the following day. I told him I would come along. Since the weather didn't look great, I bailed on them and instead headed to Leavenworth with Forest McBrian - another guide and fellow candidate.

The weather was beautiful that day and I started regretting not going on the climb with Willie and Craig, as there was a great chance of us doing this route on the exam. I had gone on it the year before with my husband, Adam, and had hated the sheer looseness of the climb. I thought then that I didn't need to do this climb twice and that I would just onsight it on an exam if I had to, but had no interest in doing it for myself and he had bailed.

I called Willie after coming down from the Dragontail in Leavenworth to check on how it had gone for them. I teased him, hoping for him to say that they had not been able to climb it because of the rain. Yet, he uttered in a faint voice and with his strong Argentinian accent: "No, there has been accident. Craig is dead". I couldn't grasp what he was saying. I must have misunderstood. I had him repeat the unthinkable. Craig Luebben - AMGA instructor, guide, mentor to many, creator of the Big Bros, writer of books, father and husband - had fallen with one of his favorite elements - ice - and had been killed by it? And Willie suffered injuries to one leg? I couldn't wrap my head around it. I was meant to have been with them that day, on that climb. I hadn't gone. What if I had gone with them? What if...

The news spread like fire. All the candidates on the Alpine Exam and the examiners were shell-shoked. Craig was meant to retake his exams to get his Alpine Certification with Dale Remsberg and this was the reason he had been up there that day, to train. Willie was meant to be on the exam with us, and now he wasn't going to be there, leaving a loud void within the group. It was all very eerie. The tone for the exam was set: be aware, be conservative with the terrain. The exam started with a minute of silence for Craig and his family. A great loss we all acknowledged. A reminder of our mortality, especially up there in the mountains. With a very warm summer in the northwest this summer - temps broke a historical 100F! - conditions, as we would soon witness - had rapidly deteriorated in the mountains.

Our group of four candidates - Dave Ahrens, Ben Mitchell, Ian Nicholson and myself - along with our examiners - Dale Remsberg and Marc Chauvin - headed up into Boston Basin, home to the Mount Torment, Forbidden Peak, Sharkin Tower, Boston Peak and Sahale. We were instantly shocked by how dry conditions were. Out of respect for Craig, the Torment Forbidden Traverse no longer was an option. We therefore headed up and over the crazily chossy Sharkin Col to camp on a col at the base of the north ridge of Forbidden. The following day, we did crevasse rescue on the glacier and went and scoped out the following day's objective. On Day 4 (Day 1 was spent doing movement skills exams on rock: climbing a 5.10 route in shoes, 5.8 in boots and 4 class terrain speed traveling at Mount Eerie), we woke up early to climb the NW face of Forbidden (Ben, Dale and I), while Ian, Dave and Marc climbed the North Rib of Forbidden - a parallel buttress.

Crossing the moat that morning was one of those intensely scary experiences, where you feel that you should not be where you are: the only place to cross was on a thin rib of rather soft snow barely touching the rock and hanging over 500ft of void. Gloups. The once NW face of Forbidden was now a few pitches of ice, leading to broken rock and more ice. The mountain was a mere the image of itself. I led most of the day that day since I hadn't lead on Day 2. Day 5, we climbed Sharfin Tower and left Boston Basin. The initial plan had been to swap areas with the other group - Dawn Glanc, Forest McBrian, Danny Ulhmann, Keith Garvey and Tom Hargis. They were in the Marble Creek Cirque, climbing the west arete of Eldorado and Early Morning Spire.

Yet, moats were also very dangerous there and they had almost all gotten killed by a car size boulder which fell right where they were standing only a few minutes earlier. Going in there was no longer an option. So we headed to Washington Pass, a much welcome trade-off, where beautiful weather and granite spires greeted us. Our program consisted of Cutthroat, South Early Winter Spire, Liberty Bell's NW face, and Spontaneity Arete on the Petit Cheval. One more day of climbing around Bellingham and it was all over already.

Time on the exam flew by with climbing, prepping for the next days climbs, writing tour plans, stress (although our examiners did an amazing job at mitigating that aspect of the exam), driving to and from places. With this year's new rule, we now had to wait for the results. Our examiners prepared us for what to expect, yet until you see it in print, you just can't be a 100% sure that you passed. For the "instant reward" kinda girl that I am, there just isn't much more frustrating.

The sound of my new iPhone resonates in my car. It's Ian Nicholson, one of my partners on our August 16-26th 2009 Alpine Exam: "Caroline, I am so happy! I passed!!!" he exclaims. Wait a minute, I wonder. How does he know. Lucky for us: the results have been published earlier than planned! I am one click away from finding out. And there it is...

As I scroll down the page, the word "Pass", written next to "Alpine Exam" has never yet shone so brightly. Excitement and pride translate into a big wide grin on my face. I am one step closer! Closer to what? Well, to have this lifelong dream of mine come true: that of becoming an IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations) certified guide, a world-wide recognized mountain guide.

Next? As I write these words, I am in the midst of unpacking from this exam and packing for my next one: the rock exam in Vegas. After that, I'll consider signing up for the ski exam next spring. But right now, I am just happy with having come this far. One step at a time, and now, one exam at a time...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Valdez - A dream come true

After a great trip to Alps, I flew to Anchorage, AK with Adam. Both he and I respectively had AMGA exams and advanced courses to take( My friend Angela Hawse had been waiting for me there for a few days because I had had to postpone my flight there due to some health issues (see Les Droites entry).

Yet, as soon as I got there, we drove 6hours from Anchorage to Valdez - the world's heliski mecca - to start checking out the terrain we were going to be examined on. And this is what we found...

Long story short (will let the pictures speak for themselves), this course made my dreams of becoming an aspirant guide a reality. After taking the advanced alpine and rock this past fall and the level III AIARE course in March, this was the missing piece to the puzzle. This has been a very dear dream of mine. I have had to fight for this dream and believe in it in ways I had never before had to. It's been the most amazing journey, one filled with hope, happiness, sadness, deep grief and sorrow, challenges, learning experiences, amazing travels, and mostly amazing people. I am greatful for it ALL. I am greatful for having believed and for people who believed in me.

I am now so excited for the journey ahead. I am still a ways away from getting the full certification but for now, I am just happy to be where I'm at...

Berlin Wall

While training, we got baseline information regarding the snowpack. The black line is the ash layer from when Mount Redoubt erupted late March. Impressive. This layer however made for really poor skiing, when, a few days later, it came to the surface on southerly aspects.

The Worthington Glacier

Eric Larsen building a sled, training for our sled lower drill

Skiing through seracs on the so called 27mile glacier

Getting a ride back to the car on a Harley... in Alaska, the law is that the passenger needs to wear a helmet, but not the driver of the bike... no comment!

Skiing down the mighty Cherry Couloir on Python Peak.... holy steepness!

The Cherry Couloir on Python Peak

Our instructor, Howie Schwartz making radio contact on the Worthington Glacier

Crevasse rescue training

Time to fly... we flew into a remote area of the range for a three day traverse with all our camping and skiing gear on our backs

Where we were dropped off

Beautiful ridge climb

Camping on day 1 of the traverse with Angela Hawse on a nice and flat rock

Inside the tent

The neverending Tonsina Glacier... miles and miles of flat... gotta love that...

Forest and I getting our evening debrief on day 2 of the traverse and day 1 of our exams. We are hiding from the blistering sun in the tent

Our camp below Hoodoo Col

View on Girls Mountain and the Hoodoo Glacier... gorgeous. last day of the three day traverse

Climbing up to Girls Mountain

Communicating bears

Friday, May 15, 2009

Les Droites - La Ginat

It's Sunday morning, and my flight back to Salt Lake City, and then on to Alaska leaves Tuesday. The weather is looking awesome. Conditions are great all over the Alps. Big north faces are fat. I feels like I don't have much time to spare to actually go climb any north face, much less the north face of the Droites.

The north face of the Droites, located on the Argentiere Basin in Chamonix, France, is a 1000m long ice and mixed route that tops out at a notch right below this 4001meter peak. It's described as very austere and cold and requiring outstanding training. Growing up in the Alps and having climbed the classic great north faces -Eiger, Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses, Piz Badile - the Droites was really the last one I was looking forward to climbing. I was however not alone with this desire.

We arrived at the top of the Grands Montets cable car to find 20 other climbers ready to spend the night on the drafty hallways' cold damp concrete floor. He looked at other people's gear, tried to catch parts of their conversations to figure out where each one was going. Word on the mountain was that a lot of people were camping at the base of the Ginat to get a head start and 8 of us from the cable car were going on the Ginat. We decided on a 2am start.

With our skinny short heavy skis, we tried to ski in the dark with our mountain climbing boot, but conditions on the traverse to the base were pretty icy and walking seemed like a faster solution.
Already, we were regretting having brought them along with us. Nearing the base, we saw that three parties were already on the wall and more parties were coming up from the glacier and from the cable car. Although this is an ice climb - 1000m of it - no one thought twice about the ice climbing rule: never climb below another another party for fear of getting hammered by ice.

all went along, trying to be courteous with each other, climbing over each others ropes, clipping into each other's gear. The real Chamonix experience...

the face suddenly no longer felt cold or austere for that matter. We simul-climbed most of the way to the head wall and pitched out the upper section to the notch. Conditions on the mountain were outstanding. The climb had been done so much that it was all hooked out and the ice wasn't so brittle, which helped with moving faster.

Once at the notch, we did 10-15 rappels down the couloir to the glacier below. This is when the crux of the climb really started. We strapped our little skinny skis on and started down the 2500m left to Chamonix. The snow however was isothermic with a slight refreeze on top (which didn't hold our weight), which made turning impossible. So, we resorted to doing super long traverses with kickturns at each end. Brutal. We must have done over a thousand of them! or so it felt. We laughed and cried the whole way. I was desperately hoping that once we'd hit the Mer de Glace, things would get smoother.

But no! we hit refrozen deep ski tracks, which made even snowplowing impossible. I push on, while Adam opted for walking, skis in hand and we were going just as fast the one as the other! Grrrr. As we kept going, the snow softened a bit. It was almost enjoyable. When suddenly, Adam decided to cross what he thought was ice, but really was a deep puddle of water! I mean, could anything go worse! A week earlier, we had skied down all the way to Chamonix and as we reached the "Buvette" to start going down the trail to Chamonix, we realized it had all melted out! Haaaaahaaaa! With endless frustration, we put our skis on our packs for the last time, switched our brain on off to stop feeling the pain, and sucked it up, walking all the way down to Chamonix.

We arrived in the late hours of the night/ wee hour of the morning and went straight to bed. A few hours of sleep and I had to get up to pack and catch my flight from Geneva. This was ending a crazy month for me: flying back from Nepal after the Khumbu Climbing School, taking the Level III AIARE course in Silverton, CO, driving back to SLC, down to Vegas for the Red Rocks Rdv (teaching clinics during the day and doing a legal translation at night), dribing to SLC, flying to Switzerland and visiting people/skiing as much as possible. I was on such a go-go-go mode that I failed to see the extreme fatigue symptoms. They all came crashing down on me that last day. The day of my flight. By noon, I could no longer stand up and was suffering from intense pain in my stomach. The doctor diagnosed me with gallbladder issues. As a result, my had to cancel both my flight to SLC and further on to Alaska.

I got to do all the things I love and wanted to do, but sometimes, slowing down is the only way to keep going. With these issues, I was forced to rest and be in bed for the first time in ages. it felt really good and made me ready to deal with what was coming up: my AMGA advanced ski course in Valdez, Alaska.... to be followed on my next blog!