Andrea Charest: American Alpine Club Trip Report/Story
Fall 2012 Live Your Dream Grant to compete in the 2013 Ouray Elite Mixed Climbing Competition
BEFORE (03 Jan 2013)
Feeling good, strong, but could always be stronger! How did I end up in a competition with Emily Harrington and Ines Papert (and 5 of the other strongest female mixed climbers in the WORLD?) I feel like I am in a dream, quite apropos for going into this as the recipient of an American Alpine Club "Live Your Dream" grant. But in August, this all seemed so very far away, and now that I'm heading out to Colorado by myself I'm not sure this is real.
When the last round of applications were due for the AAC grant, I wanted to apply-- I wanted, needed, to take a trip-- but WHERE? And with WHOM? I wanted to take an all-female trip somewhere to climb, but was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get the women I was considering to commit. I wanted to travel to Europe or Asia to climb, but didn't have the right people pop into my head. Reading through the AAC packet of examples that could be considered for grants, a crazy combination popped out at me: "A Northeast climber who wishes to travel out West to climb in new terrain" and "A competetive climber who wishes to travel to a national or international competition." Aha! Hey how about applying to compete in the Ouray Mixed Climbing Competition?
Before getting too excited, I shot my friend Josh Worley an e-mail. Josh had competed in Ouray from 2010-2012, placing 5th or 6th out of more than a dozen males each time. I asked him whether or not it would be completely ridiculous to consider trying to compete in Ouray. He said "Not crazy at all, great effin' idea!! I think with some good prep work you would have as good a shot as anyone!"
I feel very fortunate to have received an AAC Live Your Dream grant. While the financial support helped, I am mostly honored that the grant committee saw my proposal as an legitimate one. Upon receiving the grant, I was ecstatic, guilty, and terrified. Guilt came from facing a co-worker who had not received a grant, and from several people telling me that I was really only chosen because I am female, that I automatically had a better chance. This was something I really had to work through to be comfortable with, finally being able to accept: I deserved this. I was terrified because- well- I really had to go through with this crazy idea!
So Josh became as much of a trainer as I had, and I got to know him in a new light-- as a very patient teacher, full of good advice, motivation and experience. Watching Josh's "magnetic tools" (seriously- when he commits to a tool placement it's like a magnet keeps it there, totally static and strong) gave me the goal of becoming stronger physically and mentally, learning new techniques, and getting onto as much new terrain as possible in the late fall and early winter.
Training became as many days in the gym as possible, hangs, lock-off drills, ab workouts and figure 4 drills at home, and as many days on mixed terrain as possible. I'm the strongest I've ever been right now, and it feels great.
To sleep, perchance to dream... but dreams are made every day while we're living, while we're awake. They're inspired by those people who come into the climbing gym on their lunch break, change into a t-shirt and boulder or hang from ice tools for 30 minutes, eat quickly, change and then head back to work. They're inspired by the folks who have full time jobs and loving families but still get after it any chance they can. They're inspired by those who live for climbing, and by others' successes and failures-- by our own as well.
Sleep has become difficult over the past month or so, already rehearsing the comp route in my head (although in reality I really don't even know what it looks like!)- but rehearsing and visualizing fluid, thoughtful movement, breathing, complete focus, the ability to make good decisions, and to fight through the pump and the feeling of defeat. My new mantra has become "Don't let go!"
AFTER (14 Jan 2013)
Traveling to Ouray has been much more than I ever could have hoped for. When I arrived, I had a friend, Andrew Blessing, who drove down from Bozeman to meet me for some skiing and climbing. I had not a single day on skis before heading out West, having focused solely on climbing and training for the competition. Andrew and I skied at Silverton, a backcountry resort with one lift and shuttle busses to deliver skiers back to the lift. It felt great to be in the big mountains-- and somehow I went from sea level on Saturday to rocking the bootpack along ridges in the San Juans at 12,000 feet on Sunday. I figured acclimating in the higher mountains would help me feel like 7,700 feet in Ouray was easy breathing.
Andrew and I climbed in the Silverton area the next day, climbing grade 3 to 4+ on Stairway to Heaven. The temperature was 6 degrees F when we started in the later morning, and the ice was hard, but the sun hit the ice after a couple pitches and it was bliss. After leading 6 pitches and 800 feet, I plucked an exhausted follower off (exhausted from taking so many good photos of course, plus it was only his 3rd day out this season!) to head down four double-rope rappels, arriving back to the car in the dark.
It felt so good to be in bigger mountains and in the sun, and something in me was reluctant to head down into the dark, cold Ouray Ice Park. But this is why I was in Ouray! Andrew and I checked out a few moderate ice climbs- the Ice Park IS a remarkable place-- such easy access to phenomenal climbing, everyone smiling, sharing beta and making connections.
I had made plans to climb with IFMGA guide Caroline George the day Andrew left, and we were planning to climb outside of the park again. I was excited to climb with such an accomplished and strong female. Caroline had to back off of Bridalveil Falls the day before due to wet conditions, and so she recommended that we climb in the park instead. Damn! No more sun again. BUT, we ended up climbing with a few other competitors- Simon, Andres, Bryan, Gordon- and getting on some of the classic mixed routes in the Scottish Gullies (Tic Tac, Seamstress, Chinese Water Torture), which was much more helpful to me than a long alpine day would have been. I finally had the chance to feel the rock and know what the competition route would feel like.
The following day I met up with a couple other friends who had migrated West after graduating from UVM (my alma mater), and things started to get a little scary in the Ice Park... as more people came in, we saw screws being dropped left and right, a backpack accidentally dropped from the walkway at the top- nearly hitting my friend Dan- and huge chunks of ice sailing down. The Ice Park does a great job at mitigating as much risk as possible (fixed chains for top anchors, belay anchors to keep belayers out of the ice fall zone- it's cushy!), but the volume of climbers takes some getting used to. Later that day I had my chance to preview the competition route- Mighty Aphrodite. The route is a classic that many local competitors have dialed, so everyone got a chance to climb and tick holds for 30 minutes to narrow the advantage that local competitors may have had. I chose to top-rope the route, as Dawn had before me, and as Emily did after me. I climbed the route clean from the ground to the highest point we were allowed-- the manmade tower was to remain an onsight attempt for everyone. I was surprised-- the climb did not feel like an M8/9-- it went smoothly, I found the holds quickly, and placements felt secure. My footwork felt precise and I didn't get pumped. I was able to sleep well that night, having less anxiety about falling off of the route early.
I took the next day off, slept in, helped out at the Chicks with Picks booth, spent time at the Mammut booth, and met so many people. The competitor meeting took place that afternoon, where the route setters, Ice Park crew and 25 competitors hashed out what exactly would fly during the competition and what would be prohibited. We randomly picked the running order out of a bag of numbered jerseys-- I drew #3. The running order would start backwards-- with the highest number climbing first, and #1 climbing last in the afternoon. This placed me climbing about 3:00-- perfect for a morning that was supposed to be well below zero degrees F! However... I had been assigned to teach a Women's Mixed Climbing clinic, and this ran from 12:30-3:00. I had become very dedicated to teaching the clinic, and I didn't want to be rushing and not have the chance to warm up before competing, so I made a sacrifice and offered to trade jerseys with Bryan Gilmore, who had drawn #25. "Just to let you know," Bryan said with caution on his face, "This is a horrible number." Ha! I traded and that was that.
That evening I attended Ines Papert's multimedia presentation- a very professional and inspiring presentation. Ines is very much a hero of mine, and she is one of the kindest and most humble people I have met. I was able to warm up with her a bit the next morning, and she even borrowed my gloves for the competition :)
Saturday morning was COLD. The thermometer read -7 as I left the house to walk up to the Ice Park at 7:45am. I stopped by the Mammut booth and grabbed a huge Ambler down jacket that came down to my knees for before and after the comp. I had tried to keep my tools warm that morning- as a recommendation from Conrad Anker- by packing them inside my pack with warm water bottles and hand warmers. It was just too cold though-- within a minute of them being out of my pack while I climbed the warm up routes, the shafts had reached air temperature, about -4 F. The park crew was just getting a propane heater set up for competitors as I was tying in to start my climb, and I missed the opportunity to start a little warmer.
But! The clock counted down and I headed up the easy ice into the rock section, accompanied by Blondie blaring from the AV system. I made the second clip. I used my hands, as I had during my preview, to get over the bulge and onto the slab-- although I had a hard time trusting the handholds that I could not feel with frozen fingers. I clipped again. I heard people cheering my name, heard a frantic cowbell, and I moved upwards, shaking out and trying to breathe into my hands to warm them. Towards the top of the rock section, I went to make a clip and I had zero dexterity in my left hand-- my fingers would not squeeze the draw to flick the rope in. No!! Finally after the fourth attempt and probably a waste of about 2 minutes, the rope fell in. Upwards, but now starting to get pumped after hanging on for so long! I heard the countdown- 1 minute left of my 12 minute limit! Go as far as you can, get to the ice! Ahhh, cold, pumped! Ok, 10 seconds left, jump for the ice, get one hold higher! I hooked into the ice with one tool and dropped the other, and timed out on the route. Frustrated that I hadn't gotten to the log-- but happy that I timed out and didn't fall on the rock section.
I ended up placing 7th of 8 women, and you know... I'm ok with that for my first Ouray competition- the only place to go is up from here. I look forward to returning to Ouray in 2014 and owe the biggest thank you to the AAC for opening these doors!