Basic Mountaineering School: Hard Snow Day

After our second rock climbing day at Castlewood Canyon, we turned our sights to Cristo Couloir on Quandary Peak for our Hard Snow field day. Hard Snow Day’s mission was to gain experience with crampon walking techniques, walking in balance and ascending a steep snow slope. We managed to check all of those tasks off before we jumped, unexpectedly, into emergency first aid practice.

Mountaineering - Cristo Couloir Climb //

It doesn’t look like much but that baby is 2,500 feet of vertical feet! The summit of Quandary is out of sight in that photo. We started our day at the Blue Lakes Trailhead at Quandary’s base.

Mountaineering - Cristo Couloir Climb //

From the beginning, the stars did not align to make this our best field day. One student was sick but forged ahead with the group. One instructor was sick and turned around almost 1 mile into our hike to the base of Cristo Couloir. Everyone felt tired from the early wakeup.

Mountaineering - Cristo Couloir Climb //

We trudged on through the snow and wind, sans snowshoes, to the Blue Lakes Dam parking lot. Here, we donned our crampons and prepared for the steep slope ahead of us. Walking in balance (downhill foot back, uphill foot forward, ice ax staked in the snow uphill and a bit forward) took some brain power and practice to get used to but once I found my rhythm, I was moving. Slowly, but moving.

Mountaineering - Cristo Couloir Climb //

photo cred: instructor R

We students took turns leading and kicking steps into the steep, stiff snow. Kicking steps is hard work; as the snow softened in the sun, it became slightly easier but still a challenge. We took a couple breaks as we ascended the couloir to refuel. Let me tell you, taking a ‘bio break’ above treeline just a few yards from a group of predominantly male climbers quickly erases any self-consciousness I had about peeing in private. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

After our second pit stop, our sick student had to turn around – the altitude and his nausea were causing him to feel unsafe on the snow. He down-climbed with an instructor and they perched themselves on the warm rocks where they’d wait for our descent.

The rest of our group continued on for another couple hundred vertical feet when we decided to take a moment to discuss snow conditions. It was approximately 10:30 a.m. and the snow was softening rapidly. We’d noted avalanche danger before we started and because Cristo Couloir is a southerly aspect, it receives a lot of sun and avalanche danger increased as the snow warmed. We considered our climbing speed and bailout options should the snow become unsafe. We concluded that, while we were only an hour-ish (800 vertical feet) from the summit, we were not moving fast enough to summit and descend safely. It was best for us to turn around and avoid any possibility of avalanche danger. Yes, it meant not summiting Quandary but our objective was never to summit; a summit would have been a nice bonus but certainly not the mark of a succesful day.

We took a moment to assess our best option for glissading down the slope we’d just climbed, chuckling at the irony of undoing hours worth of work in a matter of minutes. As we all chose our respective routes, we quickly transformed into little kids, squealing with glee at sliding down a mountain on our butts.

Mountaineering - Cristo Couloir Climb //

photo cred: instructor R

Unfortunately, seconds after that video, I glissaded down a bit further to find a group of students gathered around an instructor. What I initially thought was just a conversation about the best route for continuing down became quickly apparent that it was a much more dire situation. Our instructor, M, had been injured on his glissade down and couldn’t put weight on his leg. He was afraid his leg was broken.

Immediately, the entire group went into rescue mode, working together to stabilize M’s leg and get him off the snow, strategizing how to get him off the mountain safely.
Mountaineering - Cristo Couloir Climb // Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, the team used pickets (and later, ice axes) to create a splint. We gently moved M from the snow to a large patch of grass. We sent 2 of the group back to the trailhead to call 911. We relied on extremely helpful Ski Patrol skiers to help us belay M down the slope on a tarp while we waited for Search and Rescue. We assisted Search and Rescue in getting M down to the snowmobile and then waved them off as they sped away, bound for the hospital.

Mountaineering - Cristo Couloir Climb // Mountaineering - Cristo Couloir Climb //

Mountaineering - Cristo Couloir Climb //

In total, it took 5 hours to get M off the mountain. It was 11:15 a.m.-ish when his foot caught a rock as he was glissading (and he still managed to self arrest with a bum leg). It was 4:30 p.m. when M was safely loaded onto the snowmobile and jetting toward the trailhead. The majority of those hours were us belaying M down as we waited for Search and Rescue to arrive – nearly 3.5 hours after the incident.

I don’t mean that disparaging in the slightest but merely to make outdoor adventurers aware of the time it can take for help to arrive. Certainly, if we’d told them it was a life and death situation, I expect we’d have received a quicker response but M’s injury was not life threatening. He was responsive, not bleeding, and in good spirits, considering the situation. Even still, 3.5 hours is a long time to be in severe leg pain.

All things considered, this was the relatively good situation for an injury to happen. M was surrounded by 10 knowledgeable and able-bodied climbers and the weather was really nice – warm and sunny. Everyone had the 10 essentials (and then some) so we were able to dress his injury and move him safely.

Our impromptu lesson in emergency rescue and wilderness first aid, while not ideal for M, gave us students a chance to really put what we learned into practice. An unfortunate situation handled beautifully; I’m really proud of how my group responded and even more proud to be part of the group.

M reports that his hamstring was partially torn and he is on the mend. He hopes to join us for our final 2 field days in June.

The long, Hard Snow field day was a stark reminder that even if you do everything right, accidents can happen. Being prepared for adversity (having your 10 essentials, knowing what your bailout route is, understanding what to do in an emergency, etc) and knowing how you’ll handle adversity goes a long way to making a crappy situation a bit less crappy and, ultimately, increases your chances of success (and survival).

Summer Resolutions

As Alex and I are getting ready to move into a slightly smaller apartment in next week, I’ve been gutting my belongings, keeping only what I truly need or wear often. While I was ruthlessly tossing pants I’d rarely worn and shirts that never quite fit exactly right, I came across a shirt at the bottom of my dresser.

A tube top.

I wore tube tops all the time in college and when I first moved to Denver. I can’t quite put my finger on when or why I stopped but I think it has to do with less ‘going out’ and more ‘growing up’. Instead of tossing the in the giveaway pile, I decided that this summer, I would wear more tube tops.

summer resolutions - wear a tube top! //

aww, such babies!

And then I thought about other summer things that I haven’t done in a while (years, even!) that I absolutely want to do this summer.

So without further ado, I present my 20 Summer Resolutions.

1. Wear a tube top at least twice.

2. Lay in the sun next to a pool in my swimsuit and read a book.

3. Swim in a pool. (Anyone have a pool where I can come swim? Ironically, for the first time in all my years in Denver, I’ll be living where there is no pool. Because, duh. You want what you don’t have.)

4. Make homemade ice cream.

5. Try to set a record number of freeze pops consumed in one summer. (but only the legit kind)

6. Sleep under the stars on a backpacking trip.

7. Run early morning miles on mountain trails.

8. Read at least 3 books (like high school summer reading but without the book report).

9. See a concert at Red Rocks.

10. Watch a movie at Red Rocks.

11. Eat brunch on a patio in our new neighborhood.

12. Run to and around my new neighborhood parks at least once a week.

13. Summit a 14er (at least one).

14. Summit a 11er, 12er or 13er.

15. Eat burgers and potato salad at a BBQ. (Someone please invite me to a BBQ?)

16. Rock climb outside!

17. Spend at least a weekend backpacking.

18. Take a vacation – near or far; driving or flying.

19. Test as many ‘patio pounder’ drinks as necessary to find my most favorite summer drink.

20. Spend more time smiling than stressing.

I’m calling ‘summer’ Memorial Day to Labor Day which is approximately 15 weeks. Plenty of time to knock out these 20 resolutions.

Too frequently, I find myself looking up at the calendar and another week, month, season has passed and while I’ve certainly enjoyed it, there are always things I wished I’d made time for before the weather changed again. That’s what these resolutions are about.

I easily get tunnel vision and so fixated on THE THING OF THE MOMENT that I forget that I also really enjoy and appreciate the other, smaller moments, too. I feel like, in Colorado especially, there’s this drive to have every day and weekend be this super-awesome-totally-rad-gnar adventure in the wilderness. Absolutely, those are great and I totally love those days and weekends! They are on the list!

But I also love the quieter adventures. Discovering a new favorite restaurant. Devouring an awesome book. Laughing with friends on a hot summer night. Wearing summer dresses.

So this summer, here’s to the smal moments AND the big ones. To extra sunscreen for a lazy afternoon by a pool and the epic summit of a mountain or two (or many). To eating too many ice cream cones from the little shop up the street and nights spent under the summer stars. To scheduling adventures but not overscheduling my life. To wearing a dang tube top and celebrating my youth and living in a city and state I love.

Cheers, Summer. Let’s do this thing!

Misadventures in Carrot Cake

Looking at my blog, you’d think the ONLY thing I do is mountaineering school. Which, for a while, was absolutely true. But recently, I’ve gotten some of my free time back to dabble in non-mountaineering fun!  Lest you think I am a girl who only does mountain adventures (which wouldn’t be awful but isn’t true), I wanted to share other parts of my life and interests, too! Like recent misadventures in baking.

A few weeks ago, Alex celebrated his birthday. Alex isn’t as jazzed about birthdays as I am but does love picking out his birthday cake. For the past few years, he’s asked for different varieties of cheesecake, a recipe I’ve mastered. This year, he threw me a curve ball and asked for carrot cake.

‘No big deal!’ I thought. ‘How hard can carrot cake be?’

I got a recipe from Val who swears by it for her husband’s birthday cake, too. And then, overly confident, I waited until a couple days before his birthday to make his cake expecting a flawless creation on my first ever carrot cake attempt.


The carrot cake recipe (here) is super easy but I made 2 mistakes: not using cake flour and (I think) over-mixing the batter. As it was baking, I knew I’d done something wrong when the edges were rising but the center was not.

Of the 3 layers I baked, only 2 survived pan-removal.

Birthday Carrot Cake Recipe //

I gingerly removed the second 2 layers and stored them, hoping to ice them 2 days later on Alex’s actually birthday. It ended up being even a few days after that (4 days after baking) that I did finally ice the cake and cross my fingers it tasted good.

Birthday Carrot Cake Recipe // lgmsash.comTaste good? Check. The cake was a little dense (thus, cake flour next time) but the flavor was spot on. And the creamy cream cheese icing (also from the recipe) really brought the cake together. Literally. It was the glue that held the crumbling pieces together.

Look good? From the top, check. From the side…not so much. It was a little…uneven.

Birthday Carrot Cake Recipe //

But really, at the end of the day, is it more important to look good or tast good? I vote taste good.

I’m posting this recipe for my own future carrot cake attempts so I don’t have to dig through my recipe books or printed papers to find a recipe that I know can work with a few tweaks. Hopefully next attempt, I’ll have a better looking cake to share!

Basic Mountaineering School: Second Rock Day

If you’re just tuning in, I’ve been taking a beginner mountaineering class with the Colorado Mountain Club called Basic Mountaineering School. You can find all posts about Basic Mountaineering School here.

Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling //

Our fourth field day brought us to Castlewood Canyon State Park for ‘Second Rock Day’. We’d practiced basic outdoor climbing and rappelling on First Rock Day and spend 2 nights on an indoor wall between First and Second Rock Days.

Second Rock Day was dedicated to passing a knot in the rope while on belay and ascending the rope with Prusiks, both with and without our packs on.

Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling //

Field days are invaluable experience because we put our book and classroom learning into real life situations. While we focus on only a couple main objectives each field day, we learn SO much more than that while we’re out. For example, building anchors. Basic Mountaineering School teaches the basics of anchors because the Colorado Mountain Club has other schools dedicated to anchor building. So we read about anchors in our book and get an overview of how/what do to – but our instructors have taken the time to show us a bit more than the basics. For a girl who is very new to rock climbing, it’s so helpful to see the practical application of these techniques in different situations.

Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling //

using natural anchors

With the ropes set up, we split into teams of two and started on our first task, rappelling and then ascending the rope with our waist and foot Prusiks. The rock was maybe 50+ feet so still a baby wall, compared to what experienced rock climbers climb, but was big enough to get the adrenaline running for us newbie mountaineers.

Alex and I partnered up and he rappelled and ascended first, no problem. As we switched roles, I felt butterflies jump from my stomach to my throat; the initial start of a rappel still rattles my nerves! I know with repeated exposure this will dissipate and I do trust the rappel system (and in Basic Mountaineering School, we are always on a backup safety belay), it just takes time to get comfortable with the idea of walking backwards off a cliff.

I rappelled myself down and started ascending the rope. Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling //

Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling //

A Prusik knot is a friction knot which means as you load it with weight, it tightens its hold. To ascend the climbing rope with a Prusik, you attach your waist Prusik to the rope and your belay loop on your harness and your foot Prusik to the rope and put your foot in the loop. You then stand up on your foot Prusik to release the weight on your waist Prusik and move it up the rope. Then you sit to unload the weight in your foot Prusik and move it up the rope. Over and over. Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling // Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling //

It took longer and more energy than I expected and I can’t imagine ascending a rope much longer using only Prusiks.

Next, we moved on to passing the knot. In real life, if we were rappelling and came upon a knot in our rope, we’d need to figure out how to get past the knot – getting out of and then back in to our belay devices – safely. We’d practiced this during a wall night but this was the real deal. Alex and I chose to change ropes and moved to a station with a 10 foot rock lip followed by 40 feet of free rappelling.

Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling //

Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling //

It took me about 10-15 minutes to pass the knot – not the most comfortably seated 10 minutes of my life, that’s for sure! Hanging on a rope in a harness is about as comfortable as you imagine it to be.

Once we all passed our knots, we then rappelled and ascended the rope with our packs on for a ‘real life’ flavor.

1.rappel with packIf I thought ascending the rope without a pack was tiring, adding the pack made it exhausting. These ascents took a bit more time and we were all relieved to hear that it was our last ‘hard work’ task of the day. The rest of the afternoon would be taught from the ground so we rappelled, once more, down to the ground with our packs on.

Before we moved onto our last lesson of the day, our instructors invited us to do some climbing before they dropped the ropes. We’d all brought our rock shoes, hoping for this moment, and excitedly jumped on the rock.

Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling // Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling //

Basic Mountaineering School: Rock Climbing and Rappelling //

As I called down to Alex to ‘take’ and ‘lower’ when I’d finished the route, I took a moment to notice how confident I felt to sit back in my harness and be lowered down. Well, I guess I actually noticed that I didn’t think anything at all. I’m not a huge fan of heights or exposure and usually, I feel very nervous and my heart beats faster as I near the top of a route in the climbing gym but after 4 big-to-me rappels that Saturday, my exposure/heights threshold definitely increased. It felt good to notice that progress!

I often forget that I’m still so new to climbing that it’s OKAY to have these feelings! Evolution has taught us to avoid walking off cliffs or climbing up steep things – and here I am doing exactly that! Yes, I’m protected but absolutely my mind going to ask me what the heck I’m doing until it begins to understand that it’s all good.

After climbing, we wrapped up with a discussion of lead climbing, using ‘pro’ (protection, like cams and pitons) and multi-pitch climbing. Our next and final rock climbing field day is on the Boulder Flatirons where we’ll be exposed all three of those things.

Our field day ended with burgers and beers at The Stagecoach in Franktown. Our group of 12 definitely stood out in the biker bar but DAMN did that food taste delicious!

By the time Alex and I got home that night, we were awake just long enough to gulp some Gatorade, rinse off in the shower and climb into bed. After a long, tiring but awesome day, I was happy to be snuggled in bed by 8 p.m. Early to rise, early to bed!

Fun Outdoor Videos on a Friday Morning

It’s Friday! This week has been very weird and I am ready to close my laptop at work this afternoon and shake the funk off.

Tonight, Alex and I are headed to Breckenridge with our mountaineering class so we can ‘sleep in’ (and I use that term loosely!) tomorrow morning to climb up Cristo Couloir on Quandary Peak. I’m excited but am also already looking forward to the hot tub I plan on soaking in AFTER Hard Snow field day.

I’ve got so many blog posts bouncing around in this little head of mine but they will wait for another day. Today, I wanted to share these entertaining videos pertaining to the great outdoors, climbing and life. I mean, we all need a little levity on a Friday, right?

(In case 2 minutes isn’t long enough for you, someone made a 4 hour version of this ‘song’.)

(Dan Osman free solo climb)


(there is nothing I don’t love about this video or brandon leonard.)

Whether you’re into outdoor adventures or not, these videos should provide a chuckle.Except for the last one. I’ve watched that last video more times than is probably healthy to admit; I want to make it my life motto.

Basic Mountaineering School: First Snow Day

Our most second-to-last recent mountaineering field day took us to St. Mary’s Glacier, outside Idaho Springs, CO. On the trip plan? Practicing crampon walking techniques, snow belaying, building snow anchors, self-arrest and glissading.

I’d never put on or used crampons before so it took me a few tries to adjust them to my boots.

Basic Mountaineering School Crampons //

Once we all had our crampons on, we hiked our way up the side of the glacier. We used the French, German and American techniques of hiking in crampons; my calves quickly discovered that German ‘frontpointing’ is way tiring!

Basic Mountaineering School Glacier Travel Practice //

As we hiked up the glacier, we practiced self-belay with our ice axes which gives you 3 points of contact to the ground (2 boots + 1 ice ax). For me, traversing across in a straight line is not the hard part. The hardest part is turning and adjusting your self-belay to always be ‘in balance’.

Basic Mountaineering School Glacier Travel Practice //

Once we arrived at the relatively flat area of St. Mary’s Glacier, we set down our packs and learned about belaying in the snow.

Basic Mountaineering School Glacier Travel Practice // Basic Mountaineering School Glacier Travel Practice //

We learned and practiced a couple different techniques [carabiner-ax belay, anchor belay] while our instructors built a snow bollard to demonstrate the effectiveness of this time-consuming technique. A snow bollard is super secure (we weighted the rope with 8 people! No budge!) but takes a significant time to construct.

Basic Mountaineering School Glacier Travel Practice //

After a quick lunch break, we pulled on our snow pants for self-arrest. If I was good at concisely telling stories, I’d share the ridiculous harness-snowpants debacle I found myself in. Just know it was a true Sandy Moment of acting before thinking.

Self-arrest is stopping yourself while sliding down a slope, as if you’d fallen while traveling on snow. It’s hard work and fun – but also sobering when you think about the application in which you’d use self-arrest; to save yourself or your teammates from sliding out of control or, even worse, to their death.

In Wilderness Trekking School, we learned self-arrest basics but I hadn’t practiced self-arrest since then; I definitely felt rusty and a bit nervous. Sliding face first down a steep slope is nerve-racking!

Basic Mountaineering School Glacier Travel Practice //

Video of Alex self-arresting!

We ended the day by building anchors and weighting them to test if/how much the anchor could hold. My partner and I used a nalgene that held the weight of 5 adults; another team used a Snickers bar! It only held one person, failed when they added a second, but in a pinch, why wait? Grab a snickers.

After we demonstrated proficiency in building anchors that would hold sufficient weight, it was time to pack up and glissade down the hill. Hands down, the most fun part of the day.

We ended our field day at The Vintage Moose in Idaho Springs. It’s a small (like, super tiny) little bar behind the main Idaho Springs drag with just a couple beers on tap, a few additional varities of bottles, BBQ sandwiches (smoked out back!) and chips. There were about 8 people in the bar before our 12 descended upon the joint and, as we waited for our drinks, I noticed that everyone who was already in the bar knew each other. And every new person who walked in while we ate? The bar knew that person. It’s definitely a local spot with awesome BBQ sandwiches. Worth a trip back when the line at Tommyknockers is too long!

There is so much more to say about self-belay, snow mountaineering and glacier travel but is way too indepth for my little ol’ blog (and we only learned a tip of the iceberg!). The most important piece of information that was drilled into our mountaineering minds is: DON’T FALL.

Not falling keeps the odds of needing to deploy self-arrest low. It keeps the odds of relying on teammates to self-arrest you low. It keeps the chance of injury low. Especially while wearing sharp, pointy crampons, DON’T FALL!

Oh Hai, Sore Knees (or: Osteochondritis Dissecans + Volleyball Might Not Mix)

Alex’s birthday was this past weekend and, coincidentally, it was one of the few weekends we had off from mountaineering school. When I asked Alex how he wanted to spend his birthday weekend, he decided that he wanted to play in a volleyball tournament Friday night and rock climb on Saturday. Done!

Alex and I use to play volleyball together all the time when we were in college but since my knee surgeries, have only played a handful of times.

We played 10 games of volleyball on Friday night – 1 round of 4 games, 1 round of 3 games and the finals round of 3 games. Partway through the second round, my left knee started to twinge with a familiar pain. I had Alex grab me some ice between the second round and the finals; I iced my knee and sipped my beer as we waited for the final round assignments.

We finished the tournament just after 1 a.m., coming in 2nd! (…of the bottom bracket) and collected our prize (matching waffle tshirts!).

As we left, I was gingerly limping my way to the car when I just started chuckling to myself. Maybe it was the late night, maybe it was the irony of the whole situation…but I couldn’t help laughing at the fact that the sport that was always my first love and gave me identity and self-worth for so many years could ultimately be a factor in my crummy knees.

(To be clear: Osteochondritis Dissecans is not necessarily caused by sports – it can be but mine is not. However, sports can definitely aggravate it.)

If sore knees on Friday meant I should slow down, I blatently ignored that suggestion. I met a friend for an easy 4 mile run/walk and then spent the afternoon rock climbing at Earth Treks, as Alex wanted for his birthday.

Osteochondritis Dissecans - Sore Knees from Volleyball

While my knee is still sore, I’m confident some down time will relieve it. Nothing feels ‘wrong’ with it, just uncomfortable.

On the whole, this surgery cycle (2.5 years ago!) has been wildly successful for me. 99% of the time, I hardly think about my knees - they don’t inhibit what I want to do and they aren’t sore or hurting. But because I started this blog to share my Osteochondritis Dissecans and DeNovo NT surgery experiences, I would be remiss to not share the times it DOES hurt.

[END NOTE: now I'm chuckling because I just re-read a previous post from the last time Alex and I played volleyball. The parallels are uncanny. I wrote this post before remembering I might have blogged about the previous experience but I might as well have copied it!]

Emotionalism: What Mountaineering School Taught Me About Myself

The first weeks of mountaineering school were hard. Like, really hard.

Work + personal + mountaineering class obligations all joined forces to make the first 4 weeks of class hell for me, emotionally. I was over-commited, under-rested and completely exhausted.

It all culminated one Thursday night, after a particularly busy week when I came home for the fourth day in a row at 10:30 p.m.; I got into the shower, sat down and sobbed. I felt like I was drowning (figuratively, of course). Like I was failing at everything. Like I couldn’t get a handle on anything. Like I was half-assing work, doing the bare minimum for class and being a terrible friend and even worse wife. It didn’t feel great.

I’m a compulsive over-scheduler. I have friends in different circle and varied interests – and I want to see them all! I don’t want people to feel left out or that I don’t want to spend time with them…so I try to fit everything in. I know many of us do this – I’m not unique in this aspect.

But I’m an introvert. I love people and really enjoy being social but I desperately need down time, alone time, to recharge. Without mountaineering class, I can operate on a crazy schedule because I give myself some time on the weekend to lay low. But mountaineering class took my down time away as I spent Friday nights packing for Saturday’s full day event. On Saturday nights, I would eat and sleep; on Sundays, I would read 100+ pages for class on Monday. On repeat.

I was frustrated, irritable and tired. Those weeks were a real treat to live with me, let me tell you.

But after that much-needed cry, I realized that I’m not a passive player in this situation. I can affect how I feel, what I do and how I choose to react to adversity in my life. I needed to take care of ME first if I wanted the remaining weeks to be any better.

In that moment, I changed my attitude. I stopped saying ‘YES!’ to everything and instead started focusing on what was best for me. I stopped worrying that I was letting my friends down by not meeting at 5:50 a.m. to run before work. I stopped RSVPing for every fun activity that happened during the week. I stopped scheduling ANYTHING on Sundays.

It was hard! Saying no to fun events and important friends is always hard. But the moment I decided to take ownership for my situation and feelings and do what I needed to do to get myself right, lightness returned. The drowning went away and I was breathing deeply again.

We try so hard to be all things to all people at all times – to be the best spouse, friend, employee, student, blogger, social media personality, etc, etc, etc. In the chaos of trying to do everything, I forgot to take time to do nothing and take care of me. I can’t be the best anything if I’m not talking care of me first. I can’t even be a mediocre anything!

As trivial and trite as it is, mountaineering class forced me to take a step back, take care of myself and truly prioritize my time. I hope that I keep this mentality close as class requirements start to ease and I can easily fall back in to cramming my schedule. It’s okay to say no sometimes. The friends and fun invitations will still be there.

tl;dr – sometimes, crying in the shower brings wonderful epiphanies and makes life a lot better. 

As an aside: I do realize this was only a relatively short segment of my life. People deal with these feelings and schedules for far longer than that – my hat is off to you, seriously. In the thick of it, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the thick of it, those weeks felt like an unending eternity from which I couldn’t escape. I know this won’t be the first time I’ll feel this way but I’m glad I’m learning how to take control of my feelings and take care of me first.



Basic Mountaineering School: First Rock Field Day

Saturday was our second field day for Basic Mountaineering School, First Rock Day. This field day kept us a bit closer to home as we met in Boulder at the Chautauqua Park parking lot at 5:50 a.m.

Basic Mountaineering School - First Rock Climbing Day //

The parking lot sits at the base of the Flatirons, a very iconic view and well known view in Colorado; it was really neat to see it quiet, in the dark. Even in the pre-dawn darkness, we saw headlamps of people already hiking up the Flatirons trail and we waved to 5 other non-mountaineering-school cars as they parked to begin hiking before the sun had risen.

Our destination was a mile hike in to Crown Rock. Crown Rock is accessible by road (there’s a parking lot right next to it) but what’s mountaineering class if we don’t approach hike in?!

Basic Mountaineering School - First Rock Climbing Day //

Because Crown Rock is a super popular boulder and hiking trail, our instructors decided to set us up a few hundred yards away from Crown Rock. I’m not sure if this rock has a name but we situated ourselves here:Basic Mountaineering School - First Rock Climbing Day //

On our agenda? Practice climbing and belaying on a real rock (my first time!), practice escaping the belay and to practice rappelling.

First up, escaping the belay! We practiced how to escape the belay (removing ourselves from the rope system without affecting/dropping the climber we were belaying) and were required to demonstrate to our instructors that we could effectively complete the procedure, unprompted.

Basic Mountaineering School - First Rock Climbing Day //

Escaping the belay practice.

Pretty sure we all enjoyed creating fictional stories as to why our belayer need to come attend to us – needed a beer, didn’t have enough ‘stoke’, taking a nap. But in all seriousness, I hope to never be in a situation where I’d need to escape the belay to help an unconscious or unresponsive climber.

While half of us practice escaping, the other half of us roped up and gave outdoor climbing a try. It was my first time climbing outside on a real rock (and climbing in mountaineering boots) and HOLY COW was it different than climbing in a gym! The mountaineering boots made it even more challenging but it was a lot more fun!

Basic Mountaineering School - First Rock Climbing Day //

Basic Mountaineering School - First Rock Climbing Day //

We had two different routes set up to climb – each pair climbed each route twice.

After a quick lunch break, we moved on to rappelling. To be completely honest, rappelling was (is?) the task I was most nervous about. In our reading, the chapter about rappelling makes it quite clear that this is serious business. One wrong move or careless mistake and you’re life is toast, basically. (I think the words in the book are ‘certain death.’)

Basic Mountaineering School - First Rock Climbing Day //

We had 3 stations set up – low, medium and steep angled routes. I started on the (very) low angled route to get myself comfortable with the system and process. (The low angle is that little ditch area in the photo above.)

Basic Mountaineering School - First Rock Climbing Day //

Lucas on the steep rappel.

One I understood how rappelling worked and how I could control my speed, I was a lot less intimidated and I tried the medium and steep rappels.

Basic Mountaineering School - First Rock Climbing Day //

That’s not to say my heart didn’t pound the whole time, just that I was more comfortable with the heart pounding!

After we finished practicing, we learned how to build anchors, what different pieces of climbing protection are used for and what happens in a multi-pitch climb (a climb that requires more than one belay station). We finished the field day by flaking and coiling ropes (checking for knots/damage and then wrapping in a coil for carrying and storage). Holy arm workout! Flaking and coiling ropes is no joke – my arms are still sore!

We then packed up and hiked our mile back out to the Chautauqua parking lot to call field day a wrap.

Per BMS tradition, after our official field day ended, we hit a dive bar in Boulder, the Dark Horse, for post-field day refueling. I’ve been to the Dark Horse before and have to say that my favorite part of the bar is the bathrooms.

Basic Mountaineering School - First Rock Climbing Day //

Do you go in the door your gender is pointing to? Or the door with your gender painted on it?! The answer is to go where the door is pointing but, without fail, people get it wrong and I can’t help but giggle watching an embarrassed man walk out of the women’s bathroom.

A tasty sandwich and beer later, the post-field-day/post-mealtime sleepies hit hard and I was thankful not to be responsible for driving back to Denver (thanks, Lucas!).

First Rock Day was far more exciting than Navigation Day – Alex and I came home from Saturday’s exercise really excited about outdoor rock climbing, ropes and mountaineering. Starting on a smaller rock really helped me get a feel for what these techniques will feel like and I’m excited to keep practicing and continue to feel more comfortable in high, exposed places.

Basic Mountaineering Class: Requirements Outside Scheduled Classes

Mountaineering school has sucked up almost every morsel of my free time the past 4 weeks. I’m definitely not complaining but I am looking forward to this intense period of learning tapering off.

Luckily, we’re on that horizon – on Monday, Alex and I took our knot tying test – and passed! – and our final classroom day and final exam is in two weeks. But for those considering the class (and my friends who’ve been wondering why I’ve been canceling all my plans), I wanted to share what is required OUTSIDE of the pre-scheduled classes.

When registering for Basic Mountaineering School, we knew we’d have weekly classroom nights (6-9:30 p.m. usually) and field days (like Navigation Day and tomorrow’s First Rock Day). What we didn’t know was that in addition, we also have weekly reading assignments (usually 4 chapters, ~100ish pages) in Freedom of the Hills (also known as the ‘mountaineering bible’), optional-but-not-really meet ups and at-home knot tying practice.

Basic Mountaineering School Mule Knot //

Business casual knot practice at REI.

The Monday before last, 1 week before our knot test, our group met at REI to practice tying the 15 knots on our test. Our test required we know the 15 knots and be able to explain their uses so that’s exactly what we practiced.

Basic Mountaineering School Kleimheist Knot //

Kleimheist-ing like a boss.

But before REI, Alex and I spent many nights and lunch breaks practicing our knots ahead of our meetup. We are both new to climbing so except for a handful of knots (figure 8, figure 8 retrace, figure 8 on a bight, overhand and double fisherman), we were starting from zero familiarity with names, uses or tying.

Another strongly encouraged meetup is ‘first rock wall night’ and ‘second rock wall night.’ On these nights, our group meets at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden (where CMC is headquartered and all classes are held) to use their way cool rock wall. Our first rock wall night was last Wednesday and we practiced tying in, belaying, climbing commands and escaping the belay. While climbing experience is encouraged, it’s not required for Basic Mountaineering School so students in our group range in ability from never, ever climbed before to solid sport climber. Alex and I are much closer to the beginner side of the spectrum, having gone to the climbing gym maybe 10-15ish times ever, but we’re quickly seeing improvement in our skills and technique.

Basic Mountaineering School Rock Climbing Practice //

Climbing in jeans is not a thing except when you come straight from work and forget your gym bag.

Our second rock wall night will be a few days before our Second Rock field day at the end of April so we can become familiar with the techniques we’ll be practicing in out in the field.

I feel extremely lucky to be taking this class with Alex. Having someone else go through the same intense time commitment and learning the same information has been so helpful for both of us. Last weekend, when I struggled to understand a component of the ‘fall factor’ equation in my reading, Alex and I were able to talk through it and we both better understand the concept for it. (Although, looking now at that Wikipedia article, I could have answered my own question immediately!) And practicing our climbing techniques and commands with the person who will be our primary climbing partner is really great – we’re already becoming familiar with each other’s styles and preferences. But most students don’t take this class with a significant other; we are definitely the outlier.

If you plan on taking Basic Mountaineering School with the Colorado Mountain Club’s Denver Chapter - just know, it’s even more of a significant time commitment than initially presented on the schedule or website, especially in the first weeks/month. Despite the stress and lack of free time, to me, it’s worth it to have a super-busy 4-6 weeks to gain valuable skills that are already opening new trails in the mountains to me.