Tag Archives: learning

Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 2

I’m home after a week climbing out in Red Rocks, a beautiful park just outside of Las Vegas with climbing galore. It was a great trip, and a week of learning and growth on my part. One of my main goals was to get more pitches of traditional leads under my belt. Prior to this trip, I had only led one pitch on trad gear (traditional leading means that the first climber places pieces of gear for protection as they go. There are no bolts in the rock). Midway through our trip, I found myself struggling quite a bit. Read that post here if you haven’t had a chance.

Here’s how the rest of the week went:


After I took a day off, three of us went back to the Willow Spring area. A few days previous, I had led the first half of Tonto and set up an anchor, turning the climb into a mini multi-pitch. It wasn’t a pretty lead, but it was a lead nonetheless. I went up a few pieces, I came back down to collect myself, I went up and down again, and finally pushed through and made it to my goal.

Bringing Russell up on Tonto

Bringing Russell up on Tonto

We were back at that same climb again after two days. I knew I could climb the route; I had climbed it a few times and led half of it already. So it seemed like a good place to work more on my mental game. It turned out that a day off had done me a lot of good. I racked up, took a deep breath, and led the whole thing. There was no whimpering; I felt calm and confident. I placed a lot of gear in the initial crack and ran things out on the easier stuff up top. I kept breathing, I kept my focus. It felt amazing to get to the top and yell “Off Belay!” because I knew that I had just busted through a big mental barrier.

I brought up my other two partners, set up a rappel, and we all returned safely to the ground.

The next day, the three of us tackled a bigger objective. Solar Slab Gully. This is a five pitch climb (a pitch is the distance between where the first climber starts climbing and when they stop to set up an anchor and bring up the rest of their climbers), 540 feet total. The plan was that Russell would start us off, and we would decide leads as we went. He was prepared to lead the whole thing if necessary; we were just going to wait and see how I was feeling.

Oak Creek Canyon, our approach to Solar Slab Gully

Oak Creek Canyon, our approach to Solar Slab Gully

Zack starts the first pitch to Solar Slab Gully

Zack starts the first pitch to Solar Slab Gully

Russell led the first pitch, and I’m glad he did. It was a bit hairy in spots (spicy, as our guidebook liked to say), and scared me a bit even on toprope. We got to the top and I decided to take on the short second pitch. I geared up, made the crux move (the hardest move of the pitch) right at the start, climbed to the anchors and brought up my climbers. That felt pretty good, so I decided to keep leading. The third pitch was a long one, probably 180 feet. The first half is a really nice little chimney with a big exit move up top. Then it continues with quite a bit of slabby climbing and a short chimney to finish. That pitch felt really good, too. From there, we could see the top. So, after Russell and Zack joined me at the anchor, I led the last two short pitches.

That took us to the top of the climb. I realized then that I had just led all but the first pitch, and that all three of us were safely at the top. Mentally, it had all felt pretty solid. There were a few places that I had to breathe and take a moment to stay focused, but that’s part of the game. I was all smiles.

At the top of Solar Slab Gully

At the top of Solar Slab Gully

High fives were exchanged, smiles all around. It was a fun climb. After a short time at the top of Solar Slab Gully (and the base of the much bigger climb, Solar Slab), the three of us worked our way down to the rappel bolts. We teamed up with a pair from Germany, and three rappels later we found ourselves back at the bottom, packing our bags for the hour-long hike back to the car.

All in all, I led six pitches this trip, after feeling halfway through the week that maybe I wasn’t destined to be a trad leader at all. I learned, once again, that the process of moving through something that’s scary is not a straightforward one. This week was a very clear example of that. I pushed myself through something that felt really tough mentally. And from there, I actually needed a day to back away, process, and recover from that push. Once that happened, I was ready to take a step back and start again.

I emerged from this week as a more confident trad leader, and that was exactly what I was hoping for. I’m at the beginning, and there’s a long way to go, but it’s a solid start.

A big thanks to Seth and Russell and Zack and Paul for cheering me on, supporting me, and respecting my process. What a fantastic week of climbing it was.

Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 1

Me up top, building an anchor.

Me up top, building an anchor.

Yesterday, I led my second pitch of trad, ever. For those who don’t know, traditional climbing means that you place your own protection as you go. Placing gear in cracks that will catch you if you fall. It’s cool because any piece of rock with a crack can be protected, and nothing is leftover once you’re finished.

The thing about leading trad, though, is it can be pretty scary.

I’m in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area this week, outside of Las Vegas. A rock climbers’ mecca. Easy to moderate trad is one of the specialties here. My big goal for the week was/is to get more trad leads under my belt. I knew that meant pushing myself, and I knew that it would be a week of growth.

I led that climb yesterday. I whimpered, I fumbled for gear, I lowered on my gear and started again from the bottom. I made it up, built an anchor out of gear, and brought up my second on it. It was scary, it was mentally tough, but I did it. It took a while and a bit of encouragement, but I did it.

That was yesterday. And then there was today. Our group moved to a crag with low-grade trad climbs. I led first. 5 feet above my first piece, the panic set in. That was the end of that lead. I downclimbed and swapped leads with Seth.

Frustration. Anger. Disappointment. I followed that route and only climbed one more for the day. My head was wrecked. Everything felt scary. I sat in the sun and took photos.

Back in the condo tonight I talked with my husband about it. He told me that today wasn’t a failure. It’s just part of the process. I needed that reminder.

Tomorrow Seth and Paul head off to climb Solar Slab, a long route that will take them most of the day. The other three of us will be heading out for some more single pitch trad. And tomorrow I’ll rack up and do what I can to get a few more trad leads under my belt. All part of the process.

—- Read Part 2 of this post here

Wilderness First Aid

It was a cold, rainy November day. Seth and I were on a hike down by the river bottoms when we heard some groans from ahead on the trail. We turned a corner and saw a mountain bike strewn across the trail. To the side lay a woman tangled in the bushes, leg wrapped around a tree. We did a quick scan of the area and ran over to help her. She had been riding at a good clip, lost control, and landed here. The details were foggy. Her leg was obviously injured, and she had a pretty good bump on her head.

Ok… before you get too far into this, you should know that this didn’t really happen. This is a fake scenario that was presented to us in the Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course that we took earlier this month. Alright, continuing on….

Marianna's fake head wound.

Marianna’s fake head wound.

Seth held her head in case of a c-spine injury, and we had her hold a handkerchief to her head wound to stop the bleeding. We checked her airway, her breathing, and her pulse, and I did a more thorough assessment to see if there were more injuries. Her spine was sore, and her leg was most likely broken. We made her as comfortable as we could, kept her head stabilized, and I constructed a make-shift splint out of what we had on us. We decided we would need help getting her out, so we called for help and kept an eye on her vitals while we waited.

Once we were finished with the assessment, our mountain biker stood up, brushed the dirt off her pants, and we all headed back into our classroom to discuss what we had done right and what we could have done better.

This particular WFA course was through the NOLS Wilderness Medical Institute. 16 hours over a weekend. A fair amount of time was spent in the classroom learning about the basics of first aid care. We wrapped ankles, built splints out of sleeping pads, learned the symptoms of shock, hypothermia, dehydration, etc, and we learned how to give a thorough and helpful report to a rescue team if needed.

That knowledge was immediately put to use in scenarios outside, where folks would pretend to be hurt. Our injured included climbers, skiers, mountain bikers, hikers… fake blood, fake bruises, and even fake compound fractures. They were armed with details about their allergies, their medications, what they had eaten that day, and even the last time they urinated. The grand finale was rescuing a woman out of an avalanche chute. We had to make tough decisions about how many people to send in, and how much to treat before moving her (and us) to safety. By the end we had her wrapped up in a burrito to keep her warm and called for a rapid evac (after moving her out of harms way, of course).

It was a fun weekend, it was a very informative weekend, and I learned a lot. I’d recommend a course like this to anyone who’s doing any serious playing in the outdoors. I walked away feeling very fortunate that I haven’t encountered any serious injuries on a trip up to this point. Now I feel equipped to assess the severity of a situation, if it arises, and I can administer basic medical care until more definitive care can be reached. I hope I never have to use these skills, but I’m glad to have them. I’m also glad to know how to tape an ankle.

Thank you to the NOLS Wilderness Institute, and to REI for hosting this course.





My First Trad Lead: Spire Two

Spire Two. A few years ago, this climb had been my first multi-pitch attempt. I had followed our guide up the first pitch, and after some time at the first belay station found myself spiraling into a panic. I lowered off the climb (full story here). Now, three years later, I was back to not only climb the route, but to lead it. Seth and I had chosen it as our first trad leads.

Hiking in to the Cathedral Spires

Hiking in to Spire Two

The Cathedral Spires are a line of tall, pointy rocks perched high in the Black Hills in South Dakota. There are five main spires in the group, and many ways to climb them. Spire Two is a three-pitch climb with decent placements and bolted anchors. Seemed like a good choice for us.

I had been practicing gear placements at our local crag, placing gear on top rope, having them checked by another climber, asking questions. I had plenty of sport leading under my belt, and following of trad pitches. I had been pouring through “Freedom of the Hills,” making sure I wasn’t missing anything. Books can only get you so far, though, and at some point, it was time to just go for it.

Starting up the first pitch.

Starting up the first pitch. I really should have worn a red shirt!

A relatively short hike in got us to the base of Spire Two, both excited and nervous to do our first trad leads on this rock. It was a gorgeous, sunny morning, not another human in sight. We knew we would be slow at the belay stations, and weather was expected to move in later, so we set a turn-around time for ourselves and stuck to it.

Seth flaked the rope, I racked up, we exchanged high fives, and off I went, up the first pitch.

And…. I loved it.

I felt focused. Hyper aware of what I was doing, where I was. No other thoughts were swimming around in my brain. I was out in this beautiful place, climbing this spire, and that was all that was happening. There were no other people around, no commotion of any sort. Just me, the rock, a gentle breeze, and the sound of my gear clinking together as I climbed. It was amazing.

I knew that I didn’t want to fall. There are good gear placements on the route, but there really aren’t any clean falls. The climbing was not difficult, I just needed to be thoughtful. I didn’t feel overwhelmingly scared, I didn’t feel anxious. I just felt focused. Again, an amazing feeling.

Happy after my first trad lead

Happy after my first trad lead

Top of 2nd pitch. Seth's first trad lead!

Top of 2nd pitch. Seth’s first trad lead!

I reached the top of the first pitch, anchored myself in, and set up the belay for Seth. This was the place where I had panicked three years earlier. Now I felt calm and collected. It’s really fun to see that mental progress! Seth climbed up to join me, more high fives were exchanged, and we continued on. Time for Seth’s first trad lead now, on the second pitch of the climb. He rocked it.

On Rappel!

On Rappel!

We decided to rappel back down from the top of the second pitch. It was nearing our turn around time, we had felt the wind shift, and we knew we were going to be slow. By the time we reached our car, it was raining.

Seth and I learned a LOT on this climb. We picked a route we knew we could do, and we allowed ourselves ample time to figure it out and triple-check everything. We didn’t make it to the top, but I still considered the day a success.

We both fell in love with trad climbing that day, and as we continue to learn more, a whole new world of climbing is opening up for us! Seth has gone on to do a lot more trad since, and I’m not far behind. As for Spire Two, I still haven’t finished the entire route, but it’ll get ticked off next season.



Strengthening My Lead Head

Marianna a.k.a. "Rope Gun"

Marianna a.k.a. “Rope Gun”

“Do you want to take some jumps today?” That’s my friend and climbing partner, Marianna. We also lovingly refer to her as our rope gun. She’s a super strong climber, and she seemingly has a lead head of steel. Her idea of practicing lead falls at the gym is getting to the very top, not clipping, and having her belayer let out a little *more* slack before she jumps off the wall. Once she’s dangling comfortably from the rope, you can usually hear her laughing.

I’ve been working to build my lead head again lately. It was at a decent level, but a few months ago it tanked. I was back to the beginning, afraid to even fall from a clip. I knew I had to actively work on getting it back, and Marianna’s style of practicing falls just wasn’t right for me.

So, what have I been doing?

I started, not by taking huge falls, but by taking small ones. The first day, I would climb, clip my rope, and fall (and that was even hard for me mentally). On lead, this is usually still a bit of a fall, and has a different feel to it than falling on toprope. Every clip I would do the same. Climb, clip, take a fall. Climb, clip, fall, etc.

Once that felt ok, I took it one step further. I’d clip, make one move above the clip, and fall. Then two moves, and fall. You get the idea. I find that I’m surprised when the falls are just fine. Before I let go, my brain tells me it’s going to be scary and horrible and I just might die. And then I let go anyway and find that I’m very comfortably caught by my belayer and a stretchy rope. I like it when my brain is wrong about things like that.

The next step for me has been doing this kind of practice with different belayers. I’m very careful about who I’ll let belay me on lead, but the folks that I regularly climb with are all good, attentive belayers. The first few falls with a different person on the brake are always a bit unknown, but learning how their catches feel gives me a boost in confidence when I’m climbing.

I have a long way to go. I start from the beginning each session, but I feel myself moving through the falls more quickly every time, and my general confidence with leading is returning as a result. I’m not yet to the point where I can just go for a big move well above my last clip, knowing that it’s going to be ok if I fail. But, that’s where I’m headed. And my friend, Marianna, who likes to leap from the top of the wall, is happy to catch my comparatively tiny falls in the meantime, while I work my way up.

Tiny Adventures: Snow Camping

The temperature crept up to nearly 50F last week. Snow was melting and the rumor was that one of the south facing walls at Barn Bluff in Red Wing was dry and warm, ready to climb. The forecast looked good, so Seth and I packed up our gear and our tent and headed down. It turned out to be a bit more of an adventure than expected!

First Outdoor Climbs of the Season:

Hiking into Barn Bluff

Hiking in to the climbs


The hike in was still quite snowy, and a lot of it was just plain ice. We still had a little bit of snow in our backyard, so I’m not sure why this surprised me, but it did. The wall that’s dry is the wall with more difficult climbs on it, so it was more of a project day than a sending stuff day. We hung out and worked a few routes before heading to our campsite.

Excited to Climb!

Snowy Camping:

We chose a walk-in site at Frontenac State Park and realized very quickly that we were probably the first to camp there in quite a while. The trail and the sites all had probably 10″ of snow covering them, something I didn’t expect at all, although in retrospect it seems pretty obvious that snow would be a possibility. This is where the tiny adventure part of the trip begins. Believe it or not, I had never set up a tent in snow before!

The question turned out to be, how do we stake out the rain fly when the ground is frozen (That was my question, at least. Seth knew all about using deadman anchors, extending the anchors with rope, tying something to the end and covering it with snow to hold it in place)? Since we weren’t very worried about rain, and the design of the tent keeps the rainfly above the mesh at the top, we just let it flap in the wind. Problem solved.

Once the tent was set up, our next project was getting a fire going. Remember the snow in our campsite? There was also ice in the firepit. A big chunk of it. I wasn’t sure how that was going to work, either, but Seth was confident that it would all be ok.

Campfire on Ice

Campfire on Ice

We stacked our firewood and kindling and got the fire going, but as the ice melted, it took the coals with it. We had picked up two bundles of firewood in town and quickly realized we would need more. As Seth went back into town for more firewood, I kept the fire going, bailing out water from the firepit as the ice melted.

Seth returned victoriously with more firewood, and by the end of the evening we had steamed all of the ice/water out and had a roaring fire going. We threw some hobo packs on the fire, filled with seasoned ground beef and lots of veggies, and had a delicious meal before heading to bed.

Our delicious meal

I loved that we were the only people out there, camping in the snow, making a fire on the ice, and making it work. I learned all about staking out a tent in the snow (even thought we didn’t actually do it) and the wonder of meat and veggies cooked in tinfoil. Another successful tiny adventure!

I Did That! A Reverse Bucket List

Last week, Katie of Adventure Inspired wrote up her reverse bucket list, a list that looks back at things she *has* accomplished, instead of only looking forward. I loved the idea so much that I decided to write up one of my own. What a great way to reflect on the awesome things that I’ve done, and create a nice springboard from which to do even *more* awesome stuff! Here’s mine:

  • Climb: When I was a kid I could always be found up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. There was a perfect spot to hang out and read a book, or look out around the neighborhood. Now I’m climbing rock (and plastic) instead. Climbing is fun, it’s challenging, and it keeps me growing as a person. It takes me to beautiful places, both locally and around the country, and I’ve met some great people. Climbing has changed me for the better.

  • Play in a professional orchestra: I studied bassoon seriously for a good portion of my life. I’ve performed with full orchestras, chamber groups, and in solo recitals, and worked freelance on a semi-professional level for several years. One of the high points was playing a few concerts with the Akron Symphony Orchestra in Akron, OH. I got to play some of my favorite repertoire with a fantastic group of musicians. It was magical.
  • Get paid to travel: While playing bassoon, I got paid to play in orchestras in the Cayman Islands and Monterrey, Mexico. All travel expenses included.
  • Move across the country on my own: I moved to Minnesota, leaving friends and family behind, and not knowing a soul in my new home. It was scary, but I did it, and now I feel that I could move anywhere and be ok (although Minnesota is pretty rad, so no immediate plans).
  • IMG_1292Build my own bicycle: With some help, I took my dad’s old steel ten-speed, stripped it down to the frame, repainted it, and rebuilt it as a single speed. I love this bike, and I love it even more knowing that I built it myself. I now can do most repairs on my own when I need to. Fun fact: my bike was recently used in a Columbia Sportswear photo shoot.
  • Take a trapeze lesson: I had a day on my own in L.A. a few years back, and decided to take a flying trapeze lesson on the Santa Monica Pier. Lots of fun.

She flies through the air….

  • Learn to garden: My mom has a green thumb, which I did not inherit. But, the past few years I’ve been experimenting with growing my own vegetables. There have been successes and miserable failures, but each year I learn a little bit more. Last year I started some seeds indoors and grew my own seedlings to plant outside! It’s great fun, and I have big plans, already, for the upcoming season.
  • Climb a mountain: Actually climb, with ropes and equipment. I climbed the Grand Teton with my husband this past summer and it was so very, very cool. Definitely one of my life’s highlights to date.
Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton. Photo: Greg Duncan

Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton. Photo: Greg Duncan

  • _MG_0392

    My hand-knit hiking sweater

    Knit a sweater: I learned to knit about five years ago from a good friend, and before I knew it I was beyond hats and on to knitting socks that I actually wear on my feet. I’ve knit myself a hiking sweater and a vest that I wear constantly, and right now I’m in the midst of knitting a kick-ass sweater for my husband. I’m ridiculously proud to be able to say that I knit things like sweaters.

  • Drive a Tractor: I was on a farm, there was a tractor, and I ended up driving it. True story
  • Be physically strong: After four years of climbing and two years of consistent kettlebell training, I can say that I am strong. I can snatch a 16kg kettlebell and climbed across the ceiling again last night at the gym. I’ve learned to do pull-ups this year, and am working up to 3000 pull-ups with my husband.  Ladies, if you’ve never done any strength training, I highly recommend it. The feeling of strength is empowering (and you don’t have the testosterone in your body to get bulky).
  • Bike through Yellowstone: Seth and I rented bikes and rode 34 miles round trip to Old Faithful and back to our car. We cautiously passed a herd of buffalo standing at the side of the road, complete with frolicking baby buffalo.


    A cold ride through the plains of Yellowstone.

  • Overcome my fear of flying: I once got to a flight gate, turned around, and went back home, because I couldn’t will myself to get on the airplane. While I still have to use some tricks, I can fly when I need to and not have it completely ruin my day. I love to travel, so it’s something I’m glad I’ve been able to deal with!
  • IMG_1039Learn to Cross-Country Ski: Minnesota has taught me that when the winters are long and cold, it’s best not to stay locked indoors. When I get out and enjoy the snow, my sanity remains intact.
  • Write on the interwebs: This blog is small, and it has a only a modest amount of readers, but I know that some of my posts have had positive effects on people. Whether it’s inspiration, or just creating stoke for their own adventures, I love to be able to connect with people, even if in a small way. Here are some of my favorite posts.
  • 2012_11_06_02324Find a fairy tale relationship: A little sap to throw in here…. I got married in my 30s, so I went through enough relationships that didn’t quite work to realize what a gem I have now (turns out love is *not* all you need. Sorry, Beatles). My husband is the kind of man I’ve always dreamed of having in my life, and I am thankful for him every day. Not only do I have a great man in my life, but together we make a great team. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
  • Learn to play in the outdoors: I have *always* wanted to go camping and hiking and frolic in the great outdoors. But, for some reason, it just never quite happened. I blame the many hours a day chained to a practice room in my former life, but the truth is I just never made it happen. In the past few years, I’ve camped and hiked more than I had probably in my entire life before that, and I love it. Love it, love it, love it.

That was a fun exercise! Thanks to Katie for the idea. What’s on *your* reverse bucket list?


Pull-Up Progressions by Ron


Well, it’s happened. I have finally successfully completed my first strict, tactical pull-up! And my second one, and my third!

If you know me, you know that this has been a long time coming. It was well over a year ago when I made this a goal for myself. Why did it take so long? I was impatient. I would work on it for a while, get frustrated, stop. Then I’d get inspired again and work on it some more, get frustrated, etc. etc.

I spoke with Ron, one of my kettlebells instructors, about this goal. He gave me a progression to work with, and it didn’t involve a band (which is good, because I use a hangboard instead of a bar). The progressions worked. The key to getting the progressions to work, however, is patience, which I lacked. But eventually I adopted the attitude that I would just do a little work each day, working from wherever I was, and before I knew it, I was there. As Ron says, there are no shortcuts.

Below you will find the progressions I used. It’s important to give each step its due diligence before moving on to the next. Patience and consistency in practice. Slow and steady, the turtle and all that. Continue reading

Tiny Adventures: Broomball & Ice Climbing

The Tiny Adventures series is a challenge I’ve set for myself to have one or more tiny adventures every week that fit within my daily life. Adventure is often thought of as something big and grand, but opportunities for adventure in everyday life are all around us. This is my test of that theory.

Today in Minneapolis, it is 43 degrees and the sun is shining; the first time the temp has been above freezing in many weeks (probably months). It feels like spring and my mind is turning to all of the fun things that await us once the snow is melted. Looking back on this week’s adventures, however, it’s clear that it doesn’t have to be warm out to have a good time.

  • Went to a broomball game: The outside temp was -10F, but we bundled up, filled a water bottle with hot water and jello, and went to cheer on our friends’ broomball team. Never having seen broomball before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It seems to me that it’s basically hockey without the skates. Hockey sticks are replaced with ‘brooms,’ and instead of a puck there’s a foam ball that is batted around. The best part of the game was watching them all run on the ice. Even with special sticky shoes, their legs moved faster than their bodies. It was fun to watch.

Continue reading