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I climbed a mountain last weekend. No really, I did. Without the aid of motorized vehicles or Sherpa. AND it was in the dead of winter. This isn't something I typically do. I'm a self proclaimed reptile when it comes to temperatures. I just don't do well in extreme conditions, so I was even more astounded to find that I could hike with only two layers - a fleece and a softshell jacket. Amazing.

This whole thing started when Sara Lingafelter (@theclimbergirl) was chosen to go to Nepal with the Hanes Brands Everest team. She took a mountaineering course to prepare and reported about it on her blog. Katie Levey (@adventuregrrl) announced her intention to take a similar class shortly thereafter. While the idea had been planted in the back of my mind by Sara, I hadn't seriously considered taking a class myself. My man mountaineers and ice climbs. Last year I tried ice climbing to see why he likes it so much, so I figured this year I should try mountaineering, or "walking slowly uphill while not feeling well."

Having another lady to take the class with put me over the edge. I signed up for the Three Day Accelerated Mountaineering Course with Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. And so began (October.... November... December....) nearly four months of doubt and preparation.

My doubts:
- Surviving the cold
- Being in good enough shape to keep up
The preparation:
- Purchasing an obscene amount of Marmot cold weather gear.
- Running to help my cardio and legs.

We left DC around 1pm on the 7th, swung through PA to get Katie and headed up to NY, arriving by midnight. Here is how the weekend went.
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Day 1:

Topics Covered
Winter gear and clothing. We discussed layering systems, crampons and how to attach them, boots and ice axe use. Self arrest, then basic ice climbing.

We met our fearless leader Matt and fellow student Alex at the EMS store in Lake Placid. After a short into to the course and getting geared up in the store, we headed up to the old olympic ski hill and learned how to self arrest - sliding on a hill on your back, on your stomach, feet first and head first. It had been so long since I'd done something like that, it felt more like playing in the snow than mountaineering skills. We learned how to hold an axe and how to use it to stop a fall, how to walk with it, and what to do when you don't have an axe at all (don't tumble!)

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Pics from Katie
We drove to Cascade Pass where we set up on "Buster," an NEI 2-3 ice climb on Pitchoff Mountain. This was my second trip ice climbing, but for Katie and Alex if was their first. I belayed Matt while he set up the top rope, then I got to climb. My first time ice climbing was cold and uncomfortable. My boots fit poorly and we had a long wait at the bottom before getting to climb. This was a totally different experience. While I wasn't sure I liked it before this weekend, after this first climb I was sold!

After climbing we went back to the store, and then met George and Alex for dinner and beer at the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery. Katie and I were indecisive so we opted for the sampler :-D Mmmm, beer!

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Day 2:

Topics Covered
Multi-pitch ice climbing, simultaneous roped team movement, friction belays, multi-pitch safety.

Day two was supposed to be the coldest day of the week, with the high being 8 degrees F. Matt in his wisdom opted for an un-named climb in the sun (which we dubbed "Slushy" 'cause it melted a bit) where we stayed nice and warm. Inspired by Matt's thermos of chai, Katie and I purchased our own mini aluminum thermoses at EMS and were treated to hot chocolate all day. That is by far the best $15 I've ever spent.

Slushy - NEI 1-2 - was a three (more like 2) pitch climb with a steep first pitch and a low angle second pitch. At the top of the second pitch is a short vertical waterfall. Just for kicks we all climbed it. Back down at the anchor for the second pitch we readjusted ropes and rappelled the rest of the way down. This was my first multi-pitch ice climb. George and I have been on plenty of multi pitch rock climbs where I am usually pretty nervous. This climb wasn't nearly as scary. Either I'm getting braver, or being wrapped in so many layers dulled my nerves. Either way it was a fantastic day.

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Day 3:

Topics Covered
Snow shoe movement, layer adjustment, route finding, and summit exposure.

Summit Day! We began at 7am. The temperature outside was -8F. We loaded the car under a red sunrise and headed for the Adirondack Loj. Donning snow shoes for the first time was fun. While in some ways it made walking easier, in others they were a hassle. Going around ice bulges got a bit tricky but we managed to make our way around. I'd been "training" for this day for a while, and unfortunately not much of it paid off. I was still slow and had to stop to catch my breath. All I could think of was how much worse it could have been, and what I'd have to do to train for a "real" summit. Matt was a great guide and very understanding of my pace. The good thing about moving slowly was that I got to look around. The snow was amazing. The forest was perfectly still besides the clump clump of our snow shoes. I watched the trees get shorter and shorter as we approached the summit, finally diminishing to little ice covered twigs.

At the last fork in the trail we ran into people descending and got a weather report. They said it was windy and "disgusting cold." So on went the puffy and the goggles and the crampons. The higher we went the more the temperature dropped and the more the wind speed increased. When we finally stepped out from the trees onto the exposed summit it was like stepping onto another planet. Visibility was low, I could barely see the trail we came in on. I know it's not a mountain like those out west, but at that moment on the top of Algonquin I felt like I was in the Everest documentary. It was thrilling. I could have stayed up there for... at least 10 more minutes :) I felt like I was on top of the world, like all the hard work was worth it, like we were in the most wild and unexplored place... It was breathtaking.

Unfortunately visibility was dropping fast and we needed to head down. The goal was to get to the car by dark. Even though we didn't get to sit down and slide, the way down was much easier. We kept a good pace and reached the parking lot 10 minutes or so before dark, feeling exhausted and badass.

I learned so much, about mountaineering and about myself. Reflecting on the way home I was struck with an intense longing to be back out on that cold frozen stuff. I've never felt that way before. Being surrounded by such icy beauty. It makes the landscape I love so much seem even more untouched. I felt like I was breathing deeply for the first time in a long while. I never thought I'd say this... but I can't wait to get out again in the cold!

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Comments

01/16/2010 08:27

Loved reading this :) You wrote about things I forgot about, (Matt's chai), and I'm drinking out of that mug right now! Can't wait to go on another trip with you!

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Dena Verdin
01/20/2010 18:56

Awsome....I live across the lake in B-town. I've been wanting to take a mountaineering class. After reading you're story, I definitely will.

Dena

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Aleya
01/23/2010 13:08

Deana,

Definitely take the class - it was great! I'm working on the video I took of it too, should be done this week. The course was good, the instructor was great, the weekend was amazing. Very much worth it.

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