Women in Early Climbing —

how did climbing shape your life?

High Clip from The Dihedral invited me to write a blog post for her series, Women in Early Climbing. I struggled because I’m not a climber. I told High Clip, “I don’t think I can write this, you see, I’m not a climber.”

She said, “I think you are.” She said I had a climber’s mentality. I returned to the problem and then I saw the long-term effect of my early climbing life on everything that happened afterward and the person I became, am, now. I hope you enjoy it!

Women in Early Climbing —

Writer’s Rock

If you missed me yesterday (as I am the center of the universe and all) nothing happened. I took a pause from my own blog. I was writing a blog post most of the morning and it was actually ON topic for the RagTag Daily Prompt word of the day (survival) but it wasn’t for my blog. I was invited some time back to write a guest post for The Dihedral for their series Women in Climbing.

My biggest challenge, of course, is that I’m not a climber.

I gave the post a shot a few days ago with the idea of writing about teaching Critical Thinking through Nature Writing. After a couple thousand words, I realized I wasn’t even interested in what I was writing, and no one else would be, either, least of all climbers. English teachers? Maybe, but probably not.

I wrote to them that I didn’t think I could do it. After all, I’m not a climber. High-Clip, who’s coordinating the series, said she thought I was and maybe I could try again.

I began thinking about my rock climbing experiences — because I actually have some — and I thought about why, long ago, I stopped at a certain point in my progress. After a while, I saw how important to my life climbing had been. I climbed enough to understand what climbing is, and that understanding — of climbing and myself — led to my decision not to pursue it beyond what I was doing and had done safely.

I also thought about the differences between, say, 1969 when I was 17, and today for climbing. 1969 was nearly 20 years before the first indoor climbing gym opened in the US. It was 25 years before crash pads for bouldering came into use. It was a few years before Title IX opened opportunities for girls in school sports. Among my group of climbing friends back in the day I was the only girl. Now many women climb.

And then, within climbing itself, many devices and tools, shoes and clothing have been invented that make climbing safer and, some say, easier. Old-timers like Reinhold Messner have nothing but contempt for these things, but then he has been known to be contemptuous of oxygen. 😉

The Dihedral is one of my favorite blogs. It’s written by a group of young climbers writing about their experiences climbing and in life. I don’t know yet if the piece is going to work for them, but I’m honored to have been asked and honored to have been called a climber by people who actually do climb.


Free Solo — Rock Climbing is Not a Pathology

Last night I finally got to watch Free Solo. There were a lot of things about it that bothered me, but I was not in the least bothered by Alex Honnold’s quest to climb El Cap without any protection at all. I was glad someone was at the top with ropes so he could get down, though.

I hate the idea that wanting to do something as absolutely mind-blowingly dangerous as climbing that enormous rock without protection is pathological, and that theory riffled through the film. Was his dad on the Asperger’s spectrum? Why didn’t his parents ever tell him, “I love you”? Did it cripple him emotionally that his mother only spoke French at home (French teacher)? Did the fact that his mother had high standards for his achievement (he was a gifted kid in school and she WAS a teacher) cause him to seek out ever more challenging scenarios to prove his worthiness? Did his parents’ divorce sour him on romantic love? Is he emotionally deficient that he can’t form romantic relationships easily with a hot, dimpled chick who sees in him the fulfillment of her biological urges? The film was full of this.

To make a film that would have a wider audience than just a climbing film might have? I dunno…

The only pathology I saw was that he stayed with his girlfriend after climbing with her caused him to get significant injuries TWICE because of her ignorance and negligence. Compression fractures in his spine and a severely sprained ankle? I’d be, you know, “Hey, Sweetcheeks, I don’t think you get it. Get out of my van.”

I don’t think wanting to climb El Cap without protection is pathological. Climbing El Cap has gone in that direction since the first time it was climbed (a three day adventure if I remember right). Relentlessly climbers have sought to climb that rock with less equipment and faster.
There was a lot in the movie about Honnold’s view of death. If you’re going to climb — particularly a big rock face without protection — you are choosing to risk your life. Not everyone can make that choice. For most of us, death is thrust upon us one way or another, but none of us gets out alive. I personally believe a person has a right to choose to risk his/her own life. I don’t think it’s a pathology at all, and Honnold seems to have taken personal responsibility for his decision. I liked his mom saying, “It is what makes him happy. Who am I to try to stop him?” or something to that effect.

Honnold practiced, planned, evaluated, did every possible kind of preparation to prevent the abysmal (see what I did?) outcome. It was no spontaneous stunt; it was something that he prepared for over the course of years, a lifetime, just as a ballerina might prepare for the moment she enters the stage — finally — as the prima ballerina.

BUT I guess straight climbing might not net an Academy Award. Maybe all the squishy interpersonal relationship stuff and psycho-babble makes the story of a man climbing a giant rock face more entertaining? Relatable? More like reality TV?

CAVEAT I don’t really “like” either Honnold or his girlfriend. They’re not my kind of people. Honnold is walking billboard for The North Face (fine, an athlete needs a sponsor) who knew how to create drama around his amazing ascent of El Cap, and his chick? She hit the gravy train with him. To me, legit anything is done without an audience, and these two are all about audience. It’s a different generation, I think. That said, I still like Reinhold Messner.

No Longer a Hot Spot

Here in the San Luis Valley (like much of the world) we have some awesome geology. The west side of the valley — the San Juan Mountains — shows evidence of a gigantic volcano. The La Garita Caldera volcanic event was:

“…the second greatest of the Cenozoic Era. The resulting Fish Canyon Tuff has a volume of approximately 1,200 cubic miles (5,000 km3), rating it an 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. By comparison, the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mt. St. Helens was 0.25 cubic miles (1.0 km3) in volume.

By contrast, the most powerful human-made explosive device ever detonated, the Tsar Bomba, had a yield of 50 megatons, whereas the eruption at La Garita was about 5,000 times more energetic. However, because Tsar Bomba’s reaction was complete within seconds, while a volcanic explosion can take seconds or minutes, the power of the events are comparable if measured within the respective bounded timeframes. It is the most energetic event to have taken place on Earth since the Chicxulub impact which, at 240 teratons,[7] was approximately one thousand times more powerful than La Garita.”


The La Garita was enormous, obviously and all around the west side of the San Luis Valley are smaller (but still very large) calderas such as the Bonanza Caldera, parts of the main event, with a caldera some 15 miles (24 km) across (Crater Lake is 5 miles across).

On the west side of the San Luis Valey, there are signs everywhere on the of all this ancient volcanic activity. There are lots of small, pointy piles of rocks eroded from some long ago splooches of magma and canyons with beautiful rock formations, such as Penitente Canyon. (Featured photo, taken by me in March 2017) 

The San Juan volcanic field is part of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. There are approximately fifteen calderas known in the San Juan Volcanic Fields; however, it is possible that there are two or even three more in the region.

The region began with many composite volcanoes that became active between 35 and 40 million years ago and were particularly eruptive in the time period around 35-30 million years ago. Around this time the activity changed to explosive ash-flow eruptions. Many of these volcanoes experienced caldera collapse, resulting in the fifteen to eighteen caldera volcanoes in the region today.

Wikipedia “San Juan Volcanic Field”


Map of the Caldera Rim and surrounding area. Map provided by Bill Hatcher.

The other side of the Valley is pretty interesting geologically, too. There is Great Sand Dunes National Park and the sharp peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, much younger than the San Juans.

Dusty T. Dog and my neighbor at the Sand Dunes, October 2017

I haven’t explored much in “my” valley yet. I hope that this summer, when the blessed snow has melted and the ticks and mosquitoes are rife, I can get out on the trails and see what is in my reach.