Showing posts with label Katie Lambert Rock Climber. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Katie Lambert Rock Climber. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Yukon Ho!

"You have no rights here!" had just been yelled at me. I gripped the handle of our luggage cart tighter and took a deep breath. I was nervous and very uneasy with the Canadian Customs officer who was holding our customs form and staring me in the eye. The form with all of it's checked boxes, signatures and scribbles in red clearly meant something very bad for us. We had been stopped from going through the security gate and directed into this other room. We had no nuts, fruits, or meats - no drugs, alcohol, bombs or weapons, although there was a Gerber knife in there somewhere and our first aid kit was beefed up with quite a few painkillers - this made me even more nervous. No one was telling us why we were in here.

I scanned the room looking at the others who had been sent to this windowless dungeon looking for clues as to what our fortune might be. Quizzical, concerned looks adorned the faces of the elderly Pakistani couple, the Mexican family the same as well as the other French speaking Canadians. It appeared there was some question of identity with all of these people. In the far back corner was a young guy and four other customs officers; His luggage splayed out on the stainless steel table. He seemed cool and collected despite the fact that these strangers were invading his every personal belonging they could. It didn't look good. 

More questions were spewed our way: had we been to Canada before? Had we ever had trouble at the border before? Had we ever been turned around before? And then it hit me like a crashing wave. Yes! In 2007 while going to Squamish I had been denied entry into Canada. The end result of a circumstance of bad raps and dirty cops the summer of 2006 in Yosemite. An ordeal which included an arrest, a strip search, an orange jump suit, a cold night in jail and multiple days of court resulting in a payoff that ended with no charges. How was I suppose to explain that to a customs officer? It was complicated and the female in control of my entry in 2007 was not pleased with this most unusual circumstance. She printed out 30 pages of material stating I wouldn't be allowed in, I could retry in five years, it would cost me $200 and please sign here. I was devastated. On our way back over to the American side we were informed by a different customs officer that I should retry as what had just gone down wasn't exactly kosher. Determined to continue with our climbing trip we found alternate means of getting across the border that summer and I put the incident behind me. 

But, here it was again! Those 30 pages had been filed and it appeared that they weren't going to let me in again. I pleaded that I must be let in the country, there was a lot riding on this trip - I was part of a team, we were going into the mountains, we were going on an expedition to the Yukon. I stood there thinking of all the possibilities - what if they denied me? would they pay for my return to the States? What would I even do? Go climbing elsewhere? Go back to the Sierra? Rent a car and cross the border in a smaller town? Would I drive all the way to the Yukon? My partner and I were worried. If denied we would have quite a hefty task of divying up all the gear.  Sweat was beading up above my lip.

Sensing the rising tension between us and officer number one a different customs officer interjected. He whisked us away from the angry man with whom I seemed to be having very little success. Two hours after having entered this cement cell of a room we were waiting at our next gate. "Welcome to Canada," the flight attendant said with a cheer. We were relieved to be a let in, I could breath more normally now. We were excited to see what situations we might find ourselves in in the comings weeks of our trip.

Twenty days into our expedition my husband (Ben Ditto) and I stood atop  the 2000 foot tall Mt.Proboscis. We had just made an all free complete ascent of Proboscis via the Original Route Variation (Women at Work - VI 5.12R) A rare and unique experience. It had taken us 17 days and 3 attempts for this to happen. Weather had turned us around prior and we had gotten quite used to the cold, wet climbing as well as the possibility of retreat. As long as we were prepared we would be ok, so in our climbing kit for the day aside from food and water we carried jackets, rain jackets, webbing, pain killers, tape and the gerber knife - because you just never know. 

As we stood on the top of the wall reveling in it's grandeur and the vast expanse of glaciers and peak that stretched on as far as the eye could see we knew that we were only half way. We would have to rappel the entire formation to get back to the ground. Hopefully we could descend the wall with ease as it had taken us 13 hours to climb and it was just about dark now. There would be no room for any serious error. 

The first 13 rappels went surprisingly well aside from small rock fall and some rope trickery to avoid any snags. We were making good time and were feeling a bit at ease as we descended into the first five pitches of the route.  Territory that had come to be quite familiar to us as we had climbed it three times by now.These sections had been running with some of the coldest water on earth and we had jammed hands, arms and legs into these crevices as we ascended the wall. On our way down we tried to avoid the wetness as much as possible, we had had our fair share of it's icy demeanor. There were only three more long rappels to the ground; we were feeling some elation now that the ground was in sight. 

As we huddled together at the anchor pulling our ropes they became snagged. They would not budge. We pulled harder. We flung them around, hoping they would cut loose. Nothing, except a general feeling of devastation. We looked at each other, we looked up above. All around us was darkness; our headlamps only illuminating the immediate space around us - their light disappearing up the wall. We could just make out the blue and green pattern of nylon snaking its way up and around a series of ledgy flakes about 50 feet above and to the right. We had never really had trouble descending here before but now it appeared our ropes were wrapped up in this mess. We were stuck up here in the dark, in the water, our friends asleep at base camp, the rest of the world hundreds of miles away.

We had two options - one of us could re-climb this soaking wet pitch and possibly sort out the stuck bits of rope or we could cut the rope and continue with whatever was left. It was around 1am, we were tired, we were cold and neither one of us could muster the psyche to go back up. We went for option two and out came the Gerber. The sharp metal cut through the rope and we hoped for the best as it sprang upwards and vanished. Down came a pile of cord at our feet consisting of one full 70 meter rope and what turned out to be only about 50 feet worth of tag line. Tying the two together would be useless, we would be better off using the one 70meter rope. 

It wasn't long enough to descend to the remaining three established rappels. Dis-ease came upon us. All we wanted was to get off this wall, to get out of here, to be back in our tents with the promise of going home in our pockets. We had to build intermediate anchors, leaving some gear and webbing behind on the wall. The last 500 feet turned into 5 rappels in 3 hours. At the last rappel, too tired and weary to build and leave yet another intermediate anchor we fixed our 70 meter rope to the existing anchor and used it as a single line all the way to the ground. It's full length stretched thin giving us our final escape to the world below. Around 4am we were finally back on ground. It had taken us six hours to get down. We staggered back to camp with the moon cast shadow of Mt.Probiscis to our backs. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Winter Recap

Spring is here and with it we should be feeling some sort of relief from the heavy snow laden winter but really it has us wondering the winter ever went. The Sierra much like the rest of the Western Hemisphere experienced the warmest and driest winter on record. Being a climber this made for amazing climbing days but being a nature lover it has me concerned for our environment - it's meadows, rivers, lakes and the central valley with it's orchards, farms and the hundreds of thousands merging into millions of people who rely on that food. But, I try and not dwell too long on the harsh reality that stares us all in the face and look more to what good things I can do with the time that I have - primarily what a great climbing season the winter was and what a good one the spring looks like it will be.

We spent a great deal of time in Bishop - where there were almost too many splitter days - so much so that we had to force ourselves to take rest days. Bouldering occupied the first of the winter months. I returned to the Buttermilks and the Tablelands with some very specific (some even leftover from years prior) projects in mind and to my surprise and delight most all came to pass quickly.

Yayoi Left – V8; Morning Dove White – V7; Working Class - V8; Pope's Roof – V7; Wills Arete – V5; Grotesque Old Woman – V7

Acid Wash Right SDS – V9; Strength in Numbness SDS - V9

And while these problem are by no means groundbreaking ascents they did mean a lot to me and kept me pretty inspired to keep trying things and seeking out lines that suit me. Soon enough though this had me with a whole list of new projects – most of which had me feeling like I was beating my head against the wall. It was time for a change before I got too burnt out.

Luckily or unluckily, depending on your take, Tioga Pass was open late into January and I took the opportunity to try my hand at Midnight Lightning – making amazing progress and getting some un winter crack climbing in as well. Ben and I then took another trip to S.Utah for some more Limestone fun. I had about two weeks of time there and didn't fixate on any one thing but mostly developed a program of getting in as many pitches and pump as possible in a day. I climbed some really great routes there – Baleen – 5.12a, Purple Haze – 5.12d, The Infadels – 5.13a. I tried Indulgence and the Cross and I gave a go at Coach at the VRG and found all to be of quality and fun movement - all things to go back for! Sadly my two weeks went by far too quickly but I left for Yosemite to help our non-profit Sacred Rok with some youth trips and do some climbing. I went out crack cragging at the Finger Licken clif and did some routes I had never climbed before as well as some recently put up lines. With Sacred Rok we took the kids out scrambling around on rocks and trails and playing in the snow. Their excitement and wonder of the natural world inspired me in ways that felt refreshing and new. These trips with the youth inspire dreaming and stories and show me what it means to find yourself and your path. I was excited about all the potential I was seeing in the freedom of being outside and everything that a life lived following a dream has to offer.

Once again I returned to Bishop in the later half of the winter and I primarily focused on route climbing. I made a new girl friend climbing partner – something I've been longing for in my climbing for years – and together we descended on the Owen's River Gorge for 12 pitch days and routes that seemed improbable. I was given permission to start climbing on an old discarded project from 12 plus years ago and after a few guy friends made some ascents of it I successfully made the first female ascent of it – Holey Wars 13c. I tried my luck on the steep roof crack Looney Tunes (5.13b) and was excited to be clipping the anchors on my 3rd go. I went for another steep and reachy (manufactured) classic 13a called Aurora. I had it so wired that I incorporated it into my mega pitch training days down there. And just when the season was getting too hot and the rattlesnakes were making their appearances I made an ascent of a line called Fight Club (5.13b). This is a line that seemed so unlikely for someone of my frame but I tried it anyway for the fun of seeing what I could do – and at the last possible moment on the last possible day I had before once again returning to Yosemite I successfully redpointed.

And so here I am back in the land of the giants starting another spring and summer climbing season. And where Sacred Rok will be hosting a series of youth trips into Yosemite for day trips, trail work days, camping trips and hopefully continuing to inspire in the youth that sense of wonder and purpose. I kicked it off the season by climbing Separate Reality and Tales of Power – two classic lines that epitomize Valley free climbing. From this view it looks like it will be a long and dry season and hopefully a season of long routes and adventures. There is one adventure that we have been planning for a while and will take place in June – Ben Ditto and I are getting hitched - this may just be the biggest adventure yet!

Friday, July 22, 2011


This year the heavy winter weather gave way to a long and wet spring laden with some of the most spectacular wildflowers. I spent most of that time in Bishop - bouldering and face climbing - gearing up for a summer spent in Yosemite. Early morning approaches and all day exertions are the tell tale signs of Valley climbing. In the last couple of months here I've had my fill of both.

At the end of March I attended the Red Rock Rendezvous as one of the instructor athletes for La Sportiva. Ben Ditto and I did a bit of our own climbing there, making an ascent of the ultra-classic Levitation 29, in our spare time. This had me hungry for long routes after a winter spent mostly on the boulders. We returned to California in early April. Yosemite was still wet and snowy. Bishop was still perfect. There was some bouldering still to do and it was prime time for Owen's River Gorge.

We spent our days getting in pitch after pitch of crimps and high steps, ticking off a few 13s and testing the bolts on others. We were feeling strong and primed for a summer season in Yosemite. As the spring rains died down in the Valley and my work season starting I made the trek over to the West (aka. the wet) Side of the Sierra. The waterfalls raged and granite walls loomed above. I felt incredibly small and lost among the tourist and rv's. I wanted to get off the ground. I wanted to be on the granite walls, the ground sweeping away hundreds of feet below.

El Cap was packed. Team after team stretched themselves across the expanse of the granite sea. It looked wet, too. I told myself I wouldn't be going up there this season, I would wait for the secret, quiet season. When the chances of getting hit by paper bags filled with poo or some aid climbers dropped rack of nuts are way less. No, this summer my sights were set on Leaning Tower.

At the end of April my good friend Eric Ruderman and I made our maiden voyage on the free climbing of the West Face of the Tower. It was a rough intro to the route, for we were stuck behind an aid party. After two hours of sitting in my harness I finally reached the anchor at the end of the 200 foot bolt ladder. Eric jumared up to meet me. We would not be reaching the summit on this day and so instead took our time in getting to know the two crux pitches of the route. He and I made a couple of more trips up there towards the beginning of May and again in June. Ben Ditto joined us and there was talk of making a team of three ascent. But, it was getting hot and timing was going to be everything. And our separate lives were pulling us in different directions.

Eric returned to the coolness of the Santa Cruz ocean and Ben and I continued to sweat it out in Yosemite. We found ourselves seeking out the shady cliffs and making early morning treks up to obscure classics like Arrowhead Arete. We either woke before sunrise and hit the climbing before the sun cast it's paralyzing spell or slept in and went out in the cooling off late afternoon. A lot of cragging filled our days in the month June and the heat had us scared for what lay ahead.

But, this July in the Sierra has been one of unusually cool temps and soon enough Ben and I were making plans to go back to Leaning Tower. With the alarm set for 4am on July 10th we readied ourselves for what would be our last trip up there. We drove off towards the Valley in the dark, jittery with the buzz of coffee and pop-tart. We approached with the rising sun and racked up as the birds made their first calls of the day. Pitch one, my lead, I felt tight in my hips- the wild stemming seemed hard - this felt like a cruel and unusual wake up warm up. I anchored in and belayed Ben. Pitch two, his lead, he smoothly climbed through the awkward start to the pumpy crack to the sequency mantel before he disappeared over the bulge of the slab above.

The birds were in full aerobatics mode. Flying and diving into the cracks that surrounded us. A lizard scampered by. I marveled at the grace and certainty in which these animals moved. I wondered what Ben was up to up there; had he reached the knee bar yet? Then a tug on the rope, I almost couldn't feed rope out fast enough. I knew he had reached Guano Ledge, he had sent the pitch. He belayed me up and soon I found myself standing on the smears under the knee bar. This spot had been hit or miss for me before. I wasn't going to give in to miss this time. I reached up, grabbed the right hand pinch, shuffled my feet, got the knee bar, matched hands, pushed with my left foot and reached the right hand side pull. Soon I was pressing over and onto the ledge with Ben. I felt pumped but calm. I needed a sandwich, I needed some water. I needed to get focused for my next lead.

After a brief rest I stood on the ledge looking out to river below. A hummingbird flew up and hovered at eye level for what seemed like a timeless expanse. It reminded me to be light and free. I grabbed the rack and set off onto pitch three. Pitch three starts with some of that only found in Yosemite slab down climbing before leaving you to make a huge expanse over to where the real holds are. It had taken me great effort to figure this out previously. I needed all my power and technique. I placed a high piece and climbed down to the iron cross. I laid back on the left hand and stemmed my feet, my five foot frame barely reached the right hand edge. I matched hands, but I hadn't reached far enough. There was little to grab with the left hand. I went for it anyway, my legs swinging over to the right. I held it for half of half a second before falling and butt scumming across the slab below. There would be a bruise there for sure.

I righted myself, pulled back onto the rock and started over. I knew that if I could make this move then we would make a successful ascent of this route. I was once again down climbing into the crack(s). This time I managed a no-hands rest before positioning myself for the reach. I thought about Wolfgang Gullich and about his ideas of pushing the mind. He had felt that the body has always been capable but that it is our mind that really needs the training, that there is a gap between the two that we need to bridge in order to reach our full potential. I stretched out my left hand, I looked at my sinewy arm. I had the muscle to do the moves, I just needed to focus the brain - clear the mind and focus. I laid back on the left hand, stemmed my feet and reached out right. This time I reached a little further, I matched hands, swung my feet over and was moving over good edges to the mantle. I had made the move, I had bridged the gap. I stood at the last rest before the slopping, juggy, slippery, traverse. I shook out and took off and soon enough I was belaying Ben up.

Aside from the logistical conundrum of pitch four the rest of the route went quite well. There were no falls (although I came close on the last pitch due to some foot slippage), no beat downs from the sun and no shortage of exposure or good climbing. The crack pitches went by giving way to the roof bringing us to the last dihedral before reaching the summit. Sitting there on top of that narrow spine of rock the Valley fell below us. El Cap stood tall and proud in the afternoon sun and the falcons swooped by in shows of great aerodynamics. We had made a team free ascent of Leaning Tower, sticking to our goal and coming out on top. It felt amazing to have helped one another get there.

As we rapped to the ground I thought about the limits of climbing and the limits of the body. I thought about the birds zipping by in their light and fast way - seemingly with no limits. I thought about the incredibly overhanging wall on the left with it's project free climb and I thought about the amazing free climbing movement in Europe. I thought about that hummingbird's reminder to be light in the heart and the head and I thought about the harmony of mind and body. Without this harmony we are as Morihei Ueshiba says - stifled, but
with this harmony we can achieve greatness, we can attain our goals, we are limitless.

all pics courtesy ben ditto:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

First Impressions

First impressions are often interesting encounters in that they set the tone for the relationship that follows. They can be positive, they can be negative but more often than not they are lasting impressions that determine how one will continue to interact with another.

Sometime in the fall of 1997 I took a trip with a few friends to a climbing area in northern Alabama called Sandrock. It had been a couple of years since I had been introduced to rock climbing. But, I had primarily been climbing indoors and this was the first time I would be returning to real rock.

We left Baton Rouge in the late evening on a Friday and made the seven hour drive with great anticipation. As we headed north we left the muddy banks of the Mississippi and drove through the pine forests and rolling hills until we were winding our way up county roads to the top of Shinbone ridge. Road weary and in the dark we threw our sleeping bags on the ground and called it a night. Sleep was crucial as the next day would be a day of great rewards.

As the sun started to light up the ridge and poke through the trees we were roused awake. All around us were sandstone rocks. Some were scarred with graffiti and broken glass lay shattered under many rock outcroppings. And although the place seemed a little abused I found it to be one of the most inspiring sights I had seen. We made our way through the maze of reddish brown walls and fins of rock to an area called the Sun Wall. There was a group of people at the base of this wall. A woman who looked to be somewhere in her mid-40′s was gearing up to lead a climb. As of then I had never seen a woman take the lead. Of course I knew it was going on all the time and there were even some women breaking records and making men look like little boys. But, I had never seen a female in the flesh on the sharp end. I was mesmerized.

Turns out she had tried this route before and fell at the crux. This time she moved through it, right hand grabbing a small crimp and locking off to the next hold for the left. I stood still, palms sweating as I watched her move up the rock – executing perfect sequences and milking each rest. She clipped the anchors and yelled take. I asked her belayer what she was climbing, “It’s called Misty, 5.10c/d,” he replied. She had shown me what was possible and I turned to my mates and said I wanted to go next.

A little surprised and extremely supportive they said, “great, go for it!”

I tied in, counted out ten quick-draws and climbed up the coarse sandstone through crimps up thin moves over a bulge to perfect in- cut edges up a steep upper wall. I shook out, I pulled hard and I clipped the anchors. The climbing had been technical and calculated. It was my first lead climb and a lasting first impression. Throughout the next 14 years I gravitated to other climbs that had a similar style – crimpy, technical, and steep would be what drew me in.

This past winter I returned to Sandrock for the first time in some 7 or so years. As we walked through those brownish red, coarse sandstone walls I found myself at the base of the Sun Wall. Misty was aglow with the morning light and that first encounter came back to me.

I tied in, counted out ten quick-draws and once again made my way through the crimps up towards the steep upper wall and to the anchors. I remembered almost every move from fourteen years before. I remembered how the crux hold had felt so biting and painful and how I had over gripped to insure I wouldn’t take the whip and I remembered being incredibly pumped by the time I arrived at the jugs below the anchors. This time as I clipped the anchors and lowered down I thought about all the climbs that lay between that first lead and now; the hundreds of pitches I had taken the sharp end on and the dozens of climbing areas I had been to. Each hold led to the next. I had come full circle 14 years later, to the roots of my climbing. The first impression had been a good one.

Katie Lambert