Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Tribe Called Wonderful

Where the magic happens.
The African proverb, reiterated by Hillary, said that it takes a village. In my case, "village" is more aptly dubbed "tribe." For me, it took a tribe.

The tribe I found myself in a few weekends ago is special; full of gumption, spirit, kindness and compassion laced with a hearty dose of laughter, vigor, and a bit of crass humor for good measure. Wise, experienced and humble. This tribe? The ice climbers of the Bozeman Ice Festival.

I embarked on my journey by first letting go of my dark-haired companion (the dark one in my nicely arranged blonde, redhead, brunette group). Due to an injury he couldn't come but sent me off with the gifts of love, a hug, and wishes for a good trip.

My amazing blonde and redheaded partners
We arrived late in the day on Friday to the valley full of eager anticipation and energy. The Women's clinics were the hot ticket of the weekend with a stellar roster of guides including Sarah Hueniken, Lilla Molnar, Majka Burhardt, Caroline George, Emily Stifler and Mattie Shaefor. While I didnt sign up for one of their clinics, like the "big girls" on a playground these amazing women are so inspiring to my "new kid in school" self.

Hiking up to the Unnamed Wall area, we came across other climbers on their way out, including Kyle Dempster, a friend and OR athlete. A short time to catch up and a few words of encouragement from that experienced tribe leader to this novice, and I was on my way again to my first WI climb.

A new Spokane tribemate
Being a climber of rock and an aspiring alpinist, I thought ice wouldnt be too much of a stretch outside my comfort zone. I'd climbed on seracs after all and had a ton of fun. How could WI be so different? What I found turned me completely upside down, and fully inside out.

Despite arriving late, my enthusiastic and experienced redheaded friend tackled the ice with passion and dedication. But by the time he'd set the rope and lowered down, it was well past dark. Cold, wet, nervous....I was completely out of my element. With every swing and step I took, I moved further and further from my element and closer and closer to fear. And screaming barfies. Ouch. Ten feet in and I was done. Using the darkness as my excuse, I lowered and let him climb again to clean it.

The next day, at a friendly and easy "cragging" type ice area (is it called ice cragging?) my blonde and redheaded friends and I found ourselves in the company of a group of guys from Spokane. Our new Spokane friends were quick to joke, offer tidbits and coaching, and forget any display of fear...the previous night's anxiety quickly evaporated as I made my way up the ice. By golly, it was almost comfortable! With examples of strength, calm and skill all around me, possibility revealed itself in every crook and cranny of my imagination.

Blondie, showing me how its done.
The final morning I woke with aspirations from the previous days session but a taste of bittersweetness in my mouth. The weekend was ending and I had to return home. And even more apparent was that after a night of sharing and celebration, I became acutely aware of the feeling of loss over the absence of certain members of this tribe -one in particular. Trying to let it go, I packed up and headed out for the day.

What we ended up on - the Matrix - is fairly irrelevant, unless you're keeping score. In which case, you can simply have all my points for this one. Belaying Christian up, watching Jim second, I stepped out to start my climb. Maybe it was my psyche-heavy morning, tiredness or bad toast. But fear gripped my heart with an iron fist. I felt alone. I was scared. This seemed stupid - what was I doing out there flinging head-impalingly-sharp objects at brittle ice?! I popped, screaming, cursing loudly. From above, words to cheer me on showered down. Shaking, terrified, I couldn't hear them and I continued, until... I Just. Couldnt. Take it.

Not yet in panic mode.
Hardly able to breath, I paused on a snowy ramp. Later, Jim who was belaying, would tell me he asked Christian, "How's she doing?" Christian's compassionate, yet sarcastic response, "she's doing great! and she's sobbing." Its hard not to chuckle at myself now.

But with the encouraging words of my partners, and thoughts of the women guides, my friend back home, the dreams of my own heart and mind, I made it. And when I did? My climbing partners made me feel as if I'd scaled the most impossible climb with the most grace and beauty they'd ever seen.

Later, I relayed my tale of tears to Kyle and a few friends in the parking lot later expecting teasing but getting congratulations and cheers to do it again instead. Really? After all that boohooing?!

Later, in an email exchange involving another badass, inspiring climber, Margo Talbot, Christian gave me the biggest compliment by sharing with Margo that I'd done so well on my first ever ice. Wow.

The scene of the tears.
Over the course of just a few days I was fully welcomed into the tribe and despite my fears, meltdown and novice ability, though a stranger to many, made to feel as much a part of this phenomenal group of people as anyone else. Me. A part of this tribe? Yes. And I most certainly will go back, hopefully with slightly fewer tears. How could I not want to be around these people again, this tribe of wonderful? From my injured friend at send-off, to my partners and the "leaders" within the tribe, to the friends I made along the way, the climbers at the Bozeman Ice Fest are certainly some of the most incredible people.

Go next time. This is one tribe you want to be a part of. I'll see you there.

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