El Capitan, Yosemite - climbing to Dolt Tower
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, women, Yosemite, California (Sunday December 14, 2014 at 3:34 pm)

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El Cap, the Nose, Stovelegs, first pitch

My climbing partner Eric Doub  and I conceived the  idea that maybe we should try to climb the Nose in a Day (NIAD). After all, everyone is climbing the NIAD these days. I personally know many people who’ve climbed it in a day. So why shouldn’t we?

Well, some minor details, like - the  other climbers climbing the NIAD are faster than either of us. And stronger. And most of them about 20 years younger.

However,  I wanted to try. And, apparently people at the American Alpine Club thought that we deserved to try this - they awarded me a “Live Your Dream ” grant to attempt the Nose.

Initially, I drove to Yosemite alone and found a climbing partner there who’d climbed with my friend in Colorado. Steve and I met at 5:00 am in the parking area below El Cap and organized our gear. Today, we would climb only the first 10 pitches - as far as Dolt Tower, and then rappel down.

Steve was a stronger climber,  and had climbed Astroman free a week earlier, so he led the first several pitches. After following pitch three, I  decided I wanted to lead the next pitch. Pitch 4 went well, after a scary stemming move above a ledge (with no gear in), followed by two short pendulum traverses, and then we were on Sickle Ledge.

We stopped for a quick snack here, and Steve said, sounding surprised,

“It looks like we’ll make it to Dolt.”

“Well, yes, ” I replied. “Wasn’t that the plan?”

Yes, but I didn’t really think we’d make it,” he admitted.

Oh? When I asked why, he replied that he didn’t really think an older woman like myself would make it to Dolt Tower, and that he thought we’d climb as far as was reasonable, and then descend.

He added, “We’re climbing faster than I expected, and I expect we’ll reach Dolt.”

Since I’d had every intention of getting to Dolt Tower, I was glad he now also though this was feasible — especially since I still hoped to eventually climb the whole thing.

I then led pitches 5 and 6, two easy pitches one can run together  with a bit of simul-climbing. The next few belay stances were miniscule — about 2″ by 3″ at the most, enough for one toe hold. Steve, who mentioned that he’d led every pitch of Astroman, led the next few pitches, and I climbed them .

We took no ascenders on this trip, but both of us climbed all the pitches. sine it was a practice run, this gave me a good feeling for the climbing on the lower portion of the Nose.

It also convinced me that I’d happily lead pitch 8, the first pitch of the Stovelegs, a fun hand crack.

Around 3 pm, we arrive on top of Dolt Tower, enjoying a wonderful view with our snack and water.  I can see why climbers call the Nose the greatest rock climb in  the world: the climbing is excellent, on superb rock, with a variety of moves and techniques - liebacks, stemming, jam cracks, face climbing all on stellar rock.

After that first run up to Dolt, I definitely planned to come  back for more.

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On Dolt Tower

Ethics and ambition, 2014
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, skiing, women, Colorado, California (Tuesday November 11, 2014 at 11:05 am)

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Shelf  Road, a favorite winter climbing area
I’ve spoken at Professor Paul Strom’s class, The Ethics of Ambition, for many years. In 2013, I discussed the dilemma of would-be guided Everest climbers, who pass by dying climbers on their way up and down the mountain. I also discussed sponsorship, and climbers who perform death-defying (and in some cases, deadly) stunts to please their sponsors and their audience. One report  by Deutsche Welle “uncovers the background stories of several deaths associated with Red Bull’s publicity stunts”

in 2011, I delved further into sponsorship and the pressure it can place on climbers (and any professional in extreme sports, such as base jumping, surfing, free skiing, and others.)
This year, for the first time since I’ve spoken at this class, we discussed a personal ambition of my own. The first consequence ( for this class, of my ambition):  the students wrote the answer to their homework question, and were ready to post it, before I got around to posting my annual ethics post. And why? Because I was rock climbing at Shelf Road (photo above) in pursuit of my current ambition.

In the past year, I conceived the idea of trying to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan within 24 hours. Many climbers have done this, so it’s nothing that special — but I would be the oldest woman to ever climb it in a day. Perhaps even the oldest person , if it takes me long enough to accomplish!

So why this goal, why now, and what ethical constraints are involved?

As to why climb El Capitan,  I’ve always loved climbing this rock face, since becoming part of the first female team to climb it. I’ve wanted to climb el Capitan since then, and was able to climb it two more times while I was still a student. Since then, I haven’t been able to climb El Capitan due to various constraints - job, career, and then I became a mother. While I continued to rock climb recreationally, I was not able to commit the amount of time and energy necessary to climb it within 24 hours.

Last spring, I was in Yosemite for a month, practicing the first third of El Capitan.  In 2015, I plan to return to Yosemite and work on the route for another month of two. When my son was young, I could not leave home that long. and, even though he’s been in college the past four years, in 2012 and 2013, I was taking care of my extremely ill mother, who lied in the Bay Area. I could climb for the weekend, but not for weeks on end.

So, in the past years, I’d given up my ambition to take care of my son, and then my parents.  The ethical constraint was clear: postpone my goals, or abandon my family. I chose to take care of my family, and climb El Capitan later. Perhaps waiting paid off: this spring, the American alpine Club awarded me a ‘Live Your Dream‘ grant to attempt this climb.

Why now? My son graduated from college in May, 2014; both of my parents have passed away, and my job as a ski instructor at Beaver Creek Resorts allows me to take the summer to climb. For the first timein decades, I have the time to go to Yosemite for a month or so without abandoning other responsibilities.

I’ve asked the students to discuss similar ethical dilemmas that they may have faced in their lives. for instance, perhaps a  high school athlete had to choose between his sport, and academics. Or someone had to choose between attending a college that offered the best education, versus staying closer to home and family.

We all make choices in our life that affect others, and those decisions and  ambitions can cause ethical conflicts.

What gets publicity are the famous athletes (and artists, politicians, and  others in the media) whose decisions affect not only their only lives, but the lives of many.

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El Capitan, Yosemite

Mikaela Shiffrin wins again !
Posted by sibylle in skiing, women, Europe, Colorado (Tuesday January 14, 2014 at 3:28 pm)


Shiffrin demonstrates her winning technique

Photo from Denver Post

Mikaela Shiffrin, 18-year old ski racing phenom from Vail, Colorado, won the Flachau slalom decisively, beating her opponents by almost a second in a race in which hundredths of a second often separate rival skiers.

After her first run, she was ahead by 0.9 seconds, an almost unbeatable advantage. Her second run was not as fast as the first, but she still beat the runner ups, Frida Hansdotter, by 0.83sec, and Maria Pietilae-Holmner by 1.14 seconds.

This leaves Shiffrin, current slalom world champion and winner of last year’s World Cup crystal globe in slalom, in a dominant position for the upcoming Olympics.

Watch the video  of her first run, which the Austrian commentator describes as her skiing with “perfect technique” and ends by saying after her first run, that “the race is really over”.

The Austrian commentator notes her stable upper body,a nd describes her skiing as resembling a “graceful waltz”, but a very fast waltz!

For my ski students, note how her upper body faces downhill and is very calm and stable, while her legs turn under her .. very fast!

Shiffrin has won six of the last 10 slalom races, which gives her the  lead  in the World Cup rankings with 402 points ahead of Hansdotter with 258 points - a nice position to be in just before the Sochi  Olympics.

Ethics of Ambition, 2013
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, skiing, ice, women, Switzerland, Europe (Tuesday October 29, 2013 at 11:25 am)

Why would a climber speak to a class on the Ethics of Ambition?  Does climbing pose ethical dilemmas? It may - if you’re a sponsored climber and under pressure by sponsors to perform. Or if you have a very ambitious goal.

Mt. Everest

I’ll describe recent scenarios  of climbers around the world that involve decisions made by climbers, guides, and Sherpas.

First, ambition requires a great deal of egotism and selfishness, as I’ve discussed before in previous year’s classes.

Once our ambition drives us to set goals such as climbing the world’s highest mountain, or being the fastest person to climb El Capitan, then these goals require much time spent training, and in the case of Mt. Everest, a very large sum of money - about $65,000 to $100,000 (per person) for a guided climb.

Today, many of the rich and would-be famous sign on with a guide to climb Mt. Everest, some inspired by the book, Seven Summits, by Dick Bass and Frank Wells.  In the book review, it states that, “For their third and final attempt on Mt. Everest, Wells had to choose between the summit try and his family.”

Driven and ambitious climbers, after paying $65,000 or more for their chance at the summit of the world’s tallest mountain, have walked right by dying men and left them on the side of the trail alone, to die.

In 2006,   German climber, Thomas Weber,  collapsed and died, less than 20 yards from the trail. A British climber, David Sharp,  became seriously ill and died. IN 2006, 40 climbers, intent on the summit, refused to help. Climbers often pass dying climbers on the mountain without stopping to help - either, because they lack the strength and skills … or, because they are intent on reaching the summit.

In 2012, the Guardian posted a blog about “the ethical dilemmas facing climbers” as they describe how one climber found many bodies attached to the fixed lines and had to walk around them. In conclusion, they ask, “has human life come to count for less than the fulfillment of a personal ambition?”

In 2013, Sherpas attacked Swiss climber Ueli Steck and two of his friends  and threatened to kill them.  Steck says that after passing the Sherpas on the climb, when they returned to camp they were met by “a mob of 100 people hitting us with rocks and they threatened to kill us.”

Swiss info asked Steck what his sponsors said, and Steck replied, “they understand but on the other hand … we don’t get anything for free. The sponsors want to benefit from me. And now, all three of us have to deal with financial disaster. We spent a lot of money…  the world keeps on spinning and I have to keep going.”  Steck said he would not return to Everest after this threat on their lives.
In Oct. of 2013, Steck returned to the Himalayas to solo climb the south face of Annapurna, and said that, though he’ll not forget what happened on Everest, that “I think I’m beginning to find the fun in life once again!”

Büchel and Deutsche Welle looks at the dark side of extreme sports and sponsorship in “the Dark Side of Red Bull - the Perils of Extreme Sports.”

In 2009,  three athletes died while doing (paid) stunts for Red Bull: skier Shane McConkey, parachuter Eli Thompson and basejumper Ueli Gegenschatz - who was  filmed when he was killed.

The press asked “who is responsible for deadly maneuvers?”

Büchel said that McConkey was under tremendous pressure: “In order to stay in business, McConkey perceived himself as challenged to perform ever-more reckless acts - like combining extreme skiing and base-jumping.”

Robb Gaffney, a medical doctor,  described Red Bull marketing as unethical.

And last, but not least,  what about kids climbing? In July 2013, 12-year old Tito Traversa was killed in a fall to the ground when his incorrectly-assembled equipment failed. The Italian prosecutors filed manslaughter charges against five people - the gear manufacturer, the store selling the gear, and the manager and instructor of the club the organized the trip on which Tito was killed.

But who’s really responsible? In my opinion, not the store or manufacturer, if the quick draws are sold unassembled, but whoever put the draws together incorrectly. And whoever checked (or failed to) check them.

Penny Lane, Smoke Bluffs, Squamish, Canada
Posted by sibylle in Spain, women, Canada and PNW (Wednesday August 21, 2013 at 5:49 pm)

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Basque climber Saioa starts up Penny Lane

This summer in Squamish started with hot, sunny days that sent us to hide in the shady cliffs at Cheakamus, followed by days of showers that made us retreat to the sunny crags of the Smoke Bluffs.

I headed to the Penny Lane cliff with Niko from Germany,  the Basque climbers Joaquin and Saioa, and Quebec native Lucie, amidst a mish-mash of languages - some of us spoke German, others Spanish and Basque , some French - but we had no one language in common.

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Saioa near the crux of Penny Lane

I’d lead the eponymous climb, Penny Lane, a few days earlier and chose to act as team photographer while Joaquin and Saioa climbed the route.

The climb starts with a few delicate face moves off the ground - on small, smooth holds. Getting off the ground  here has always gotten my attention. Right after the tiny face holds come a few layback moves on tiny  edges and smooth friction for the feet. One more layback move gets you around the corner and onto a good foot hold.

From here, I’ve seen some climbers try to layback the following corner, or like Saioa above, use fingerlocks and toe jams. I generally stem the corner while trying to get  my fingers  into the crack when I can.

After the crux start, the remaining climb consists of great hand jams that easily make up for any struggles lower down.

Penny Lane’s a great warm up for the harder climbs  on both sides, such as Crime of the Century, to the left,  or Climb and Punishment further to the right.
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Crime of the Century (5.11c), with Penny Lane visible at right

Lisa Hechtel, R.I.P.
Posted by sibylle in women, Germany, Eulogies, Europe (Thursday June 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm)

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With my mother in the European Alps

This will be the hardest eulogy I’ve ever had to write: that of my mother, Lisa Berta Hechtel.

My mother lived a great life, a full one, and enjoyed  a long life, but she still left us too soon. I cry, as I write this, and wish I had spent more time with my parents while I still had the opportunity.

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Lisa Hechtel as a young woman

I knew Lisa Hechtel only as my mother, and we take our parents for granted — until we no longer have them. Since her passing, countless people have written to me to share how much they loved my mother, and how much they will miss her presence in their lives.

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An early climb with my parents

My mother always put her family first - she followed my father on his climbs, belayed him, and then seconded the route. She never took credit for her many accomplishments - climbing big mountains in a time before most women climbed.

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My parents on a climbing trip long ago

After I was born, she usually accompanied my father on his trips, cooked for every one while camping, and often hiked to the base of the climbs to bring food for my father, while taking care of me.

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Lisa feeding her family in the Schwaebische Alp

I still use the little tin tea kettle
She once told me: “When you were little, Richard needed a climbing partner,  so we tied a rope around you , and tied you to a tree while we were climbing.”

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Early climbing trip in Germany

None of the photos in their albums show me tied to a tree — most show my mother carrying me, holding me, and feeding myself and my father.

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Lisa getting me a  drink

She taught me to ski, and helped my father take me climbing, while still helping to take care of her own mother, and her niece, and her many friends.

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Another early climbing trip - as I got bigger, the mountains got bigger, and harder.

As I look through the early photos, I have so many questions  that I never had a chance to ask  - so many things I never knew about.

After I grew up, and left home, my parents trekked in Nepal - but I’m not sure when, or where. They climbed Kilimanjaro , climbed in New Zealand, and numerous other places around the world. I wish they’d told me more about their trips - but I was far away, in Colorado, living my life and raising my own son.

My parents trekking in Nepal
And I  hope that my mother’s many friends will read this, and  share their memories of their times together.

Maple Canyon - changing the Stripes
Posted by sibylle in skiing, women, Colorado (Monday November 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm)

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Megan signing the summit register

Ski training, running, and hikes
Posted by sibylle in skiing, women, Colorado (Monday November 21, 2011 at 9:38 am)

The time of year has come when I divide my time between climbing on the last few warm days, skiing after a big snowfall, and training in the gym.


In Vail’s back bowl looking toward Gore Range

My training the past 10 days consisted of:

rock climb at climbing gym

rest day

weight lift, gym


ski 5 hours: Loveland demo days - try new skis


hike uphill / jog about 1 hour

hike uphill / jog 2 hours

weight lift, gym

hike / jog about 1 hour

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Arapahoe Basin looking toward East Wall

I “hike/jog”  the trail behind my house, Ptarmigan trail, which goes from 9,300′ to the summit at 12,498′. I walk the steep parts, and run the flatter parts and some of the less steep downhill.

The gym workouts consist of basic weight training with the addition of a few ski-specific exercises, involving jumping, lateral agility movement (more jumping!),  core strengthening exercises such as crunches, push ups, or plank,  balance training, and quad strengthening exercises.

Unlike Lindsey Vonn, who  trains 6 - 8 hours daily,  I’m i the gym between 1 - 2 hours. But then, I work as a ski instructor, and she’s a World Champion and Olympic Medalist.

However, for all my ski students, especially the ones from lower altitudes (most of you!), I recommend at least a few days weekly of aerobic exercise, and a few days of strength training.

It’ll make your ski vacation so much more fun, if you can ski all day without being tired halfway through the day, and if your legs aren’t burning after the first few runs.

Today’s a gym day, so I’ll be off to warm up on the exercise bike, and then do my push press,  dumb bell rows, leg press, lat pulls, tricep extension, crunches, and push ups.

When my son Tristan arrives for winter break, I’ll add squats ( I like him to spot me for squats initally, to make sure that my form is correct ) and dead lifts.

Enjoy your workouts!

Ambition and Ethics, 2011
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, women (Wednesday October 26, 2011 at 11:41 am)

In the past, when speaking on ‘Ethics and Ambition’, I’ve concentrated on ambition — clarifying what ambition entails for climbers, and the potential consequences of ambition.

This year we concentrated on ethics— what are the ethical dilemmas to which ambition drives us?

First, without ambition, climbing poses few or no ethical dilemmas. It’s a climber’s ambition to be the best, or the first to climb an unclimbed peak, or a new route on a mountain, that puts her at risk.

I’ll state two (dictionary) definitions of ethics:
1. A branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.

2. moral principles, as of an individual
Why would striving to become one of the best climbers cause ethical dilemmas?

In one word: sponsorship.

As an example, North Face (TNF),
the world’s second largest expedition funder, pays a team of 71 athletes to — basically have adventures. Conrad Anker, a climber who helps decide which athletes’ projects become ad campaigns, looks for people who are among the top athletes in the world.

Other companies that make climbing gear, clothing, and camping equipment also sponsor climbers. Receiving such a coveted climbing sponsorship becomes a highly desirable goal for young climbers, and they attempt more and more daring feats in their quest to join the ranks of sponsored climbers.
Sometimes climber’s attempts to climb a new route ends in tragedy. Micah Dash,
Jonny Copp, and the photographer Wade Johnson died in their attempt to scale a new route on the southeast face of Mt. Edgar.

Chinese authorities had called the climbers before their trip to advice them of very bad weather and conditions on the mountain, and suggest that they not go at that time. Copp replied that he was booked for the next three years, and it was now or never.

This pressure to perform for sponsors, and to attempt new and daring feats, may cloud climber’s judgment and cause them to try climbs that they would perhaps not go on were there no pressure to retain a sponsorship.

Other examples of sponsored rock climbers and mountaineers daring difficult climbs include Alison Hargraves, who perished on K2; and Charlie Fowler, who disappeared climbing in China.
Solo climbing — without use of a rope — another way to do something new. Alex Honnold,, recently featured on “60 Minutes”, became the first person to climb Half Dome entirely unroped (TNF sponsors Honnold).
The ethical situation remains confounding. The quest for publicity and income encourages climbers to attempt potentially fatal climbs. However, the public watches the videos, much like the Romans watching the gladiators. Should climbers attempt dangerous feats? If they don’t, then someone else will, to whom they might lose their sponsorship.

Should outdoors equipment manufacturers sponsor climbers on dangerous trips? If one doesn’t, another will — but that’s not generally a good answer to ethical questions.

A third factor is young climber’s belief in their invincibility. I went to Shishapangma in 1994, despite having a 3-year old son, convinced that because it was “a small 8,000-meter peak, it was safe.” I even said that while Everest, K2, and others were dangerous, that Shishapangma was perfectly safe. Arriving at Camp 3 at 7,350 meters to find three corpses frozen in their tent disabused me of the notion that it was safe.

But when the Austrians invited me on the trip, I thought it would be safe, and I went. Likewise, many of the climbers who attempt climbs with a fatal end go on the trip firmly convinced of their potential success.

A-Basin Enduro, Imperial challenge - Summit’s adventure races
Posted by sibylle in skiing, women, Colorado (Saturday April 16, 2011 at 9:32 am)

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Snow-bike competitor in Enduro and ski racers riding Pali

Jamie Ober and Ollie Holmes again won the 22nd annual Enduro with 71 runs, one lap short of their record 72 laps.

Tom Fricke and Leon Littlebird of the SnowShow at Krystal 93  had speculated that this year, Jamie and Ollie might set a new record because of the excellent snow conditions.

We skied the Basin that day, and in the morning, blue sky, sunshine, and no wind made for ideal conditions. However,  later that afternoon the wind picked up and  visibility decreased as a storm blew in — all of which would contribute to slower speeds on the slopes.

Ian Borgeson and  Dylan Walczyk placed second with 70 laps, while Wendy Fisher and Johnny Biggers of Crested Butte placed 3rd with 66 laps. Fisher, a former member of the U.S. ski team, and Olympic competitor, won two Extreme Freeskiing World titles.

 Fisher, who skis at Crested Butte, has long encouraged women skiing harder. I’d like to see a team of fisher and two time World Extreme skiing champion  Kim Reichhelm competing in next year’s Enduro!

The #1 women’s team,  Erika Hall and Becs Hodgetts completed 65 laps, while the #1 snowboard team, James Ashley and Shaun Maruna rode 62 laps.

The guys riding the lift in front of us,  bibs #4, are Will Stevenson and Ryan Anthon, who completed 64 laps - so they’re right in among  the top competitors.

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