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    Climbing in Iceland with Loki the Deceiver

    By Kitty Calhoun

    Photo #1

    Iceland is a land of extremes – stark beauty within a harsh, unforgiving landscape and an equally daunting climate. Volcanoes are still erupting, earthquakes are nearly constant, yet the geothermal water provides Iceland with most of its energy needs and natural hot springs ease the cold of winter. Eleven percent of the country is covered with glaciers. Sighting of the aurora borealis is common. The coast is dotted with steep cliffs, overhung by glaciers and blasted by wind off the ocean. Yet over 300 species of birds nest in these cliffs, eider ducks (think eiderdown) float in the ocean and the fishery is Iceland’s largest source of income.

    In such a stark and dramatic landscape, it is easy to imagine events being controlled by the Norse gods. In fact, on our quest for virgin ice climbs, we too felt their power – one in particular: Loki the trickster, deceiver, god of chaos.

    [Above: Sunrise over the fjord. Photo: Kitty Calhoun]

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    12 in 7 - A Report from Iceland

    by Kitty Calhoun

    Dawn_and_Pat_on_Angel_of_Mercy

    Iceland is frozen in time. Arriving there in February 2012, it was exactly as I remembered from 1998 when I was there to climb with Jay Smith and the late Guy Lacelle – grey, windy, and remote. It is the largest land mass along a mountain ridge that begins under the ocean, where the North Atlantic and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart. The soil is poor, so most food is imported or grown in greenhouses. The horses, sheep and cattle are 1,000-year-old purebreds, brought over by the Vikings. The quiet is only disrupted by the sounds of millions of birds born in the undisturbed sea cliffs.

    My mission, along with Dawn Glanc, Pat Ormand, and Jay Smith, was to do as many first ice climbing ascents as possible in two weeks. Prospects looked good, since Iceland’s coast is barely eroded and most of the snow on the plateau above tends to melt and refreeze. Rapid changes in temperature produce wild features on frozen waterfalls such as tunnels, hanging umbrella-like roofs, and daggers that freeze horizontally. Iceland is not well-known in the climbing world and there are only an estimated 40 local climbers – most of whom find enough ice near Reykjavik to keep them content. Or so they led us to believe. In exchange for a slide show for the Icelandic Alpine Club, we diplomatically pried inside information from a very welcoming group. They confirmed our suspicions: the West Fjords, just below the Arctic Circle, was the mother-lode.

    [Dawn Glanc and Pat Ormand on Angel of Mercy. All photos courtesy of Kitty Calhoun]

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    Returning to the Rock - Kitty Calhoun enjoys an El Cap Comeback

    Comebackn Informal or vb come back (intr. adverb)
       1. a return to a former position, status,etc.
       2. a return or response, esp. recriminatory
       3. To become fashionable again

    I am just leaving the belay on Pitch 5 of Aurora (5.8, A4), a steep, difficult aid line on El Cap. It has been five years since I was last on El Cap, and the experience had left me crippled. The arduous hauling and long descent with the haulbag “pig” was the last straw for my hips, eroded by a career as an alpinist and mountain guide with a passion for running. Two years later, both hips were resurfaced with metal and now, hopefully, I am “good to go.” I am about to clean the pitch distinctly noted as “no fun” on the Supertopo. It takes me way too long to clean the pitch but both my partner and I are patient and we carry on.

      Kitty @ 1st bivy-1
    [Kitty at belay station, before cleaning the "no fun" pitch. Photo: Kate Robertson]

    Kate Robertson loves equipment, so naturally she was drawn to ice climbing and it was in Ouray last winter that I met her. I expressed a secret desire to see if I could return to unfinished goals and a life of adventure. I am afraid of losing my mental and physical “edge” if I have to live with “restricted activities” - I am just not ready to lower the bar. So plans were hatched.

    Editor's note: Patagonia Alpine Climbing ambassador Kitty Calhoun began climbing in her home state of South Carolina at the age of eighteen, and started ice climbing in college. Kitty's climbing has taken her from Alaska to the Andes and the Himalaya. She led successful expedition to the West Pillar of Makalu and put up a new route on the West face of Middle Triple Peak in Alaska. Kitty has worked extensively with the Castleton Tower Preservation Initiative and "Chicks with Picks," a series of women's-only ice climbing clinics. She lives in Castle Valley, Utah when she is not out on the road. When asked what she would like people to know about her, she smiles and says, "I'm a mom and a storyteller."

    Continue reading "Returning to the Rock - Kitty Calhoun enjoys an El Cap Comeback" »

    Blank on the Map – in the USA

    Cody LR-2.jpg-1

    Editor's note: Our thanks go out to Patagonia ambassador Kitty Calhoun for sharing today's story and photos. This is the first time we've featured one of Kitty's stories on The Cleanest Line, hopefully it won't be the last.

    Cars, phones, money are the necessary bane of my existence. On this trip I would need none of these; all I would need was my ice climbing gear, sleeping bag, and coffee mug, and the rest would be provided, including a wall tent and wood stove. Mules were going to carry our gear six miles to base camp in a valley outside Cody, Wyoming, which was, according to rumor, stacked with virgin ice.

    [Mules carrying the loads (for once) to the ice climbs. All photos: Kitty Calhoun]

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