Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Climbing in Alaska with Ti Conkle

Ti Conkle
 Ti Conkle works full time as an internal auditor/investigator for the government in Alaska but every chance she gets, she find ways to get outdoors and explore the world outside from every angle. And she means every chance ... she commutes to and from work on her bike during the spring, summer, fall and parts of winter until it gets colder than -20F/-29C. She blogs at Element 22.

Where do you start with a climber who casually mentions the Pika Glacier as her local spot but is afraid of heights? Someone who can spot a Jackson kayak at 20 paces but is afraid of water? Ti's blog is filled with shots from Alaska and other parts of the States, none of which give any hint of fear. 

 Conquer Fear
"The first time I ever rappelled over the edge of a cliff, I nearly vomited. I was shaking so badly that my teeth were chattering and my hands were white clear to the elbows. The same thing happened the first time I put my face in the water to learn how to snorkel. I stood there in waist deep tropical ocean water, tears filling up the snorkel mask and knees shaking," says Ti. When I asked her how she deals with fear, she said she believes fear and pain both exist for good reasons but sometimes fear gets in the way so she has had to find a way to deal with it. She says: "These things are not to be “fought”, “battled” or relegated to the back closet. Make friends with the things that scare you. Get comfortable with uncertainty. That’s the stuff that living out loud is made of."
Even a few minutes on her blog give you an insight into the beauty of her home. I love, love the mountains and get that restless feeling just flicking through her shots. She says; "I’ve lived, worked and played in Alaska for 35 years and still haven’t begun to peel back the layers on the breathtaking scenery in this cradle of adventures. From mountains to rivers to glaciers, coastal waters, lakes… there is an enormous bounty of places to explore and an equally staggering number of ways to go about it. Climbing is just one aspect, one medium that allows me access to the backcountry. My three favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors, no matter where my journeys take me are: climbing, kayaking/canoeing, and cycling."

Stay Focused
One of the posts on her blog which really caught my eye was this one on hiking + climbing up Mount Olympus. So there's an 18-mile trek, climb the mountain, descend the mountain and do it all in 72 hours without sleeping. As you do. When I ask how she motivates herself for days like this, she says; "Every time I put on a pack that is more than half my bodyweight, I feel it. Sometimes, in order to do the things I want to do, hauling a lot of gear is just necessary." And I get the feeling it's not just the bag she's talking about. 

Mt Olympus
She goes on: "There are a lot of things I will do simply for the sake of doing the thing. Nothing more. I had wanted to climb Mt. Olympus for a number of years. The roundtrip approach is a long one (44 miles) and it requires patience and time spent just hauling a pack up a trail like a mule. Everything worth having or worth doing comes at a cost; the only question is, how bad do you want it?"

Even looking at some of the climbing photos makes my stomach drop out but Ti says it's all in the mind and really it's just a matter of one step after the other. Hmm ... 

While reading (cyber-stalking) on Element 22,  that phrase jumped out at me. I thought it was a term for people who get into trouble because of lack of knowledge but Ti's explanation made me laugh. While climbing with two friends, one of them found himself trying to belay the others simultaneously. All fingers and thumbs, he ground out the phrase while trying to get the ropes right. We've all been there - well, maybe not swinging from an overhang - in that place where you brain just stops but you can't afford to lose it. 

Ti says: "It’s the same thing that occurs when a person enters an international airport. You find yourself walking down the aisle of the plane, staring at your boarding pass as if you’ve never seen the combination 27C in your life and checking and rechecking the aisle numbers. Over-stimulation, information-overload and the prospect of increased altitude combine to occasionally render the human brain completely void of useful feedback." Come on, you know you can relate to that too.

Medical gloves and cucumbers, 

Headlamp and Kleenex,

Eyeliner and carabiners,

Laptop and hiking boots,

Climbing harness and cashmere sweater,

External hard drive and protein shake,

Pelican case inside a leather briefcase,

Roget’s thesaurus and daisy chains,

Soccer shoe and Benadryl,

Coffee thermos and Metolius chalk…

Back seat of my Jeep really needs

A good cleaning. ... Get in Gear, by Ti Conkle

Come back on Thursday for the rest of this interview - teaching your kids to be brave, tips on learning how to climb and photography. If you have any questions, leave a comment ...

CORRECTION: "I might clarify one point- though there was very little sleep involved in the Olympus trip, we definitely set up camp and made the attempt at resting. It wasn't a single-push, alpine style climb- it was an expedition climb. For those who know, it does make a difference."  from Ti July 26th



Anonymous said...

Niamh, I really enjoyed working with you on this interview project! Thanks for adventuring with me and offering a forum for others to explore the corner of the world I play in.

It's an honor to be here.

Snowcatcher said...

It's an honor to read, too. A different side of Ti comes out here; things avid readers of her blog might not have picked up on! Anxiously looking forward to Part II!

niamh said...

@Titanium - it was much more of an honour for me to get some inspiration and a good kick up the a** about being lazy!! thank you :)

@Snowcatcher - it's interesting alright, you just never know what people have going on in their heads. More great pics tomorrow too

The Awesomes said...

Thats my sister!! :) I'm so proud of her, she is an amazing woman ...as you know!

niamh said...

@Sarah - Thanks for dropping by, glad you enjoyed the interview :)

Lisa Creech Bledsoe said...


Niamh, you always astound me. Thank you for introducing me to more powerful, inspiring women. I never come away from your site without a fresh insight, a surge of joy.

I SO resonated with the bit about "mountain stupid" -- "You find yourself walking down the aisle of the plane, staring at your boarding pass as if you’ve never seen the combination 27C in your life and checking and rechecking the aisle numbers."

Been there!! I own my own damn apartment there, lol.

Well said.

Thanks again to both of you...

niamh said...

@Lisa - yes indeed, a very inspiring woman in many ways. It's great to have this chance to share people's stories. Glad you enjoyed it