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Climbing With The Guys: Trial By Fire and Ice

By Cali Bagby
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 3, 2008

There are two types of ice climbers: Type 1 climbers dominate frozen waterfalls, and Type 2 are still learning to tie their crampons.

I recently found myself seated in a white government-issue van surrounded by nine Type 2 climbers who, like me, were experienced in rock climbing, mountaineering and snow camping but had never climbed on ice. Unlike me, all of them were men.

"I see you got the woman salad," my bearded friend Rory remarked as we wolfed down our lunches.

"That's discrimination," I said, looking down at my lettuce, walnuts and cranberries.

"Dude, why do you hate men so much?" my other bearded friend, Kelvin, asked.

"I just hate it when men assign specific salads to women," I replied.

"Your salad has cranberries," said Rory. "Women, you know, eat cranberries for women's health issues."

Guys get urinary tract infections, too, I pointed out.

We had met for one class to go over the details of the trip. The boys filled the room with their lean, muscular bodies and dry, sunburned cheeks.

Our instructor said he had found an awesome crevasse on the glacier to lower people into. Broad grins hung on our faces as we imagined our ice picks spraying our faces with snow as our ropes swung against the sides of white-blue caverns.

As I looked at their dreamy expressions, I realized all my classmates had facial hair. I wondered if they had realized I didn't have facial hair. Were they worried I would slow the team down? Did I stick out like the hand of a man buried inches underneath an avalanche?

The instructor sensed my anxiety and approached me after class.

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