Die Another Day: Learning to drytool and competing at Smuggs Ice Bash 2016

That Friday started, as most of our climbing trips do, with a long car ride.

I was on my way to Burlington, VT to compete at the Smuggs Ice Bash Drytooling Competition and Kickoff party at Petra Cliffs.

6th Annual Comp Poster_zpsgyldkize

Here’s the thing: I am not really a competition person and definitely would not call myself a competent drytooler.  Actually, I used to be pretty outspoken on how I would never drytool, ever. Then the 2015 “winter” season happened. Or, more accurately, didn’t happen…

December GTA weather

This is winter?

My ice picks first touched rock (on purpose) this November when I realized drytooling was probably the only way I was going to use my ice tools that month. My friend Peter, who seems to love doing all things terrifying, took me to a local drytooling area and tried to show me the ropes (haha). I would love to say I was a natural and fell in love with it, but in all honesty halfway through my first climb I pretty much freaked out, made Peter lower me and refused to drytool ever again.

first day drytool

Photo (pre or post freakout?) by Matt S.

Unfortunately, the spring-like weather continued into December and I was faced with choice of either sucking it up and learning how to drytool or packing away my tools.  I soon found myself back at the area with Peter working on keeping my picks “999ed,” (I picked this nugget up from Will Gadd’s blog by googling “tips for dry tooling and not dying”) and trying unsuccessfully to get my leg up onto my arm to do this “Figure 4” thing all the cool kids were talking about.

My friend, also bored from no ice, built a training structure in his backyard and after lots of finger-crushing practice, I was able not only to get my leg up, but also move off of it!

drytool training

Booyah! Photo by Peter Hoang

I don’t remember when Peter first suggested I should sign up for the drytool competition. We had both attended the event last year—Peter to compete and me to drink and cheer him on—and we had both had an awesome time! Pete even made the podium!

peter on the podium at smuggsAnna drinking at smuggs

   2014 Peter on the podium!                                                  2014 Me cheering Peter on

I told Pete No Way—to compete, I had to lead a drytool route set inside on plastic holds, and at that point I had a) only dry tooled on toprope and b) only climbed outside on our local sandstone routes. Plus, competing meant climbing in front of a big group of strangers with a giant spotlight on you and that wasn’t really my kind of thing.

Over the next couple of weeks though more of my friends started in on me about competing—“Come on, it’s just for fun Anna, nobody cares if you come in last!”—and when a couple of them said they would sign up too I eventually agreed.

No gyms in the GTA allow ice tools, so I was back to the bridge to practice leading…

Anna clipping bolt

My first ever drytool lead! Photo by Matt S.

One of my proudest moments was when I finally was able to do a figure 4 for real on lead….I clipped off of it and was able to move to the next hold …and figure 4 again! (the Figure 9 still eludes me but Im trying lol)

drytool lead 2

Who knew it actually works?! Photo by Matt S.

So fast forward to THE NIGHT OF THE COMP.  I thought I was going to play it cool but by the time we pulled in to Petra Cliffs, I was full on stressing. I was convinced not only would I fall off the first hold and embarrass myself, but somehow I would manage to impale my body and/or stab the belayer with my tools on the way down…

Once I got inside the isolation area though the friendly atmosphere calmed me right down. The other girls competing were totally supportive—they were showing each other techniques in the practice area and even giving beta during the route viewing!

route viewing sam simon imaging

Route viewing. Photo by Sam Simon Imaging

In iso I found out I was scheduled to go first. I thought this was good– I got to cheer on my friends Peter and Steve and watch the rest of the girls climb the route!  But the viewing had brought my nerves back in full force– I had no idea how to use the first few holds on the route! I had trained on roofs….I was a Figure 4 master!!!….but shoot, I may not even GET to the roof! And I was first. FIRST.   Oh geez.

After tying in, I warned the belayer to watch out for my tools. He was very kind and reassured me that he would get out of the way. Thanks Matt 🙂

tying in

Pretty sure this is me warning Matt that Im dangerous. Photo by Matt S.

The first move was a stein pull. It was weird doing it on a climbing hold but felt more comfortable than the crumbling sandstone I was used too. I was very nervous.

steinpull sam simon imaging

Photo by Sam Simon Imaging

Then came the holds I had no idea how to use….I asked myself, “What Would Will Gadd do?”


909090 sam simon imaging

90-90-90! Photo by Sam Simon Imaging

sam simon imaging

Photo by Sam Simon Imaging


Photo by Matt S.

I was so tired from being nervous and figuring out the starting holds that I was gassing out by the time I reached the roof. I decided to move down to a hold with a better stance to shake off the creeping pump. I put a tool in my mouth to free up a hand but was breathing so heavily I had difficulty getting air in and out around the tool! My other hand was too tired to hold it so I put the tool on my shoulder….and shook it off while I was shaking out. FML. Honestly, I was so tired at that point I probably only had one or two more moves left in me, but I really wanted to go out doing something cool—like taking a big whip, or you, know…a figure 4!

fallen tool sam simon imaging

One tool too short. Photo by Sam Simon Imaging

I was really grateful for the support of the MC and the crowd–It was awesome to have a whole room cheering you on! And after I climbed total strangers came up to me to tell me how brave I was and that I did a good job. That was priceless.   Someone even gave me a beer 🙂

Peter ended up coming in first and Steve came in third! Peter won a rope from Sterling…which anyone who climbs with Peter and his sketchy ropes is thankful for… and Steve won $50 US (which is like $200 CDN right now lol). Our group also won some awesome prizes from the raffle, including sweet Julbo sunglasses, Darn Tough socks, Mammut hat  and a rope!

Pete and Steve and the booty

WInner winner chicken dinner

Overall the Smuggs Kick Off Party was a blast and I am super happy I competed. I encourage everyone out there to sign up and give it a try, or if that isn’t your thing just come out for the party and cheer the climbers on! There are flashy lights and a DJ, an AMAZING raffle, super friendly people, tasty beer, lots of giveaways and demos of sweet products. Overall an awesome way to spend a Friday night 😉

smuggs competitors

The Smuggs Ice Bash–we like it.





Why the Climbing World Needs Wesley Summers


  • Rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad
  • That branch of philosophy dealing with vales relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.

When I first started climbing, I knew nothing of “climbing ethics”.   I had been taken out to a cliff one day by friends and friendly strangers and taught the basics of how to rock climb and not to die. One of these friendly strangers, a French climbing guide, thought I should be learning to lead right away. Soon I was clipping bolts on 5.6’s, toproping 5.9s and life was easy and good (and I didn’t die).

Then I moved to a different province. I wanted to climb but didn’t know any climbers or where the crags were. Eventually, I ended up at the doorstep of the local climbing gym. During my orientation tour of the facility, the lead wall was pointed out to me and I was told that, one day, I would learn how to clip bolts. First, however, I had to be able to climb 5.10s comfortably without falling.


I thought maybe the gym’s lead routes only started at 5.10, but no, they had bolted 5.7s, 8s and 9s…
I came to learn that lead climbing was seen as something of a status at the gym, something to be earned, to graduate too. “Newbs” toproped, experienced climbers lead climbed. I passed my lead climbing test and shrugged it off as silliness.

The thing is, as my climbing career progressed, these “rules” and attitudes kept popping up. Just climbing a climb was not enough– a climb also had to be done in good style. Toproping a climb to figure out beta was frowned upon (unless it was a very difficult climb or had bad falls..or did it have to have both? I don’t remember). Actually, top roping at ALL was generally frowned upon.

“Suck it up and lead it!” They would say…

Correct language became very important as well: Sending a climb with pre-placed draws was a pink point, NOT a red point. Sending a climb after a friend climbed it first was a flash and NOT an onsight.

Somewhere along the way it all seeped in and I found myself noticing and internally criticizing those who were doing it wrong: She used the tree and that was out. He clipped the bolt when he could have placed gear. He pulled on the draw. She was hangdogging. They ticked all the good holds.

I also became aware that some types of climbing were apparently “better” than other types of climbing:
outdoor climbing vs indoor climbing,
bouldering vs. sport climbing,
sport climbing vs. trad climbing,
sewing it up vs running it out.

Three examples of the above come to mind:

While climbing at the local crag, I tried to be friendly and start up a conversation by asking the guy beside me what gym he climbed at.
“I don’t climb inside,” he replied. “I only climb outside.”
“Oh,” I replied, “You rock climb outside in the winter?”
“No, I climb at (name of indoor climbing gym).”

Then there was this time a friend was working on a really impressive 5.12+ roof crack and he posted this photo on Facebook:

monumentThe first comment on the photo wasn’t “good job!” or “way to go man!” but a fellow climber pointing out the pre-placed cam.  They noted it made the climb easier and attached a link to a post on Mountain Project saying he should “knock at least a letter grade off if you do this”.

Finally, at my local crag last year, permission was given to some of the crags developers to install anchor bolts at the top of the cliff.  Until then, all of the routes at the crag had been lead climb only–the new anchors would allow some of the routes to be accessed and climbed by toprope.  Within days of the new anchors being installed, they were chopped.
The local climbing internet forum exploded: there were debates not only about the bolt chopping, but also about who can give permission to add anchors and bolts, what the right way was to install anchors and bolts and what the best kind was to use.
(There were even debates about the “right” way to chop bolts!  Apparently the chopper didn’t use good style)

“ Does it really matter if a particular climb is done in any particular “style?” Is there one “true code of ethics” that is admirably suited to all climbers?”

– Warren Harding, ASCENT 1981

I was getting kinda bummed out about it all, when I stumbled over a blog called Rock Climbing Life, written by rock climbing enthusiast and “guide” Wesley Summers. In his posts, Wesley gives the finger to the idea of “climbing ethics”: he bolts trad routes, projects climbs on top rope, “onsights” and “flashes” climbs he has tried several times and “free solos” boulder problems. He mocks famous climbers and climbing elitism, even dedicating a post to why we should discourage new climbers from trying the sport. His popular response to those who attack him is, “Do you even climb?”

While his posts are brilliant, the angry replies Wesley receives are somehow even better, mostly because they expose some of the attitudes he is poking fun of:


Other actual replies to his posts:

 “Just stay home, there are enough chodes coming to the gorge already, we’d be fine without another.”

“Get off the TR nipple”

“So bolt the snot out of routes so your self important retro-Patagonia clad rigid stem cam toting gym rat can hang dog on it?”

“Go top rope in a gym.”

“Is not an onsite ascent the highest form of style? Or do we dumb things down and make climbing “safe” for the masses?”

“Wes, go home and play with your barbie dolls. The crag is a place for men to climb, not you!”

So… I would just like to  say Thank You, Wesley Summers.
Thank you for making me laugh and reminding me to not take climbing so seriously.
The climbing world needs you.
I look forward to more posts and hope one day Chris Kalous has you back on the Enormocast!

Your fan,
Anna O

 “I have often been asked why I seldom, if ever, write my views on all this ethics business. In thinking about it, I realize I don’t give a damn.”

– Warren Harding, ASCENT 1981

DIY Silica Gel Shoe Fresheners

Tired of smelly climbing shoes? Damp, fusty snowboard boots? Clothes or gear stored in rubber bins coming out musty and stale?

You’ve tried deodorizers and air fresheners but they just cover the odor: No matter how much you douse your ice climbing boots with “Clean Linen” or “Tropical Breeze,” there is still that sexy hint of eau de cheesy feet.

So…How do you beat the funk?*

[ Drumroll ] The Silica Gel Pack!

One of the major culprits is moisture: the sweat in your biking, hiking or climbing shoes or the humidity/dampness trapped in your sealed rubber bins.  Moist places with poor ventilation are a happy home for bacteria, mold and fungal growth = smell.

Silica gel absorbs this moisture, keeping things like purses and freeze-dried camping dinners fresh and delicious!

Who would ever eat this?

Rather than “borrowing” those little packets from shoe boxes or buying expensive, pre-made silica gel packs, make your own gel packs with this easy (and cheap) DIY!

 Step 1—You need silica gel.
I found two inexpensive places to get it:

1) The craft store: Apparently silica gel is used as a drying agent for flowers.

2)  The pet food aisle: Some kitty litter is just straight up silica gel…you will know it is the right one because it will say it right on the label and look like white/clear crystals.

I found this at Walmart for about $15 after tax:

photo (2)

Step 2--Put the gel in a pouch (the more “breathable” the better!)

The first time I made my silica gel packs I was living in a truck, so here is what I did:


What you will need:
-coffee filters (whatever size)


  • Spoon silica gel into coffee filter
  • Tape edge of coffee filter closed so no gel bits are leaking out. Try to cover just the edges, leaving as much of the coffee filter surface area open to breathe.

DIY silica gel pack

Ta da!

If you have some time and/or access to a sewing machine there is also:


What you will need:
-Muslin, cheesecloth  (you can find these at fabric stores for pretty cheap), a rice bag or old cotton tshirt.  Pretty much any durable, somewhat breathable material.
-Sewing machine and/or needle and thread


  • Cut fabric into desired shape.  I made mine slim rectangles because they fit well in shoes (and I can’t really sew anything but straight lines)
  • Sew around the edges, leaving a hole big enough to pour the gel in with a spoon
  • Option: Turn shape inside out to hide seams. (Because we are fancy!)
  • Fill shape ¾ full with gel:photo (4)
  •  Sew the last bit closed…

photo (3)


These make nice, cheap gifts for people too!  They work for shoes, bins, ammo boxes, closets, sock drawers…and by putting them in the oven you can dry them out and reuse them over and over.  (google it for the details!)

Good luck and stay fresh!


*Beat the Funk was my band name in high school



Confessions of a Rock Climbing Addict?

Ad·dic·tion [uh-dik-shuh n]  noun

the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit forming, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma


Hello, my name is Anna and I am a rock climber.
I haven’t seen my family in almost 2 months. I missed Thanksgiving (Red River Gorge trip).
I missed Christmas Eve story telling (Potrero Chico). I missed my birthday party (Indian Creek). I missed Easter dinner (Seneca Rocks). I missed Canada day camping (Daks).
My dad tells me he loves me via facebook message.


Hello, my name is Anna and I am a rock climber.
My friends are also all rock climbers. When we are not rock climbing, we talk about rock climbing, using jargon no one else can follow. Or we watch movies about rock climbing. Or read magazines about rock climbing. Or listen to podcasts about rock climbing. If we go to a restaurant, at least one person tries to climb the side of the building. A one-armed chin up contest at a party is not unusual.
I used to have non-rock climbing friends, but I haven’t seen them since the weather turned warm.


Hello, my name is Anna and I am a rock climber.
I have a job. This job facilitates my rock climbing. When I am working, I am planning my next rock climbing trip. I am waiting for the end of the day so I can go rock climbing. I am counting down until the weekend so I can go rock climbing. When work inevitably interferes with my rock climbing, I quit. And move into my car. Until the money runs out. Then I get another job.


Hello, my name is Anna and I am a rock climber.
I wake up in the morning with claw hands that can take up to an hour to be able to open fully (actually, one finger doesn’t straighten fully anymore, but Im pretty sure I can get it back again). My right ankle hasn’t worked or looked quite right since I broke it bouldering. Neither has my left ankle—I broke that bouldering too. I have little to no feeling over the first knuckle of both my hands where I jam. And it is awesome.
I wish my fingers would hurry up and go numb too so I can climb hard finger cracks.


Hello, my name is Anna and I am a rock climber.
Rock climbing is not an addiction, it’s just something I like to do.
I can stop any time I like.

heart crack

What Rob Ford and I have in common

Wanted: Female Rock Climbing Ambassadors

When I first started climbing, I had a lot of excuses for why I wasn’t able to climb a climb:
My arms weren’t long enough. My hands were too small. I was too short.
I would dismiss the climb as impossible for all but tall, long-armed strong men
(one of which was probably the setter).

Then Shannon, a girl friend (who was probably a foot shorter than me and 100 lbs soaking wet), would rock up to the same problem in her cut-off jean shorts and lime green 5.10s and crush it.
“You can totally do it Anna,” she would tell me, “just turn your hip into the wall and really reach for it!”
She was a strong climber with great technique, and she inspired me.
If Shannon could do it, then one day I could do it too, right?
(I just needed to ditch the excuses and become a better rock climber 😉 )

I like to think of Shannon as a Female Rock Climbing Ambassador*.
Shannon in general made my climbing experience better.
She would shout encouragement, was always happy to give beta (“girl” beta I would say ), and was generally stoked on climbing, which made me stoked to climb with her.

Shannon sadly moved on to a better place (British Columbia), but Im sure wherever she is, she is still crushing and encouraging other women to crush.

So, in memory of Shannon, I’d like to challenge all of you lady rock climbers out there, regardless of skill or experience, to become Female Rock Climbing Ambassadors!
Be part of creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for women in what can sometimes be a frustrating and intimidating male-dominated sport.  It can be as simple as sharing a smile or some encouragement at the crag or gym. Or supporting a ladies’ climbing night or event. Or even offering to take an indoor-climbing-lady outdoors for the first time!
(my first time climbing outdoors was really awkward because it turned out the guy was interested in me as more than just a climbing partner…Other females may relate to this experience)

Become a Female Rock Climbing Ambassador!  Spread the stoke!


Ladies helping ladies!

*This is likely not the right use of the word, but I like it and Im sticking with it!

Your Scars are Sexy

My 5 year old niece plopped herself beside me and pointed to the pea-sized bruise darkening on her little peach-fuzzed knee. She frowned.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, looking between her and the offending knee innocently.
She pointed at the little bruise again.
“Auntie Anna I fell.” She looked up at me and frowned again more dramatically.
“Oh no…How did you fall?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
Her frown vanished as her eyes widened with excitement.

“There was a goose!” she exclaimed, and began to explain in the halting and meandering way that 5-year-olds sometimes do how she had gone to a park…or conservation area… or the zoo? and there were animals…and a pond…and fish… and she had tripped running away from…a goose? She was so animated by the end of the story it was hard to tell.

I whistled, “Phew! It sounds like you had an adventure!”
Her tiny body bobbed up and down as she nodded in agreement.

“Sometimes when we go on adventures we get scraps and bruises,” I continued as I pushed the bottom of my pant leg up. A fresh purple bruise was blossoming on my calf.
“If I had stayed at home, I wouldn’t have this bruise, BUT I also wouldn’t have had an adventure.”

She eyed the bruise on my calf curiously, then stuck out her finger and poked it.  Her gaze shifted to the rest of my exposed leg and she pointed to the large scar on my shin, the little bruises that surrounded it and the fresh blackfly bite welts.
She looked at me with wide eyes.
“You must go on a lot of adventures Auntie Anna!”


I had completely forgotten about the conversation until later that night when I was getting ready for a girls night out:  I was hesitating over the decision to wear a cute little black dress.  It was laid out on the bed: black and tight and…short.
My beaten up legs would definitely be on full display.

I contemplated my legs in the mirror:

Maybe flesh coloured pantyhose would cover up the scars? 

Foundation on the bruises so they don’t show as much?

 Hm…maybe I could wear tights underneath the dress…or jeans…would that look weird? 

Sigh.  Maybe I should just wear the jeans and skip the dress tonight…?  

Geez, look at these UGLY legs.

The thought caught.
Ugly legs.
I considered them in the mirror.
Were my legs ugly?
They were scratched, yes, and bruised, and scarred.  But did this make them less attractive?

I traced the line of the scar on the inside of my left calf—a reminder of what side of the bike to get off of when learning to ride a motorcycle in Thailand…

Every mark had a story–was an adventure. Just like the little bruise on my niece’s knee.
And she was right, my legs had been on many adventures:
They had hiked through woods and got bitten by bugs, they had climbed rocks and got bruised and scarred, they had rode mountain bikes and got dirty and scratched.

They were legs to be proud of, not ashamed or embarrassed.
They were short-little-black-dress legs.


So, to all you ladies out there with scraped knees, scarred ankles and bruised shins…
to all the women with burned shoulders, scabbed elbows, calloused hands and warped feet:

Your bruises are beautiful.
And your scars are sexy.

Show them off, share your stories and continue on your adventures, whatever they may be… 🙂


My legs: sans pantyhose, foundation or tights

To Sell or Not to Sell: How do you let go of the gear that you Love?

This post is dedicated to JJ, my brother, and anyone else who has parted with a beloved bike, boat, kite, rack, board or other piece of gear
in exchange for other wonderful adventures…


“Hey Anna, maybe it’s time you sold one of your kayaks…..?”

My roommate stood, hands on hips, eyeing up the boats taking up precious space in a garage already crammed full of gear.

“I mean, when was the last time you even used them? Do you really need two?”
She cleared a path to the whitewater playboat and creekboat I had expertly tucked away behind a corner of our garage woody and started dragging them out for closer inspection.

“Hey…stop that!” I instinctively positioned myself between her and the boats.
“They are for two totally different types of kayaking…so YES, I do need two.”

She stared at me for a moment (…I was still physically protecting the boats…), shook her head, turned and picked her way out of the garage.

I turned and looked at the boats affectionately.
Sell my kayaks? No way. Absolutely no.
I started propping them back into the corner.
I mean, yeah, so I haven’t used them in awhile….but I WILL. This season for sure. Definitely.
I positioned a crash pad to conveniently block the view of the boats from the garage door.

The thing is…I knew I probably wasn’t going to use them that season. Or the next.
It wasn’t because I didn’t love kayaking anymore—I was the same me.
It was that life had, unexpectedly, changed around me.
After nearly a decade working in the adventure tourism industry, I decided to follow a different career path. I took a 9-5 job. I moved to a small town 4.5 hours away from whitewater. My paddling friends slowly scattered around the country.
I went from kayaking every other day…to every other weekend…to every other month…to maybe once or twice a season. It happened so slowly, so gradually, that I didn’t even realize I hadn’t been in my boat for over a year until my roommate dragged it across the garage floor that day.

Sell my kayaks?
Okay, so I didn’t really paddle anymore.  I talked about it in the past tense, something I used to do. I used to be a kayaker. “Whitewater” no longer made it into my “About Me” descriptions, I couldn’t remember the last time I read Rapid mag, and my “boat rags” t-shirt and boardshorts were in a box somewhere, likely my mom’s basement.
So why did I literally throw my body across my boats at the off-hand suggestion of putting them up for sale?

An experience I had with my brother a million years ago came to mind:

Before he went on his first backpacking adventure, my super-spend-thrift older brother went out and dropped a ton of cash on a brand new, 80L Arc’teryx backpack.
“I did my research…it was the best,” I remember him telling me with a big smile.
And he and the pack went on to have many adventures together around the world.

Fast forward 8 years—my bro is married, has a house, mortgage, 2 kids and a career.
And the Arc’teryx pack accompanies me now on adventures.

After borrowing and returning it for the umpteenth time, I finally asked my brother if I could just keep it.
“No.” He replied curtly.
“I’ll pay you for it if you want,” I said. “I mean, it’s not like you use it anymore.”
His mouth tightened.
“Oh come on! You don’t need it…It’s just going to sit in your basement collecting dust!”
He shot me a sharp look, picked up the bag and walked away.
My sister-in-law came over and put a hand on my shoulder,
“Give him some time Anna,” she said. “He’ll come around.”**

Being older and wiser, I now understand that that 8-year-old pack meant more to my brother than the big-blue-bag-that-held-stuff I coveted. The pack had become a representation—a reminder—of a life before marriage and houses and kids, a life where he was able to drop everything and travel around the world for weeks and months at a time.

And maybe my kayaks were the same?
Did selling my kayaks meant admitting…accepting…that I had changed right along with the life around me? Letting go of the past?


I’ve decided to sell one of my boats.

The creekboat.
Because I accept that I’m not going creeking or running a waterfall any time soon.

As for the playboat?

Give me some time. I’ll come around.


(If anyone out there is interested in a Jackson Punkrocker let me know)

** P.S–My brother didn’t officially give me the Arc’teryx pack, but he didn’t ask for it back after the last time I borrowed it. It continues to accompany me on many adventures 🙂