“When in doubt run it out, but hang your heart on reliable pro.”
Madaleine has been climbing since 1998 and guiding since 2002. An elite big wall free climber, she has led up to 5.13+ on 35-pitch routes on El Capitan in Yosemite, California and the Diamond of Longs Peak, Colorado. She has made several first or early ascents of 5.12/5.13 Grade VI (multi-day) climbs, often in female teams and in remote areas around the world. With any goal, she plays with a balance of adventure, fun and pushing herself to perform her best. Finding her sweet spot is a little different every day. She continues to be motivated for her personal climbing goals, and is honored to be guiding and coaching climbers of all levels to meet their own next wall.
She is a certified Rock Guide through the American Mountain Guides Association. She guides predominantly in Colorado or Red Rocks, Nevada for the Colorado Mountain School, Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, Red Rock Climbing Center and the Women’s Wilderness Institute.
I like to be high off the ground and experience space in the natural world, the company of a friend or two, and a challenging climbing objective.
I perform well under pressure and have subsequently led a number of bold climbs at my physical limit. Long climbs, often multi-day free climbs where difficulties the continue thousands of feet off of the ground, are places I yearn to be. This is probably because I know that I’ll find myself there–present and responsive to the experience.
I value the simplicity of climbing, the confidence, inspiration and presence gained in the movement of a technical climb or from enduring a challenge, and the interdependence I experience in nature. I think the art of climbing lies in noticing your experience, allowing it to unfold and then deciding where to direct your attention in order to make your next move. For me freeing big walls continues to create an ideal environment. It is complex, yet straightforward (Just go up the rock!); one task performed at a time.
I was introduced to climbing through summer adventure camps and remember my first long climb (The Prow, 5.7 on Kit Carson in Colorado) as a formative one. I was fifteen, and the day unfolded as a series of new experiences punctuated by a range of emotions, thoughts, and sensations. Before the summit of Kit Carson, I remember sitting on the ledge alone, waiting to hear “on belay” and taking in the expansive view, our tents now thousands of feet below. Transfixed by the marvelous world and precarious nature of reality, I felt both at peace with my small place in the natural order of thing and unsettled by this window into an uncertain future. When I began to climb again, my attention focused on the movement at hand and thoughts and feeling from the ledge became less weighted. I often think of how this climb influenced what I am most inspired to climb and what I value about the climbing experience.
In 2006, I survived a terrifying fall when a suspect rappel anchor broke on a descent from the top of Mt. Wilson in Red Rocks in Nevada. My climbing partner and I fell from the anchor 50 feet down a vertical wall, not touching anything until we impacted (him on top of me) a broad ledge system. Our helmets saved our lives and somehow our bodies were relatively okay. I was unable to weight my right leg from injuries but thankfully with the aid of two other climbers, I managed to drag, scoot and hop 9 hours to a trailhead and into a Las Vegas hospital on April Fools day.
I was 24 years old at the time of the accident. I’d thematically been quitting things the month prior—first my job, then my first girlfriend and then I realized I already felt like a stranger to myself and became depressed. I was experiencing an apathy that I now recognize as ambivalence about my life. I didn’t know what I wanted other than to climb, however, I didn’t even seem to have much focus or drive in my climbing. For much of the climbing day preceding the accident, I had been questioning my decision to climb a committing route that day and especially with a new partner that I barely knew and kept noting more and more reasons not to feel safe with him. The event rattled me awake and my gratitude for living reemerged with force. After some reflection on what I was doing, I sharpened my focus for climbing with passion, direction, and for more self-respect.
Babes and Bananas
(Love and nourishment)
Where you hang your heart is essential so anchor it to a solid piece of pro. I try to treat my relationships with myself, others (especially babes), and the world (especially pretty natural areas with rock walls) as sacred agreements. This takes practice, however, and we’re human. I’ve placed a number of sketchy pieces on and off the rock and can honestly say that there is good news that comes from surviving these episodes. First and foremost, I notice that I’m alive and can appreciate what an amazing, terrifying, and ridiculous experience that is. Second, I now have the opportunity to learn from these trials. I can make the choice to cultivate a life that is less driven by survival and creates more nourishment of love and acceptance for myself.
(Connect the Dots)
What does it mean to take care of myself and others? I think it’s about noticing the need in the moment and being willing to engage with it. In my older years 😉 I’m learning to respond to my experience of restlessness with less reactivity. I definitely still engage with challenging goals but I’m more inclined to let myself take naps when I’m fatigued. I talk to a trusted friend when I’m struggling. I try to be more vulnerable in my relationships and curious about what I’m feeling. Through this effort, I can experience life with more possibility than an either/or mindset. and let my experiences nourish and sweeten this life. While climbing and the rest of my life can still feel at odds sometimes, I’m finding that love on the ground also follows me a thousand feet up a wall and I can experience a profound spaciousness and focus while the friction between my skin and rock lets me move upwards.
Climbing can be a tremendous practice for cultivating mindfulness in all aspects of our lives and I aim to build community with this tool. When I consider my most fulfilling moments in climbing there is always an element of me surrendering to the present experience.
Depending on how I am doing that day, I may adjust the focus of my climbing day. Some days are about engaging with a performance edge and others prioritize climbing as a mindful movement practice. For example, on multi-pitch routes, I may find myself perched on a ledge for an hour as I belay my partner leading the pitch above. This can be a time for me to notice my thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the beautiful environment I’m in. If it’s a safe enough environment, I will try to fully experience whatever is arising (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral) and perhaps rhyme a ditty about out loud.
I experience climbing as a tremendous practice for cultivating self-awareness and learning to work more effectively with our thoughts and feelings. Climbing can orient us to the present moment, connecting us directly to our body and mind and environment (such as the rock!). Likewise, a challenging move can exposes our vulnerabilities. For me, such exposure can develop into tight sensations in my stomach (usually fear) or irritability (which is so uncomfortable that I just want to jump out of my body) or repetitive thoughts of doubt. I appreciate that climbing movement is deliberate and reinforcing for noting the present experience that is occurring in me, through me and around me. To climb well requires focus and so from a desire and inspiration to climb, I quiet my attention to the task at hand. Through a simple (though not easy) process , I learn to effort intentionally and choose where I put my attention. I am often present and responsive to my climbing experience in a ways that I can struggle to show up in the rest of my life. Yet, opening to a climbing experience naturally builds my capacity to work with any difficult thought, feeling or situation in life.