From Chopping Wood to Climbing Ice

Since last September I have been working as a wilderness instructor at Thistledew Camp in northern Minnesota. Before I signed up for this job, I was not aware that their winter could be this brutal; for my last couple courses there, single digit in day time was common and forty and fifty below at night time was not unheard of. Since one of the main elements of the program is a therapeutic process to guide adjudicated youth toward self-recognition and self-confidence, a campfire is always necessary not only for cooking but also to encourage teens to engage in discussion.

Once we reach our campsite, before we set up our tents, we have to gather dead trees and saw them into burnable pieces. Sometimes when a piece is too thick, as an instructor equipped with an axe, I am responsible of splitting it into halves or even quarters. I was raised in Taipei and reside in Philly; even though I never call myself a city girl, splitting wood is certainly not my expertise. I remember I looked at the axe in my hand and the log in front of me, “this can’t be too hard.” I lifted my axe and “boom” the log laid on the ground intact like a sleeping beauty. I do not recall how many tries to get through the first piece. I only remember I got attached to the new challenge and woke up next morning with a sore lower back.

The past President Day Weekend was during my off time between courses; I was excited that I had the chance to ice climb in the Adirondacks for three days. Before my partner Yaroslav and I set off, I learned this “disturbing” news that he has already started leading on ice while my ice tools were still new in the box. Well, my ice tools were certainly not rusty, but my skills might have been, especially since my last ice climbing day was more than a year ago. I was pretty worried; I did not want to hold anybody back.

It was cold on Saturday, February 16th at an area called “Pitch-off Right.” Yaroslav set up a top rope for me to ease into my first ice climbing day of the season. “Do you want to climb first?” he asked. I knew that I wanted him to go first but to cover my cowardly hesitation I prompted “Oh, OK” as my response. I was not smooth for the first run; not surprising; I was not as bad as I expected either; huh… maybe surprising.

Yaroslav hopped on the rope next; I tried to observe his movements for my reference. There was less interruptions between movements; more trust given to the sharp points; the sequence of picks and kicks was continuous. My mind could not help but wander back to the northern woods; that was me, chopping logs. My axe was lifted over my head; my eyes were wide-open paying full attention to the aim. My legs were shoulder-length apart; the axe was aligned to the center of my body. I inhaled some refreshing air and initiated the sequence; my wrists gave the axe a final boost before it was grabbed by the gravity. The mission was then easily accomplished. “Aim and Commit,” my conclusion to successful wood chopping. I never had a sore lower back ever since.

I was eager to get back on the rope. I looked for targets for my sharp points; initiate the motion and let the gravity do the work. Once I committed, I knew I should just trust the gravity; any hesitation would have been a counterforce and might cascade to mass destruction. The second run was a huge improvement over the first run, smoother and therefore more efficient. I did far less work yet I accomplished much more. Yaroslav was impressed, and so was I. The days in northern woods were not irrelevant to climbing. Aim and Commit–my newborn philosophy to ice climbing.

1 thought on “From Chopping Wood to Climbing Ice”

  1. Dear LittlePo:
    好久不見! 你依舊過得很充實呢! 🙂

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