Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dude, That's Crazy!

It is always my hope to inspire even one person to live with purpose, passion, and peace.  When you get to be my age, you tend to look back and wonder why you didn't do it sooner.  It has always been my choice; I just didn't realize it until I had years of living under my belt.

But some people make that choice at a very young age.  They are pulled by their passion and nothing gets in their way.  Surrounding myself with passionate people inspires me, and on the final evening of my recent adventure to the Michigan Ice Fest, I found myself not only inspired, but once again wondering why I had waited so long to do this!  One of my many inspirations came from an extraordinary young woman named Zoe Hart.

Zoe Hart, Google Images
Having climbed Opening Curtain during the day with Zoe, I was looking forward to her presentation and learning more about her.  Zoe's personality shines in even the briefest of moments spent in her company, but I didn't learn much about her history or what brought her here, nor did I have the opportunity to ask her my burning question about why she does this, what makes her different? The answer was self-evident in her personality anyway.  Zoe Hart is joyful, passionate, energetic, infectious, strong, supportive…shall I go on?  I could.  So much life emanates from her!  A compact little bundle of passion, Zoe's every word and every movement made me want to reach for the sky and believe I could accomplish anything.

Zoe Hart, Google Images
One of only four American women to have achieved the highest accreditation from the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association, Zoe is one of the few alpinists I met who did not grow up hearing the call to the mountains.  She grew up in New Jersey, and then went to Boston College to study English Literature in what she calls the path to a normal life.  But then her father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack, and the impact on Zoe pushed her to find her passion.  She went to the mountains, and the rest is history.  Zoe has achieved first ascents on mountains in Switzerland, Scotland, and Oman, and first female ascents in Alaska.  She also set a first ski descent speed record in Pakistan.
Maxime Turgeon and Zoe Hart, Google Images

While climbing in France, Zoe met her future husband, alpinist Maxime Turgeon, and they now live in Chamonix, France with their infant son.  When the relationship was new, Max would take care of Zoe while climbing, but now that the honeymoon is over he serves as her greatest inspiration while pushing her to her limits and insisting she carry her own weight!

Zoe Hart and Sue Nott
Google Images
Zoe's zest for living and pushing herself carries into every aspect of her life.  During her presentation, she spoke of her mentors, particularly Sue Nott, who taught her to forget she's a woman when climbing, but hide fashion magazines in her pack.  Sue died while climbing, as have other partners Zoe has had, and the impact on Zoe is to push herself further to keep their memory alive.

It was fitting that at the end of Zoe's presentation, we were honored by a special guest, Sue Nott's mother, Evi.

Maddie, Rachael, and Evi
Evi had been in our group of women that day, climbing the ice for the first time in 10 years.  I was drawn to her from the moment we met for her grace and warmth.  She is one of those rare people that makes you feel good with just a smile and a kind word.  Her encouragement for

 the rest of us that day was so genuine and uplifting.  She was attending the Michigan Ice Fest for the first time, brought by event organizer Bill Thompson to present the Sue Nott scholarship to Maddie and Rachael for their foray into ice climbing.  Each year, two young girls are awarded a scholarship to attend the ice fest and continue the passion of Sue Nott for female alpinists.

Evi faced a roomful of 450 people and spoke of her daughter with laughter and love.  After giving background on Sue's unstoppable quest for conquering mountains, Evi joked that she had sent Sue to college and begged her to complete those last 4 credits to graduate, when Sue left to climb a mountain with partner Karen McNeill of New Zealand.  Evi's voice dropped then, and it seems everyone in that room knew what was coming next except me.  You could have heard a pin drop as Evi said,

Karen Mcneill and Sue Nott, Google Images

"In May of 2006, Sue and Karen left to climb Mount Foraker in Alaska, and were never seen again".

I thought about that statement.  Never seen again.  Two days after they should have made contact, search crews set out, but other than Sue's backpack, nothing was ever found to explain what happened to these two women.  They just…disappeared.  They were taken by the mountain to forever be a part of it.

I began to understand Evi Nott's strength.  Not because she lives with the uncertainty of what happened to her child, but because even knowing the risks, she allowed her child to go.  It isn't that she just allowed it, but she loved and celebrated her daughter in living a life of passion.  It takes a special kind of love, the kind of love every mother should know, to give her child the gift of following her dream.

In Memory of Sue Nott
Google Images
Evi Nott loved and lost her daughter; but she shares her memories and inspires others to live the way Sue lived.  I am honored to have spent time with Evi, I will never forget her smile, the kind words she spoke to me, and her strength.  And even now, she climbs the ice like a pro; she wasn't even tired when she finished!  I asked her how it felt to climb again, and with her beautiful smile, Evi said,

"It felt great!"

It certainly did.

The final presenter of the weekend was a man whose name I had heard many, many times that weekend.  Everyone was talking about Will Gadd.  As his slideshow began, I quickly found out why.  This guy is crazy!  With each new slide, as Will spoke of climbs all over the world, someone would whisper "Dude, that's crazy".  This video shows just what I mean as Will and Tim Emmett climb the never-before-attempted Helmcken Falls in British Columbia, named by Gadd "Spray On".  The following images, taken from, also give you an idea of how he likes to spend his time defying sanity:

Will Gadd certainly has done things that most of us cannot even imagine.  But as he told story after story with a humorous twist, a theme began to emerge, and Will's message is worth repeating.

There is something in the Alpine world called "The List", which Will displayed on the big screen.  It is his list of all the partners and climbers he has known who have been taken by the mountain.  The List is long.  Will Gadd knows, as any climber does, that he is not on The List mostly because of luck, but also because of something he calls "the positive power of negative thinking".

To an outsider, these accomplished alpinists are crazy; who in their right mind would do this?  But everyone I met at The Michigan Ice Fest, while acknowledging the risk, spoke of safety.  People like Will, and all the other presenters at the ice fest, don't just fly to some remote part of the world and start climbing a mountain.  They spend weeks and months researching routes, equipment, weather, rock and ice conditions, and thousands of other details.  Sometimes, even after all this preparation, Will arrives for an expedition, and negative thoughts creep into his plan.  When this happens, Will aborts the climb.  He has learned the positive power of negative thinking, and its how he stays off "The List".

Every single presenter at the Michigan Ice Fest has thousands of stories to tell.  But they also have educations, experiences, and involvement with the communities who welcome them.  I was surprised to learn of the many volunteer efforts they participate in for the environment, the arts, third-world concerns like education and health care, and countless other ways in which these climbers are aware and involved.  They give back so much of themselves.  Alpinists are larger-than-life people who push themselves mentally, physically, spiritually, and never waste a minute of life.  Are they crazy?  No.  They are passionate, purposeful, and peaceful.  In a word, incredible.  I am so grateful to have met them and heard their words, to have felt, just for a moment, what they feel.  I am a better person for it.

If you've been following my story, I promised that I would give you the "Beta" on the Michigan Ice Fest; the information you need before you go.  It's very simple.  Just GO.  Once you register with Michigan Ice Fest (and I suggest you start checking in September for opening registration) you will be given the information you need.  Everything else will fall into place once you get there.

But the same advice holds true for anything.  What makes you different?  What passion is calling?  You have a choice.  You can either keep on getting through life, even with success, or you can live passionately.  It doesn't even matter what your dream is.  You can restore antique cars, make beautiful quilts, be an outdoor adventurer, a writer, a singer, an artist.  You can build an orphanage, or decide to be a positive person who brightens the lives of those around you.  You can supply clean water in third world countries.  Share your faith, teach children to read or ski down a mountain or start a website.  Invent a product.  Read every classic novel.  Anything.  You don't have to walk away from your family and your job and your responsibilities; you can do both.  But you have to commit to doing it.

I have spent the last year carving pieces of time into my busy life to do what I love most; going outside, and writing about it.  There are many obstacles, but I don't give up trying.  I believe that if I start spending at least some of my time doing what I love, everything good will follow.

Despite what my friends (and even some of my family) think, I'm not crazy because I wanted to climb ice.  The experience taught me that I am on the right track to becoming the person I always believed I would be, I just got sidetracked for 25 years.  I left the Ice Fest feeling strong, peaceful, joyful, and with the sense that I had been in the right place, with good people, and for a reason other than climbing.

This summer, I plan to Kayak in white water.  Dude, that's crazy!

Google Images