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Learning Heaps: An Aussie Intern at Climbing

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Living in the U.S. takes some getting used to—people talk funny, drive on the wrong side of the road, and the light switches are upside down. But I’m willing to overlook those minor drawbacks because the mountains are stunning, desert camping is a blast, the Flatirons are at my doorstep, and last but not least, interning at Climbing is the chance of a lifetime. After slogging away as an environmental scientist for a number of years, I decided it was time for a change. I returned to university to study writing and editing, and shortly after that set out to intern at a magazine. Unfortunately for me, this search included some pretty limiting criteria: The magazine must be about climbing, and it must be located somewhere fun. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Climbing was the perfect fit. After a couple months of climbing, living, and working in “the Bubble,” I’ve learned a thing or two.

1. How to crack climb. Australia isn’t known for its crack climbs. The occasional jam might be required, but I’ve generally avoided these by finding crimpy face holds to get by. No such luck at Indian Creek. Or Lumpy Ridge. Or even some places in Boulder Canyon. With hundreds of splitter cracks in the area, it was high time to learn the fine art of jamming. I not only mastered the art of the tape glove, but I grunted and groveled up the easiest routes I could find. And lo and behold, I had fun! Note to self: Pointy sport shoes are not foot-friendly when crammed into cracks.

2. Every little kid in the gym is stronger than me. Although it bugged me at first, and no matter how hard I tried to justify the tiny ones’ incredible pulling power—unbeatable strength-to-weight ratio, too small to get pumped, etc.they still hand it to me on a regular basis. No excuses!

3. Burritos are the breakfast of champions. I had never had a breakfast burrito before winging my way stateside, but now I’m a firm believer in them. Missing a few pitches to concoct the perfect Mexican power bar is totally worth it because one of these bad boys can fuel you for the entire day.

4. Wear sunscreen in the desert. Even when it’s 32°F and cloudy, you will fry and look like a raccoon for the next two weeks.

Australian intern Liz Drummond has a blast climbing the Direct Route (5.6) on the First Flatiron of Boulder. Photo by John Keller.

5. Climbing in Eldorado Canyon demands respectand a windproof jacket. Just a few days after I arrived, a mate offered to take me climbing in Eldorado Canyon. I jumped at the opportunity to play outside with all the naivety of an Aussie who didn’t realize that February in Colorado is COLD. In sub-freezing temps and roaring winds, I pawed my way up a few pitches unable to feel my fingers or toes. I have never been so cold while climbing! And a few weeks later, I witnessed Rocky Mountain Rescue evacuate a climber who had decked and injured his back. Take care in the canyon!

6. Interviewing climbing legends can be fun, albeit a little intimidating. A couple weeks into my internship, I interviewed Henry Barber, Jim Whittaker, and Tom Hornbein, all rock stars in their own time. Every ring of the phone added more nervousness, but after chatting for a few minutes, I enjoyed myself. These mountain men might appear a bit rough around the edges, but deep down they are all softies!

7. A lot of famous climbers are in Boulder. One weekend at nearby Shelf Road, I came to realize I was hanging out with and climbing next to Lynn Hill. Not only is she a classic around the campfire, but she also schooled some college guys on a bouldery 5.12, just dancing up the wall. “You see that jug?” she asked, offering beta and pointing to a horrid-looking sloper. “You need to latch that with your right hand then move your feet up.” I think she and I have a different definition of “jug.”

8. Living in the Rockies is rad. I went skiing on Friday, climbing on Saturday, hiking on Sunday, and to a different party every night. Outdoor adventures are endless; they always end with cold beer and a good story. Plus, everyone is ripped and pretty to look at.

9. It snows here (a lot). Before moving to Boulder, I asked my future housemate if it snowed here. In retrospect this was a pretty silly question—of course it frigging snows! After my first snowstorm as a car owner, I stood dumbfounded at the sight of my Subaru in six inches of powdery white stuff. I had no idea what to do. It turns out everyone owns a brush and scraper to remove snow from his or her car. After four late-season dumps, I’m getting pretty good at it!

10. My Aussie accent will be made fun of. No, I’m not a Kiwi (New Zealander) or a Pom (British), and I don’t sound anything like them! Jeez! I’ve been asked a few times if I come with a dictionary, so here are some hints: esky = cooler; arvo = afternoon; sprog = child; bogan = redneck; bottle-o = liquor shop; billy = jug for boiling water over a campfire; heaps = a lot. But don’t you worry, I dish it as much as I take it, so bring it on Yanks!