Truth be told, there aren't very many outdoor sports photographers who can keep up in high consequence terrain. There are even fewer who are women. However, just like unicorns, they do exist. I wanted to give a shoutout to my friend @lhittmeier, a talented photographer and writer who took this picture of me doing some sketchy climbing on chossy limestone. Check out more of her work on her freshly updated website lesliehittmeier.com! #bigmtndreams
It's hard not to have an ear to ear grin with a view like this. Angel's Landing in Zion has been on my bucket list for so long. This weekend, we couldn't wait any longer. @rob.lea and I were stoked to tick a mega classic off our life's to do list. It was every bit as exhilarating and beautiful as I expected. Here's to taking advantage of every opportunity to do that thing in life you've always wanted to do. Photo: @rob.lea
It's been cold with a chilly rain all week, keeping roads wet and icy. But I was too excited to ride to wait any longer! When I got on my @iamspecialized_wmn bike, I felt a new freedom and I can't wait for all the adventures we will have together in the months ahead. See more pics from my maiden voyage on my Facebook page: Facebook.com/Carolinegleich #iamspecialized
Throwing it back to two years ago, I was just coming off the glacier after two weeks of snow camping. I miss my buddy @liz_daley everyday. It's been fun watching all my friends on their AK ski trips so far this spring, and I wish the best of luck to all the climbers heading there now. #livelikeliz #bigmtndreams #akgirls_way Photo: @jaybeyerimaging
Return to winter. @rob.lea breaking trail this morning in the Wasatch. April showers bring high elevation powder, and dangerous avalanche conditions. Shortly after this photo was taken, @rob.lea intentionally triggered an avalanche down the Elevator Chute on Mt. Milicent. It started out as a shallow, isolated slab, but below the chute, it stepped into a deeper layer and broke 300' wide, running 1000'. No one was caught, thank goodness, but it was scary to watch! The conditions are touchy right now, be extra careful out there. #utavy @utavy
Some of the best training I've done lately has been playing in the mountains with @brooke.froelich and @huckgaynes. It has kept me super fit. I love lifting weights in the gym, but tossing Huck over Superior makes me giggle more! And I have mad respect for all the active, outdoor moms, dads and care takers out there! You all are strong! 🏼🏼
For #earthday, I came all the way to Driftwood Middle School in Hollywood, FL to do two @protectourwinters Hot Planet/Cool Athletes presentations, reaching about 1400 students. When POW asked me if I would go, I didn't think about it for too long. Going to Florida today was a once in a lifetime opportunity to connect the dots between melting snow and ice and rising sea levels, which threatens their hometown and way of life. It's a good reminder that we are all connected as inhabitants of planet earth. The students saw the connection, and I urged them to become leaders in the fight against climate change. Since I started doing these presentations, I've talked to close to 10,000 students in five states across the nation. Talking to these students is inspiring because they don't see limits- they only see possibilities. The future of climate change leadership is bright. Happy earth day everyone.
Post Whitney summit glow. I feel the most beautiful after I accomplish a hard goal. As we got to Death Valley National Park, my ski pants were too hot to wear, so I threw on this dress and ran my fingers through my hair. @rob.lea got a new camera, and his photo skills did a good job of hiding my greasy, sweaty hair and general filthiness after a long day on the mountain.I'm skipping ahead in my recap of the trip – I wanted to post pictures in chronological order, but when I saw this pic, I wanted to post it now to remind everyone that National Parks are free until April 24! #findyourpark and plan a visit!
I'm having a bout of the post-Sierra trip blues. Sometimes, when I get done with a big objective or project, I feel an emptiness and sadness. I love everything that goes into climbing a mountain- the planning, the sense of purpose, the teamwork and collaboration. Stressful situations and challenges that come up on the mountain are often easier to resolve than other problems in life. Maybe I'm a true junkie, but I can't wait to go back. Photo: @rob.lea #bigmtndreams #poweryourpassion @jaybirdsport
We made it to Badwater Basin (way after sunset, here we are illuminated by moonlight) and completed our linkup from the highest point in the lower 48 to lowest point in North America! These are the kind of adventures that feed my soul! After months of having a foot injury, I couldn't be more stoked on our smash and grab weekend! Sometimes you just gotta pack up the car and go! Thanks @rob.lea for being the best adventure buddy! Maybe I'll start chasing low points now… We've been up for 24 hours now so buenos noches and thanks for cheering us on! PS go visit a national park this week. They are free through April 24!
Sunrise over the Mt. Whitney massif. I'm proud to report that we were successful in our quest to climb and ski the highest peak in the contiguous USA in a day. I anticipated a #sufferfest. Whitney met the challenge…and then some. We are now en route to Death Valley to visit the lowest point in North America! If we make it tonight, we will complete our goal of going from the highest point in the lower 48 to the lowest in North America in a single day, an elevation different of 14,787'/4507m. Not sure we can pull it off tonight! Stay tuned for more photos soon! Here's a quick one I took on my iPhone this am! #bigmtndreams
Tomorrow morning, we will be making a summit bid on Mt. Whitney (14,505' 4421m) to climb and ski the highest peak in the contiguous US. From there, we plan to go directly to Death Valley, to visit the lowest point in North America (-279', -85m) in the same day! It's an ambitious plan, and I'm not sure we can pull it all off, but I'm optimistic. Now to bed for an early wake up! Hopefully will be snap chatting the day! Username: Carolinegleich and robleasnaps! Buenos noches! #bigmtndreams #poweryourpassion @jaybirdsport
It's hard to put into words the joy of climbing in Southeastern Utah, but the @americanalpine club and @accessfund want to hear your stories! I've spent a lot of time this week learning more about the Public Lands Initiative and proposed Bears Ears National Monument. There will be more actions to take in the coming weeks to protect access to these places, but for now, head on over to the link in my profile and share your personal stories of climbing or recreating in southeastern Utah! Indian Creek, Castle Valley, Fischer Towers, Valley of the Gods, etc. I especially urge Utah residents to participate in this! Thank you for taking action to protect the places we love to play! Photo: @rob.lea
Instagram is an amazing platform for sharing life's highlights and accomplishments, but it can be difficult to talk about the low times, the darkness. For the past five months, I've been struggling with a fractured foot. I've finally mustered up the courage to write about it on my blog. If you're interested, check out the link in my profile. And thank you all for your love and support! It's been healing to break my silence about my injury.
When I first began traveling internationally as part of my ski mountaineering career, my mom often would help me pack and give me a ride to the airport. As she dropped me off, she’d say, “Don’t be afraid to swallow some frogs.” What she meant with the saying was that there inevitably would be hiccups and unpleasant things that would arise on the upcoming trip. “Swallowing frogs” was a euphemism to help deal with those things that were irritating and perturbing. Instead of “choking” and not moving on or letting a cloud hang over the experience, look beyond the distasteful thing, do a quick swallow, adjust your attitude and realize the next bite will be delicious. The overriding amazingness of the trip would outweigh the intermittent distastefulness. Don’t let those frogs bog you down!
I find this attitude has applicability to many aspects of life, especially when it comes to recovering from an injury as an endurance athlete. When I first started training, the gains were through the roof. Progress came easily. Everyday, I felt so good; I thought nothing would ever slow me down. I could do successive big days, and I never seemed to need extra rest to go on. I strived to be a year-round endurance athlete, and, as soon as the snow melted, I was out running the trails and pushing myself to do more difficult climbs.
I’ve always felt that I was the underdog, the one who people perceived would fail because I’m so petite. I trained extra hard because I wanted to prove people wrong, but mostly, I wanted to quiet the voice in my head that told me I wasn’t strong enough. Throughout my entire twelve-year career of being a sponsored athlete, I’ve been terrified of being injured for so many reasons but a big one is because I didn’t want to appear weak. I’ve worked to the max to become the strong, capable mountain woman I am, and never let any injury or illness get in my way.
Until last May… Years of intense training and over-extending physical limits eventually catch up with the most motivated, best intentioned endurance athlete. I came home from Peru, after a season of back-to-back trips, and I was exhausted. I tried to get back into training, but I wasn’t recovering from my workouts. Eventually, my coach advised me to get some bloodwork done, and I found out I had low ferritin. For all you endurance athletes and coaches out there, here is some great literature on ferritin. Read up and share this article! Iron Depletion
My coach recommended that I take some time off training until I could get my ferritin levels up. But this blog post is supposed to be about my foot, so I’ll get to that.
After two months of chilling, with a lot of iron supplementation, my ferritin levels were back up, and I was ready to rock! I was so excited to run and travel and climb and train hard! I had pent up angst to get out, feelings of inadequacy and weakness to overcome. My life was a whirlwind again with trips and running and climbing. I ran my fastest mile ever while on a business trip to Chicago, did a big trip to lobby in Washington DC with Protect Our Winters, then did some super-steep runs up Broads Fork and Alta through the first snow. All in a week. At the end of my run at Alta, the ball of my foot was aching, but I thought it was a just a normal pain.
Wearing high heels is a risk factor for this type of injury, and I think it was a contributing factor to mine.
One of the runs that led to my demise…
The next day, I was exhausted, but it was Halloween, and I had made plans with some friends to do our annual costume climbing at Bushwhack crack. It’s a crack climb I’ve led many times, and feel very comfortable on, but because I was so tired and it was so hot, I struggled at the beginning. I placed an extra piece of gear, accidentally Z-clipped and stood up on my left foot. All the force of the rope pulling me back went through my left foot, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The foot pain that began after the Alta run was amplified tremendously. At that point, I had to correct the mistake and finish the climb, so I stopped thinking about the pain in my foot. After all my friends climbed and we were hiking out, I couldn’t put any weight on the ball of my foot. I hobbled over the talus to get to the car. I knew something was wrong, but, convinced that I could not have an injury, let alone a serious injury, said to myself, “It will get better in a day or two.”
I went to a physical therapist the next day to get his opinion, he thought that I had sesamoiditis and recommended treating it as a soft tissue injury—I kept walking on it and trying to do what I wanted to do. After almost two months of energy sapping pain, I finally went to a doctor. I got an x-ray and, sure enough, the sesamoid bone in my foot was fractured.
The sesamoid bone sits on the bottom of the foot under the big toe and is nestled inside the tendon that goes from the toe to the heel. Basically, the ball of my foot broke. Every single step puts huge forces through this teeny-tiny bone. It, undeniably, takes the spring out of your step, but, even standing is painful. Walking is tormenting. Climbing stairs feels endless. Looking down an airport hallway seems like a marathon distance. Every time I would push off my big toe, the bone would stretch apart or rebreak a little. For that reason, and because that part of the foot gets very little bloodflow, it’s a difficult bone for the body to heal.
I have pondered why it took me so long to get it checked out with an x-ray—I think that it harps back to not wanting to admit that I had an injury. I felt that somehow my whole life, my career, my friendships, my goals, my aspirations, my passion – everything has been built around my ability to walk and run and climb in the mountains! After the x-ray, I spent about 6 weeks in a walking boot, only swimming and riding the stationary bike and limiting time on my feet and still not wanting to disclose an injury to anyone other than my close family and friends.
I’m super grateful to my boyfriend, Rob Lea, a former world champion triathlete, for teaching me how to swim. This was a game changer. As soon as I embraced swimming, life got better. He’s the best coach, and swimming together gave me the chance to have the closeness that we have had climbing, hiking and running together. I have to exercise, and swimming became my solution.
As the powder started to fly, it got harder to stay off my feet. But I had my eyes on the longer-term prize of being able to ski in the spring. My doctor and PT told me to modify activities, modify orthodics and shoes, adn let pain be my guide. They said I could ease into skiing as pain levels permitted.
So I started slowly, first just spending an hour in my ski boots, then longer. Then, I started slowly easing back into longer days. Ski touring, with its rockered ski boots and soft snow surface, proved to be ok on the foot. Some days would still be painful, but the pain was a more manageable level. It still breaks my heart to not be able to climb and run like I want to, but I’m trying to swallow that frog and focus on other areas I can excel.
stoked to be on a bike with dirt all over my face!
By mid February, I was able to ski my first couloir. After that, I was able to ski a number of steep lines in the Wasatch this winter and work on several photo and video projects. I set a new goal to swim a mile in 2016 (which I completed in early January), and a summer goal to ride a century on a road bike. I read forums about people with this injury and some say it takes months, even a year, to heal. I want my foot to have a full recovery, so I’m planning to be conservative this summer and take it day by day and focus on biking and swimming. The pain is a nuisance, but overall, I’m grateful for good health.
I’m striving to be like a Jade plant. When you break off a branch of a Jade plant, it regrows in another unexpected place. I realize now how precious long days in the backcountry are, and I treasure them immensely. I’m learning that an athletic career isn’t defined by the setbacks, but how you react to, adapt and overcome those challenges. I’m keeping a positive mindset, and it’s very healing for me to be able to write about this now. I’m not going to lie. There have been moments over the past few months where I have been nearly despondent, worrying that I’ll never be the athlete I once was. There’s been a great deal of mental and physical discomfort with this injury, but I’m also working to find growth and progression– the opportunity to add something else to what I am. A biker, a swimmer. Maybe a future triathlete? Maybe I’ll learn aid climbing! I’m still in love with mountaineering, skiing and living in the mountains. But my body and life are telling me to step back and make sure my body is healthy. Activities like swimming, biking and maybe triathlon are ways to keep the inspiration going and fitness high. In the end, my heart and soul will always be in the mountains. If my big mountain dreams were easy, they wouldn’t be as satisfying. In the short term, my mind and body need other types of rejuvenation.
It’s hard to live up to personal and professional expectations. Fitness goals take years to reach. Setbacks are normal and OK. One thing I haven’t talked about yet: the culture that congratulates people for over-extending. Social media can make it seem like everyone is a super human, never needing any rest. It’s truly incredibly what the human body is capable of, but it has limits. We are not machines. Let’s learn to recognize and talk about the disease of over-extending. There’s a healthy way to train and recover but it’s easy to push it too hard. Endurance training in any sport can be like a drug. The athletes that have the longest, most successful careers will be the ones who learn how to use the adrenaline and endorphins and other brain chemicals responsibly.
I asked my mom where she got the swallowing frogs expression from. One of her friends told it to her. Everyday, she wakes up and realizes she’s going to have to swallow some frogs, but then she can face the day better. Admit that there are some irritating impediments, but don’t let them get you down. Get over them and move on. It’s not the year I envisioned for myself, but I’m having a ball nevertheless and pushing myself in other ways. I’m learning new ways to prepare those frogs (grilled frogs legs anyone? How about we marinate them?) and am actually starting to enjoy the taste of frogs everyday!
Grabbed banh mi sandwiches to go at 6pm, met @brooke.froelich at 7, and here, enjoying sunset on the beach at the Great Salt Lake by 8. We may or may not have had dinner with a side of mosquitos, but the bites will go away much sooner than the fun memories. It's easy to think of all the reasons not to go, but sometimes you have to make the extra effort to have an adventure evening!
Throwing it back to the first time I saw a glacier up close! Pictured here: me and my dad at the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand, when I was just a wee one. I'm grateful to my family for taking me to these wild places and instilling in me a deep appreciation of the outdoors. Much love to my mom, pops, brothers and half-sisters! Love you all! #bigmtndreams #tbt
A little POV from one of my favorite lines of the season: The Whipple couloir! Part of a backyard project I am working on in the Wasatch.CG Tech tip: when skiing couloirs, always consider where you stop. Ski from island of safety to island of safety and think about how an avalanche triggered from above would flow through terrain. Finally, don't stop above your friends when skiing in the backcountry. Have fun and stay safe. It's still chuting season. #bigmtndreams
Messy hair don't care. From a young age, girls are taught to act a certain way. What I love about ski mountaineering is it allows me to be my messy, hyperactive, aggressive, tearful and joyful self, to defy what I've learned about being a woman and to be my true self. I call her feraline (feral+Caroline…rawr)#strongisthenewpretty Photo @rob.lea #poweryourpassion @jaybirdsport
As winter melts into spring, my mind starts wandering to the desert and I dream of Southern Utah adventures. My heart races with excitement as I consider the possibilities: paddling, climbing, hiking, biking, camping under the dark, night sky and seeing millions of stars, or just sitting quietly and enjoying the views. It breaks my heart to imagine that the public lands we love so much could be sold off to the highest bidder. Imagine if we could no longer access climbing in Indian Creek because the land was sold off for commercial development. Last year, the US senate passed a resolution that paved the way for our forests, wilderness areas and parks to be put up for sale. 35 bills were introduced to seize and sell off public lands in 11 western states. It's time to go to bat for our public lands. If you love to play outside, I urge you to speak up to protect these public lands. To begin, go to:Protectourpublicland.org (link also in profile) to sign the petition to keep public lands public. The goal is to have 50k signatures by the end of April to take policy makers in May. Will you join us? @outdooralliance @ducttapethenbeer #protectpubliclands
You know those ski lines that both terrify and excite you? These two have been keeping me up at night for awhile. Today, after years of waiting, wishing and watching, I skied the Lightning Bolt and the Wyatt Couloir, two of the steepest lines in "The Chuting Gallery". I skied them with the dream team, @rob.lea and @jspitzer82. Conditions weren't everything I had hoped for, but they sufficed. Huge thanks to @acpictures for taking this shot. With years of patience, hard work and training, #bigmtndreams do come true. I'm on cloud nine right now after sending these "big girl" lines!
Partner appreciation post:I sometimes ask myself, why do I want to climb and ski these crazy lines? And after much meditation, I've decided it's not so much about the sunrises and summit views. It's about the people I get to share the day with. When you decide to go on a long, committing ski tour with someone, you make yourself vulnerable to the relationship. Individual ego takes a backseat to a shared vision for success. There are few experiences in our modern times that allow an individual to let go of the defenses in the same way that getting outside to climb a mountain does. At the end of the day, you feel so close to the people you've shared the adventure with. I'd like to give a shout out to some of my mtn partners from this winter: @andrew_burr (who took this photo), @brodyleven @brooke.froelich @rachel92180 @jspitzer82 @alex_taran @cindilougrant @ericbalken @acpictures @leecohen_pics @johnevansphoto @rob.lea @louisarevalo @sueminneci @brittgold2 @jaybeyerimaging and everyone else! I heart you all!
Spring is truly the season of hope, for you can dream of so many adventures at the same time. Right now, I've got skiing, climbing, biking, swimming, camping and running on my mind! Who else is dreaming of multi-sport adventure days ahead? What's your vision of a perfect spring day? #LiveLifeProof @liveproof #sponsor
Happy birthday to my main squeeze, @rob.lea! To celebrate, we went for a tour and skied the Dresden Face and Hypodermic Needle, two massive, Wasatch lines! I'm so grateful to have this incredibly talented man in my life. He's a superstar in every way! Thanks for sharing an unforgettable day Rob! Xoxo.
My @jaybirdsport products are an essential part of my training and lifestyle. Get some Jaybird in your Easter basket! Purchase any color X2 wireless buds plus any Reign active recovery band for only $179.99 for a limited time. Use code 'JBHOP16' at checkout and go to:http://www.jaybirdsport.com/promotions/easter-bundle/Link also in profile. Photo: @alyssalarson_mt #poweryourpassion #RecoveryIsAWeapon
Today's line has a reputation of being one of the hardest to find in the Wasatch. Luckily, my team of @rob.lea, @rachel92180 and @jspitzer82 nailed the approach to the Whipple, and we were treated to this view when we crested over the ridge. This line was also my 70th Chuting Gallery line. #bigmtndreams
A big part of my job as a ski mountaineer involves being my own avalanche forecaster. I always like to give the snow a day or two to stabilize before getting into more radical terrain after a big snowstorm (especially if it comes with a lot of wind, like today's storm). Powder days, when wind slabs are more reactive, are better spent skiing lower angle and lower consequence terrain with friends like @brodyleven and @acpictures! Be sure to follow those two for more adventure inspiration! #bigmtndreams
Success is always sweeter after past failures. Today was my third attempt at skiing this line. The first time I went to ski the Grunge, we turned around because it was too hot. The next time it was too windy. But today it was just right. I feel giddy like Goldilocks after getting grungey all day with @rob.lea. #bigmtndreams
Fifteen years ago, my half-brother perished in an avalanche in Stairs Gulch. On Friday, I went and skied the line that killed him. It was a line that I've feared for a long time, and I was satisfied to ski it, in stable avalanche conditions with a group of good friends, as a tribute, celebration and remembrance of Martin and his life. And when I got to the top, I could see why he was drawn to this place and its beauty. The view on the summit, with the Salt Lake Valley below, was unbelievable. Thanks to @rob.lea @acpictures and @ericbalken for joining me to visit this very emotional place. #bigmtndreams
When I'm route planning my backcountry ski days, I often think of the saying, "There are old men and there are bold men, but there are no old, bold men." (Or women). With all the fresh snow and wind-loading, it's been a great week to take advantage of some good ole fashioned powder skiing in the Wasatch. How do you balance risk vs reward on your adventures? #LiveLifeProof @lifeproof #sponsored