Explore Big Sky recently spoke with Patagonia ambassador and Bozeman-based climber Anne Gilbert Chase about her alpine adventures, the climbing life, and her ambitions to scale some of the most spectacular mountains in the world—all while balancing her life working as a nurse in Bozeman.
Explore Big Sky: When did you start climbing?
Anne Gilbert Chase: It wasn’t until my senior year of college that an old boyfriend of mine and I decided we wanted to learn, so we kind of taught ourselves. We got into the climbing community at the University of Georgia and would spend our weekends climbing, and I’ve been hooked since then.
EBS: Has there been anyone who has been instrumental in helping you to develop your abilities as a climber?
A.G.C.: Really, everyone that I climbed with or became friends with from the beginning has been helpful—whether it’s showing me a specific knot, a different way of doing things, or just offering companionship in the mountains.
Guiding with Rainier Mountaineering Inc. [aka RMI Expeditions] was a big step for me too; not so much technically, but learning how to take care of not only yourself, but others that you’re roped into in extreme environments was something that I had to do pretty quickly.
EBS: You are talented at different aspects of climbing but seem to favor alpine climbing. Why?
A.G.C.: I love all types of climbing. Single-pitch trad [where you place your own protection] will always have a special place in my heart because it can be so casual and relaxed, in a pretty controlled environment. But, yes, over the years I’ve found myself drawn toward big mountains, above the treeline in the cold and snow, whether in Alaska, South America or the Himalaya.
For me, it was a natural progression. You really need so many tricks in your bag. It’s a mix of both rock climbing and ice climbing and navigating different types of snow, and it brings together a lot of the skills that I’ve learned from the very beginning. Going into the big mountains, you are definitely out there on your own and I enjoy the remoteness of it all.
EBS: What is your favorite climb around the Bozeman area?
A.G.C.: The Gallatin Canyon is the most fun for me—both the east side and the west side near the Gallatin Tower. The east side provides so much variety. You can go and do multi-pitch climbs. You can do harder 5.12 routes that top out on flat towers with beautiful views of the canyon. It’s always fun to get out there on a summer day with friends and then go jump in the river at the end of the day.
EBS: This June, you made the first ever female ascent of the Slovak Direct route on the south face of Denali with Chantel Astorga. Do you consider that your most difficult climb yet?
A.G.C.: Yes and no. From a technical standpoint, the Denali climb was probably the most difficult—sustained climbing in extreme cold at altitude in Alaska. The other one that is a close tie was a new route that Chantel, my husband and I did on Mount Nilkantha in India’s Central Garwhal Himalaya last fall.
Putting up a new route, there is always that element of uncertainty involved as to whether the route is feasible or if you have the right tools. The Slovak route had been completed by eight parties in the last 34 years, so we knew if we had the right skill set and strength that we could make it.
EBS: How do you train for big mountain ascents?
A.G.C.: I started training with Mike Wolfe, who is a local Bozeman guy, and his company called The Mountain Project about three years ago. He runs classes at his gym for everything from mountain fitness, to running, to hunting. It’s a little like CrossFit but instead of heavy weights you are using a lot of your weight to develop your muscles, your stability and core. I definitely think it has paid off. I feel much stronger in the mountains than I did two years ago.
EBS: Do you have any big climbing trips on the horizon?
A.G.C.: I’m planning a trip to Iran in August with two other female Patagonia ambassadors and a photographer. We’re going to try to climb a big granite wall at altitude called Alam-Kuh. No crampons, or ice tools—it will be rock climbing.
We just got word that our visas were approved, so I guess it’s a go. In addition to the climbing, I think it will be an amazing cultural experience—seeing a country that has been shut off from us for a while. It will be interesting to connect with some of the climbers there and try to understand them and their country a little bit better.
EBS: Do you have any advice for someone who is trying to get into the sport of rock climbing?
A.G.C.: Have fun with it. We want to push ourselves and learn things, and it can teach us a lot, but at the end of the day it is just a sport and we can’t take it or ourselves too seriously.
Reach out to people in the community. There are awesome festivals, there are climbing teams and outdoor groups and community events that help people learn different skill sets. A lot of events at Spire [Climbing Center] are free. Find a partner you can trust—someone you can trust to help you when things go wrong or push comes to shove. For me, the best way to learn climbing is in a comfortable, supportive environment.