The Work Behind the Body
If you flip through a Patagonia catalogue, chances are you'll see Anne Gilbert in one of the spreads. She'll probably be a small figure within an expanse of white, wind whipping snow up around her. She may be placing gear ten pitches in, her belayer a dot of color in the sea of rock below. If you live in Bozeman, you may see her in the gym, training in her unassuming, quiet way.
That's how I came to know Anne, aka Gilby. We were bouldering in the gym and casually began to talk beta about a problem we were both trying. I'm not an alpine climber, so I was unaware of her...er, status as a mountaineer. Traveling to remote places in far flung corners of the world, going for infamous and obscure ascents of high alpine peaks: these things were reserved in my mind for aloof creatures.
Gilby is a friendly woman with a ripped physique and eyes that smile. She has a calm, if not serious, nature. I figure the potentially high-risk sport of alpine climbing demands this of a person. But in a field seemingly dominated by men with anti-social dispositions, Anne defies stereotypes of professional alpine climbers.
There’s zero ego with the Anne I've come to know. Zilch. For someone with ascents like the Northwest Face of Half Dome in a single day in her bag, she's remarkably down to earth. One week she's helping people heal as a nurse, the next she's off to Argentina or Cuba or Timbuktu in pursuit of her passions.
In this feature of The Work Behind the Body, Anne talks about the usual with the series--her relationship with sports and her body. But she also offers some insight into the world of alpine climbing and how she manages the fear inherent in this sport. What I love most about this interview are Anne's concluding notes about happiness.
"Life is too short to not enjoy ourselves," she writes. "And the more we can laugh with loved ones and friends, the happier we will be."
Whether you're seeking to bag peaks or pursuing a degree or building a career, I think we can all relate to and learn from Anne below in how to navigate fear, cultivate balance, and have fun in the process.
Meet Anne Gilbert Chase
professional alpine climber
Kelsey: What sports do you enjoy?
Anne: Growing up on the Chesapeake Bay of Virginia, a sense of adventure was instilled in me early on. I spent my youth racing sailboats and exploring the water and bay shore in my little outboard skiff. It wasn’t until my senior year in college at the University of Georgia that I started climbing.
An old boyfriend and I bought some climbing gear and taught ourselves how to climb; immediately I was hooked. From that moment forward, climbing has been a central part of my life and I have shaped my life around my love and pursuit of climbing. Nowadays I also love to ski in the winter and trail run in the summer, and surf once in a while whenever I find myself on the ocean.
K: How often do you train? What does your training usually involve?
A: This past fall I started working with Mike Wolfe from The Mountain Project here in Bozeman, MT. This is the first time I have ever trained specifically for climbing. I have always just spent my time climbing and adventuring in the mountains and I never found I needed anything more. However, life has gotten very busy for me and I am not able to get out as much as I used to. So training has allowed me to utilize my time in a more efficient way and make the most out of each workout.
I also have some very specific and diverse climbing goals for the next year and I think training will be a more precise way to focus on each goal individually while also working towards the larger goals at the same time. My training is totally dependent on what my goal is at the time.
Whether I am working towards climbing a 5.13 gear route or training for a big alpine face in Alaska, my training is completely different and needs to be customized to fit that specific goal. I am heading to Alaska in May, so right now my training is focused on leg strength for the deep snow and trail breaking as well as upper body big muscle groups so I can feel strong for multiple, 16+ hour days on end.
If I have specific rock climbing goals in mind, I spend more time working finger strength and power and less on big muscle groups. Right now I am spending 5-6 days a week training. This includes a few days of cardio and a few days of climbing/strength training a week. I am also trying to incorporate stretching into my daily routine, because I notice a huge difference in my body and its recovery when I am more flexible and relaxed.
Training has been really good for me the last few months and I have seen really positive results. But I still struggle at times with the training structure and balancing my desire to be outside climbing for fun verses lifting weights inside.
K: How often would you say you get “out” to enjoy your sports? How do you balance work with play?
A: That totally depends on the time of year and my work schedule. In the winter I seem to get out in Hyalite Canyon ice and mixed climbing fairly often; at least once or twice a week, and the same goes for the summer and rock climbing around Bozeman. I tend to go on 3 or 4 big trips a year, which are usually 4 or so weeks long. As a result, most of my time at home is gearing up for these trips. I would say I am super lucky and I get “out” quite often to enjoy climbing and pursue my passion.
I have a casual call position at the hospital, which means I don’t have a set schedule and I am pretty much fill in. However, here in Bozeman it works well because there are many nurses who want time off, so I always seem to find work. When I am home I try to work full time, but this position allows me the freedom to take extended time off.
When I am working full time, I definitely need to focus on taking care of myself. Most days I work at the hospital are 13hr days and after doing a few of those in a row, I feel the wear and tear on my body. On those days, I concentrate more on stretching and recovering so that when I do have days off I can push myself and feel good.
K: What are some of your favorite places to go?
A: Hyalite and Gallatin canyon are some of my favorite places to go climbing. I spend so much time traveling, it feels really good to come home after a trip and get out in my backyard with good friends. I have spent the last 4 season down in Patagonia and love the access of the mountains for both rock climbing and ice climbing.
I also love Alaska, specifically the central Alaska range. The expansiveness of both the mountains and the glaciers are amazing, when all of the elements are combined it is a powerful and intimidating place to be, and I love it.
K: Tell us about your recent trip to South America. Who were you with? What were your goals? Any “special” moments?
At the start of January, I went down to the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina to climb for 5 weeks. I headed down there with my husband, Jason Thompson, who was also the photographer on the trip, as well as Kate Rutherford and Brittany Griffith, two good friends and fellow Patagonia ambassadors.
The first part of the trip we went to Torres del Paine National Park near Puerta Natales, Chile, where we hoped to attempt a new route on the west side of the North Tower or free an old aid line on the west side of the Central Tower. Unfortunately, the weather did not go our way, and we did not get to climb. Actually the weather was so bad we did not even put on our harnesses for the first 2 weeks.
Despite not getting to climb, the 4 of us had a great time laughing and getting blown over by the wind and sitting under boulders for hours waiting for the rain to pass. The weather is a harsh reality when it comes to climbing in the alpine, and often times it is what shuts you down in the mountains.
It doesn’t matter how strong or psyched you are, if the weather does not cooperate, the mountains are left unclimbed. Luckily Jason and I had more time down south than Kate and Brittany, so we headed over to El Chalten, Argentina to climb for 2 more weeks. This was my 4th time in this area, and I absolutely love it. The mountains are amazing, the community is super fun, and the beer keeps me coming back year after year. Even though the weather was still quite bad, Jason and I were able to put on our harness and climb a few smaller objectives.
K: What compels you to climb big walls in remote places?
To me, alpine climbing is the ultimate expression of climbing. It forces me to use all of my skills and knowledge to navigate the mountain and it also incorporates all disciplines of climbing into one objective.
When I am climbing on a remote big mountain, I am completely present in what I am doing, and nothing else matters.
The feeling of being in the “flow” is pretty powerful, and anyone who has experienced it knows how addicting it can be. I also think it is such a unique experience to be somewhere in this world, where so few, if any, people have been before. The feeling of traveling into the unknown is wonderfully powerful and shows me how small we as humans are in this universe.
K: The type of climbing you pursue seems terrifying. Do you often find yourself scared while in high places subject to extreme conditions? How do you manage fear?
A: I think fear is a constant emotion in climbing. Whether making intimidating moves on a hard sport climb 40ft off the ground or doing the same 3000ft off the ground in a remote place, fear can take control and limit your ability to do the move. I have definitely found myself scared many times in the mountains, and I think that is ok. When fear is warranted it helps me realize the consequences surrounding me and forces me to focus on what I am doing because I know I can’t mess up.
In order for me to manage fear, I first need to embrace being scared and understand why I am scared. Once I have an understanding I can start to control that fear.
I try to break apart a climb or pitch into small sections, which seems more attainable then looking at it as a whole. I focus on each individual movement and make sure that I am secure by climbing slowly and confidently. Finally, I use my breath to calm my mind and allow myself to focus.
If I can concentrate on my breathing, all of the thoughts of being scared and the consequences are forced out of my mind and I am able to continue upwards. For me that works.
K: What does beautiful mean to you?
A: I think real beauty is related to happiness and it comes from within. Our culture is so absorbed with physical beauty and attaining the unattainable, that I think we forget to focus on simply being happy and enjoying ourselves.
To me happiness is the core of being human and if we are truly happy in our lives then we will feel beautiful.
K: How has/have your sport(s) shaped your body image and your relationship to your body in general?
A: For as long as I can remember, being active has been directly connected to how I feel in my own body. Whenever I am feeling stressed or emotionally strained I can go for a run or go climbing, and all of those emotions are washed away. I can come back and feel renewed.
Being in the mountains, climbing, skiing and adventuring is such a huge part of my life that I can’t imagine my physical and mental health without it. Because I want to continue to be in the mountains for my whole life, I focus on staying healthy by eating well, sleeping enough, stretching, and trying not to get too stressed out when life gets busy and hard.
K: What advice would you give women and/or fellow athletes in general to better enjoy their unique bodies?
A: I think it is important for people to not take themselves too seriously but to enjoy what they do and how they feel in their own body. We need to remember that there will be times when we wake up and we are not going to feel good about our body. But that is ok.
There are days when I am feeling tired or worn down and I don’t “perform” like I feel I should. Those are the days that I can reflect most about what does feel good and what I am psyched about and make sure I continue to remember that.
I think it is important to give ourselves time to relax both physically and mentally. We spend so much time going in all aspects of life, that we don’t always give ourselves the time to reboot and rest. This past year I have put more focus into rest days, sleep, and healthy eating and I have seen my body respond really well.
Finally, I think the most important thing we can do for our mental and physical health is to smile and laugh. Life is too short to not enjoy ourselves and the more we can laugh with loved ones and friends, the happier we will be.
Alex Lowe said, “The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun." To me, that says it all.
Thank you, Anne, for being a part of this series. And thank you, Jason, for donating your photographs to this feature. #powercouple