Episode 9

Adirondack Ice Climbing with Gwen Forti


Adirondack Ice Climbing

Featuring Gwen Forti

“HEY!” Gwen yelled from below, her voice just barely piercing the howl of the wind ripping through Dead Deer Gully. “You gonna sink a damn screw, or you just planning on soloing this whole thing?!”

I turned my attention from the ice flow that I was presently hanging off the side of to grin down towards her and Danny, trying to decide whether she was legitimately worried at the idea of me climbing without using ice screws, or simply looking to give me a hard time because she’d just been hit in the torso by a large chunk of ice that I had broken off only moments earlier.

“Only one rule in ice climbing,” I yelled back through the wind with a cocky smirk. “DON’T FALL!”

I was met with a cynical grin and a pair of raised eyebrows before turning back to my tools and continuing to climb the flow.

It was an absolutely frigid day in the single digits, and my beard was frozen with ice from the moisture of my breath. We had been fortunate enough to have a rare stretch of consistently cold enough weather down in Bucks County, PA to bring in the ice climbs on Nockamixon Cliffs, and both Gwen and Danny had joined me for their first crack at climbing ice.

A few years back I’d taken Gwen on her first trad climbing trip as she was preparing for an attempt at Mt. Rainier. It had been a fast friendship from there. She’d taken to trad climbing with the same intensity that she approached everything with, and pretty quickly became a strong trad leader. We’d climbed together often since then, and for a stretch one summer we’d also seemed to have developed a temporary ability to get caught halfway up a multi-pitch route by a rainstorm that seemed to come out of nowhere.

At first glance our lives likely couldn’t have possibly appeared more different. Gwen was a single mom that ran two of her own companies while raising her two daughters at the same time, whereas I was a pickup truck dwelling nomad who lived about ten months of his year out of a duffel bag jumping from country to country.

But it didn’t take long to find the intense similarities to our philosophies, chief amongst them relentless pursuit of goals built upon a foundation of irreverent, nothing-is-sacred sarcasm. As Embrace the Animal developed slowly in my mind over the years, there was never a question that it was something that Gwen would ultimately be a part of.

Now that she’s leading ice, I imagine it won’t be long before I’m belaying, and she’s sending flows without screws. And who knows what else.

Perhaps even a retaliatory chunk of ice my way.

Images from Episode Nine