Climbing in Mendoza

Soooo, Dolly suggested I could write about my time studying and climbing in Argentina. Here goes:

Before getting here I was really worried that I wouldn’t do any climbing at all. A quick google search showed no climbing gyms in Mendoza and some crags, but I had virtually zero experience outside and no equipment, so I was basically going to have to meet climbers. With this potential climbing drought looming, I made plans to do extreme amounts of Honnold core and to “hangboard” on whatever ledges I could find. Luckily for me, it hasn’t come to that. In fact, a miracle occurred the day of my arrival. I got to the hotel after 18 hours of travel, put my bags on the bed sat down exhausted. I watched John, one of two other guys in the program settle his bags. Then—before my unbelieving eyes—John pulled out a set of quickdraws. It took a moment to settle in. Incredulously I exclaimed: “John, you climb?!” “Yeah, wait, you too?!” “Yaaaa!!” And suddenly things were looking up for my semester0d9555aa-a8dd-4661-b4a9-41676d37c20d

That’s John on the left as we’re resting at the top of my first multipitch

It turns out John is quite an experienced sport and trad climber hailing from Minnesota (currently studying in Denver, where else?). His plans for after graduation are: dirtbagging. In true Midwestern style, he was very willing to teach me the ins and outs of sport climbing. We quickly found two walls. One outdoor bouldering area in the park and a bouldering and sport wall in the Club Andinista Mendoza. However, it was tough to get outside because we had no rope. We did meet lots of local climbers and started making friends. But even with local friends it was hard. After a couple weeks, I decided to invest in a climbing rope. John found a contact who made regular trips to Chile to buy climbing equipment. (The import taxes make climbing stuff and almost any other specialized gear really expensive in Argentina). So, I handed this guy some cash and a week later he appeared with a rope.

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Posing for a photo with the new rope

Now that we had a rope, we decided to skip class on Thursday and bus out to a crag. It was the comfiest $2 bus ride I have ever experienced. The seats were basically massive pillows that could be fully reclined and we had sooo much legroom. After a short nap, we woke up to the sight of mountains enclosing us and shortly thereafter the bus pulled onto the dirt shoulder and John was like, “I think this is our stop. Wait, yeah, let’s go let’s go.” The “bus stop” was a single sign that was rusted almost beyond recognition. We trekked up to the cliffs and started climbing on some interesting granite. That day I lead my first climb outdoors, cleaned a route, and took a fall. The fall wasn’t very pretty cuz I was up around a corner and kinda fell onto a ledge. Nothing serious though. Our first climbs were on this cool granite face that combined slab, crimps, some crack climbing with a couple really powerful moves on an arête. Finally, we climbed some really fun, bouldery 5.10s that were basically slab, slab and then these amazing round holes that were perfect jugs from any angle. Once we packed up, we headed back to the bus stop. As we were walking, John put out his thumb and we didn’t even make it to the stop before a pickup truck pulled over. The guy wasn’t really interested in conversation, but he did drive us within walking distance of our houses, which was amazing.

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John looking pensive in the canyon

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Some great rock in the “Escarabajo” canyon (featuring a climber from Barcelona)

That night, our best climbing friend Jocha messaged us saying he was going to Arenales Saturday and had 2 spots. We were ecstatic! Saturday morning, I shouldered my pack and wandered through the city to find Jocha. His apartment was simple (Clearly, he and his wife Maca have more important things to spend their money on), but did feature a set of hand-made rings with crimps cut into them for rudimentary hangboarding. We then met Mariano and drove in his petite car up questionable gravel roads to reach Arenales. There was a lonely army outpost where they checked our passports, since there was technically a hiking trail to cross over into Chile. Conveniently, I forgot my passport, but somehow, they let me bluff my way past with a student ID and a picture of my passport on my phone. Once we got to the parking lot Jocha and Mariano packed up their trad gear, pointed us a vaguely in a direction, and then set off to conquer a tower. Unsure if there was a real path towards our crag, John and I embarked on a very painful, completely unnecessary bushwhack through a sea of thorn bushes (the only vegetation native to Mendoza). Once we encountered an actual footpath we quickly found our way to the crag. Looking up, we suddenly saw a group of juvenile condors circling and dive-bombing each other just overhead! At the base of the crag we took off our packs and took stock. Around this time, John pulled out the guidebook Jocha lent us and said: “So, I want to start here with this 5.10, the next pitch is 5.9 and it’ll take us to this ledge where we can…” “Wait, we’re doing a multi pitch?” “Yeah” “Oh…can you explain to me how that works please?”

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The beautiful, secluded crags of the Arenales (altitude ~3000m)

So, two days after leading outside for the first time, I was 25m off the ground and belaying John up the second pitch while hanging off the anchor bolt on a sheer face. I really did not like the fact that my entire weight was pushing off the wall towards the void below. But, my harness didn’t snap, I didn’t fall and before I knew it, it became not terrifying and just odd. The climbing was awesome. It was bulletproof granite alternating between awesome jugs and tricky slab. What’s more, our only company was a small herd of horses in the valley below and 4 adult condors circling the crag. It was incredible. We climbed with the condors. At first, they were circling above, but as we climbed some of their circles went right by us or even below. I will never forget the sight of these huge, ugly, but majestic birds gliding past maybe 15 feet away. We ended up making it over 100m in 4 pitches before realizing the guidebook was outdated and we had no idea where we were and whether the next anchor was close enough to rappel from. We decided it was best to stick to what we knew for sure and call it. That’s about the time where John said: “Ok, so here is how you rappel, I’ll go first.” And very soon, I was alone hanging 100m off the ground. Then, I rappelled for the first time ever. On the comfiest ledge we could find, John and I unpacked our luxurious feast of crackers, cheese, and avocado. We’d bailed on a tour of a vineyard with the program including a 5-star lunch, so we had to at least kid ourselves into believing we were living in luxury. It ended up being a good thing that we called it when we did because when we arrived back on solid ground the sun was creeping towards the mountains and we had just enough time to play around on a boulder before heading back to meet Jocha and Mariano.

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It was a scramble up to the foot of the cliffs

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Lots of slabby granite

This next weekend we had our very own pack of feral dogs. They followed us loyally from the bus stop to the crag and back. All 6 miles in total! It was a sad day though. We lost one of our pack when she tried to attack a bus on the highway. It was a horrifying moment. Somehow, she survived the impact and ran off into the hills to lick her wounds…. But the climbing was fun! We were on some conglomerate cliffs looking over the glacial river. I’d never climbed conglomerate before and was quite thrown off. The rock looked like compacted mud with pebbles and I thought every hold would break off on me, but somehow, they held. This was a doubly sad day though because John is flying back to the US tomorrow. I made sure to see him off in good fashion with a full day of climbing and some good refreshing drinks after.

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The views were stunning and the sun was hot

Once John left I got less climbing in outdoors. However, I got closer with a lot of the gym climbers and we had lots of fun making up boulders for each other. I definitely am looking forward to marked routes though. Jocha has been doing sport climbing endurance training with me and absolutely schooling me. I am so weak, while he climbs up and down these overhangs like it’s nothing. There is a slightly off-width crack that gets more and more overhanging and Jocha can just do laps on it.

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Jocha flowing up the crack

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The gym atmosphere

All in all, Mendoza has really gotten me excited to climb outdoors more. I am already planning to come back to Argentina in the near-ish future for a climbing trip along the Andes.

¡Hasta pronto!

-Felix

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I found a slack-lining community in the park

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This valley is famous as the place young condors learn to fly

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My last climbing trip with some friends from Mendoza

 

I went on a fantastic backpacking trip over Easter with John, Jocha and his wife, Maca. We went deep into the Andes and hiked up to a glacier:

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The first morning was spent crossing a glacial river at 6:30am with the air (and water) temperature hovering just above freezing

Holiday Party 2017

We gathered during Reading Period to enjoy some hot chocolate, each other’s company, and bake, decorate, and smash a gingerbread climbing wall.

This year’s gingerbread wall was inspired by the long-awaited Williams College Bouldering Cave, a facility that climbers at Williams have worked for years to find funding and space for. Although we’ve had a promising semester in terms of progress in getting the cave built (update forthcoming), we can’t climb in it yet. Clearly, the next best thing is decorating and eating a scaled down gingerbread version of it.

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Emmie and Dolly spent probably an hour googling “3-4-5 triangle scalable?” and “sheet pan dimensions” trying to figure out the dimensions of the gingerbread pieces

 

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Mortar for the structure consisted of extra strong royal icing approved for this purpose by actual famous pastry chef Stella Parks via twitter DM. Hands belong to Alex and Allison
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They stood for hours

 

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Despite careful calculations, we lost an inch somewhere

 

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Expert routesetters hard at work

 

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The north face of the GingerCave
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Observe the Andes mint tufas in the back left and the modern rectangular kit kat volumes on the back right  
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All the peppermint puff slopers you could ever ask for
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Ivy, Emmie, Isabella, and Alex not making direct eye contact with each other
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warmth, friendship, and cabinets

 

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The symmetry of that snowflake!
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GingerCave: extra festive yule log edition
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A big shoutout to our photographer Wyatt (back center, reflected in window) who is just Allison’s housemate and did not intend to be affiliated with us in any way

 

Training in China

Or, “how I didn’t climb for two months and still managed to get tendinitis”

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So many potential lines!

Ok, so that title isn’t entirely accurate. I climbed twice this summer (three times if you count some illicit bouldering on Song Mountain). The point is, during my nine week immersion program in China, I wasn’t climbing as much as I’m used to. I’ve been climbing competitively since seventh grade, and training pretty much nonstop since freshman year of high school, with only the occasional break for vacation or resting minor injuries, so the prospect of time off was a little scary. I was determined to not let a summer away from my home gym derail my progress.

I knew before leaving for Beijing that I wouldn’t be able to climb very often. I was definitely upset, but as my mom said, “It’s good to give your shoulders a break for a few months!” Not that I agreed, but I thought about it as a cross-training and strengthening period. Though I wanted to climb as much as possible, I knew I’d only be able to go every two weeks at most. Capital Climbing Gym in Beijing, the largest climbing gym in the country, was an hour subway ride from my school and very expensive (about 90 RMB, or $15, which can buy approximately 45 baozi, 7 bowls of noodles, or 22 of the life-saving ice cream bars at the corner shop).

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Capital Climbing Gym

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So, being both busy and stingy, I set up a lifting plan for myself to try and maintain as much strength as possible (since endurance is easy to lose but fast to build, while strength is more difficult to build). I lifted three times a week in a non-air conditioned gym and did cardio, core, and lots of pushups on the other days to keep my base fitness up. I also got a donut forearm trainer to try and maintain some semblance of endurance. The first few weeks went great; I lifted often and even got to the gym, which was really fun—I hung out with some guys and worked their projects with them. There were very few taped routes, but lots of holds; the emphasis at that gym was on setting and memorizing your own routes. I felt happy with how I climbed and was confident that I would be able to make it through the summer with minimal loss in strength (though my poor calluses seemed doomed).

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Why I Don’t Do Cardio: Exhibit A

But then, disaster struck. About three and a half weeks into the nine-week program, after a particularly heavy forearm trainer session, I started feeling a twinge in my right elbow when I extended my arm. How strange, I thought. I must have tweaked something. The pain was in the crook of my elbow, so I figured I had just strained something. I took a day off and resumed lifting the next day. It didn’t hurt while I lifted, so I figured it was fine. (Famous last words.) I knew it could be something bad, but I didn’t dare think the t-word.

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Tarantula? Tango? Turmeric?

I’d had mild bouts of tendinitis before, fixable with a week or so of rest and ice, but they’d been on the outside, bony part of my elbow; this felt different. Anyway, if anything was really wrong, I figured I’d have a week of “rest” at the Shaolin Temple.

The fifth week of the program was our Social Study Project week, so all the students had the opportunity to travel to another part of China. I decided to go to the Shaolin Temple to study kung fu, because kung fu is awesome, but also because I was curious about the history of the area. Also, it seemed like the easiest place to train. I wasn’t alone; most of the students on the trip were athletes.

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Waking up at 5am to run in lockstep was… interesting.

While it was a rest for my upper body, it definitely wasn’t a rest for my quads—as it  turns out, kung fu involves a lot of squats, so my thighs were in pretty much constant agony from day 1. My elbow never really stopped hurting, but I decided it didn’t matter; I’d already spent enough time away from lifting. I climbed again when I got back to Beijing and felt ok, but I was afraid what not lifting would do to my strength. I stuck with my lifts and pushups for another two weeks, my elbow hurting almost every time I extended it, until I realized: I’m being a huge fucking idiot.

Obviously, there was something very wrong with my elbow, and obviously lifting was only going to make it worse. I stopped all upper body-related activities and consulted with Dolly, who reminded me that the distinction between an injury and discomfort is that often, an injury hurts “not when you’re doing something but when you stop.”

Oops.

I spent my last two weeks in Beijing enjoying the city—the historical sites, the street food, and yes, the nightlife. I also spent it taking stock of why, after five years of having “if anything hurts, take a rest day” drilled into me by my coach, I was stubborn enough to keep going (probably making the injury worse in the process). 

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yay tofu!

Climbing has been a major part of my life for a long time. The gym is where I went after school for years; it was a community and an activity that kept me grounded even as school got stressful. It was also my weekends; my parents were incredible to put up with the drives to competitions in Wisconsin, even arranging for my grandmother to come to Atlanta for Nationals when they weren’t able to. Over time, it became a huge part of my identity (and fun fact ice breaker responses). More specifically, because being good at climbing became a huge part of my identity, I had a constant internal pressure to keep being good at climbing. Which honestly was pretty stupid because no one in my family cared what grade I climbed at; they just wanted me to be happy. And I was—as long as I could climb. As soon as I couldn’t climb regularly, I became terrified that I wasn’t going to be able to climb well and then everyone would hate me and the world would explode. Or something like that.

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Definitely not open for climbing.

It’s hard to articulate now, but it felt like a part of my identity was being threatened and I had to defend it at all costs—even if that cost was my body and my sanity. Or, to put it another way, I wasn’t upset that I couldn’t climb because I missed climbing, I was upset because I was afraid I would get out of shape and climb poorly. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be good at climbing. But when that desire comes at a cost of mind and body, it’s unhealthy and something needs to change. So, in a way, I’m grateful that I got tendinitis. It forced me to stop and take a good look at why I was so desperate to keep training, and also helped me realize that, as much as I love climbing, I was getting a little burnt out. I’ve discovered that, at least for me, year-round training is unsustainable for four years straight; I need time off to help me recuperate and reconnect with the sides of my identity that have nothing to do with climbing. Mostly, though, time off helps me remember why I love the sport so much. Climbing shouldn’t feel like a chore, and after a summer off, I’m very psyched to climb again—carefully, and responsibly. 

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Summer at the Summer Palace

Epilogue: After two weeks off, my elbow felt completely fine. I raced to the bouldering gym when I got home and climbed two days, with a rest day in between. After the second session, I began to feel the dreaded elbow twinge, so I finally did what I should have done months ago and went to a doctor, who took one look at me and diagnosed me with biceps tendinitis. I got a snazzy arm band, some strengthening exercises, and a blanket ban on pushups (but not climbing!). I don’t know what’s so magical about forearm pronation and supination, but by the time I returned to Williams, I was pain-free and excited to lead my WOOLF trip! I haven’t had any pain in weeks, and have slowly started reintroducing pushups into my workouts, but I still wear the armband while climbing, and will until I’m completely confident I’ve recovered. It’s been a long summer, but I’m so excited for another season with the Williams team—let’s crush!

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That’s a weird dog.

 

TRADical Summer in the PNW

Index, Washington. Just saying.

Otherwise known as a mini version of Squamish which many consider the less-rad, Canadian version of Yosemite. Have I convinced you yet?

Let me try a little harder: Splitter overhanging hand cracks. Offset nut placements that must have been put there by the hand of god. A 5.8 flaring squeeze chimney that is not frickin 5.8. Slabs for days. Blackberries. Steph Davis. Grades so stiff they’d make Cedar Wright swoon.

Backing up a bit, I spent the summer in my hometown aka the paradise known as Leavenworth, Washington where I worked in a lab studying apple diseases. But that’s not important. What is important is the valley which takes you up into the Stuart Range of the Cascade Mountains and the 1 hour and 15 minute drive to Index, which my friend Owen-the-boulderer claims can be done in 45 minutes, which is a seriously terrifying thought.

I went into the summer with an rather ambitious list of goals, especially considering how hot our summers are, my full-time job, and my lack of ability to remain focused on one thing for any length of time. While I achieved few of these goals, I came out of this summer with a newfound confidence in my trad leading and crack climbing ability, solidified friendships and partnerships, and a better understanding of the less fun aspects of alpine-style climbing. Basically I climbed a shit ton and had the most blissful summer of my life. I climbed only on granite, did almost exclusively trad, and slowly ticked off the more classic and high-quality multi-pitches in the area.

I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking, but some highlights and mishaps not pictured:

My contact fell out within the first ten feet of my first redpoint attempt of my summer-long trad project.

I saw Steph Davis and her dog parked outside the bathrooms at Index and promptly started to cry because I was so overwhelmed, then I got called a “pro hoe” by my friends for the rest of the summer.

Great weekend trip up to Squamish, BC where I took 0 photos, but I promised it happened. My boyfriend, Cam, and I spent 4 nights in the back of a Prius because the campground was full. Also had my first legal brewski in a real life brewery with live music and I felt so grownup it was crazy.

Losing my best friend (my #1 camalot) on a climb in Washington Pass. Still grieving. Accepting flowers and donations.

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Always good idea to cross a raging stream on a burnt, hollow log
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If you look seductively at mountain goats I hear they leave you alone
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Goat-proofing packs to be left at base of climb.
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Cam’s first time up Outer Space, an ultraclassic multipitch in the Leavenworth area. Splitter handcracks and whacky diorite knobs.
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Adventures with Owen-the-boulderer pt. 1
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Pt. 2: “It’s just 5 minutes up the trail” says Owen. Plot twist: there was never a trail and it took us 1.5 hrs to find the boulder.
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Pt. 3: “The approach is super chill, I promise.”
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You know where the holds are at Index because the moss is missing
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Evening sesh at my favorite chunk of rock in the world.
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Sponsored
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INDEX!!! This climb was frickin amazing.
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Tired/blissed-out Ivy eating beef jerky after topping out the best multipitch known to man
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Descent from Acid Baby in the Stuart Range, our most epic climb to date
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21 hrs car to car, 7 pitches, 10d, dehydration, extreme heat, many tears, stuck gear…
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Somehow I convinced Cam to do another alpine climb, this time in Washington Pass. Coolest bivy of my life.
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Met some cool friends
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Needless to say, I slept with my ice axe
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Took my friend, Storrie up the Burgner-Stanley route on Prusik Peak in the Stuart Range. I fell on a piton in a flaring squeeze chimney and it was awesome.
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Stashed age-appropriate beverages at the base to give us strength for the 6 hour hike out in the dark.

Now that I’m back on campus, the familiar rock withdrawals are setting in, however I’m super stoked to lead a climbing WOOLF trip. I might even be able to brainwash my woolfies into thinking being homeless is the dream (because it is). Stay tuned for those adventures.

Peace out rock warriors,
Ivy

Joshua Tree 2016

Thanks to Felix Grossman ’56, each year several Williams climbers spend their spring breaks out west. They help run a climbing excursion for high schoolers in an extracurricular program sponsored by Felix ’56 and enjoy quality rocks in glorious sunshine. Most years (including this one) we go to Jtree, but occasionally when Williams and Workman High go on spring break at the same time we all meet up in Red Rocks.

More about Felix Ventures:

Felix Ventures focuses on providing students with opportunities to experience new things away from their neighborhood and develop leadership skills for their community. The Ventures participate in camping adventures, visit colleges and universities in state and out of state (primarily on the east coast), attend plays and concerts, host college workshops for Workman High School students and bring in guest speakers. The Felix Ventures group also donates scholarship money every year for deserving and/or needy students

Below are some photos of our 2017 trip, which in addition to the amazing Venturers featured: Ian, Allison, Adie, Dolly, Dave, Ed, Ed’s sportiva “sport climber” pants, two 5lb trays of crushed red velvet cookies, really badly sunburnt RV surfers, several small dogs, other people’s fires, some slab, some crack, some crimps, apparently a tornado, a trashed tent, and no births no deaths.

 

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Chilling at Isles in the Sky

 

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Not chilling at Isles in the Sky
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Candid and cute
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Beautiful princess pupper named Dana at Workman High
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The Womb, A
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The Womb, B
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Best dressed
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Saddle Rock
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before taking a lil “Walk on the Wild Side 5.7+”
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Some well deserved R&R before heading home

– DB

Spring Break Profiles: Emmie’s Wisdom Teeth Surgery

Our beloved practice coordinator and frosh Emmie continued her journey on the path to becoming a trapeze artist whilst on vacation with her family in Punta Cana. There she was also introduced to the term “Dominican Snow,” which if you can believe it is not the street name for a certain purity level of cocaine. Then she got four teeth taken out, and was still taking penicillin during Regionals. Don’t worry, she still crushed. What a champ!

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