Adventure Scholarship Report- Ice Climbing with Katrina Toucke

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We are so excited to share this story with you. It truly exemplifies what our Adventure Scholarship program is all about. The meaningful experiences shared by OM members help transform how people perceive their neurological challenges, and find ways to overcome them. Our hope is to grow our outdoor-focused community full of shared experiences just like this!

I had so many physical challenges that accompanied my diagnosis of MS in 2011, which left me without a lot of hope for the future. One afternoon while dreaming of hiking (something I no longer could do) I ran across the nonprofit Outdoor Mindset (OM). This organization gave me hope! Their mission was to unite and empower people affected by neurological challenges through a common passion of the outdoors. People just like me! This was not the sedentary support group that I was used to.  These were people that wanted to keep experiencing nature and activities while being part of a supportive community. I have remained active with this organization since 2012.  When I moved to Ouray in October 2018, I contacted them to see if I could start a OM group here in Ouray County. Shortly thereafter, a new meet up group was born!

As people I met in Ouray realized I was reinventing my life from a disabling relapse of MS, they encouraged me to check out a cool organization called Paradox Sports in Boulder, which organizes an annual adaptive climbing program here in Ouray! The program started for amputees, but expanded to other diagnosis and challenges. I am normally afraid of heights, but since my disabling relapse and medications my attitude has changed to “FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAYS”!  Although I was excited at the opportunity, various circumstances limited my budget! I learned that OM had an Adventure Scholarship program, which allows members to identify empowering outdoor opportunities, and request scholarship funding to pursue them. I applied, and was fortunate to receive funding to participate in the upcoming Paradox Sports Ice Climbing event.

The weekend event began at a hotel, where we received our schedule for the weekend, and a briefing of what we were in store for.  I was nervous not knowing anyone and being new to ice climbing, but excited for the experience. Paradox Sports welcomed me, and provided me climbing gear. Many participants had been coming year after year for this event. Despite our challenges (amputee, blindness, deafness, MS, Seizures) we all were excited to feel the fear and DO IT ANYWAY! Outside a storm moved in, blanketing Ouray with fresh snow.

We met the next morning at a local coffee shop for breakfast and drove to the trail head. It was cold and snowing, but that didn’t dampen the spirit. I was told to bring a back pack that could fit all my climbing gear plus warm clothes and a thermos with hot water to stay hydrated.  I swear my pack weighed at least 30 lbs! I soon realized this was a MISTAKE.

The guides helped me as I struggled through 1.5 miles in the snow. Easy is not always rewarding, but I didn’t really think ahead. We were hiking on the perimeter trail, up above the canyon in which we would climb. The technical descent was anchored with ropes to support us as we dropped into the canyon. The Paradox crew had set up warming tents, snacks and water! I admit this was extremely challenging for me, despite my regular hiking since October. The other participants facing their own challenges inspired me. We were all one TRIBE helping each other out this weekend!

Many world-renowned ice climbers had come to teach and guide us all. IT WAS JUST SO COOL TO SEE! We all looked like ants climbing the huge icicles that clung to the cliff walls.  As I watched in awe, my name was called. “Katrina, are you ready?” EEEK…..my adrenaline rushed. Yet, I had no fear, just total excitement for this new experience. I unfortunately (due to short term memory issues) can not remember names, but my guide was AMAZING!  He was kind, patient and funny! I was taught the technique of ‘kick, kick, swing, pull, and squat’. Of course, this new movement took some practice. My being tired from the hike was quickly forgotten as I climbed higher and higher. THEN THE BURN CAME!!! Hanging off the huge icicles caused intense burning in my feet and legs.  My guide laughed and made jokes to take my mind off it. I later learned I was experiencing what climbers call ‘screaming barfies’.

As I hung in the air high above, my guide suggested “plant your heals, stretch your legs, lean back and take in the beauty of it all”.  Down below my belayer and campers looked so small! The canyon was filled with ice formations and other climbers, and the sun poked out making everything glisten and sparkle.  THIS WAS INCREDIBLE!!!! I wished I had my phone for pictures, but didn’t dare. Even though I have short term memory loss, (names and such) I will never forget this amazing experience!  

After a pause, I continued to the top of the canyon wall. I screamed down to my guide who stayed attentive to me hanging on the huge icicles. At my request, he belayed me back down to the valley floor. When I had rock climbed, this was always my favorite, although some people hate it.  Being lowered takes a lot of trust in others. Are they paying attention to catch me if I jump out and fall too quickly? This was a huge lesson for me, as in my past I lost a lot of trust in people. Later that evening at the hotel I visited with participants and listened to their experiences.  I knew somehow this would end up being a sport I would enjoy year after year! I love the combination of pushing myself physically and mentally to reach new heights!  

The next morning I made sure to pack much less gear, which made the hike way easier! The rope climbing into the canyon was fun too. It was a shorter day of climbing. We were scheduled to hit the hot springs that afternoon, which I opted out of due to my MS symptoms. I did enjoy further conversation with other participants. While we each had our own physical and emotional challenges, the common thread between us was to have the best experiences with our own lives!

Driving home, I felt so blessed.  I had just met the most amazing angels, each overcoming their own challenges. Spending a weekend physically and mentally pushing myself with others was a once in a life time experience. I will climb again, and the camaraderie I felt that weekend was a true gift never to be forgotten.