And Now A Word From The Head Chick…

For the last ten years or more, it seems that wintertime is Chicks Time here in Madison, as all of our regional chicks gather up all of their plumage – and their sharp talons – and fly off to Ouray to peck at some ice. Okay – yeah – we pushed the metaphor a bit, but you get the point: Chicks With Picks and Chicks Rock! have been part of our world for a long time. Women we know, women we work with, women we love, and women who can – quite frankly – kick our butts while wearing hot-pants and glitter give a lot of time and attention to the Chicks Climbing programs. Why? Well, let’s ask Kim Reynolds, the Head Chick…

When I started ice climbing in 1982, I knew few women who partook in this beautifully obscure sport. I have to admit, I liked it that way as it made for great odds with the guys! When the girls finally started to show up, I noticed they were not really asserting themselves as climbing partners on lead or setting anchors. In 1999 a light bulb went off and I saw an opportunity to start a clinic where women learn from women. As far as learning, I think most of us are more receptive when there is less ego and flirting involved! Thus, Chicks with Picks women’s ice climbing was born. Two years ago, we added Chicks Rock! to keep us busy during the warmer months so we can get women tied in year round.

Chicks really took off because we gathered the very best Girly Guides in the business and decided to focus on the technical aspects of climbing. It is inspiring to watch our world-class guides because there is an innate “if she can do it, I can do it” mentality our Chicks jump into. We truly want women to leave the clinics and go out and climb on their own. Our intent is to make this seemingly intimidating sport feel approachable and fun for everybody. And, we like to exude a fun sassy attitude through our logo and motto: Kiss my Axe. It’s a reminder to not take ourselves too seriously and have fun!

Photos by Chris Giles –

  • Left: Learning the basics from Kitty Calhoun
  • Top: Chicks with Picks!
  • Bottom Left: Madison WI resident Anne Hughes practicing honing her skills with one tool
  • Bottom Right: Girly Guide Sarah Heuniken demonstrates mixed climbing techniques
  • Right: Katie O’Brien on that sharp end in the Level 6 Lead Climbing Clinic

We encourage all levels of climbers from beginner to more advanced levels to come hone their skills with Chicks. I‘m always psyched by how quickly women progress during our 2 – 4 day clinics when given the right skills and instruction; I’m proud that our girls become really good climbers! What really makes it possible is the support from sponsors and other supporters in the outdoor industry who provide demo gear to hook a chick up from head-to-toe. It’s great that women don’t have to invest in the gear to try climbing for the first time! Even if they never return to the sport, we know they’ve had the best introduction possible from Chicks.

Since ice climbing requires an intense self-focus, we think it’s a good idea to step outside that internal journey and give back to others. In the last 11 years we have raised $165,00 for local women’s shelters and the Ouray Ice Park. We want to encourage people to look outside of themselves and find a way to help others. This alone has inspired our alumnae to get more involved in their own communities and beyond. After facing her fears through ice climbing, one alumna decided to take time away from her career as a midwife to volunteer for a medical mission in Africa. She wrote me a note in September:

“Suddenly, there is a memory; somewhat faded in mind and yet so vivid in heart, of the very first time I ever climbed anything, at Chicks in February 2005, on a snowy, very cold New Hampshire day. How I had never done anything so difficult, nor wanted something so much. The universe’s possibilities ever since, seem a little more within my reach.  I really needed to remember today how clear my head is when I have to focus on climbing and how much nonsense that mental white space has allowed me to let go when I’m not climbing.   How rich my life is with friends I’ve met though Chicks and how much love I’ve felt from them despite not being able to be part of their adventures.
Thanks for the reminder, and for the gift of my first day on ice… and the ones since. “

The reason that Chicks with Picks and Chicks Rock! have been a success for 12 years is simple; it is a niche that wasn’t filled. Yes, there are plenty of women’s programs, but none that encompass the complete woman.  You know who I’m talking about…that complex female who wants it all: She’s feminine, she’s strong, she is independent, she’s vulnerable, she’s a mom, she’s a professional, she’s a climber, she’s supportive, she’s sassy, she’s tough as nails, she’s soft as silk, she’s introspective, she’s confident, she’s scared, she likes to give back, she strives to be her best, she plans to reach her full potential and she won’t give up until she gets there. She’s a Chick.

She comes to Chicks because it is a program that is designed to be much more than just climbing even thought there’s plenty of that too!  It’s a privilege to get to know these women and as an organizer, they inspire me to grow and evolve the program. I want to up the ante and give them even more next time!

Each year women write to thank me and put their experience at Chicks into words. Below is one of my favorite testimonials that was written in 2006. This woman is coming back to the Graduate after a bout with Cancer and other physical challenges. To me, her words strike the chord of what we are about. I often say that “Chicks is so much more than climbing” – this is why:

I just had to write and thank you so much once again! I never even could have imagined what a difference this trip made in my life. Obviously, I have had issues over the past many years and really need to work through them. My husband and I had an incredible talk that Saturday after chicks and it really was a break-through for us. We went climbing on Sunday and I lead El Camino in the schoolroom and I loved it! It was so fun! My husband kept his mouth shut about offering advice and cheered me on. He was so impressed that he thought my gear placement was better than his and he wanted to know my secret to my swing. I told him spending time with Kitty helped me learn who I was. We worked through our miscommunications and already are closer than we ever were before.

This week gave me the courage that counseling sessions and therapy couldn’t help. It helped me learn to be the person that I always wanted to be and more. Every woman there was amazing and I felt so fortunate to be a part of this. The guides were very special and I will treasure this week as my new beginning. I have been trying to avoid life for so long and went through the motions looking for something else in life and sometimes blaming my husband for not bringing it to me and wondering what I was doing wrong in regards to my career choices. I continued to look and felt so much pain at times, but I never knew I could be so happy and supported and encouraged without fear. Your clinic did this for me – you did this for me.  I have been so energized and have begun to look at my life and job and family differently. Already, I am a better partner, friend and wife and daughter and mom (to my ferret kids). I am no longer sad and I really look forward to my free time and realize how special life can be. I never had to courage to feel this before – thank you for giving me this special gift and thank you to the guides and other gals. I’m already looking forward to next year – and will never forget Kitty’s encouragement of “Just go for it!”

Alumnae & midwife Jean Stowell in Africa after delivering quintuplets.
A true miracle!


Chicks Climbing Founder Kim Reynolds has been an adventurer and outdoor instructor since 1979. She has worked as an Outward Bound Instructor, Course Director, Ice Climbing Guide, Antarctic Survival Instructor, Aspen Ski Patrol and Himalayan Trek Leader. She is also a professional outdoor athlete, sponsored by Marmot, among other brands. Along side Chicks with Picks, Kim runs a second program called Mind Over Mountains, offering adventure retreats for women. As a Certified Life Coach she uses this skill to follow up with her women’s programs. In 1998 she was the Expedition Leader on a Himalayan first ascent that raised over $70,000 for the Friendship House, a Nepali safe house for girls at risk. She co-founded The dZi Foundation with Jim Nowak, a non-profit dedicated to health, education, culture and welfare of Himalayan mountain communities. The outdoors is not just a way-of-life for Kim, it’s her passion!


Hey Chicks! Sign Up for an upcoming Chicks with Picks Ice Climbing Clinic:

The Sampler
Jan. 14–17, check out the 18th
The Graduate
Jan. 14-17, check out the 18th
The Complete
Jan. 25–29, check out the 30th
The Quickie
Jan. 30–Feb. 1, check out morning of Feb. 1

Be sure to follow Chicks Climbing on their Blog, Facebook and Twitter! Chicks Climbing is now the epicenter for women climbers year round online, or via phone: 970.626.4424

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