With a smile warm enough to dangerously melt the ice she uses to ascend high peaks, it’s evident that Adrien Erlandson is far from some static snowgirl.
That’s why when I initially laid eyes on photographs my friend Matt shot of her working out a route from her Taiwan trip; chalked up hands rubbing together in determination to stick on every move… I asked Matt – “Who is she!? She is so made out of the material that epitomizes the inspiration that fits the website!”. Matt wholeheartedly agreed and I became fortunate enough to know a little more about Adrien. Now you all do too…….
Adrien on ice; photo: Tobias MacPhee / All smiles on the north coast of Taiwan; photo: Matt Robertson
RRRG: Where were you born?
Adrien: I was born in a little rural hippie spot in Tennessee southeast of Nashville. After high school, I moved to Italy for University (where I feel like I “grew up” and my severe wanderlust addiction developed). A ski town in France, Courchevel, followed. Feeling the need to go back to school, I decided on another mountain town, Bozeman, Montana. I spent about 4/5 years there. And now? I’ve been wandering around traveling the last year or so chasing after climbing. I guess you could say, right now, I live out of my truck here in the U.S. and my backpack abroad. I’m currently looking for where home might be!
RRRG: Sounds like a dream, actually! How did your passion for climbing start? What area do you consider your “home crag”?
Adrien: I’ve been climbing since high school, although I didn’t really have the means to do much climbing outside of my high school’s outdoor recreation program until I moved to Italy. Towns and mountains are so close in Europe and I had the amazing opportunity to get out and explore all that southern Europe has to offer. I worked for an outdoor recreation program while I lived in Italy so it was my job to take people out skiing and climbing in the Dolomites, Alps and elsewhere. It was an amazing place to learn and grow as a climber and I had some amazing mentors. When I moved to Bozeman, I focused less on skiing and more on ice climbing. Ice climbing became my biggest love. Hyalite canyon is just right outside of town and it’s home to some of the best and concentrated ice in the country. The plethora of ice and available partners made it really easy to get out and climb. I’d say Hyalite was definitely a home crag, but after moving away I have been spending a lot more time in the San Juans, which is fantastic because it’s a lot closer to Indian Creek, a place I seem to spend a disproportionately large amount of my time and would also love to call my home crag.
RRRG: Has there been a person or people that were really influential and inspiring toward your love of climbing?
Adrien: Bev Johnson, Lynn Hill, Kim Csizmazia, and Ines Papert have been really influential to me. These women have pushed and broken barriers for women in the sport. Their accomplishments inspire me and instill confidence in me to achieve my own goals.
But personally, I’d have to say that my friend Hannah has done more to keep the love of climbing consistent for me. She always has the ability to take climbing back to fun. For example, I’m out climbing and a climb is feeling more challenging than I think it should or I’m not feeling my strongest mentally or physically and I’m getting discouraged, but as long as she’s there I’m reminded to not take myself so seriously and that climbing is the opportunity to share a beautiful day (or days) in a beautiful setting with amazing companions. It’s always a good day when we get out and it’s really nice to have a person in my life that keeps me so grounded which, consequently, helps to get me off the ground!!
RRRG: What kind of climbing are you primarily active in? Sport? Trad? Ice? Alpine? Boulder?
Adrien: I love ice climbing!!!! For some reason, when I picked up ice axes everything seemed to click into place; ice climbing seemed much more natural to me than rock climbing. Where rock climbs often present a certain sequence you have to master, the tools used in ice climbing allow you to go wherever you can get your axe tip to hold. I think there is something about having a tool to hold onto like a jug (for some reason that always makes me feel better mentally). You have to be patient and methodical and really focused. This is funny, because outside of climbing I severely lack patience, but I suppose it’s a powerful love that makes you overcome your less desirable traits. I like all types of climbing, though (except I don’t boulder much). I definitely focus on Ice, Alpine, and Trad. I enjoy the adventure of climbing really long routes that have a little bit of everything, like the ongoing ice flows of Cody, Wyoming or basically multi-pitch anything. However, I just recently spent two months sport climbing in Thailand which was a total scene change for me (I rarely find myself sport climbing, though I really like it). I’ve spent so many years playing in winter; it was weird to dodge this one mid-season. I have to admit it was really nice to leave behind the layers and hand warmers.
RRRG: Do you think there is a lesser number of women ice climbing as compared to sport climbing/trad climbing? If so, why do you think this is?
Adrien: When I first started ice climbing, I definitely noticed that there were less women participating in the sport. I think ice climbing is a much smaller discipline in the sport and that there are a lot of contributing factors which make that so. It’s not as easily accessible as sport climbing and bouldering and it’s really gear intensive. Ice climbing can only be done where and when it’s cold enough for ice to form. And it can be a procedure, getting geared up and accessing ice routes. You’re usually in a remote place that is only accessed by foot or skis, slogging up steep mountain drainages before you even get to the ice. I think that you have to really want to ice climb to enjoy it and in most circumstances the commitment level is a bit higher than cragging or bouldering. Beyond having climbing knowledge you have to throw in terrain and avalanche awareness, as well. Also, for a long time it seemed the gear made for ice climbing was catered towards and fitted for men. I remember learning on ice tools that were really large in the grip. I could barely wrap my fingers around them, but that’s what I had and I used them. BUT NOW, I see a lot more women out ice climbing. I think they were always out there but my awareness has increased as I’ve traveled more. I think that improvements in ice gear have done a lot to get more women out too. Tools are lighter and more comfortable to use, boots and apparel are now female specific, keeping us cozy and warm. I also think that there are more female targeted opportunities for learning the trade, like chicks with picks, which take the hard boy attitude out of it. There are some amazing women climbers that show up the boys any day!!
RRRG: Do you notice any changes in the areas you have been ice climbing in that are possible effects from global warming? What do you think about this?
Adrien: I certainly noticed the receding glaciers when I lived in Italy. I remember going to ski in the summer at Val Senales and part of the glacier was covered by what looked like white fleece. It was there to deflect the sun rays and keep it from melting further. I think it’s really amazing that human beings in so many ways are so brilliant and yet we can be so unaware. All the things we consume and the resources we burn through seem so unnecessary. While just recently in Asia, I was confronted with an interesting dichotomy: food you could buy from street vendors would be packaged in one of two ways. The first would be whatever you wanted wrapped up in banana leaves secured with what looked like a little tooth pick. You’d eat your snack and when finished, you could toss the leave and twig knowing that they were biodegradable. The second option presented was Styrofoam. And the places I visited all seemed to burn their Styrofoam and plastic releasing all the toxins into the air. I think it’s necessary to be more conscience of the consumer choices we make to make a change with our dollars. If we refuse to buy things un-eco friendly things, business will meet that demand.
RRRG: What areas of the US and abroad have you climbed in? What are some of your favorites?
Adrien: I’m currently in the process of traveling around climbing so I’ve been pretty fortunate to hit up a lot of places in the Western US. Growing up in the South, I’ve spent some time at the T-wall, Foster Falls, and the Red River Gorge. My Favorites out West would have to be Indian Creek, The Beartooths in Montana, and some of the remote no name places in Wyoming. I’ve just recently been introduced to the Western Slope of Colorado and I’m quickly falling in love! Abroad, I’ve climbed in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Croatia, and Greece; Mexico and Cuba; Thailand and Taiwan. And of those places, my heart resides in the Dolomites, they are spectacular! Although, Taiwan was pretty amazing and I look forward to spending more time there.
RRRG: Are you sponsored and is this your primary means of income?
Adrien: I’ve been featured on the cover of Gripped magazine and in Cloudveil and Black Diamond catalogues and websites. Occasionally, I get some gear out of the process. But no, this does not pay the bills (yet )
RRRG: In what ways has climbing changed your life?
Adrien: In every way, since I started climbing it has shaped the direction and course of my life, especially right now. I am giving myself the go ahead to pursue my passion and it’s been amazing. I’ve given myself the opportunity to climb in some of the most amazing places in the world, and the people I’ve met along the way are just as amazing, if not more so, than the geography. Climbing has shown me a community in an otherwise rambling and nomadic existence.
RRRG: Did/do you have any fear when you are climbing? How do you react to control the fear or questions you may have in your mind?
Adrien: All the time. When I find myself getting overwhelmed by feeling scared, I try to stop the mental demons running around and breathe, then re-evaluate what I’m doing. Where’s my body, how’s my balance, is there a better stance right where I’m at or a little further up? Often I need to just move through something that is making me feel apprehensive, when I hesitate is usually when I succumb to fear and fall or take.
RRRG: What were you like growing up?
Adrien: My Dad, the most dedicated of weekend warriors, would have my older brother and I packed up every Friday night or Saturday morning and off to one of Tennessee’s beautiful state parks. It was from him that I learned to love playing outside. He taught me all about camping etc. When I was first putting a camp box together, you know the box that you have all the camping essentials in, he sent me all sorts of things to put in there, an axe, bungee cords, waterproof matches. It was awesome!! Besides camping just about every weekend from age 2 till I went off to boarding school, I grew up riding horses. It was rural where I grew up and it was pretty common for my mom to kick me out of the house till dinnertime. There weren’t any kids around so my horse and my dog were my best friends. We’d romp around the woods and fields and I’d pretend I was a warrior princess. I would try trick riding on my horse, standing and jumping from my horse to tree limbs or big round hay bales. I think I’ve always been addicted to adrenaline!
Adrien climbing Taiwan; photo Matt Robertson
RRRG: Are you projecting anything currently?
Adrien: I’m currently putting a trip together to head into the Caucasus Mountains to do some alpine routes. The mountains in this region are so incredible!!
RRRG: What do you do for work?
Adrien: I am currently on a hiatus from work so that I can travel, but I’m playing and climbing like it’s my job!!
Adrien with Sasha
RRRG: What are your other hobbies?
Adrien: Chilling with Sasha, my puppy dog and partner in crime for 11 and ½ years. She thinks she’s so cool when we get into situations where I have to rig a harness for her and rappel down with her. When she gets down, she struts her stuff like “Oh yeah, I’m bad!” When I’m not perpetually traveling, I love gardening and good food.
RRRG: Haaa…that’s adorable. What are some of your personal goals? And some of your climbing goals?
Adrien: Right now, after coming out of a year of travel, (and before that several years of academics), I am trying to find balance in place. I’m trying to find the right place to call home. In small mountain towns, I love how close the climbing is, but I miss some of the culture that bigger cities have to offer. I think I’m just going to keep traveling till I find some place I can’t leave. As far as climbing goes, I’m really motivated to push myself right now. I’m already really excited about ice climbing next season. I plan to spend the summer in the Pacific NW so really excited to get to play in a new area!
RRRG: If you could eat only one food forever… what would it be? 😀
Adrien: Impossible question. I love food so much. I never want to waste one calorie on crap food!
RRRG: What is currently on you music playlist right now that you’ve been enjoying and gets you going?
Adrien: I can’t seem to stop listening to N.A.S.A. The Spirit of the Apollo right now. It’s a compilation album featuring David Byrne, Tom Waits, Wu-tang, one of the guys from J5, M.I.A., Santogold, Lykke Li, Amanda Blank, Kanye West, Karen –O… and tons more. It’s so good!!
Ancient Art, Fisher Towers, Moab
Don’t mess: a girl and her gear….!
Photo by Matt Robertson
Thank you to Matt Robertson and Tobia MacPhee for the use of the photos.
Matt Robertson: www.climbstone.com
Tobias MacPhee: www.tobiasmacphee.com
Interview by Christine Cauble