Inspiration Series with Ellen Powick

Story by Nik Berry

Ellen Powick first inspired me as I approached The Pipe Dream Cave in Maple.  Ellen was climbing a very steep route.  After looking in the guidebook I found out the route was 5.13c.   She made it look easier than the warmups.  Since this day, I have seen Ellen send many hard routes with her signature controlled static style.  Ellen fits the Boulder Colorado model of climbing 5.14 and having a high-end job.  When one has so much talent it is easy to become self-absorbed.  Ellen, however, is extremely humble and more than happy to help fellow climbers.  I was fist inspired by Ellen because of her achievements on rock.  After having the honor of spending time with Ellen, I am now inspired by her as a human being.

 

How did you start climbing? 

I started climbing in a gym in Calgary.  Yes, I’m Canadian.  I had some friends who were climbers and as they talked about it, I thought it might be something cool to try.  They took me to the gym and I was hooked instantly.  I remember getting so pumped on my first day, I couldn’t untie my shoes.  But I loved it and I couldn’t wait to get back the next week.  That was almost 18 years ago and today my passion for climbing still just keeps getting stronger.

 

How long have you lived in SLC?

15 years – wow, time flies

 

Who do you look up to in the climbing world?

People who try hard, people who have fun, people who get after it.

Of course, I do have to call out Lynn Hill.  She stepped up and tried things when people didn’t think women could do it, especially at her height of 5’2”.  Now at over 50 years of age, she’s still crushing.

 

What are some major differences in climbing from when you started to now (approach to climbing, people, attitudes or what you see)?  (not trying to make you feel old)

It’s gotten popular and as a result the crags are busier and there are more and more strong climbers out there, especially women, which is great to see.

Ellen on Blocky Horror Picture Show (5.12d) in Rifle, CO.

Why do you enjoy climbing in the Wasatch Range? 

I love the variety and the easy access.  There aren’t many places in North America where you can work a full day at an office job and still get a few pitches in outside before or after work.  It’s awesome.

 

You normally travel every weekend to climb.  What is your longest spree of continuous weekends of travel?  How do you stay motivated for so many weekends of travel in a row?  

Because I’ve pretty much always worked Monday to Friday, the weekends are a big deal for me.  Luckily, I live here in SLC where there is quick access to a variety of rock and a great gym for when it’s dark or the weather isn’t perfect.  Winters are the toughest because you have to go a little further to get outside.  A few years ago, I drove 4 hours to the VRG, 17 weekends in a row.  Yes, it was a bit much but I was obsessed.

 

As an engineer how do you balance work and play?  

Ah, something I’m always striving for is the right balance between work and play.  Having to work definitely makes you appreciate your free time and make the most of it.  Fortunately with climbing, I think you can excel without having to climb every day all day. You lose out on extended road trips but with a good gym like Momentum, easy access to rock, and by making good use of your time, you can have a full time job and still be able to get enough climbing in to progress.

 

A few summers ago you had an incredible day at The Pipe dream.  What routes did you send?  Did you do anything different from the previous week? Were you more psyched after that day or did you take some time off? 

Yes, I did Millenium and Pipedream in a weekend.  I like to think it was because I was climbing a lot and training hard and while I think that all came into play, the reality is that I had been working the routes all summer in >90 degree temps.  When the temperature dropped 10 degrees, everything came together and I was ready.  It got me more psyched…I don’t really like taking time off.

Can you think of a specific local route that offered a special learning experience? What was the experience?   

One of my favorite things about climbing is continuously learning.  Joe Six Pack at the VRG was particularly memorable even though it was well over ten years ago.  At the time, I had only done a few 5.13s. The VRG can be very intimidating.  The sequences are not obvious, you are out of sight from your belayer and the highway noise prevents you from hearing anyone trying to yell beta.  You are on your own.  After taking some huge falls, even just getting to the chains for the first time was a huge accomplishment.  But in going through that process, I learned a lot.  Climbing at the VRG has taught me to trust my feet, trust my belayer and trust myself.

 

Is the key to success more climbing or more rest?  

There is a balance for sure but I’m going to say the key to success is going climbing (especially on real rock).  There’s so much more to climbing than just the physical aspect so the more time on the rock, the better.

 

What is your favorite route in LCC, BCC, and AF?

  • LCC – I don’t do a whole lot of trad climbing, but I do love the coffin, especially on a sunny winter day.
  • BCC – there is nothing better than a quick jaunt of Steort’s ridge after work.  So fun. I wish it went on forever.
  • AF – I’d have to say I’ve done Beeline more than any other route at AF.  Such great climbing, and a great warm-up or cool-down when working a project in the Billboard cave.

How have you managed to climb for this long without dynoing? 

Seriously?  You clearly haven’t seen me climbing lately. Okay, I’ve never been much for dynoing, relying more on staying in total control and locking off to get to the next hold.  I realize that’s not always the most efficient way and have been working on my deadpoint and dynoing ability a lot lately.  There is still lots of room for improvement.

 

Ellen Powick on Horse Latitudes (5.14a) at the VRG.

What advice do you have for SLC’s aspiring climbers?

  • Climb with climbers that are stronger than you – and watch them closely – you can learn a lot.
  • Lead, Lead, Lead.  You need to be comfortable on the sharp end so you can focus solely on the moves and not be distracted about being above a bolt.  The only way to get comfortable leading is to lead a lot.
  • Learn to fall.  You will fall, and it’s important to know how to fall properly.
  • It’s okay to fall.  When you’re sport climbing in a safe environment, it’s not like the old school adage of ‘the leader must not fall’.  If you’re really pushing yourself and trying to improve, you will fall.  It’s all part of the process.  Of course ensure you have a competent belayer that knows how to properly catch falls.
  • Check your knot.  There is nothing more important.
  • Have fun.  You’re allowed to take it seriously and be focused, but don’t forget that climbing is fun – that’s why we do it.

 

Why do you love Momentum?

Variety.  From bouldering to the techie routes to the pump fests, the route setting is always amazing.  That coupled with the ability to train – weights, campusing, treadmills, exercise bikes, and yoga – you really can’t beat it as your one stop shop to improve your climbing and have a good time doing it with a great group of climbers.

 

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Ellen and Kolin Powick with their dog Rumple at City of Rocks, Idaho.
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