This piece was written by one of NMLFF's original Ambassadors Hannah Lippe.
I looked up at the thin, shimmering line of ice above me. Water dripped out the sides of the ice, dampening the rock underneath the tenuous frozen line I was supposed to climb up.
“So, um, how do I do this?”
My climbing partner, a guy I’d met skiing only a few weeks before, gave me a bemused look. He was probably wondering why he’d invited me on the first ice climb of the season in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He replied, “Go fast. No rules.”
He checked that my carabiner was locked, turned his crampons uphill, and swung his tools into the fragile ice. Within a few minutes, he was out of sight.
I stood there, feeding out rope as he moved quickly up the pitch, shivering and wondering why I’d thought ice climbing might be fun.
Pretty soon, I heard the call from above: “BELAY OFF!”
I took the rope out of my belay device, pulled off my enormous puffy coat, and put on my thinner climbing gloves. I waited until I heard, “ON BELAY.” Here goes.
I swung the ice tool into the first patch of ice I saw. Ping! It bounced right off. I kicked my crampon into the ice at my feet. The ice shattered. There was too little ice and too much rock.
“Oh Jesus,” I thought. “How the hell am I going to get up this cliff if I can’t even put these sharps things in ice? Isn’t that the whole point of them??” My heart pounded as I envisioned the catastrophic embarrassment of yelling up to my new climbing partner that I couldn’t do it. Then I remembered: Go fast. No rules.
I took a deep breath and reached up to hook my ice tool behind a rock. I lifted my opposing leg to wriggle my crampons in between two rocks and started moving, forcing myself to let go of how I thought I should I use my tools and crampons, and instead used the sharp objects attached to my hands and feet as wedges, levers, hammers, and hooks. I grabbed, pulled, stabbed, jammed, wriggled, and clawed my way up.
I reached the belay about 70 feet later, with my Arcteryx bibs torn in a few spots and feeling utterly victorious.
My climbing partner quickly tied me into the anchor and we prepared to set off for the next pitch. I followed him up the next two pitches, forcing myself to keep my heart rate down and experiment with different ice tool and crampon placements to move quickly, though maybe not gracefully, up the ice.
As the sun began to sink below the mountains, we topped out on the top of the Black Dike, one of New England’s most iconic ice climbs. I pulled on my enormous down jacket, a little stunned and very proud. I couldn’t wait to do it again.
Go fast. No rules.
These words have continued to ring true for me in many ways. A year after this experience, I keep reminding myself, when I get stuck or lost or confused: Hannah, go fast. No rules.
I have always loved rules. Growing up, I played team sports, where rules abound. I loved school because I knew the rules: study hard, listen to the teacher, get good grades, go to a great college. When I was class president in middle school, I loved helping the school administrators enforce the rules. I saw things pretty black and white -- either you did the right thing and followed the rules, or you did the wrong thing and broke the rules.
And, when it came to following the rules, I certainly did not go fast. I went sloowww. My sister’s favorite story to tell is about the time I visited her at her college on a weekend. I spent the entire weekend in her college library studying for an upcoming plant biology test. When my sister swung through the library on Sunday with friend to check on me, her friend asked me, “Oh wow, is your test tomorrow?” I said “Oh no, it’s in three weeks.” Slow. I would read, re-read, and re-re-read every essay I had written and agonize over every decision I made. Slow.
And, because of my love of rules, I’ve struggled with a lot of anxiety, fear, and depression for the eight years since graduating college. During that time, I was in search of the “right” career and life path that I thought followed all the rules -- find a good career path, get a great job, find a husband, buy a house. For one reason or another, though, these things didn’t happen as quickly, at all, or in the order I thought they were “supposed to,” even though I was following the rules.
I spent a lot of nights panicked and wondering how I’d gotten so far outside the rules. I dwelled in a slow, indecisive pool of anxiety. I wanted a teacher to tell me that I was doing the right thing in life and give me an A, and without that, I didn’t how how to discover my own path forward.
In the last year, climbing and learning how to navigate the unfamiliar terrain of ice and rock has flipped my perspective. With the mantra of “Go fast, no rules,” I started to see how I limited myself with my own perspective and desire to do the “right” thing. In climbing, there’s no one path to the top, and it’s rarely straightforward. You always have to be prepared to respond to a turn in the weather, an unexpected change in the route, or just not feeling at your best. You have to move fast and be decisive. Rather than looking at these hiccups as barriers or negatives, I learned to look at them as part of the adventure. I never know exactly what’s going to happen, but I keep my stoke high, reframe each problem into a new opportunity, and go fast.
Climbing has helped me discover, as many of you probably knew way before I did, there are no rules in adult life. There’s no one way to live your life -- no right job or path. Not only is there no right way, but there’s no wrong way. I used to fear what I didn’t know about what life would hold and would worry that I wasn’t doing the right thing.
These fears still pop up from time to time. But now, I’m more comfortable with ambiguity and not knowing what path my life might take, or if the decision I’m making is the right one. I make decisions more quickly, creatively, and fearlessly, whether it’s jumping into a new project at work or flying out spontaneously to join a friend to for a bike and ski adventure in Oregon. I am excited about a life of discovery and exploration rather than rules and answers.
Right now, I’m nowhere I ever thought I’d be, and I’m happier than ever. I have a quirky job working in innovation at a massive financial services company and many friends that will laugh through the hail and windstorms with me. I am pouring energy, time, and passion into my adventure life. I don’t have a set career or life direction, and I’m having a fucking blast.
And when I start to panic, I keep my heart rate down and experiment with unexpected movements and handholds, forcing myself to move quickly, though maybe not gracefully, through life. Then, every so often, I look at what I’m doing and still feel a little stunned, very proud, and can’t wait to keep doing it.