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October 6, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 40
 
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Climb Every Mountain: Exploring the wilderness
Climb Every Mountain: Exploring the wilderness
by Jim Provenzano - SGN A&E Writer

If you're looking for an outdoor camping or hiking adventure, you're not alone. Lesbian and Gay climbing and hiking groups have been getting the big picture from mountain peaks in the United States, South America, and Europe.

Novice climbers need equipment for serious climbs. Sometimes, ropes and helmets can be loaned, says Andrej Pisl of the group Out in Slovenia.

Pisl's country is one of the lesser-known Gay-friendly destinations in Europe, with five LGBT organizations, most located in the capital, Ljubljana. Out in Slovenia's more than 150 members participate in a variety of sports-related activities. Climbing trips have anywhere from four to 15 participants, ranging from new climbers to experienced guides.

"We usually make a plan for our activities one month in advance," says Pisl. "Since we do most of our correspondence the e-way (e-mail lists and website announcements), it's also easy to organize an activity only a few days in advance. We try to organize climbs and hikes every month, with more during the summer."

Ambitious rock climbers need harnesses, clips, ropes, shoes, and other equipment, which "cost the same in Slovenia as in the U.S. or elsewhere in Europe," says Bob Post, an American who lives in Slovenia. "A full, proper set of equipment would probably set you back $300 to 500."

Post says the Julian Alps are the most scenic mountain range in Slovenia. "There are other nice places, but it's hard to beat the craggy peaks and great views of the Julian Alps. Triglav National Park is the spiritual center of Slovene mountain climbing, but there are other more beautiful climbs."

For novice climbers nervous about such adventurous journeys, shorter, less steep trips are recommended at first. "A new climber needs the companionship of an experienced climber," says Out in Slovenia's Peter Jese. "Because we climb secured paths and mainly don't do difficult free-climbing, there is no real need for indoor lessons. The prerequisite for climbing is [being in] physical condition for about 10 hours of walking and climbing. The climber must not have vertigo."

Post hiked in the Adirondack Mountains in his early childhood years, spurred on by his brother who was "always the serious climber in the family," he says. While working in Kazakhstan in 1993, "the fantastic Tien Shan Mountains were at my doorstep. Since there wasn't much else to do, I rediscovered the mountains and was hooked. I think that the main attraction has been the personal challenge; can I do something that can be very physically and mentally demanding? I was also somewhat scared of heights, so I challenged myself to beat my fear."

Conquering fear is one of many reasons why author and avid outdoors enthusiast Lucy Jane Bledsoe has hiked and camped on nearly every continent.

"I really wanted to see how to inhabit the fear, getting to the other side of it, which is some kind of grace," says Bledsoe, who often travels with her partner of 23 years, Pat Mullan.

In her latest book, The Ice Cave: a Woman's Adventures from the Mojave to the Antarctic , Bledsoe writes of her wilderness journeys in Alaska and the Colorado Desert, and even encountering lion mountains in the Berkeley Hills near her home.

Bledsoe's advice to novice hikers and campers is to keep it simple. "I'm a huge fan of going lightly. Novices think if they have more stuff it'll protect them, but it ends up being harder," she says. She also recommends testing all camping and hiking gear beforehand, and breaking in new boots long before a trek.

Safety is also important, including putting up tents before dark and bagging food in trees to fend off bears and other animals. Bledsoe says, "I gathered a lot of experience and skills, which I take for granted, until I go out camping with someone who hasn't for a while."

Speaking of safety, what's it like to travel these days as an American tourist? "People have been warm and understanding, generally," says Bledsoe of potential conflicts with residents of countries against U.S. foreign policy and the Iraq War. "I feel so grateful that they see me as a human being first, because I'm not proud of what my government is doing."

But not all encounters are necessarily human. In one essay, "Reconnaissance," Bledsoe describes her and Mullan's sighting of a possible UFO in the Mojave Desert as "scarier than the time I clung to the edge of a crumbling cliff, looking down hundreds of feet below me."

Possible alien encounters aside, seeing nature's beauty is what drives Bledsoe to travel, even to coldest Antarctica. "When you strip away the junk of life, listen to the wolves in the mountains, you realize what it means to be a human being, and that's really peaceful."



Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels PINS and Monkey Suits. Read more sports articles at www.sportscomplex.org. He can be reached care of this publication or at sportscomplex@qsyndicate.com.

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