Emilie Drinkwater went to the Indian Karakoram this summer with the likes of Janet Bergman and Freddie Wilkinson. She had never been above 14,000 feet, but put up two first ascents–Pumo Kangri (6400 m) and Stegosaurus (6660 m). Emilie owns Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides with her husband, lives in Wilmington, New York, and can be seen on rock and ice throughout the Northeast.
What’s the best thing about Wilmington?
My husband and I were able to buy an affordable piece of south-facing property. Its central to a lot of different climbing and skiing. Whiteface is right out my back door and Silver Lake is just down the road. Wilmington is pretty affordable compared to Lake Placid or Keene/Keene Valley.
What’s your climbing background?
I learned to climb in college, when I was 20 years old. I was introduced to it by friends at the indoor climbing wall at St. Lawrence University. We were relatively close to the Adirondacks, and I did my first outdoor climbing there. Once I got into climbing I got obsessed with it and was determined that whatever I did with my life, I wanted it to involve climbing.
What’s your hometown crag/area?
Despite living in Wilmington, I spend more time in the Chapel Pond area, between guiding and personal climbing.
This route I climbed 10 years ago at Poke-o called Karmic Kickback (5.11b). I’m not a really hard climber, and with that route I on-sighted it back in the day when I could do stuff like on-sighting 5.11.
Oh, I thought of a better one: my solo aid climb of Mental Blocks (5.12a or 5.7x, A2) on Wallface.
Favorite climb in Northeast?
My favorite ice climb is Roaring Brook Falls. For rock, that’s a hard question…there are so many…I guess my favorite rock climb is Moby Grape at Cannon.
Most essential piece of gear?
What kind of climber are you?
I am slow and deliberate and pretty technical. I tend to do better on things where I can use my feet. I’m not super strong in the upper body so do better when there are foot holds. I don’t love friction climbing but as long as I can stand on my feet, I’m okay. I really like technical trad climbs that aren’t super run out. I also love splitter finger and hand cracks.
How do you pay the bills?
My husband and I own a guide service (Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides) based in Keene Valley. We guide for rock and ice climbing and skiing. We’re based in the Adirondacks, but I’ll take work wherever and often from whomever. I’ve been traveling to guide more and more in order to pay the bills; and also because guiding elsewhere keeps me interested and is a great opportunity to check out other areas. There are still slow times of year. I’ll do, and have done, whatever–waiting tables, painting houses, landscaping.
One winter I worked for the Olympic Regional Development Authority in Lake Placid and my job was to teach people how to use the luge track. I’m not a luger and I was terrified of it. Its really fast! I had to act like I was a pro. We’d send just about anyone down the track though. Including everyone from 3rd graders to very unfit groups of corporate team builders.
Most recent trip?
Indian Karakoram. I got really lucky to be invited. My friend Janet Bergman had a team member drop out and had to fill a spot and my name came up, luckily, because otherwise I couldn’t do it. I joined the team and our goal was to climb as a women’s team; Janet, myself and Kirsten Kremer from Alaska. We shared base camp, logistics and travel with Freddie Wilkinson, Mark Richey and Steve Swenson. It was July and August and we went to India for first ascents in an unexplored area of the eastern Karakoram. Our original objective was Peak 6135. The area is so unclimbed that nothing has names. We thought that it was alpine rock but it turned out to be a giant choss pile when we got there. We ended up going to a different glacier and climbing ice and snow routes. The three of us ladies like to climb with other women and that was a good opportunity to do so.
I just got back from my trip to India and spent every last penny on making that happen. I’m pretty broke right now so another personal trip is out of the question for a little while. I do have some guided trips coming up. There’s Alaska next June for guiding and possibly the Tetons next summer. I’ll be sure to tack on personal climbing to those trips.
If you could go anywhere and climb, where would it be?
I would go to the Alps. Anywhere in the Alps. I keep hearing about how great it is and I’ve never been.
Beer, wine or liquor?
Wine. I like them all but right now its winter and I’m just not into cold beer in the winter.
Photos: Emilie on Repentance, Cathedral Ledge taken by Kurt Hicks. Emilie at Potter Mountain, Adirondacks taken by Jim Lawyer.