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Columnist Jenn Fields took her mother, Jill DuChesne, above, on an ice climbing trip to Ouray last week. By the end of the trip, mom was climbing like her rope was on fire.
Columnist Jenn Fields took her mother, Jill DuChesne, above, on an ice climbing trip to Ouray last week. By the end of the trip, mom was climbing like her rope was on fire.

In the wee hours of a Thursday morning in a St. Louis suburb, my teenage brother woke up puking his brains out. My mom, being a mom, cleaned up after the poor kid.

My brother’s 24-hour virus wouldn’t normally determine the course of my weekend. But last week, I picked my mom up at DIA (scrubbed clean, clothes changed) and drove us to Ouray the next morning for Chicks With Picks.

Last year was my first time at Chicks With Picks, a women’s ice climbing program based in Ouray. When Mom learned that previous climbing experience was not required, she was in for this year.

And when my mom decides to do something, it’s best to clear off the tracks or risk being run down by the freight train.

In our hotel room Friday night, Mom tried on hats from the Chicks swag bag while I made her lunch and loaded her pack for the next day.

“Do you like this one?” she asked, tugging a hat on.

“Um, sure. Hey, this is how you put the ice tools on your pack, OK? And where’s your harness?”

I found it in her pack, which was full of things she’d need to wear out the door and missing everything else.

“I’m not sure,” she said, looking sideways in the mirror. “So that’s a belay device, right?”

I went to bed unsettled, sure I’d forgotten something. Did I pack extra gloves in case she drops one in the river? Would she have enough to eat?

When did I become the mom?

At 12:30 a.m., I woke up. Something wasn’t right. I rolled over twice. The bathroom light was on. I sat up in bed. Mom wasn’t in hers. I lay back down. I rolled over twice, sighed, and got up and walked toward the light.

Five feet from the door, I said: “You have the virus.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. You’re the one puking.”

After a sleepless night, I went to my morning clinic, because I didn’t know what else to do. The virus had to run its course.

At lunchtime, I checked in. She was up but miserable. She was empty and couldn’t eat or drink. And she was so disappointed that her big chance to ice climb had been derailed that a few bitter tears escaped the freight train.

That night, Mom ate a few crackers, drank half a Vitamin Water and decided she’s climbing tomorrow. Worried she won’t have the strength, I tried to talk her into climbing in the afternoon. But she was hell-bent on climbing in the morning.

When the train whistles, I get off the tracks.

The next morning, I drove my mom to the ice park. She fumbled with her gaiters and harness, so I sat her on the back of my Subaru and put everything on for her. Then I helped her into her pack and handed her her crampons.

“I don’t know how to put these on,” she said.

“Your guide will help you when you get there.”

As she walked away, she turned and motioned for me to roll down a window.

She yelled: “This is like your first day of kindergarten!”

I laughed and waved goodbye. Mom climbed like her rope was on fire all day. I met her at the end of the day, helped her out of her crampons and took her to get a cookie at Mouse’s Chocolates.

She had war stories and scars, bruised knees that ripened into late-summer plums. She was ecstatic, and I was the proud parent of a new chick with picks.

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