Skilled in ice, rock and alpine climbing, Kitty Calhoun always wanted to live like it was her last day on Earth. She wanted to be able to experience things she hasn’t experienced before and overcome her fear of heights. Therefore, Ms. Calhoun became the co-owner, director and a guide for Chick with Picks and Chicks Rock Events, which she has continued to do since 2000. Since 1999, Chicks Climbing & Skiing has been welcoming and empowering women through life-changing experiences in the outdoors, including rock climbing, ice climbing and backcountry skiing.
The company’s women-specific, women-only instruction is designed to help women become confident, self-sufficient climbers and skiers and connect with one another to strengthen their outdoor women’s community. They proudly stand out from other guide services and women’s outdoor groups, in that they have the country’s most highly trained and experienced instructors, many of whom are influential luminaries in the world of climbing and skiing. Their programs cover the basics, but also go much deeper. They have witnessed the power of a lifelong learning approach to adventure. As such, they mentor women to progress in their ability to become emerging leaders in their sports and communities.
In this post, Ms. Calhoun led a team of three other women mountain guides, who are the most experienced, certified women mountain guides in America. Ultimately, their mission is to educate and empower women through mountain sports, develop community and foster environmental stewardship. Before working with Chicks Climbing and Skiing, Ms. Calhoun was a founding partner of Exum Utah Mountain Adventures. In addition to this tenure, she has been an ambassador for Patagonia since 2000.
Some of Ms. Calhoun’s most notable achievements include guiding with Jay Smith through grade VI rock routes in Kyrgyzstan, a new grade VI route on Middle Triple Peak in the Kichatna Mountains in Alaska and a rare ascent of the Diamond Couloir on Mount Kenya in Africa between 1996 and 2000. She also voyaged on the second ascent of the Bouchard Route on Mount Chacraraju in in the Andes range of Peru, and was the first American woman to ascend the Dhaulagiri massif in Nepal and Mount Makalu in the Mahalangur Himalayas. Additionally, Ms. Calhoun was the subject of a documentary, “Fire on Ice,” as well as a TED Talk titled “The Last Descend,” where she talked about how some of her expeditions she can only do once due to climate change.
Ms. Calhoun was raised in Greenville, South Carolina. Her father, a corporate lawyer and a descendant of American statesman John C. Calhoun, sent her to an exclusive private school in Greenville, where she excelled in sports, particularly hockey and skiing. Ms. Calhoun began rock climbing through an Outward Bound course at the age of 18 and took up ice climbing at 19.
Prior to the start of her professional career, Ms. Calhoun pursued a formal education at the University of Vermont in Burlington, earning a Bachelor of Science in 1982. She then attended the University of Washington in Seattle, where she attained a Master of Business Administration in 1993. Active in her local community, Ms. Calhoun has done plenty of fundraising through her company, as well as with her local women’s shelter and Ouray Ice Park in Colorado.
Outside of her primary trade, Ms. Calhoun was a former member on the board of directors and former chair of the expeditions committee for the American Alpine Club, a nonprofit member organization whose goal is “a united community of competent climbers and healthy climbing landscapes.” In light of her accomplishments, she was honored with the AAC Underhill Award for Excellence in Mountaineering. Ms. Calhoun really values teamwork. The most important thing to her is to listen to others.