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Mar 18, 2016

An adventurer who aims to be the first Lithuanian woman to trek to the South Pole

Read all about Ruta Sidlauskaite's training plan, an adventurer from Lithuania who plans to trek to the South Pole next year in January.

She will pull a 60kg sled over 1100kms for 60 days.

Ruta Sidlauskaite who is based in Delhi will be setting off for the South Pole in January 2017. Over 60 days, she will be pulling a sled over 1,100km. If successful, Ruta will be the first Lithuanian woman to trek to the South Pole. We catch up with her to find out more about why she is doing this, and how she will be training and preparing for the full-length expedition.

26-year-old Ruta Sidlauskaite. Photo ©: Viktorija Ramoskiene.
26-year-old Ruta Sidlauskaite. Photo © Viktorija Ramoskiene.

Q: You are fluent in Hindi and have a good understanding of Sanskrit and have been living in India for more than two years. Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your passion? Why do you do what you do now?

Honestly, India never has been my passion. It was a destiny. No, I cannot identify myself without it.

I remember from my childhood days when my elder sister was very interested in India. Not as in India itself, but more on its philosophy. I used to just shake my head looking at her books. My grandfather was also fascinated with this country after visiting it in the 1980s. When I started my Indian studies, he was very positive towards my decision: “You know, you will have a very interesting life,” he said. I agree, I do.

So why did I choose Indian studies? Well, I was interested in different cultures, folklore and tribes. I was choosing between anthropological studies and Oriental Studies. I chose the latter because they also offered the language discipline. I was fascinated with the idea of learning ancient languages like Sanskrit. Even though Japanese studies were first on my list, when I was admitted to Indian studies, I never regretted it.

Ruta bouldering during a trip to Chatru in Himachal Pradesh in July 2014, organised by Delhi Rock, India's first indoor climbing gym. Photo ©: Archana Thiyagarajan.
Ruta bouldering during a trip to Chatru in Himachal Pradesh in July 2014, organised by Delhi Rock, India’s first indoor climbing gym. Photo © Archana Thiyagarajan.

In 2010, I won a grant of 1000 Euros from the Europe Union and studied for a year at Delhi University. I started my personal acquaintance with this country then. This year was significant too because I discovered one of my passions: the mountains. My love for the mountains I found after a bike trip to Manali, exhausting as it was. We rode for more than 20 hours and Manali greeted us with a good amount of snow and ice on the road. After that, I started going on mini trips and trekking in Himachal Pradesh, which is still my favorite destination for holidays.

I returned to Lithuania, defended my Bachelors of Arts thesis and started an MA in Modern Asian Studies at the Centre of Oriental Studies. It gave me good knowledge of Asia today with its multi-disciplinary approach. Meanwhile, I joined my friends in Lithuania, who did climbing, at the “Montis Magia” climbing club in Vilnius. I joined outdoors trips organised by the Žygeiviu klubas (“Club of Hikers” in Lithuanian). Before finishing my thesis, I got an offer to work in the tourism industry in India. After defending my thesis, I moved to Delhi. I was happy that I could use my skills I learnt at university, as well as work for Lithuanians. I was heading exactly where I wanted to go after six years of studies. My duty is to take care of Lithuanian travelers, organise tours, hotels etc. In Delhi, I joined “Delhi Rock”, India’s first indoor climbing gym. I joined their outdoors activities. I am happy I met this group of people and have the opportunity to be trained by national climbers such as Ganesh Chhetri and professionals like Rushfit instructor Diwaker Sharma.

Members of Delhi Rock in Chatru, with its founder Anuraag Tiwari on the extreme right. Ruta is dressed in blue in the middle. Photo ©: Archana Thiyagarajan.
Members of Delhi Rock in Chatru, with its founder Anuraag Tiwari on the extreme right. Ruta is dressed in blue in the middle. Photo © Archana Thiyagarajan.

Q: Why the South Pole? What do you hope to achieve from this?

I met you at Delhi Rock and you became my climber partner, and the main initiator for this South Pole expedition. You actually persuaded me. Over the last several months, I have been running from point A to point B. So, when I was asked, what you really want to do in your life, I was lost. The idea to go to the South Pole was like a sign: that I needed to make a break and this break would be meaningful. Your work with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Satyarthi and your wish to raise awareness for abused children through this expedition really touched me.

I must tell you a story. I volunteered in an orphanage with a student’s organization Ne Imti, Bet Duoti (“Not to Take, but to Give” in Lithuanian). It organizes outdoors activities and cultural events, whilst helping the children with their homework and giving them tuition. It was important to get back the self-esteem of these children and prove to them that they are not outcastes in society. I love teaching.

I had a gypsy boy, whose both parents were in prison. We were reading a children’s story book. Suddenly, he asked me, his eyes shiny: “Tell me, what is your biggest dream?”

I thought for a while. What should I tell a 9-year-old child, whose parents are both in jail, punished for offences involving drug trafficking? He and his siblings have been living in the orphanage for more than four years. These children are often ashamed of their background. “Oh no! If I were to tell classmates that I live in an orphanage, they would stop treating me as an equal,” one teenager told me. The boy I was reading with was in an even worse position as he was a gypsy. Despite his talents, he was discriminated against and was never encouraged to reach his dreams. So, I thought that I should talk about something big.

“To go to the North Pole,” I finally said.

“Where is it?” he asked. I pointed at the map. “Oh,” he smiled. “It is marked white. It must be very cold. And so faaar. This is a ‘Big Think’”, he added. He started to calculate the distance from Lithuania to the North Pole.

“What is your ‘Big Dream’?” I asked.

“I want to repair cars. I want to have a huge garage with vintage cars and a huge office.”

“That’s a ‘Big Think’ too,” I replied. And then I realised that this dream for this 9-year-old boy will be a big thing, and a big fight.

This was the very first time that I aimed to go to the North Pole. But before the North Pole, one must make preparations and start for example, with the South Pole. It is a great chance to challenge yourself: to prove that big dreams can happen if you are ready to make sacrifices. At the moment, I am searching for an opportunity to converge all my passions, instead of doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. The South Pole will be a break as well as a starting point. Does it sound too ambitious? Definitely. But after the South Pole, I want to go to the North Pole. The North Pole is where I am aiming for; the South Pole is where I have to go before.

Ruta watching other climbers during one of Delhi Rock's daytrips to Dhauj in Haryana. Photo ©: Eirliani Abdul Rahman.
Ruta watching other climbers during one of Delhi Rock’s daytrips to Dhauj in Haryana. Photo © Eirliani Abdul Rahman.

I am also quite excited to plant a Lithuanian flag there once again after a fellow national Arvydas Avulis. If successful, I will be the first Lithuanian woman to do that. I still have this pride of small nations: that we also matter and can do big things and write our own history.

Q: You will be pulling a sled weighing up to 60kg for up to 60 days in -30 degrees Celsius. How are you preparing for the expedition mentally and physically?

For physical training, we are consulting professionals and creating our personal schedules for training. We have also planned outdoors trips, which more or less require learning skills similar to those needed at the South Pole. I am quite confident about my physical preparation. I trust myself as well my instructors and our Master Polar Guide Sarah McNair-Landry, whom we have chosen to train with. I know I am able and I am willing. Whatever I do, I will do one hundred present. I have the typical Lithuanian character: stubborn and hard-working. I don’t know if this is good in every case, but in many cases, you can achieve a lot with that. I feel weaker on the mental aspect. I am sure that once I start, I will finish. I know about negative thinking and its effects, but I also know the mantras, which has to be repeated to get rid of that. For someone young and female from a small country in Eastern Europe, who works with a boutique travel agency, it really is possible to reach the South Pole, and get sponsorship and support. Still, a lot of my people do not believe in me, and grin at me when I talk about it.

Ruta climbing at Dhauj. Photo © Eirliani Abdul Rahman.
Ruta climbing at Dhauj. Photo © Eirliani Abdul Rahman.

Mentally? How do we get ready for this? It is doing research, and talking to people who have had this experience and know how to cope with the mental challenges. It is hard work. You should work on your attitude and learn to control your own thinking. I consider myself quite self-disciplined and self-controlled having had experience operating tours in India. I do understand that the situation in the South Pole is different. But I believe that for mental preparation, nothing is better than your own experience.

Ruta finishing second in the Women's Intermediate category at Delhi Rock's Bouldering Competition in February 2015. Photo © Raie Dey Egle Januleviciute.
Ruta finishing second in the Women’s Intermediate category at Delhi Rock’s Bouldering Competition in February 2015. Photo © Raie Dey Egle Januleviciute.

Q: Why do you choose to train at Delhi Rock? What draws you?

I feel like I owe Delhi Rock’s founder Anuraag Tiwari. When I decided to move to India, I was checking all the opportunities to train in rock climbing. Unfortunately, by the time I checked, only the facilities offered at the Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF) was operating. It was too far and their opening hours did not fit mine. I was so disappointed. I even thought about not moving to India after all, because there was no place for climbing in Delhi. Having lost all my hopes, I decided to check on Google one last time, typing in “climbing in Delhi”. I got a few links to Delhi Rock. I checked the location. And, oh my God, it was just a 10 minutes’ walk from the office! My dream materialised. I was so happy that day!

The interior of Delhi Rock, located at GK-II. Photo ©: Eirliani Abdul Rahman.
The interior of Delhi Rock, located at GK-II. Photo © Eirliani Abdul Rahman.

So I joined Delhi Rock once I arrived in India. And I think I have the right to consider myself one of the first members of Delhi Rock. I know the staff working there: they are professional and the most important thing is that they believe in us and support us in our goals.

Q: Do you have any advice for young women like yourself who are setting out on their first milestone adventure?

Go for it! I should cite now the line from my favorite theatre group Keistuoliu teatras. “Juk labai svarbu noreti, pasistenkti ir tiketi”: After all, it is important to have a dream, try for it and believe in it.

Feature image: 26-year-old Ruta Sidlauskaite © Archana Thiyagarajan

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Travel

Jan 15, 2019

Not Your Father’s Ski Trip: Jackson Hole, WY

Inspired by images of her dad’s Jackson Hole college ski trip, the author heads north to tour the Tetons and tack a few pictures to the family scrapbook.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The author’s father launching a cliff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort cerca 1987

This film shot of my father going big on a set of ridiculously thin, twin-tipped K2s cerca 1987 instilled in me a deep gratitude for today’s fat freeride sticks and a sense of duty to keep the family’s cliff-hucking legacy alive. Scrapbook open on his lap, my dad extolled the terrain of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which he visited “back in the good ol’ days” at Colorado State University. He described a steep wonderland besotted with cliffs that beg for reckoning. After the past several seasons of wimpy Colorado snow totals whilst Jackson churned out foot-deep day after foot-deep day, I was enthused by the resort’s inclusion on my 2018-2019 Ikon Pass. With my own graduation looming in May, I figured the time was right for some Teton escapades. Like father, like daughter.

Car outfitted with a socioeconomically oxymoronic stash of ramen and expensive ski gear, I punched seven hours northward and arrived the night after a vicious storm cycle spat 20 inches of fresh flakes onto the mountains. The next day popped bluebird and my posse navigated the foreign slopes via trial, error, and the inexhaustible freneticism of college kids on vacation. We nabbed fresh tracks on Headwall and Casper Bowl, giggled down pillows on the Crags, and pinballed around the Hobacks. A ride up in the iconic Jackson Hole tram revealed a closed Corbet’s Couloir, ostensibly requiring another wave of coverage before its seasonal unveiling. I was forced to settle for a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin instead of matching my dad’s drop into the legendary chute. With the blood of my father and powder-fueled adrenaline surging through my veins, I willed myself over the most tantalizing cliffs on offer in Rendezvous Bowl.

The iconic Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram, cerca 1987
Corbet’s Couloir: a timeless classic
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, cerca 1987

In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

It’s part and parcel of parenthood to agitate over the safety and well-being of one’s children. I’ve subsumed backcountry skiing into my hobbiesnew territory for this family’s lineage. On my nascent out-of-bounds outings, my father, a textbook concerned parent, grumbled about avalanches, terrain traps, and my insurmountable naïvity. Several seasons of diligent education, one avy bag, and countless snow pits later, I’ve earned his reluctant acceptance, if not enthusiasm, for my backcountry pursuits.  In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

Finding deep snow on Headwall
Pillows aplenty on the Crags

After two days of charging in-bounds, my psyche longed for the solitude of the skintrack. Teton Pass, Grand Teton National Park, and the resort sidecountry make the area a veritable playground for backcountry enthusiasts. It’s a family affair in Jackson; a fraternal ethos is evident in the fact that 97% of the nearly 4 million acres of Teton County are federally owned or state managed. Locals are quick to mark their territory on Teton Pass with the exclamatory hieroglyphs of first tracks, but the terrain is ample enough to find virgin snow. After giving the snowpack several days to stabilize post-squall, we found wiggle room on north-facing aspects along the Mail Cabin Creek drainage. Our final line of Day 1 was the Do-Its, a bifurcated powder track that converges and meanders twelve hundred feet back down to the road. At the hill’s zenith, minute snowflakes collapsed into liquid and rolled from our hardshells. We stood atop a wind-plumped knoll and observed the gnarl of peaks, foregrounded by Mount Taylor and Mount Glory, tumbling into a horizon of exposed rock and liquescent white. The unperturbed flank below screamed for human contact. I was all too happy to oblige the siren’s call with a quick tuck into the void. My skis made that sanctified first contact with the snow below. A crescendo of polestrokes invoked a maelstrom of flakes to drown the world in white. Hips squiggling, mind locked to the minutia, dopamine and adrenaline flooding the nervous system, and a raven on high with a vantage point a ski cinematographer would kill for. Then I burned through the mountain’s vertical; the dance with gravity ended in an expository wave of white smoke. I looked back and the sublime evidence was a single, undulating track across the otherwise unblemished face.

Cloud inversion over the Teton Valley from the top of Mt. Glory
Top of Mt. Glory

My final day in Jackson came courtesy of Exum Mountain Guides, an 80-year-old Teton-based guiding service that offers instruction and adventure on rope and skis in North America, the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The service traces their lineage to local legends of the 1930s like Glenn Exum, Paul Petzoldt, and Barry Corbet. They’re the granddaddy of Jackson guiding services and the resident experts on Grand Teton National Park. Despite the government shut-down and limited National Park operations, dedicated employees were plowing the entrance road and ensuring access to some of the Tetons best snow staches. My guide for the day was Brendan O’neill, who informed me of the birth of his daughter Jessie three weeks prior as we puttered to the Taggart Lake Trailhead.

If newborn Jessie was taxing this new dad’s sleep and energy reserves, his athletic, assiduous pace on the skintrack suggested otherwise. I asked Brendan about fatherhood, hoping to glean some insight into my own dad’s relationship with raising a daughter. He hopes to have Jessie on skis the second she can walk; he would be thrilled if she took to alpine or nordic racing, but amenable if she chose not to compete; he is excited to show her the world beyond the boundaries of a ski resort. As we muscled up towards Amphitheater Lake, I mused that twenty years from now, Jessie might look at pictures of her dad guiding in far-flung locales and make plans to fill and transcend those footsteps. I wonder if Brendan knows how much she will look up to him and his accomplishments.

Exum Guide and new father Brendan O’neill

  Even the evergreens projected patriarchy: the tallest trees nucleated their sapling broods with paternal solemnity, each molecule of powder glistening in the shaggy green branches. We broke through the forest onto snow-covered Amphitheater Lake, a cirque bounded by the bald, mangled granite of Teewinot to the north and Disappointment Peak to the west. On a snack pitstop, we watched another party of skiers lay down tracks in Spoon Couloir, a steep, enticing chute on Disappointment Peak’s lower haunch. Brendan seemed to sense my desire to get after a big alpine line and suggested we bootpack the Spoon must have been his newly acquired parental mind-reading superpower. After crossing the lake, we cut a haphazard zig-zag to the top of the Spoon’s apron and transitioned to the bootpack. 500 feet of vertical boot-punching propelled us up the gut and bookended the nearly 5,000 feet of vertical notched from trailhead to objective. From our humble perch on Disappointment’s flank, an electric blue sky slumbered atop a soupy mass of clouds, hallmark of a Teton Valley temperature inversion. Backgrounded by this topsy-turvy atmosphere, I skied down the hard-packed snow of the spoon’s handle into its apron of softer powder.

The Spoon Couloir visible on looker’s left of lower Disappointment Peak (center)
Bootpacking up the Spoon

Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest

To redeem the remainder of our hard-earned vertical, Brendan led us through a mellow glade percolated with unrumpled pillows aplenty. Matching his cuts through the pines was reminiscent of a childhood spent following my dad around the resort as I learned to trust my edges and my body. As I ripped skins back in the parking lot, giddy with alpine energy, I turned to gaze up at the Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest. I owe this unforgettable trip to Jackson Hole to my father for choosing to raise and inspire (and generously fund) a skier.

Thanks to Exum Mountain Guides for making this trip possible.

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