Fighting Addiction With Ice Climbing

By Margo Talbot, 17 November 2013

  • DATE

    17 November 2013

  • AUTHOR

    Margo Talbot

  • CATEGORY

    Alpine & Ice Climbing

I meet Sarah in the parking lot at 7 a.m. We haven’t seen each other in a while, so we catch up as we hike our gear and four ropes up to the friendly strip of ice just outside of Canmore known as The Junkyards. This is our second year in a row doing a clinic for addicted youth whose life decisions have landed them the court-ordered options of doing time or going to rehab.

Sarah solos up the easiest section of ice while I get the ropes ready for her to haul up and thread through the anchors she has just finished building. The students will arrive shortly, and we want to be back down in the parking lot to greet them.

Sarah and I are pleasantly surprised to see that there are an equal number of males and females in this group. For some reason, we had both assumed there would be more males. We are well aware of the transformative power of climbing ice, both because we’ve lived it and because we’ve seen so many others taken by the magic of the activity. We’re a great team: Sarah lets me talk, tease and cajole the reticent teenagers into trying a lap, and once they’re tied in, Sarah offers encouraging tips and well-deserved compliments on how well they’re doing.

I’m proud of the fact that I’m on the other side of what these kids are going through, and that I’m finally in a position to offer them the guidance I wish I’d had at that age. I’m also proud of the fact that I have women in my life who are as accomplished as Sarah [LINK]. It’s not lost on me that we are the perfect role models for these kids: they get to see strong, capable female role models who are participating in very non-traditional work and lifestyle choices.

One participant in particular catches out attention: She methodically makes it to the top of every climb, and each time turns and silently stares at the view for what feels like three minutes before asking to be lowered. Toward the end of the day, as she reaches the ground after her final climb, she smiles at us and says: “That’s the first time I’ve ever felt in control in my life!”

Maybe it’s the wind, but I notice liquid pooling in the corners of Sarah’s eyes. I look from one participant’s face to the next, and I see sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks. I silently wish for each and every one of them to have the strength to leave their addiction behind.

Margo Talbot

Canmore, Alberta

​Born in New Brunswick and heading west at her earliest convenience, Margo’s world was transformed the day she swung her first axe into the ice. The immediacy, focus and joy of the activity has been her passion ever since. Margo credits physical activity and her relationship with nature as the driving forces in her healing journey through addiction and depression, a journey chronicled in her tell-all expose, All That Glitters.

Margo lives in Canmore Alberta, surrounded by the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. When she’s not out playing in the mountains, Margo spends her time speaking, writing and teaching people how to climb. Her goal is to introduce as many people as possible to the activity that literally saved her life.