Andrea Charest has been climbing all her life, starting with indoor climbing walls and later moving on to ice. Sponsored by Mammut, she competes in climbing events and helps others who want to experience the great outdoors as a guide and a New England Ice Ambassador.
As the co-owner of Petra Cliffs Climbing Center, she also passes her love of climbing on to the next generation.
Family: Husband, Steve; puppy, Skadi
Occupation: Co-owner of Petra Cliffs Climbing Center and mountain guide
Primary sports: Rock and ice climbing
VS: Did you start climbing on ice or rock?
AC: I started with rock climbing. I’ve always been a climber even before I knew rock climbing existed as a sport. I started climbing at an indoor wall in Pittsburgh where I grew up and I was hooked. I came to Vermont the next year and looked for every opportunity to climb indoors and then I met some people who introduced me to climbing outdoors.
VS: When did you try ice climbing?
AC: I started that in 2003, but I didn’t start leading ice until 2007. Leading involves starting from the ground and placing your own protection. There’s a bit more risk involved than in top roping.
VS: This may not be a fair question, but which do you like better?
AC: Actually, there’s a third option which is called mixed climbing or dry tooling and involves climbing on rock, transitioning to ice, and then back to rock using ice axes. On the rock section you sometimes have to swing the axe over your shoulder or clip it to your belt. Overall if I had to choose it would be rock climbing, but I really like mixed climbing. It’s a great filler for that in-between time like November when it’s cold but there’s not a lot of ice. We also do it year round indoors. At the end of January we have a mixed climbing competition at Petra Cliffs.
VS: Can you explain how mixed climbing competitions work?
AC: There are two different events associated with ice or mixed climbing. One is speed. I’m not very good at speed climbing. I watched a video of myself recently and wondered if I was even trying to go fast.
The other kind of event is based on difficulty and sometimes has pre-qualifiers to give you an overall placement before the main event. There are no style points, but there is usually a time limit for the whole route and there are some things that are off limits — like hooking your arms or feet over the axe, which allows you to rest.
Our competition is a kick-off to the Smuggs Ice Bash. Ouray, Colorado has a big competition as part of their ice festival, which draws people from all over the world and this was the third year for a competition in Bozeman, which is now a World Cup event. There are other events in Russia, France and all over Europe and a couple of other indoor competitions at climbing gyms out West. I entered the competition realm a few years ago.
VS: I see that you have two American Mountain Guide Association certificates for teaching climbing.
AC: Right now I’m moving toward additional certifications. I have one more exam before I reach the highest level for rock climbing. I’ll take the American Mountain Guides Association course in August with the Rock Guide Exam coming in September. That’s my goal and that will open up more areas that I can gain access to for guiding throughout the United States. The certifications I currently have allow me to teach indoors and guide outdoors, as long as I keep up with the professional standards.
VS: Tell us about a memorable climb?
AC: A year ago I competed in the Bozeman ice festival. I didn’t have a goal of winning because I own a business and have a full time job so I can’t spend all my time training. I’m in it to get more women involved and have fun. I did the best I could on the competitive route and when I came down I saw pictures of myself and realized that I had the biggest smile on my face the whole time. I’m always in it to have fun and hopefully pass that on to others.
VS: Have you always been athletic?
AC: I’m an only child so my parents dragged me on any adventure they were going on. I’ve always been a camper and a hiker. I tried traditional sports in school. I played soccer, ran track and was on the swimming and diving team, but none of them really interested me other than being something to do.
I used to do a lot of mountain biking, but I injured myself badly and stopped doing that. In addition to climbing, these days I ski a lot. I love combining ice climbing with skiing and doing more ski mountaineering in places where you need ice axes and crampons on your ski boots.
VS: When did you buy Petra Cliffs?
AC: Petra Cliffs opened in 2000, the year I moved to Vermont. I learned about it in 2001 and started working here right away. In the beginning I was volunteering to get a free membership and then I started working part-time at events like birthday parties. I was asked to work at the summer camp and did that for a few years.
When I graduated from UVM I didn’t really have a plan, but I was asked if I wanted to work full-time and said yes. I worked at the front desk and did some guide work and became the summer camp director. The last two owners were pretty absent from the business so I found myself really managing the place and doing payroll, paying bills and other administrative work. When the last owner got into a spot where he had to sell, my husband and I made him an offer and bought the business in April of 2012.
We’ve tried to move it away from a team-building place to more a climbing and mountaineering business.
VS: You’re also involved with CRAG-VT (Climbing Resource Access Group).
AC: I’m the treasurer and also the only female board member, which needs to change. I’ve always been a supporter and member because I feel like anyone who climbs and uses these trails should help maintain the areas and support the future of Vermont climbing.
VS: Are women still unrepresented in the climbing world?
AC: I’m seeing a lot more women and girls get into the sport and even stick with it. Most of the work that I do is with women’s groups, which is fantastic. We also typically have more women than men in the co-ed groups.
I love getting women out climbing and skiing so offering women’s only clinics has helped a lot. Our junior climbing team at Petra Cliffs has more females than males, and typically a lot of the college programs I do for UVM, St. Michael’s College and Boston College have more women than men sign up for climbing trips.
I feel like women are being empowered and getting more into climbing, but they’re still not getting into guiding. I’ve been the only female in all the courses I’ve taken through AMGA. I think that will change, but it hasn’t changed yet.