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The Flight of the Kea


Submitted by calamity_chk on 2004-09-22 | Last Modified on 2010-02-26

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The Flight of the Kea
By Lizzy Scully and Jamie Miller

Whether she’s flying high in an airplane off to New Zealand, Canada or the United States—all places where she guides rock and mountain climbing—or climbing high on big mountains or rock walls around the world, Anna Keeling isn’t so much different from the popular bird of her homeland New Zealand. Not only does she like to be way off the ground, but her playful and booming laughter reverberates through any campground or room you might find her in.

From her rural home outside of Salt Lake City, Anna Keeling lives surrounded by quiet, god-fearing Mormons. No coffee shops or bars exist in the town of American Fork, Utah, and the boisterous Keeling sometimes misses the feeling of a tight-knit, fun-loving outdoor community. However, she doesn’t have to go far to find awesome biking, skiing, running or climbing in the mountains that are just a five minute drive away from her home.

Besides, what Keeling misses living in Utah she gets throughout her international travels. She guides rock, ice and snow in addition to teaching avalanche courses around the world. Last year she guided a group of women up Ama Dablam, and raised money for the dZi Foundation, an organization that helps families in the Himalayas. She also works for the well-known Chicks With Picks, based out of Carbondale, CO, and has worked raising money for the HERA Foundation, a climber-run organization that raises money and awareness for ovarian cancer. Working for these organizations is an extension of what she loves—being in the mountains as much as possible.

“It’s what I love to do, and the mountains are where I love to be,” she said. Luckily for her, she added, she found her match in husband Scott Simper, a Utah native who also spends most of his time in the mountains or traveling around the world for work—he makes films of outdoor activities, animals and adventures.

Growing up in New Zealand, Keeling never missed an opportunity to explore the mountains for skiing. And at age 6, her fascination with climbing developed during a trek in a remote area with two young girlfriends. While the other two moaned about the hiking, Keeling excitedly fell into step behind the guide, and started quizzing him on climbing mountains and how she could one day become a guide. Her enthusiasm kept her tromping despite nasty blisters—she simply took off her shoes and kept walking.

At age 17, Keeling set her sights on an adventure race across the South Island of New Zealand. She informed her parents that she’d wait until she was 18, so they couldn’t stop her. “As though we would be able to stop her anyway,” her mother Noeline recalled with a grin. Anna finished third and began a serious training regimen and race schedule that lasted three years. She recently began racing again, and this fall she won an event in the Wasatch Mountains, beating all the other entrants, who were all male.

Her racing brought her all over the world, and she developed a taste for international travel. She also decided to pursue a guiding career. “I was traveling in India and telemarking down big lines with a guide friend named Dave Crow. We were chatting away—as you do in a tent at 19,000 feet—and I decided that I could become a guide, too,” she explained.

Unfortunately the new decree was put on hold as Keeling learned of her brother’s tragic death in an avalanche. She spent the next few years working to come to terms with his passing.

“Losing someone you love, to a place [the mountains], which is so much a part of your own, is confusing,” she said. However, she came to terms with his death when she challenged herself once again to try guiding.

“My full commitment to guiding came from recognizing that I could be relatively safe in the mountains rather than doing hard routes hanging it all out on something gnarly. If I pursued guiding, I’d be the chief decision maker, have to exercise judgment to maximize everyone’ experience, while keeping them safe,” she stated. Both being able to share the experience of being in the mountains and developing her technical skills helped her find confidence in working in the mountains again.

Before taking on any clients, however, Keeling knew she needed additional skills. She gained more experience on rock, snow and ice, and eventually became both a heli-skiing and ski mountaineering guide as well as one of the two few fully-certified female UIAGM guides in the United States.

Since becoming a guide, Keeling spends summers guiding multi-pitch routes in and around Banff, B.C., Canada, and she often guides in her homeland.

“Guiding in New Zealand is interesting because it has distinct meteorological challenges to keep you on your toes,” she said. Keeling found guiding to be a perfect balance of her skills and motivation. Her work ethic meshed perfectly with the other essential qualities of a good mountain guide that she possessed—honesty, strength and a good sense of humor.

“Her sheer determination, confidence and hard work have gotten her where she is today,” said Noeline.

Would she do things the same way if she had to do it all over again? With a smile, Keeling said maybe not, but there’s always other lives. “In my next life it would be nice to be a raven or a kea so I could soar in the thermals of the mountains.” But in this life, Noeline said, her daughter is one of the lucky ones. She said, “She works in the mountains doing what she loves with people with the same dreams.”

Copyright - She Sends. Reprinted with permission.
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