It's a long way to the top

Mountain climber showcases her career of being first to the peak

- VIMFF 2011 Fall Series, Nov. 15-17 at North Vancouver's Centennial Theatre. Events, which get underway nightly at 7: 30 p.m., include: FEAT Canada Talks, Tuesday; Reel Rock 2011 Film Tour, Wednesday; and, Pete Brennan: India to Ireland by Bicycle, Thursday. Tickets: $15-$35. Info:

FOR Jen Olson, climbing is the ultimate test of physical as well as mental endurance.

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While exertion is one obvious challenge faced, the constant mental exercise the activity demands can be just as taxing.

"There's a lot of times with climbing that you're trying to constantly manage your fear and decide whether it's rational or not," she says.

"It's hugely mental, you're always trying to figure that out. Should I just push harder? Can I push smarter? . . . Or is it just time to throw in the towel and run away?" she adds.

Olson, 39, has made a name for herself in the climbing world, having a number of first ascents under her belt as well as constantly being called upon as an international mountain guide, certified by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations.

She's also being increasingly called upon to share her stories in a public setting and will be among the adventurers taking the stage at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (VIMFF) 2011 Fall Series. The three-day event, being held Nov. 15-17 at North Vancouver's Centennial Theatre, will feature a variety of events intended to celebrate the adventurous heart.

Olson is a featured speaker at FEAT Canada Talks on Tuesday, Nov. 15. She's one of nine Canadian adventurers set to make a seven-minute slide presentation. An acronym for Fascinating Expedition & Adventure Talks, the event is making its Canadian debut (previous FEAT events have been held in South Africa in the last year) under the organization of Sean Verret, an adventure racer and life coach.

This is Olson's first time being part of FEAT Canada as well as the VIMFF.

Originally from Calgary, Alta., Olson is currently based in Canmore and has been involved in climbing and guiding since the early 1990s. More than a hobby, it's become her lifestyle, and she credits her involvement with the University of Calgary's Outdoor Pursuits program, as well as having worked for Outward Bound.

When asked what initially attracted her to the activity, she says it was probably a combination of being inspired by mentors and the addiction to climbing she quickly forged. Furthermore, she loved that there were always new experiences to be had.

"That is the great thing about my job, is there is nothing typical about it," she says.

Olson's work as a mountain guide involves constant international travel - Europe, North and South America

primarily - with trips lasting anywhere from a day to a few weeks.

Her next trip, set for next month, will see her help three Lithuanians get up Mount Fitz Roy in Patagonia, located on Argentina and Chile's border, an alpine rock climb.

This will be her and her clients' first trip to the area.

"I'm really looking forward to going to Patagonia because it's renowned for having bad weather, so to be able to go there on a work trip is really exciting for me," she says. "I'll also climb for myself down there if the weather is good enough."

When not guiding, Olson is drawn to rock climbing or expeditions to places where she can climb multi-pitch granite, like The Bugaboos.

She loves recreating in the West, her own backyard, and takes advantage of any opportunity to climb close to home.

"There's only so many days a year you can have a good day in say The Bugaboos and it's hard to always be available on that day," she says. "I think there's so much good stuff in say the Columbia Mountains of British Columbia or say the Waddington Range. There's so much great climbing in B.C. but it's just the number of days a year that it's possible to do it because of weather."

Some past international experiences she's most proud of include first ascents in Alaska's Kichatna Mountains - Sunrise Spire - in June 2006, and Pakistan's Brakk Zang in September 2007.

"They were both really remote, 500-700 metre routes," she says.

In Alaska, they were flown in on a ski plane and camped on a glacier for a month while they attempted to climb the rocky parts of the mountain.

"We were the only people in the area; we were like an hour's flight from Talkeetna," she says.

While it was a successful trip, they were unfortunately stuck in the area for eight days longer than they'd wanted due to poor weather, waiting to be picked up by a plane.

The Pakistan journey involved a two-day trek, with porters, into their base camp.

Both trips were with other women, something that's important to Olson when looking back on her achievements, proving what they're capable of achieving.

Olson is looking forward to being part of the FEAT Canada event.

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