Natalie Afonina

Grivel Beal

Hometown: Seattle, WA

Activities: Ice Climbing, Big Wall Climbing, Skiing, & Biking


Grivel, Beal, Arcteryx, NW Alpine Gear


It's a magical world, let's go exploring.

Natalie grew up competitively ballroom dancing but secretly wishing she was an arctic explorer. Inspired by stories of her Soviet mountaineer dad, she booked a one way ticket to the Himalayas when she was 18, where she saw her first ice climbers scaling the frozen waterfalls of the Khumbu Valley. Inspired, she hitchhiked from Seattle to Bozeman with a pair of donated ice tools and crampons she found in her dad's old gear. Since then she's been chasing ice and alpine adventures around the world while working on autonomous robots and engaging in citizen science projects. She believes it's all about the journey, surrounded by friends, and loves the feelings of discomfort that come with exploring a place she's never been before. Long approaches, distant lands, pushing personal boundaries, learning new skills (big walling and backcountry skiing have been the latest additions), and adventuring with a purpose are all things she looks for when planning her next trip, whether it's a quick trip to Cody to run up Broken Hearts, tagging sharks in South Africa, riding camels in the Sahara or a larger expedition to Kamchatka, Russia. She has a fondness for longer, aesthetic ice routes, singing along to Beyonce playlists and sharing behind-the-scene stories to inspire all the weekend warriors out there. She believes everyone is human and aims to show both the highs and the lows, the challenges and the rewards that come with balancing an engineering job with exploration.

Her three rules are:
#1 Don't forget to laugh
#2 We are all beginners once, be nice
#3 Getting down is often the hardest part

Natalie believes every climb has a memory attached to it. The below are her all-time favorite climbs. Some are aesthetically beautiful, some required an adventure to get to, and others forged lifetime partnerships.

All-Time Favorite Ice Climbs:

  • Polar Circus - V, WI5 - Alberta, Canada
  • Omega - IV, WI5+ - New Hampshire, USA
  • Mindbender - WI5+ - Vermont, USA
  • Drop, Swim, or Die - WI5- - Adirondacks, New York, USA
  • Repentance & Remission - WI5+, M5 - New Hampshire, USA
  • Broken Hearts - WI5+ - Cody, Wyoming, USA

Most Memorable Climbs:

  • Goldfinger - Trad, Alpine 5.11a Grade IV, 2000' - Ruth Gorge, AK
  • Leaning Tower - Big Wall Grade V, 1000' - Yosemite, CA
  • Qui L'eut Cru - Adventure Climb, 1800' - Todra Gorge, Morocco
  • Unnamed Climb - Chossiest/Scariest - Yemen
  • Mt. Rainier with her father - Washington

Blog Posts & Podcasts

The Ice-Mitt Project

The Ice-Mitt tour is a project being undertaken by a group of Polar Engineers from Dartmouth College's Thayer School of Engineering. They study the microstructure of arctic and antarctic sea ice, specifically the characteristics of the brine channels and air pockets in sea ice that make it so porous and permeable. They aim to observe the differences between the structures of first year sea ice and multi-year sea ice, and therefore the differences between the structures their permeability to substances moving from the ocean into the atmosphere through the ice. This research is becoming more necessary for climate models as the volume of multi-year sea ice in the polar regions is decreasing more and more each year with increased summer melt, and is being replaced by first year seas ice the next winter.

Enormocast Interview

On Episode 209, I sit down on home turf in Carbondale, Colorado with climber and engineer, Natalie Afonina. Natalie grew up in the States but with a strong connection to her parents homeland, mother Russia. Fluent in Russian and holder of dual citizenship, Natalie has used that pedigree to her advantage as she’s travelled the world into far away places rarely accessed by Americans. Along the line, she was inspired by her mountaineer father to seek the cold and wild. A chance encounter with the North Face Team in Nepal set her on a path to climbing, though she also maintained a career in robotics software including stints at Tesla and Uber. Now on a sabbatical to cut her teeth as a full time ice climber before the next phase of her life, Natalie is ready for whatever adventure drops in her lap.

Let It Go: Ruth Gorge Edition

In addition to being a huge Beyonce fan, she's been known to lip-sync to Disney songs. Bored out of her mind, tentbound waiting for a week of horrific weather to pass to be able to climb in the Ruth Gorge of Alaska, she decided to make a video for her little sister. Enjoy the embarassing entertainment of a rendition of Let it Go from Frozen.

Favorite Gear Picks

Grivel Gully Unicore Rope

"Has a more perfect combo of Half Ropes been made? These are my go-to ropes for everything ice climbing and alpine related. My preferred length is 70m which gets me up and down pretty much everything and they're so light at 36g/m that I don't mind carrying the two ropes up on alpine trad routes (instead of using a single beefier rope). Their Golden Dry treatment hasn't failed me after a full season of use, even towards spring time when most routes on the rappel had liquid water running down them, when ropes typically get iced up."

Grivel Plume K3N Locking Carabiners

"I'm not a large human. At 5'1" I look for weight savings where I can get them because most climbing gear doesn't scale down in size (unlike the way clothing does). These carabiners weigh only 28 grams, making them some of the lightest locking biners on the market. They're small, but they're robust and rated to 23kN! I don't go anywhere without a couple of these on my harness for everything from hanging a pack to quickly setting up an anchor. Pair one of these with a Grivel Lambda HMS Twin Gate carabiner for my favorite go-to top-belay setup."

Grivel G20+ Crampon

"I have been a dual-point climber ever since I started ice climbing way back when. I thought that two points would make me feel more stable on the ice. These crampons proved me wrong and are the reason I'm a mono-convert! Mixed climbing used to be, let's just say... way less secure feeling in dualies when I could feel my feet skating with the slightest rotation. The G20's feel like an extension of my boot and give me the confidence to get on thin mixed sections and trust my feet. I also discovered that on thinner ice, when you want to minimize bashing and risk fracturing the little ice you have to work with, monos work well to reuse ice tool holes."

Grivel Gear Safe

"This is one of those small pieces of gear that makes my life significantly easier as an alpine climber! I travel and often live out of a minivan, so organization is key. The Gear Safe (coupled with the Crampon safe where I store my crampons when not using them) is where I put all of my odds and ends for ice climbing. Extra picks, sharpening files, toe bails, v-threader back-ups and spare screws (that are a little too dull for every day use...). The mesh lets me see what's inside, while the double zipper closure easily zips and unzips without dumping the contents on the floor, so I can easily grab what I'm looking for, zip it back up and stash it in the depths of my minivan. I have also used it to carry my screws on climbs. The top and bottom material is reenforced, which keeps screws from snagging things inside my pack. When I arrive at the base of a climb, the easy closure system lets me grab the screws without spilling them all over the snow (and losing them in the powder)."