All the things unsaid: climbing, social media and ego

I haven’t written much in the last few months. Several times, I’ve sat down and hovered my hands over my keyboard trying to write. But you know that feeling when a word is on the tip of your tongue and no matter how hard you think about it, it just won’t come to you? I’m finally ready to say all the things that have gone unsaid.

After my season of working in the mountains came to a close, I felt really lost. I had wrapped so much of my sense of identity up in what I was doing that when it stopped, I didn’t feel like I had much left to offer.

It’s also worth mentioning that I was working constantly between a busy restaurant gig and guiding jobs, so I hardly had a moment to stop and process. Back at home in Bellingham, I often worked late at the restaurant and began the following day early — like 4 a.m. early — to get down to Seattle to pick up clients for guiding jobs. For the majority of the summer, I slept the best on a thin Thermarest when I was out in the field. It was a lot, but I loved it!

If you know me, if you’ve read anything that I’ve written before or exclusively what it says in the address bar: You know that I’m passionate about climbing. Duh. I’m also prone to exhibiting high levels of stoke, because yeah, climbing. I love it.

As far as I can tell, Newton’s 3rd law about equal and opposite reactions to applies to everything. Including emotions. For as stoked as I’ve been, I’ve also been equally unstoked (destoked? Not stoked.) I think it’s really important to talk about that, because social media portrayals are so ubiquitous but limited in truth. I am not my social media. That’s what I want you to think about me; but that is not all of me.

It has been a hard couple of months. But I’m finally coming around and realizing that I’m not pitiful because I’m not projecting 5.12 anymore.

Whew, it feels great to finally say that.

Like any other living breathing human out there, I get anxious sometimes. A lot of my anxiety is the product of a stupidly huge ego that I try really hard to keep in check.

Ego. What a funny little — or big — thing. Sometimes I feel silly for having a blog dedicated exclusively to personal pursuits in climbing, because ultimately, who cares? I guess I just think a lot, write a little and hope it comes in handy for some reader someday.

My ego motivates me to try a hard route. My ego beats me up on the inside when I fail.

My ego scoffs at a moderate route. My ego doesn’t want to recognize that the best climbers climb EVERYTHING and that the grade doesn’t matter. It’s the climbing that matters. It’s the people you go with that matter.

My ego wants to be the best climber. My ego doesn’t like to recognize that the best climb 18,000 times more than I do and that’s a dumb reason to climb.

My ego wants to show off my goofy side on social media. My ego tells me to take a post down that doesn’t garner enough likes or comments.

My ego wants to be friends with everyone and anyone that climbs. But my ego tells me to focus on relationships that benefit my personal progress and development. My ego forgets that relationships take work and effort; especially the ones that don’t fall within my immediate focus on climbing.

My ego feels smug when people tell me about how I’m constantly “getting after it.” But my ego tells me that it’s never enough.

Enough of that bullshit! I’m sure you have your own echo chamber of egotistical garbage to scroll through on a daily basis. I do not wish to contribute to it.

My feeling is that social media profiles are an almost perfect manifestation or representation of all of the ego problems I just listed.

I think that a glossy social media profile is not a report card or reflection of success in life. It’s a measure of how much time you’re willing to dedicate to showing yourself off.

In pulling back a little, scaling down on exclusively scaling rocks, I’ve come to realize that I am not a complete person if I’m only a climber. I am a friend, a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a writer, a thinker, a doer, a drawer, a baker — a person full of LIFE! I have ideas and aspirations; and while climbing is a beautiful medium for challenge, achievement and accomplishment, it can’t be everything. I don’t feel whole when it is.

Yes, I am still very much a climber. Yes, I love what I’m doing. But no, climbing isn’t everything. It’s what I love but there must be balance.

That’s what I needed to say.

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My Job

My job as a mountain guide is probably not what you think.

As I’ve reflected on before, my job is not the one that my journalism degree from Western Washington University prepared me for. But here I am, still writing.

My job isn’t playing in the mountains on the regular; it is a lot of preparation and anticipation with regard to route finding, dietary restrictions, food shopping, coworker coordinating, weather observations, gear packing, van driving, etc. It’s preparing myself for all of the questions my clients might have and being truthful when they ask me something I didn’t plan for (this comes with a little embarrassment.)

The perks of my job are sunrises and sunsets in the mountains; conversations about life with people from wildly diverse backgrounds; the occasional nap while technically “on the clock;” all of my Trader Joe’s snacks are paid for; incredibly savvy, humble and inspiring coworkers; the opportunity to grow into my profession and simultaneously as a living, thinking, breathing human; the chance to do what I love, with love, as much or as little as I choose to accept work. (I want ALL of the work.)

The challenges associated with my job are working with people in emotionally challenging circumstances from the minute I wake up until the minute I fall asleep. I have to coax people into completely trusting me when they’ve only met me 24 hours prior, when they have little to no experience with what we’re doing and when they’re completely exhausted by the physical exertion and possibly the numerous questions I’ve asked them on the approach (I can’t help myself; I’m just so curious.) It’s (obviously) a lot of grinding up and down hills; it’s been a little hard on my body at times. The pay is something people often ask about; all I can say is that I make it work, whether it’s a second restaurant job for the off-season or forgoing a splurge or wearing the same clothes until they literally fall apart. (Actually, it’s all of the above.)

With each trip, I learn so much. I’ve had the pleasure of working with people that are incredibly talented — technically and interpersonally — and done my best to keep up and offer what I can. Besides my coworkers, I’ve had the distinct challenge of working with clients that didn’t seem interested in working with me; the joy of reaching the top when it seemed unreachable; and the bittersweetness of relinquishing a summit and savoring a high point more than 1,000 feet beneath our intended objective.

My job is so much more than a job. It’s being a relatable, conversational person; a source of inspiration when the client thinks they’re too tired to go on; a sense of emotional security when the going gets tough and scary; the voice of authority when difficult decisions need to be made; a backcountry chef in the wee hours of the morning and after a long day of climbing; all in all, it’s a lot. It’s not easy.

I heard a joke that cracked me up the other day that I think is especially relevant right now: “How can you tell someone is a mountain guide?… Because he or she will tell you.” In case plain text doesn’t convey the humor, it’s funny because it’s true! When what I do for work comes up, people generally either look at me with awe or ask plainly:

“So you take people hiking?” Yeah, something like that.

Sometimes that hike involves moving through terrain that you might not survive without adequate skills and preparation. Not trying to be dramatic, but it’s definitely more than just hiking. You get the idea.

One thing that has occurred to me in this career pursuit is that I no longer seek to put down the 9-to-5er. And it’s not just because most of my clients are 9-to-5ers — though I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a consideration — it’s because it takes all types to make it happen; whether that’s the climb, the company I work for or the community that I recreate in. I hope that in my life decisions, I’ll be taken seriously even if I’m not a suit-wearing professional. I’m a professional in my own right in that I keep people safe in alpine circumstances; I give people the opportunity to have impactful experiences in high, wild places; I get to share what so many mentors have given me along my own journey into alpinism.

The bottom line is that I’m lucky to do what I do. I am so grateful that Mountain Madness decided to have me on this season. I love the line of work that I’m in. I’m living my dream with all of the hang-ups and challenges that come along with it.

50 Shades of Stoked

I have a friend who likes to ask, “What color are you today?” Instead of, “How are you today?” Because it forces you to pause, think, identify how you’re feeling and associate a color with the emotion.

Yesterday, I was a golden glitter bomb.

I felt a wave of full body chills and I swear I felt my pupils dilate; it was as if the good news had galvanized my nervous system into sensory overload. The feeling was heightened by Freddy Mercury singing “We Will Rock You” loud on the radio.

Yesterday, I officially landed my first guiding job with Mountain Madness. I don’t think I could possibly be more excited about it.

If you’ve read anything else that I’ve written, you know that I have a lot of stoke for climbing and mountains. If you’ve climbed with me, you’ve seen it for yourself. My excitement is on par with completing first ascents at Smith and the first time I summited Mount Baker.

And so the journey begins!

Lessons Learned

I am in the middle of a wilderness first responder course. It’s been awesome. The human body is absolutely fascinating. All of the structures, systems and interactions sustaining you at this very moment are incredibly complex and intricate.

Today I learned about how to respond in the event of a cut, a burn and even an evisceration – definitely got a little queasy during that part.

Today, we also talked about leadership as informed by NOLS 4-7-1 model. We talked about the importance of each of the seven aspects of a strong leader. Communication being one of those 7 traits.

… and then we talked about women in leadership. We were told that the qualities of leadership are not gendered traits. We were told that a leader isn’t necessarily a “broad-chested drill sergeant-type.” However, we have implicit biases (we were encouraged to discover our own implicit biases using this tool designed by Harvard.) These biases can be overcome, but the instructor told us that we’re conditioned to expect certain traits of leaders. Y’know, like how society thinks your gender might effect your judgement and leadership in an emergency situation.

I should specify, a male instructor told us that women might experience push-back in leadership roles. Which got my gears turning because I know this to be true.

He warned us of the possibility of coming off “bitchy” or “bossy” in leadership environments and to be careful of our tone and the way that we approach leadership. Generally, he addressed leading with confidence without being overbearing. (He also mansplained how he gets it because his wife is an emergency responder.) However, the instructor failed to address men in the same way. Hmm.

What happened next is laughably ironic:

He did not open the topic to discussion. Women in the classroom were not invited to discuss the topic – despite healthy conversation throughout the entirety of the morning lecture.

A woman with guiding experience in the back of the classroom raised her hand to address the other women and said: do not be afraid of the push-back. It will happen. You do not need the approval of the one or two guys who will resist your leadership. If you have control over a situation, proceed.

To which the instructor then said that cohesion is important — and I’ll admit, at this point, I was frustrated. I’d raised my hand to contribute to the discussion to simply say that we should move away from gendered words like “bitchy” and “bossy” because they’re seldom – if ever – applied to men. If we want to reverse some of society’s conditioning, we must knowingly utilize vocabulary that can be applied to any obtuse, overbearing leader regardless of their gender.

I was told that we were going to move on and that the topic was closed for discussion. My question or comment was denied. Another male student raised his hand. His question was answered.

At that very moment, I became a feminist and advocate of women in outdoor leadership. Call me what you want, deny me how you will. I will rise. I will speak. I will overcome.

“Either”

Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” That quote is tattooed on one of my friend’s arms. While it will stick with him in a different sense than it will stick with me, it remains all the same.

Generally speaking, I like that quote. It’s inspiring. But right now, as I’m sitting here on the couch and deciding what to do with myself, it would be easy to cast myself on the “nothing” end of the spectrum.

I don’t think that’s accurate.

When I scroll through my social media feeds — Instagram in particular — I’m genuinely excited to see what other people are doing. It’s one daring adventure after another. Truthfully, I’m also a little jealous of all of the adventures I’m not having. I think we all do this from time to time.

My point, in all of this, is that life is not “either” a daring adventure or nothing at all. Sometimes, life is a daring adventure. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like much of an adventure at all. In order to have mountains, there must be valleys, too.

Basically Amelia Earhart

I am a pilot’s daughter. I grew up in the back of planes, in cargo boxes and in hangars. I remember looking forward to when my dad would come home from work; I would hug him and deeply breathe in the smell of oil, engines and aircraft. I still love those smells.

I am the grown daughter of a pilot now. I’m 23. I’m alone. I’m trying (unsuccessfully) to sleep in a twin size bed. My mind is racing. Metaphorically speaking, I’m the pilot now. I’ve lifted off from the runway of childhood and now I’m monitoring a number of gauges, knobs and meters while charting my path through life.

To take that metaphor a step further, it seems to me like there are people and experiences in life that provide feedback much like a gauge or a meter would to a pilot. I feel as though I should grab at the mic and announce on the intercom, “Hold on to your hats, folks, we’re in for a bumpy ride!” But it’s just me on this plane.

I’ve gotten some harsh feedback lately. And you know what? That’s okay. But it kind of sucks. Makes you feel kinda crappy. But the things you feel shitty about are learning opportunities. So let me share with you some of the shit I’ve learned the hard way recently:

Not everybody wants to be your friend. Like this guy I work with right now. Sometimes I get the feeling that he hates my guts. Like, a lot. But you know what? That’s okay. We’re both grown ass adults and this isn’t kindergarten anymore. Do I feel shitty about it? Only every time I see him. But the second that I realize that I don’t need his approval, I feel better. I do my thing. And that’s good enough.

Sometimes past relationships will go up in flames. It’s kind of fun to watch fireworks until you realize that it’s your personal life that’s on fire. Okay, maybe that was a little dramatic. But — deep breath — I recently tried to remedy the situation that inspired a previous post about being the type of girl that sucks at being friends with other girls. And it absolutely did not work. And part of me wants to believe that I’m just “that type of girl that can never be friends with girls” but then I realize how stupid that is and that I have to learn from my mistakes. What I learned? Sometimes being spontaneous and open to life experiences involves saying yes and sometimes it involves saying no. Sometimes when you say no, you upset people you care about. Sometimes, they don’t forgive you. Again — deep breath — you accept that you did your best and move on with your life.

And just like that, a couple hundred words later, I feel as though I’ve gotten through some turbulence and can get on to trying hard not to make the same mistakes. I’m a pilot’s daughter. I’m brave but sometimes I lose my way. But it’s all gonna be okay.