Published: Mount Baker Experience

Article: You Can Too.

I take a look at how I got to work in the mountains and pursue my passion for climbing. After seeing a handful of other women out in the field, I wanted to encourage more women to pursue mountain guiding. Long story short: If I can do it, you can too.

Read the full story here.

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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.

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.

Hard as Tuff

Recently, it dawned on me that it has almost been two years since I finished college. Here’s a quick recap of things I’ve done, jobs I’ve had and places I’ve lived:

  • June 2015. Diploma in hand. Bought myself a couple more cams, sights set on Squamish.
  • Ended up spending most of my summer in Washington Pass.
  • Got a job coaching my high school girls’ dive team. (I dove competitively in high school.)
  • Moved back to Bellingham. Started working at the climbing gym.
  • Opportunity popped up for me to work full time, 4-10s and use my degree. Hopped right on that… Until I realized that I wasn’t climbing enough, despite being out every weekend in the Cascades.
  • Climbed lots of rocks and a couple peaks with my partner in-and-out of the alpine: Tim Black.
  • Hello, Smith Rock! Fell in love with sport climbing. Hard.
  • Sent it down south to Mexico with megababe and lady crusher friend Carey. Climbed my first 12a (still pretty hyped on that.)
  • The plan was to return to Oregon, return to Smith and return to cold rocks. But my housing arrangement fell through (long story) and I found myself with a job and a place to live at Crystal Mountain.

And that brings us to the present: January 2017. I guess I still have 5 months until it’s been two years since I graduated college… But my brain isn’t always the best at time.

Today, I was inspired to write because I got to thinking about where I’m at in my career, given that it’s been almost two years. I put in my four years’ time, got my piece of paper that suggests I know how to read good (joking) and now look at me: I’m a part-time ski bum, part-time climbing bum and grappling with what to do with my personal process as time flows all around me.

I haven’t been working for material wealth; I haven’t been building the career that Western Washington University envisioned for me; however, I have been working. Hard.

Instead of doing professional networking, polishing my LinkedIn profile and collecting business casual blazers, I forced myself to move to a new place where I had to make new friends, new climbing partners and admit that I was a weak sport climber in a word-class sport crag. I got rid of most of my nice work clothes (most of my everything else, too.) I swallowed my ego, pushed aside my pride and suffered up a lot of spooky 5.10s.

When I could have easily stayed local (Bellingham) and climbed my way through the grades at Squamish — which I did, to be fair, but still have quite a ways to go — I chose instead to drive to Index, drive to Leavenworth, drive to Washington Pass where I knew that the climbing would be unfamiliar. I knew that the skills I’d collected from my previous experiences would come in handy, but I also knew that continuing my progression was more important than settling into a comfortable rhythm.

That’s also one of the main reasons why I quit my cushy desk job in Bellingham (I only lasted about 6 months.) I could have continued climbing on the weekends and pulling plastic during weekdays, but I knew it wasn’t enough for me. I knew that my climbing wouldn’t improve as rapidly as I wanted it to if I had just stuck around and been patient. That’s not how I operate. So I put in my two weeks, packed my life into my car and drove 7 hours by myself to a climbing area I’d never been to before.

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know that there are times when I doubt myself. And if this is the first time you’re reading my work, welcome to the mindful madness that is Mallorie. I think a lot, so I write sometimes. I have boundless energy so I climb mountains. I climb mountains because things are much simpler up there. Out there. I belong there.

And that, in a long and roundabout way, brings me to who and where I am today. By no means do I climb the hardest; by no means do I shred the hardest on the ski hill; by no means do I even work the hardest; but by all means, I’ve worked damn hard to get where I am. I don’t waste my time doing what I think I “should” or worrying too much about what lies ahead. Instead, I work hard to carve my own path, to climb the rocks, to reach the peaks, to make meaningful connections and to make my limited time on this planet count.

I have the utmost respect for people who work hard at whatever they do. If your chosen career, hobby or activity brings you joy, passion and purpose, you know you’re on the right track. And while there may be moments of indecision, disjunctive plot twists and bumps along the way, ultimately, I think we’re all here to serve a purpose.

My calling is in the mountains and I fully intend to answer that call.

 

Turns to Spirals

You read something like this and it makes you think.

“… [T]hese ski bums don’t realize that they are spiraling out of control. They miss all the usual signs of mental health depletion and then when it finally comes to light, it’s too late.” And then the author says, “The lack of social structure, access to health care and stability in life numbs people from noticing that anything is wrong.”

Hmm. Yikes. Why is this hitting so close to home?

Probably because, like the ski bums, I’ve been living a life that is disproportionately vacation-over-stability. I’ve been relentlessly chasing dreams with little regard for the personal costs I’ve accrued.

I feel the shockwaves when a friend dies, like I wrote about previously. Or the time before that. Is living ‘the dream’ worth it? Enough?

I feel it when I sense disdain and jealousy coming from other people my age who can’t break away from their responsibilities to just climb. Just ski. Just whatever. Am I bragging about my privileges too much?

I feel it when my dad asks me about my career plans and all I can offer is a weak comment about the future. Am I giving enough time to my family and other relationships? Or am I spending too much time on selfish pursuits?

I’m forced to wonder: Am I out of control?

Maybe. And it’s hard to own that possibility.

I like to justify to myself, “I just need to climb hard and explore my potential to truly understand the outdoor industry. Then, I’ll eventually land a job at Patagonia or REI or something with benefits and everything will be OK.”

As if it were as simple as going to the Job Store: “One job, please!”

But I never seem to think about this progression on a timeline. There’s no end date, final grade or plan for this transition from dirtbag to desk monkey. And who’s going to want to hire a person with so little professional experience?

Yikes.

As is typical of my blog, I can’t help but end on a positive, appreciative note. Because for all of the badness and sadness in the world, there’s equal goodness and light.

Is living ‘the dream’ worth it? Enough? It certainly is. But it’s also possible to lose sight of your future, relationships and sense of meaning outside of your chosen dream. I wouldn’t trade the friendships I’ve made through climbing for the world. The introspection that naturally occurs in climbing is invaluable, too. I’m a better person thanks to climbing.

That said, if the average person is supposed to sleep 8 hours a night and be awake for the other 16 hours; I think that ‘the dream’ should occupy 8 parts of your life to 16 parts spent being a functioning human. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there.

Am I bragging about my privileges too much? Probably.

Am I giving enough time to my family and other relationships? Or am I spending too much time on selfish pursuits? This is what I meant before when I said that I’m not there yet. As a young twenty-something millennial, I sometimes struggle to see beyond my thumbs furiously tapping out bullshit on my iPhone. But I know that I’m capable. I am loving and I’m loved. You are, too.