Welcome to Alaska (aka Crevasse Whip)

I flew from Seattle to Anchorage on a Monday. The weather was mostly clear with a few scattered clouds. The woman sitting beside me in the window seat announced excitedly that she was going on a cruise. After taking in an eyeful of the climbing guidebook propped open in my lap, she asked: are you going hiking? Yeah, kinda.

Normally, I’d be happy to carry on a conversation with whoever wound up in seat 17A or whatever it was beside me. But at approximately the same time that she struck up a conversation, we began passing over the Chugach Range. Looking down, it took me a moment to realize that the seemingly low-hanging cloud beneath us was actually an expansive glacier. Its huge expanse confirmed that I was definitely outside of my home range, which seemed suddenly scaled down by comparison. The terrain beneath us was big and wild and enticing. My jaw dropped and my eyes welled up a little with excited and awestruck tears; a special kind of tear that only powerful natural experiences can conjure. I felt simultaneously small but very much in the right place. The feeling was only slightly reduced when the tiny plane window was overtaken by an iPhone screen, but what little I’d seen struck a deep and resonant chord.

Upon arriving at the Mountain Trip guide house in Anchorage, I was immediately enthralled by stories of big mountain rescues, avalanches and other stuff you might otherwise hear about in Outside magazine. All of the stories were told from a first person perspective. My eyes widened and I could hardly contain my endless questions. I immediately got the sense that I was surrounded by decades of experience.

Not having much to do right off the bat, I tried to busy myself by helping other teams prep gear for the West Buttress of Denali. Tents were thoroughly inspected for tears, zipper snags, adequate rain flies. Unnecessary ounces were shed. “That’s weight,” the lead guide said, plucking something from the kitchen kit. Noted, I thought to myself.

The cast of characters that makes a seasonal migration to Anchorage year after year is a lively bunch. Lots of personality. The backyard keg only served to enhance things, and definitely for the better. While new on the scene myself, I felt like I was among my people. I immediately noticed the bonds forged between folks that had spent weeks together working at altitude, often in the elements and laden with heavy, mandatory gear. There was an evident sense of community and camaraderie. These people were hearty; both physically and in the way they carried themselves. I loved it.

Three days out from our flight onto the Kahiltna Glacier, I began packing with my lead guide Ben for our 12-day climbing course. He’d developed a menu and introduced me to the long list of gear that we would need, most interestingly: seven pickets (we used all of them,) two low-stretch 50 meter ropes and four sleds to help haul our heavy loads. We rigged my backpack with a drop cord so that if I fell into a crevasse while fully weighted, I could get the weight off of my body and onto the rope instead. I sipped a beer and taped more than 50 wands to prepare for low-visibility glacier travel. We made trips to Costco and Carrs and bought what seemed like an obscene amount of meat and cheese (turns out, it was pretty spot on.) And almost suddenly, it was go time.

We met Astrid and Dan at the Lakefront Hotel beside Lake Spenard, which was busy with float planes landing on the lake and departing overhead. In the hotel lobby, the walls were decorated with taxidermy goats, moose, grizzly and polar bears. It felt simultaneously very over the top and very Alaska. Again, I loved it. Dan and Astrid were joining us from New York to gain the skills for glacier travel on their own terms. They struck me as being very prepared and eager to get after it. Things got started on the right foot.

At that time, the forecast we’d been referring to for the last few days looked dubious, at best. I was happy to have a goretex top and bottom shell because it looked like we were going to be subject to near constant rain for the duration of our trip. Ben mentioned that we could begin with a knot review and rope techniques in Talkeetna, since there was a good chance that we would be grounded, possibly for days. Apparently the pilots rely on line of sight only for their glacier landings. No vis means no flight.

We weighed our bags and gear and prepared to settle into Talkeetna for the night when we got a call out of the blue: the plane was ready and departure time is now. It felt like a total curveball, but I threw on my double boots, glacier glasses and a quick layer of sunscreen. I thought I was going to have the night to make minor last minute preparation additions, like downloading additional media to my phone to hold me over for 12 nights, seeking out a few additional interesting facts about Denali, etc. But nope!

We climbed into a Beaver that sounded like a flying muscle car. Our flight took us over deep green and dense Alaskan woods where we saw the occasional cabin with no obvious road to access them by. I watched the service drop off and disappear from my phone, one service bar at a time.

As we approached the Alaska Range, the tears crept back into my eyes like they had for the Chugach Range. I was experiencing full-body “woah dude.” And it only got bigger and better as we flew deeper into the range, impossibly close to house-sized cornices, vast glaciers stretching 40 miles out of sight. I tried to say into my headset: this is one of the best days of my life. But the Beaver’s roar drowned me out and that was ok. I was dazzled. I knew immediately that this was going to be a place that I would return to many times over, for business and for pleasure. That special kind of Alaska heavy-duty dragging pleasure that humbles and forces you to dig deep. That special kind of completely unpredictable weather pleasure that arrests your full attention into the immediate here and now. A special kind of brutal pleasure that I was ready to be smacked down by. Hell yeah. Maybe normal people call it masochism.

The plane eventually touched down on the glacier alongside Annie’s Ridge. I felt the skis dredge wet spring snow beneath us. Momentarily, I imagined the plane catching an edge much like you would on a pair of normal skis and what that would mean for us on the inside. But the thought didn’t last long because we immediately began ripping gear from the belly of the plane so that another team could board and fly out. I recognized another lady guide from back home, Robin, and gave her a hug. As my network grows larger, my world seems more interconnected and smaller and all the richer for it.

I dragged a sled past a party of folks that seemed like they were actually mid-celebration, a true party. Basecamp was a lively and happening place. Again and again, I heard that team after team had summited in 2-week weather windows, while several of our trips are budgeted 22 days to turn a trip around with enough time for acclimatization, weather and come-what-may on the tallest mountain in North America. The load I was pulling didn’t feel particularly heavy, but I was embarrassed to find myself huffing and puffing a bit as I drug it up a short stretch. I wondered how I would fair beneath the weight of my 60 pounds of personal gear with the addition of whatever food and group gear I would need to cary. The glacier was surprisingly hot and I felt myself drench with sweat almost immediately. I mentally prepared myself to grind.

Ben asked me to start digging but didn’t get around to telling me why. He requested a 3 foot by 3 foot dig site. I hopped to it. After digging to roughly knee depth, I asked him how deep he wanted the hole. “About five feet,” he said nonchalantly. I couldn’t remember the exact figure for how much a cubic meter of snow weighs from my avalanche education, but I can tell you that it’s more than you’d think. I dug in and moved as much snow as quickly as I could and felt my heart rate rise with the piles of snow accumulating around me. In my mind, this was an audition for a Denali trip. I wanted to show Ben that I could dig up there alongside the best of ’em.

The days wore on and we covered snow skills like cramponing and self arrest, running belays, crevasse rescue, snow anchors, roped glacier travel and so on. Some days were exceedingly hot and our days began between 2 and 5am to accommodate. Oh, and it was never dark. No headlamp required. Around 3am, you’d get a bit of twilight but never full-on darkness. It wasn’t as weird as you might think, but it made falling asleep hard at times. That, coupled with an ever changing sleep schedule: 2am, 3am and 5am being the choice times, made for a disrupted sense of general time as well as “time on” and “time off.” I discovered roughly four days in that I really needed the occasional solo tent time to relax and unwind. Around camp, there’s always something to straighten, always water to melt, always something to dig, etc. There’s always something. And the methodology and process was all new to me, despite the time I’ve spent in the Cascades. I felt out of rhythm but not necessarily out of control. I was literally out of my element and doing everything I could to embrace the differences.

Eventually, we moseyed up to Kahiltna Pass, establishing camp at 10,000 feet. We were parked beneath Kahiltna Dome, which has a beautiful ridge, zebra-striped with crevasses. After many consecutive days of lots of skills and not a lot of movement, my body was craving exertion beyond shoveling snow (trust me, I’d had plenty of time to practice that. So it goes out there.) Finally, more than a week into our adventure, it was time to climb.

Ben lead the way gaining the ridge and over a spicy looking bergschrund. He kicked again and again into soft Alaska corn snow that wouldn’t quite consolidate. The couple-inch surface layer felt firm beneath crampons, but once you punched through, there was a relatively uniform layer of mushy, wet, soft snow, unlike anything I’d experienced previously in Washington.

Just beyond the ‘schrund, we paused to discuss our plan for the day and any hazards we might want to consider. When asked to weigh in, I saw no ‘red light’ reason to stop climbing and recommend that we continue on. We were well ahead of our turnaround time and on a broad ridge. If anything, we had every reason to continue on. We did. I got to lead and picked my way through textured terrain atop the ridge. The snow was wind-affected and funky; I could tell that we were traveling alongside some pretty sizable cornices and was keenly aware of our exposure off the backside of the ridge away from camp. Occasionally, I placed a picket to guard against a fall, equally for psychological and physical security.

Eventually I came up on a snow bridge; the epitome of a snow bridge, almost like something out of a Japanese garden. I could see a dark space on the left side of the ridge beneath where the route meandered. As I assessed the surface snow, I felt assured by the firm snow crunching beneath my crampons. I gave the dark hollow space several feet of distance and probed first with my basketed ski pole and then with my ice axe. The feedback I got from my initial probe strikes was confidence inspiring. I stepped exactly where I’d probed and began to probe further. Not wanting my basket to interfere with the depth of my probe, I leaned forward to plunge my ice axe into the snow. To my great surprise, the world fell away beneath me and my world went white. The fall stopped just as quickly as it had started and I found myself slumped over, hanging in my harness deep inside a crevasse. My hands had locked themselves down around my ice axe and ski pole.

A nervous laughter gurgled out of me. My system had been rebooted by a wave of adrenaline. Ha… Haha… Ha… “I’m OK!” I yelled to my team. I heard nothing back, so I yelled again louder, “Guys, I’m OK!”

Besides finding my self sharply arrested by the end of the rope, there had been no impact and no consequence to my fall. While I’d had the wherewithal to process the potential for a serious accident in the plane landing on the glacier, hanging in the bottom of a crevasse, I felt surprisingly unafraid. This thing that I’d been teaching about and preparing for, for years had gone as well as it possibly could have. I was fine. I was grateful. I was actually really stoked that things had turned out as well as they did.

As I looked around, I noticed that I’d fallen through several feet of what looked like cob webs beneath a 7 or so inch layer of firm snow on top. I remember looking at the firm layer and thinking that it was trustworthy because of the surface texture. Obviously, since I was actively probing when I fell, I didn’t inherently trust the surface appearance, but this seems like a free lesson that I can pass on: don’t trust what you see at the surface! Probe earlier than you think you might need to – it’s better to find the edge and solid ground instead of spooky hollow cob webs, you know, before it’s too late and all.

Almost immediately, I began stemming in a full straddle-stance to climb more than 15 feet from the depth of the crevasse (15 feet per Ben’s assessment; my wigged out brain registered 20 feet, but who knows.) The rope had caught me inches above what appeared to be solid ground. Not sure what to trust with bodyweight and not wanting to know what was lurking beneath apparently stable snow, I trusted my crampons to the walls of the crevasse and used my ice axe to climb higher. I captured progress with the prussic that was pre-rigged to the rope. After clambering up what I estimated to be a body length, I tied a knot in the rope beneath my prussic. And then again. And again. I had no desire to trust my full bodyweight to a single prussic alone, even if it absolutely would have held. When I was just a few short feet from the lip, Ben poked his head over and asked me how I was doing.

“I’m fine!” I was happy to report. He padded the lip, anchoring his backpack to his ice axe and vector/plucked me out over the edge. Our size difference is comical; he may as well have used a pinky to lift me out.

I took a moment to sit on a pad on firm snow and collect myself. I held my hand out to see if it was shaking with adrenaline. Surprisingly, it wasn’t quaking that bad. I guess I felt some nervous laughter, but my nerves quickly subsided when I realized that I was going to be OK. Best worst case scenario.

Not surprisingly, we decided to call that our high point and turned around for camp. I lead the way back and felt myself grow nervous as temperatures rose. At that point, it was just after 8:30am. Not necessarily late, but given the less than confidence inspiring snow, high time to head out of there.

After all of that, I thought to myself: that’s quite the welcome to Alaska.

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Survey Results: Female Competition

My goal here is to untangle competition and insecurity to foster better female partnerships. I’m taking this on because it’s something that I need to work at. It sounds like I might not be the only one.

Female competition isn’t something that can be summed up in a singular blog post written by a single woman. Instead of beginning by wringing out all of my ideas, past experiences, bias and insecurities, I posed the idea and questions to the internet via Instagram, Facebook and Reddit.

There were 5 questions, with the final question asking for permission to share the answers anonymously. Of 61 respondents, 60 granted me permission to share (I read and then deleted one of those responses.) Here’s what they had to say:

I feel competition FROM other women when…

“In almost all aspects of my life. I’m known as one of the best female climbers in my gym, so when I see someone better than me, I panic a little even though I know I shouldn’t.”

“I compare my body to theirs.”

“Almost never. Only when it is explicitly stated or when we are actively competing in a sport/game/etc.”

“In social situations where I’m a newcomer.”

“My female climbing partner is very competitive and will often climb a route I’ve struggled on just to prove she can do it. For the most part I’m not bothered by that type of competition because it doesn’t have any impact on my climbing or how I approach a climb.”

“They are of similar level to me in the activity. When there are men in the group, or someone whose opinion they perceive matters.”

“They aren’t supportive. When I am not invited to join.”

“They take actions to demean or diminish my voice in shared spaces when this action was not needed.”

“Doing physical activities. But I’m competitive by nature so this applies to men as well.”

“Everything! I know it’s stupid to do, but every time I’m in a room with multiple women, I think “am I the fattest one?” “Am I the only one not married?” It is fully internal. I admit, the lower I am feeling, the more I compare myself to others (which is a terrible self-sustaining cycle!).”

“There’s a lot going on and it feels like visibility needs to be fought for.”

“I honestly can’t think of a time when I felt a lot of competition from other women. I do sometimes feel just excluded or left out from other women but I also spend most of my time outside with guys and this is probably partially my fault for not putting in more effort to create a better community of women to recreate with.”

“They talk down to me.”

“Pretty much ALL THE TIME. Maybe it’s just the area I live in but I feel surrounded by it.”

“I don’t really experience this.”

“They have achieved something that I have achieved in the past, by no longer strive to achieve.”

“Constantly, especially regarding things I find pride in, but I try not to compare myself to others! We live in a pretty competitive society where you have to be one of the best to get ahead.”

“I don’t know the female well and it seems like she’s trying too hard to be one of the guys.”

“We are both in a male dominated workplace.”

“Kid accomplishments, vacations, lifestyle.”

“I used to feel it constantly in the work place. I’m 59 years old, and spent 26 years in the insurance industry, which traditionally was very male-dominant. I felt like other women didn’t believe that there was room for all of us to grow.”

“They seem to have it all together somehow. There are only so many hours in the day, and it is just impossible to be skinny/fit/strong/pretty/perfect/all the things.”

“Honestly, when the woman’s more attractive than me.”

“First meeting them. It’s like an immediate competition before we really know each other and know they are ‘cool.’ In corporate settings. competition to rise above, faster. Generally, with women we don’t know. So in passing, strangers on the street, driving, while traveling, etc.”

“They post about their accomplishments on social media, cut me down or ignore me in front of men, use language that is demeaning (whether this be consciously or subconsciously.)”

“Women minimize, criticize or dismiss my career and interests.”

“Usually never because a lot of women don’t do anything fun anymore they just pump out babies and then their lives are over and then I find myself skiing with a pack of men, sausage fest skiing. Then I wish they were there when I need a tampon but they are not. ( exhibit: Swift Creek three-ish weeks ago). I do have one lady friend who will mountain bike with me. We are calling it a clam bake instead of sausage fest. I do not feel competitive with her. It’s more of an INspiration and sort of relief to ride with her. I tend to ride better than I usually do when I’m with her, Which is pretty cool. I tend to try harder while riding with her than with the sausages, but it’s not a competitive thing. It’s more like she is athletically on my level and if she can do it so can I.”

“They are threatened by me.”

“When their insecurities show through in the way they act towards others.”

Discussion about how to manage jobs and family at the same time … I feel like I have to be superwoman.”

“There are too many of us and no dudes to balance it out. Ever tried to get a group of 8 extroverted women together? I end up leaving usually very drained of energy instead of energized.”

“I don’t feel the woman is approachable; if she is friendly and warm I feel a kinship.”

Perhaps the most poignant answer, which I will note was the only answer this respondent provided:

“The main thing fueling insecurity and anxiety of any kind that has now infiltrated the the outdoor industry, are people spraying their personal accomplishments across social media for everyone to see and needing constant validation. What is worse, are people doing this under the guise of feminism and empowering others. Bragging about accomplishments in the mountains and the need to spray everything you do on the internet fuels insecurity and competition. That is literally what social media is, comparing your life to other people. Blog posts, trip reports after the simplest of ski tour and what someone literally ate for breakfast that morning doesn’t matter. Using social media to promote oneself is at the center for self comparison and literally is a competition. If people want less female competition they can stop using the internet as a self promoting tool to get ahead. The only pure thing left in the world, where self comparison was meant to go to die, has turned into a bigger competition cause of bullshit like personal blogs and updates on what a hard climb someone climbed.”

Half out of spite and half to address somewhat legitimate concerns, I will address this comment in my next blog post. But for now, let’s move onto the next question:

I feel competitive WITH other women when…

“Honestly, I try to fight this whenever I see it in myself. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting it. It was hardest with my mom, but she has passed away now.”

“They try to step on my toes on a topic I know more about, or when they pretend they know more than me when that isn’t the case. I also feel super competitive when other women steal my ideas/words and start using them as their own. It can be very frustrating when we are all just trying to get ahead in the world.”

“With men involved, with sports, and when first meeting them.”

“They spend a lot of time putting together their “look” and I don’t.”

“I see them supporting others in ways that I’m not supported.”

I’m in a competition. I try not squish any competitive feelings when I and the other women haven’t specifically chosen to compete against each other. I’d rather choose to be in a competition and feel those feelings than be going around feeling randomly competitive all the time.”

“When I’m in public and see a woman who I think is skinnier or prettier than I am.”

“I lose sight of my own path and compare myself to them in my head.”

“Climbing.”

“Again – I am so glad my 20s and early 30s are behind me as I rarely feel this any more! But I will still occasionally feel it when I see other competitive women posting their achievements on social media… I don’t ever seem to feel that way with non competitive women.”

“I feel as if I do not have a competitive drive and am not helping you with my survey. I feel more competitive with my self internally than other women. Again, I am so relieved and excited when another female wants to go do something cool, that it really inspires me to lead by example (in the mountains and outside.)”

“I feel I am not being respected or heard.”

“I see someone better than me.”

“It seems like a woman is getting more attention because of her looks than her ideas. Maybe it’s not true, but looking “good” certainly helps get you noticed.”

“They are at my level or a higher level at something I want to be better at.”

“When I feel like I don’t get a chance to speak to convey how I feel about decisions. I don’t think it should be “who can talk to most/loudest” gets the say.”

“I feel competitive with other women if she is close to a man that I am attracted to/interested in.”

“All the time. When other women get more attention, when I feel they are more attractive or more talented or more intelligent. I don’t even like being the center of attention, but I always feel insecure and competitive towards other women who are getting more attention or are “better” in some way.”

“Truthfully, I rarely feel competitive with other women. Most women I work with and socialize with go out of their way to lift one another up.”

“…I compare my beauty, skills, or expertise with theirs. Or if we’re vying for the same social spot or same job.”

“I’m not by nature a compete against others person. I prefer to test myself against the elements. The only times I’ve felt/noticed competition is when I’m in a place where I feel insecure about my performance or some external part of my life is causing me to question my self worth. If I’m in a good head space, which is most of the time, then I’m cheering others on.”

“They are about the same skill level as me or a little bit better. Especially with rock climbing. When another woman is new to the sport, but climbs about the same level as me after a short amount of time, where as I’ve been climbing for 5 years.”

“It involves something I’m really good at, otherwise, I would rather not.”

“Women who have been climbing for less time than me start climbing harder grade routes than I can.”

“This is harder for me to answer because I’m not quite sure when this happens. I think it happens when the other women succeed in something I know I can’t. It’s like it’s tied up in jealousy for me. Like I feel competitive when they excel in something I can’t do well (like running really fast or sewing a great costume or outfit). I feel this is kinda good because it motivates me to try new things.”

“I can’t really think of a time when I’ve felt this. The women at the gym are so much better than me they are more inspiration than anything. Fitness, positivity, and climbing wise.”

“I see something come so naturally to a woman who has just started with it, when I have been working my butt off to do something for years.”

“They are faster/younger/more attractive/more badass than I perceive myself to be.”

“Never, really just when playing silly games then i let it out, jokingly.”

“I’m insecure.”

Most days, I feel very secure (5) or insecure (1) or somewhere in the middle.

1 – 2% of respondents feel insecure.

2 – 15% of respondents feel somewhere in the middle.

3 – 17% of respondents feel indifferent.

4 – 46% of respondents feel somewhere in the middle.

5 – 20% of respondents feel very secure.

I feel competitive with other women because…

“It’s not women, per se. it’s just knowing you’re better at something than someone even if its just checkers. But I don’t take it seriously and I’m not competitive at work or at the gym or for anywhere else.”

“I forget that it’s not them or me.”

“I believe I was raised by a mother who harbored internal misogyny and as a result taught me that women were competition and potential enemies instead of potential friends.”

“I sometimes have trouble seeing the bigger picture.”

“They are my only real competition!”

“It’s fun, challenging and gives me something to strive for in certain situations.”

“They are always looking to undermine other women.”

“I feel like I’m not good enough and can’t achieve what they achieve, particularly with regard to dating and social status.”

“We’re all trying to prove ourselves to the men, and sometimes don’t want to be seen as ‘girly’ or ‘women like’ in front of them. And sometimes being associated or around other women, makes me feel more that way, thus feeling more ‘girly’ in front of men. Which in turn sometimes makes you feel less powerful, or less highly regarded.”

“I’m always trying to prove myself.”

“I feel that if our kids aren’t as seemingly successful in sports, grades, elite colleges that we are a failure and other parents are judging us as such. This is the most intense area of competition between women I know. The second biggest area is weight and looks meaning other women seem to like if you are heavier, more out of shape so much like girls even at an older age, women don’t like to feel that they are the bottom.”

“I want to be seen as capable, or like one of the guys. Which in turns makes me feel I need to be better than other women.”

“Wanting the same promotions.”

“Sometimes I sign up for contests or races and I’m naturally competitive. Otherwise, I don’t feel this way.”

“I still feel my self-worth is measured best by what others think of me.”

“I’m usually feeling attacked by them. Again I think it’s just the area I live in. People are not nice here.”

“It’s a way to gauge your strengths and progress within your peer group.”

“Usually, I want to be like them.”

“I think that it can feel like there is competitions because I am used to being the only woman so often within the things I do in the outdoors. I am actively involved in working on this both personally and through work attempting to bring more women into the outdoors, and especially create more community. It can be easy to compare myself to people, or think that other women have it all together, especially when there is a lack of a real relationship (such as social media), and you only see the highlights or what is put out there publicly. I think creating more community between women in the outdoors (which is definitely happening!) is a big key to this. I wish I didn’t feel the competitive aspect, but unfortunately it’s kind of there often.”

“Because I am totally unfulfilled in my life? Not a psychologist, just guessing. But I just feel like a total failure at most times compared to the ‘average’ woman around me.”

“Unfortunately, some women seem to behave as if the spaces available to women are limited. I sometimes respond poorly, and I’m not proud of it, when other women are not supportive.”

“I don’t. Why would I?”

“I want to keep up.”

“I have the tendency to compare myself, it never presents as outwardly competitive, but it certainly affects my head space in whatever it is that I’m doing.”

“I think others judge me.”

Sift through it. I’m going to sit on this and think about it. I’m still welcoming your responses at the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3Z7LBWV

I also welcome your thoughts in the comments below.

Cheers,

Mallorie

 

 

The Birthday Tour: Washington Pass

Hey world, it’s me again. Today, I asked folks on Instagram what they wanted to read in a blog post and the results are suggesting that folks want more trip reports, some climbing stories, a few skiing stories and lots of pretty pictures.

My goal here is to write stuff you actually want to read. So here we go: a trip report.

It’s my birthday and I’ll ski in a dress if I want to

Yesterday, Amber and I skied the Birthday Tour at Washington Pass. In case you’re not a loyal blog follower (yet) reading this the moment that I post, yesterday was Thursday, April 25. On Monday this week, I turned 26 and it only seemed fitting that I ski the birthday tour in my birthday party dress. Dress skiing on my birthday is becoming a tradition, since last year, I skied Shuksan in a dress and it was totally awesome. But, as spring weather would have it, Monday was rainy so Tim and I climbed a few pitches in my backyard until it rained and ate cake when we couldn’t climb anymore. Not a bad plan B.

birthdaydress
Birthday Tourista!

The Birthday Tour

On Wednesday, Amber and I climbed Outer Space in Leavenworth. Knowing that the Birthday Tour would only take us a half-day-ish to ski and trying to time our corn descents properly, we knew that we could start a little later than a usual mountain outing. Our goal start time was 9:30am. But with the long drive from Leavenworth, coffee stops, trailhead breakfast, etc. we actually started our day at 10:30 from the Blue Lake trailhead. And then I had a mini panic 5 minutes after we left the car about whether or not I had locked the doors. So actually, actually, we started closer to 10:45.

Not wanting to burn much more daylight, we skinned at a pace that precluded conversation. There were several skin tracks through the forest that lead us to the clearing in the trees beneath Blue Lake. We might have ended up a bit low when we came out of the trees, because we skinned on some kinda steep, kinda icy, kinda precarious snow. But it ultimately leveled out and was fine.

Amber Pro Tip: An alternative to the Blue Lake approach would be to park at the Hairpin Turn on Highway 20 and boot up some steep snow on the south side of South Early Winter Spire. This would take some navigation skills out of the day; eliminate the need to hitchhike back to our car (given that we had one vehicle); and shorten the tour. You might want crampons for this option, however. Snow on north-facing slopes was still firm at 3pm.

WAPassSki
Amber climbing the bootpack up to the Blue Lake cornice.

We arrived beneath the Blue Lake cornice just after 12. Between the two of us, Amber had a pair of crampons and I had an ice axe. I did not remove my ice axe from my backpack because the bootpack was so established that I did not feel the need to. If I had somehow slipped out of the bootpack, I would have slid into a snowy bowl beneath the cornice and likely bruised my ego, worst case scenario. I will say that I wish I had a whippet for the spicy skin track on the way up to the cornice, but it wasn’t mandatory. The climb up to and above the cornice was the steepest ascent of the day, given our route. This is all to say: you can leave your sharp stuff at home if you stick to the standard Birthday Tour route.

From our perch above the cornice, we could see much of the tour ahead of us. Any sense of time crunch was alleviated. Ultimately, we did the whole thing in less than 5 hours. I’ll list all of our trip stats at the end of the post, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Since we were skiing the birthday tour in celebration of my birthday, our transition included a few extra steps. Amber pulled two San Pelegrino sodas out of her pack and I was stoked. Then came a tiny Nalgene with a tiny bit of gin in it. I was extra stoked. We ate some snacks and prepped our skis for the downhill. Then came the dresses.

amberbdaytour
Amber looking freaking fabulous in her party dress for the Birthday Tour.

The snow had corned up perfectly when we dropped ‘Madison Avenue’ from the Blue Lake cornice down to Copper Creek around 12pm. At the time, there were no indicators of instability in the snowpack that we observed. We skied fall-line to the creek and it was a couple hundred feet of bliss.

As we climbed back up to the ridge that would take us to the highway, we were confronted with options: a skin track climbing up to the left or to the right to the col/ridge beneath Copper Mountain. We had been encouraged to trend left and I’m glad we did, because we got to ski a cool, low-angle and wide-open couloir.

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I’m mildly disappointed that you can’t see that I’m wearing a dress WITHOUT pants for this descent. Totally worth it. And yes, this north-facing descent was a little icy-crusty. High stakes.

There was a bit of crusty avalanche debris beneath the couloir that made me question – only momentarily – my decision to ski in a dress without pants. But I survived, my legs survived and it was good fun. I think I skied better for it.

After the couloir, we traversed left back to the Hairpin Turn on Highway 20, careful to stay above the creek. An icy luge took us nearly all the way to the road.

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Will belay for food! At the Hairpin Turn on Highway 20.

TL;DR: Trip Stats

Distance: 6 miles

Blue Lake TH to Blue Lake Cornice: 1.25hr

Copper Creek to Copper Mountain Col/Ridge: 1hr

Ridge to Road: 1>hr

PERFECT Corn on Madison Avenue: 12pm

Not-so-perfect snow on Slot Couloir to Hairpin: 3pm

Pace: Cruiser. Chill. No pressure. Highly enjoyable.

10/10 would recommend!

 

Utah: A travel blog about 26 hours of Greyhound hell

The Climbing Part

After five years of climbing, I finally made it to Indian Creek. The first day, I ran along the base of Supercrack Buttress and put my hand or fingers into every crack within reach. I noticed that as I pulled down, it felt like the sandstone pushed back. Everything felt incredibly climbable.

I noticed a lovely looking off-fingers crack that I assumed would go well. With hardly a glance a the guidebook, I racked all of my gear to my harness plus a few borrowed cams, which felt like a lot, and did the customary hands-on-hips pre-climb appraisal of the route. I chalked my hands and started up.

The first 15 feet went well. I was climbing a left-facing corner with tight, secure hand jams. I felt confident and placed gear accordingly. Then I arrived at a bulge. I had good feet and was able to take a rest to contemplate the moves ahead.

I moved away from my relatively comfortable position and began jamming my way up the bulge, for lack of an opportunity to lieback because of an inconvenient flare. The most logical feet for the moves were at hip height. Having climbed through the flare, it became time to lieback. I worked my feet up and my arms immediately began screaming to my brain, “THIS AIN’T GONNA LAST LONG!” Suddenly I became acutely aware of where the rope was beneath me and the prospect of taking an upside-down whipper. At this point, my breath was most certainly audible to my partner 30′ below. I reached down to my hip, fumbled a piece of protection into the crack, and mentally prepared myself to pull enough slack rope up to clip the piece. Ain’t no time like the present when your arms feel like they want nothing more than to give out on you, so I yanked the rope up, barely managed to clip the piece and half screamed to my partner: “I’m gonna fall!”

The Creek did not disappoint. I’ve heard a few people mention getting humbled by the climbing there, but I figured I’d been crack climbing long enough to be able to hang in there. Actually, I suspected that I might even excel because of my small hand size. (Haha, in retrospect, that’s cute.)

It’s true that the jams are so good that it feels like the crack grabs you back, but what I’d failed to account for was the length of the routes and what it feels like to climb with minimal rests and without other features. Nothing but pure crack. (If you’re not a climber, that sentence probably sounds weird.)

Over the course of the week, I got to climb at Supercrack Buttress, Selfish Wall, Scarface and Battle of the Bulge. After destroying the backs of my hands at Battle of the Bulge, we took a day to clip bolts on Potash Road. Despite the gobies, I feel like I barely scratched the surface. We started after noon most days. This was not my choice.

I assumed that after a few days, I would literally get into the groove and be able to send something beyond my warmups. I thought I would pick a project for myself. Not this trip.

Rain rolled in right around the time I started to collect a little confidence. Snow, too. Besides the weather, I’d also been confronted with the gnawing discomfort of an incompatible partnership. Not the typical minor spat that turns a day sour, but an entire week of misalignment. We disagreed on most everything. In the most Jersey Shore moment of my life, after trying to talk things through and establish reasonable boundaries, I finally gave up. In the middle of the woods somewhere outside of Bryce Canyon, I angrily packed up all of my shit and my tent (which I’d had to do every night for a week of cragging in the same area, which was obnoxious, due to indecision and my van-dwelling partner’s inability to plan) and took off walking down the side of the road.

Utah: The Not-Climbing Part

For lack of a vehicle, I was relatively stranded. I came upon an RV campground and asked where the nearest Greyhound station was. The young man on the other side of the counter had emo-styled, bleached-blonde hair, several piercings and a lisp. He blinked and looked at the backpacks on my chest and my back, quizzically.

“I don’t know where the nearest one is,” he said flatly.

Another employee behind the desk looked up from his screen and said simply, “I’ll take you.” Thank god.

For the record: there is no taxi service operating near the woods outside of Bryce Canyon. And I’m fairly confident that there aren’t any taxi services within an hour drive in any of the small towns in the surrounding area. (I later asked a motel owner in Parowon, she laughed, and offered to give me a ride to where I needed to go. Utah is very hospitable.)

So that’s how I found myself in the passenger seat of a Ford Taurus traveling 60mph through the desolate Utah desert at night in pre-tourism shoulder season having the lyrics of “Into the Coven” sung/explained to me. It was approximately 9pm. As an aside, I listen to a podcast with the catchphrase: “Stay Sexy, Don’t Get Murdered.” Between the lyrics about bleeding the blood, smashing the cross, etc. I was praying to the creators of the podcast, Karen and Georgia, that this hour long drive wouldn’t be my last. (Spoiler: I didn’t get murdered.)

That’s when my driver surprised me: “I’m a Mormon.” His demeanor and sincerity was enough to convince me. Apparently, his musical tastes juxtapose sharply against his lifestyle choices. Utah, you’re wonderful, never change.

The next bus outta there wasn’t until 1pm the following day. So I stayed in a motel room with paper thin walls, scratchy sheets and creaky floors. Fifty dollars was a small price to pay to insulate myself from prolonged circular discussions about nothing leading nowhere; possible tickets from camping in inappropriate places; and the possibility of being ruthlessly teased by endless climbing made inaccessible by a partner decidedly unavailable to climb, despite being on a climbing trip. (?!?!) I fell asleep listening to a channel dedicated to true crime, scrolling indifferently on my phone. My mind was caught up in how something as simple as a climbing trip – what most people consider a vacation – could be so miserable.

The following day, I arrived at the bus stop 45 minutes early. I’d eaten a bagel and some pretzels the day before; we’d last shopped for groceries a week prior. The stop was many things in one: a gas station, a truckers’ rest stop, a bus station, a prime people-watching opportunity. There was a Subway and a Taco Bell inside the building, too. Hungry and disinterested in gas-station ham & cheese, I dropped my bags at a table and stood in line at Subway.

“What kind of bread do you want?” the woman barked at me from the other side of the glass. She seemed generally offended by my presence.

Forty-five minutes slipped by. At 12:55, I became concerned. No bus. 1pm came and went. I panicked at the thought of missing the only northbound bus out of the Middle-of-Nowhere, Utah. I searched through my phone and found a bus tracker. I was relieved to learn that the bus was running 45 minutes behind. In that email, I also learned that I would not get onto the bus without a printed ticket. Stranded, in the middle of the desert, I was without a printer. Go figure.

The bus rolled in and people piled out. The bus driver was quick to light a cigarette and adept at avoiding eye-contact with me as I crossed the parking lot to him. He walked around the back of the bus and I closed the gap by walking around the front.

“Sorry to bother you,” I said as I rounded the corner of the bus, “But I noticed that my email confirmation said that I needed a printed ticket. We’re kind of out here in the middle of the desert. I don’t have the ability to print a ticket.”

He took a pensive drag from his cigarette, gave me a kind of creepy old man smirk and said, “Frankly, I don’t give a shit if you have a ticket or not.” It was at this moment that I noticed that he was missing the pointer finger on his right hand. He took one of my bags and stowed it beneath the bus. I got on.

The second I became separated from my backpack containing literally all of the climbing equipment I own, I became very anxious. I thought about how tourists’ backpacks were regularly stolen from night buses in Thailand. But then the bus started and we were off.

I groped around in a smaller bag for my headphones. No dice. They were beneath the bus. Given that we were departing an hour behind schedule, it dawned on me that I would miss my connecting bus out of Salt Lake City. Great.

I called a general customer service line and spoke to someone that generally spoke English. He was unable to answer my simple question: My bus is going to be late. When is the next bus out of Salt Lake City to Seattle? I requested to speak to someone else. The next representative said that I would have to direct my question to someone in Salt Lake City. No, he cannot transfer me. I dialed the number provided and got the same general customer service line. A woman answered. Trying to use as few words as possible, I explained my situation a third time. Provided my information a third time.

A man on the bus approached me and asked me if he could use my phone, as I was obviously engaged in a conversation on the aforementioned phone. I probably failed to conceal my incredulity. Being a female product of society, conditioned to be nice, I blurted a “Yeah, but I’m using the phone right now.”

“What?” said the woman on the other end of the line.

Ultimately, I received zero useful information from three customer service representatives. I resigned myself to figuring it out upon arrival in Salt Lake.

The man on the bus began to speak to me rapidly about how honorable I was and how generous I was to loan him my phone. I reluctantly handed it over to him with the dial screen already pulled up. He continued to talk to me as he began using my phone. Not wishing to engage in further conversation, I opened my book and waited for him to finish his phone call. He then thrust the phone back in my direction and asked me if I knew about this band because he was involved with the band and helped them get started and he really liked this band and this band made great music. Rapid fire, the sentences didn’t end or begin. He just talked. Endlessly. Apparently, he was affiliated with Fitz and the Tantrums. Hmm.

About halfway through the third song, playing out loud on my phone, another man a seat ahead had made two fists with his hands and was visibly trembling with rage. I leaned back in my seat and mouthed silently to Talking Man, “He’s mad,” pointing to Angry Man. Talking Man paused only momentarily and continued talking over the music. Angry Man spun around and stood up and told him that the music had to stop.

Not wanting to witness a fistfight 30 minutes into a 24 hour plus bus adventure, I announced: “I have a phone call to make!” And proceeded to call my mom. Talking Man stood up, unphased, and began asking the other passengers on the bus if there might be a phone available for him to use. No phone call was ever made.

Several long hours later, and more than an hour behind schedule, we arrived in Salt Lake City. Talking Man had visited me for much of the ride, although I’d moved away from Angry Man for fear of physical violence.

When the bus stopped, I collected my bags and basically ran toward the nearest brewery. I knew that Utah beer was going to be, well, state-regulated Utah beer, but I was desperate.

I made it a block from the bus station when a man walked up to me and asked, “Did you come off a train?” Not sure why my method of transportation was relevant, I told him no. He then told me that he was trying to hop the next freight train because Utah sucked because you couldn’t buy or have weed there. He also informed me, repeatedly, that I was in a very sketchy area. Surveying my loaded backpacks, he told me that I needed to figure out how to travel light. Without missing a beat, I told him that I had a lot of climbing equipment on me. That I hadn’t been planning to walk with all of it. (Cue mental facepalm. “Yeah, I’m carrying a bunch of valuable shit today. It’s heavy!” My city smarts are lacking, I’m now well aware.)

My phone started ringing. It was my boyfriend, Tim. Trying to act nonchalant, I told Tim everything I knew about the guy that had followed me for three blocks. Apparently, being known was enough to get the guy to bugger off, because he suddenly ducked into a parking garage without a word. I was alone again. Just me and my big-ass backpacks. Thankfully.

My soggy Subway sandwich was the most substantial thing I’d eaten in 2 days, several hours earlier. Despite the beer (all the beer on draft) topping out at a rowdy 4% ABV, I felt calmed halfway through my gose. I killed time, a salad and the end of my book before I ordered another beer. This time an IPA. 4%. I pulled a new book from my bag.

A man sat down beside me and flashed me a smile. I made some kind of friendly offhand comment and went back to my book. He ordered a beer and some dinner and struck up a conversation. I learned that he worked for a company that sold medical devices that helped straighten spines. He told me about being in the OR, he agreed with me that Utah beer was pathetic, and we discovered that we had a mutual appreciation of Bend beer. Boneyard Brewing was a shared favorite. He was a nice guy. I indicated to him that on the scale of crazy, he was near the bar counter whereas most everyone else I’d interacted with in the last 24 hours were a full arm-length above the bar on my improvised crazy scale. He laughed. He got to hear this full story in person. He even bought me another weak Utah beer, compliments of the company he worked for. What a guy.

Reluctantly, I paid $10 to Uber the half mile that I’d walked to the brewery. I was pleasantly surprised to have my first female Uber driver. After I told her the abridged version of the last 24 hours, she said, “Oh honey, you have to take this,” and gave me a small pink can of Mace. “I’ve never felt like I needed to use it. Sounds like you need it.” Women support women.

Just before midnight, I queued up with the other Greyhound riders headed to Boise, Portland and beyond. A friendly young guy spun around and asked me about my bags and where I was headed. I told him that I’d been on a climbing trip and that I was headed home to Seattle. Within the span of a 10 minute conversation, he asked me to guess his ethnicity, demonstrated to me that he’d come prepared with a 40 stashed in his jacket pocket, and let me know that he was a virgin. Congratulations!

We boarded the bus. Talking Man was back and snatched up my bag before I could say anything otherwise and let me know that he would take care of it for me because I didn’t need to carry it because it looked heavy and he would love to help me out and that I was a mountain goddess and that I was from Seattle and that he was from Seattle too and on and on. Talking Man sat beside me again. Talking Man asked for my phone again. Not knowing what else to do, I handed it over again. And this time he made calls. Six of them.

“Mama? Mama, can you hear me? Mama? It’s me. Can you hear me mama? Can you speak up, Mama? It’s awful hard to hear you Mama. Don’t be mad, Mama. I just wanted to talk to you, Mama.” After his call with Mama, I indicated that it was 1:02am and that I’d like my phone back at 1:07am. I wanted to listen to music. “Ok, ok. I’ll give your phone back. I just want to listen to three songs. Is that ok? You’re so honorable for letting me borrow your phone. I just want to listen to three songs. You said that I could.” Trying to be gently firm, I repeated: “1:07.” Well, 1:07 came and went. “Hey, it’s 1:10, can I please have my phone back?” He reluctantly handed it over, talking to me the whole time. And he did not stop talking to me until after 1:30am. At this point, I was only able to muster the occasional, “Mmhmm.” His babbling was nonsensical. I told him that he could continue to talk to me, but I was going to go to sleep.

I put headphones in and put on my favorite podcast. In this particular episode, of the hundreds of episodes that I’d listened to before, and of all the topics in the world to cover I learned:

“Because you can board a Greyhound bus with cash and absolutely no paper trail Greyhound is usually the preferred form of travel for people who have found themselves on a Do-Not-Fly List. Fugitives, convicted felons, drug dealers, registered sex offenders, etc.” (Listen to this particular episode here and start at 19:40. Enjoy. #Murderino)

Meanwhile, on my first Greyhound bus ever, confronted with a man that literally would not stop talking to me and would not stop talking for the full 8 hour bus ride to Boise, ID from Salt Lake City, UT, I thought to myself: GREAT. I must have fallen asleep at some point, because Talking Man poked me upon arrival in the Middle-of-Nowhere, ID, and I nearly jumped a foot out of my seat. He asked if he could use my phone again. This time, I said no.

We eventually parted ways, mercifully, somewhere in Oregon. The rest of the ride was uneventful by comparison, but all I can say is that I’ve never been so grateful to see evergreen trees and a Northwest downpour. My climbing trip was an utter failure, but hey, I guess I got a semi-decent story out of it.

Gusher

You could say I’m exuberant when I get to talk about climbing. And you’d be right.

This weekend, I basically exploded my love of climbing and eagerness to pursue guiding all over a colleague at Mountain Madness. My social-awareness filter tried to flicker on a few times during that conversation, but my enormous stoke overpowered it. Oops.

You don’t feel that kind of excited all on your own, though. It takes input.

As we crept along the highway in afternoon ski resort traffic, I felt a part of my brain come on that’s been dimmed for a while now. Probably unknowingly, Ian validated a very deep, core part of me that I have shut down for the better part of the last year: I live to climb and I love to guide. I just barely broke out of my comfortable world in Bellingham before that light flickered out. I’m so glad I did.

Besides eagerly anticipating what’s ahead in 2019, I’m taking a moment to really savor that connection. It wasn’t any one thing that Ian said. It was a shared language and ambition that really resonated with me. It’s the type of feeling that I want to give to anyone interested in sharing a rope with me. C’mon. Let’s climb.

There’s something to be said about a moment in which everything makes sense; I think it’s when your calling is coming through, loud and clear.

I’m very excited to take that call.

Bootfitters are the Real MVP

Good people of the internet: I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT. I’m here, right now, to tell you that boot fitting is modern day alchemy.

If you thought that buying a pair of multi-hundred dollar ski boots would translate to a good fit, bless your heart, that’s only the start. You could say that a stock boot, straight off the shelf, is essentially lead. Boot fitters turn that shit into gold.

Perhaps you’ve been on a similar journey. Does the following sound familiar?

Being a savvy skier, you decide, “I should probably invest in some footbeds.” And oh my god, game changer, your boots suddenly feel amazing. (Thank god for the good people at Superfeet. Especially Jeff Gray – you’re my hero. I can’t preach the precision and power of the Custom Cork any louder. BRING THEM BACK!!) As you continue to ski with feet happily nestled into footbeds, you notice improvement… But there’s still something missing…

Ok, so then comes the socks. You know the ultra-plush-padded-comfy socks that make you think, “Yeah! This should do the trick!” No. Put those down. You want to get an ultra thin sock so as not to crowd your feet inside of your boot. I’m partial to Smartwool PhD’s, though I can’t say I’ve gotten any smarter since using them. Side note: I have never had an issue with temperature control since switching. Try it. Thank me later.

Ok, so we’ve put some quality insoles beneath your feet. Wrapped your feet up in the right sock. But we’re only just getting started my friends because boot selection is EVERYTHING. If we were in person, my eyes would get all big and I would throw my arms up in the air as I said it. Let me repeat: EVERYTHING!

And allow me to talk you down before you just spring for the boot with the best reviews, the right flex, etc., etc. and just say: DO NOT think that because you read about the features of the boot, you read the good reviews, etc. that you’re going to purchase the right boot from the modern bazaar that is the internet. No, no.

If you want to feel good, look good, ski good, go visit a retail shop and you have the dude (or lady) have a look at your feet and talk to you about their boot line up. If you do not feel that the person looking at your feet is actually talking to you about features or aspects of your feet that correspond with the boot, don’t waste your time and for the love of god, do not buy their boot. No chemistry? No boot. Go find another boot fitter.

I have been to a few people. I have had a few peoples’ hands on my feet. I’ve gotten a few suggestions. But it wasn’t until recently that I had an experience that resulted in an excellent fit, a new friendship, and the right fit for my foot. Brandon at Evo, you are amazing and as of Friday, this girl’s new best friend because you completely transformed the way I experienced skiing and ski boots. I now know SO MUCH BETTER how a ski boot should fit and feel. I appreciate you.

Allow me to recap so that you too can find an excellent boot fit:

Step one: Don’t be afraid to visit multiple boot fitters until you find your guy.

And your guy doesn’t have to be a guy, it can definitely be a lady, but emphasis on that special person that is giving you their undivided attention to talk to you about all the weird things that you didn’t know about your feet. This person should not be partial to any particular brand. Instead, they’re going to couple the unique deformities of your feet that make you, you and then they’re going to have you try on a couple of different boots to see which is going to be your Cinderella slipper.

Step two: Be uncompromising in finding a good fit, but go in with an open mind.

Turns out, I’m the greenest gumby of my skiing friend group. For the last few years, (SIX YEARS, people) I’ve watched the homies rip everything from backcountry lines to chopped up resort chunder and I have wondered how TF do they do that?! Well-fitted boots are a great place to start.

When I waltzed into Evo to talk to someone about honing in on the right alpine boot for me, I went in with a short list of my expectations for my boot: nothing softer than a 100 flex, nothing that looked soft, maybe a size down, and something with decent reviews that I was going to be able to jump in. Truthfully, I’d already purchased a boot and discovered that Miss Guide Girl had been misguided by her own preconceptions of what her next boot should be. #plzhalp

Brandon gave me a line up that resembled what I was asking for. But none of them felt right. He asked me to flex the boots. I kinda crouched down and tried to push the tongue out and then later confessed that I really didn’t know what he meant when he asked me to do so. (Like I said, baby skier. I’m still learning, even 6 years after my first day on skis.)

He then told me that he knew the boot for me. Taking care to not set me off about putting me in a boot that was softer than my 100-flex-minimum, he assured me that the boot would feel stiff and that it was going to fit my high-instep, medium-volume foot.

I slipped it on and felt secure, but not crowded. When I flexed the boot, I felt it respond to my movement. A light bulb popped on for me. Even though it was a fluffy-liner, soft-blue boot, it was the right one for me. (The aesthetics are a whole different rant. In sum: I don’t want cute gear. I want gear that looks good. Would a man wear a boot with a fluffy liner? No. Do I want to wear a boot with a fluffy liner? No. But here I am, loving my fluffy-liner boots.)

Step three: Acknowledge that the right fit is a journey that might take time.

My first pair of ski boots were given to me for free: hand-me-downs from my little sister’s friend. I skied them without insoles, with thick socks and without much joy for a few years. Then came the size 25.5 touring boots that I bought from a second-hand shop with zero guidance from the sales rep who sold them to me. (Face palm.) I remember asking, “How should they feel?” And he assured me that if they felt ok, they were probably the right fit. That was dumb.

Then, I got fitted by someone in a busy shop at a resort who essentially stuffed their hand into the back of my boot and confirmed for me that I should ski a 23.5 boot. So I hopped online, found the seemingly right boot at the right price, and bought it. Heat molded. Got the custom footbeds (thanks Jeff!) But…

OUCH. OUCH. OUCH. It has been SUCH a painful journey breaking these boots in. I one time accidentally hiked 10 miles on a trail in them (don’t forget your approach shoes, folks!) After all of that, I have learned:

Signs that your boots don’t fit:

1.) You feel like you’re constantly fighting them to stand/ski/exist in a comfortable position. They either put you too far forward over your skis or too far back. This can be remedied by a boot fitter.

2.) You can lift your heel up and down. An insecure heel leads to an insecure skier. I can’t entirely speak to the physical damage, but the emotional damage of having a shitty day on the hill while everyone else seems to be having a blast is enough to make you reconsider the sport. Give me an amen in the comments if you’ve ever had this unfortunate experience.

3.) If it feels like flexing your boot is being resisted by the Great Wall of China conveniently located in front of your shin, honey, you’ve got the wrong boot. I previously thought that I would eventually grow into a hella stiff flex (120) because I had planned on jumping and dropping cliff features. Nope. I was wrong. Your flex should correspond to your height, weight and ability. If you feel like you’re fighting your boot, you probably are, and you’re probably giving up some control in the process.

4.) It should go without saying, but if you feel pressure points as soon as you step into your boots, something is wrong. Some of these can be remedied by a punch by a talented individual like Brandon, but sometimes the geometry of your feet just doesn’t match the boot. Pay close attention to where buckles sit relative to your pressure points.

I think that’s about all I’ve got for you today. And I think there’s probably still lots to learn. All I can say is that I’ve embarked on this journey of learning the intricacies of a good fit in a climbing shoe, and I cannot believe how much more complicated fitting a ski boot is. That’s why good people like Brandon have jobs. I assure you it is completely worth your time to make the time and financial investment.

THANK YOU BRANDON! And in case you’re wondering, I went with the Dalbello Chakra.

Awakening

In my mind, I stand at a stony precipice looking down into inky blackness. Above me, the stars shine brightly, beautifully. All is quiet and well up there. I feel a gurgling inertia in my chest. I wish to slip into the darkness, sound into sleep, but the untamed faucet of my thoughts pounds my mind. Pressure builds against the dam of my own making.

And then suddenly, a single drop leaks through. A crack forms. Then there’s a burst: the thoughts rush through and comfortably settle, like a river no longer resisted. There’s calm, clarity and a certain natural order. Truth. A literal breakthrough.

I, like any person native to anywhere, am the product of my surroundings.

I am the first born daughter of two small parents. I too am small, but able. I was nurtured to believe in myself. I am naturally wild. I find affinity in animals, flora and fauna; confidence in my quiet. Like a puppy, I can be riled. Like a horse, I long to run free. Like a girl, I love to love. Love finds me and I find love, though it comes with ample searching.

I found climbing when I was looking for myself. I was lost at the time, searching for purpose in school work. I applied my passionate heart to my studies, but never found the thing that gave me wings. I went to school to write, but couldn’t seem to find my voice. I felt stifled by the style I was being trained in.

In time off from school, I worked as often as I could. I climbed sporadically at my local gym but was never truly moved by the colorful plastic holds, challenging as they were. I knew it was possible to climb outside, but I didn’t know how to do it. So I asked for help.

When help came, I discovered something that I would do for the rest of my life. I knew it immediately. Nothing had ever rung so true and so right. I have fought ever since to be with my love of climbing.

To those who have never fallen in love with a passion, I probably make no sense. To those who limit their passion to a joyous corner of their life, a small shrine of what it means to be alive; I probably come off as cavalier. Trust me: I am. A mountain does not fit in the tidy closet of an hard-earned apartment space, I’m afraid. And one certainly isn’t enough.

To return to my opening thought, the enormous dam of my self-imposed insecurities burst tonight when I realized that I wasn’t meant to be a rock climber alone. Oh no, my calling comes from deep within the mountains that have lent shape to the last 25 years of my life. I was born into the rugged Cascade Mountain Range for a reason.

Now if only I could fall asleep…

Thanks, Guys

SATURDAY

One after another, I watch the guys throw big tricks off an improvised jump. I often volunteer to film them partially to support them, but mostly because I’m in awe of what they can do. Before I get into position and pull my phone out, they tell me that I have to hit the jump too. Oh boy. “Okay.” I quietly hope that I’m not getting in over my head.

Will: Backflip. Ashton: Backflip. Drew: 360. Tim: Lincoln loop. Suddenly it’s my turn. I stuff my phone into my chest pocket and pick my way through trees to the starting point above the jump. My skis slide hesitantly a little lower. Then a little lower. The guys cheer me on from below. I point my skis downhill and feel myself blast off the thing.

My air wasn’t huge, but it was pretty big for me. Somehow, my body knew what to do. Rather than spazzing mid air, I felt controlled. I crest the highest point and come back down to a plush, powdery landing. Ooh, it felt so good. And it set the tone for the rest of the day.

A few laps later, I look up from the skin track and see another opportunity to feel the air rush beneath my skis. A sizable cornice had formed above a cliff feature that wrapped around into a sweeping left turn. The time was right and the cornice was calling.

Tim and I climbed above it, keeping our distance from the edge while we determined precisely where to drop off. From above, the landing was somewhat blind. Suddenly my fun cornice drop became a scary question mark in my mind. I paused a moment, balking at my seemingly brash decision. Tim directed me to the sweet spot and encouraged me with his phone out, ready to film my drop.

I often get too caught up in willing myself to jump off things and struggle to announce my drop: “Three… two… one… dropping!” Most times, I’d rather just push off at two so that I don’t have to confront the fear of getting to one. For this reason, I often don’t get the shot, haha.

The air whooshed beneath my skis as I plunged from the cornice above, to a small intermediate rocky cliff, to smooth powder snow below. It all happened so fast. I link a few swooping turns and look back to see Tim perched above the cliff, only higher. He asks me if I want to film. In the interest of saving transition time, I shout back, “No!” And watch him push off, tapping the edge of the cliff before dropping 15 or more feet to the snow below. I immediately regret not taking my phone out.

Tim is my boyfriend, but he’s so much more than that. Most of his boyfriend duties practically stop once we leave the frontcountry. From there on, he’s my partner. Tim rarely pushes me to do things I haven’t set up myself; but there’s something about his encouraging smile that gives me the courage to trust my skis and will myself into the unknown. Often, into the air. It reminds me of when I was learning how to slackline; if there’s somebody there beside you to rest so much as a single finger on, you suddenly find the stability you need to make tiny steps forward. Progress.

couloir

We skied until sunset, pausing before we ripped the skins from our skis for our last run of the day. I looked across the valley and pointed out a couloir saying, “I’d like to ski that.” To my surprise, the guys thought it sounded like a good idea and said that we’d come back for it tomorrow.

SUNDAY

My nervous mind had played out several crash reels on the skin track on the way over and up. What if there’s a mandatory drop and I catch an edge immediately? Will I tumble to the bottom? Will I learn what it feels like to tomahawk? Are there any cliffs I need to worry about? Trying to estimate my margin for error, I asked Drew, “Do you think I should do this? I don’t want to chicken-shit-out at the top.” He reassured me that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Drew’s vote of confidence was good enough for me. My doubts melted away as we crossed over to the peak.

We began to climb a face too steep to skin; Ashton and Drew ahead of me rapidly kicking steps, and Tim right behind me. As we climbed a semi-steep bootpack together, I felt well aware of the fact that I only had a shot at this line because I had the comfortable buffer of their experience to insulate me from poor decision making. Especially Tim.

About halfway up, Tim asked, “Are you nervous?” I can’t remember what I said verbatim, but I remember telling him with paradoxical confidence in my answer that I was. Yeah I’m nervous, but not scared. I was comfortably pushing it. I felt aware of my exposure and risk; I was accepting. There were still opportunities to bail, but so far, no reason to.

Drew and Ashton took a steeper, more committing couloir that split the center of the peak. The ride down looked like what it would feel like to drop a bouncy ball down a stairwell; from either side, step-like cliffs protruded just enough into the narrow corridor before letting out to the valley below.

Tim encouraged me to check out another couloir to the west. Our line was less steep and wider. I could see that this line was definitely going to go for me. Even though it was just the two of us standing there, we didn’t say much to each other. He encouraged me to look out for rocks and stay low in the couloir. And then he was gone.

I paused a moment. Alone. I looked out from my perch, keenly aware of my exposure. There’s something magical about being alone in the mountains. It’s not a feeling that readily lends itself to description; it’s the combination of recognizing your own mortality, and esteeming it with such vigor that it motivates repeat encounters with the ineffable: the vast masses of granite, impossible icy plunges, wilderness as far as the eye can see.

I click into my bindings, well aware that I could kick a ski from my perch 1000 or so feet below. I buckle my boots down. Check all of my zippers. Gloves on. Goggles in place. Okay. It’s time.

My hand fumbles for the radio at my shoulder. “Dropping in 30, boys,” I say, trying to feign my usual casual confidence, but my voice comes out small and higher pitched than usual. I don’t know how long I waited, but I pushed the fear from my mind as I simultaneously pushed my skis over the edge.

And so it goes. My first true couloir.

Just Say Yes

Recently, I learned what it feels like to be emotionally, interpersonally and spiritually malnourished. The feeling developed over the course of a year in which I failed to connect, I stopped feeling inspired and I felt like I had stopped growing. My ambitions toppled over. My opportunities felt like they’d dried up. My heart felt withered and I retreated into myself most every night to wait it out until things would finally get better. Turns out, this isn’t a good coping strategy.

I’ve changed several aspects of my life in the last few weeks, including a move and a new job. I made several of these changes against the well-intentioned advice of people that I love, trust and respect. This isn’t a flagrant middle finger so much as a revelation: you gotta carve your own way sometimes.

It all comes down to one little word for me: Yes.

For the last year, I fought really hard to fit. I swallowed my climbing ambitions and tried to substitute them for superimposed career ambitions; I translated my native dirtbag tongue into office banter; I relinquished an important piece of myself to pursue the comfortable and conventional. First world problems acknowledged, I suffered all the while.

In trying to smash myself into a tiny box, into abbreviated dreams, into comfortable complacency, I became bitter. In tamping down my inner flame, I lost my drive and my passion. I became vapid. Disinterested. Bored. And I needed help. And I found that in a fabulous therapist by the name of Charlotte. Thank god.

The greatest gift that I’ve been given in the last six months is that tiny word: Yes.

When I would hone in on everything that was wrong; all that I wasn’t; all of these walls that I’d built around myself to contain my loud-laughing, obsessively passionate, utterly determined, unruly personality, Charlotte asked me why?

When I shared my dreams, my hopes, my aspirations, Charlotte asked me why not?

When I followed up with all of my anxieties and insecurities, she acknowledged them and encouraged me to employ my flame and passion to problem solve around obstacles. Without ego stroking, she simply did some fire stoking. Charlotte told me yes. You can.

Previously, I’d been trying to survive on a steady diet of disregard, disinterest and disconnect. My contributions to my tiny box world felt like trying to fit gloves to feet. Obviously, I didn’t fit. And unfortuantely, I experienced a bit of soul rot for it. But I think soul functions very much like your liver and can repair itself when cared for properly.

There’s something incredibly powerful about someone telling you: yes you can. I think this experience will have enormous implications for me in how I request and provide mentorship. I think that this newfound understanding of “yes” has enormous implications for me as a female athlete. I want to project the yes-you-can feeling to any woman up against any obstacle; any challenge; any personal pursuit; because goodness gracious, a little belief and encouragement feels like the first rain to my soul garden after a long drought. It’s been a short 3 weeks in my new life and I’m already beginning to see the bloom. More details to come.

When climbing breaks your heart

Climbing, I love you. But you’re bringing me down.

Climbing, you’ve taken me to some incredible places. I’ve stood atop mountains that I climbed both physically and emotionally. I’ve learned what it means to truly see and know someone thanks to you. I’ve learned to get over myself. You’re present anytime I think about the things I’m most proud of in this life. You’ve given me more smiles, more highs and more experiences… More relationships… Than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. You’ve really given me something to live for. For that, I can’t thank you enough. For that, I love you.

Climbing, you’ve also stripped me raw. You’ve made me cry in front of people I didn’t want to cry in front of. You made me vulnerable. You’ve injured me physically. You’ve dictated my lifestyle and burnt bridges for me. You’ve been an addiction. An obsession. You’ve simultaneously swollen and decimated my ego. And most recently, you’ve stolen precious life. Again.

Each time I lose a friend to climbing, it shocks me to my core. How could something so beautiful and wholesome be so cruel? How could this happen? Sadly, it comes with the territory.

This is not thoughts and prayers. This is sadness beyond sadness; devastation; and acceptance. The rules are simple: there is always risk and your job as a climber is to mitigate it. Sometimes – even the best of us – come up short.