Loss

It finally happened. I lost my first climbing friend.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece for a magazine about accidents in the alpine. I asked a few climber friends for sources on the subject, and eventually got directed to a couple of climbers that had a boulder pull on them while climbing Mt. Goode. Luckily, the climber got out. But that’s not always the case.

I don’t remember all of the exact details – how high they were, how long it took Search and Rescue to save the fallen climber – but I will never forget a quote from one of my interviews.

No matter who you are – if you’re around ski mountaineering or climbing for a long enough period of time – you’re going to have friends or friends-of-friends who die or are seriously injured in the mountains.”

At the time, I appreciated the gravity of the statement. It stuck with me, lodged in my memory. But it finally happened and the shock hit me like a tidal wave.

I was home alone last night. I’d just finished writing a piece for the Mount Baker Experience and another collaboration piece with my boyfriend about an incredibly fun climb on Forbidden. I opened Facebook on my phone and there was the news.

A woman with an amazing climbing resume, years of experience and incredible humility had died climbing in the Waddington Range.

I met Laurel Fan the first time I went ice climbing in Marble Canyon. We chatted beneath frozen waterfalls and later hung out back at our dumpy little motel. She was leading WI3+ with grace and confidence. While I didn’t realize it at the time, Laurel left a huge impression on me because I hadn’t seen a woman be that bad ass before. That casually confident, strong and sure of herself. I have since followed her on social media and been in awe of her numerous accomplishments. She’s the type of lady I aspire to be.

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And you know what’s funny? Laurel was the one to give me the sources for the story I mentioned earlier.

When I read the news, I was shocked to my core.

Have you ever watched a bubble pop? You know that moment of transition where there’s a perfect circle and then it’s suddenly gone, just a few drops left falling to the ground?

My attitude toward mountain shenanigans is a popped bubble. While I love to laugh and have fun in the alpine, I recognize how fragile and utterly mortal I am – we all are.

Last night, I just sat at my computer and cried. I cried for Laurel and all of the people who lost a friend, a partner and a source of inspiration. I cried for my lost naivety. This thing that we do is serious. There are consequences. No matter who you are, how experienced you are, how many peaks you’ve bagged, there’s always a chance that something could go horribly wrong whether it’s directly to you, a friend or a friend-of-a-friend.

I’m going to remember Laurel and think of her when I dream about the climber I hope to eventually be. I’m going to take it slow in the alpine and strive to recognize the constant risk.

If you’re a climber or know a climber, show love whenever you can. You never know when that bubble might pop.

Dear Mal: Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self (An Open Letter)

Holy guacamole, it’s been a hot minute since the last time I wrote something.

I’m sitting on the floor in a house that belongs to two people who have been climbing for decades. They’re absolute crushers. Their house is full of guidebooks and remnants of years of adventure. It’s absolutely inspiring. It’s also making me a little crazy because I’m not out climbing right now.

Since the last time I wrote:

  • I completed a mountaineering course.
  • Climbed Mount Baker.
  • Climbed the Grand Wall in Squamish.
  • Bought some ice tools (so stoked.)
  • Halfway bought some skis off a friend (who’s hooking it up with homie-financing.)
  • Skied in July.
  • Got myself a boyfriend (It happened on a steep snowfield and he’s fantastic. That’s worth a later post.)

Yeah, some things have happened. I think I’m only sitting down to write right now because I messed my back up from repeatedly falling from the top of the wall at the local bouldering gym… Go figure.

So basically, I’m being forced to come to terms with a few things.

You can be young, strong, smart and talented, but if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll quickly lose all of that.

The people that know me well would laugh if they heard me admit it, but I’ve been living at an unsustainable pace for a while now. I always procrastinate on laundry, dishes, buying groceries and other house stuff until it gets to a ridiculous point because I’ve been under the impression that adventure is out there and if I don’t get after it now, the opportunity will pass me by. This is not true.

What is true is that if you don’t take care of the little things today, they snowball and prevent you from actually getting out there when the weather is good, the partners are available and the climbing is in.

When you put garbage in your body, you get garbage out.

When you live on the fly, it’s pretty amazing what your body can get you through. But day-in-and-day-out garbage catches up with you. I’ve come to realize that I expect a lot of work to come from my body and I want to do things well. If I’m fueling it with whatever’s readily available, I’m basically shooting myself in the foot and preventing myself from healing, focusing and feeling ready to take on big objectives. You gotta take care of yourself.

I can only write, relate and process when I spend time alone.

It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in the present moment because most of the time, I’m surrounded by really awesome people doing really awesome things. Sometimes that’s at work, sometimes that’s outside, sometime’s that’s just hanging out on a weekday.

I realized that I’ve been running from myself for a while now. I got so caught up in chasing the next high – atop peaks – that I lost sight of the needs of my overwhelmingly introverted side that I feel utterly lopsided. It’s all about finding that balance.

Oh my god, I need to learn how to chill.

I think this is almost an extension of my previous point, but there’s more to it than time alone. It’s about being present. It’s about putting the damn phone down and connecting with your body, your mind and the people immediately in front of you. No down time means no time for recovery. No time for peace. It’s absolutely ok to be underwhelmed. I think I lose sight of that too often. And a huge reason for it is…

F*&k what social media has to say.

Social media is not real. I should know this better than anyone because my entire job revolves around social media. Since I’ve messed my back up, I’ve been forced to sit down and chill out. To fill the downtime, I’ve been looking at all of y’alls Instagrams, Facebook posts and r/climbing, and it’s making me absolutely stir-crazy. I’ll admit it: I’m jealous.

When you’re constantly looking at someone else’s highlight reel from your gimpy situation on the couch, you get a little bitter. I literally have gotten to the point where I don’t want to look at social media because I can’t do the things I want to do. Which brings me to my next point…

It’s one thing to be able to balance on a slackline and something else entirely to live a balanced life. I think that’s the moral of the story, folks.