These Sad Times

I’m driving alone on the highway that takes me both home to Greenwater and up to Crystal Mountain. However, I’m not thinking about the drive, the time or what I’m going to do with my day. Instead, my attention is with the soft yellow sunlight that filters through snowy pines, sentinels standing along the winding road. A misty fog lingers in the air and collects the delicate rays, as if the trees collectively exhaled a warm breath of life.

My thoughts turn to Adam, a highly skilled but wild skier claimed too soon by an avalanche. While I didn’t know him well, I knew that Adam loved the mountains more than anything else. He loved the mountains so much that he died for them.

When someone passes in the mountain community, the shockwaves are palpable. At first, a few people know; then a post is made; another post is made and then, abruptly, everybody knows and has something to say about it.

Suddenly, this thing that we all bonded around; this thing that we love for its fun, challenge and reward, gruesomely takes a turn and claims a life. Suddenly, it’s not just a hobby anymore. These sad times are important because they force us to pause and reflect.

Adam was full of vibrant life energy and love for the mountains; but simultaneously unfulfilled by his many alpine missions. He sought more from life. In our last conversation, he described wanting to settle down into a more balanced, comfortable rhythm. He sought love and happiness beneath the snowline.

Adam will never see the light filter through the trees again. He’ll never feel the joy of powdery turns in the backcountry. He’ll never feel the warm embrace of all of the people devastated by his death. He lived his life to the fullest, but burned a little too brightly.

Misplaced Climber Girl

My life took a surprising turn recently.

Earlier this month, I was happily climbing in Mexico but missing home sweet Smith Rock. I was anxiously anticipating getting back to that sweet, sweet techy slab after nabbing my first 12a. The plan was to triumphantly return home — brimming with confidence — and crush it.

And then my housing arrangement in Oregon fell through.

At about the same time, my friend told me about a job at Crystal Mountain ski resort. She’d also found me a place to live nearby.

Conveniently, my whole life was packed in my car and parked in front of my folks’ house in Washington. More than I believe in “signs,” I definitely believe in flow. My flow was taking me to Crystal.

Day one on the mountain: I nearly drooled on myself looking at Rainier from my (now daily) gondola commute. Beneath me, the resort looked enormous. I saw treelines, steep groomers, meandering trails… I was dangling above an enormous playground that I was about to have wide-open access to. (Is this even real life? It can’t be!)

Day two on the mountain: Humbled. Ohhhhhh soooooo humbled. Turns out climbing in Mexico for three weeks isn’t good training for skiing. Instead of reading the map and choosing an easy route to warm up on, I decided to wing it. Just go for it. And then I found myself skiing steep trees and praying to god to have mercy on my tumbling soul. At the end of my first run, my legs were shaking and my feet were aching something fierce. I had done a terrible job fitting my boots and could hardly get myself back to the lift.

Today was different. Today, I wore boots that fit. I wore goggles that both shielded my eyes from falling snow and allowed me to interpret terrain. My clothes were warm. My skis were the proper length and f%cking fun. While I definitely took falls, I took them with a shit-eating-grin on my face. I brushed myself off and then charged down the next hill. I felt out the edges of each of my skis, cutting tight and wide turns in the snow. I found myself a few powder pockets and looked around — amazed that nobody else had beaten me to it — and went for it.

As I got to work today, I noticed that my fingertips are starting to fall apart. The callouses are withering away, but I don’t think I’m going to need them for a while.

Today I discovered that I’m more than just a climber. I’m a goddamn skier, too.

And I’m STOKED.

Coming Clean

First, I want to begin by saying thank you for reading my blog. Extra thank you to those of you who have subscribed to my blog; your support encourages me to be more thoughtful, more creative and continue to share my adventures.

Second, I want to come clean about a few things. The last three-ish weeks in Mexico have impacted me in subtle ways that I didn’t expect and believe to be worthy of sharing. So here we go:

Intention is everything. I’m realizing this in nearly every aspect of my life: climbing, personal and professional. If you want to climb 12a, you’ll climb 12a. If you seek adventure, you’ll find adventure. If you need a partner, you’ll find a partner. I’ve discovered recently that by articulating my intentions in this blog and in my day-to-day, they manifest themselves naturally and almost effortlessly. More so than at any other point in my life, I exist in a near continuous flowstate because I know what I want and I’m not afraid to ask for it. I wish the same for everyone.

Writing, like climbing, is what I was made to do. I’m not sure if I write this blog more for myself or for my readership, but I write it regardless. My intention is not to inspire jealousy, I do not mean to brag about my lifestyle; I write because it’s how I process the world around me. I feel as though I’m constantly wondering and wandering my way through life; my blog is like the paper trail that extends behind me. It’s a record of the things I’ve learned, the places I’ve been and the people that have touched my heart along the way.

My life is not perfect. Just like anyone else, I’ve got a few things that I’m embarrassed about; a few mistakes that I’d rather not publicly document; a few failed relationships (friendly and otherwise) that remind me to be better in the future. I’ve been on a rather selfish trajectory for the last few months and it hasn’t been without personal costs.

So, there it is. A post-Mexico reality checkNow that I’m home, I have some choices to make and things to sort out. But all I can do is hope for the best; aspire to be the best person I can to the people I love; and continue along my path. I trust that everything will work itself out in the end.

Realization

I went to Potrero Chico with one goal. I told my friends: I want to climb 12a. And I did. Within the first week.

The climb works its way up a beautiful, techy slab. The first time I tried it, I went in with zero expectations. I knew that a fall was likely, but I tried my best anyways. And within the first few technical moves, I was completely absorbed.

The style of that particular climb was perfect for me. It utilized all the things I’d been learning at Smith: just keep working your feet up, take rests before you need them, shake out often and so on.

I hardly noticed the other people climbing around me. I forgot about Carey belaying beneath me, the rope connected to me, the distance between the bolts. It was perfect. It was just me and the climb.

When I fell at the crux, I became extremely frustrated not because I fell from a 12a onsight, but because I fell out of flowstate.

I attempted the climb two more times to see if I could get it clean, but I never did. The second go, I had two falls. The third go, just one.

And my realization, now weeks later, is simple:

I need more in life besides just climbing hard. I didn’t climb 12a because it was a soft 12a (I think it was,) because the temperature was perfect (it was,) because the stoke was high (definitely was.) I clipped the chains on that climb because Carey, my climbing partner, lead me to the base of that climb. I made my way through the moves because Chris taught me the technique. I could rattle off a long list of names of people that have helped me to where I am, but I trust that they know their contribution.

I’m going to continue climbing for the rest of my life. But it’s not to conquer grades, mountains or even myself. It’s for the love of the people that are out there with me. I climb because it’s what I was made to do.

Carey

After climbing 20 consecutive pitches up Timewave Zero in El Potrero Chico, it became abundantly clear to me that Carey is a very special person.

At first, I wasn’t even going to climb Timewave because I had no desire to feel like I was climbing up the side of a Mexican frying pan. I discovered on this trip that my Pacific Northwestern heritage is not keen on climbing in direct sunlight. Shade is fine, but heat kills.

Anyways, Carey was going to climb Timewave with our friend Jo. Together, they read the route description and prepared for a big day of clipping bolts. Then, nature threw us all a curveball and dumped some rain and chilly temps on Potrero. Just like I was unwilling to climb in the heat, Jo was unwilling to climb in the cold. Carey, however, remained constantly stoked. I was back in the running.

The morning of, we got up around 4am. We ate a quick breakfast, slammed some coffee and listened to Rage Against the Machine. We were stoked and ready.

Carey is a professional rock guide. She’s mindful, practical and likes to plan ahead. In 3 weeks of constant climbing, the only mistake I saw her make on the wall was when she tiredly confused which way to twist the gate of a carabiner to unlock it. Literally, that was it.

With our new Potrero friends, I liked to joke that Carey was Don Quixote and that I was Sancho Panza. While we’re both strong lady climbers, Carey is slightly stronger, slightly braver and slightly more badass than I am.

However, I brought the stoke, tequila and good vibes to motivate us through just about anything. (No tequila on the wall though, don’t worry mom.)

I maneuvered through the short approach on uneven terrain in ski socks and Birkenstocks. When I told Carey that we needed to stop so that I could pluck a cactus spine from my toe, she informed me that I would be bringing proper approach shoes on our next adventure. Carey likes to be prepared. (Goddamn it Quixote, I want to say no, but you’re right.)

Our stoke factor dropped slightly when we got to the base of Timewave and realized that we were the third party on a 23-pitch climb. We’re fast and strong, but we knew that we would be only as fast as the people ahead of us. When the second party took an hour to get through the second pitch, I thought that Carey was going to lose it. It became clear that the people in front of us were going to be the crux of the day, despite the 12a on pitch 21.

As the day carried on, we had a ton of fun. There wasn’t a single pitch that I didn’t enjoy.

Carey climbed 20 pitches without a single fall. I believe that if we wouldn’t have been held up at literally every single belay, we would have cut hours from our climb time. Just in time for golden hour, we reached the 21st crux pitch that goes at 5.12a and had some decisions to make. We could summit, climbing just two more chossy pitches behind the other party… Or we could begin rappelling before we lost daylight.

Ultimately, we decided that we’d climbed high enough and long enough behind other people. So we opted to rap ahead of everyone and hightail it out of there. Reluctantly, I’m willing to admit that it was the best decision of the day. And ultimately, we had an absolute blast on the way down, groovin’ to some Beastie Boys and laughing at everything we’d had to deal with, including: not-so-fun people, reverse-warp speed, choss, millipedes, rattle snakes, cacti and Mexican heat.

Once we hit the ground, we were greeted with tailgate tequila shots and beers. While we didn’t summit, we had an incredibly safe and fun adventure that I don’t think either of us will forget. Furthermore, we’re told we impressed one of the other parties — a couple of weekend warriors from California. Something about being mercilessly efficient, fast, kickass women…

When I’m with Carey I feel like I can climb harder and higher. On my own, I’m a short and stout little force to be reckoned with. But together, we can accomplish big things.

Love you, lady.

 

Love Letter

Dear Smith,
Hey. It’s me. I’m writing you from El Potrero Chico in Mexico. I just wanted to say that I miss you terribly. My new friends here tell me that I shouldn’t, that the climbing is better here — but don’t worry. I know they’re wrong.
Since coming here, I’ve climbed beautiful textured slabs. Pitch-after-pitch of bolted goodness. I’ve kicked cacti (ouch.) I’ve seen colorful lizards mid-route and disturbingly large millipedes. I’ve lead my first 11c, 11d and 12a (and clipped the chains!)
But it’s no Smith.
The views are great, but I miss the Crooked River. The approaches are so short, but I prefer the hike to the Marsupials. The rock has all kinds of features (read: tufas!) and it’s incredibly fun to climb; but it doesn’t kick my ass and inspire me like you do. I’ve attempted harder grades here and had more readily available success; but there’s something to be said of a hard-earned 11b. There’s something to be said of classic-Smith, god-awful runouts to anchor chains… The spooky distance between bolts… And the triumph you feel at the completion of each new route.
It’s been good here in Mexico, but it ain’t no Smith.
See you soon,
Mal