Why You Should Climb with a Girl

This weekend, I had the special opportunity to guide on Mount Baker leading a rope team of women. We were fast. We were strong. We summited on Friday via the Coleman Deming route in just over 5 hours.

After coming back to Bellingham, the mother of two sisters on my team — who also climbed and summited Mount Baker with my co-guide Arthur Herlitzka — told me that it was special to her that her girls got to climb with a female guide. I smiled and told her that I was excited about it too; but I didn’t realize exactly how important it was to me.

On the way down from 10,781 feet, Michaela, Tatum, Scarlett (my rope team) and I began to talk about feminism, outdoor media and climbing. At first, I didn’t have much to say beyond that I thought it was important to see more women outside and in positions of leadership, like guiding. And then I recalled and talked about the post I’d written about a bizarre and frustrating encounter with someone essentially mansplaining in a classroom environment how he understood the plight of all women in outdoor leadership because his wife had been slighted too… Yeah, I’m still a little salty.

But anywho, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you — as a female guide — about how climbing with a girl might differ from climbing with a guy. I’d also like to add the disclaimer right up front: the traits that I’m going to list are not necessarily gendered nor does gender exist in a binary. These are just my observations of climbing with women in the last couple of years and are not absolutes (i.e. women always X, men never Y, etc.) I mean nothing more than to highlight the things that I’ve really enjoyed about climbing with women. Also, I use “women” and “girls” interchangeably and don’t mean any offense by it. That said:

Girls are so fun to talk to. I’ve had a lot of really interesting conversations with women while climbing. I think that having a steady conversation while grinding uphill for hours on end is an impressive feat in and of itself. It definitely helps with the passage of time and mileage. I’ve also observed that women are more inclined to uphold their end of the conversation.

Breaks tend to happen right when they need to. Seems to me like a lot of women aren’t afraid of speaking up when they need to take a sec and adjust their pack, their boots or whatever comes up. When climbing with girls, I find that I’m well-hydrated, well-snacked and comfortable cruising at a sustainable pace. I find that girls tend to be more communicative about how they’re feeling and what they need before something like blisters become an issue. And I appreciate and respect that.

Speaking of snacks… Besides taking breaks for snacks, it seems like girls like to take a little bit more time with food prep and tend to bring the goods. And by goods, I mean chocolate. To be honest, I think most of my climber friends — guys or girls — are keen on summit chocolate. And post-climb beers. Yeah.

Girl-stoke is different than boy-stokeGirl stoke comes out in giggles and shrieks and proclamations of love for the mountains. Boy stoke seems to come in the form of hoots, hollers and whoops. Stoke, regardless of the source, is often contagious. But as a lady, I find girl stoke to be especially infectious.

Oh man, can we take a second to reflect on the awesomeness of lady-beta? Yep. It’s happening. Right now. First, I’d like to say that I really appreciate when people pause to ask you if you actually want beta. Props to the people that deny it. Props to people who don’t automatically spray you down. However, I gotta say that I love getting the crucial lady beta that gets you through the crux (because I’m not 6′ with a 6′ wingspan and man-powerful-muscles. I’m 5’1″, short & powerful, but sometimes require a more delicate sequence.) I don’t know if there’s any way to describe in words how great it is; but when it happens for you, you’ll know.

And while we’re on the beta note, I’d just like to briefly comment on the numerous times I’ve been on trail and people have asked either my male clients or my male coguide for beta on a route — not me, despite wearing the patches and gear to suggest that I’m a guide. While it might seem like no big deal — and often isn’t in and of itself — I raise the issue because it’s happened on more than one occasion. While I can’t say conclusively that it relates to being a lady, I just wanted to mention the observation and I’ll leave it at that.

The bottom line is that I’m psyched when I get to climb with women.

I’m psyched when I get to climb in general; but it’s extra special to climb with an all-lady rope team. It’s different and it doesn’t happen very often (at least not in my climbing thus far.) I know that more and more women are getting outside and getting themselves into positions of outdoor leadership. I think it’s awesome; it’s necessary. I look forward to roping up with them.

My Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50 Shades of Stoked

Big news: I just became a professional belayer.

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

Yesterday, I was a golden glitter bomb.

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

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

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

And so the journey begins!

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened next is laughably ironic:

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

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

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

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

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

Hard as Tuff

You don’t need a job to work hard. Hard work flourishes where you invest your time and energies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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