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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

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.

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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.

Skiing with Girls is Funner

Sometimes opportunity knocks and it rings so loud and so clear in your ears that there’s no escaping it, no denying it. The what ifs, the risks and the costs pop up like variability in untracked backcountry snow, but you chose the line – or it chose you – and you’re gonna ride it out.

I’d caught wind of a SheJumps freeride ski clinic happening at Alpental on Facebook. A few friends had indicated that they were interested and a good friend of mine even encouraged me to go. When I read the description of the clinic, I froze up at, “Advanced and Expert Level Skiers Only.” I am a climber turned skier. I do not see myself as being an advanced or expert level skier. I see myself more in the “go average, go often,” category. I told my friend that I couldn’t go because I didn’t fit the criteria.

He pushed back. And I’m glad he did. That’s when the knocking began to ring in my ears.

I noticed that there was a $60 fee associated with the clinic that didn’t include the lift ticket and certainly didn’t include the gas it would take to drive more than 4 hours to ski for 3 hours. But it didn’t stop the knocking.

The week before the clinic, I had a few work projects to wrap up and the thought of asking my boss for the flexibility to leave early on a work day to go skiing made me nervous. But my nerves didn’t stop the knocking. I bit the bullet, drafted the email, reread it twice and before I could bail, quickly clicked: “Send.”

My boss said it was ok for me to cash in some personal time and go. And that’s when I got genuinely excited.

I was intimidated to show up for a freeride clinic when I had only a vague understanding of what freeride skiing was. But more than that, I was intimidated to show up and be weak. I can ski with the usual guy gang and embrace the fact that I’ve logged the least days on my skis. I can watch them air off of things, throw tricks or ski steep, intimidating terrain and recognize that I’m just not there yet. But I want to be. And that’s exactly why I had to go.

I came into the clinic hot. Not sweaty hot, but talking-too-loud, smiling huge at any girl that looked like she might possibly be attending, vigorously nodding at anything said in my general direction; that kind of hot. I certainly didn’t mellow out once we got onto the snow; oh no, I was full-body, full-on stoked. And for good reason.

Skiing with women is different. Energetically, we vibe on a different level. I’m used to having to stick up for myself with the guys. I’m used to acting tough when I really want to cry. I work hard to conceal my weakness whenever I possibly can. All of those feelings evaporated. I was just there with a bunch of similarly stoked women. Instead of feeling like I had to fight to keep up, I felt like I was part of something.

There was no condescension, no expert halo. There were just women helping women gain the confidence and skills to ski more aggressively, to inspire onlookers from chairlifts, to be better partners to uplift other women. It was awesome.

I’m glad I went not just because I got to dip out of work early to ski on a Tuesday night; not because I made a bunch of new ski partner connections; not even because I finally learned how to get out of the backseat (finally!) I’m stoked because I learned that I can ski with women. I’m stoked because that experience taught me that I love to ski for me – not to just keep up with my boyfriend, not because it’s the cool thing to do in the winter.

Plain and simple: skiing is fun and skiing with girls is funner.

 

Oh Hey

It’s been about two months since I’ve had a computer, but good news: I’m back. More good news: within 24 hours of owning a computer, I submitted a piece to a magazine that may or may not be my favorite publication… Ever. (Rhymes with schmalpinist.)

Things that I’ve climbed lately: Plastic.

Things that I’ve skied lately: I won’t bore you with a list, but I do have some pretty pictures. (Thanks, Tim!)

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MSR Advance Pro 2 UL tent I reviewed in January.

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Things are good! I like climbing hills to ski them. I also like reviewing gear, so expect more of that.

Up next on my to-review list: Arcteryx Theta SV ski bibs. (Spoiler alert: I have a lot to say about the hilariously small pockets. I look forward to the day when girl pockets are the same size as dude pockets.)

Powder Princess

This story is by no means a glamorous, Instagram-worthy write up. It’s more like a confession: forgive me Powder Gods, for I have been a whiny, defeated princess. I have a greater appreciation for all that ‘backcountry skiing’ entails and I have a lot of work to do. I will repent by spending more days in the resort, spending more time gear prepping and religiously observe bi-weekly leg day at the gym. Amen.

Here’s what happened:

A few weeks ago, I found myself in some sort of ditch, unable to wiggle-slide my skis any further; my feet were screaming, my legs were shaking with fatigue and I realized that I’d had it. I sat down in the ditch, on my skis, in utter defeat and felt hot tears well up into my eyes.

I hunched over and rested the heavy, P-O-S helmet — the same one a friend had long-term “borrowed” for me from a ski resort lost and found — on my arms, wrapped around my knees. All I could do was look down at the boots that I just could not seem to get to fit right. “This is hard,” I thought to myself.

It wasn’t just the boot pain or the hot fatigue shooting through my legs. It wasn’t the techy-tight tree skiing. It wasn’t the avalanche fear constantly simmering in the back of my mind. It was hard for me to admit defeat to someone that I respect so much. It was hard for me to accept that I’d tapped out.

That one day of skiing absolutely humbled me.

I like to think that I’m pretty strong for a girl. In fact, I like to think of myself as just a pretty capable ‘partner;’ no gender, no bias. Just a person that likes to wake up early, get out and do things. I like to think that if I set my mind to something, hell yeah, I can do it.

While yes, it’s true, I can get out and go skiing. No, I cannot pretend that I can keep up vis-a-vis with someone who has 15 years of experience. I can’t pretend like it doesn’t bother me to see him waiting, held-back and slowed-down by my inexperience. I try to brush off the feeling by expressing gratitude, by laughing at myself and by constantly trying hard to keep up.

In that moment, I’d finally run out of my signature effervescent energy.

The phrase that comes to mind is, “I hit a wall.” But it was more than that. The pain, the fear and the anxiety of being ‘good enough’ threw me right through that wall, into this ditch, onto my ass and past my ego.

Begrudgingly, I accepted my defeat and cried frustrated tears. I succumbed to full princess-mode. I was actively living out one of those girlfriend-trips-gone-wrong that I’d heard about from guy friends; and I realized that I was no better, not immune and yeah, the girlfriend crying in the ditch.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend called out to me. He wanted me to come under the trees and out of the ever-falling snow. But my sad little legs wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t even bring myself to pick up my helmet-heavy head from my hunched over position to tell him that I was struggling. (He obviously knew.)

I continued to look at my boots, ashamed.

For a little additional context, my ski boots have been a struggle since the day I got them. I’ve had them worked on. I’ve had the liners formed to my feet. But for whatever reason, I can’t quite seem to get the fit right. Some days, with the right socks and the right warm-up, they feel pretty alright. Sometimes I even forget that I have issues with them. But other days, my feet cramp in my arch and forefoot. The cramping causes my legs to try to compensate. Before I know it, my knees are shaking like leaves and I have to stop, unbuckle and work myself up to try it again.

I took a deep breath in, put my skins back on my skis and walked over to my boyfriend, Tim. It was hard for me to look him in the eye because I was so frustrated with my epic gear malfunction and so determined to be a savvy, capable and competent partner.

We started climbing back up the hill in the direction of the truck in silence. I was strangely glad (relieved) to have had such an emotional outburst.

If I’d been out there with a different partner, I probably would have had an epic (of the gong-show variety) but better held it together. Unfortunately for Tim, I absolutely trust him and knew that I could be completely vulnerable. I didn’t know the extent of my willingness to be vulnerable until my full-fledged princess moment.

Even though I am not proud of my princess moment, I think I learned a lot from that experience. I think I realized the extent of my trust of Tim, both for his backcountry savvy and his patience with me. And I think I also realized how silly it is to dive in too deep, too fast. Doesn’t matter how good the powder is.

I have a lot of respect for the mountains, my mortality and the constant learning process that flows between the two. I’m lucky that I have a strong enough partner that I can get into a situation where I am safe and realize that I’m in over my head.

It’s kind of funny that this is what I was playing on my mini speaker all that day.

Hard as Tuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Turns to Spirals

You read something like this and it makes you think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes.

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

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

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

Am I bragging about my privileges too much? Probably.

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

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.