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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.)
In a complete 180 from my last post, I recently posted a photo of a tattoo I got to commemorate one of my all-time heroes and it blew up (by my standards.)
As is typical of me: I decided I wanted it, drove to a shop in downtown Bellingham, asked for a price quote, didn’t feel the vibe I wanted from the artist, left, found another shop and sat down, arm outstretched less than a half hour later.
Now, I have Fred Beckey’s name permanently etched on my arm. #noragrets
The reaction I’ve gotten has been funny to me. There’s been a lot of, “Ok…” in my personal life. And a few, “F&CK YEAHs!” The people who get it, yeah, those are my people. Obviously, I got it for myself first and foremost and I’ll explain why:
Fred Beckey never sent 5.14. I don’t even know if he climbed 5.12. And he certainly wasn’t a saint, he had an affinity for women (lots of them) and a bit of kleptomania for virgin routes.
But, Fred Beckey climbed for nearly 80 years.
Fred Beckey was the guy to establish countless NW classics: Angels Crest in Squamish comes to mind, the Beckey Route on Liberty Bell, the West Ridge of Forbidden, the Beckey-Chouinard route on South Howser Tower.
He established so many first ascents that he lost count.
He never sought fame or the limelight. He just sought climbing. A whole hell of a lot of it.
And the more I tell people this, the more I realize it means to me: Fred Beckey pioneered countless new routes, spent an absurd time in the mountains and he always came home.
Fred Beckey is my hero because of his relentless dedication to climbing. Besides opening a whole lot of stunning routes to the climbing community of the Northwest, he gave back to all of us in the form of guidebooks. That’s no small undertaking.
I had the idea for this tattoo a year ago while I was on a climbing trip in Mexico. I was hanging out with my friend Carey climbing beautiful bolted multi-pitch lines in Potrero Chico — pretty far removed from a lot of the classic Beckey lines, but pretty awesome nonetheless.
When Fred Beckey passed recently, I knew that now was the time to pull the trigger on this idea. I’m so glad that I did.
So, thanks Fred. I’m looking forward to the wisdom I’ll draw from your name permanently on my arm in the climbs to come. Hope you’re sending new routes in Heaven.
I haven’t written much in the last few months. Several times, I’ve sat down and hovered my hands over my keyboard trying to write. But you know that feeling when a word is on the tip of your tongue and no matter how hard you think about it, it just won’t come to you? I’m finally ready to say all the things that have gone unsaid.
After my season of working in the mountains came to a close, I felt really lost. I had wrapped so much of my sense of identity up in what I was doing that when it stopped, I didn’t feel like I had much left to offer.
It’s also worth mentioning that I was working constantly between a busy restaurant gig and guiding jobs, so I hardly had a moment to stop and process. Back at home in Bellingham, I often worked late at the restaurant and began the following day early — like 4 a.m. early — to get down to Seattle to pick up clients for guiding jobs. For the majority of the summer, I slept the best on a thin Thermarest when I was out in the field. It was a lot, but I loved it!
If you know me, if you’ve read anything that I’ve written before or exclusively what it says in the address bar: You know that I’m passionate about climbing. Duh. I’m also prone to exhibiting high levels of stoke, because yeah, climbing. I love it.
As far as I can tell, Newton’s 3rd law about equal and opposite reactions to applies to everything. Including emotions. For as stoked as I’ve been, I’ve also been equally unstoked (destoked? Not stoked.) I think it’s really important to talk about that, because social media portrayals are so ubiquitous but limited in truth. I am not my social media. That’s what I want you to think about me; but that is not all of me.
It has been a hard couple of months. But I’m finally coming around and realizing that I’m not pitiful because I’m not projecting 5.12 anymore.
Whew, it feels great to finally say that.
Like any other living breathing human out there, I get anxious sometimes. A lot of my anxiety is the product of a stupidly huge ego that I try really hard to keep in check.
Ego. What a funny little — or big — thing. Sometimes I feel silly for having a blog dedicated exclusively to personal pursuits in climbing, because ultimately, who cares? I guess I just think a lot, write a little and hope it comes in handy for some reader someday.
My ego motivates me to try a hard route. My ego beats me up on the inside when I fail.
My ego scoffs at a moderate route. My ego doesn’t want to recognize that the best climbers climb EVERYTHING and that the grade doesn’t matter. It’s the climbing that matters. It’s the people you go with that matter.
My ego wants to be the best climber. My ego doesn’t like to recognize that the best climb 18,000 times more than I do and that’s a dumb reason to climb.
My ego wants to show off my goofy side on social media. My ego tells me to take a post down that doesn’t garner enough likes or comments.
My ego wants to be friends with everyone and anyone that climbs. But my ego tells me to focus on relationships that benefit my personal progress and development. My ego forgets that relationships take work and effort; especially the ones that don’t fall within my immediate focus on climbing.
My ego feels smug when people tell me about how I’m constantly “getting after it.” But my ego tells me that it’s never enough.
Enough of that bullshit! I’m sure you have your own echo chamber of egotistical garbage to scroll through on a daily basis. I do not wish to contribute to it.
My feeling is that social media profiles are an almost perfect manifestation or representation of all of the ego problems I just listed.
I think that a glossy social media profile is not a report card or reflection of success in life. It’s a measure of how much time you’re willing to dedicate to showing yourself off.
In pulling back a little, scaling down on exclusively scaling rocks, I’ve come to realize that I am not a complete person if I’m only a climber. I am a friend, a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a writer, a thinker, a doer, a drawer, a baker — a person full of LIFE! I have ideas and aspirations; and while climbing is a beautiful medium for challenge, achievement and accomplishment, it can’t be everything. I don’t feel whole when it is.
Yes, I am still very much a climber. Yes, I love what I’m doing. But no, climbing isn’t everything. It’s what I love but there must be balance.
That’s what I needed to say.
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.