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

Self Portrait

I could paint, but the colors would be wrong and the strokes splotchy. I could draw, but my hand is clumsy and my focus is imbalanced. I fixate too closely on small details and often lose sight of the broader picture, which isn’t exclusive to my artistic endeavors.

So I write. I trust that I can come up with the right words to depict the world around me and the world within.

Right now, I’m a girl in a corner coffeeshop typing on a Macbook. My hair is tucked into a pair of messy buns. My attire suggests that I’m athletic, maybe even “outdoorsy.” I wear a pair of boots trimmed with cozy faux fir in anticipation for winter temperatures. An unlined notebook is flopped open beside me, filled with my distinctly feminine but sloppy chicken-scratch. Around me, people chit-chat over slightly overpriced bistro-fare lunch; the atmosphere is rustic, classy and casual. Big windows let in plenty of natural light and allow the occasional passerby to look in. A line forms at the counter; it’s comfortably busy.

Within, I feel like a transplant. A Washingtonian in Bend, Oregon. A tourist on an extended vacation without the relaxing connotation. But this is just my life. I’m on a journey and likely to be a tourist for years to come. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a high school boyfriend when I was 17; I remember telling him that I liked traveling because you’re supposed to feel different on the road, supposed to feel like you don’t quite belong. In my day-to-day, I’m constantly a traveler. Continuously slightly removed. Even in the small town where I grew up.

This Washingtonian came to Oregon to climb. I chose to extend my adventure because I fell in love. There’s something about the winding country roads, the expansive grassland between me and now snowcapped mountains, the disjunctive upthrust of cliffs from otherwise flatland that hosts hundreds of climbing routes… No single aspect of Central Oregon has forced me to stay — Smith Rock included, because there’s climbing elsewhere — but the feeling is right. Home for now. Where I’m meant to be.

Buddhism teaches that we all host a little Buddha-nature within. Christianity teaches that you can let Jesus into your heart and that God is everywhere. Personally, I’m more inclined to a Buddhist approach to spirituality, but I think that this teaching resonates regardless of its origin.

In Oregon, I find that I’m often doing things that I love. I’m around people that love to climb, love to adventure and love life. I regularly interact with them in the shop, at the crag or in friendly conversations. It feels as though I’m marinating in this love of life, in my chosen climbing lifestyle, in a life of love. The more I love, the more I have love to give.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m making moves toward enlightenment — as Buddhist teachings might encourage me to do — my path is love and love is my light. Like an onlooker in an art gallery, you can read my writings and feel that light.

Better

I came to Smith with the intention of hanging out through October, peak season, when the desert temperature drops and crimpacity (crimp-capacity) rises dramatically. I was told that there would be work for me and that I’d have my hands full.

As I’ve written in previous posts, I chose to stay because of the community that I’ve found here. But I don’t think I’ve said much beyond gushing about how happy I am to be here. Well, let’s fix that.

In each of my endeavors, whether it’s climbing, writing, taking photos or working toward my dream of becoming a mountain guide, I get support from my community. It happens in little ways, like when people tell me “That’s rad!” in passing. And more direct ways, like my friends belaying and cheering me up a challenging line. Or even more importantly, like when people cite my flaws and tell me that they expect more of me. That I can. I can write better, I can climb better, I can dream bigger, I can do better.

Slowly but surely, I’m working toward 10,000 hours in climbing, photography, writing. But it’s no solo endeavor. I’m better off because of the people around me.

FA & FU

I have a lot of disparate thoughts rolling around in my head right now. However, I can nail down two pretty simply:

1.) I got my first, first ascent.

2.) Fuck Donald Trump.

I cannot ignore the state of my backward country, the state of my disheartened community and the significance of the times. America just collectively decided that Donald Trump — a racist, lying, misogynistic animal of a man — will best represent our domestic and international interests for four years to come. Despite my love for the Pacific Northwest and my modern heritage — the brave, opinionated, conscientious and compassionate people that have nurtured me into the adult I am today — I am ashamed to identify as an American.

However, it does little to complain to Facebook about how fucked up it all is. It’s not enough to apathetically watch from the sidelines. I’m no political activist, but I can certainly evoke some of the change I wish to see in the world. It begins with the small decisions I make each day: am I kind to those around me? Do I participate in building community? Do I take pride in the things that I do? Do I dedicate myself to doing things that benefit others? Yes. As much as I possibly can, I do.

I’ve learned a lot from the climbing community in Smith. Here, I feel supported and encouraged. People want to see me succeed. And it’s contagious, because I feel all of the same sentiment. Together we’re stronger. I believe the same holds true of political affairs.

About a month and a half ago, my friend Alan introduced me to the idea of developing routes in high, obscure corners of the park. Alan, only 24 years old, has dedicated countless hours and a considerable chunk of his own change into developing new climbs, trails and terraces to ensure ease of access.

For most climbers, nabbing a first ascent is appealing. It’s gratifying to know that you were the first person to spot a line, work out the moves and then see it through. It certainly appeals to the ego. But it takes a lot of work: cleaning loose rock with a hammer and crowbar, puzzling out a safe distance between future bolts, drilling the bolt holes, hammering the bolts in and placing the hangers.

For many, just climbing someone else’s established line begets the fix they’re after. But as my friend Chris says, development is a creative endeavor. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s a labor of love. It’s seeing beyond your own climbing and giving back to the broader climbing community.

With Alan’s oversight and willingness to show me the ways, I bolted my first line in the Marsupials. Atop a scree gully, my sweet little line sits high above anything else in the park. The view is spectacular. The climb follows an arete, utilizing negligible features in the rock to a pumpy finish. After completing the first ascent, I named it Your Highness and believe it to be a hard 11a, bordering on 11b.

I am extremely grateful to Alan, Chris and everyone else in the climbing community (local and beyond.) Without the support of numerous people in my life, I wouldn’t be able to experience the rich happiness of accomplishing my first, first ascent.

I hope that people will climb my line and find as much joy as I did in cleaning, projecting and later sending.

In sum, I’d like to acknowledge the tumultuous state and disturbing trends of current events, especially pertaining to the election. But don’t let it distract you from the beauty and possibility of your immediate surroundings. Be good to yourself and to your community. Be kind. Be compassionate. Do well for yourself and for others.

Be excellent to each other and everything will be okay.

On being brave

Besides lead falls, there are other things I’m afraid of.

Like allowing myself to shed a frustrated tear when a boulder problem repeatedly shuts me down.

Like telling people passing through the shop that yeah, I work in a climbing shop but I really don’t climb that hard (yet.)

Like telling people that I love that I can’t be there with them because I have to selfishly pursue something as trivial as repeatedly scaling rock faces.

Like committing to a career and suffering through days behind a desk when I could be outside and doing what I love.

Climbing is an art form and lifestyle that repeatedly shoves fear in your face. It springs itself upon you and you have to decide what you’re going to do with it: listen to it and back down, ease off and choose a safer alternative? Or do you quell it and prove to yourself that you are capable, competent and strong?

I’m a climber. I’m not a particularly strong or brave climber, but goddamn it, I’ve got a little fight in me.

F-falling!

Yesterday, I reluctantly pulled myself from my cozy bed and gathered my things to go climbing. The weather was slightly overcast and gauzy clouds draped themselves over the rocks. It seemed like conditions were going to be so-so, but we pushed forward with our plans.

We started on a damp 10- climb that’s spooked me in the past. Given the conditions, I decided not to lead it. Normally, Alan (one of my constant partners at Smith) will pull the rope and laugh at me when I tell him that I’m scared. With him, I’ve consistently onsighted and attempted harder climbs than with any other partner. Each time I climb with Alan, I feel like I get a little stronger. It also helps that he’s a solid 12 climber and projects 13s and 14s.

Fast forward a few climbs and I’m leading a 10c, feet above my last bolt and a small ledge. Fear creeps into my mind and down into my now shaking foot.

I call down to my belayer, “Chris, I think I’m gonna fall.”

Immediately, both of the guys start cheering me on, telling me to stick with it, find my feet, move up, you got this, etc.

But my mind isn’t having any of that positivity nonsense. Instead, I’m fixated on the fact that when I inevitably fall, it’s going to be a long whip given the distance between me and my last bolt. And it happens.

And – surprise – I’m totally fine.

I’m shaking, laughing nervously and finding myself temporarily unable to make eye contact with the guys because I’m embarrassed. I hate falling on lead not for the fear that caused me to fall, but for the way it messes with my headgame.

If lead climbing – especially onsight climbing – is a blank canvas open to your creative interpretation; falling is a disjunctive ink splatter that disrupts the flow.

But it’s not the end of the world. You can incorporate the splatter and then later use your experience to make better art, climb harder, etc. But it still gets to me and the guys knew it.

I start to try to talk my way out of the climb, “I don’t know guys… I just got really scared.” I’m still smiling and laughing, but shaking like a leaf. The adrenaline jolt has woken me up and the part of my brain that handles fear is galvanized. But, being good climbing partners, they tell me that they’re not going to let me down that easy.

I take a moment. Gather my thoughts. And prepare myself to continue up. They’re right, I shouldn’t give up that easy. They also give me good pointers about using my feet, focusing my attention and shifting my weight to better grip the rock. It becomes obvious to me that these guys have been climbing longer and harder than I have; and I’m grateful for it.

Yesterday, I realized the length of the road ahead in my climbing career. I’m going to have to struggle my way up many more climbs, finesse others and fall from time to time. And  you know what? I’m psyched.