The Edge

You know that feeling when you’re standing beneath a climb, when you’re trying to puzzle out the movements, when you start to wonder: Can I actually pull this off?

Maybe it’s a project you’ve attempted several times before. Maybe it’s a string of long, strenuous pitches. Maybe it’s at your grade limit. Maybe it’s your anti-style.

But you begin all the same.

Sometimes, the first few moves are easy. You’ve psyched yourself up enough that when things go smoothly, your guard begins to drop. You’re flowing. Maybe I can actually do this…

Sometimes, the first move off the ground is heinous. You position your hands, your feet, begin to pull… Then come down. You reposition, begin to pull… And come down again. Maybe I don’t got this…

But you climb on. You go for it. And then:

Sometimes, you reach the crux, breathe really hard, grunt a little and barely make the move.

Sometimes, you reach the crux, grunt a lot and then take a whip. Having eliminated that possibility, you figure out the sequence and get through the crux second go.

Sometimes, you reach the crux. You give it hell, but it’s relentless. For whatever reason — excuses or otherwise — it’s just not going to go for you today. And that’s ok, because at least you tried. Guess that means you’ve got a new project.

That is climbing.

Besides the physical act of pulling yourself up a rock, you climb by pushing your limits. You discover what you are and are not (yet) capable of. By allowing yourself into that headspace, reaching complete physical and mental exertion, you discover the extent of your inner strength, grit and capabilities.

Encounters with “the edge” aren’t just limited to climbing; I can tell ya that much. But it’s good to take yourself there. It’s how we climb and how we grow.

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.

“Either”

Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” That quote is tattooed on one of my friend’s arms. While it will stick with him in a different sense than it will stick with me, it remains all the same.

Generally speaking, I like that quote. It’s inspiring. But right now, as I’m sitting here on the couch and deciding what to do with myself, it would be easy to cast myself on the “nothing” end of the spectrum.

I don’t think that’s accurate.

When I scroll through my social media feeds — Instagram in particular — I’m genuinely excited to see what other people are doing. It’s one daring adventure after another. Truthfully, I’m also a little jealous of all of the adventures I’m not having. I think we all do this from time to time.

My point, in all of this, is that life is not “either” a daring adventure or nothing at all. Sometimes, life is a daring adventure. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like much of an adventure at all. In order to have mountains, there must be valleys, too.

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.

 

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.

The Great American Dirtbag Dream

I’m seeking the revised version of the American dream, which I’m going to call the great American dirtbag dream: do what you love and love what you do. Deal with the consequences.

First question: what do you love more than anything else in this world?

Hang on to the first thought that pops into your mind. I’m not you, so I have no way of knowing what that thing might be. Maybe you’re hyper-social and can’t spend a minute without your friends. Maybe you’ve found the love of your life and their name comes to mind. Maybe you’re a huge nerd for Star Wars or some other creative enterprise with a freaky cult following.

Second question: how do you demonstrate your love for your thing?

Think about your day-to-day. How are you spending your downtime? What about your uptime, if there is such a thing? I think that there are two parts to this answer. First, how often do you truly engage with your thing? And second, what are you willing to forgo to pursue your thing? More on this later.

Third question: when you think about your thing, do you feel happy?

I think most people have something that they hold near and dear to their heart. It seems to me that the happiest people take their thing and make it a priority in their life. I’ve encountered several people who are willing to procrastinate on their happiness by putting their thing aside for a more convenient time, like retirement 60 years down the line. While I’m not advocating for hedonism, I do mean to raise the point that your happiness should be a priority in your life. It’s too short not to.

Enough of this rhetorical nonsense.

Enter Mal: crack fanatic, pebble wrestler and camera-wielding crazy woman.

I recently took a long hard look at my life and the decisions I’ve been making, and you know what? I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but goddamn, am I lucky to know that my passion for climbing is my priority. It shows.

I like when people ask me what I do. It’s a great opportunity to gauge someone’s understanding of the pursuit of happiness. Depending on the person, I’ll either say, “I work my dream job at a climbing gym,” or I’ll say something about how my parents are gracious about my decision to work at a climbing gym despite finishing a four-year degree.

I don’t think it’s completely accurate to call my job at the gym my “dream job,” but it sounds nice, so I continue to use the phrase.

And don’t get me wrong, I love my job at the gym. I love showing people around my church of technicolor polyurethane. I love the way kids’ eyes light up when they run up to the walls. I know that feeling well.

Previously, I said that my passion-as-priority shows. What doesn’t show quite as readily are the sacrifices I’m making for my love. I’m constantly seeking small gigs and extra shifts to make ends meet. My type-A personality has toughened up – albeit only slightly – in response to peoples’ condescension about my career decisions.

First world problems, sure.

My dream job would have me climbing outside often, shooting photos and writing about life lessons harvested from numerous climbing partners and experiences. I’d be living out of a van with a nice man and a dog. (#relationshipgoals) The dirtbag dream!

Basically, I’m seeking the revised version of the American dream, which I’m going to call the great American dirtbag dream: do what you love and love what you do. Deal with the consequences.

Head Games

Everything about ice climbing feels fierce and defiant. With good technique, you feel more in control of the situation at hand. But even then, you’re scaling a frozen waterfall. Yeah, it’s kinda crazy.

I drive my right foot into the ice as hard as I can. The teeth of my crampons gnash into the ice like the cold breeze that bites at my exposed face. My left foot feels secure; two front points exert enough downward force on seemingly brittle ice to support my bodyweight.

I exhale, stand and pull my upper body into the icy curtain. My hands are wet and paradoxically burning with white hot pain in the -6 degree weather (Celsius, since it’s Canada.)

As I raise my right hand above my head to slam the pick ever upward, I gasp as my right foot suddenly slips from the ice. Instinctively, all of my muscles tense. I pull hard on my left tool, my forearm burning with the exertion. Without a point of contact, my right wrist is weak from the fear of falling and my ice axe dangles limply above my head.

I retrain my focus and find my footing and place the pick. The adrenaline tingles throughout my body as my mind reels just a moment longer. Then, my attention shifts to find my next placements.

Everything about ice climbing feels fierce and defiant. With good technique, you feel more in control of the situation at hand. But even then, you’re scaling a frozen waterfall. Yeah, it’s kinda crazy.

I love that moment of clarity: the swift transition from dangling from an ice tool, panicked, asking myself “What the hell am I doing?” to a composed, pragmatic and methodical, “I can do this.”

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Crampons.
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Jason on Icy BC, WI5.
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Belay.
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Ice tools.