Why You Should Climb with a Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

50 Shades of Stoked

Big news: I just became a professional belayer.

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

Yesterday, I was a golden glitter bomb.

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

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

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

And so the journey begins!

“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.

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.

 

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.