My Job

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.

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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.

Climb for love

“Can we just take a second to appreciate how great it is to be here, to be alive and to do what we do?”

I was overwhelmed by it all. We’d just come out of the trees to an expansive view of Mount Baker and all of the surrounding peaks; the sun had recently set. The remaining light lingered over twinkling lights of British Columbia, fiery reds and oranges pressed up the blue, green hues of the mountains that surrounded us.

Tim walked back to where I was standing and kissed me. He doesn’t always say a lot, but I could tell he was stoked too. Somehow, he doesn’t need to.

I felt the need to document the moment so strongly that I couldn’t bring myself to take my phone out for a photo. I know that sounds ridiculous. But I couldn’t put a screen between myself and my surroundings for even a second to take a lousy iPhone photo. Instead, I breathed in the warm alpine breeze coming down from Heliotrope Ridge above. I’ll never forget that moment.

We started walking again. I smiled at Tim, even though he was ahead and wouldn’t see it.

I don’t know how I got so lucky. There’s something incredibly special about being in the mountains. It’s not something that I’m ready to describe in words; I’m too young and inexperienced. But whatever it is, I feel it so strongly that I can’t help but return again and again.

I don’t climb mountains for fun anymore. I climb for love.