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.

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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.

Dear Mal: Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self (An Open Letter)

Holy guacamole, it’s been a hot minute since the last time I wrote something.

I’m sitting on the floor in a house that belongs to two people who have been climbing for decades. They’re absolute crushers. Their house is full of guidebooks and remnants of years of adventure. It’s absolutely inspiring. It’s also making me a little crazy because I’m not out climbing right now.

Since the last time I wrote:

  • I completed a mountaineering course.
  • Climbed Mount Baker.
  • Climbed the Grand Wall in Squamish.
  • Bought some ice tools (so stoked.)
  • Halfway bought some skis off a friend (who’s hooking it up with homie-financing.)
  • Skied in July.
  • Got myself a boyfriend (It happened on a steep snowfield and he’s fantastic. That’s worth a later post.)

Yeah, some things have happened. I think I’m only sitting down to write right now because I messed my back up from repeatedly falling from the top of the wall at the local bouldering gym… Go figure.

So basically, I’m being forced to come to terms with a few things.

You can be young, strong, smart and talented, but if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll quickly lose all of that.

The people that know me well would laugh if they heard me admit it, but I’ve been living at an unsustainable pace for a while now. I always procrastinate on laundry, dishes, buying groceries and other house stuff until it gets to a ridiculous point because I’ve been under the impression that adventure is out there and if I don’t get after it now, the opportunity will pass me by. This is not true.

What is true is that if you don’t take care of the little things today, they snowball and prevent you from actually getting out there when the weather is good, the partners are available and the climbing is in.

When you put garbage in your body, you get garbage out.

When you live on the fly, it’s pretty amazing what your body can get you through. But day-in-and-day-out garbage catches up with you. I’ve come to realize that I expect a lot of work to come from my body and I want to do things well. If I’m fueling it with whatever’s readily available, I’m basically shooting myself in the foot and preventing myself from healing, focusing and feeling ready to take on big objectives. You gotta take care of yourself.

I can only write, relate and process when I spend time alone.

It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in the present moment because most of the time, I’m surrounded by really awesome people doing really awesome things. Sometimes that’s at work, sometimes that’s outside, sometime’s that’s just hanging out on a weekday.

I realized that I’ve been running from myself for a while now. I got so caught up in chasing the next high – atop peaks – that I lost sight of the needs of my overwhelmingly introverted side that I feel utterly lopsided. It’s all about finding that balance.

Oh my god, I need to learn how to chill.

I think this is almost an extension of my previous point, but there’s more to it than time alone. It’s about being present. It’s about putting the damn phone down and connecting with your body, your mind and the people immediately in front of you. No down time means no time for recovery. No time for peace. It’s absolutely ok to be underwhelmed. I think I lose sight of that too often. And a huge reason for it is…

F*&k what social media has to say.

Social media is not real. I should know this better than anyone because my entire job revolves around social media. Since I’ve messed my back up, I’ve been forced to sit down and chill out. To fill the downtime, I’ve been looking at all of y’alls Instagrams, Facebook posts and r/climbing, and it’s making me absolutely stir-crazy. I’ll admit it: I’m jealous.

When you’re constantly looking at someone else’s highlight reel from your gimpy situation on the couch, you get a little bitter. I literally have gotten to the point where I don’t want to look at social media because I can’t do the things I want to do. Which brings me to my next point…

It’s one thing to be able to balance on a slackline and something else entirely to live a balanced life. I think that’s the moral of the story, folks.