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.

My Job

“So you take people hiking?” Yeah, something like that.

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.

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!

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.

 

Dear Internet: Please just keep climbing

I am a woman. I climb. I climb with girls. I climb with guys. I don’t care what kind of equipment you’re working with. In the world of outdoor climbing, I experience very little gender discrimination.

Dear online climbing community,

Hi. I’m a woman. I climb. And you know what? I’ve experienced some gender-based assumptions about my partner being my boyfriend, needing beta at the gym because I’m a cute little female that couldn’t possibly flash your project… Hell, I’ve even written some pro-lady content myself. I love seeing women crush!

But here’s the deal: I’m a grown ass woman and I can tell any hater off. You can too (guy or girl or however you identify.)

Rather than getting into these quibbly bullshit arguments on the internet, I think that people need to just stand up for themselves in the moment and focus on climbing.

I have a college education, I understand gender-based discrimination (have you even read “Half the Sky,” bro?), but frankly most of the stuff I read people whining about on the internet falls within the realm of first world problems.

I will absolutely acknowledge that it’s significantly more difficult to find girls that are into alpine trad climbing… And that’s where a gender-based issue might reside, but I also acknowledge that I don’t know the entire climbing community and there are lots of trad crushing ladies that I’ve yet to meet.

In my short couple years of climbing, I’ve met a lot of different partners and a lot of different climbers. While my experience is entirely my own and not representative of women everywhere, I’d just like to say:

I am a woman. I climb. I climb with girls. I climb with guys. I don’t care what kind of equipment you’re working with. In the world of outdoor climbing, I experience very little gender discrimination. I just climb with whoever I can, whenever I can. Keep it simple. Climb on.

Climb for love

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 moment to take a lousy iPhone photo.

“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.

Loss

It finally happened. I lost my first climbing friend.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece for a magazine about accidents in the alpine. I asked a few climber friends for sources on the subject, and eventually got directed to a couple of climbers that had a boulder pull on them while climbing Mt. Goode. Luckily, the climber got out. But that’s not always the case.

I don’t remember all of the exact details – how high they were, how long it took Search and Rescue to save the fallen climber – but I will never forget a quote from one of my interviews.

No matter who you are – if you’re around ski mountaineering or climbing for a long enough period of time – you’re going to have friends or friends-of-friends who die or are seriously injured in the mountains.”

At the time, I appreciated the gravity of the statement. It stuck with me, lodged in my memory. But it finally happened and the shock hit me like a tidal wave.

I was home alone last night. I’d just finished writing a piece for the Mount Baker Experience and another collaboration piece with my boyfriend about an incredibly fun climb on Forbidden. I opened Facebook on my phone and there was the news.

A woman with an amazing climbing resume, years of experience and incredible humility had died climbing in the Waddington Range.

I met Laurel Fan the first time I went ice climbing in Marble Canyon. We chatted beneath frozen waterfalls and later hung out back at our dumpy little motel. She was leading WI3+ with grace and confidence. While I didn’t realize it at the time, Laurel left a huge impression on me because I hadn’t seen a woman be that bad ass before. That casually confident, strong and sure of herself. I have since followed her on social media and been in awe of her numerous accomplishments. She’s the type of lady I aspire to be.

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And you know what’s funny? Laurel was the one to give me the sources for the story I mentioned earlier.

When I read the news, I was shocked to my core.

Have you ever watched a bubble pop? You know that moment of transition where there’s a perfect circle and then it’s suddenly gone, just a few drops left falling to the ground?

My attitude toward mountain shenanigans is a popped bubble. While I love to laugh and have fun in the alpine, I recognize how fragile and utterly mortal I am – we all are.

Last night, I just sat at my computer and cried. I cried for Laurel and all of the people who lost a friend, a partner and a source of inspiration. I cried for my lost naivety. This thing that we do is serious. There are consequences. No matter who you are, how experienced you are, how many peaks you’ve bagged, there’s always a chance that something could go horribly wrong whether it’s directly to you, a friend or a friend-of-a-friend.

I’m going to remember Laurel and think of her when I dream about the climber I hope to eventually be. I’m going to take it slow in the alpine and strive to recognize the constant risk.

If you’re a climber or know a climber, show love whenever you can. You never know when that bubble might pop.

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.