Welcome to Alaska (aka Crevasse Whip)

I flew from Seattle to Anchorage on a Monday. The weather was mostly clear with a few scattered clouds. The woman sitting beside me in the window seat announced excitedly that she was going on a cruise. After taking in an eyeful of the climbing guidebook propped open in my lap, she asked: are you going hiking? Yeah, kinda.

Normally, I’d be happy to carry on a conversation with whoever wound up in seat 17A or whatever it was beside me. But at approximately the same time that she struck up a conversation, we began passing over the Chugach Range. Looking down, it took me a moment to realize that the seemingly low-hanging cloud beneath us was actually an expansive glacier. Its huge expanse confirmed that I was definitely outside of my home range, which seemed suddenly scaled down by comparison. The terrain beneath us was big and wild and enticing. My jaw dropped and my eyes welled up a little with excited and awestruck tears; a special kind of tear that only powerful natural experiences can conjure. I felt simultaneously small but very much in the right place. The feeling was only slightly reduced when the tiny plane window was overtaken by an iPhone screen, but what little I’d seen struck a deep and resonant chord.

Upon arriving at the Mountain Trip guide house in Anchorage, I was immediately enthralled by stories of big mountain rescues, avalanches and other stuff you might otherwise hear about in Outside magazine. All of the stories were told from a first person perspective. My eyes widened and I could hardly contain my endless questions. I immediately got the sense that I was surrounded by decades of experience.

Not having much to do right off the bat, I tried to busy myself by helping other teams prep gear for the West Buttress of Denali. Tents were thoroughly inspected for tears, zipper snags, adequate rain flies. Unnecessary ounces were shed. “That’s weight,” the lead guide said, plucking something from the kitchen kit. Noted, I thought to myself.

The cast of characters that makes a seasonal migration to Anchorage year after year is a lively bunch. Lots of personality. The backyard keg only served to enhance things, and definitely for the better. While new on the scene myself, I felt like I was among my people. I immediately noticed the bonds forged between folks that had spent weeks together working at altitude, often in the elements and laden with heavy, mandatory gear. There was an evident sense of community and camaraderie. These people were hearty; both physically and in the way they carried themselves. I loved it.

Three days out from our flight onto the Kahiltna Glacier, I began packing with my lead guide Ben for our 12-day climbing course. He’d developed a menu and introduced me to the long list of gear that we would need, most interestingly: seven pickets (we used all of them,) two low-stretch 50 meter ropes and four sleds to help haul our heavy loads. We rigged my backpack with a drop cord so that if I fell into a crevasse while fully weighted, I could get the weight off of my body and onto the rope instead. I sipped a beer and taped more than 50 wands to prepare for low-visibility glacier travel. We made trips to Costco and Carrs and bought what seemed like an obscene amount of meat and cheese (turns out, it was pretty spot on.) And almost suddenly, it was go time.

We met Astrid and Dan at the Lakefront Hotel beside Lake Spenard, which was busy with float planes landing on the lake and departing overhead. In the hotel lobby, the walls were decorated with taxidermy goats, moose, grizzly and polar bears. It felt simultaneously very over the top and very Alaska. Again, I loved it. Dan and Astrid were joining us from New York to gain the skills for glacier travel on their own terms. They struck me as being very prepared and eager to get after it. Things got started on the right foot.

At that time, the forecast we’d been referring to for the last few days looked dubious, at best. I was happy to have a goretex top and bottom shell because it looked like we were going to be subject to near constant rain for the duration of our trip. Ben mentioned that we could begin with a knot review and rope techniques in Talkeetna, since there was a good chance that we would be grounded, possibly for days. Apparently the pilots rely on line of sight only for their glacier landings. No vis means no flight.

We weighed our bags and gear and prepared to settle into Talkeetna for the night when we got a call out of the blue: the plane was ready and departure time is now. It felt like a total curveball, but I threw on my double boots, glacier glasses and a quick layer of sunscreen. I thought I was going to have the night to make minor last minute preparation additions, like downloading additional media to my phone to hold me over for 12 nights, seeking out a few additional interesting facts about Denali, etc. But nope!

We climbed into a Beaver that sounded like a flying muscle car. Our flight took us over deep green and dense Alaskan woods where we saw the occasional cabin with no obvious road to access them by. I watched the service drop off and disappear from my phone, one service bar at a time.

As we approached the Alaska Range, the tears crept back into my eyes like they had for the Chugach Range. I was experiencing full-body “woah dude.” And it only got bigger and better as we flew deeper into the range, impossibly close to house-sized cornices, vast glaciers stretching 40 miles out of sight. I tried to say into my headset: this is one of the best days of my life. But the Beaver’s roar drowned me out and that was ok. I was dazzled. I knew immediately that this was going to be a place that I would return to many times over, for business and for pleasure. That special kind of Alaska heavy-duty dragging pleasure that humbles and forces you to dig deep. That special kind of completely unpredictable weather pleasure that arrests your full attention into the immediate here and now. A special kind of brutal pleasure that I was ready to be smacked down by. Hell yeah. Maybe normal people call it masochism.

The plane eventually touched down on the glacier alongside Annie’s Ridge. I felt the skis dredge wet spring snow beneath us. Momentarily, I imagined the plane catching an edge much like you would on a pair of normal skis and what that would mean for us on the inside. But the thought didn’t last long because we immediately began ripping gear from the belly of the plane so that another team could board and fly out. I recognized another lady guide from back home, Robin, and gave her a hug. As my network grows larger, my world seems more interconnected and smaller and all the richer for it.

I dragged a sled past a party of folks that seemed like they were actually mid-celebration, a true party. Basecamp was a lively and happening place. Again and again, I heard that team after team had summited in 2-week weather windows, while several of our trips are budgeted 22 days to turn a trip around with enough time for acclimatization, weather and come-what-may on the tallest mountain in North America. The load I was pulling didn’t feel particularly heavy, but I was embarrassed to find myself huffing and puffing a bit as I drug it up a short stretch. I wondered how I would fair beneath the weight of my 60 pounds of personal gear with the addition of whatever food and group gear I would need to cary. The glacier was surprisingly hot and I felt myself drench with sweat almost immediately. I mentally prepared myself to grind.

Ben asked me to start digging but didn’t get around to telling me why. He requested a 3 foot by 3 foot dig site. I hopped to it. After digging to roughly knee depth, I asked him how deep he wanted the hole. “About five feet,” he said nonchalantly. I couldn’t remember the exact figure for how much a cubic meter of snow weighs from my avalanche education, but I can tell you that it’s more than you’d think. I dug in and moved as much snow as quickly as I could and felt my heart rate rise with the piles of snow accumulating around me. In my mind, this was an audition for a Denali trip. I wanted to show Ben that I could dig up there alongside the best of ’em.

The days wore on and we covered snow skills like cramponing and self arrest, running belays, crevasse rescue, snow anchors, roped glacier travel and so on. Some days were exceedingly hot and our days began between 2 and 5am to accommodate. Oh, and it was never dark. No headlamp required. Around 3am, you’d get a bit of twilight but never full-on darkness. It wasn’t as weird as you might think, but it made falling asleep hard at times. That, coupled with an ever changing sleep schedule: 2am, 3am and 5am being the choice times, made for a disrupted sense of general time as well as “time on” and “time off.” I discovered roughly four days in that I really needed the occasional solo tent time to relax and unwind. Around camp, there’s always something to straighten, always water to melt, always something to dig, etc. There’s always something. And the methodology and process was all new to me, despite the time I’ve spent in the Cascades. I felt out of rhythm but not necessarily out of control. I was literally out of my element and doing everything I could to embrace the differences.

Eventually, we moseyed up to Kahiltna Pass, establishing camp at 10,000 feet. We were parked beneath Kahiltna Dome, which has a beautiful ridge, zebra-striped with crevasses. After many consecutive days of lots of skills and not a lot of movement, my body was craving exertion beyond shoveling snow (trust me, I’d had plenty of time to practice that. So it goes out there.) Finally, more than a week into our adventure, it was time to climb.

Ben lead the way gaining the ridge and over a spicy looking bergschrund. He kicked again and again into soft Alaska corn snow that wouldn’t quite consolidate. The couple-inch surface layer felt firm beneath crampons, but once you punched through, there was a relatively uniform layer of mushy, wet, soft snow, unlike anything I’d experienced previously in Washington.

Just beyond the ‘schrund, we paused to discuss our plan for the day and any hazards we might want to consider. When asked to weigh in, I saw no ‘red light’ reason to stop climbing and recommend that we continue on. We were well ahead of our turnaround time and on a broad ridge. If anything, we had every reason to continue on. We did. I got to lead and picked my way through textured terrain atop the ridge. The snow was wind-affected and funky; I could tell that we were traveling alongside some pretty sizable cornices and was keenly aware of our exposure off the backside of the ridge away from camp. Occasionally, I placed a picket to guard against a fall, equally for psychological and physical security.

Eventually I came up on a snow bridge; the epitome of a snow bridge, almost like something out of a Japanese garden. I could see a dark space on the left side of the ridge beneath where the route meandered. As I assessed the surface snow, I felt assured by the firm snow crunching beneath my crampons. I gave the dark hollow space several feet of distance and probed first with my basketed ski pole and then with my ice axe. The feedback I got from my initial probe strikes was confidence inspiring. I stepped exactly where I’d probed and began to probe further. Not wanting my basket to interfere with the depth of my probe, I leaned forward to plunge my ice axe into the snow. To my great surprise, the world fell away beneath me and my world went white. The fall stopped just as quickly as it had started and I found myself slumped over, hanging in my harness deep inside a crevasse. My hands had locked themselves down around my ice axe and ski pole.

A nervous laughter gurgled out of me. My system had been rebooted by a wave of adrenaline. Ha… Haha… Ha… “I’m OK!” I yelled to my team. I heard nothing back, so I yelled again louder, “Guys, I’m OK!”

Besides finding my self sharply arrested by the end of the rope, there had been no impact and no consequence to my fall. While I’d had the wherewithal to process the potential for a serious accident in the plane landing on the glacier, hanging in the bottom of a crevasse, I felt surprisingly unafraid. This thing that I’d been teaching about and preparing for, for years had gone as well as it possibly could have. I was fine. I was grateful. I was actually really stoked that things had turned out as well as they did.

As I looked around, I noticed that I’d fallen through several feet of what looked like cob webs beneath a 7 or so inch layer of firm snow on top. I remember looking at the firm layer and thinking that it was trustworthy because of the surface texture. Obviously, since I was actively probing when I fell, I didn’t inherently trust the surface appearance, but this seems like a free lesson that I can pass on: don’t trust what you see at the surface! Probe earlier than you think you might need to – it’s better to find the edge and solid ground instead of spooky hollow cob webs, you know, before it’s too late and all.

Almost immediately, I began stemming in a full straddle-stance to climb more than 15 feet from the depth of the crevasse (15 feet per Ben’s assessment; my wigged out brain registered 20 feet, but who knows.) The rope had caught me inches above what appeared to be solid ground. Not sure what to trust with bodyweight and not wanting to know what was lurking beneath apparently stable snow, I trusted my crampons to the walls of the crevasse and used my ice axe to climb higher. I captured progress with the prussic that was pre-rigged to the rope. After clambering up what I estimated to be a body length, I tied a knot in the rope beneath my prussic. And then again. And again. I had no desire to trust my full bodyweight to a single prussic alone, even if it absolutely would have held. When I was just a few short feet from the lip, Ben poked his head over and asked me how I was doing.

“I’m fine!” I was happy to report. He padded the lip, anchoring his backpack to his ice axe and vector/plucked me out over the edge. Our size difference is comical; he may as well have used a pinky to lift me out.

I took a moment to sit on a pad on firm snow and collect myself. I held my hand out to see if it was shaking with adrenaline. Surprisingly, it wasn’t quaking that bad. I guess I felt some nervous laughter, but my nerves quickly subsided when I realized that I was going to be OK. Best worst case scenario.

Not surprisingly, we decided to call that our high point and turned around for camp. I lead the way back and felt myself grow nervous as temperatures rose. At that point, it was just after 8:30am. Not necessarily late, but given the less than confidence inspiring snow, high time to head out of there.

After all of that, I thought to myself: that’s quite the welcome to Alaska.

Advertisements

When climbing breaks your heart

Climbing, I love you. But you’re bringing me down.

Climbing, you’ve taken me to some incredible places. I’ve stood atop mountains that I climbed both physically and emotionally. I’ve learned what it means to truly see and know someone thanks to you. I’ve learned to get over myself. You’re present anytime I think about the things I’m most proud of in this life. You’ve given me more smiles, more highs and more experiences… More relationships… Than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. You’ve really given me something to live for. For that, I can’t thank you enough. For that, I love you.

Climbing, you’ve also stripped me raw. You’ve made me cry in front of people I didn’t want to cry in front of. You made me vulnerable. You’ve injured me physically. You’ve dictated my lifestyle and burnt bridges for me. You’ve been an addiction. An obsession. You’ve simultaneously swollen and decimated my ego. And most recently, you’ve stolen precious life. Again.

Each time I lose a friend to climbing, it shocks me to my core. How could something so beautiful and wholesome be so cruel? How could this happen? Sadly, it comes with the territory.

This is not thoughts and prayers. This is sadness beyond sadness; devastation; and acceptance. The rules are simple: there is always risk and your job as a climber is to mitigate it. Sometimes – even the best of us – come up short.

Beckey Tattoo

In a complete 180 from my last post, I recently posted a photo of a tattoo I got to commemorate one of my all-time heroes and it blew up (by my standards.)

As is typical of me: I decided I wanted it, drove to a shop in downtown Bellingham, asked for a price quote, didn’t feel the vibe I wanted from the artist, left, found another shop and sat down, arm outstretched less than a half hour later.

Now, I have Fred Beckey’s name permanently etched on my arm. #noragrets

The reaction I’ve gotten has been funny to me. There’s been a lot of, “Ok…” in my personal life. And a few, “F&CK YEAHs!” The people who get it, yeah, those are my people. Obviously, I got it for myself first and foremost and I’ll explain why:

Fred Beckey never sent 5.14. I don’t even know if he climbed 5.12. And he certainly wasn’t a saint, he had an affinity for women (lots of them) and a bit of kleptomania for virgin routes.

But, Fred Beckey climbed for nearly 80 years.

Fred Beckey was the guy to establish countless NW classics: Angels Crest in Squamish comes to mind, the Beckey Route on Liberty Bell, the West Ridge of Forbidden, the Beckey-Chouinard route on South Howser Tower.

He established so many first ascents that he lost count.

He never sought fame or the limelight. He just sought climbing. A whole hell of a lot of it.

And the more I tell people this, the more I realize it means to me: Fred Beckey pioneered countless new routes, spent an absurd time in the mountains and he always came home.

Fred Beckey is my hero because of his relentless dedication to climbing. Besides opening a whole lot of stunning routes to the climbing community of the Northwest, he gave back to all of us in the form of guidebooks. That’s no small undertaking.

I had the idea for this tattoo a year ago while I was on a climbing trip in Mexico. I was hanging out with my friend Carey climbing beautiful bolted multi-pitch lines in Potrero Chico — pretty far removed from a lot of the classic Beckey lines, but pretty awesome nonetheless.

When Fred Beckey passed recently, I knew that now was the time to pull the trigger on this idea. I’m so glad that I did.

So, thanks Fred. I’m looking forward to the wisdom I’ll draw from your name permanently on my arm in the climbs to come. Hope you’re sending new routes in Heaven.

All the things unsaid: climbing, social media and ego

I haven’t written much in the last few months. Several times, I’ve sat down and hovered my hands over my keyboard trying to write. But you know that feeling when a word is on the tip of your tongue and no matter how hard you think about it, it just won’t come to you? I’m finally ready to say all the things that have gone unsaid.

After my season of working in the mountains came to a close, I felt really lost. I had wrapped so much of my sense of identity up in what I was doing that when it stopped, I didn’t feel like I had much left to offer.

It’s also worth mentioning that I was working constantly between a busy restaurant gig and guiding jobs, so I hardly had a moment to stop and process. Back at home in Bellingham, I often worked late at the restaurant and began the following day early — like 4 a.m. early — to get down to Seattle to pick up clients for guiding jobs. For the majority of the summer, I slept the best on a thin Thermarest when I was out in the field. It was a lot, but I loved it!

If you know me, if you’ve read anything that I’ve written before or exclusively what it says in the address bar: You know that I’m passionate about climbing. Duh. I’m also prone to exhibiting high levels of stoke, because yeah, climbing. I love it.

As far as I can tell, Newton’s 3rd law about equal and opposite reactions to applies to everything. Including emotions. For as stoked as I’ve been, I’ve also been equally unstoked (destoked? Not stoked.) I think it’s really important to talk about that, because social media portrayals are so ubiquitous but limited in truth. I am not my social media. That’s what I want you to think about me; but that is not all of me.

It has been a hard couple of months. But I’m finally coming around and realizing that I’m not pitiful because I’m not projecting 5.12 anymore.

Whew, it feels great to finally say that.

Like any other living breathing human out there, I get anxious sometimes. A lot of my anxiety is the product of a stupidly huge ego that I try really hard to keep in check.

Ego. What a funny little — or big — thing. Sometimes I feel silly for having a blog dedicated exclusively to personal pursuits in climbing, because ultimately, who cares? I guess I just think a lot, write a little and hope it comes in handy for some reader someday.

My ego motivates me to try a hard route. My ego beats me up on the inside when I fail.

My ego scoffs at a moderate route. My ego doesn’t want to recognize that the best climbers climb EVERYTHING and that the grade doesn’t matter. It’s the climbing that matters. It’s the people you go with that matter.

My ego wants to be the best climber. My ego doesn’t like to recognize that the best climb 18,000 times more than I do and that’s a dumb reason to climb.

My ego wants to show off my goofy side on social media. My ego tells me to take a post down that doesn’t garner enough likes or comments.

My ego wants to be friends with everyone and anyone that climbs. But my ego tells me to focus on relationships that benefit my personal progress and development. My ego forgets that relationships take work and effort; especially the ones that don’t fall within my immediate focus on climbing.

My ego feels smug when people tell me about how I’m constantly “getting after it.” But my ego tells me that it’s never enough.

Enough of that bullshit! I’m sure you have your own echo chamber of egotistical garbage to scroll through on a daily basis. I do not wish to contribute to it.

My feeling is that social media profiles are an almost perfect manifestation or representation of all of the ego problems I just listed.

I think that a glossy social media profile is not a report card or reflection of success in life. It’s a measure of how much time you’re willing to dedicate to showing yourself off.

In pulling back a little, scaling down on exclusively scaling rocks, I’ve come to realize that I am not a complete person if I’m only a climber. I am a friend, a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a writer, a thinker, a doer, a drawer, a baker — a person full of LIFE! I have ideas and aspirations; and while climbing is a beautiful medium for challenge, achievement and accomplishment, it can’t be everything. I don’t feel whole when it is.

Yes, I am still very much a climber. Yes, I love what I’m doing. But no, climbing isn’t everything. It’s what I love but there must be balance.

That’s what I needed to say.

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

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

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

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

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.