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!

Lessons Learned

I am in the middle of a wilderness first responder course. It’s been awesome. The human body is absolutely fascinating. All of the structures, systems and interactions sustaining you at this very moment are incredibly complex and intricate.

Today I learned about how to respond in the event of a cut, a burn and even an evisceration – definitely got a little queasy during that part.

Today, we also talked about leadership as informed by NOLS 4-7-1 model. We talked about the importance of each of the seven aspects of a strong leader. Communication being one of those 7 traits.

… and then we talked about women in leadership. We were told that the qualities of leadership are not gendered traits. We were told that a leader isn’t necessarily a “broad-chested drill sergeant-type.” However, we have implicit biases (we were encouraged to discover our own implicit biases using this tool designed by Harvard.) These biases can be overcome, but the instructor told us that we’re conditioned to expect certain traits of leaders. Y’know, like how society thinks your gender might effect your judgement and leadership in an emergency situation.

I should specify, a male instructor told us that women might experience push-back in leadership roles. Which got my gears turning because I know this to be true.

He warned us of the possibility of coming off “bitchy” or “bossy” in leadership environments and to be careful of our tone and the way that we approach leadership. Generally, he addressed leading with confidence without being overbearing. (He also mansplained how he gets it because his wife is an emergency responder.) However, the instructor failed to address men in the same way. Hmm.

What happened next is laughably ironic:

He did not open the topic to discussion. Women in the classroom were not invited to discuss the topic – despite healthy conversation throughout the entirety of the morning lecture.

A woman with guiding experience in the back of the classroom raised her hand to address the other women and said: do not be afraid of the push-back. It will happen. You do not need the approval of the one or two guys who will resist your leadership. If you have control over a situation, proceed.

To which the instructor then said that cohesion is important — and I’ll admit, at this point, I was frustrated. I’d raised my hand to contribute to the discussion to simply say that we should move away from gendered words like “bitchy” and “bossy” because they’re seldom – if ever – applied to men. If we want to reverse some of society’s conditioning, we must knowingly utilize vocabulary that can be applied to any obtuse, overbearing leader regardless of their gender.

I was told that we were going to move on and that the topic was closed for discussion. My question or comment was denied. Another male student raised his hand. His question was answered.

At that very moment, I became a feminist and advocate of women in outdoor leadership. Call me what you want, deny me how you will. I will rise. I will speak. I will overcome.

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.

These Sad Times

I’m driving alone on the highway that takes me both home to Greenwater and up to Crystal Mountain. However, I’m not thinking about the drive, the time or what I’m going to do with my day. Instead, my attention is with the soft yellow sunlight that filters through snowy pines, sentinels standing along the winding road. A misty fog lingers in the air and collects the delicate rays, as if the trees collectively exhaled a warm breath of life.

My thoughts turn to Adam, a highly skilled but wild skier claimed too soon by an avalanche. While I didn’t know him well, I knew that Adam loved the mountains more than anything else. He loved the mountains so much that he died for them.

When someone passes in the mountain community, the shockwaves are palpable. At first, a few people know; then a post is made; another post is made and then, abruptly, everybody knows and has something to say about it.

Suddenly, this thing that we all bonded around; this thing that we love for its fun, challenge and reward, gruesomely takes a turn and claims a life. Suddenly, it’s not just a hobby anymore. These sad times are important because they force us to pause and reflect.

Adam was full of vibrant life energy and love for the mountains; but simultaneously unfulfilled by his many alpine missions. He sought more from life. In our last conversation, he described wanting to settle down into a more balanced, comfortable rhythm. He sought love and happiness beneath the snowline.

Adam will never see the light filter through the trees again. He’ll never feel the joy of powdery turns in the backcountry. He’ll never feel the warm embrace of all of the people devastated by his death. He lived his life to the fullest, but burned a little too brightly.

Process (Smith Update No. 3)

My hands have gotten tougher.

My heart has gotten softer.

My words mean less.

My relationships mean more.

If there’s any small amount of wisdom that I can impart, it’s that you don’t need to live out of a car to climb a lot and be happy. You don’t need to dirtbag. You don’t need to crush 5.13. You don’t even need to quit your desk job (though you may need to relocate to a desk job where climbing is fairly accessible.)

All you need to do is make climbing (or whatever it is you want to do) your priority, go out and do it. Be brave. Be bold. Just do it.

Smith Update No. 1

I’ve been in Terrebonne less than 72 hours.

Since Wedbesday night, I’ve…

Met Alan Watts.

Started a new job.

Learned how to make a latte.

Climbed a multipitch.

Climbed aforementioned multipitch with the first ascentionist.

Made new friends.

And there’s more to come. I’ll keep ya posted.

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.