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.

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.

Coming Clean

First, I want to begin by saying thank you for reading my blog. Extra thank you to those of you who have subscribed to my blog; your support encourages me to be more thoughtful, more creative and continue to share my adventures.

Second, I want to come clean about a few things. The last three-ish weeks in Mexico have impacted me in subtle ways that I didn’t expect and believe to be worthy of sharing. So here we go:

Intention is everything. I’m realizing this in nearly every aspect of my life: climbing, personal and professional. If you want to climb 12a, you’ll climb 12a. If you seek adventure, you’ll find adventure. If you need a partner, you’ll find a partner. I’ve discovered recently that by articulating my intentions in this blog and in my day-to-day, they manifest themselves naturally and almost effortlessly. More so than at any other point in my life, I exist in a near continuous flowstate because I know what I want and I’m not afraid to ask for it. I wish the same for everyone.

Writing, like climbing, is what I was made to do. I’m not sure if I write this blog more for myself or for my readership, but I write it regardless. My intention is not to inspire jealousy, I do not mean to brag about my lifestyle; I write because it’s how I process the world around me. I feel as though I’m constantly wondering and wandering my way through life; my blog is like the paper trail that extends behind me. It’s a record of the things I’ve learned, the places I’ve been and the people that have touched my heart along the way.

My life is not perfect. Just like anyone else, I’ve got a few things that I’m embarrassed about; a few mistakes that I’d rather not publicly document; a few failed relationships (friendly and otherwise) that remind me to be better in the future. I’ve been on a rather selfish trajectory for the last few months and it hasn’t been without personal costs.

So, there it is. A post-Mexico reality checkNow that I’m home, I have some choices to make and things to sort out. But all I can do is hope for the best; aspire to be the best person I can to the people I love; and continue along my path. I trust that everything will work itself out in the end.

Carey

After climbing 20 consecutive pitches up Timewave Zero in El Potrero Chico, it became abundantly clear to me that Carey is a very special person.

At first, I wasn’t even going to climb Timewave because I had no desire to feel like I was climbing up the side of a Mexican frying pan. I discovered on this trip that my Pacific Northwestern heritage is not keen on climbing in direct sunlight. Shade is fine, but heat kills.

Anyways, Carey was going to climb Timewave with our friend Jo. Together, they read the route description and prepared for a big day of clipping bolts. Then, nature threw us all a curveball and dumped some rain and chilly temps on Potrero. Just like I was unwilling to climb in the heat, Jo was unwilling to climb in the cold. Carey, however, remained constantly stoked. I was back in the running.

The morning of, we got up around 4am. We ate a quick breakfast, slammed some coffee and listened to Rage Against the Machine. We were stoked and ready.

Carey is a professional rock guide. She’s mindful, practical and likes to plan ahead. In 3 weeks of constant climbing, the only mistake I saw her make on the wall was when she tiredly confused which way to twist the gate of a carabiner to unlock it. Literally, that was it.

With our new Potrero friends, I liked to joke that Carey was Don Quixote and that I was Sancho Panza. While we’re both strong lady climbers, Carey is slightly stronger, slightly braver and slightly more badass than I am.

However, I brought the stoke, tequila and good vibes to motivate us through just about anything. (No tequila on the wall though, don’t worry mom.)

I maneuvered through the short approach on uneven terrain in ski socks and Birkenstocks. When I told Carey that we needed to stop so that I could pluck a cactus spine from my toe, she informed me that I would be bringing proper approach shoes on our next adventure. Carey likes to be prepared. (Goddamn it Quixote, I want to say no, but you’re right.)

Our stoke factor dropped slightly when we got to the base of Timewave and realized that we were the third party on a 23-pitch climb. We’re fast and strong, but we knew that we would be only as fast as the people ahead of us. When the second party took an hour to get through the second pitch, I thought that Carey was going to lose it. It became clear that the people in front of us were going to be the crux of the day, despite the 12a on pitch 21.

As the day carried on, we had a ton of fun. There wasn’t a single pitch that I didn’t enjoy.

Carey climbed 20 pitches without a single fall. I believe that if we wouldn’t have been held up at literally every single belay, we would have cut hours from our climb time. Just in time for golden hour, we reached the 21st crux pitch that goes at 5.12a and had some decisions to make. We could summit, climbing just two more chossy pitches behind the other party… Or we could begin rappelling before we lost daylight.

Ultimately, we decided that we’d climbed high enough and long enough behind other people. So we opted to rap ahead of everyone and hightail it out of there. Reluctantly, I’m willing to admit that it was the best decision of the day. And ultimately, we had an absolute blast on the way down, groovin’ to some Beastie Boys and laughing at everything we’d had to deal with, including: not-so-fun people, reverse-warp speed, choss, millipedes, rattle snakes, cacti and Mexican heat.

Once we hit the ground, we were greeted with tailgate tequila shots and beers. While we didn’t summit, we had an incredibly safe and fun adventure that I don’t think either of us will forget. Furthermore, we’re told we impressed one of the other parties — a couple of weekend warriors from California. Something about being mercilessly efficient, fast, kickass women…

When I’m with Carey I feel like I can climb harder and higher. On my own, I’m a short and stout little force to be reckoned with. But together, we can accomplish big things.

Love you, lady.

 

Love Letter

Dear Smith,
Hey. It’s me. I’m writing you from El Potrero Chico in Mexico. I just wanted to say that I miss you terribly. My new friends here tell me that I shouldn’t, that the climbing is better here — but don’t worry. I know they’re wrong.
Since coming here, I’ve climbed beautiful textured slabs. Pitch-after-pitch of bolted goodness. I’ve kicked cacti (ouch.) I’ve seen colorful lizards mid-route and disturbingly large millipedes. I’ve lead my first 11c, 11d and 12a (and clipped the chains!)
But it’s no Smith.
The views are great, but I miss the Crooked River. The approaches are so short, but I prefer the hike to the Marsupials. The rock has all kinds of features (read: tufas!) and it’s incredibly fun to climb; but it doesn’t kick my ass and inspire me like you do. I’ve attempted harder grades here and had more readily available success; but there’s something to be said of a hard-earned 11b. There’s something to be said of classic-Smith, god-awful runouts to anchor chains… The spooky distance between bolts… And the triumph you feel at the completion of each new route.
It’s been good here in Mexico, but it ain’t no Smith.
See you soon,
Mal

Better

I came to Smith with the intention of hanging out through October, peak season, when the desert temperature drops and crimpacity (crimp-capacity) rises dramatically. I was told that there would be work for me and that I’d have my hands full.

As I’ve written in previous posts, I chose to stay because of the community that I’ve found here. But I don’t think I’ve said much beyond gushing about how happy I am to be here. Well, let’s fix that.

In each of my endeavors, whether it’s climbing, writing, taking photos or working toward my dream of becoming a mountain guide, I get support from my community. It happens in little ways, like when people tell me “That’s rad!” in passing. And more direct ways, like my friends belaying and cheering me up a challenging line. Or even more importantly, like when people cite my flaws and tell me that they expect more of me. That I can. I can write better, I can climb better, I can dream bigger, I can do better.

Slowly but surely, I’m working toward 10,000 hours in climbing, photography, writing. But it’s no solo endeavor. I’m better off because of the people around me.

FA & FU

I have a lot of disparate thoughts rolling around in my head right now. However, I can nail down two pretty simply:

1.) I got my first, first ascent.

2.) Fuck Donald Trump.

I cannot ignore the state of my backward country, the state of my disheartened community and the significance of the times. America just collectively decided that Donald Trump — a racist, lying, misogynistic animal of a man — will best represent our domestic and international interests for four years to come. Despite my love for the Pacific Northwest and my modern heritage — the brave, opinionated, conscientious and compassionate people that have nurtured me into the adult I am today — I am ashamed to identify as an American.

However, it does little to complain to Facebook about how fucked up it all is. It’s not enough to apathetically watch from the sidelines. I’m no political activist, but I can certainly evoke some of the change I wish to see in the world. It begins with the small decisions I make each day: am I kind to those around me? Do I participate in building community? Do I take pride in the things that I do? Do I dedicate myself to doing things that benefit others? Yes. As much as I possibly can, I do.

I’ve learned a lot from the climbing community in Smith. Here, I feel supported and encouraged. People want to see me succeed. And it’s contagious, because I feel all of the same sentiment. Together we’re stronger. I believe the same holds true of political affairs.

About a month and a half ago, my friend Alan introduced me to the idea of developing routes in high, obscure corners of the park. Alan, only 24 years old, has dedicated countless hours and a considerable chunk of his own change into developing new climbs, trails and terraces to ensure ease of access.

For most climbers, nabbing a first ascent is appealing. It’s gratifying to know that you were the first person to spot a line, work out the moves and then see it through. It certainly appeals to the ego. But it takes a lot of work: cleaning loose rock with a hammer and crowbar, puzzling out a safe distance between future bolts, drilling the bolt holes, hammering the bolts in and placing the hangers.

For many, just climbing someone else’s established line begets the fix they’re after. But as my friend Chris says, development is a creative endeavor. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s a labor of love. It’s seeing beyond your own climbing and giving back to the broader climbing community.

With Alan’s oversight and willingness to show me the ways, I bolted my first line in the Marsupials. Atop a scree gully, my sweet little line sits high above anything else in the park. The view is spectacular. The climb follows an arete, utilizing negligible features in the rock to a pumpy finish. After completing the first ascent, I named it Your Highness and believe it to be a hard 11a, bordering on 11b.

I am extremely grateful to Alan, Chris and everyone else in the climbing community (local and beyond.) Without the support of numerous people in my life, I wouldn’t be able to experience the rich happiness of accomplishing my first, first ascent.

I hope that people will climb my line and find as much joy as I did in cleaning, projecting and later sending.

In sum, I’d like to acknowledge the tumultuous state and disturbing trends of current events, especially pertaining to the election. But don’t let it distract you from the beauty and possibility of your immediate surroundings. Be good to yourself and to your community. Be kind. Be compassionate. Do well for yourself and for others.

Be excellent to each other and everything will be okay.

F-falling!

Yesterday, I reluctantly pulled myself from my cozy bed and gathered my things to go climbing. The weather was slightly overcast and gauzy clouds draped themselves over the rocks. It seemed like conditions were going to be so-so, but we pushed forward with our plans.

We started on a damp 10- climb that’s spooked me in the past. Given the conditions, I decided not to lead it. Normally, Alan (one of my constant partners at Smith) will pull the rope and laugh at me when I tell him that I’m scared. With him, I’ve consistently onsighted and attempted harder climbs than with any other partner. Each time I climb with Alan, I feel like I get a little stronger. It also helps that he’s a solid 12 climber and projects 13s and 14s.

Fast forward a few climbs and I’m leading a 10c, feet above my last bolt and a small ledge. Fear creeps into my mind and down into my now shaking foot.

I call down to my belayer, “Chris, I think I’m gonna fall.”

Immediately, both of the guys start cheering me on, telling me to stick with it, find my feet, move up, you got this, etc.

But my mind isn’t having any of that positivity nonsense. Instead, I’m fixated on the fact that when I inevitably fall, it’s going to be a long whip given the distance between me and my last bolt. And it happens.

And – surprise – I’m totally fine.

I’m shaking, laughing nervously and finding myself temporarily unable to make eye contact with the guys because I’m embarrassed. I hate falling on lead not for the fear that caused me to fall, but for the way it messes with my headgame.

If lead climbing – especially onsight climbing – is a blank canvas open to your creative interpretation; falling is a disjunctive ink splatter that disrupts the flow.

But it’s not the end of the world. You can incorporate the splatter and then later use your experience to make better art, climb harder, etc. But it still gets to me and the guys knew it.

I start to try to talk my way out of the climb, “I don’t know guys… I just got really scared.” I’m still smiling and laughing, but shaking like a leaf. The adrenaline jolt has woken me up and the part of my brain that handles fear is galvanized. But, being good climbing partners, they tell me that they’re not going to let me down that easy.

I take a moment. Gather my thoughts. And prepare myself to continue up. They’re right, I shouldn’t give up that easy. They also give me good pointers about using my feet, focusing my attention and shifting my weight to better grip the rock. It becomes obvious to me that these guys have been climbing longer and harder than I have; and I’m grateful for it.

Yesterday, I realized the length of the road ahead in my climbing career. I’m going to have to struggle my way up many more climbs, finesse others and fall from time to time. And  you know what? I’m psyched.

This Must Be the Place

Do me a favor, blast this song while you read this post.

I was driving Highway 97 by myself, windows down, some garbage pop song playing loud on the radio and I just knew: I can’t leave Terrebonne.

I’d just come down from climbing in the Marsupials — an obscure crag by Smith-classics standards — and was on my way to meet a friend to climb boulders outside of Bend when it became absolutely clear to me. Between my job, the climbing that I’m doing, the progress that I’m making, the people that I’m meeting, the life that I’m loving, I know this must be the place for me. This is home for now.

Wholistic

Recently, I’ve begun to explore the upper bounds of my present climbing abilities. And believe it or not, I’ve discovered that there’s more to life than just climbing. (Blasphemy, I know.)

When I came to Smith Rock, I intentionally wanted to push the envelope. This week, I’ve lead a few 10+’s, onsighted an 11b and struggled up my first 12a on TR… Consider this post another benchmark. And don’t get me wrong — I’m not done. I have a lifetime of climbing ahead of me, but there’s more to it than that: I have a whole lifetime ahead of me.

I visited Bellingham (also known as Bellinghome) over the weekend. Driving 6+ hours back, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly wasn’t prepared to be awestruck by the myriad colors of fall leaves; the crisp, coastal breeze; a mellow morning spent downtown. Everywhere I looked, I saw memories of a younger version of myself embedded throughout the city of subdued excitement. After briefly living the dirtbag dream in Smith Rock, I really appreciated some of the creature comforts that come along with living in the same place day after day, night after night. Having done both for a while, I now see pros and cons to each living arrangement.

One of the main reasons for returning to Bellingham was to visit my boyfriend Tim, who I’ve mentioned in a post or two before. A few of Tim’s signature traits are that he’s tall, often reserved, collected and pretty damn responsible. He’s the kind of guy you want to venture into the backcountry with because you know he’s going to be able to hold his own, whether you’re walking for miles on end or charging hard in a short 24-hour timeframe.

Tim is incredibly patient with my wildfire personality. Many people that know me well laugh at my constant extremes: stoked or unstoked. However, few people manage to guide me back to a comfortable baseline quiet-stoke like he does. I’m laughing at myself —  as someone who identifies as a climber — because truly, he’s my rock.

Mushy-gushy bullsh aside, I wanted to share with you something I’ve learned from being close to him: Tim loves to ski like I love to climb. But he isn’t preoccupied in developing a personal brand, a massive Instagram following, sponsorship from hip ski companies… He just works hard and skis harder. He loves it and doesn’t need to shove it in your face. And you know what? I love that about him. I think more people should be like Tim.