Thanks, Guys

SATURDAY

One after another, I watch the guys throw big tricks off an improvised jump. I often volunteer to film them partially to support them, but mostly because I’m in awe of what they can do. Before I get into position and pull my phone out, they tell me that I have to hit the jump too. Oh boy. “Okay.” I quietly hope that I’m not getting in over my head.

Will: Backflip. Ashton: Backflip. Drew: 360. Tim: Lincoln loop. Suddenly it’s my turn. I stuff my phone into my chest pocket and pick my way through trees to the starting point above the jump. My skis slide hesitantly a little lower. Then a little lower. The guys cheer me on from below. I point my skis downhill and feel myself blast off the thing.

My air wasn’t huge, but it was pretty big for me. Somehow, my body knew what to do. Rather than spazzing mid air, I felt controlled. I crest the highest point and come back down to a plush, powdery landing. Ooh, it felt so good. And it set the tone for the rest of the day.

A few laps later, I look up from the skin track and see another opportunity to feel the air rush beneath my skis. A sizable cornice had formed above a cliff feature that wrapped around into a sweeping left turn. The time was right and the cornice was calling.

Tim and I climbed above it, keeping our distance from the edge while we determined precisely where to drop off. From above, the landing was somewhat blind. Suddenly my fun cornice drop became a scary question mark in my mind. I paused a moment, balking at my seemingly brash decision. Tim directed me to the sweet spot and encouraged me with his phone out, ready to film my drop.

I often get too caught up in willing myself to jump off things and struggle to announce my drop: “Three… two… one… dropping!” Most times, I’d rather just push off at two so that I don’t have to confront the fear of getting to one. For this reason, I often don’t get the shot, haha.

The air whooshed beneath my skis as I plunged from the cornice above, to a small intermediate rocky cliff, to smooth powder snow below. It all happened so fast. I link a few swooping turns and look back to see Tim perched above the cliff, only higher. He asks me if I want to film. In the interest of saving transition time, I shout back, “No!” And watch him push off, tapping the edge of the cliff before dropping 15 or more feet to the snow below. I immediately regret not taking my phone out.

Tim is my boyfriend, but he’s so much more than that. Most of his boyfriend duties practically stop once we leave the frontcountry. From there on, he’s my partner. Tim rarely pushes me to do things I haven’t set up myself; but there’s something about his encouraging smile that gives me the courage to trust my skis and will myself into the unknown. Often, into the air. It reminds me of when I was learning how to slackline; if there’s somebody there beside you to rest so much as a single finger on, you suddenly find the stability you need to make tiny steps forward. Progress.

couloir

We skied until sunset, pausing before we ripped the skins from our skis for our last run of the day. I looked across the valley and pointed out a couloir saying, “I’d like to ski that.” To my surprise, the guys thought it sounded like a good idea and said that we’d come back for it tomorrow.

SUNDAY

My nervous mind had played out several crash reels on the skin track on the way over and up. What if there’s a mandatory drop and I catch an edge immediately? Will I tumble to the bottom? Will I learn what it feels like to tomahawk? Are there any cliffs I need to worry about? Trying to estimate my margin for error, I asked Drew, “Do you think I should do this? I don’t want to chicken-shit-out at the top.” He reassured me that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Drew’s vote of confidence was good enough for me. My doubts melted away as we crossed over to the peak.

We began to climb a face too steep to skin; Ashton and Drew ahead of me rapidly kicking steps, and Tim right behind me. As we climbed a semi-steep bootpack together, I felt well aware of the fact that I only had a shot at this line because I had the comfortable buffer of their experience to insulate me from poor decision making. Especially Tim.

About halfway up, Tim asked, “Are you nervous?” I can’t remember what I said verbatim, but I remember telling him with paradoxical confidence in my answer that I was. Yeah I’m nervous, but not scared. I was comfortably pushing it. I felt aware of my exposure and risk; I was accepting. There were still opportunities to bail, but so far, no reason to.

Drew and Ashton took a steeper, more committing couloir that split the center of the peak. The ride down looked like what it would feel like to drop a bouncy ball down a stairwell; from either side, step-like cliffs protruded just enough into the narrow corridor before letting out to the valley below.

Tim encouraged me to check out another couloir to the west. Our line was less steep and wider. I could see that this line was definitely going to go for me. Even though it was just the two of us standing there, we didn’t say much to each other. He encouraged me to look out for rocks and stay low in the couloir. And then he was gone.

I paused a moment. Alone. I looked out from my perch, keenly aware of my exposure. There’s something magical about being alone in the mountains. It’s not a feeling that readily lends itself to description; it’s the combination of recognizing your own mortality, and esteeming it with such vigor that it motivates repeat encounters with the ineffable: the vast masses of granite, impossible icy plunges, wilderness as far as the eye can see.

I click into my bindings, well aware that I could kick a ski from my perch 1000 or so feet below. I buckle my boots down. Check all of my zippers. Gloves on. Goggles in place. Okay. It’s time.

My hand fumbles for the radio at my shoulder. “Dropping in 30, boys,” I say, trying to feign my usual casual confidence, but my voice comes out small and higher pitched than usual. I don’t know how long I waited, but I pushed the fear from my mind as I simultaneously pushed my skis over the edge.

And so it goes. My first true couloir.

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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.

 

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.

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.

IMG_4451

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.

The Great American Dirtbag Dream

First question: what do you love more than anything else in this world?

Hang on to the first thought that pops into your mind. I’m not you, so I have no way of knowing what that thing might be. Maybe you’re hyper-social and can’t spend a minute without your friends. Maybe you’ve found the love of your life and their name comes to mind. Maybe you’re a huge nerd for Star Wars or some other creative enterprise with a freaky cult following.

Second question: how do you demonstrate your love for your thing?

Think about your day-to-day. How are you spending your downtime? What about your uptime, if there is such a thing? I think that there are two parts to this answer. First, how often do you truly engage with your thing? And second, what are you willing to forgo to pursue your thing? More on this later.

Third question: when you think about your thing, do you feel happy?

I think most people have something that they hold near and dear to their heart. It seems to me that the happiest people take their thing and make it a priority in their life. I’ve encountered several people who are willing to procrastinate on their happiness by putting their thing aside for a more convenient time, like retirement 60 years down the line. While I’m not advocating for hedonism, I do mean to raise the point that your happiness should be a priority in your life. It’s too short not to.

Enough of this rhetorical nonsense.

Enter Mal: crack fanatic, pebble wrestler and camera-wielding crazy woman.

I recently took a long hard look at my life and the decisions I’ve been making, and you know what? I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but goddamn, am I lucky to know that my passion for climbing is my priority. It shows.

I like when people ask me what I do. It’s a great opportunity to gauge someone’s understanding of the pursuit of happiness. Depending on the person, I’ll either say, “I work my dream job at a climbing gym,” or I’ll say something about how my parents are gracious about my decision to work at a climbing gym despite finishing a four-year degree.

I don’t think it’s completely accurate to call my job at the gym my “dream job,” but it sounds nice, so I continue to use the phrase.

And don’t get me wrong, I love my job at the gym. I love showing people around my church of technicolor polyurethane. I love the way kids’ eyes light up when they run up to the walls. I know that feeling well.

Previously, I said that my passion-as-priority shows. What doesn’t show quite as readily are the sacrifices I’m making for my love. I’m constantly seeking small gigs and extra shifts to make ends meet. My type-A personality has toughened up – albeit only slightly – in response to peoples’ condescension about my career decisions.

First world problems, sure.

My dream job would have me climbing outside often, shooting photos and writing about life lessons harvested from numerous climbing partners and experiences. I’d be living out of a van with a nice man and a dog. (#relationshipgoals) The dirtbag dream!

Basically, I’m seeking the revised version of the American dream, which I’m going to call the great American dirtbag dream: do what you love and love what you do. Deal with the consequences.

How to Bellingham

Step one: Buy a used Subaru and a Patagonia puffy jacket.

These are staples around the City of Subdued Excitement. You will see them everywhere and without them, you’ll be sure to stand out. Even if you never, ever go to the mountains, at least you look like you can hang.

Step two: Choose an outdoor sport and consequently, your entire friend group.

Just get on Instagram or Tinder if you’re not sure which route to take. Do you see yourself as more of casual day hiker or adrenaline-junkie downhill mountain biker? Accomplished alpinist or dirtbag boulderer? Nearby Bellingham, you can ski, climb, hike, run, bike, kayak, downhill unicycle… the list goes on. And yeah, downhill unicycling is a thing.

Step three: Decide whether you’re actually going to do that sport or just say that you do.

There will be plenty of dudebros at the numerous breweries around town that will tell you all about slaying the gnar, but when you hit him up later to get out and get after it, he’s probably got a hangover and a good excuse not to go.

Step four: Just add weed!

When scanning Craigslist for your new digs, you’re definitely going to come across countless declarations of “420 friendly.” Bellingham is very 420 friendly.

Step five: Get yourself a restaurant job to support your gear addiction.

The job market in Bellingham is saturated with bright eyed, bushy tailed college grads. You might be washing dishes for a while despite getting your degree. Further, there’s all of the professionals that have lived elsewhere and settled in Bellingham to begin their families to claim the “real” jobs. They’ve earned it.

With your new sport and friend group – whether or not you actually do it – comes the cost of the equipment it takes to do it. An alpine touring set up doesn’t just materialize out of thin air! And if you’ve decided climbing is your jam, your homies aren’t going to be psyched when you want to repeatedly whip on their gear as you learn how to crush the crack. You need your own rack.

Hustle the tables, sling the ‘za or do whatever you need to do to get by.

Step six: Get out there and do your thing.

When you come home from a day in the mountains, you’ll immediately realize that Bellingham is actually a pretty special place.

In this town, it’s totally appropriate for your appearance to raise the question “Hipster or hobo?” as you make your way from coffee shop to co-op to bar. You could shower like a normal person, or you could have yourself a Bellingham shower by pulling a beanie over that tangled mess of nonsense you call your hair.

It’s okay because nobody cares what you look like. People want to talk to you about who you are, what you do and how it went, because in Bellingham, people are stoked on getting outside and having a good time. Everything else – like your crappy job or your janky Subaru – will figure itself out.

Good News

You can climb Washington in January… It’s just a little on the slow side and kind of painful. Good news, indeed.

I knew that there was a reason why there weren’t going to be a ton of people out there at Index over the weekend, but I didn’t really think much of it until we got started.

We rolled in sometime around 9pm or so – two friends and I in a Volvo station wagon – and all I could think was, “Oh jesus, I didn’t plan this very well.” There was thick snow. Everywhere.

Given that I’d only packed an ultralight backpacking tent intended for Washington’s more pleasant summer months and a 20 degree sleeping bag, I knew that it was going to be a cold night… or that I was going to have to find a cuddle buddy. And I wasn’t about to third-wheel in the back of a Volvo with a couple I’d recently met.

Cuddle buddy it was.

We met up with a fellow Bellingham climber, Stamati, and even though I knew it was rude…

“Hey Stamati! How are you? Can I sleep with you tonight?”

Yeah, I went there. But he was cool with it, so it turned out okay.

The four of us clambered into his camper and waited for the light to come back so that we could get down to the granite business we came to Index for.

Stamati and I watched the sun come up over Mount Index sometime around 9am and each wrestled with the internal struggle: to begin the day and get to climbing or to stay cozy beneath two sleeping bags, two blankets and two jackets in the back of the truck. Eventually, the urge to climb motivated us to begin making breakfast. Coffee helped, too.

Layered up and ready to rock, we made our way over to Japanese Gardens where I volunteered the first belay. It was the first time I had to decide whether or not to give a gloved belay… Definitely chose the gloves because I trusted that they would provide good traction.

Stamati boldly took the first frigid lead and proceeded to run up an Index 5.9 followed by an Index 5.11c. Jesus christ, the guy’s an animal. I guess warming up in 36 degree weather isn’t much of an option.

He took one whip. Then another. And then took a fat whip that made him decide to come down for a moment to rethink his life choices.

bigwhips.jpg
“Hey Stamati, how do you feel after taking that fat whip?” This face.

Another friend of mine put up a rope on Godzilla, an absurdly-trying-but-worth-it 5.9 on the Lower Town Wall. Feeling cocky and cozy in my numerous layers, I said to my party, “I think I’m going to try it on top rope and then decide whether not not to lead it.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a praying mantis do it’s praying mantis thing, but that’s basically how climbing this crack went.

If you don’t have the patience for video nonsense: It was really stupid slow. There was no way in hell I was going to lead that beast of a crack when I felt like my body was too cold to function.

There’s a reason why you’re body says, “Nope, nope, nope,” to climbing Washington in January. But I assure you, your body doesn’t know what it’s missing out on. It’s a slow and painful but good time.

#worthit