Tag Archives: mountains

Waiting for Baby

Silliness in Zion National Park

Lying in bed this morning, my husband reflected that it was five years ago this month that he asked me to marry him. We were in Bozeman, MT in the midst of a two week hiking and backpacking trip, and when his plans of proposing on top of a mountain fell through, he asked me in a cozy cafe over a plate of peach crisp. A year later, in front of family and friends, we vowed our commitment to one another and to a life filled with love and adventure.

Today we await the birth of our first child. It’s an interesting time, the end of a pregnancy. This time of waiting, not sure if the baby will make an appearance tonight or ten days from now. It’s a time of limbo, filled with excitement, nerves, and uncertainty. Time to think; hoping that our decision to bring a child into this world was the right one.

Wind River Range, PIngora Peak in the background.

As I wait, I’ve embarked on a long overdue photo project, sorting through all of our digital photos from the seven years we’ve been together and choosing which to print for photo albums. It’s been so much fun looking back at what we’ve shared. Photos highlighting our travels, hikes, climbs, friends, and time with family. We certainly have filled these years with love and adventure, just as we promised one another we would.

There are photos of us on top of mountains and on the sides of rock formations, hiking and camping in the mountains of the west, rain and shine. Photos of us taking shelter under rocks during rainstorms, sharing laughs and disappointment when things didn’t go as planned. Photos of us exploring the deserts of the southwest, and bundled up against below-zero temperatures on the ice of Lake Superior. Learning to cross-country ski, building snow caves in the backyard, embarking on our first trad leads, multi-pitch climbs, and getting ourselves to the top of the Grand Teton on a picture-perfect day. We’ve had some great experiences together, and the list of things we still want to do is ever-expanding.

Exploring the hillsides of Ireland.

Sunset over Boulder, CO, on top of the first Flatiron

Out on frozen Lake Superior, to see the ice caves. Temp = -15F.

On the summit of a drizzly Twin Sisters Peak in RMNP.

Parents and non-parents alike have loved telling us how much our lives are going to change once we have this baby. Some have even told us, in dramatic style, that our adventurous travels will come to an end completely. Like so many others, we wondered if we were willing to give up the lifestyle we enjoy so much, to give up those experiences that bring us closer to one another, each adventure that we share strengthening our bond.

Even after we made the decision to have a child, I have sometimes questioned if it was the right thing for us. Pregnancy unexpectedly curbed the season’s hiking and climbing ambitions, keeping me close to home while Seth went on trips without me. We spent the summer working on the house instead of embarking on our usual adventures, and I wondered if this is what my future would look like; longing to climb and hike and spend time in the mountains, but unable to. As my belly has expanded and I started to feel this little person take on life, my excitement has been tinged with discouragement. What if this was it? What if all of the people telling us to kiss our lives goodbye were right?

Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton

All smiles in the Black Hills after my first trad lead.

Biking through Yellowstone National Park

As I sort through these photos of our time together, of all of our adventures, big and small, I feel the doomsday words of others dissolve. Instead of imagining a life void of travel and adventure, I look at these images and imagine our child in them with us. A family of three instead of two, exploring this beautiful world we live in. Camping together, hiking together, traveling together, and eventually… maybe even climbing together. I imagine our child growing up with parents who continue to nourish their souls, both separately and together. I don’t grieve over the end of an era, but instead find myself looking forward with excitement to the challenge of a new one.

The pessimism of others is replaced with a sense of optimism about what can be. Our adventures may look different for a while, but they certainly won’t end. I’m so excited to share the things that we love with this person we’re bringing into the world, and for him or her to share the things that they love with us. Our world isn’t shrinking, as so many would have us believe. It’s growing.

Hiking outside of Big Sky, MT

I love conversations with parents who can’t stop gushing about how amazing an experience parenthood is. They’re overflowing with excitement for us and don’t even try to contain it. Yes, it’s hard, yes, it’s challenging, but it’s also the most amazing thing they’ve ever done.

Seth’s traditional summit proposal atop the Grand Teton.

So, as we wait to meet this little person who’s been rattling around inside of me for the last nine months, I feel a sense of optimism. Our photo albums are about to change, and it’s not for the worse. They’ll be filled with new adventures, new challenges, and a new face.

Five years ago, my husband and I sat in a cafe and decided to spend our lives together. We vowed to one another on our wedding day to fill those lives with love and adventure. In this time of limbo, as we wait for our baby to arrive, I am realizing that our adventures aren’t ending, they’re just changing. And, in a way, they’re just beginning. We are about to step into a great unknown, the biggest adventure we’ve ever undertaken.

Trip Report: Wyoming 2014 Part 2 – Grand Teton

I was able to take two weeks off of work for this summer’s big trip, so after a week in the Cirque, there was an entire week left to play in the mountains before heading back home! (If you missed Wyoming Part 1, you can go back and read it here).

The Tetons, silhouetted against the night sky. Photo: Seth Iverson

The Tetons, silhouetted against the night sky. Photo: Seth Iverson

After our hike out of the Cirque, Seth and I drove into Pinedale, WY, found a nice little hotel, and spent a day doing laundry and recovering. We met two guys who were in the middle of hiking the entire Continental Divide Trail, and we saw a rodeo, complete with Mutton Bustin’, my new favorite rodeo event (tiny kids riding sheep = awesome).

Then, up to Jackson we went to meet up with our friend Fred. Our objective was the Grand Teton, via the Owen Spalding route. Seth and I actually climbed the Grand two summers ago (that report is here). That was a guided climb, via the Upper Exum Ridge. This time, we wanted to do it on our own, and Fred agreed to join us! The weather forecast showed a perfect, two day weather window that matched our summit plans exactly. A relief, after being rained out in the Cirque the week before!

The Approach – Trailhead to Lower Saddle

The approach to the Lower Saddle, where we would camp the first night, is brutal. I’m not going to gloss over it, it’s hard. I had, apparently, blocked it out of my memory. We had more weight in our packs this time, carrying our own ropes, gear, tent, etc, so that added difficulty as well.

The trail begins on the valley floor, at Lupine Meadows Trailhead, elevation 6,732 ft. Over the course of six miles, you hike up to the Lower Saddle, at 11,600 ft. That’s nearly 5,000 ft of elevation gain. There’s very little relief, and it’s a mental and physical challenge just to get to the lower saddle.

Heading up Garnet Canyon. Photo: Seth Iverson

Heading up Garnet Canyon. Photo: Seth Iverson

We were feeling good. We heard of a few bear sightings along the trail, but made some noise and didn’t encounter any ourselves. A couple miles in, I was dealing with a painful spot on my hip where my backpack was resting. It had bruised badly the week before in the Cirque and I had hoped a few days of rest would help. Seth came to the rescue and fashioned a piece of his foam sleeping pad to reduce that pressure point and it allowed me to forge ahead.

Our camp at the Lower Saddle

Our camp at the Lower Saddle

About 3/4 of the way up, somewhere around 10,000 ft, I began to feel some signs of mild altitude sickness. Nausea, weakness, headache… I had spent the entire week before between 9,500ft and 11,000 ft, so it didn’t make any sense to me. I had only been back down to 6,000 ft for a few days, so I felt like I should have been fine. We continued on, set up camp on the Lower Saddle at 11,600 ft, and hoped that some rest and a night of sleep was all I needed.

The three of us had dinner, prepped for the morning, rested up. Seth was feeling strong, so he went up and explored the couloir, our final approach to the technical climbing on the Owen Spalding route. When he returned, we were able to talk with the park rangers about the approach (the rangers have a little hut up in the camping zone, and were a great source of information). We felt that we were in a great place to start in the morning.

Mountain shadows over the valley

Mountain shadows over the valley

The Lower Saddle itself is worth the trek. I’ve camped there twice now, and it’s definitely the coolest place I’ve ever spent a night. It sits between the Middle Teton and the Grand Teton. On one side is a view of Jackson Hole, 5,000 ft below. On the other side looks out over a few smaller mountains, and Idaho stretching beyond. We had perfect weather. No wind, no clouds, not too cold… and it happened to be not only a full moon, but the *supermoon* that night. While the sun set over Idaho to the west, the supermoon rose over the Jackson Hole valley floor to the east. It was truly a sight to behold, and a magical evening on the mountain.

Supermoon rising at sunset

Supermoon rising at sunset (on the left)

Fred watching the sun set over Idaho. Photo: Seth Iverson

Fred watching the sun set over Idaho Photo: Seth Iverson

The Climb – Grand Teton via the Owen Spalding route

Our alarms were set for 3:15, with plans to leave camp at 4:15. Some parties headed up as early as 3:45, most without even turning their headlamps on, because the moon was so bright (did I mention that conditions were perfect?).

That morning I still wasn’t feeling well. Nausea, no appetite, headache, and some dizziness as well. Mild altitude sickness is what we suspected. I had been planning this climb with Seth for over a year, we had done all of the prep together, studied the route a million different ways, talked through it over and over. We had planned to share leads; Seth would lead the first pitch (belly roll and crawl), and I would lead the chimneys that followed. A big part of this trip for me was not only summiting, but leading. Leading some pitches, leading the team.. it was really important to me.

After I forced some oatmeal down that morning, the three of us had a final check-in. I wanted to climb. My symptoms were mostly just uncomfortable, and a nuisance, not severe enough to be dangerous. We decided that all three of us would climb, but Seth suggested that if I was feeling at all dizzy, it wasn’t a good idea for me to lead. It was a decision not just for me, but for the team as a whole. I knew he was right, I knew that it was the best thing for our team of three, and I agreed. That was tough. Seth would be leading all of the pitches.

We headed out of camp at 4:15 and began our ascent up the moraine and into the Col, guided by our headlamps and the bright moonlight. A couple of hours later, we were at the first pitch of the Owen Spalding route. The infamous traverse that includes the “Belly Roll” and the “Crawl.” The climbing is very easy, but very exposed as well. An unprotected fall would mean a long drop into Idaho. Seth led the way and brought Fred and I over after him. Several parties lined up behind us, and we were glad that we got an early start!

Looking NW from the start of the Owen Spalding Route. Photo: Seth Iverson

Looking NW from the start of the Owen Spalding Route at sunrise. Photo: Seth Iverson

After that traverse was a short chimney pitch, the “Double Chimney,” and then an option to either do an exposed traverse or climb the “Owen Chimney.” We opted for the latter. The Owen Chimney was my favorite pitch of the climb. Oh, how great it would have been to lead it…. Seth did an amazing job, though.

Climbing the Double Chimney

Me at the base of the Double Chimney. Photo: Seth Iverson

Fred giving me a hip belay

Fred giving me a hip belay. Thanks, Fred! Photo: Seth Iverson

Above the Owen Chimney was Sargeant’s Chimney. Most people were climbing up a chimney to the left, but we climbed the chimney on the right, which definitely had some 5.6 or 5.7 moves in it. We learned later that we had taken the ‘true’ Sargeant’s Chimney, but now days most people take the easier variation to the left.

Above this last technical chimney were some slabs meandering back and forth, and then a patch of sunlight above. The first sunlight we had seen all morning, as the whole route is in the shade (and COLD because of it!). Seth offered for Fred to lead us to the summit. Fred couldn’t believe we were there, and I distinctly remember that feeling the first time we climbed it two years ago. We made our final steps up to the summit into the warmth of the sun, and enjoyed the view. We had done it!

Fred leading the final steps to the summit

Fred leading the final steps to the summit Photo: Seth Iverson

On the summit of the Grand Teton. Fred, me, Seth.

On the summit of the Grand Teton. Fred, me, Seth.

Twenty minutes on the summit, and it was time to head back down. We roped back up and started working our way back down the slabs. One short rappel down Sargeant’s Chimney took us to the big rappel, a 120 ft. mostly free-hanging rappel. We triple-checked everything and Seth headed down first, followed by Fred, myself, and a guy we met who had just free-soloed the Upper Exum route.

The rappel was more intense than I remembered, maybe because we were on our own and not with a guide this time. I quadruple checked everything, then checked again. The first 30 ft. walk down a face, and then the bottom comes into view, and the rope ends are WAY THE HECK DOWN THERE. Then the wall falls away, and the last half is free hanging. Exhilarating is a mild word to describe it.

After the rappel, the technical parts of the day were over. We made our way back down the col and arrived back at our tent on the lower saddle mid-afternoon.

Heading back down the col to camp. Photo: Seth Iverson

EyeofNeedle

Fred at the Eye of the Needle. Photo: Seth Iverson

Seth going through the eye of the needle.

The three of us had lunch (I was finally able to eat a full meal for the first time that day), rested briefly, packed up camp, and began the long descent. We had a camping permit for the Meadows, about halfway down, but when we got there we decided to book it all the way back to the car. Our totals for the day were 2,000 ft of ascent, 7,000 ft of descent, and approx. 8 miles total. We arrived back at the trailhead at 9:30pm, making for 17 hours straight of physical activity. We were toasted.

We headed into Jackson for some pizza, and called it a night.

The wrap-up

We climbed that mountain, a two day ordeal with route finding and technical climbing. We did it on our own, and we did it well. I feel immensely proud of that. It was a mental challenge, it was a physical challenge, and it was also a challenge of confidence. Can we actually do this? Having climbed that same mountain previously with a guide, I knew I could physically do it, but having a guide makes it still seem magical and mysterious somehow. Going on our own, doing the planning on our own, making sure we had the necessary skills, the fitness, studying everything over and over again, talking through scenarios and what-ifs… and then actually putting all of that into practice and doing it… and succeeding…. was empowering. And it took a lot of the magic away. I want to do MORE.

With that being said, I grappled quite a bit with the disappointment of not leading. Because I wasn’t feeling well, Seth led every pitch. It was awesome that he took the lead when the time called for it. I am grateful to him for that, and to have such a strong leader on our team.  I had wanted to lead with him, though. And, even though I was involved in all of the prep and the decisions leading up to that morning, circumstances changed, and plans changed. I didn’t feel well, and Seth took my leads. For weeks afterwards, I struggled with a feeling that I didn’t contribute in the way that I wanted to. Instead of Seth and I co-leading, Seth led, and Fred and I followed. Even though we had successfully climbed the Grand, and we did it fully on our own, without a guide, I didn’t fully meet my personal goals. I felt that I had failed somehow and struggled with that quite a bit.

It’s been nearly a month since our summit, and I’ve had a chance to work through that disappointment and come to terms with it. I still believe that we made the right decision, based on how I felt that morning. When you’re part of a team doing something dangerous like climbing a mountain, every decision is about everybody, and not just about one person. The decision for Seth to lead wasn’t about me. It was about the safety of the team. And it was the right choice.

I’m so proud of the three of us, Fred, Seth, and myself, for our work together as a well-functioning team, and for our successful summit of the Grand Teton. It was an amazing experience, and I am so glad that I got to share it with two incredible people.

As for my personal disappointments? I’ll be heading to Boulder, CO with Seth for my birthday weekend, and I have plans to lead the *crap* out of some flatirons. Seth has already said that he will gladly follow. Wish us luck.

Summit Selfie! Seth and me.

Summit selfie! Seth and me. Photo: Seth Iverson

Trip Report: Wyoming 2014 Part 1 – Cirque of the Towers

Bags packed and ready to go!

Bags packed and ready to go!

Standing in the trailhead parking lot, I realized that I had never been on an actual backpacking trip before. I had camped, yes. Hauled heavy backpacks, yes (full of climbing gear, mostly). This time, though, once we left the parking lot, we wouldn’t be returning for five days.

Our packing had been meticulous. We had separated our food by meal, labeling each in its very own ziploc bag, to make sure we didn’t bring more than we needed (I had no idea how heavy food is!). We packed well. I used everything in my pack except for 2 items of clothing, which turned out to make a fine pillow. Still, with the addition of climbing gear, those packs were not light.

We were hiking into the Wind River Range, from the Big Sandy Trailhead. Our first destination was Big Sandy Lake, about six miles in with minimal elevation gain, so a nice easy start. We had our eyes on Haystack Mountain for our first objective. Then we’d hike back into the Cirque of the Towers. Shark’s Nose, Overhanging Tower, Tiger Tower, and Pingora were all on our list.

Here’s the report, and some pretty pictures:

Big Sandy Lake/ Haystack Mountain:

Home sweet home, at Big Sandy Lake

Home sweet home, at Big Sandy Lake

Day 1, we hiked the six miles to Big Sandy Lake from the trailhead and set up camp. It was a lovely little campsite. The lake was near, so lots of water nearby. We treated all of our water, especially here, since it’s a pretty well-used area, and a lot of folks have their gear brought in on horses. Bear precautions were taken the entire trip. We hung our food and smelly things and ate away from the tent.

From Big Sandy Lake is a beautiful view of Haystack Mountain. It’s a monolith of solid rock that dominates the landscape to the east of the lake, and there are quite a few routes on it. We had dinner, fought the mosquitos, and gazed at Haystack.

Haystack Mountain, over Big Sandy Lake. Photo: Seth Iverson

Haystack Mountain, over Big Sandy Lake. Photo: Seth Iverson

The next morning we woke up to rain, and it continued raining for most of that day. No climbing for us. Seth and I donned our rain gear, and hiked over there anyway. We scrambled up onto the shoulder of the mountain, stopping before we got to anything too technical.

Shoulder of Haystack Mountain. Photo: Seth Iverson

Shoulder of Haystack Mountain. Photo: Seth Iverson

The view from the shoulder of the mountain was beautiful, and surprisingly high above the lake. Even though it was a pretty wide area of low-angle slab, it felt fairly exposed and way the heck up there. The hike and scramble up to the shoulder was worth it for the view. Next time we’ll, hopefully, be able to climb all the way to the top.

We spent one more night at Big Sandy before packing up and heading up to our next destination.

Cirque of the Towers

From Big Sandy Lake is another 6 mile hike up to the Cirque of the Towers, our main destination for this leg of the trip. The morning rain stopped just in time for us to pack up our tent, and held off until we were set up in the Cirque. Very kind! The hike up to the Cirque is more involved than the first six miles to Big Sandy. A few sets of switchbacks, some steep sections, some pretty mellow sections, and a couple of boulder fields, especially if you take the climbers trail. That climbers’ trail is shorter, but the boulder field is kind of a pain with heavy packs. Thank goodness for trekking poles!

Mount Mitchell. Photo: Seth Iverson

Mount Mitchell and War Bonnet, covered in clouds.. Photo: Seth Iverson

The last pass before entering the Cirque is aptly named “Jackass Pass,” and after that, the towers come into view in all of their glory. What a beautiful place! We found a nice spot to set up camp, with a view of Pingora Peak and Wolf’s Head right outside of our front door.

Cirque of the Towers. Photo: Seth Iverson

Cirque of the Towers. Photo: Seth Iverson

Weather in the Cirque turned out to be even more finicky than down at Big Sandy, with the added factor of 2000 ft towers blocking any view of anything heading our way. After our arrival, for example, we headed up to scout the approach for one of our climbs. The sky was blue with a few puffy white clouds floating through. At one point about 30 minutes into our scouting hike, we turned around to see that one of the peaks was quickly being enveloped by a dark, ominous storm cloud. A few minutes earlier, that cloud had been nowhere to be seen. It was as if it had just materialized, right there. We booked it back down the mountain (I’m pretty sure I’ve never gone through a boulder field that quickly in my life!) and just as we crawled into our tent, it began hailing. *phew*!

Rain, rain, go away!

Rain, rain, go away!

The next day we woke up to low, stagnant clouds covering the mountains. We had breakfast and headed up the trail with our gear, hoping that the sun would burn the clouds off. At one point, the sun sent a brilliant spotlight from the east, shining through the greyness of the thick cloud cover in the Cirque. It was a sight to see!

Spotlight of sun on a grey mountain

Spotlight of sun on a grey mountain

But alas, the clouds were stubborn and moved back and forth like a seesaw for most of the morning.

Overhanging Tower, our climb for the day, is back there in the clouds.

Overhanging Tower, our climb for the day, is back there in the clouds.

Heading to Lonesome Lake

Heading to Lonesome Lake

 

We eventually gave up and went on a hike to Lonesome Lake instead, spending a nice, relaxed lunch by the lake. A lovely way to spend our time.

 

Lonesome Lake

Lonesome Lake

An afternoon hailstorm came through camp once we returned (again, very nice of it to wait). At that point, we gave up hopes of climbing and spent the evening drinking whiskey on a rock at our beautiful campsite and reminiscing about life, adventures, and good friends.

Cirque of the Towers, War Bonnet. Photo: Seth Iverson

Cirque of the Towers, War Bonnet. Photo: Seth Iverson

That night, the sky cleared, the moon came out, and it was a picture perfect night in the Cirque. We once again packed our climbing gear and set our alarms for early the next morning. We would head up the trail to the base of our climb unless it was actively raining when we woke. With the sky clearing up and the beautiful night that we were witness to, I thought, for sure, that we’d be climbing the next morning.

We woke to a downpour.

Seth and I cooked breakfast under a nearby tree, waited for the rain to pause, and stuffed our belongings back into our packs for the 12 mile hike back to the car. The rain, once again, was kind enough to pause for our hike.

Seth hiking out of the Cirque

Seth hiking out of the Cirque

So, we didn’t get any climbing in, but I did go on my very first backpacking trip. We spent five days and four nights in the Wind River Mountains, went on a few day hikes, and it was just plain gorgeous. Cell phones didn’t work, I got to spend some quality time with my husband, we saw some friends out there… all in all a great few days in the mountains.

The mountains of Wyoming continue to amaze me with their beauty. The Winds are rugged and raw, and it takes some work to get back there. Definitely on my list to go back and see more. Maybe next time we’ll even get to use our rope and gear.

Keep an eye out here for Part 2 of our trip, the Tetons! Camping at 11,600 ft on the night of the supermoon was a nice touch.

Trip Prep: Wyoming 2014

Just a quick post here. Our trip out to the mountains of Wyoming is approaching, and the prep has begun! We’ve been physically preparing for a few months now; practicing our trad climbing and getting into good physical shape. Now we’re close enough to start packing!

Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming

Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming (photo courtesy of Seth)

This trip presents a few challenges on the packing front. We’re heading into the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range and will be in the backcountry for about five days, miles away from the trailhead. Weight adds up quickly, especially when you add a rope and climbing gear to the mix, so we’re examining everything, looking at what can be used for multiple purposes, what we need for survival and emergencies, and what’s more for comfort. For example, we’ve opted for a tent (not a super-necessity, but awesome to keep the bugs out), but are passing on camp pillows. Rolled up clothes work just fine. Yes to sunscreen, no to dry shampoo (my hair is going to look *amazing*). Yes to coffee. Definitely yes to coffee.

The same went for our climbing gear. As fairly new trad leaders, we tend to take along more gear than we need. For this trip, we did a close examination of our rack and got it down to something reasonable. Still quite a bit of weight, but much lighter than it was.

Seth's homemade tether

Seth’s homemade tether

A bit of homemade gear innovation by Seth: he made tethers for our nut tools out of parachute cord. We like to have our nut tools attached to something so we don’t drop them off a cliff and have been using long slings up to this point, but the slings tend to get caught on stuff and tangled in the rest of the gear. Seth has fixed that. Pretty awesome.

After the Winds we’re heading up to the Tetons, at which time our team of two will become a team of three. So, we made some team prusiks for the occasion (in the season’s hottest colors, of course). Shiny new prusiks are awesome and fun, and when used correctly, they save lives.

Team prusiks. Wyoming 2014.

Team prusiks. Wyoming 2014. Not shown: two more team prusiks.

On the food front, we’re portioning out meals day by day before we pack them, with a bit of extra just in case. This will, hopefully, help us to avoid packing too much and save some weight there.

Very little in the way of clothing changes, mostly we’ll just have layers and rain gear and plan on wearing the same thing for 5 days. We’ll be a stinky pair by the time we come out of the Winds. Luckily, we’ll be heading straight up to the Tetons, and the showers of the AAC Climbers’ Ranch. Yay for showers!

We’re reading up on routes and getting beta. I’m brushing up on my weather knowledge (Seth got me a nice little book about reading the weather), and things are lining up!

On a related, but not-related note, this trip will be a step into new territory for me. It’ll be my longest time in the backcountry, completely reliant on what I take with me. It’ll be my first time camping in grizzly bear country (most of the grizzlys are in the north part of the range, but a few have migrated south, which is where we’ll be). And the climbs on our list, although in the easy to moderate range, are not small. We’ve chosen alpine trad routes, just what I like. They’re tall and exposed, and I know they will challenge me and push me. I’m definitely stepping out of my comfort zone, and I know that I’ll learn a lot as a result. I’m nervous and looking forward to it, all at the same time.

Any other pack weight advice you can offer for 5 days in the backcountry with climbing gear in tow? Gear innovations? Tips and tricks? I’d love to hear them!

Everything’s Changing.

“The only thing constant in life is change.” – François La Rochefoucauld

Everything is changing. All the time. And that includes us, as people.

An advantage of aging is that over time you get to see the parts of you that change, and the parts of you that stay the same. You get a pretty good handle on the “core” stuff; what defines you as a human being. And you begin to clearly see the stuff that changes over time; things that maybe felt like a “core” part of who you were at one time.

We’re all slowly changing, all the time. Like mountains, slowly heaving up out of the earth. Glaciers moving, ever so slowly. Even in those stretches where we feel that everything is good, that we’re settled, we’re imperceptibly changing. Evolving. Moving. Sometimes that change happens quickly and violently, spurred by a specific event. Most of the time, though, it’s slow, and we don’t realize it’s happening until it already has.

When I started this blog, I was fairly new to climbing. My life before climbing was mostly dedicated to music. I was a bassoonist, well on my way to making that my career. I had focused on bassoon since I was 12, and forced myself to march down that path far beyond when it became obvious that it was no longer the right one. It took me a long time to accept that a part of me that felt so fundamental could change. That inflexibility caused me a lot of strife.

Bassoon. Then a few years of floating…. trying to accept a move away from the only life I had ever known, looking for what was next. And suddenly, there was climbing. I fell in love with it. Hard. Climbing has taught me the importance of risk, has forced me to face fear, to deliberately move into mental discomfort and to meet myself in that place, face myself head on. I’ve learned a lot about myself through climbing, and I continue to do so.

A successful climb in Yosemite

A successful climb in Yosemite.

Even while climbing continues to be a big part of my life, I can feel my passion for it evolving and changing underneath me. Ever so slowly. At first I was climbing in the gym and at the crags, climbing hard, chasing grades, trying to be the best climber I could be. Looking back, I can see where the change started, with my first multi-pitch climbs, including a big, but pretty chill, climb out in Yosemite… I remember clearly the sound of the gear clinking as Lizzy led those pitches ahead of me. The quiet and peace of the rock, and the way it felt to climb that day. A year later, I climbed the Grand Teton. The Grand was an experience that I still haven’t been able to fully put into words. An experience that didn’t fully sink in for weeks afterwards. Since that climb, my drive to pursue hard sport routes has vanished. I’ve been dreaming of alpine climbing.

I have friends who want to climb the hard stuff; little crimpers on vertical rock. I’ve tried to get my mind back there so that I can join them, but just haven’t been able to. I’ve changed. Seth and I are heading out to Wyoming next month to tackle one or two routes in the Wind River Range, and then up to do a climb of the Grand Teton on our own. All alpine climbing, all trad. Just a few objectives for two weeks of time. A shift from where I was a few years ago.

And even while I plan and dream about this trip, I think that maybe I’d like to do some backpacking sometime, without the climbing gear. Go trek through the mountains for a few days, or a few weeks, just for the sake of being there. Maybe I’ll like it. Maybe there will be another shift towards just plain old backpacking. Or maybe there won’t. Maybe I’ll stick with alpine climbing and mountaineering for a while. Or maybe I’ll decide to sit home and knit instead. There’s no way to tell.

We’re all constantly changing. It’s the reason that friendships come and go. Why relationships come and go. Often, we form relationships based on common interests. Only the bonds that go deeper, that go to the core of who we are, survive our personal evolutions.

Change is ok. Unavoidable even. I’m still climbing, but I’m a different climber than I was four years ago. I’m still a musician, but in a different way than when I started. The stuff that’s stayed the same is deeper, and even those parts of me that feel central are slowly evolving, just at a slower pace.

We all owe it to ourselves to be flexible; to accept that we’re ever changing. We tend to identify ourselves by the things that we do, so when those interests change, we feel a need to hold on. It takes courage to accept ourselves as we morph and evolve.

This trip coming up reflects my changing goals and passions as a climber, as an adventurer, and as a person. I’m climbing to get somewhere and to be in a beautiful place, not just for the sake of climbing. It’ll be a big trip, and I have no doubt that I am going to learn a lot about myself. I can’t wait to get out to those mountains!

How do you view change? Have you noticed these kinds of evolutions within yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Mountain Training 2014 Progress Report

Seth and I will be spending close to two weeks in the mountains this August. I’ve mentioned briefly that stairs are one of our modes of training. Things started out a bit rough (see here), but are definitely improving.

There’s a set of 134 steps near our house, each step being 6 inches tall. We did a bit of math and determined that climbing that staircase 15 times equals approximately 1,000 ft of vertical distance. We’ve been heading over there weekly with packs on and adding a bit more as we go. Sometimes we’ll mix in doubles (2 steps at a time) with singles to mimic the higher steps involved in 3rd class scrambling, and to keep our brains occupied as well.

I’m hoping that all of this stair climbing with a weighted pack will get me close to where I need to be for our trip. It’s hard to know how climbing a bunch of stairs at 800 ft. above sea level will translate to hiking up a mountain at 10,000 ft. I do know that our stair workouts are feeling quite a bit easier than when we started, so progress is being made. Surely it will at least partially translate. That is what I’m telling myself.

This week will be a big one, we have four days of stair climbing planned, and then I have my kettlebells classes as well.

I’m so very excited to get back here:

Grand Teton

Three weeks and counting!

Training for the Mountains: Minnesota Style

My plans for August include, among other things, climbing a big mountain. From the bottom to the top is 7,000 vertical feet, 5,000 of those hiking with a heavy pack. So I’ve started amping up my training to prepare.

They say the best way to train for hiking uphill with a heavy pack on is to hike uphill with a heavy pack on. What do you do if you’re a Minnesotan with limited access to large hills? The next best thing:

In absence of mountains, stairs will work

In absence of mountains, stairs will work

On Sunday, Seth and I threw ropes and climbing gear in our packs and set out for these stairs. They’re 6 inches tall, so 2,000 steps is 1,000 ft of vertical gain. 134 steps … I did the math and determined that we should climb up and down the stairs 15 times. No big deal.

After the 8th trip back down, my legs were involuntarily quivering and I felt like a complete wimp. We took a break, ate a banana, and finished up our 15. Felt pretty good, patted ourselves on the back, continued on with our days.

My ‘up’ muscles felt fine. My ‘down’ muscles…. not so much. Yesterday (the dreaded 2nd day), my calves were so tight that I couldn’t walk normally (I still can’t). It’s been a physical comedy over here, trying to walk, trying to stand up from a seated position…. I resisted, but finally had to break down and explain to my kettlebells instructor why I wouldn’t be joining class. His response was sympathetic, and so perfect:

“I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve been a victim of my own zeal.  I would be a rich man” – Ron Wetzell, RKC

A victim of my own zeal. Yep.

Lessons learned:

1. Sometimes less is more. Take it slowly and figure out where you’re at *before* leaping headfirst into 2,000 steps up and down a staircase with a weighted pack….

2. Walking down a set of stairs is a different motion that hiking downhill

3. My calves need some more training before heading to the mountains

I’m hoping to be healed up enough to return to my kettlebells training tomorrow. Then another crack at the stairs on Friday. Maybe I’ll dial it back to 1,340 steps….

 

So, you’re still doing the climbing thing?

This is a question that’s come up a few times recently. And it always takes me back a little. “Oh, so you’re still doing the climbing thing?”

I started climbing 5 years ago. I wandered into a climbing gym to get a gift certificate for someone else, but as soon as I saw those walls I knew I had to come back and climb for myself. And I did. The next week I went back on my own and climbed the auto-belays until I got hooked up with a group of folks to climb with. In the five years I’ve been climbing, I’ve spent a lot of time in the gym, but I’ve moved as much of my climbing outdoors as possible, climbing in Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, California, Nevada, and Colorado. I’ve done big multi-pitch climbs, climbed a mountain, and have ventured into the world of trad leading. I’m still doing the climbing thing. And I have no intentions of stopping any time soon.

This question makes me think, though. What *is* this climbing thing that I’m doing? Why do I love it so much? And why don’t I share that more with non-climbers?

Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton

Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton

In my calendar, climbing takes up one to two nights a week at the gym. When the weather’s right, I’ll be out a few times a month on the rocks nearby (or ice in the winter). And then there are usually a few big trips a year out to places with bigger and better rocks.

For me, climbing is so much more than a fun activity. It also makes me a better person. That probably sounds a bit cheesy, but there it is. Dealing with the risks and the fear involved in climbing makes most of the stuff in my daily life seem pretty small and manageable. It puts things in perspective. A challenging lead climb in the gym makes the rest of my week feel calmer. When I’m doing the bigger stuff, a nice multi-pitch climb perhaps, a lot of the unimportant stuff melts away. My goals are to stay alive, to stay as safe as possible, and to hopefully have a successful climb. That’s it. No room for worrying about anything else.

That simplicity bleeds into the rest of my life. I find myself more and more wanting to keep things simple in all aspects of my life. When climbing, simple is better. A simple anchor system is easy to check. Simplicity is often the most efficient, and efficiency is key when moving up big rocks. My life works better that way, too. The simpler the better. I want to spend time with the people that I love. I want to fill my life with things that I enjoy. I want to do good work and contribute to the world in a positive way. Anything that gets in the way of those things just complicates everything.

Looking for the next move

Out at Taylors Falls, MN

So, yes, climbing is a big part of my life. And it’s about more than just the climbing. But, I’m not very good at sharing that with my friends and family who don’t climb. I know that to some it seems really scary. “That’s crazy” is a response that I’ve gotten very used to hearing. I tell my mother that I’m going on trips, but I don’t give her the details. I know that it makes her worry, and I don’t want to do that to her.

The risks that we take climbing are hard to explain to non-climbers. In a society where risks are seen as something to be avoided, I’m sure it’s baffling to see people who deliberately choose to do something that’s seen as risky. Yes, climbing is statistically pretty safe, but the consequences of things going wrong are big. It’s a calculated risk, and it’s one that I’ve decided is worth it. I’d rather take that calculated risk than to sit in my home feeling afraid of the world. I’ve been there before, afraid of the world, and it was no fun. Climbing is a big reason that I’m not there anymore.

Calculated risk. That’s where I think we, as climbers, can connect with others about what we do. There’s a saying that goes “do something that scares you every day.” That scary thing is different for each person, but it exists for everyone, and I think that’s where we can find some common ground. What is that thing for them? Why do they do it, or maybe dream about doing it?

I’m interested in hearing how you connect with non-climbers about your climbing. Is it important to you that your friends and loved ones understand what climbing is to you? Or do you generally avoid talking about it? If you share, where do you find common ground?

I Did That! A Reverse Bucket List

Last week, Katie of Adventure Inspired wrote up her reverse bucket list, a list that looks back at things she *has* accomplished, instead of only looking forward. I loved the idea so much that I decided to write up one of my own. What a great way to reflect on the awesome things that I’ve done, and create a nice springboard from which to do even *more* awesome stuff! Here’s mine:

  • Climb: When I was a kid I could always be found up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. There was a perfect spot to hang out and read a book, or look out around the neighborhood. Now I’m climbing rock (and plastic) instead. Climbing is fun, it’s challenging, and it keeps me growing as a person. It takes me to beautiful places, both locally and around the country, and I’ve met some great people. Climbing has changed me for the better.

  • Play in a professional orchestra: I studied bassoon seriously for a good portion of my life. I’ve performed with full orchestras, chamber groups, and in solo recitals, and worked freelance on a semi-professional level for several years. One of the high points was playing a few concerts with the Akron Symphony Orchestra in Akron, OH. I got to play some of my favorite repertoire with a fantastic group of musicians. It was magical.
  • Get paid to travel: While playing bassoon, I got paid to play in orchestras in the Cayman Islands and Monterrey, Mexico. All travel expenses included.
  • Move across the country on my own: I moved to Minnesota, leaving friends and family behind, and not knowing a soul in my new home. It was scary, but I did it, and now I feel that I could move anywhere and be ok (although Minnesota is pretty rad, so no immediate plans).
  • IMG_1292Build my own bicycle: With some help, I took my dad’s old steel ten-speed, stripped it down to the frame, repainted it, and rebuilt it as a single speed. I love this bike, and I love it even more knowing that I built it myself. I now can do most repairs on my own when I need to. Fun fact: my bike was recently used in a Columbia Sportswear photo shoot.
  • Take a trapeze lesson: I had a day on my own in L.A. a few years back, and decided to take a flying trapeze lesson on the Santa Monica Pier. Lots of fun.
IMG_2019

She flies through the air….

  • Learn to garden: My mom has a green thumb, which I did not inherit. But, the past few years I’ve been experimenting with growing my own vegetables. There have been successes and miserable failures, but each year I learn a little bit more. Last year I started some seeds indoors and grew my own seedlings to plant outside! It’s great fun, and I have big plans, already, for the upcoming season.
  • Climb a mountain: Actually climb, with ropes and equipment. I climbed the Grand Teton with my husband this past summer and it was so very, very cool. Definitely one of my life’s highlights to date.
Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton. Photo: Greg Duncan

Nearing the summit of the Grand Teton. Photo: Greg Duncan

  • _MG_0392

    My hand-knit hiking sweater

    Knit a sweater: I learned to knit about five years ago from a good friend, and before I knew it I was beyond hats and on to knitting socks that I actually wear on my feet. I’ve knit myself a hiking sweater and a vest that I wear constantly, and right now I’m in the midst of knitting a kick-ass sweater for my husband. I’m ridiculously proud to be able to say that I knit things like sweaters.

  • Drive a Tractor: I was on a farm, there was a tractor, and I ended up driving it. True story
  • Be physically strong: After four years of climbing and two years of consistent kettlebell training, I can say that I am strong. I can snatch a 16kg kettlebell and climbed across the ceiling again last night at the gym. I’ve learned to do pull-ups this year, and am working up to 3000 pull-ups with my husband.  Ladies, if you’ve never done any strength training, I highly recommend it. The feeling of strength is empowering (and you don’t have the testosterone in your body to get bulky).
  • Bike through Yellowstone: Seth and I rented bikes and rode 34 miles round trip to Old Faithful and back to our car. We cautiously passed a herd of buffalo standing at the side of the road, complete with frolicking baby buffalo.

    2010-10-28_16-10-08_275

    A cold ride through the plains of Yellowstone.

  • Overcome my fear of flying: I once got to a flight gate, turned around, and went back home, because I couldn’t will myself to get on the airplane. While I still have to use some tricks, I can fly when I need to and not have it completely ruin my day. I love to travel, so it’s something I’m glad I’ve been able to deal with!
  • IMG_1039Learn to Cross-Country Ski: Minnesota has taught me that when the winters are long and cold, it’s best not to stay locked indoors. When I get out and enjoy the snow, my sanity remains intact.
  • Write on the interwebs: This blog is small, and it has a only a modest amount of readers, but I know that some of my posts have had positive effects on people. Whether it’s inspiration, or just creating stoke for their own adventures, I love to be able to connect with people, even if in a small way. Here are some of my favorite posts.
  • 2012_11_06_02324Find a fairy tale relationship: A little sap to throw in here…. I got married in my 30s, so I went through enough relationships that didn’t quite work to realize what a gem I have now (turns out love is *not* all you need. Sorry, Beatles). My husband is the kind of man I’ve always dreamed of having in my life, and I am thankful for him every day. Not only do I have a great man in my life, but together we make a great team. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
  • Learn to play in the outdoors: I have *always* wanted to go camping and hiking and frolic in the great outdoors. But, for some reason, it just never quite happened. I blame the many hours a day chained to a practice room in my former life, but the truth is I just never made it happen. In the past few years, I’ve camped and hiked more than I had probably in my entire life before that, and I love it. Love it, love it, love it.

That was a fun exercise! Thanks to Katie for the idea. What’s on *your* reverse bucket list?

 

Mountains on the Brain

I have mountains on the brain. I’ve been enamored with climbing for quite some time, but it’s never been quite like this.

That’s me, way up there on the Grand. Exhausted, but happy.

Me, heading up Wall Street. First roped-up pitch of the Upper Exum.

You may already know that Seth and I took a trip out to Wyoming last month and spent a week in the Tetons. The pinnacle of our trip was climbing the Grand Teton. Something about those mountains, and about that climb, has dug its hooks into me, and it won’t let go.

I’ve been on climbing trips before. I go out, I have a great time, I return to Minnesota, and although I feel a renewed excitement for climbing, it’s usually something I look back on fondly as I casually plan my next trip. But, this time is different. Continue reading