Archives for category: Climbing

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That picture above. Right there. It’s gorgeous, right? Only a few miles from the road, yet wonderfully rugged. The North Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Hours from home. Fresh air, steep terrains, squeaky pikas, bear prints in the snow, flowing mountain streams. Stuff I’ve been traipsing in and around for almost 10 years.

I had a panic attack in the valley. Deep in the forest. Just out of the photo frame. Bottom right.

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This was part of the Annual Ladies Backpacking Trip. Organized by one of my favorite outdoor ladies, it was guaranteed to be a good time. Get in a heart-pounding hike up and over a few ridges, with the potential to camp by a lake and even bag a peak. Most of us on the trip are constantly hiking and climbing with boyfriends/husbands/male partners, so the women’s trip is a refreshing change of company.

Despite all the promise of a trip with lovely company and views, part of me wanted to stay at home and just … stop. I’d just ended five months of absolute insanity. It’d been two weeks since the last of it, ending with the massive bike ride from Seattle to Portland.

I even complained to Maria a week before the trip. “I’m so exhausted and tired, I have no desire to leave my house.” No, you have to go, she said, don’t bail. I’ll even drive.

* sigh * Ugh. OK. I guess.

As email traffic increased leading up to the trip, I started to get excited. I started packing Monday night, even though we didn’t leave until Friday morning. I also had no choice, as apparently my life of insanity had not stopped and I had no time Tues-Thurs evenings to pack. I also was determined to go as light as possible, so I gave myself time to go through my gear and ditch things (and, well, buy a smaller pack). I eventually got down to 17 lbs of gear and 13 lbs of food and water = 30 lbs in a 50 liter pack, with room to spare! That’s a RECORD for me. However, just before we hit the trail, I added meat, which brought my pack up to 41 lbs, the heaviest of the group. FAIL. Seriously, 11 more pounds of food? I was so mad at myself.

We met the other five women at the trailhead and heartily started up our first trail: 4 miles and 3,000 feet to Easy Pass. With all the chattering and excitement, that seemed like a piece of cake and before we knew it, we were having lunch three hours later at the pass in the shade, with Fisher Basin open before us.

From there we could see the rest of the day’s route: drop down to the valley, climb out the southern end of it, scramble up and over some rocky ledges (a.k.a. “The Cakewalk”) and then drop down to Silent Lakes for base camp. Great! (Even if “The Cakewalk” looking nothing like that).

We started down to the valley, dropping 1,500 feet in 2 miles, under the oppressive heat of the July sun, and swarmed by mosquitoes and black flies. We reached the bottom of the valley near Fisher Camp and turned southeast, following a rough boot path with some log hopping.

At this point, I was doing OK. I’d enjoyed the climb to the pass, but something started to bother me on the way into the valley.

It started slowly with a sense of not wanting to be there. I felt guilty about that but then those feelings started to get raw: Damn my pack is heavy, why the hell did I pack so much food, I was totally cool with 30 lbs last night, I’m so exhausted, I guess I’m still trashed from the past few months, damnit it’s really hot all I want to do is go home I want to be in my gardens if I’m going to work this hard I want it to be at my house working with iced tea brewing on the backporch and feeling a sense of accomplishment why do I do this to myself–

Then came on the shallow breathing followed by a racing heartbeat, then a feeling of suffocation.

Maria was just a few yards in front of me.

“Maria?” my voice breaking to my surprise, and then suddenly feeling myself mentally, emotionally and physically crumble. “I’m… done. I’m just … done.”

She turned toward me.

“Oh, yes I know I am too. We bit off more than we can chew. And it’s really hot right now.”

“No, it’s not that,” I said as we met in the middle, my trekking poles dragging behind me like a toddler with a blanket. “I’m, like, DONE. I can’t go any more. I’m just …”

I then burst in tears and collapsed in her arms, and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

Like body-goes-limp-but-trying-to-catch-my-breath-while-trying-to-get-it-all-out-sobbing. I can’t remember the last time I cried so hard.

Maria held me for awhile before she gently guided me to a log to sit down and collect myself while she went to catch the girls.

I sat there dumbfounded, numb. I wanted to turn around and march right back up that hot hill and then back down to the car. It was only 5 miles. It was not hard. I knew I was still trashed from the past few months but I didn’t realize it would hit like this. I’m supposed to enjoy these types of outings. These types of outings are supposed to relax me. Take me away from everyday life.

When Maria returned, she didn’t have her backpack, which immediately crushed me.

“We’re going to stop just a little ways up here and make camp,” she said. “We won’t go all the way to the lakes and one of the other women is pretty done too. The heat is getting to all of us.”

“Oh… I was hoping we could go home.”

“No, now that’s silly. We’ve come all this way. We can’t leave now. We can just sit in camp, we don’t have to do anything.”

With a heavy sigh, I got up and trudged on. My body felt heavy but my head was completely void of emotion. I was just floating now. Not really engaged but still aware of my surroundings: that creek we had to wade, the boulder field we had to navigate, help make decisions on where we’d camp that night. Just barely.

But I continued on. Our group made the decision to camp below The Cakewalk and the next day, those who wanted to could do a trip up to Silent Lakes and Fisher Peak.

We camped on a rocky outcrop with established tent sites, with a stream to our left and a snow patch to the right. The southern end of the valley rose above us, with Fisher Basin behind us. We established campsites (Maria had to call my name a few times to get my attention as I stood there mindlessly just holding one end of the tent as she was trying to set it up), rinsed off in the creek, changed clothes, pumped fresh water, had dinner and drank snow-ritas (margarita mix and tequila poured over cups of snow – WAY better than anything served in a restaurant.). We shared stories of previous trips and read outloud from the trip’s Official Literature, “Woman’s World Weekly.”

I explained to the ladies that I didn’t think I had the mental capacity for the climb the next day. They completely understood, and said they’ve been in my place before, where all you can manage is just one foot in front of the other just to get to camp. I was so thankful for these ladies. I may not have been all “there”, but I knew I was safe. If there was an emergency, I could snap into rescue mode, that wasn’t problem. But, at this particular moment, I didn’t have to do anything. I could just … be.

The next day, I woke up only feeling a bit better. Still in a funk but at least rested. I was wondering if I’d step out of the tent and see the day’s objective and wonder if I’d be struck with the usual “OMG I should go, I’ll feel guilty if I don’t, I came all this way, I should take advantage of this, I’m weak if I don’t go!”

Nope. Nothing. I mean, I felt a slight twinge of desire to scramble something but not necessarily do the weekend’s objective. I could have climbed to the edge of valley to peek over the other side, but I also felt completely OK with just staying in camp. Maria would be staying too. In fact, I entertained the idea of a nap after breakfast.

After the ladies took off for their climb, I straightened up camp, organized my food and took stock of what I had (why the hell was my bag so heavy?) and made it an objective to eat as much food as possible during the day, even if it meant stuffing an entire block of cheese, several landjagers and a log of sausage down my throat over the next 12 hours.

After I finished my food organization and made a list of lighter gear to research, I moved to the tent to organize my other gear. Maria was reading inside, shaded and away from the bugs.

“So what are you doing there, Tiff?”

“Oh, just organizing, putzing, nesting … Wait! I’m NESTING! Which is what I want to be doing anyway but just right now it happens to be while I’m seven hours from home and in the middle of nowhere!”

We both laughed.

That’s when I realized it.

It took me being in the wilderness to force myself to stop. To put myself in an environment free of any stressors, to simply just survive. To not be distracted by anything. No projects to tackle (even if that’s what I thought I wanted to do). I love being in the outdoors for those reasons – to simply survive and not think about all things I should be thinking about.

How to mitigate the bugs, what layers should I work with right now, when should we fill up the group water jugs, how much food can I eat today, when can I steal Maria’s book after reading Woman’s World Weekly from cover to cover again…

After coming to that realization, I finally relaxed, finished my putzing, then took my pillow and sit pad out of the tent, laid out on the ground and thought, “Here’s the vacation I’ve finally wanted. It may not be on a beach, but it certainly was warm, outside and quiet. No family, no work, no Internet to distract me.”

And I was OK with it. I even took that nap.

Later that night, when the ladies came back from the climb, the first thing Eileen did was march right up to me, embrace me, and exclaim, “Smart decision!” Apparently that climb was not for the faint of heart. Or the mentally unstable.

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Back to my regular self

By this point, I was back being OK with life. I also made a few decisions, such as to truly zero in on my desires in the moment (mountains, city or home?). I also realized the mountains weren’t where I wanted to be this summer. I’d been biking since March and really loved it this year. So I mentally cancelled my Mt. Baker trip that was in two weeks. Once I made that decision, and started making plans for fun things to do around town for the month of August (including more bike time and yard time and yoga), I started to feel immensely better.

Just because it’s summertime in the Northwest doesn’t mean it always needs to be spent in the mountains. In fact, I LOVE my house in the summertime. The front porch is great for sunsets. The backyard (when it’s weeded and cleaned up) is cozy and lush. The light in the morning in the living room is lovely.

Then there is the question – am I living the life I want? Every year, I’m faced the issue – I want to do EVERYTHING. With EVERYONE. I need to climb mountains to stay strong for mountain rescue, which I absolutely love, almost more than life itself. I want to kayak though. I want to enjoy Seattle in the summer, with picnics with city friends in the little city parks. I want to spend time at home enjoying my investment. I want to be closer to the water these days, and not be far away in the mountains.

How do you find balance so not to burn yourself out or be overwhelmed?

Talking with a friend the other night, he said, you just have to learn to say no. Truly listen to what you want to do and do it. It doesn’t make you weaker or less of a person if you don’t climb mountains all the time, or decide you want to have an in-town weekend, or if you want to do yoga all the time instead of sports, or embrace your new found love for biking, or pick up a water sport.

Fay offered a quote that stuck with me: “You have to let go of the life you expected in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”

Basically – go with the flow. Do what you want. Do what makes you happy.

Three days after that emotional backpacking trip, I was sitting at a campground on the Pacific coast. I was there for two days of work but I couldn’t bring myself to find a hotel or sleep in the Jetta. I wanted to sleep as close as possible to the ocean. So I tossed the tent,  sleeping bag and pillow in the car. A few snacks. Backpacking stove and a dehydrated meal for my dinner, which I delightedly and slowly ate on the beach as I people-watched. I could feel the sticky but refreshing layer of the saltwater on my skin. I’d been excited by the idea of sleeping by the ocean, by myself. Ironically, all completely forced by logistics of work.

And maybe my friend is right.

Maybe I should buy a surfboard.

11:11 a.m. Oct. 25, 2011

That title above. It’s a weird statement. I was just checking my Twitter feed, which I’ve pretty much neglected this summer and fall due to just being barely having enough time to check Facebook (well, obsessively trolling the FB for pictures of my new nephew anyway).

So I checked in on Twitter, where most of my climbing/outdoor friends live. I clicked through to a few blogs I’ve missed reading and skimmed over articles about friends climbing this, biking that, hiking this, offering various philosophies on the outdoor lifestyle and mindset. It took me back to 2009 and 2010 when I was reading them consistently and embracing it all.

Then I thought: “Wow. I feel like I don’t get out anymore.” Read the rest of this entry »

Excuse me while I close down the many web sites I’ve opened and run through the pictures from Rockfest 2011 (June 25-26).

Charlie, Me and Sara, after two days of "summer camp."

Cool bags on Cilogear.com, oh and Feathered Friends, I’ll pick out my color and size for my new vest soon. Hmmmm, Google Images – was that local route setter Bryan Burdo who worked out the knots on my back after I kiddingly mentioned how Rockfest 2011 needed a sports massage chair? I was sunning on a bench on my belly, waiting out the pancake coma that I just put myself into and next thing you know, there were very strong hands on my back! Before I got up, he had scurried off before I could say thanks! OH and what WAS that awesome route I climbed on Saturday afternoon at Fun Wall that kicked my butt but felt amazing? (Still need to research that one).

On the grass at Goat Wall View in Mazama, there is Eddie making rounds, sporting his 15th outfit of the weekend, each with a different hat while Jackie sports her bright blue  new OR hat. She, Sara and Graham are teaching Charlie how to do cartwheels in the grass. Mark’s 2.5 month old puppy golden retriever steals the show, as every conversation is stopped immediately as people drop to their knees to cuddle with this rambunctious ball of fur.  Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve just started to learn how to use big fancy powerful tools that have spinning and vibrating blades. Tonight, Candace taught me how to use the compound miter saw. We didn’t have clamps to hold down the wood we were cutting, so she held it at a distance while I pushed the spinning blade toward the wood. I wanted to make sure we were ready to proceed, so I instinctively utilized the only command safety system I knew and that she would understand as well.

Photo: Clayton Timmons

ME: “On Belay?” = Are you ready for me to start this large machine with the spinning blade?

CANDACE: “Belay is on!” = She is secure and holding the wood in place.

ME : “Climbing?” = I am going to turn on the large machine with the spinning blade.

CANDACE: “Climb On!” = She is ready for me to turn on the large machine with the spinning blade.

Turn on, push, cut, wait for blade to stop. Then step away.

ME: “Off Belay!” = I am unplugging the large machine with the spinning blade so no one accidentally presses the “On” button and causes the head-sized blade starts spinning.

So, there you go. I love it when housework and climbing collide.

After wasting 600 words of my brain drafting a negative post recently about how mentally and physically crappy I felt about 2010 and how I’m clueless about 2011, I decided to check Twitter for a second and my friend Katie posted this article from Nerd Fitness:

http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2011/01/03/how-to-not-suck-at-goal-setting/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+NerdFitnessBlog+(Nerd+Fitness+Blog)

Well, that was just a kick to my pity-party, Negative-Nelly ass. Kinda like when @RedHeadedWriting bitch slaps the world and tells everyone to stop whining and F’ off and go do something with themselves.

I scratched my head and that stupid foggy cloud over my head lifted. Then I started thinking about the goals of 2011 and the future. It’s all part of the way my head works when it comes to something big: panic, fret, get upset, complain then buckle down and be productive. Read the rest of this entry »

This came across Twitter: http://alpineinstitute.blogspot.com/2010/11/belay-glove-confessions.html

My first thought: Really? Really. Belay gloves and hand jammies are a pansy-ass thing that will get a big climber boy beat up because he doesn’t want to get his pwueety wittle paws dirty and roughed up? Seriously? Can you smell the testosterone and insecurity reeking from this post?

Second thought: Give me a frackin” break.

Third thought: This is why i prefer climbing with girls and the boys who don’t reek of testosterone at the crag. In fact, a climbing girlfriend just introduced me to the hand jammies the other day at Joshua Tree. I could care less about my hands getting dirty. If they give me more girth on my small hands to make up it up the crack, bring it on.

Fourth thought: I wear gloves.  I wear the gloves b/c I don’t like the rope friction burn feeling. Given most everyone I belay is heavier than me, that tends to be a problem, no matter how slow or fast I lower them. Deal with it. It’s a safety thing.

(Video Coming SOON!)

I went into the 2nd Annual #JTreeTweetup sick. Not too sick, just a head cold, but I treated it like it was a disaster so I would force myself to get better. I knew it was bad when I didn’t even want to pack last week; I just wanted to sleep.

Joshua Trees make everything better.

But this is THE climbing trip of the year for me, even if I spent this year training for other sports and laying off the rock to rest injuries. Getting to reunite with friends from last year, make new friends this year, and embrace the post-tweetup glow (very similar to the awesome first-date-glow) was worth feeling like hell the first half of the trip and coming out the other side feeling 100%. There’s just something about the #JTreeTweetUp.

A few notes :

Sponsors: A HUGE thank you to @Rockgrrl who organizes this event. And our sponsors! We were sufficiently equipped with calories, hand salve, cleaning supplies and sun protection with Clif Bar (Luna Bars, Clif Shots and experimenting with Rock Shox), Climb On! salve, Coach’s Oats, Eastern Mountain Sports trucker hats, Action Wipes and Boulder Canyon chips, plus backclip.com generously donated stickers!

Diversity of People: I love meeting new people. I love meeting climbers even more and finding out who they are, what makes them tick, why they climb and what they do outside of climbing. This event, which attracts folks from all over the country via Twitter, provides such an awesome platform for doing such investigative work. Rocket scientists, architects, farmers, software engineers, hobby engineers, artists, musicians, teachers, students, graphics designers, bloggers, media folks, outdoor industry folks … and many folks are many of these things at the same time.

Why are there lasers at #JtreeTweetup? Because they're LASERS.

Read the rest of this entry »

I’m quite excited to post my first gear reviews here – one for a favorite piece and one for a brand new piece!

Favorite Piece: The Freshette

It’s about time for me to write about this little piece of equipment that goes on every trip.

Uncharacteristically for me, and for climbing gear, it’s very girly and pink. It was odd to use at first, but it’s become my 11th Essential. And I tell just about anyone about it who will listen. Read the rest of this entry »

More like Panic Attack.

It’s 2.5 weeks to Rainier.

I’m as trained as I’m going to be, given shoulder/back issues that have prevented a nice variety of cross training. But Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Camp Muir 2x are all under my belt and I did pretty good on each one.

All my fundraising money has come in, plus some – $4,085!  – thanks to everyone out there who was gracious enough to deal with my incessant begging, pleading, dramatizing, party-throwing, cooking-baking and again, begging, tactics.

I have 99.99% of all my gear purchased, rented, borrowed and planned (except those damn hardshell pants – can’t decide if the low end Sierra Designs will suffice or I should buck up and purchase some GoreTex). (and Trekking Poles, please don’t be stubborn and please cooperate on Aug 20, ‘K?).

But there’s one piece of gear that’s got me on edge. The ONE THING I wasn’t planning on having to worry about.

The Pack. The Bloody Freakin’ Pack. Read the rest of this entry »

Monday July 12, 2010

I think I’m finally starting to get it.

It could have something to do with the perfect weather, the great mentors and the lung-burning, headache-inducing desire to get there.

Mt. Adams' shadow at sunrise.

OK. I may be a little dramatic right there. But, according to my climbing partners, I “ran” to the top of Mt. Adams. But at 12,200 feet, you don’t run. I just picked up the pace. I couldn’t help it. The summit was right there. I could taste it. I could almost touch it. I could see others on top of it. It was my turn. Read the rest of this entry »