Climbing Walltz

On Monday, my mentor for basic climbing, Carolyn D., met up with me at the climbing gym to practice sitting hip belay (more specifically, navigating the system of setting up and tying in gracefully successfully). After battling with the tangle of rope for a while, it was time to get back into climbing after a long hiatus from the climbing gym.

Gym climbing in college was fun and a great workout. Trying to get back into it last year wasn’t successful as after the first visit to a local gym, I suffered from a MRSA infection on my arm, and once that was healed and I went back, I ended up with horrible MRSA infections on my leg. I can’t say for sure that I contracted it at that climbing gym, but I have since decided to 1) climb elsewhere, 2) wear as many items of cover-clothing as reasonable at any gym, and 3) wash everything and shower vigorously (oh yes, there’s a difference) after each session.

And to clarify, Cirque (the gym this story takes place at) is not the same climbing gym that I went to before. Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever go back to that one. Once bitten, twice shy… twice bitten, %#$& that!

I’ll admit that after a long hiatus and being a little gun-shy from getting so sick last year, I was nervous at the prospect of climbing again. It has been my biggest point of concern/fear in basic climbing and something I hoped to skirt around with more focus given to glacier travel. But then Carolyn worked her magic and suddenly a mental block I’ve carried for who knows how long is lifted.

Things started off a little painfully. I fumbled through my belay test, my inner monologue a barrage of self-defeating rhetoric that made me regret ever agreeing to come to the gym. As we approached the first wall, Carolyn asked about my goals and thoughts and whatever else she was asking that I kept losing over my own negative self-talk. But then I got on the wall and I actually had fun!

“My arms are going to kill me,” I thought, and “I must look like an idiot,” crept through my mind. But Carolyn coached me along and before I knew it, I was at the top of the wall and being lowered down.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad…”

Then it was my turn to belay Carolyn. I was a little nervous that I would screw up again without her at my shoulder guiding me, but as soon as I said “on belay,” I was mentally clicked-in and focused. Everything flowed and I felt the familiar calm of the wilderness that I hadn’t expected to find at the gym that evening.

As I watched Carolyn climb, I noticed something I hadn’t before. Maybe because I am used to watching men climb, or maybe my own self-talk blinded me with anxiety, but watching Carolyn’s slow, fluid movements up the wall, I was pulled back to college but not to the gym. No, I was mentally back in a local dancehall dancing ballroom, practically floating as I waltzed around the dance floor.

I let out a quiet gasp as I watched her feet and arms waltz up the wall, and I had a moment of clarity. Any act of athleticism when gracefully performed is like a dance. I had seen it in skiing and figure skating, but had never looked for it on the mountains. And if my amazing mentor could do it, I realized, maybe I could too.

My turn came next, and Carolyn pointed me toward a 5.8 route. As I climbed, the voice inside started in with the negativity again, but this time I found myself taking a breath and whispering, “it’s just like dancing.” And suddenly I felt a connection to the wall that I’d never felt before, and I trusted my body to do what I asked of it as I turned my focus away from my fears and up to the hand and foot holds that took me to the top.

I climbed two 5.8s that evening, both with a rest on the rope to problem-solve, but both all the way to the top, even after hitting a point of knowing that letting go and “trying again later” would have been easier. And I felt elation, not negativity or frustration, at the end.

We celebrated with a quick run around the bouldering wall so I could send a picture of me climbing in leggings to a friend (a small business owner who has recently launched a super fun leggings-sales business from home). I was upbeat, excited, and more hopeful than I’ve ever been about climbing.

I know I have a long way to go in my climbing career, but you know what? When I started college, I had no inclination towards ballroom dance either. If I could leave college as a dancer, maybe I can leave 2018 as a climber.

I can’t wait to waltz the walls again soon.

To follow our trail…

Cirque Climbing Gym

Foxy Leggings Apparel

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Scrambling Instructor

“Well, maybe I’ll help out with one class,” I thought way back when I saw Tom’s email recruiting former Scramble students to be instructors for this year’s class.

Famous last words.

It was great to be in the classroom with everyone and getting a refresher on the skills I learned last year, especially as these are mandatory for the basic climbing course I’m taking this year. The value was two-fold and each time I showed back up at a class, I realized how much I was learning as I imparted my knowledge. It has been a blast!

On their first snow Field Trip, I started out in as much of a background role as I could, then before long I was demonstrating ice axe arrests and coaching participants on skills I didn’t even know I remembered. It was a beautiful day, a ton of fun, and has already paid dividends in my own training and learning.

Heading up to Alta Vista for “class.”

Ice axe arrest training and practice.

A brief delay for a first aid event (don’t worry, it ended up being very superficial but needed lots of protection from the high impact activities).

Snow travel and photo ops, of course!

Using multiple methods to descend back to the parking lot…

And finally, a successful return to the parking lot!

It’s amazing how wonderful it feels to test yourself by helping to teach others, by giving back, and by being a part of such a wonderful community. I love being a member of the Olympia Mountaineers more and more every day! Can’t wait for Snow Field Trip #2!

To follow our trail…

Olympia Mountaineers

Alta Vista @ Mt. Rainier National Park

Welcome Spring!

Matt K. came up with the perfect way to welcome spring… a three mile trail run around the base of Tiger Mountain!

It was a lovely day of sunshine and cool temperatures, perfect for a run! The group stayed together well and I got to learn about the developing trail run activities program in the Mountaineers.

At the end, after Matt and his lead-mentor debriefed, we went up Cable Line Trail to the tune of 400-500 feet of elevation gain (because how else do you celebrate a good run except for going uphill?!) before turning around before it got dark–but not without a sweaty selfie first!

I’ve reached a point where the prospect of three miles seems almost easy to me. I never thought I’d consider myself a runner. What a blessing this day has been! Welcome spring, I can’t wait to see where the season takes me!

To follow our trail…

Tiger Mountain Trails

Winter Recap

Had a bit of a writing hiatus over the winter but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t out adventuring! Here’s a quick overview of what’s been happening in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

November 18: Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) class that I helped Daryl R. lead completes their final exams. Exciting to welcome a new batch of ski patrollers!

November 25: Emily H., Aaron N, Saxon dog, Harley dog and me visit Fort Flagler for a fun beach day and exploration of the fort.

December 17: After helping teach a makeup OEC class, Matt K. invites me for a quick hike to the West Tiger #3 Summit. Up in daylight and down with headlamps and a great leg stretch.

January 28: Aaron N., Matt K. and Harley join me for my second Jayme Biendl 5k in Monroe. Harley was quite a trooper!

February 11: preparing for the rigors of the Mountaineers climbing class, Brad A., Janine G. and I head up Mailbox Old Trail. The delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) reminds me that I have to step up my conditioning game.

February 12-15: Dianne L. and I explore the Tri-Cities while on a week long teaching assignment at Coyote Ridge Correctional Center.

February 18: Aaron N. drags me out of bed unreasonably early to drive to Hoquiam for a 5k Memorial Run for the recently fallen Pierce County Deputy McCartney. It’s a wonderful run in honor of a fallen brother in blue and I set a personal best of a 9:30 pace.

February 24: I sign up for a Conditioner hike for class and do much better than on Mailbox. After the hike, I get recruited by hike leader Paul K. to begin my mentorship process of becoming a hike leader for the Olympia Mountaineers.

March 2: I set off on a trail run and achieve my personal goal of sustained running for one hour.

It’s been quite a winter. And the best is yet to come!

Trail of Ten Falls

I first visited Silver Falls State Park and did the 7.2 mile loop, “The Trail of Ten Falls” in the fall of 2016 with Effran D. We put a few extra miles on our boots that day as we wandered between falls and found out at the end that we had missed one. Oops! I knew that I wanted to go back as it immediately became one of my favorite Northwest hikes, and because I had a theory of how to better attempt the loop.

Here’s what I recommend if you go: drive all the way in to the Visitor Center and park there. BUT, don’t follow the crowds down to South Falls! That’s where everyone wants to go because it’s the “first one” and is so big. But then where’s the grand finale? So, after parking, walk along the road/bike path on the Canyon Rim Trail. It’ll be about a mile through trees on a well maintained path. When you get to the small parking area for Winter Falls, follow the trail down and see that waterfall first. Then, climb back up to the trail and keep following the road until you get to the North Falls parking lot. Take the right fork and head under the bridge to Upper North Falls (probably one of the most beautiful falls), then come back down and begin the full loop in a Counterclockwise direction, going to North Falls, Middle North, etc until you have wound your way back to the South Falls and visitor center.

Otherwise, enjoy the adventure of finding your favorite route to visit all ten waterfalls on the Trail of Ten Falls. No matter which way you go, you won’t be disappointed!

I recommend waterproof hiking boots as the ground can be slippery and muddy at places. Going in the off-season will give you fewer crowds and strong flow in the waterfalls. And who cares about a little rain when there’s so much beauty cascading down around you! You’ll need $5 to pay at the pay stations for day-vehicle use (envelopes from a self-serve station). Further information on fees for camping, multi-day use, etc is HERE. I recommend the Ten Essentials, or at the very least, plenty of water, a first aid kit, and a few snacks for your excursion.

Here are a few photos from the two trips.

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To follow our trail:

Trail of Ten Falls – Oregon Hikers

State Park Brochure (PDF)

Forty Hours In Fresno

A special friend, David R., announced his plans to be married in Ivanhoe, CA. Even though it would be a flight and a few days away on the eve of a very busy ski patrol training weekend, some things in life take priority. Being there for your friends for such big life events is one of them.

5BC4FE6A-8379-4863-93C1-DD5F5E4634E4.jpeg Catching up with David at his wedding on 11/3

The trip down would require a fast turnaround, which was hard to stomach as I looked at the area maps and saw that Yosemite was just a three hour drive away from Fresno, CA, where I would be staying and flying to/from. Earmarking those dreams for a future trip, I called my dad and asked what he recommended in the area with such a short window to visit. When he heard I was considering Giant Sequoia National Park, his immediate response was to go there and spend all my time with the giant trees. Alright then, off I go!

The drive to the park was beautiful, showcasing the varying landscapes of central California, an area I have little memory or ever visiting, though I suspect I may have been near here as a child.

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The beautiful farmland gave way to rocky hillsides and gullies and soon signs began to appear with elevation markers…

1,000 ft

2,000 ft

3,000 ft

… and climbing…

By the time I was in the park and losing myself to the wonder of the amazing forests with thick clouds flowing between tree trunks, it was hard to believe that I was over 7,000 feet in elevation. Somehow I hadn’t processed the true grandeur of this place. I became even more grateful that although they were lacking, I had thought to pack several of my 10 Essentials for the trip. You know, just in case…

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Navigating to the parking area for the trail to General Sherman, the biggest tree on earth, was fairly easy. Even with a number of cars in the parking lot, I instantly felt the solitude and was grateful to be there in the off-season. I’ll let the following photos speak for themselves as to the beauty of the area and the wonder I felt in the short hour and a half I was able to spend exploring.

As time ticked down, the two hour drive to Visalia for the pre-wedding festivities loomed, and it was time to go. However, several spots along the way just couldn’t be resisted, and I hopped in and out of the rental car with abandon as I raced against time and the ebbing daylight to see “just one more” place.

The next day was the day of the wedding. Having the morning to myself, I took to the AllTrails app and began browsing local hikes. There had to be some sort of nature walk in the area! After browsing around a bit, I found a promising looking hike just a few miles in length to Pincushion Peak. Near a lake with reports speaking of a steep push for the top and panoramic views, I was sold! Off on another adventure!

After the hike, it was back to the hotel to change and then off to the wedding. By the end of the evening, sleep was the only thing on my mind. That was a lot to pack into a two day trip, even for me! As I boarded the plane back to Seattle a mere 40 hours after arriving in Fresno, I knew I would have to come back again soon to explore even a fragment more of what the area has to offer.

To follow our trail…

Sequoia and King’s Canyon

Pincushion Mountain Peak

Mount St. Helens

As I’ve climbed and shared more about the experiences, others have asked to come along. Often these requests aren’t for anywhere particular, more of a budding interest and willingness to follow along any local trail. However, a friend I’ve gotten to know through work had a specific request.

“I want to summit a volcano.”

This request came from Dan F. in the winter/spring, and he said that he was particularly interested in Mount St. Helens. After explaining the permit process to him and how it was no guarantee that we could go in the summer, I told him I’d try to get something worked out and that he should start training on local trails.

Fast forward several months. On the purmit.com site where permit holders for St. Helens sell/trade their extra permits, I found a seller for a weekend-day in September.


Before this exchange, I had given Dan the info on what to expect, what gear he needed, how to prepare, etc. Once the permits were secured, it was up to him and the others invited to join our crew to be ready for the climb on September 2nd. Our party ended up being me, Dan, Sara T. and her boyfriend, Dom W. All of us were connected through work (same agency, different offices) and the three of them shared the common goal of making it up Mount St. Helens. I told them I’d be happy to help lead them as best I could, the rest was up to them.

Ready, set, go!

Our schedules resulted in a somewhat later start, departing the trailhead at around 9:15 am. Not ideal, but still feasible with an estimated window of 6-9 hours roundtrip based on trip reports and beta from other hikers. I set our turn around time as 3pm, knowing that if it took much longer we would risk coming down in the dark. Overall I knew the crew was inexperienced but also in good shape, so I wasn’t worried. In high spirits, we attached our permits to our packs and started up the mountain.


As we pushed through the first miles of forest, I began to feel some sense of the challenges ahead. The day was already proving to be hot, all four of us glistening as we hiked through the shady forest around the base of the mountain. As we approached the tree line where we would set out onto the volcanic landscape, I felt the heat even more and made sure everyone had sunblock and water. No more shade after this!


 Photo by Dom

The climb that day was one of the most difficult climbs I’ve done to-date. The distant views of Mt. Adams kept me going, as did the words of encouragement I kept saying to my friends as we sweated and struggled to push ourselves on in the heat. We ran into climbing rangers at one point and I got the impression they wanted us to turn around, one saying the temperatures were probably in the 80s and that there was no shade and it would just get hotter. The crew knew my rules about speaking up if things felt wrong but also following the rule of fives if it was just difficult but not illness or fatigue telling them to stop. We conferred and decided to keep going. Dom tended to push ahead and take longer breaks to wait for us while Dan, Sara and I kept a slow and steady pace with numerous water and rest stops. It was grueling.

As each of us reached a point of wanting to quit, we all encouraged each other to go a little further. I set a group goal of making the monitor station, located above the boulder climb and preceding the infamous 1000′ of gain up the ash-dune that led to the top. And so, pausing whenever the rocks provided shade and often where there was none, we prevailed and made it to our pre-Summit destination where we would check the time and reassess our situation.

The mental games we go through on climbs, especially ones where the elements are not aligned in our favor, can be amazing. I felt miserable but kept speaking as positively as I could, more outloud to myself than to anyone in particular. My fellow climbers were encouraged, upset, angry, and more determined each in their turn. Yet as we paused to eat lunch and decide on what would happen now, somehow each one of them looked inside and found the courage and strength to push on for the summit. I was surprised, having thought that by this point at least one of them would want to turn back. But there you have it–once again, the strength of the human spirit prevails. It was after 2pm and close to my turnaround time, far later than I imagined it would be, but I agreed that we could push on if we moved with intention and kept breaks to a minimum and as short as possible. Dom found his struggles motivated him and pushed up to the summit ahead of us, able to keep us in view across the barren mountainside. Sara, Dan, and I pushed on, one step at a time, each fighting an inner struggle to ask more of the body than has ever been asked before.

There is a quote by the founder of Outward Bound that summed up this climb better than any other description for me: “There is more to us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.” – Kurt Hahn

When we stood/collapsed/embraced/stumbled at the top, we were at the turnaround time, tired, dehydrated, and ecstatic. I loved watching the reactions of the three as they stood on their first volcano and realized the magnitude of their accomplishment. I gave myself a small pat on the back too as I looked over at the ever present Mt. Adams and remembered my own struggles to reach her summit, and acknowledged how much harder this climb in the heat had been than anything else I had done so far.

After victory snacks and pictures, it was time to head down. A quick lesson in glissades helped the others get down a small snowpatch in less time, and we raced the setting sun as we hurried down the rocks back to the tree line. I began to feel the effects of electrolyte imbalance and not hydrating enough, even though we all had water left and had been drinking all day (the heat won out in the end) and made the hard decision to push ahead of my friends in order to get off the rocks in case I ended up being in real trouble. I kept them in line of sight the whole way as I raced down the last rocky slope and gratefully rested at the edge of the trees. Even through my exhausted, pain addled state, I was able to watch with pride as they navigated down to where I was, making their own decisions and working together as a team. I may have lent some knowledge and experience to the climb, but I saw with pride how capable and able to lead each of them is. What an amazing gift!

Checking on everyone’s gear and distributing headlamps “just in case,” I encouraged Sara and Dom to set off ahead and Dan and I brought up the rear. Those headlamps proved invaluable as the final mile or two once again proved to stretch on for an eternity and the woods went from dusk to darkness as we plunged down the trail in search of the trailhead. Beautiful views at sunset kept my spirits high those last miles, and Dan and I stopped often to sample the luscious wild blueberries before the darkness hid them from view.

By the time we got to the car, it was a race down the road to get enough cell range to let our emergency contact know that we were alright, a message that was finally pushed through barely 30 minutes before our prearranged “call out the cavalry” time. Car to car took us about 11 hours, longer than I had ever anticipated (my first trip up St. Helens the previous year in colder conditions with fewer stops was about 7 hours roundtrip, for comparison). Never underestimate the effects of heat!

We limped back into Tacoma where we had carpooled from and I barely made it to a friend’s apartment where I gratefully accepted a shower and a couch to sleep on as there was nothing left in my reserves to make it back to Vashon that night. Once my phone lit up with confirmation that everyone was home safely, I was able to relax and share the stories from the day.

Afterwards, I shared our story with a few people at work, and soon it was suggested that I submit our climb to the communications folks as a great story about teamwork. Well, why not? Sure enough, a week or two later, I was called and asked a few questions, and then a small story appeared in between other agency news pieces. Once again, I reflected on how proud I was of my friends and their ability to reach a dream. Never stop climbing.

To follow our trail…

St. Helens via Monitor Ridge