“It’s probably negative 20 out, and I can’t feel my feet… but at least it’s windy!” Jimmy Chin is 20,000 ft. above sea level, climbing near-vertical snow and ice as his team pushes towards the summit of Meru’s Shark’s Fin, and he’s smiling. In fact, the one thing that most struck me when I re-watched the film, Meru, a few weeks ago was Chin’s unfailing ability to laugh at a situation, no matter how fucked up it got. It was remarkable; a mastery of the human spirit almost as difficult as the technical, mixed climbing he faced, and it got me wondering, “Why the hell am I not doing that?”
It was raining and blustery and just above freezing as I shoved another translucent, blue gummy bear into my mouth. I was sitting at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, 13,828 feet above sea level, waiting for the rest of my group to catch up and desperately in need of carbs. For a windswept, bedraggled hiker, I was in surprisingly good spirits. I watched the rain drip gingerly off my hooded poncho like a curious ant hiding beneath a blade of grass to stay dry as I gazed out at the misty cloud forest below, daydreaming about coca leaves and crimson orchids hidden in the deep crevices of towering trees. I had just completed the most difficult section of the Inca Trail in a downpour with a full pack on, and I was incandescently happy.
In July of 2016, I completed my first 3-day backpacking trip with a man I was terribly in love with. We ambled up rocky paths in the high country of Yosemite National Park and watched the sun rise with a shock of electric pink over granite domes that dotted the landscape like the hardened knees of some huge, mummified giant. On our last night out, we set up camp early near Polly Dome, allowing for ample time to dodge mosquitoes, smooch, and jump naked into an alpine lake. “1… 2… 3!” I yelled as I launched my sweaty, dirtbag body off a neighboring rock and into the water. Not two breaststrokes later, I yelped loudly, clutching my left leg. Careful not to sink too deep into the murky water, I examined my knee, noticing a flash of bright red that trailed through the lake like a miniature oil spill. “Are you ok, dude?” Asked my companion from his mindful perch along the shore. “I’m fine! I’m just bleeding!” I shouted back, laughing emphatically so that he wouldn’t make me get out of the water. I was happy and hurt and full of as much aliveness as a body can possibly muster. Instead of stitches, I found smiles.
First, there is water. Air thick with salt sweat and a deep blue landscape dotted with the lacy imprints of coral. There are trees that rise in mounds from the scattered fingers of islands like forest green muttonchops or particularly dense broccoli. Land and sea boast of their fertility; the earth is rich with color.
Dear fellow badass,
You don’t need to adventure to impress a man; you are just as ruthless and rugged as they are. Your supreme beauty is matched only by your raw ferocity in the wild. You lick blood off your scabs and snot rocket while trail running. You peel dead skin off your feet and forget to shave your legs. You are a walking contradiction; one minute, astute and poised in heels at an office, the next, you’re tearing up your Civic on a backcountry dirt road, praying that it doesn’t get stuck in the mud. You are the glorious master of choosing conscious dichotomy. You are a fireball.
“The surest way to mend a broken heart is through a forest wilderness.”
On really confusing evenings of self, I like to drink beer and make up quotations that John Muir definitely did not write. I summon him like my own, personal break-up Yoda the moment a man threatens to rip the sticky, sensitive tissue of my heart to shreds. I need this. A stubborn, fantasy-ridden reminder that things can still be beautiful, even when they do not turn out as I’d hoped. Though very much dead, Muir offers surprisingly warm company, a wild-eyed mountain guru who will hold my hand through the thick fog of being a suddenly single outdoorswoman.
So, you might have noticed that I have a camel-colored crossbody bag that I take with me everywhere. It popped up in my photo series from Peru, again on the trail in Zion, and now, it’s following me in business attire as I tackle my upcoming job interviews. This nifty handbag was sent to me by the wonderful folks at Atana Bags, and I’m positively addicted to its rugged versatility!
When I decided to leap headfirst into mountaineering last winter, I desperately wished there was a wise, old sage to hand over the information I needed in easy to digest, bite-sized pieces. I struggled to progress, as I realized that classes were expensive and often too remedial, and going out with seasoned climbers could be a recipe for panic attacks as I wrestled to find my comfort zone in an exceedingly uncomfortable sport. I fell flat on my face more times than I can count, and my magical Yoda never manifested out of a crevasse. So, after a year of climbing and learning and making lots of mistakes, I’ve decided to offer a few pieces of good advice that I wish I’d had when I started out. This is not a complete list, and I am by no means an expert, but these morsels should at least help to point you in the right direction.
When your short hikes are breezy 10-milers, and you rack up 30+ miles each and every weekend, you tend to get picky about what you put on your feet. After years of hiking and backpacking, I’ve fallen into the category of the foot-care superstitious, as though the ingredients for keeping my toes dry were some mysterious witches brew that could not be altered for any reason. Though I often have my doubts about new trends that enter the hiking and trail running world, I’d been curious to try compression socks for quite some time. When CloudLine Apparel sent me a pair of their finest in backcountry-blue, I knew I had to give them a go!
I wanted to channel my reckless energy into magic. Two years ago, a man I loved deeply took me on my first proper backpacking trip, and ten months ago, I ripped him out of my chest with the ferocity of a Volkswagen colliding with the sea. As our relationship crumbled, my love for the outdoors grew, mud and tree bark patching up my heartsick. Last week, I felt it was finally time to revisit the mountain that started it all, the trail that slingshot my heart into a new phase of life, Alta Peak.