My First Mountain and What it Meant to Me

Mountain: Adams
Route: Mazama Glacier
Distance: approximately 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 6576

I joined the mountaineers, an amazing local club for outdoor activities, over a year ago. Since then, it has changed my life dramatically. I have met some amazing friends (including my #1 partner, David) and I have developed a range of skills through taking and teaching classes that I would have otherwise never been exposed to.

Last summer I climbed my first mountain, and with the climbing season upon us, I wanted to reflect on that trip and identify what exactly it meant to me.

First off, I didn’t know until about a week prior that I would actually be allowed to join this trip and have the opportunity to summit my first ever volcano and the second highest peak in Washington State. Since the summer was outrageously hot and the snows melting so fast, and with a limited number of trip leaders and an insane number of participants, I was on the waitlist for almost every glacier climb on the Mountaineers website. That is, until a week before the climb was scheduled and I got an email letting me know someone had bailed and I had the spot if I wanted it.

I hadn’t been doing much conditioning, I’d never been on a legit climb before, my partner was unavailable and I didn’t know any of these people, so I was nervous, to say the least. But, since New Years’ Day of 2015, around the time when my last relationship was falling apart and I’d dedicated myself to being a “Yes Girl” (within reason, of course), I’d been taking any adventure that came my way. And let me tell you, this was a good one. David was also encouraging, and thank God, because I needed him to be. I don’t think I would have done it otherwise.

I remember a trip to Seattle REI, when I was buying my TOPO for the trip, and I just kept saying

“David, I’m going to climb a mountain.”

And the truth was, I didn’t really believe it myself until we were setting up our tents at base camp. Of course at that point I was just thinking what the hell did I sign up for?

I was deconditioned and slow and embarrassed as I made my way up to that point, and being nervous and having that over-exerted feeling, I didn’t eat much for dinner that night. In fact, I felt pretty sick thinking of the following day and if I would embarrass myself further on the trip by being slow and, as I felt, a burden.

But something funny happened later that night (or really any time after 6 since we were scheduled to wake up around 1). My tentmate and I were the only two females on the trip, and we’d just met that morning. She seemed like a nice girl and ended up being a totally badass person, but keep in mind this is day 1 that I met her. After this experience, my opinion was solidified:

Scene: Two women sleeping in a tent. There is a noise (probably rock fall) outside of the tent. It is not quite dark yet.

Girl: What was that?

Me: I don’t know.

Girl: Who’s there?

Me: Maybe it’s Sasquatch.

Girl: I hope not, I didn’t bring enough food for him.

I chuckled to myself and laid back down. The encounter had encouraged me: whatever happened, I would have an awesome story to tell.

 
 The next morning, we woke up at 1 and started our way up. Now, normally I’m a pretty pleasant person to be around. BUT, knowing that we were going to be busting our asses on the steepest part of the whole journey, and understanding we had a limited time to do so before the sun came out and it hit 90-fucking-degrees again, I was ready to haul ass and wasn’t wearing my puffy. Let’s just say I got pretty annoyed, and the cold, bitchy side of Jess started rearing it’s ugly head.

Thankfully, things were better once we started. I kept up, and I wasn’t the last person to the summit which was my whole real goal apart from actually reaching the summit. If I’m not last, I’m not holding anyone back. (Not to say the last person to the summit is holding anyone back. In fact, they have an important job of making sure everyone summits safely—I’m just a small person with a huge ego.)

I got to the summit, stopping a few times for water, jerky, laughs—did I mention everyone on our crew was hilarious?! These were some of the most fun people I’ve ever met, let alone climbed with. At the top, after the initial excitement and summit photos and hugs and laughs and terrible pop music singing, I just felt… tired.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing experience. I’d done one of the things I’d dreamed about but never thought I’d have the capability to do. I’d done something not a whole lot of people would do. In fact, when I was in college I wrote a basic essay on what I figured my life would look like when I could consider it “accomplished”. I spoke of being outside, doing things that not a lot of people had done before me. My teacher commented on it and mentioned that some people reasoned that having kids and starting a family and holding a job that they liked would regard themselves as accomplished. I don’t think that’s stupid at all (okay, at the time I did); however, I don’t think I would be satisfied if that is all I did in life.

Everyone is different, everyone has their goals and drive and accomplishments. Mine aren’t necessarily more or less, just different. All I can say, though, is that I am a main (or a spunky sidekick) character. I am not a damsel in distress. I am not Rosie Cotton, I am Samwise Fucking Gamgee. I am not a housewife—I’m an adventurer. And, with my first mountain below my belt, I felt it. Now that I’ve caught the summit-whore bug, I can’t stop myself from going further, testing my limits.

I started climbing to see if I could, and once I figured out I can, my life changed drastically. I had more faith in myself than ever before. I always believed if I set my mind to something, I could do it, and this was my first taste of that conquest. Granted, I still have a good grasp on my actual abilities. I will probably never be a 5.14 climber or a V9 boulderer or break any speed records for any mountain, ever. But I don’t have to be limited because I am afraid to try.

 
 As I sat on top of that mountain, tired, grumpy, in great need of a good beer and a long piss, I realized that I’d broken through that thing that had held me back for so long…fear. I am still afraid of things, but since I realized the opportunity that going out on a limb and possibly embarrassing myself holds so much more potential for being amazing than terrible, I can’t say that I’ve really let fear hold me back again.

Adams was my first, but it will definitely not be my last.   

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