Cliffs of Anxiety

It could be said that I mark my growth on the cliffs of Indian Creek, a line snaking upwards on the vibrant red sandstone. My growth as a climber, sure, but moreso my growth as a person. The walls hold stories – my stories, and probably yours too.

I first visited Indian Creek in the spring of 2012. I was 27, and it was my first ever climbing trip. As I drove into the canyon, packed in a Subaru with three friends from Seattle, I remember passing the first few Cottonwood trees with words of Lord Huron ringing, “I said we’re all gonna die but I’ll never believe it / I love this world and I don’t wanna leave it.” That sounded nice to me, but rather unattainable. The world was mostly scary, full of unknown people, crippling choice, duties and obligations and obligations and duties. A subconscious list of prohibitions steered me – no fun, no joy, no self – and fear was a powerful rudder. Anxiety.

When I talk about anxiety, I don’t mean just that stress we all know, the kind we feel over deadlines or relationship issues. I’m talking about something more akin to a worldview: it’s pervasive, and spinning, entrapping. It’s a convincing voice that won’t shut up, saying everything is wrong, nothing will be okay, and that most things are to be feared. People are scary, the unknown is terrifying, decisions absolutely paralyzing, and normal human emotions truly crippling. I can’t find myself in all of it; in fact, for the first 28 years of my life, I don’t remember having a self. I wished for someone to just tell me how to live, or live my life for me. To-do lists, volunteering, excessive business, and school obligations were thrashing arms and legs, frantically treading water to keep my soul afloat. Fragments of myself would shout from all directions, should, not allowed, what if: desires constantly being shot down. I’m in a race; my heart speeds, my mind spins, and in turn my hands and feet move too fast. I can’t find happiness, the fear is escalating, it’s swirling, I can’t sleep, can’t breathe, what if should can’t so scared oh no no no no NO.

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Stop. The red walls calmly hush me as the fleeing sun casts magic light on us all. Climb, eat, sleep, repeat. Our phones are off, lost somewhere in the van – that life doesn’t matter here. Spirit quests through the desert, lively campfires, new friendships, no job, no responsibilities, the nature of the climbing even takes away the guesswork. Extremes of day and night, warmth and cold, try hard and relax, keeping us on our toes in their own, gentle ways, providing a substitute for the extremity within me. My personal bondage stands out here, in stark contrast to this vast and expansive landscape with its unmitigated yet tame lawlessness.  Indian Creek embodies the wild and free, a direct antithesis to everything I know.

Over the following years, the cliffs of Indian Creek are a sounding board, echoes of my growth resounding off their walls. Each time I visit, the fragmented pieces of my self appear more whole; the minor key that I have written my life in slowly starts to lift, and I notice it acutely against the backdrop of the vibrant wingate walls. My second trip is marked with nerves, a trip with a new boyfriend – my first ever in my adult life – anxiety about who to climb with, fear reigning as I cast off on lead. This relationship would soon end, spiraling me into unchartered depths, showing me my need for help and change: the painful beginning of what I now see as my awakening. On my third visit, a few of us go on a psychedelic trip through Canyonlands, another first for me. I experience joy running through the landscape, possibly for the first time. I remember my braid flapping against my back as I run, heavy breath feeling cleansing and full. I intermittently imagine a bodiless dark tattered cloak chasing me, bellowing, “anxiety, seriousness,” wagging a armless sleeve, scolding me. My joy feels irresponsible, like I’m obligated to suffer. I go home and make art, it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. My subsequent seasons, I begin to feel more at home. Like I’m allowed to be a part of this scene, this freedom, that once seemed off limits. I forge bonds, friendships I return to each spring and fall. I learn to try hard and not let fear cripple. I learn that it’s okay to feel happy, to not have any nagging worries, and to look at the world as a place that longs to invite and delight.

And yet, each stint in the Creek, I find myself driving to the mesa for cell service, fulfilling my personal commitment to a weekly appointment with my therapist. I know it’s good for me, but I wish I was like all the monkeys down below, free and blissful. And then I wonder if maybe they’re more like me than I think, and that we’re all struggling, at least a little bit.

This fall I return, now with my boyfriend Forest, a partner who compliments my whole instead of just a few of my fragments. It feels good. We drive the winding road at the last light of day, still listening to Lord Huron three and a half years later, and I reflect on what this place is to me. It showed me a better way, and subsequently has been a basal, a line in the sand, a waypoint in my desert life, reflecting my growth each time I return. I feel well, whole, connected to others and to myself. My gobies are less prevalent now, and on my fingers now instead of on the backs of my hands, a display of progression on the rock. But my soul’s skin feels stronger too, wiser, more grounded. More capable of fighting off the anxious thoughts that still knock at my door, as they likely always will. The hush of the fading light on the cliffs around me whispers “all is well,” and for once, I know it’s true.

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All photos by Forest Woodward

Big Dreams

Dreams. I have a list of goals I keep on the Notes app of my phone, under the title Dream Big. Some of them are far off objectives, some of them I could complete tomorrow. Some are climbing related, and some are completely personal (and admittedly ambiguous), like, “Experience true freedom” [check].

The Enchantments link-up was on my Dream Big list. Acid Baby to Solid Gold to Iconoclast; 18+ pitches and 18+ miles of hiking. It was something for which I had to plan, train, find a partner, make time. In my mind it was big, and it sat on my phone’s list for a whole year before getting the ceremonial emoji check beside it a few weeks ago.

But here’s the thing: that day, those climbs, that Big Dream – it wasn’t all that hard. We kind of just did it: hiked pretty quickly, climbed a lot of 5.10 pitches pretty quickly, and were back at the car, pretty quickly. Though our feet were damn sore at the end of the day, the mutual feeling between us, hiking into the Snow Creek parking lot, was something like, “that was it?” I had the same feeling when I climbed the Regular route of Half Dome a few years ago, the same feeling after a season in Patagonia this past winter. In fact, I’m getting used to that feeling of the impossible becoming strangely and extremely possible.

I’m not saying this to toot my own horn, I hope my words don’t come across that way. I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately, in my post-accomplishment-and-a-little-lost-without-a-goal state: how I choose my objectives, what working towards goals looks like, what I feel I’m capable of accomplishing. What comes next, and how Big should I Dream?

I can’t forget that Whitney and I worked really hard to accomplish this mission. We had some friends who attempted the same link-up a few days after us, onsight, and didn’t come close to succeeding, not for lack of climbing ability. Whitney and I put in our time in the Enchantments, climbing each route a few times, scouting out our cross-country travel, caching gear, meticulously choosing a rack and paring down our supplies. By the time the morning of our link-up came around, we had no more questions – we just had to execute.

But maybe too, hand in hand our efforts to make the goal happen, is the fact that we’re just damn capable. And again, no tooting horns here, I’m speaking with a universal “we.” WE are just damn capable. And perhaps, WE should dream bigger. 

I gave a slideshow at Vertical World the other week for Mountain Madness’ Beta Night, a presentation entitled “Cragging in the Stuart Range.” My talk was about the climbing that can be done car-to-car in the Leavenworth area, mostly in the Enchantments. I noticed myself saying over and over again, not even knowing my audience well, “You can totally do it,” “If you climb 5.8, you gotta go do this,” or “That route is so amazing, go and climb it,” almost with a feeling of shaking the crowd and saying, “You guys! Dream bigger! Don’t let your fears get in the way! Don’t let this seem too impossible. You can do this too!” 

Afterwards, a good friend of mine cautioned me, saying, “Most of those people probably shouldn’t be encouraged to go out and do those climbs. You don’t know their ability level, Jenny. You don’t know their experience. Just because they climb 5.10 in the gym doesn’t mean they can go climb Acid Baby this weekend. Maybe it’s difficult for you to see these objectives outside of your own experience, but people generally don’t know what they’re doing, and are capable of getting themselves into really bad situations.”

He’s right, I know. But I think I’m right too, and I want to shake you all and tell you so. Climbing demands a progression; Whitney and I needed to climb each route of our link-up individually, know the terrain, plan our attack, and then put it all together. We were physically capable the entire time, just as my duo of friends who unsuccessfully did the link-up, but certainly had to take steps to accomplish our goal. Perhaps in the same way, you might be capable of something (whether you know it or not) but simply need to invest the time to identify the steps to take to get there. And with each of those steps, the Big Dream might start to feel less and less intimidating.

Because here’s what I think. We should all Dream Big. We should all start to Dream Bigger. We should all stop saying, “I wish I could do that…” Our goals will be relative to us, and to our skills and experience, but they’ll all be big, and incredibly worthy, and deservedly intimidating. I’m not sure what it is for me yet, though I’m certainly scheming. I’m not sure what it is for you, but you should find something. It might be really Big, it might seem impossible. But take the right steps, small and slow as they may seem, and you’re as capable as anyone.

You can totally do it.

Der Link-up

Last Tuesday, Whitney and I completed a link-up in the Stuart Range that I’ve dreamed of for awhile now, climbing Acid Baby, Solid Gold, and Iconoclast and hiking the Enchantments loop at the same time.

Shane Wilder from Icicle TV here in Leavenworth loaned us a GoPro to document our day for a film he is interested in producing. Being the absolute camera moron that I am, I filled up the GoPro before we finished our first route, mostly with in-the-dark footage. Way to go, Abegg. Whitney and I busted out our cameras to document the rest of the day, and this video is the result of our amateur shooting and editing skills. Hopefully it at least tells a story!

This was definitely one of our biggest ever days climbing in the mountains, and it’s one we’ll both remember forever. Most of the time, we felt like we were flying, and what I initially assumed would be a sufferfest was just another fun day out. It’s pretty cool what we can accomplish if we just try; now I get the feeling it’s time to start dreaming bigger and trying harder.

Enjoy! And then go live your own dream!

 

New [and Much Improved!] Harnesses from Arc’teryx

In the spirit of full disclosure, this product was given to me by Arc’teryx and I am generally biased towards their products [because they’re the best, duh]. While previous to becoming an ambassador I might not have written a review, I probably would have seen you at the crag and told you about my awesome gear [read: this is genuine]. But when you’re done reading, before going out and buying yourself a brand new harness, first ask yourself, “Do I really need that?” Because even better than making responsible purchases is just plain-ol’ using what you have. 

I have previously owned Arc’teryx harnesses, and quite honestly, have not been a fan. They bunch up and fold over at the waist, especially when loaded down with trad gear, making them extremely uncomfortable to hang or climb in. While their goal was light and fast, Arc’teryx had gone too far and streamlined their harnesses to the point that they were essentially light and useless. If you’ve had one of these harnesses, you probably (definitely) know what I’m talking about.

And Arc’teryx gets it too; by their own admission, they had a lot to learn and much to improve upon (another great thing about this innovative company). With their newest model, Arc’teryx completely revamped the make of their harnesses, addressing the bunching and folding (they call it “roping”) issue head on. They made prototypes, sent them out into the field for testing by their athletes, refined the harnesses based on feedback, and repeated this practice, over and over and over again.

What emerged from this process is without a doubt the best harness I have ever had. Fast and light, yes indeed, but also extremely, undeniably, and ridiculously comfortable. From hangdogging on my sport projects to climbing 2500 foot routes in the mountains, this harness does it all. And it doesn’t just subtract discomfort, it somehow adds comfort, supporting my lower back with zero pressure points and helping my clothes stay in place with its wide waist belt. Arc’teryx calls this Warp Strength Technology, and boy is it good. Additionally, the fabric is so streamlined that I can walk or climb quickly on moderate terrain without the leg loops bothering me one bit. All of this for 385 grams and the most packable harness I’ve ever owned.

Also, Arc’teryx [finally] added adjustable leg loops to their women’s specific harness, making the fit even better. Let all female body types rejoice! They also added attachment points for ice clippers and a wide haul loop in the back.

While they send some of their production abroad, Arc’teryx has a Vancouver factory that they reserve for their highest quality, highest innovation products. Thus, their harnesses are made right across the border in the politest land on earth (aka Canada), and only 50 miles from where I grew up. Now that’s cool!

So people, do yourselves a favor and check out Arc’teryx new line of harnesses. As is the case with all Arc products, you will more than make up for the expensive purchase with quality, comfort, longevity, and an awesome warranty. And just a warning: if you’ve had Arc’teryx harnesses before, be sure to check the size chart before you buy another of your previous size – with all their improvements, they’ve revamped their sizing as well to be more congruent with other Arc’teryx products.

Photo credit: Ramon Dompor

 

 

A River of Consciousness

Recently I’ve had blog-writers block. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say – I probably have more to say at this point in my life than most. It’s not that I haven’t had time – injury has kept me close to home, where I’m waiting on a job at a restaurant that still hasn’t opened. It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about writing, because I have. Mostly, it’s that I’m afraid of being…cliché.

Just a few minutes on the internet and I get the sense that in all of our online ramblings, we’re all saying the same things. Humans like to write about their own experiences, and I think we like to feel unique and playful and skillful while doing so. Even the recipe blog I just read to learn how to make nutella-banana ice cream (mix the bananas and nutella together and freeze, duh) – 90% of it was about the writer’s anxiety and how chocolate and ice cream make her feel better. We’re all the same, our blogs with clever names derived from quotes, carefully crafted “about me” sections, and links to our instagrams on the side. Carbon copies and cookie cutters, all trying to be so unique in the same way.

So not wanting to be painfully cliché, I start thinking about writing trip reports, but that just begins to feel like spray, or needless internet fodder. My sister does a better job than I (or anyone else) could ever do, and do I need to reinvent the wheel with my own descriptions? I didn’t take any photos on Rampage the other day, and does anyone really need to hear about another ascent of Der Sportsman? Besides, I didn’t even lead the crux pitch – or most of the climb for that matter – so am I justified in telling the world about it?

On that note, Blake told me yesterday that he thinks I was the first woman to free the entirety of Der Sportsman, or climb it at all. Whitney and I joked about it later that night, listing off the climbs in the area that we think haven’t seen an all-female ascent. What if we went on a girls-only rampage in the Cascades (the fruit is hanging low)…what if we started a website and called it fffa.com (first female free ascent) so we could keep a record of these things?  But…why? And…who cares?

To take myself out of the clouds of FFFAing, all I have to do is drive 5 minutes and play around on silly boulder problems. Bouldering, that’s the real challenge. My body’s conditioned to spend 18 hours in continuous movement, hiking and climbing moderate grades. But put a V3 in front of me and it’s an all out mental-physical-emotional battle. I know others feel the same way, and I know even more feel exactly the opposite. That’s probably one of the coolest parts of climbing: all of the many disciplines.

And that’s probably one of the coolest parts of life: all of its variety and diverse curiosities and challenges. I’m loving living in Leavenworth, picking buckets of cherries from my neighbor’s trees, going swimming in the river after climbing with new friends, lingering in my garden hoping to catch growth in action. Matt’s no longer with me…I certainly miss his affection, and his companionship, and I desperately hope he is well. But it’s a new season: my books are on a shelf again, arranged by color, and the cherries are dehydrating in the garage. Road life was good, and now home life is good.

It’s all good, and it’s all hard, and it’s all the same, for you and me and all of us humans. There’s a lot of rivers in this town – the the Tumwater, the Wenatchee, the Icicle – they’re all unique in the same way too. Headed to similar places, but finding their own path and flow. On a macro level they’re carbon copies; take a closer look, sit at their banks after a sweaty climbing session, and you’ll know their differences. And somehow amidst their rush and hurry, they’re peaceful and directed, and oddly still. I guess I hope to be the same.

Title photo: Austin Siadak

#defineFEMININE

For better or for worse, I’m not usually someone who thinks too big picture. Societal issues overwhelm me; befriending a Burmese refugee family and helping them with life appeals far more than marching in the street for immigrant rights. Learning about climate change paralyzes me, but I’ll choose my bike over my car any day. I can’t tell you the last time I watched the news, the word “feminist” has never meant much to me, and when conversations get intangible and impractical, I check out. So when Arc’teryx began their #defineFEMININE campaign, clearly, my first response was, “uhhhhh…” Barbie and Seventeen magazine and climbing and women’s business suits and inner beauty and athlete models and tears and strength and Katniss and plus-size models ran into my brain in high heels and out barefoot, first dressed in pink and then in pants ripped and patched and ripped again.

And that’s why I usually stray from thinking too philosophically about things.

So I thought I’d make it easier on myself, and think about what I do know. I can speak pretty competently from my own experience, and usually that yields the clearest line of thinking. So this is what I know about the word “feminine:”

1. These pictures by photographer Kate Parker from her series entitled Strong is the New Pretty evoke something huge in me. I want to run around with these girls and roll in the mud and get as dirty as possible and kick soccer balls as far as we can and be opinionated and joyful and free and fully ourselves, and then I want to look them all in the eyes and say, “YOU ARE SO RAD.” I’ve never seen photos of girls quite like these before; the contrast between this and how we’re used to seeing girls portrayed is really startling. The amount of spirit and power and strength these young women show honestly brings tears to my eyes.

 

2. Without getting too TMI on the blogosphere, I’ve struggled hard with feeling feminine my whole life. In those rapidly-changing pre-high school years, I missed the boat completely: my body changed but nothing else did. There’s this clear delineation in our old family photos from where things went from cute to awkward. And honestly, they stayed awkward for over a decade. I didn’t know where to shop, the ins-and-outs of make-up were a mystery to me, I had one hairstyle (ponytail, duh), and just feeling girly felt shameful. More than anything though, in those years I defined feminine as something that I was not, and in so doing lost my spirit and my confidence. So yes, femininity has been a hot topic throughout my life, whether I’ve known it or not.

 

3. When I was in my mid-twenties I worked for three summers at an off-the-grid camp on an inlet in British Columbia, living half-time with the community at sea level and spending the other half guiding groups of high schoolers on week-long mountaineering trips in the BC Coast Range. I don’t know what it is about Beyond Malibu – I’m not sure that any of us do – but the women that it attracts are some of the world’s most beautiful, soulful, confident, strong women. I learned to read Wendell Berry at Beyond, to listen to the Wailin’ Jennys, to write and speak and share life honestly. I learned to love my strong body, I learned that there is power in confidence and self-love, I learned that a week without a mirror or shower spent moving through the mountains can leave a woman feeling more beautiful than anything. In short, throughout those three formative summers, the community and mountains of Beyond unearthed the shameless femininity in myself.

 

4. As climbing has become a huge part of my life throughout the last three years, it has completely changed the femininity ballgame for me. Climbing demands that I recognize and harness my power and self-sufficiency. It demands that I use my body to its fullest potential. It demands that I am aware and honest with myself. Responding to those demands and realizing all that is within me has boosted my self-confidence and self-love by innumerable amounts. Climbing makes me feel beautiful and agile, courageous and powerful, thoughtful and aware. It roots me in myself and in my body in a way that feels very right.

 

I’m not sure that I’m much closer to an answer to the #defineFEMININE question than when I began. But maybe I am a little closer to knowing what it is that makes me love being a female, what makes me cherish my body and mind, what it is that makes me the kind of woman I want to be. And that’s something I believe everyone should be able to define for themselves; ultimately there should be no set prototype for what “feminine” is or how “femininity” looks. If we could all #defineFEMININE for ourselves, maybe we’d all be on the right track towards accepting exactly who we are, shamelessly and confidently. High heels or barefoot or anything in between.

Oh, and be sure to check the link on the top right of the page ^ regarding the Arc’teryx Women’s Night coming up at the end of May. If you’re a woman in the Seattle area, you should come!

Team Dead Bird

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to join with the really fine folk at the Seattle Arc’teryx store and serve as their ambassador. Team Dead Bird (as we affectionately call Arc’teryx in the outdoor world). This might come as much of a surprise to you as it does to me…if you know anything about me I’m usually wearing the same clothes for days at a time, said clothes generally have holes in them, and my backpacks don’t look much better. I climbed for over a month in Patagonia in pants that daily became more and more ventilated in the behind-region, and towards the height of the hole’s growth I think my friend Sarah was ready to call off our partnership on the basis of my attire (or lack thereof). Once, in an interview for a job at REI, I said, “I’m really just interested in working in the rentals or returns departments. I don’t think I could handle the…uh…materialism, of working retail.” I never got a call back. And then there’s that year when I vowed to myself not to spend a single dollar on clothing…

All that to say, I think this is a PERFECT partnership between Arc’teryx and myself. Why is that, you ask, you who spend about 1% of your income on clothing? Well let me tell you. Arc’teryx clothing and gear is incredibly well designed and made, making it durable and long-lasting (read: no rips in my butt anymore, and no need to buy new clothes as much). All mandatory Arc’teryx spray-age aside, throughout my training I have been genuinely blown away by the design, materials, and craftsmanship that go into each product.  Here’s a few things that might blow your mind too:

  • The industry standard for time taken to assemble a jacket is around 2-2.5 hours. Total time to assemble an Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket: 4 hours and 38 minutes.
  • The WaterTight zipper was invented by Arc’teryx, and is now used by almost every outdoor manufacturer in the world. Arc’teryx also invented the softshell.
  • Arc’teryx products are stitched together with microseams – 16 stiches per inch instead of the usual 8 – to make them stronger and sleeker.

Arc’teryx is careful about their social/environmental impact:

  • Wearing Arc’teryx clothing and using their gear is comparable to getting your coffee in a reusable mug every day. Such durability means that you’ll be wearing the same jacket 6 years later, when you might have gone through 3 not-so-well-made jackets in that same time.
  • Arc’teryx has an incredible warranty – they offer repair services worldwide!
  • While some production is sent abroad, many of Arc’teryx’s products are still made in their Vancouver factory – the most advanced outdoor apparel factory in the world. Woah.
  • Through the Bird’s Nest Project, Arc’teryx uses their scrap fabric to create waterproof capes for the local homeless populations. Now that’s cool.

So now that we’ve established that Arc’teryx gear and clothing lasts forever and that the company shares my anti-materialistic, anti-waste leanings, there’s one more reason why this is such a cool partnership for me. This is a chance for me to pick the brains of the really fine staff at the Seattle retail store and have them help me decipher all of the Dead Bird jumble that’s existed in my brain for so long. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, SL, SV, AR, LT, Ascent, Whiteline, Traverse… Maybe one day soon I’ll be an expert as well and can answer all of your questions, but for now, you should definitely just go into the store and get all that confusion cleared up. Downtown Seattle, on 4th & Pike. Even if you’re an online shopper, taking a trip to the store to learn more about the products you’re buying from some knowledgable, helpful people is a really good idea, especially when you might be buying a jacket or backpack that you could potentially have for the rest of your life.

All joking aside, this is going to be really fun for me, hopefully to the benefit of Arc’teryx as well. I’m excited to have a creative outlet, a huge amount of support, and a bit more purpose behind all of my climbing and adventuring. I’m stoked to share my excitement and passion for climbing on a greater level, and hopefully inspire others. And yep, to my penny-pinching, anti-materialism, dirtbag soul, the free clothes and gear sure doesn’t hurt.😉

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