I came up to Oregon for a multi-day hut trip in the Three Sisters Wilderness, open to getting out of my comfort zone, knowing full well I was meeting up with some badass babes who like to adventure. When I visit friends in their home towns it’s always exciting to see what type of stoke they incorporate into their daily lives. For Jane Williams part of her day to day life is getting up before the sun rises to summit Mt. Hood … before work.
I wasn’t expecting the hut trip to kick my ass as much as it did. But I also wasn’t expecting to get sick right before it or for it to be raining most of the time, making the skin out on Saturday morning wet to super wet. So when Jane mentioned something about trying to summit Mt. Hood with a couple of girls the morning after the hut trip, I was hesitantly like “ok, that could be cool” but after we got back from our 3-day adventure I was thinking you crazzzzzy girl. But I didn’t really want to say that out loud to her, because I wanted her to think I was just like her, a badass babe, looking to push my limits and get after it every day.
I respect Jane so much. The amount of energy this girl has – woah! I thought I had a lot of energy but damn she puts me to shame. I thought I was being lazy when we got back to Ally’s house after the hut trip, and all I wanted to do was relax, but Jane was talking about going to Smith Rock State Park, and I was then thinking I don’t want to miss out on seeing Smith Rock while I am in Bend. But I ended up being real with myself relinquishing that Jane and I are 2 different humans with different needs and that I needed a breather, but what she needed was to go on a 10 mile run with her fiancé Dan.
Don’t get me wrong, I am alllll about decathlon days. When Mike, my husband, and I started dating we’d pull out all our sports gear and set out on an epic day of playing sports. But this was different to me. This wasn’t just going bike riding, playing tennis, basketball, volleyball, and then hitting golf balls. This was 2 new experiences that were both not only physically taxing but also mentally taxing. I hadn’t even had time to process what I was thinking and feeling about the hut trip before I had to go to bed at 10:30 PM to wake up at 12:30 AM, and then hop in the car for a 2-hour ride from Bend to Mt. Hood.
When we got to Hood all I really wanted to do was sleep. I didn’t want to put my ski gear on or my sore blistered feet into my snowboard boots. But I did, because I got hit with a sudden jolt of adrenaline when a thought passed through my head, that there was a possibility of me summiting a mountain with 4 other strong courageous women. How could I pass up an experience like this? Jane is an experienced mountaineer with over 30 summits under her belt. She organized this adventure so she could help, support, and teach the 4 of us, first time Hood climbers, up the hill, in the dark, towards the peak of a Volcano.
This wasn’t just a group of experienced climbers trying to get to the summit as fast as possible, this was a learning experience, a safe space to search deep inside ourselves and take it to the next gear. Even though all I really wanted to do was sleep, and I think anyone else would have thought I had earned that, I could tell that Jane would be disappointed in me if I said “No” and didn’t just try. Honestly, I would have been disappointed with myself. When opportunities like these comes a knocking, you really need to just suck up the fear, pain and see through it and say “Yes” and see where it takes you, because they don’t come around that often. All arrows were pointing to this experience aligning with my values. And I really didn’t have an excuse to say “no” other than laziness … but was it really laziness? The inner turmoil going inside my head was out of control I was having such conflicting thoughts:
“Just Do it, you won’t regret trying, don’t do it, you’ve already earned your street cred for the weekend”. As much as I didn’t want to do it, this voice in the back of my head started getting louder and louder screaming at me to take this motherfucker to the next level and to give it my all – the rest of the energy I had in the tank. I concluded that the hesitation existed because:
1. I had just gone on my first backcountry splitboarding trip.
2. This would be the second (third-ish) time I’ve been on a splitboard.
3. The terrain was going to be significantly steeper.
4. The conditions were not ideal – it was windier and icier than forecasted.
5. I’ve never taken mountaineering classes where you learn how to use crampons and ice axes and to self-arrest in case of an emergency.
6. Not only was my energy drained
7. But I was still unsure about how to use my gear.
I had help taking my skins on and off during the hut trip – I obviously would rather be autonomous, but when starting out in these kind of sports its super helpful to watch people for tricks on how to do it right. These were all the things rolling around my head stopping me from being really excited and giving a full-throttled “YES” to this unexpected adventure.
But then here I was at 3:30 in the morning, shivering, putting my boots on wondering did I have it in me to summit a volcano today? Is that a reality?
I’d say the most embarrassing part of the day came at 3:35 AM when I was not able to put my skins on my skis by myself. They were tough to peel apart and super hard to attach. Imagine meeting 4 women who’ve skied in the backcountry before, and you are about to try to summit a mountain, and you’re asking them to help you put on one of your more important pieces of equipment. I am sure they were like who is this gaper – but to be fair we’ve all been there, we’ve all been in that beginner spot, unsure of our gear and how to use it, and sometimes we are afraid and ashamed to ask for help. But with a little help from supportive and understanding people who want you to succeed, you are able to get over a frustration, learn to be independent, and be able to get going without having your gear on wrong. I was intimidated by the women I had just met, but they showed my kindness by helping me put on my skins and that eased the tension of meeting new people, who were there to overcome their own barriers, but had this extended role of being each other’s support system even though we were all mostly strangers with one connection in common: Jane.
Jane had been looking at the weather conditions all weekend, and said it was going to be a perfect day for climbing Hood – clear, warm, and with snow from the night before so terrain would be soft. She was being pretty convincing after spending the previous day hiking out from our hut drenched from heavy rainfall.
All geared up and making our way towards the climb – starting at 6,000 ft of elevation at Timberline Lodge. Mt. Hood is the highest peak in Oregon coming in at 11,250 ft and at this point, it’s all mental really. I am already exhausted, but I am up for the challenge. I know my body is strong enough, and I’ve set a goal in site of where I think I could make it. I’ve come to terms at this point that I don’t think a summit push is a reality for me today. Even though Jane would be there to guide me. I’m tired, my energy is already low, and I’m just not sure if I’m completely comfortable with the idea of using crampons and an ice ax without ever having prior experience. From the plan that Jane has laid out my goal is the flat portion right before the hike to attempt the summit called Crater Rock. Considering all the things I had riding against me I thought I was giving myself an attainable goal. Not that I didn’t want to shoot for the summit, I just wanted to be realistic, because of where I was mentally and physically at that moment. I wouldn’t say I was in the hurt locker or anything that extreme but I was definitely being tested.
As we climbed we set a conversational pace where I got to know some of the other women I was hiking with. One a nurse, another a semi professional climber. I was in good company. All outdoor enthusiasts and all looking to push their limits. It’s exciting to be around other people who are looking to conquer fears and get out of their comfort zones, especially women. As I get older I’ve really noticed the sheer number of women in my life or women I’ve met who are pushing themselves to be the best version of themselves. And I don’t know if it’s just my age, my interests have changed, if that’s why I am seeing it or if it’s always been there. I guess it’s always been there, but it seems that this curiosity, this fire has been lit, and there is this courage that has been released to overcome one’s self-doubt, and to just try, say “Yes”, and not worry about failing because you might end up flying.
I was happy it was dark out and all I could see was my skis illuminated by my headlamp. I was able to get in a rhythm counting my steps without having to see how far away I really was to our end goal. It was slow going. The wind was whipping. We would get hot, but then be chilled to the bone. We stopped for snacks and had Cashew the Adventure Dog lift our spirits with his cute tongue hanging out of his mouth occasionally herding us back up the mountain.
The mountain’s conditions were not ideal to say the least, as it did not snow the day before like it was supposed to. We were trucking along for a while without any problems. I was feeling good, in a groove, but then as the mountains started to get steeper, it started to get icier. Icy to the point where my skins would not stick to the mountain, and I’d slide backward, end up falling, and flailing to try to stand up using my poles as leverage. We tried to avoid the icy patches by searching for the wind deposited snow, but they were hard to find in the darkness. This procedure of trying to avoid icy patches, falling, getting back up, then trying to avoid said icy patch, falling, flailing, was quite tiresome and I was getting really frustrated and tired. I was losing a lot of my energy every time I fell. Jane noticed I was struggling and stayed behind with me to help coach me through this section. She really did a fantastic job of encouraging me, showing me technique, and motivating me to continue pushing on. I was thankful to not be out here alone, struggling, but to have an actual cheerleader helping me succeed.
When you are in a situation like this all you’re looking for is small magic moments and we got ours. The grooming cats had come out to play, and they were in the process of grooming the shitty snow we were currently climbing. So we humped on over to the fresh corduroy which was a godsend. It made it so much easier to skin up the mountain without falling backwards. I was feeling good on the groomed snow, but apprehensive as we neared the end of it because the shitty icy snow was about to continue for the rest of the climb up to Crater Rock. As the sky started to lighten we finally made it to the top of the Palmer lift line about 9,000 feet, it was 7 am – that’s a 3,000 ft elevation gain in 3 hours – nothing to scoff at there.
Mt. Hood looked so close yet so far away. The imposing rock starting to be defined as the sun graced us with her presence. As we made our way to a spot where we could rest and regroup I started to get realistic with myself. With the continuation of the icy snow and the cycle of having to pick our way through to find the soft patches, skins not sticking, sliding, falling, flailing. My energy was drained mentally and physically. I had to dig deep inside myself and wrestle with my ego a bit to come to terms with the fact that this was going to be my stopping point. I didn’t make it to my goal of Crater Rock, but Jane said I should not be discouraged, but proud as she’s been with others who have turned around way before this point. I didn’t want to go, I still had a lot more to prove to myself and the others, but I felt like I’d just be holding them back, and potentially putting them in a precarious spot with my lack of mental focus, fatigue, and novice mountaineering skills. So I tapped out.
I said goodbye to the other ladies, wishing them luck on their push for the summit knowing they had a couple more hours to go. Jane was amazing as she got me to a safe place to transition my splitboard into a snowboard, and made sure I was ok to snowboard down alone. As I sat there strapped in ready to snowboard down, a feeling of peace washed over me. I did this. I tried and look how far I got! Watching Hood become lit up, and the colors of the sky and landscape change from deep blues and purples to pinks and yellows from 9,000 feet was a sight to be seen – Mother Nature putting on her daily spectacular show, and I was so lucky to catch this version of it.
It had been a couple of weeks since I had actually taken some turns on my snowboard so I was delighted for the corduroy, even though it was a bit bulletproof, there were some glorious patches of freshly deposited wind buff that made for some pretty nice, soft turns. As I passed by others starting their climb I felt accomplished that I had made it to 9,000 feet by sunrise, and was able to take in that view, but also happy that I was making my way to the lodge for a hot chocolate. I hoped with the sun coming out that Jane and crew could shed some layers and that the snow would soften for them.
I clipped out of my board and made my way to the lodge ready to finally relax and relish in this weekends adventures. And even though, I didn’t make it to the summit or to my some what random goal of Crater Rock – I accomplished my first goal of just saying yes, trying, and getting out of my comfort zone even more than I already had that weekend. I did not fail – I flew. I found even more strength within me – knowing when to take it to the next gear and knowing what my limits were.
As I warmed up by the fire, shedding layers by the hour, I stared up at Mt. Hood through the big windows of Timberline Lodge and thought I’ll be back.
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