14 July 2016

Modern Outdoor Romance: Finding Love in the Mountaineers

"I’m a sucker for a good love story, especially one that includes meeting in the great out-of-doors. My maternal grandparents met in the Sierra Club. They fell in love at a trail work party while bridge-building in Butano State Park, California. My parents met in in the aspen trees of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where my dad was a ski instructor. For years I’ve shied away from online dating, preferring to meet new people through activity groups like running and climbing. You could say it’s in my blood."

So begins my latest article for Mountaineer magazine, wherein I get to write about my friends Gwen and Stephen (and many other couples) who met in The Mountaineers. This story is especially dear to my heart because I, too, met my beau through The Mountaineers. To see the photography, including the center-spread (and cover!), check out the full version of the magazine online, or continue reading for the rest of the article.

Gone are the days of stolen glances and formal courting, replaced by mindless swiping on phone screens while sitting in a room full of perfectly interesting people. But it’s not like that for everyone. When I met Gwen Young and Stephen Sherman through The Mountaineers, I knew immediately that I wanted to share their love story.

When Gwen showed up for the first day of the Crag Climbing course in March 2011, she had no idea how much it would change her life. At the kickoff party, Loni Uchytil, a volunteer instructor and friend Gwen met through Basic,  casually introduced Gwen to Stephen, a fellow crag student. She felt butterflies. Fast forward five years and Gwen and Stephen are married, and recently welcomed a baby girl into the Sherman Family. Naturally, little Quinn has already been to Yosemite and Mazama.

A dating revolution

When The Mountaineers were established 110-years ago, the dating landscape in the Pacific Northwest was quite different. If a man was interested in a woman, he began the process of “courting” her by visiting her house and presenting a calling card at the door. The woman could choose to receive him… or not. Social events were the only times men and women were allowed to mingle, and each gender had calling cards to express romantic interest. Unmarried couples were never allowed to kiss. A woman could not take a man’s arm unless it was offered. Proper decorum had to be followed at all times to uphold the propriety of any social group lest a scandal bring the whole thing crashing down.

These were the social rules when the The Mountaineers formed in 1906. And that makes the fact that over half our founding members were women all the more remarkable. Our founders of 77 women and 74 men were groundbreakers on the mountains and off, doing something unusual for the time. Granted, women were not permitted to wear pants on outings without causing an uproar (skirts over bloomers were acceptable), but it says a great deal about the quality of the early leaders that women felt so comfortable joining the club.

oday, our members joke The Mountaineers should create a “Mountaineers Dating App.” Apparently, a lot of folks are looking to meet their ideal outdoor date. But perhaps the ‘singles’ of today are failing to see the lessons from yesteryear: when you embrace your passions and do the things you love, you’re bound to find people who love the same things. Many of our members have met their future spouses in The Mountaineers for this very reason. The outdoors brings us together.

A modern courtship

The ultimate display of our love for the outdoors is when it becomes a life-long commitment to adventuring with one special person. In the case of Gwen and Stephen, climbing was the catalyst of their courtship. That, and a little help from their friend Loni.

Unbeknownst to Gwen at the time, Stephen was also friends with Loni. Prior to enrolling in crag, he’d joked with Loni about potential ‘dating prospects’ in the course. “In fact, I have the perfect girl for you,” she’d replied with a devious smile. Giving little weight to their conversation, Stephen arrived at the kickoff party and went to greet Loni hello. Instead, Loni walked Stephen right over and introduced him to Gwen. “To be honest, I was pretty intimidated. I spent evening wondering if I would ever have a chance.” Said Stephen. Gwen shared his feelings. “I thought he was very cute and handsome when he walked in, but it didn’t occur to me that he’d ever want to date me,” said Gwen, of their first encounter.

It wasn’t until the second or third crag class when Stephen worked up the nerve to ask Gwen if she’d like to go climb sometime. Their first dates were at the climbing gym and during crag field trips. On a memorable trip to Tieton, Gwen was taking practice falls and looked down to see Stephen watching her. “I was super giddy about it, because it meant he would be there when I got down.”
“It was kind of nice because she was stuck with me for all of the field trips,” Stephen said with a smile, knowing Loni the matchmaker had a hand in the scheduling. Their first multi-pitch climb ever was with Mountaineers legend Jim Nelson. “I don’t know who I was more excited about climbing with: Gwen…or Jim!”

Halfway through the crag course, Gwen and Stephen made their relationship official. They celebrated with a picnic on the beach at Golden Gardens. As the sun set, Stephen thought to himself, “I think I might have found my forever climbing partner.”

Their first summer together was full of climbing trips in the Pacific Northwest. Beautiful places like Squamish and Smith Rock served as the backdrop to their blossoming relationship. After two years, Stephen proposed on a canyoneering trip to Zion with friends made in The Mountaineers. The pair took a day to climb “The Headache”, a three-pitch classic consisting of sustained 5.10 crack climbing. Undeterred by the hanging belay station at the end, Stephen reached into his pocket and took a ring — which he had wrapped in three plastic baggies yet had failed to “anchor” to anything — and asked Gwen to marry him. She said yes.

A forever climbing partner

Nearly three years-to-the-day after their first date, Gwen and Stephen became Mr. & Mrs. Sherman in an outdoor ceremony. Loni spoke at the wedding. As a final celebration of their love for each other and the outdoors, the Shermans loaded up the adventure van they bought and built together before getting engaged and enjoyed a four-month climbing road trip across the United States.

Today, they are trying to figure out how to be parents and enjoy the outdoors as a family. Stephen is proud that Quinn has already won a competition at the Seattle Bouldering Project. She was voted “best-dressed” on Halloween.

The Shermans also continue to help teach the crag climbing course each year. “We’ve been teaching crag for five years now. We do it because the class gave us so much. We want to give other people that opportunity to learn. But it’s also really fun to meet new climbers and be reunited with our climbing friends,” said Stephen. “We look forward to it every year,” added Gwen.

In a way, volunteering with crag lets Gwen and Stephen revisit the early days of their love story. Gwen and Stephen get to experience their life-changing moment year after year. And isn’t that better than a Mountaineers dating app? The next time someone mentions needing a date, you can say, “Why don’t you take a class? You never know how it might change your life.”

More Love in The Mountaineers

For this story, we spoke to many amazing Mountaineers couples. With 110-years of history, our members have celebrated thousands of unions. Here are a few stories from our couples, told in their own words:

Duncan and Marla Cox
Met: 1991
Relationship Status: Married

Their story (as told by Duncan): I had a job offer to come here from the UK and one of the reasons I decided move was the outdoor access. I saw The Mountaineers because I worked right on Queen Anne. I joined and started with the Singles Group in the early nineties. We used to have a Mountaineers volleyball group on Monday nights, and we’d go to this bar afterward. One night Marla showed up with a friend. For me it was love at first sight – Marla not so much, she just made fun of my accent. I signed up for the climbing program in 1991 and learned that she had also signed up. Our courtship really became about getting through the climbing course together. I proposed over beers and pizza after a snow field trip where we got completely soaked by standard PNW weather. There were quite a few of us who met in that singles group and we still hang out with some of the other couples from our early days today.

Editor’s Note: The Singles Group, or “Swingles” as it was known for a time, was organized in 1971 as an offshoot of the former Trail Trips Committee. Appealing mainly to younger members, their activities included day hikes, backpacks, lodge weekends, and a Christmas potluck with a slide show. More than 100 people led Singles’ hikes, and about 1,000 people participated. An annual salmon bake and weekly volleyball were especially popular with participants. Today the Swingles group is mostly inactive, but our 20-30 Something’s group is growing in popularity.

Tim and Masako Nair
Met: 2001
Relationship Status: Married

Their story (as told by the happy couple):
Masako: We met in the Mountaineers in 2001. At the time I was into speed hiking, and I was looking for a partner/friend who could hike as fast as me. I really couldn’t find anyone until I met Tim on a Mountaineers hike to Granite Lakes, which was considered a strenuous hike. I was hiking with a top group and Tim was behind, but on the way back it turned into just the two of us. We realized we were way ahead, and started talking, then made plans to go hiking together. 
Tim: Then the next weekend we went hiking together again. Fifteen years later we are still hiking together every weekend.
Masako: Tim proposed to me in Forgotten Mountain Meadow after two years. He said he ‘really liked the lifestyle and wanted to do this for the rest of his life, and will you marry me?” And I said yes, sure! We had been on multi-day strenuous backpacks together. Those bring out the WORST part of you. We had seen the ugliest part of our personalities, but it was still fun and we still loved each other. That’s the magic of backpacking: you know he’s the one if you still feel the love after the trip.
Tim: We were engaged for a year after that, and after 15 years our life hasn’t changed. We’ve taken snowshoeing and alpine scrambling together. We continue to backpack and snowshoe and do some easy scrambles. I still volunteer and lead backpacks in the summer to give back. Basically all the friends we have now is because of The Mountaineers. Our friends are people we met in the club. It’s so great to meet people who love the same things we do.
Masako: And they’re all mutual friends. We created this community together. It’s a great asset for both of us.

Matt Palubinskas and Andrea Moore
Met: Fall 2013
Relationship Status: Engaged

Their Story (as told by Matt): We were colleagues for more than a year before I asked Andrea to join me on a hike one Saturday in the fall of 2013. Our first date was a hike to Rachel Lake. While she wasn’t a Mountaineers member at the time, she was an avid hiker and outdoors enthusiast. As we spent more time together, we found that our happiest moments were the ones outside, in the mountains, in the snow, in the forests. I volunteered with The Mountaineers often, due to convergence of my passions for climbing and teaching, and Andrea knew she would have to learn new skills to safely share my mountaineering zeal. After dating for a few months, she signed up for the Scramble Course. She had a great experience, and she wanted to learn more alpine climbing skills, so Andrea took the Basic Alpine Climbing Course the following year. This year, for Andrea’s 31st birthday, we climbed Little Tahoma with a Mountaineers group that I led. I hiked up to Meany Crest, our base camp, with a bottle of champagne and a birthday care package (including a compass) in order to celebrate her birthday. We’ve been scrambling and climbing across the Northwest for the past two years, and hopefully for many more.

Editor’s note: as of the timing of this interview, Matt was about to propose to Andrea. She said yes, and they’ll be married in an outdoor ceremony this summer.

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