26 January 2017

The Transformative Power of Words

Earlier this week, The Mountaineers hosted a speaking event with the iconic father-son duo: Jim and Leif Whittaker. I was honored to introduce the Whittakers to our audience, and even more grateful to experience their presentation full of brand new, never-before-seen photos unearthed from the Whittaker 'basement archives'. Both Leif and Jim have climbed Everest and written powerful books about their experiences in the mountains. Reading their words, you can't help but feel transported into a world of snow and rock - a place where the line between life and death is very fine.

The show sold out a week before the event. The night of, folks were clamoring at the door to get last-minute seats. People stood in line for over an hour to get books signed and have their photos taken next to two mountaineering giants (literally, they're both well over 6' tall).

The excitement was justified. Jim Whittaker is a legend to The Mountaineers' community, and Leif is well on his way to becoming one, with two Everest summits under his belt and natural talent for storytelling. Jim is a visionary adventurer and environmentalist, continuing to advocate for an outdoor life which has given him so much. He’s also the husband to Dianne Roberts, an internationally recognized photographer who's been published by the likes of National Geographic. Together they have two sons, Joss and Leif. The boys grew up in Port Townsend, Washington, and surprisingly weren't pushed into the outdoors by their parents. They discovered it on their own, together climbing Mt. Olympus - without adult supervision - when Leif was just 15. Before that, Jim and Dianne pulled the kids out of school and spent 4 years as sailing in the south pacific.

I remember reading about this iconic family and their adventures many years ago, long before I even knew that The Mountaineers existed. I never imagined those stories would shape the course of my life.

While in the middle of my business degree at UW, I got sick and tired of reading books about finance and economics and found myself at the library late one night looking for something different. Into Thin Air, John Krakauer’s account of the 1996 disaster on Mt Everest, was featured on the shelf and I took it home. Whether you agree with Krakauer or not, his story was absolutely riveting and I was hooked.

I read all I could about the 1996 disaster, then devoured anything and everything related to mountaineering. I picked up “inspirational titles” like Left for Dead by Beck Weathers,and On The Ridge Between Life and Death by David Roberts. I demolished Into the Void and Forget Me Knot and The White Spider and Ghosts of Everest. I savored everything written by Ed Viesturs and David Roberts and - of course - Jim Whittaker.

When Jim and Sherpa Nawang Gombu stood on the summit of Mt. Everest in 1963, Jim became the first American to reach the top of the world's highest peak. But before that he learned to climb with The Mountaineers as a teenager. Along with his brother Lou, Jim graduated from Basic in 1944 and together they became guides on Mt. Rainier. Lou went on to found Rainier Mountaineering Inc., which is still in operation and run by his son Peter, and "Big Jim"went on to become the first full-time employee, and eventually the CEO, of REI - back when REI was down the hall from The Mountaineers clubhouse in downtown Seattle and known as "The Mountaineers Co-op".

When all was said and done I had two bookshelves full of mountaineering literature. Mind you, at the time I was an overstressed, out of shape college student who didn’t even like to go hiking, let alone climb a mountain “because it’s there”.

After my feast of mountaineering books, I took a break from reading for a while. But the stories continued to swirl in my brain and the books stayed on my bookshelf as I moved from apartment to apartment. Only after I discovered my adventurous life, and eventually joined The Mountaineers staff, did I realize half of the books I’d savored in college were published by Mountaineers Books. 

I read Leif’s book, My Old Man and the Mountain, when it came out in October, and can honestly say it’s one of the best mountaineering memoirs I’ve read. Leif is a talented writer, and is able to masterfully (with a delightful taste of sarcasm) share his life story about growing up Whittaker. Through is words, he transports you to a world where you understand what it would feel like to grow up constantly answering the incessant question “So, when are you going to climb Everest?”

19 January 2017

Owning My White Privilege to Support a More Diverse Outdoors

This week Backpacker Magazine posted an article about diversity in the outdoors. In "How Do We Make The National Parks More Diverse?", author Ted Alvarez presented four perspectives from experts discussing ways in which we can help break down barriers and increase non-white participation in the outdoors.

To me, the article was fantastic, and representative of the conversations happening on a national level across the outdoor industry. The future of the industry depends on greater participation from people of color. America is going to look very different in 30 years, with white people becoming the minority for the first time. If diverse, multicultural populations don't feel comfortable getting outside - be it due to lack of opportunities, lack of resources, lack of an outdoor culture, lack of role models - then the future of our outdoor playgrounds is at risk.

Doing what we can to close the "adventure gap" seems like the logical next step to me, both from a practical sense and an emotional one. I love getting outside. I know how much spending time in nature makes me feel personally inspired and rejuvenated, and I think all people should have the same opportunities to experience that magic. I thought everyone would feel the same way.

I was wrong.

When Backpacker posted their article to Facebook, negative comments came flooding in. Things like, "I think there are far more important things to concern ourselves with than the fact that minorities seem to not like hiking and camping as much as white people do" and, "Oh brother. What a silly concept. Anyone can go to a national park. Nothing holding them back except the desire to go. Quit inventing imaginary problems."

I was really shocked to read, "They're national parks. They're not social band aids."

The vitriol of these posts surprised me. Are we as a society incapable of trying to understand the experience of someone else? Do we think our own experiences are the only things that can possibly be true? If your child came home from school and said they were being picked on would you say, "I don't believe you because I was never picked on."? No! You would believe your kid and get the Principal on the phone!

As a white female, I've faced my fair share of frustrations with the outdoor community, but I've more or less always felt accepted in the outdoors. That said, I can understand other people have faced more hurdles than me. Privilege means you had to take six steps and I only had to take three to go the same distance, AND it means I had no idea you had to work harder than I did to reach the same destination.

Until recently, I was pretty ignorant about this inequality. I'm working to be better by listening and reading and trying to understand. I'm not an expert on White Privilege - hell, this is not a topic I feel like I'm at ALL qualified to talk about and I'm sure I've already screwed something up - but I'm doing what I can to learn from and support others with less privilege than me. I have to recognize that because of my privilege I am inherently in a better position than others to speak up about outdoor access inequality. I'm going to do all I can to support efforts to create opportunities to get ALL people outside. I hope you'll join me.

Listen. Read. Learn. Advocate.

Listen to Code Switch, a podcast hosted by journalists of color discussing race and whiteness. The Can We Talk About Whiteness episode really blew my mind. For example - I never think about the fact that I am white. People of color think about the fact that aren't white all the time, and they sit around talking about what it means. The closest experience I've had to this is walking into a room full of men and being suddenly (and sometimes painfully) aware of being a woman. When is the last time you thought about what it meant to be white?

Read more about the coalition of groups looking to increase diversity in the outdoors. If one inspires you, get involved.

Get a local perspective as it relates to Mt. Rainier or try to understand the history of racism in the outdoors and why someone might say "I don't belong here."

Celebrate and spread the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, all African American Army infantry who went on to be some of the West's first National Park Rangers.

Watch author and advocate James Edward Mills share his ideas about how racial justice in America intersects with the history of the National Park Service. Then read his book The Adventure Gap, in which he shares a story of the first all African-American attempt on Denali interspersed with stories of influential people of color in the outdoors, including the Buffalo Soldiers and Dr. Charles Crenchaw.

Have another resource I should know about? Please share it in the comments.

12 January 2017

Words From Someone Else (For A Change)

For the last 15-months I've been writing a new blog every week. I really enjoy writing and the exercise of forcing myself to do it weekly, but it's been harder lately for whatever reason. Maybe it's all the pressure of the New Year, maybe it's the political climate, or maybe I've just plain run out of things to say, but I just don't feel like writing anything new this week.

For something different, here are a few words from other people I think are really worth reading and considering. Enjoy:

Kyle Maynard is the first quadruple-amputee to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Aconcagua without the aid of prosthetics. It's pretty darn inspiring. This is his story

"Sometimes when people say things about there being “so many people” at a place, I’m not sure if they’re referring to me, like “please stop taking photos so we can enjoy our lunch,” or if they’re just making a general comment about the number of people they’ve seen on the same trail. And sometimes I just want to say, “You mean people like you?”"

"The 115th Congress spent the first day of its new session making it easier to sell off our public lands. We need your voice to speak to the intrinsic and economic value of our public lands for us and future generations."Speak up.

Winters are shorter, and with less snow. I'm not the only one who cares about this. Winter recreation is a $1.8 billion industry. Seasonal workers are already losing their jobs, or at the very least having them cut short.

"Imagine if people said:“My brain feels like shit. Can we head in for an early apres and talk it out?” or “Woah dude, you seem kinda stressed. Want me to help you out with a mood reconstruction?” We are so quick to shout “RICE! Rest Ice Compression Elevation!” and we should have one for mental health. Let’s change that. Introducing SLUSH. Speak, Listen, Understand, Solution, Hug."

“Right now your grief is this giant gaping hole with sharp edges, but as you move forward in life, the edges soften and other beautiful things start to grow around it, flowers and trees of experiences. The hole never goes away, but it becomes gentler and sort of a garden in your soul, a place you can visit when you want to be near your love.” Beautiful: http://bit.ly/1qLVynh

If you have ideas for blogs for me, go ahead and post in the comments! And hey, thanks for stopping by!

05 January 2017

Turns All Year: Month 62

Winter has been good in the Pacific Northwest so far this season. Early on we had an abundance of snow, most of which was relatively stable in the backcountry until recently. Better still, it was light, fluffy, and playful powder. None of that 'cascade cement' business we're so used to.

To celebrate I got out to play five days in December. It could have been six, but I bailed one day when I should have gone, then made up for it by going the day after Christmas when I should have stayed home. Oh well, you win some. Actually you win all. This is skiing after all.

Here are my favorite shots from December 2016 - Turns All Year Month 62:

Crystal Backcountry - December 4

Katie and Joshua Stern heading into the basin. It was PUKING!

Joshua, Katie, me, and Mitch Pittman, about to drop into the endless pow!

December 6 - Crystal Inbounds

Zee Mountain came out to say hello in the morning.
And we slayed the fresh pow all afternoon. Photo by Jordan Tursi.

December 10 - Crystal Backcountry

Back to the Crystal Backcountry. Looking at a skier in untracked snow might be my very favorite.

Slaying! See the skier through all the pow?

December 26 - Hangover Skiing at Crystal

We got The Skittles back together for a reunion tour. It was as amazing as it sounds.

The Elk was packed when we arrived, but this awesome family made us feel welcome. Thanks Graves Fam!

December 31 - Exploring Mt. Bachelor

Sometimes you take one amazing picture, and stop while you're ahead. Here's Jordan slaying the ice like a pro.