30 March 2017

What To Include in a Backcountry Trip Plan

When I head into the mountains, I always have someone in town designated as my in-case-of-emergency-person. The lucky job usually falls to my good friend Q, who you may remember as the doggy-dad of one Mr. Porter Pants. Most of the time this is a fairly benign responsibility and he remains largely unconcerned about me. Most of the time.

Two years ago, I took off to climb Mt. Adams in a day with my boyfriend Jordan. We drove down on Saturday morning, had what turned out to be an epic brunch with friends in Portland, and made it to the trailhead by late-afternoon. Out plan had been to climb to Lunch Counter (about the halfway mark) on Saturday, make camp for the night, then summit by midday and come home on Sunday evening. By the time we made it to the trailhead it was late and we were feeling lazy. Sleeping in the truck then making an alpine start for the summit while carrying lighter packs was an easy decision.

We slept and climbed and eventually summited and skied down and it was a straightforward affair blah blah blah.... until we drove into town and back into cell service. I had dozens of missed calls from friends and a series of Facebook posts asking about my whereabouts. I had made a rookie mistake. I told Q where we were going, but I neglected to give him the accurate itinerary or let him know when we'd be back.

Q had called the local ranger station looking for me, but they were closed on Sunday (because of course they were). Worried about me, he'd reached out to some of my usual climbing partners and tried to find out which route I may be on and how long it would take and what the options for rescue were if something happened and what they thought he should do next. Unintentionally, I had thrown his world into a tizzy while I was drinking a beer on the summit. I turned his relaxing weekend of non-responsibility into one of harrowing consequence. I'm still really sorry about that Q.

Blissfully ignorant on the summit.

This incident served as a good reminder for me about the importance of creating a trip plan and communicating that trip plan to your emergency contact. Since then, I've been diligent about creating and delivering a trip plan. It's good practice for logistics in general, and it might just save your life.

What to include in a trip plan:

  1. Who's going: The name, address, phone number, known medical conditions, and general skill level of each member in your party AND the emergency contact person for each individual on the trip. When possible, designate a "lead" emergency contact who will coordinate for the whole group in the case of an emergency.
  2. Trip objective: When you're leaving, where you're going, what route you expect to climb, how long you think it will take, and when you plan to be back in contact. If you have a planned turn around time list that as well. Provide a window of time during which you plan to return (between 4-7 pm, for example), and set a specific time to contact authorities if you aren't back yet (only call S&R if we aren't back by 1am the next day, for example).
  3. Logistics: The make, model, and license plate number of the car(s) you will be taking. Include the name of the trailhead where you're planning to leave the car, and provide a contact phone number for the local land manager and Search & Rescue units in the area. You want to make it as easy as possible for your emergency contact person to launch a response.
  4. Gear: List the gear you will have both personally and as a group. It can be helpful to rescuers to know how much stuff you have with you. Include things like tents, stoves, first aid supplies, and safety equipment.

When you're planning your next objective always remember Roger Baxter-Jones' golden rule, "Come back alive, come back as friends, get to the top — in that order." It's good to have a Plan B, Plan C, and Plan Turn-Around-And-Find-A-Pub. With good friends of course.

p.s. Whenever I'm talking about mountain safety, or safety in general, I like to remind you to set up your emergency contact information access on your cell phone. It gives anyone access to critical information you want them to have without needing your passcode. Just do it. I made you a handy how-to guide.

p.p.s If you don't have one already, I really encourage you to get a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) as well. Getting help in the backcountry can take many hours, and this device can trigger immediate action in the case of emergency. Here are 5 things you might not know about PLBS.

23 March 2017

Ladies: A Word About Your Pants

I hate purses. I pretty much always have. In college, when I felt compelled by society to carry a purse, I bought a few cheap small ones at the ROSS or Goodwill. Like every other band-geek-sorority-girl-wanna-be, I strutted around with my little bag on one shoulder thinking I looked, like, super cute.

Then my back started to hurt from the unbalanced stress on the body. I'd switch shoulders and find myself annoyed 5 minutes later. It's not like I had a lot of stuff: a wallet, cell phone, chapstick, keys - I'm a pretty low maintenance girl. But add that to the weight of the purse, and even 5lbs over a 15 minute walk on one side can cause discomfort.

Eventually, the purses got pretty filthy from sitting on the floor and being thrown about. Think about it: purses go with you everywhere from a casual toss onto your bed to sitting on the floor of a bar (then back on your bed). Gross.

I finally stopped carrying them altogether. Now, I pull out my ID and credit card, shove it into my undersized pant pockets, and pray they don't fall into the toilet or work their way out of my back pocket. Ladies - I know you feel me on this.

Which is why I'm writing today about pants, pockets specifically, and the magical experience I had with a pair the other day:

Last week I ordered a pair of Dynama Pants from Mountain Hardwear. I tore the bag open when I got home and eagerly tried them on. They fit awesome! They were the right length, weren't tight around the waist, and had the right amount of room for my thighs and glutes. Plus, they were a super light weight material - ideal for a day at the office then a trip to the climbing gym. I was sold.

Then I put my hands in the pockets.

No, seriously, read that again. I could put my. entire. hand. in the pocket.

Never, in my entire life, have I been able to slip my whole hand, so easily, into the pocket of a pair of women's pants. I'm willing to bet you haven't either.

Filled with glee, I exclaimed to my boyfriend, "Look at these pants! I can fit my hand in the pockets! My WHOLE hand!!!" He was not impressed. I went on to explain how this is a really big deal for women's pants and that normally you're lucky if you can fit chapstick in your pocket. To which he responded, "What do women need pockets for? You all want to carry purses anyway."

I don't need to explain why this was the wrong answer.

Women don't want to carry purses. Women need to carry purses because WE DO NOT HAVE POCKETS THAT WILL HOLD OUR BASIC NEEDS.

A gal who calls herself shmree15 posted a review of the pants, and I love it because she agrees with me. "These are the first pair of women's pants I've owned that have four (FOUR!!!) full-size pockets, not those silly little matchbox-sized pockets that most women's pants have. Thank you, Mountain Hardwear. I probably won't buy any other pants but these for a loooong time."

I could go on (and on and on) about society's oppression of women and how fashion is thrust upon us and how women have unrealistic beauty expectations and how it's all one big, terrible farce we live in...but I won't. Instead, I want to celebrate these damn fine Dynama Pants and the incredible gift they are giving to me and women everywhere: POCKETS!

What will you put in yours?

Full Disclosure: I am a "brand ambassador" for Mountain Hardwear. That means, about twice a year, they send me 2-3 things to test drive, provide feedback on, and generally wear and enjoy - no other strings attached. Any promotion or talking about said products is of my own fruition. I felt compelled to write this blog because pockets are apparently pretty important to me, even though I didn't realize it before. After this discovery, I feel a strong urge to share this discover with you - my 10s of readers.

16 March 2017

You Need a Down Skirt

Katy and little Ellinor, both very fashionably dressed.

My butt gets cold. Dare I say, I have one of the coldest bottoms in the history of womankind. I struggled for years with debilitating "cold-butt syndrome", but I'm happy to be here today and tell you that: it gets better. You need just one key piece of gear to transform your life - and your backside - forever.

The Down Skirt

My friend Katy introduced me to The Down Skirt via Facebook in 2013. Katy, her husband Ben, and two kiddoes, are that adventurous family you love to stalk on social media. I met Ben and Katy when we were in marching band at UW and have enjoyed exchanging holiday cards with them ever since. It's been fun watching their relationship grow: from getting married on the flanks of Mt. Rainier to growing their family and taking their daughter to Panorama Point when she was just 4-weeks old. These folks are the epitome of outdoorsy. They embrace any time spent outside and personally inspire me to think differently about adventuring with kids.

When it comes to both parenthood and fashion, Katy is ahead of her time. She's a visionary among women. Hers was the first bottom I ever saw adorned with The Down Skirt, and an unabashed, unapologetic bright pink one at that. I immediately messaged her to learn all about it. It's Scandinavian (of course), and was purchased by Katy's mom in Teller, Alaska (70 miles NW of Nome on the Bering Sea). Apparently, you pretty much have to wear a down skirt over your pants there all the time in winter if you want to survive (and you can buy full length version too!).

Inspired by Katy's claims that The Down Skirt was "super comfortable" and she "loves it", I set out to find my own down skirt. This did not go well for me. Apparently when you live in Seattle in March they are NOT AVAILABLE ANYWHERE (online or in stores. Teller, AK, doesn't distribute broadly)!

Naturally, like anyone who can't get what they want IMMEDIATELY, I had an adult tantrum for about 20 minutes then pulled it together and made a plan. My friend Nick is into gear, so I sent him a note asking him to weigh the pros and cons of the available models. He wrote me back with diagrams explaining grams, fill, features, and fashion. I think he wanted one himself after all the research!

Eventually I bought one and it's awesome. I'm not nearly as fashionable as Katy, and the skirt is lacking some serious bells and whistles, but at the end of the day my ass it warm and that's all that matters. Which is why I'm writing today to tell you:

You NEED The Down Skirt!

The Down Skirt keeps you warm. When you are cold in the backcountry you put on your "puffy". You know how much of a difference even a light puffy can make in terms of personal warmth. Think of The Down Skirt as a puffy for your bottom half. It warms your thighs and bum, and helps keep blood warm on the way down to your tingly toesies. For me, The Down Skirt has been a game-changer in winter camping. I used to have a really hard time falling asleep, even in the heaviest sleeping bag. Wear The Down Skirt to bed to transform your camping experience.

The Down Skirt is easy to wear and easy to carry.  It's relatively lightweight and compacts nicely, making it easy to carry for a single or multi-day trip. Most of the skirts have full zips, so you can put it on and off without stepping through. Get one a size big to make sure you can layer over your ski pants or fashionable leggings - or hell, go Scottish commando style. I don't care. 

The Down Skirt helps you stand out. While out in the wild, The Down Skirt is a pretty rare sighting (I'm sure this incredibly popular blog will change everything). Just like wearing a tutu, the down skirt is a backcountry ice breaker and gets your noticed. Can't find your friend? Just look for the bright pink down skirt or ask a stranger if they've seen someone with a warm-looking, bright-pink backside.

I believe in The Down Skirt so strongly that I advocated for it's inclusion in the 9th edition of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills. For you fashion-forward men out there, rumor has it a rain kilt may also make the cut (here's a super lightweight version). If The Down Skirt does end up being included, I'm pretty sure that counts as life achievement UNLOCKED. But to speak honestly: at the end of the day The Down Skirt is truly a piece of safety equipment you need in your arsenal. What are you waiting for? Get one today!

Katy in her favorite place - Mt. Rainier National Park. Photo by Ben Stuart.

09 March 2017

Climbing Mount St. Helens for Moms: A PNW Tradition

I love that my job and my personal life have so many opportunities to overlap. For our spring edition of Mountaineer magazine (designed and edited by my lovely and talented colleague Suzanne Gerber), I got to write about the storied Mt. St. Helens tradition of climbing in a dress on Mother's Day. I really enjoyed researching and writing this story, and was happy to be able to profile my friend and Mountaineer Greg Sheehan. Read his story and the entire blog on our digital version of the magazine here (on pages 32-36), and check out the spread and text below.

And in case you were on the fence about being friends with me, I want to point out that ending up in a magazine can totally be worth my insufferable-ness.

Nearly 33-years ago, on a balmy spring Saturday in Whitefish, Montana, my mom was 41-weeks pregnant and mowing the lawn. As I would be in life, I was stubborn in birth and had made myself quite cozy in her belly for an extra week. The doctor told my mother that being active would hurry me along and the lawn needed attention, so she was mowing when the contractions finally started on Saturday afternoon. I was born 16-hours later at 5:26 am on Sunday, May 13. It was Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day always falls on the second Sunday in May. Because I made my appearance into this world on that very day – officially making my mom a mom – it holds a special meaning for us. When I lived at home celebrating was easy, but it got harder after I moved away. I’d been living in Seattle for 10 years by the time I heard about the Mother’s Day tradition, and I knew immediately I had to go in honor of “Ma”. Lucky for me, I had just the crew to join me.

Every tradition needs a visionary

The Mother’s Day tradition on St. Helens dates to 1987 and a woman named Kathy Phibbs. A climbing guide often described as a ‘firecracker’, Kathy lived a life of passion and perseverance. She made numerous first female ascents in Peru and Bolivia, and she led 33 women to the top of Mount Rainier to commemorate the centennial of its first ascent by a woman — Tacoma teacher, Fay Fuller.

Before she worked as a guide and opened the northwest office of Woodswoman, Kathy made a living as a window-washer, messenger, and chimney sweep. She founded Women Climbers Northwest (WCN) in 1983, a small, close-knit organization created to encourage women to be more active in the mountains and share adventures together. At the time, climbing was a male-dominated sport. Kathy wanted more women to get outside and take on leadership roles. With passion an generosity, Kathy created a community where women were welcomed with open arms… and a tutu.

“Kathy was a big fan of wearing tutus on climbs because they didn't get in the way of much,” said Colleen Hinton, a friend and long-time WCN member. “She also started a tradition of planting pink flamingos on summits and taking [them] on camping outings. So we would all carry pink flamingos on the backs of our packs.”

Her spirit of adventure took Kathy to Mount St. Helens in the spring of 1987. After a 7-year restriction, climbing permits were being issued for the first time since the 1980 eruption. Kathy felt a celebration was in order and wore a red chiffon dress to mark the occasion. Her companions? Five girlfriends… dressed as can-can dancers.

At the summit, a reporter from the Seattle Times happened upon the gaggle of girls and was taken by their joie de vivre. The reporter ran a photo of the ladies on the front page on June 5, 1987, with an article highlighting Kathy’s story. “After climbing for 4 1/2 rugged hours to the top of the nation's most famous volcano, no one expected a party. But there, at 8,300 feet on the treacherous rim of Mount St. Helens, were a woman in a red chiffon dress and five can-can dancers….[They] did a can-can dance in their thick-soled boots for the benefit of photographers….For [Kathy], the climb was a nostalgic return to the mountain. In 1975 on her first climb, she was in high school and the mountain was a perfect, unerupted cone. She said it's now an easier climb and a better place to ski.”

Kathy died tragically in a winter climbing accident on Dragontail Peak in 1991, but the tradition of climbing St. Helens on Mother’s Day lives on. People embraced the spirit as soon as the Seattle Times story ran in print. Kathy Phibbs, and her vision to bring a change to the PNW climbing community, left a long lasting legacy for all to enjoy.

How to embrace the ridiculousness

Nearly everyone who climbs St. Helens on Mother's Day is in a dress. Men, women, children, dogs (leashed, of course) - outdoor enthusiasts definitely embrace the spirit. The tradition is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, and locals know the drill: in the coming weeks, the 500 folks who secured climbing permits will make their annual pilgrimage to Goodwill to find the perfect ensemble. Dresses are just the start. Hats, scarves, long gloves, boas, and yes - tutus - are all part of the fun.

In preparation for the trip, climbers will pack their costumes with the same love and care as their climbing packs. On Saturday afternoon of the celebratory weekend, they’ll drive to the mountain, pull into Marble Mountain Sno-Park, and set up camp for the night. Then, by headlight at the wee-hours of the alpine-start morning, everyone will don their Sunday Best and start up the mountain. As the sun rises, they’ll see sparkles off sequined dresses all the way to the summit. Once there, the celebration really begins.

The climb itself covers 5,500 vertical feet in 6 miles (one way). The average mountaineer can cover the distance to the summit in 4-6 hours. Anyone climbing above 4800’ is required to have a permit.
One of the reasons St. Helens became so popular on Mother’s Day Weekend is that, prior to 2015, it was the last weekend during the April-May climbing season during which permits were uncapped. Starting on the third Monday in May every year, climbing use is restricted to 100 permits per day. But before that fateful Monday, all you had to do was show up with $22 and a permit was yours. Due to the popularity of the tradition and the need to manage human impact, Gifford Pinchot National Forest issued a permit cap of 500 in 2015. Prior to the cap, it’s estimated well over 1,000 people submitted in a single day.

A Green Tutu And Pink Fur Leg Warmers

I remember the energy that fateful Sunday, May 11, 2014. It was my third trip. When I climbed the mountain for the first time in 2012, I spent days scouring the local racks before deciding to wear an old bridesmaid dress in honor of the occasion. By now I knew better. Just like Kathy Phibbs, I was wearing a tutu, as I had in all of my outdoor adventures since finding inspiration in the ridiculousness of St. Helens two years prior.

Since discovering and falling in love with this tradition, I have taken great pleasure in introducing other skiers and climbers to the joys of climbing in a dress, and more specifically a tutu. Out of all of the folks I’ve convinced to join me, my friend Greg Sheehan embraced the tradition the most.

Greg joined The Mountaineers January of 2014, after attending a film at our Seattle Program Center. He watched "Mile... Mile and a Half" about the John Muir Trail, and was inspired to join to share his passions. “The bookstore, resources, and films made me want to join the best outdoor community,” he said.

It was around this time that I first met Greg. I don’t recall where we met, but I remember learning that he loved the outdoors, medium-rare steak, and Seahawks football. After bonding over the aforementioned, and drooling at some of his outstanding adventure photos, we made plans to go skiing together. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and we had to take a rain check. The next time we could both make it to the mountains was Mother’s Day.

“I first heard about the Mother’s Day climb from my dad. He’s an avid outdoorsman and stumbled on a news article highlighting the event. He thought it would be a great time, but couldn’t join.” Said Greg. “Then I got an invite from my great friend Kristina for her Birthday Climb. I wanted to be part of “Team Tutu.” I knew what had to be done.”

Greg went online to find the proper attire and ended up with a lot more fur than he bargained for. “It all started when I was shopping for tutu on Amazon. I was perusing the different types until I found this green one that screamed ‘sexy mountaineer’ and ‘Go Hawks’. I added it to cart and was done....or so I thought,” he said, pausing for emphasis. “Amazon checkout is like the grocery store, taking every last chance to sell you more things. I remember it saying something along the lines of "Leg Avenue also recommends..." and I looked at the picture. Leg warmers. Pink. Fuzzy. Functional yet eye catching. These things I needed. I clicked ‘add to cart’ and was hopeful they could be Nikwaxed.”

I noticed the tutu and the lopsided a-frame of Greg’s splitboard on his pack before I saw the fur leg warmers. But once I saw those, there was no unseeing them. Especially when hiking next to them for close to 5 hours.

“The feeling when you get to the top during the Mother's day climb is amazing,” said Greg. “It’s unlike any other mountain or even St. Helens on any other day. You have worked hard all morning: catching glances of Adams over your right shoulder, feeling the burn in your thighs and seeing what looks like attendees of a rock festival. You dig deep for that last boost of energy near the top, then you hear people cheering. Suddenly, strangers in costumes and dresses are everywhere, giving you high fives as you push through to the summit. Glorious.”

This One’s For You, Mom

After taking in the views together at the top with 1,000 of our new best friends, Greg and I put on our planks and swished our way to the bottom of the snow. Or that’s how it would have gone had conditions been more favorable. Instead, we suffered through some of the stickiest snow I’ve ever experienced. It was bad. Even by Pacific Northwest standards.

Despite the terrible conditions, we had a great time. “I keep going back because you can't get this feeling anywhere else. I look forward to this like no other holiday,” said Greg. “Everyone climbs it for their own reason but is part of a collective nod to those who inspire us. I hope to get my mom up there someday to split a summit beer. Till then, I'll hike it for her.”

In writing this story, I realized May 13 just so happens to fall on Mother’s Day in 2018. I texted my mom to let her know, and enthusiastically suggested she plan a trip to Seattle for that weekend so we can climb St. Helens together. Immediately, and without hesitation, she replied “Absolutely! Xoxo.”
Moms really are the best.

02 March 2017

Turns All Year: Month 64

If I thought skiing in January was great, then skiing in February was absolutely phenomenal! Hands down one of my best months ever on snow. With 11 days in 2 states and 2 countries - none of which were my home state of Washington - I covered 77,000 vert, more than 100 miles, and got to see the beauty of British Columbia, Oregon, and Idaho.

The month started with a Hut Trip to the Valhalla Lodge outside of Nakusp, BC. A 9+ hour drive transported us to the great white north and a snowy small town where we spent the night. In the morning, a helicopter whisked us away to a mountain retreat where 12 of us earned our turns for a week. And boy did we earn them! We woke up on five out of seven mornings with 6" or more of fresh snow - more than 3' accumulated during our stay. It was light, fluffy, and amazing. We didn't want to leave.

Back in civilization, I couldn't stand it and took successive weekend trips to visit friends and support a SheJumps event in Bachelor and Schweitzer respectfully. Not to be outdone by Canada, the US delivered the white goods on both of those trips too.

Here are my favorite pictures from Turns All Year Month 64 - February 2017:

Arriving at Valhalla Lodge - February 4

Putting a skin track into the deep - February 5

 More deep snow - February 6

 Best day of the trip - February 7

Up over the pass - February 8

Back into the deep - February 9

Saying 'peace out' - February 10

Hellooooooo Bachelor! - February 17

Thanks for the snowwwwwww Bachelor! - February 18 

SheJumps play day in Schweitzer backcountry - February 25

Photo by Krystin Norman.

Sacrifice, Oklahoma Suitcase, Boyfriend, Decapitator. 

SheJumps Get The Girls Out at Schweitzer - February 26