Saturday, June 27, 2015

Mentors: The Importance of Being One and/or Having One

/'men, tôr, 'men, tər'/
1. An experienced and trusted adviser.

I find myself having this conversation a lot lately on why mentorship in climbing (and let's be honest, most life skills) is so important but lacking in our community. Mentorship cannot be underrated, yet somehow it is. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor the minute I was on a rock (my Dad and all of his climber friends), but most new climbers aren't that lucky. I will preface the rest of this post by saying that I was in no way a natural climber. Sure, as a kid I climbed on stuff but it wasn't with the enthusiasm that so many of my friends or so many amazing pro athletes had when they were starting. There was the expected amount of whining/crying from a kid (me) being convinced that climbing was pretty awesome. I was also guided by people I trusted, even when they were pushing me to go beyond that I thought possible for myself. I wasn't a surefooted (it's even questionable now) or confident kid but I had someone to tell me that I could accomplish these things and that I should trust myself. Eventually, I grew to believe these things too, the process however, was not a quick or easy one. This post might meander, but bear with me, I have a point.

My Dad and I
I see often where newer climbers (and sometimes not) get themselves into situations, where if they had a mentor (or at least someone who knew what they were doing) they might not have gotten into. Some examples include getting on routes they probably shouldn't be on as a new leader, getting hurt not using gear properly, not being spotted/not spotting properly, etc. Now while some of these situations might not be physically dangerous, being able to build your mental game is just as important. One could also argue that many a great route was discovered by people getting on stuff they shouldn't. I agree, however for the sake of this discussion, keeping someone safe is a huge part of climbing and it shouldn't be taken lightly as a climber of any ability. Not to say that there isn't some risk, there is. Also not to say that experienced climbers don't make mistakes, everyone does. The difference is a lot of time, the more you climb and the greater your knowledge bank becomes, the more able you are to truly assess your risk potential and make choices based on experience. It can save you lots of trial and error, learning from someone else's past experiences. I have made many a non-intelligent choice, many times in disregard to what my Dad was telling me. I have since learned that this is generally not the best way to go. 

I don't remember my first climb or even my first lead, but I sure remember the first time I truly felt fear. It was on my first multipitch lead, West Lark on Tahquitz, Idyllwild, I think I was around 13. The climb is a 5.5, 600' trad climb, nothing crazy but about two-thirds of the way up I really felt the exposure (and the swallows dive bombing the cliffs didn't help any either). At some point near the top I got off route by about three feet, which is really not a whole lot, but thus began my small descent into madness. I'm not sure if it was my stubbornness was due to the fact that I was generally a stubborn kid or if I was just too scared but I refused (for what seemed like hours) to downclimb the few feet, as my Dad suggested I do. This obviously would have made the experience a much less stressful one, but it was not to be. Instead, I managed to pull some bizarre 5.8 move and get through the rest of the climb. I bring up this story because I feel like if it had been anyone else with me I probably wouldn't have been able to to finish leading the climb. I also don't think that I would have felt comfortable getting back on lead the next time I went out. 

Again, everyone is different in their journey and mine was one fraught with a lack of boldness. Something that might not seem hard or scary for one person, might feel completely insane for someone else. Physically I could definitely do this climb but mentally I had to make a choice to really push beyond my fear. Fear is a natural part of learning to climb and how you deal with it can be greatly affected by a mentor and how they deal with your fear (and sometimes their own).

All new climbers can benefit from having such a person. Someone who is more experienced and can guide and give you skills/knowledge that you might not otherwise learn, or if you do, it could take much longer. There is also a sense of ethics and community value that can be passed on through your mentor. Climbing is about having fun and pushing our physical limits, but it is also about appreciating nature and being supporting of each other. As climbing becomes a more widespread sport, there continues to be more and more climbers in the gym and outside. It is important that as the sport grows, so does our social responsibility to nature and each other. Now, this should be a two way agreement in that more experienced climbers should be willing to give sound advice and also not be demeaning in our attitudes towards newer climbers, while at the same time, newer climbers need to be open to receiving advice and also respect the experience of someone who has been at it longer than they have. It's also nice to have someone remind you that climbing doesn't need to be serious all the time, and laughing a lot is good for you.

I will take time to state the obvious here and say that there are plenty of amazing climbers that might not have had mentors but turned into excellent climbers. My godfather, Dick Webster began climbing in JT in the late 1950s with his Dad, and my Dad and his friends really began climbing in JT in the late 60s as a way to stay in shape for mountaineering. There were definitely not a lot of climbers at that point, but all of those guys did some awesome stuff. An adventurous spirit and a certain amount of crazy will definitely take you far, however, climbing is much more mainstream than back then and I don't see why one wouldn't want to tap into a wealth of knowledge.

Mentorship in many ways is like finding the perfect climbing shoes, sometimes they just don't work. Even if the shoes are amazing and shiny and everything you think you want in a vehicle to greatness, sometimes once you try them on the fit just isn't right. Mentors and mentees relationships, in many ways, are like those shoes. You might need to try out a few people and see how well you work together, etc. This goes both ways, sometimes a mentor just isn't getting you, isn't inspiring you, or just feels not right. The same can be said for a mentee, who sometimes might not listen when you are advising, doesn't seem motivated, etc. Either way, there is some trial and error that might be involved in finding someone with whom you trust and can build a solid bond. It doesn't mean you can't climb with people who aren't necessarily the best mentor for you, but it means you might want to find someone else to learn from. I will say, the downside of growing up with your mentor and main climbing partner being your Dad is that when you're being particularly stubborn, the parent card gets pulled and you have to climb. 

All in all, I have come to really love climbing and the awesome people you can meet along the way. This would never have been possible without the mentorship of my Dad or his friends. Where once I was an awkward kid who couldn't imagine ever being able to teach anyone anything, it is pretty awesome to be able to share the knowledge I have learned with other people. And although I can't get advice from my Dad anymore, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by a wonderful community of amazing climbers who are always willing to share their knowledge.

Jim Foote, my Dad, and Dick Webster on their way to climb some volcano

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Hiking Half Dome: Maybe Next Time Let's Train For This

So, a few of us got the Half Dome lottery to hike the cables. I have never hiked Half Dome (or climbed, yet) and always thought it would be amazing. I should preface this by saying that I am, in no way, a good hiker. Sad but true. And by not a good hiker, I mean I walk up a long staircase in the metro and I'm pretty winded. Anyway, we were stoked, the weather was beautiful, it was pretty spectacular.

We were able to get sites for a few days before the hike, so we hung out, did some fishing and just enjoyed being out of the city and in the park! I will probably post other photos later, but so I don't inundate this post with so many pictures, I will stick with a select few of the hike.

Day of the hike:

4:00am. Wake up call. Had to break camp and move sites, so we wanted to give ourselves enough time to make breakfast and all that.
5:37am. Start trailhead out of the Curry Village parking lot.
12:20pm. Summit Half Dome!
1:00pm. Descent (and the pain) begins.
6:37pm. Back to the car! Somehow we amazingly made it back in exact time.

This hike was so exhausting. I was shooting for 14 hours (to be realistic since I know I am a snail of a hiker), but we somehow got in under that, even with lunch and all the rest breaks I had to take. It was awesome, but knees, back and hips all felt like I was a 90 year old lady! I will note that there were a ton of folks at least 70 years old that were lapping us on the way up and down. HA. I even saw myself in 40 years. I was amazing.

Yep, we went there.


Jordan pointing at the ant-people.

Probably around a 45º angle. I would definitely recommend wearing shoes with vibram or something that sticks. Watching people slip and struggle on the slick granite is actually somewhat terrifying, especially if they are above you. 

Nice and empty. It was kind of odd how people went up and down in waves. 

Bring lots of water. And snacks. Lots of snacks!

So close! The cables were actually the easiest part of the hike for me, climbing comes in handy!

We made it!

Not a bad view at all.

A deer getting down on some vegetation.

This guy walked down from some bushes and right in front of us, not even caring how close it was to us. Probably on its way to fish in the river across the trail. This one probably was breaking into cars or something, note the collar and ear tag.  It was super cool to see a black bear meandering in the woods but we definitely didn't want to move too much and piss it off. Bears are awesome bur also kind of scary. We had to remind some other ladies that were on the other side of us to back away from the bear walking towards them. 
This hike was amazing and I would recommend it to everyone! It is hard and you definitely might actually want to do some sort of training, especially if you are like me and have bad joints. If you are also like me and do no training before you decide to hike a really long way (much like when I decided to do Baldy), know that you can indeed make it, you just might need to bring some ibuprofen for later! If not, whiskey is also a good option. In my case, I think I did both. Cheers.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

It's a Nice View; A Refection on Women in Climbing

I recently read this blog and it really stuck with me (and no, this is not a feminist rant). I definitely agree with what she is saying, I am totally a feminist, so why wouldn't I? But then, a part of me thought, "Can you really have it all? Is it too complicated to be humble and proud?" I thought about it some more and here are a few thoughts...

More often than not, most people I know, women and men, tend to downplay their successes. I do think that as far as social conformity goes, it can be harder for women to voice their awesomeness. Sometimes it is a case of being humble, sometimes it's digging for compliments and other times it's that people just plain don't feel confident in their abilities. I myself have fallen into all of these categories at one point or another. I definitely try to not fish for compliments though, what is that quote, "I hate false modesty, it's just another way of lying..." something like that. 

There came a point to where I am now pretty comfortable and confident in my abilities as a climber. I have fluctuated between on and off the couch for pretty much my whole climbing existence... as many non-full time adventurists are. Have I been stronger, yes. Am I getting pretty strong again now, yes. Are there folks out there better than I am, heck yes! The trick lies in being able to humble but also be true to yourself. Like she touches on in the article, it's easy to make excuses like, "I'm not as strong as the people I'm climbing with," "I don't like talking about myself," etc., etc. I've done that and still do that occasionally. It's not because I feel like I'm some gunk in the bottom of the approach shoes of those I'm climbing with, but I sometimes get weird when people compliment me (maybe I thank society for that one, who knows). I also don't want folks to think things about me that aren't true, so I try to steer clear of well-intended exaggeration. That being said, it's nice to have friends that think you're rad, and I most certainly love them for it!

I want to mention just how awesome it is to see so many strong and fantastic women (and girls) out there climbing now! I honestly remember when I was first starting to climb as a kid and there was really no women climbing hard but Lynn Hill, that I knew of at least, to inspire me as a girl. I grew up taught by my Father and climbed with his friends or other people he knew (basically all men, with an occasional lady in the mix, but definitely no one my age). I didn't even have female friends that climbed until well after a decade of starting and now I know and see so many ladies climbing that it is truly exciting. I obviously love climbing with my rad men friends, but there is something powerful about a group of women getting out and gearing up. Say what you will, but the vibe is really different when it's all women, not necessarily better, just incomparable.

With climbing, as with anything that takes skill, it can take years and years for someone to truly master something. Even then there is always a new challenge to face, new skills to learn, different ways of doing the same thing, etc. There are many, many new routes I would love to see and do, so I always see room for growth. I am, however, very proud of what I have achieved and learned over the couple of decades I have been climbing. I am also very proud to be the climbing legacy of my Father. This doesn't mean I need to always shout out my accomplishments, but when someone says something nice, I always try to say "thanks!" I've also come to hope that some of the things I have done can be an inspiration for others, just as I am inspired by so many amazing people.

So, ladies, let's keep this this sisterhood growing! Let's continue to encourage each other, climb with each other, always keep a lookout for new friends and embrace the awesome in yourself. And gents, encourage your friends equally, if a woman is strong, tell her so. Are you always going to be on point? No. Everyone has off days, but we need to not beat ourselves up for too long. In the end it's not about being a man or a woman, it's about climbing to your own potential and challenging yourself and supporting/encouraging those around you. Climbing should be fun. If it's not fun, come back another day and try again. Give out praise (as long as it's honest) as well as say "thank you" often, but don't be afraid to take a compliment or two yourself, because after all, it meant enough to someone for them to tell you.

I love this route, Alf's Arete, in JT!