The Path That Led Me To Guiding
I’m sitting here anxious to write this because this journey is filled with a lot of growth and vulnerability. It’s also filled with high points and information that may be valuable to someone pursuing a similar career. I feel awkward sharing some of this because my path doesn’t look like a lot of my peers but as I’m growing into this role I’m realizing the benefits of my differences and what makes me who I am. So here it goes.
A few years back, I was working at a bank in Puyallup as a personal banker. One of our clients, Rainier Mountaineering, sent a guide of theirs into the branch to pick up currency as he was on his way to Argentina. His name was Billy and it just so happens he was sent to my desk.
At the time, I knew nothing about guiding and I asked him probably a dozen questions about his strange life before he took his currency and was off to climb who knows what. He was so casual about what he did and the places he’d been and I wanted to know more. (Side note, I’m pretty sure Billy doesn’t know I exist but he started this curiosity so wherever you are, cheers!)
Fast forward to a few weeks after this encounter, I see a post on RMI’s Facebook page about a fundraising program called Climb For Clean Air. If you haven’t heard of it, the program benefits the American Lung Association and participants raise money for the ALA and climb either Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker or Mt. Hood. Prior to moving to Washington, I worked as a fundraising development specialist for a senior care center and I thought this would be a perfect way to get people involved in a great cause and finally climb the mountain that I’d been gushing over since I moved here. So I signed Joe and I up while in the middle of planning our wedding because, well why not?
We trained with teammates, raised over $8,000 and that July we headed up Rainier knowing absolutely nothing about what to expect. I’ve previously written about the entire CFCA experience and it’s up on this blog as well if you can find it (be kind though, it was written in different days)
The big take away is, I was hooked. I was also crushed and a bit obsessed. I turned myself around the first time I climbed Rainier for the same reason a lot of clients turn, I was scared, totally out of my element and wasn’t prepared to be so physically uncomfortable. I never had anything push me like Rainier did and I wanted more (commence the addiction to suffering)
When I got home from the climb, I sunk into a huge funk of darkness. We’d spent the last year training, fundraising and making new friends all for this big event that was now over. On top of that, I wasn’t fulfilled with my job and I was longing for much more. The only thing I knew at this point was I needed to get back on Rainier.
I got lucky, there was spot open on a climb in September which was two months out so I booked it. I knew what to expect this time, I started running harder, climbed Mt. Hood with some friends and came into this trip stoked. I felt great the entire time but the avalanche risk ended up turning the team around. I remember Elias’s summit talk, he told the group “It’s supposed to feel difficult, if it was easy it would be called mountain relaxing not mountain climbing.” I can’t quite say it like he did but I find myself now telling this to my own clients. Although the climb turned, this trip was a pivotal moment for me because I met Christina who later ended up being one of my biggest mentors and close friend.
A month after the climb, I received an email from Christina. She was trying to organize a climbing trip overseas and selected me as part of the group of “strong and fun” ladies she’d want to climb with. I was in awe, so honored and overjoyed and told her I was completely in. The group and I emailed back and forth but plans were never quite finalized.
It’s now January 2018 and I’m miserable at work. I’m spending every weekend trying to get out and climb but lacking the experience to lead in the environments I wanted to be in. The only connection I had was RMI so the wheels in my head started turning. I quit my job at the bank and took an office position at RMI.
My summer in Ashford is was what kickstarted everything. I learned the ins and outs of the business from an operational standpoint and all about what it means to be a guide. I knew what the company expected of their guides from day one as a new hire to taking their lead exam. I witnessed it all very closely and studied everything. In the office, you’d hear a lot. I knew which guides liked working with others and why. I knew who was seen as a hard worker and who was well respected by their supervisors. I took mental notes of what to do and what not to do. I learned that a lot of the job is about how well you get along with others and your ability to suffer in silence.
I made friends that taught me the basics. Jordan took me out for my first time rock climbing at Tieton and also my first multi pitch climb at Smith. Ben took me out for my first time crack climbing, Frosty taught me how to place trad gear. Eric, Jenny, Nick and James taught me crack rescue, rope ascension and anchor building and were there with me on my first Rainier summit. I learned how to travel safely in the mountains and started going on personal trips but I knew I needed a complete guide resume so I dove in deeper. I took my WFR course through NOLS that Fall which is a minimum requirement for all guides. I planned a trip to Ecuador to get some experience climbing at higher altitude. I spent some time in Ouray learning how to ice climb and ended up getting a winter position teaching skiing at Crystal Mountain on the other side of Rainier. Teaching at Crystal taught me how to instruct others in an outdoor environment and properly care for people in harsh mountain weather.
I was non stop, getting after it and not letting much get in my way. I spent little time at home and my marriage and friendships outside of climbing took a toll from that. I had to be 100% committed and cram years of experience into a few seasons because you don’t just enter this world at 24 and then start guiding a few years out. I gave it everything and watched a lot start to fall apart trying to piece this plan together.
When the Rainier season ended, I started hanging out with Christina more and we chatted a lot about work. Up to this point, RMI was all I knew. An email I received in October summed up that I either wasn’t what they were looking for, or wasn’t ready yet. I still don’t have the answer to this question and I’m finally okay with that.
By the time February rolled around I felt fulfilled working on the mountain and couldn’t imagine another summer in the office. I didn’t want to burn bridges but I knew I was ready to start guiding and couldn’t make sense of waiting around another summer so I kept an open mind and looked elsewhere.
I applied to International Mountain Guides late February and on March 11th read the best email I’ve ever received. I showed up for guide training one month later and now here we are.
This is just the very beginning for me and I’m learning more about the career every single day. One of my favorite aspects of this job is that I know I will never stop learning. There’s always more to know about the mountains, the skills, and the people we work with. This is an industry of never ending growth and I’m immensely grateful to be a part of it and for everyone that has helped me get here.