10 Questions with: Meredith!

As we wind our way into April (crazy!), there’s a lot on our minds and several items on our to-do lists, although each of us is focused on and working hard to address different things. Over the next few days each of us will post a “10 Questions With:” blog entry, to each answer the same 10 overall questions and  share what we’re thinking, what we’re doing, and where our head is at with regards to the rapidly approaching Denali climb.
First up? Yours truly.
1. What has been the biggest change in your day-to-day life since beginning to train for this climb? What are you doing this spring that you wouldn’t normally be doing, at this time?
Can I say “spraining my stupid ankle” without sounding like a petulant seven year old? Because spraining my stupid ankle definitely became a defining experience in this training period. It was frustrating (and somewhat agonizing) to get super amped up to really get started and put in the training time with the rest of the girls, then go out on our first all day conditioning hike, and slip on ice …while standing still looking at the view. And it sucked to stay home while they went out to train, a few of those earliest weekends. It made me feel 100 years old. 100, and seven, apparently.
My sister during a recent visit, "helping" me with my ankle physical therapy the way she would have when we were little - by mimicking me, like a dork. :)

My sister during a recent visit, “helping” me with my ankle physical therapy the way she would have when we were little – by mimicking me, like a dork. 🙂

The biggest change post ankle, though, has been the addition of actual weight training (weight lifting) to my weekly workout routine, and that of ramping up that routine much earlier than usual (early January versus late February). I’m carrying 45 lbs, as of this week, and would normally be at about 35 right now.
Jenn pulling weights around back in February

Jenn pulling weights around back in February

In terms of weight-training – in early February we got together at Leigh Ann’s gym, Level 4 Crossfit, to talk about specific training movements to focus on, and pull sleds loaded with weight. Leigh Ann made a list of upper body and core workouts to focus on, and rather than keep track of them individually, I took a photo of the wipeboard, and then turned them into a checklist in my Droid’s ‘Keep’ app that I run through every single time I’m at the Y, checking them off as I go (very satisfying, psychologically). I do all the upper body and core stuff twice a week for about an hour and a half, and afterwards, I’m totally wiped – to the point where my arms tremble while I open my gym locker. Weight-lifting is hard (and a bit intellectually un-engaging) but I have the core (back and waist-area) resilience, and hunky new biceps, to prove it’s worth it!
2. We’ve each purchased or borrowed a ton of gear for the trip – what two or three Denali-specific new items are you absolutely loving right now, and is there anything that simply didn’t work for you, and that you returned right away?
Some of my favorite gear I’m taking on this trip is old gear: circa 2011 Patagonia Expedition 4 black long underwear pants (the newer Exped 4s are really thin!), and a pair of white Elita long underwear that I got way back when I first started backpacking, from my parents. There’s nothing like the old standbys.
Me in my "new" Elita long underwear, a thousand years and a lifetime ago, in an Appalachian Trail hut back during college, in 2006. This may be the coolest I've ever looked in an outdoors photo (because it's fuzzy).

Me in my “new” Elita long underwear, a thousand years and a lifetime ago, in an Appalachian Trail hut back during college, in 2006. This may be the coolest I’ve ever looked in an outdoors photo (because it’s fuzzy).

In terms of new gear: I bought a new hardshell jacket (hardshell = plastic-like wind-blocking external layer) from Patagonia, sized bigger than I normally would so that it can cover all my layers, and I took it out for a test-drive this weekend and kinda love it. It’s their Patagonia Alpine Houdini, and it’s a super stripped down, super lightweight layer, complete with tiiiiny zippers! Although I admit, I wish it had pockets! (They left ’em off because it’s supposed to be super light – hence the “Houdini”). Plus, I like it because mine is purple. And that’s not because I’m a girl – it’s because I like purple!
Putting hard-earned knitting skills to use unsnaggling well-snaggled tent cords for the new Trango! Check out that awesome purple hardshell and those sweet, expensive Spantiks!

Putting hard-earned knitting skills to use unsnaggling well-snaggled tent cords for the new Trango! Check out that awesome purple hardshell and those sweet, expensive as all get-out Spantiks!

I also love (love, love, love) my La Sportiva Spantik (Carolyn rather adorably calls them “Sputniks”) boots, which look like moonshoes. The Spantiks are double boots (so there are two individual lace-up boots you wear on each foot – one nests inside the other), as opposed to plastics (which have a hard plastic shell, like ski boots). The Spantiks were my biggest, splurgiest purchase – they cost more than I have ever paid in monthly rent, to put it in perspective. I really wrestled with whether I should get those, or the Koflach Artis Expe plastic boots, which are about $300 cheaper (I actually bought and took home both, and then stared at the two pairs obsessively for most of February before making a decision), but I realized that most of the time when faced with a decision like this, I go for pragmatism and choose the cheaper option, and I’ve been known to suffer for that in the past. But my feet are literally what’s going to carry me up the mountain – so I went for the fancy option, this time, and haven’t regretted it whatsoever. And to quote the MountainTrip gear list – what’s $750 divided by 10 toes? $75 a toe? The most expensive boots of my life, for sure, but keeping toes is worth at least that much. (Don’t worry mom and dad – losing toes is extremely unlikely!)
Other goodies I’m loving – the Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero parka I bought with a killer deal (in bright orange, no less), even though it’s sized for a dude with a barrel chest and I’m pretty sure I could fit Jenn in there with me(!), and Leigh Ann’s super sweet new Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 tent! So sweet! So much internal storage! Such bright colors!
Maiden tent erection. Hmmm, that's not quite what I meant. But I like it, so let's leave that here...

Maiden tent erection. Hmmm, that didn’t quite come out how I meant it… But, whatever. 😉

Finally, can I cast a “cool gear” vote for Leigh Ann’s sweet new climbing bibs, which I can’t seem to find in my size anywhere, for the absolute life of me, but I’m sure she’ll tell you about?
3. Which logistical or planning-related decision are you feeling most thoughtful about, or has you worried?
I’m not worried about much, to be honest – I’m a pretty level-headed, logical task manager, and that trait has been very much present these last two months. I think the main thing I’m worried about is what you might call the “controversial leave-behinds” – the question of how many shovels to bring, how many probes, whether to bring our avalanche beacons, and whether to bring helmets. (I’d be interested in the perspective of other people on this issue, I should note). A lot of the rescue gear we carry in the Cascades is more disproportionately useful in the Cascades, and so some climbers leave it behind for trips like Denali, but having been trained to compulsively wear one’s beacon…it’s really hard to contemplate leaving it behind, ever.
4. What’s your go-to snack for food on the mountain? The Denali Girls are planning for hot breakfasts and hot dinners – what will you be eating the rest of the time?
I can’t do bars or oatmeal, and I don’t eat meat, so no jerky, which pretty much makes me the most difficult mountain eater imaginable. I would rather do raw, unadulterated nuts (of almost any kind), straight up chocolate, or absolute crap candy (hello, gummy bears!) than anything else. Normally I’d carry raw almonds, dried apricots, Stretch Island, single serving fruit leather things that were all the rage a few years back, and Primal Strips – pseudo-paleo vegetarian snack strips, as well as a few pieces of honest-to-god candy, around here. I also regularly steal dried mango from Trader Joe’s and peanut M&Ms from my boyfriend, here in Washington. In Alaska I’m anticipating a lot of fruit chews and some gels (consistency is a hang up of mine – I think oatmeal has the consistency of that which shall not be named, and some of those gels – don’t even get me started). So I’m experimenting a lot with what snacky foods to bring, and would very much welcome creative suggestions!
5. What new food or drink products have you added to your daily life since starting preparations for the climb? What do you like the best?
This is one of my favorite questions, because I’m so pleasantly surprised by my answer. Coco Libre, a company that makes coconut water fortified with added protein, agreed to sponsor us by providing product (a few boxes full of single-serving, to-go containers of coconut milk) and I felt a little gun-shy at first, because the last time I tried coconut water that wasn’t straight from a coconut, I didn’t like it. The Coco Libre stuff is awesome, thought, and I’m completely addicted. Current training philosophy suggests that consuming additional protein after a work out aids in muscle recovery, so for awhile my fridge was totally stocked with the squeezable containers of it, and I’d grab one and throw it in my workout bag before heading to the gym. The chocolate one and the vanilla one are particuarly awesome, and both have additional protein added.
Breakfast of (pescetarian) champions: egg on a real east coast bagel, and a Coco Libre. Add a greek yogurt (Tillamook is my go-to) and I'm ahead of the protein curve before the day has even started!

Breakfast of (pescetarian) champions: egg on a real east coast bagel, and a Coco Libre. Add a greek yogurt (Tillamook is my go-to) and I’m ahead of the protein curve before the day has even started!

I’ve also added a fish oil supplement, whey protein shakes, and other healthy bits (plus more eggs for breakfast: protein source), but don’t have much more to say about that beyond – yeah – I’m doing it. Those whey protein shakes are pretty good – that BCAA-G stuff in “Lemonade” is headed back to the store as soon as I have a minute. The Omega-3 vitamins are the size of horse pills. Gulp.
6. What’s the most interesting, most complicated, or most useful skill or technique you’ve learned or perfected over the last few months?
Working with the sleds is pretty interested, pretty challenging, and just kinda cool. Probably just that experience, of wearing a huge backpack while towing a full-loaded sled last weekend. I felt so super strong (and so super wiped out afterwards!)
7. What’s still on your Denali to-do list? Give us a sample of the things you’re about to get to, or make decisions about, this week.
So. many. things. The most obvious are filling my gear holes (which are somehow more glaring than those of the other girls) – I still need a new pair of crampons, insulated overboots (which are like a wetsuit that covers your entire boot and lower leg), a bigger harness (sized to go over all the new clothes I’ll be wearing), an extra pair of long underwear, new glacier glasses (SO over my old ones!) and down booties. Like I said, I’m a little behind. Eeek. Other things – confirming our flight date and travel plans, ride information, etc. The biggest single thing we’re still working with as a group is our food planning – that’s a whole other challenge, with our varied diets and desire to travel light (freeze-dry allll the things…)
[Editor’s Note: writing this entry induced enough panic that as of yesterday I now have the overboots, long underwear, and down booties. I also don’t have $600 that I did yesterday…]
8. What does your training or conditioning schedule look like this week, for example? Is there any one part of your physical conditioning that has most noticeably changed your physique?
In a nutshell: two days outside last weekend – Saturday: sled work and snow camping, Sunday, hiking the big slope on the approach to Rock Lake. Monday: wasn’t feeling so hot – too much business travel wedged between a lot of climbing training. Tuesday: got stuck in traffic-pocalypse and missed my stair climbing plans (please see “Overturned fish truck on Viaduct ruined everyone’s day” – because, yep, thanks for that, Seattle). Tonight I’m working around social plans (with climbers – ha!) to hit up the West Seattle Y, first, and get my core and upper body workout in. Thursday I’m hoping to swim in the morning (for some active recovery and additional cardio),and then do our night hike with 45 lbs. I’m angling to take Friday off from work so that Jenn and I can head to the Mountaineers, hang off the roof, and give me a chance to practice escaping the crevasse by passing a sled, which the other girls practiced back when my ankle was still too messed up to bear weight. Then Saturday we condition again (45 lbs), and Saturday night we’re doing a “sleepover” at Jenn’s down to enjoy some downtime together but also get a bunch of small to-dos done! Sunday afternoon is real downtime, and then Monday it all starts over, again. The pace, at this point, is a little bit unrelenting.
And yes, on the physique – my core feels totally strong (which I partially attribute to the swimming I did most days in February!) and my biceps and shoulders could give Popeye a run for his money. 😉
9. What are you reading or listening to right now? Denali books, or training books, or books to give you a break from all of the above?
I’m trying to concurrently finish Steve House’s book ‘Training for the New Alpinism,’ and Colby Coombs’ ‘Denali: The West Buttress,’ which is a matter of fact treatment of what the climb entails. I had dropped both when we got really busy training, so that’s the goal for early April.
10. What, to you, would make for a successful climb? Is there one moment or experience you are most looking forward to?
I’m most looking forward to landing on the glacier – I think that’s going to be a bit mind-blowing – like whoa – we’re really doing this, we’re really here. To me a successful climb is everyone going up and coming down friends, and each woman feeling empowered to speak her mind about what we do from day to day, and feeling heard, and engaged in the decision-making. I’m less attached to the summit (to all summits, really) than a lot of people – for me it’s all about the adventure, and always has been. Even if something happens and I end up sitting down at basecamp, waiting for the other girls to come back – it will be an adventure, an experience, a great story. I just realized as I typed this that I have the perfect fortune cookie taped to my computer monitor, to sum it up:
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
I’ll take a bit of daring, please!

Finding Balance – Life outside of The Denali Girls

We have a big goal ahead of us and it’s easy to get consumed by all the planning and anticipation. We’re all dedicated, strong ladies looking to kick some serious ass, but we also have to keep some perspective. We can’t spend EVERY waking moment outside of work (or during work) thinking, talking, and planning Denali. However, it’s kind of felt like that lately. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love this project! I mean I can’t truly express how stoked I am that I am a part of The Denali Girls! It gives me focus, gives me a goal to work toward and I love every minute! We all need “Denalis” in our lives. However, we also have to strike a balance between the “project” and the rest of our lives.

The other day I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I spoke with my dad on the phone, or my sister for that matter (sorry dad and Michelle!). Not good. I immediately sent them texts in effort to schedule a time where we could actually talk and catch up. Between two jobs, training, planning, and stressing over gear choices, I found myself getting a little too caught up in my obligations (work and Denali-related things) and not spending enough time on my personal life (family and friends) outside of our project. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been making an effort to make time for people, so it’s not that anyone has really been neglected, it’s just easy to let these relationships slide if you’re not paying attention.


Wolfe pack in NY


Dad, Me, Little Miss Ada, & Michelle


Part of the reason our planning and training has been so successful is due to the people outside of our climbing team. All of you have been amazing! We are so thankful to have so many people be so supportive of our goal. From lending us gear and endlessly talking about food choices and sled modifications to offering words of encouragement and just flat out being stoked for us. We appreciate all of it! That being said, it’s important that we show everyone how much we appreciate these things by staying connected. That means calling our parents and siblings, dedicating time to spend with significant others, making time for our friends, and keep the blog posts rolling.

It’s good to have a big project that challenges you and gives you something to work toward, just don’t get tunnel vision and let the project consumer your every waking minute.

Denali Prep Top 10: The Best (and the Worst) of Preparing for Denali


Every part of preparing for our Denali climb has been a revelation, and some of those revelations have been more satisfying (or more aggravating) than others. As I ran past my still-not-yet-unpacked gear piles (from Sunday night – eek) on the way to work this morning, I ruminated on the highs and the lows of a big project like Denali.

My Top Ten Highs (“…these are a few of my favorite things!”)

1. Feeling, getting, and being stronger. Exercise is such a funny thing in our society – if you chalk it up to “work,” or pick something tedious (cough, stationary bike, cough), exercise can be so unbelievably unpleasant. Just another thing to do, like cleaning the toilet or unclogging a shower drain, and anticipated about as much. But if you can re-frame exercise, view it as part of your life, relish the endorphins (that happy little post-exercise buzz it generates), and can dwell on what it gives you (a bit more definition in the shoulder and bicep, more visible musculature around the neck, or the slight ripple of muscle in your thigh as you take a confident step uphill) it can bring you so much joy. I get such pleasure out of feeling strong.

2. Simple movements. My sprained ankle was a liability this month, but it also opened up a whole new range of movement, and a long list of ways to expand on the movements I would otherwise be doing. Swimming for cardio when my ankle couldn’t bear weight turned out to be an unanticipated adventure, and the movement a pleasure – the long stretch to reach as far as possible forward and then push the water behind me, the zen of stroke, stroke, breath. I’ve decided to keep a short swimming workout in the mix and have been doing it after my upper body workout, and relishing that movement.

And it turns out that this simple pleasure in movement is not unique to me – the New York Times carried a recent feature on how mindfulness – finding and focusing on simple movements can help people get more out of their workouts, and enjoy them more. You can read more here.

3. Discovering (and rediscovering) new ways to train. Both lifting and stair-climbing come to mind. I have never relished traditional weight training and lifting, but our team spent a long Sunday at Leigh Ann’s Crossfit gym, dragging “sleds” with weight around and practicing safe lifting movement, and it has become fun (and a good test of my commitment) to build that into my workouts (pairing it with swimming helps!)

Stair-climbing has been much the same. We have a notably lengthy set of stairs near our house, and it is a small joy to get out there in the early morning and walk the stairs for an hour. Part meditation, part pilgrimage.

4. Teamwork. Like exercise, there is so much work, and as a result so much joy, to be found in working together to become a team. We spent last weekend in the mountains and took a break on Sunday to work through a bunch of possible scenarios that could arise and present challenges on the mountain, and although those conversations will often be hard, the satisfaction in reaching a mutually agreeable consensus is perhaps unrivaled.

5. Friendship. I have plans to write a post on what actually happened on the day the other Girls walked down from Rainier after Search and Rescue had been called, but there’s a lot to be said and I am still sorting through how best to write it. But when the Ranger was interviewing me about the other girls he said something like “I understand you’re friends with one of the missing climbers?” and I bristled. “I’m friends with all of them!”

I think we four lady climbers have been friends from the start in part because we knew one another through being a part of the same community (and deeply appreciating what it has given us), but friendship grows through shared experiences, trials and tribulations.

Around 3pm on Saturday we realized the snow platform we had built for our tents wasn’t adequate for the sizeable footprint of the Hilleberg Keron 3 tent we are bringing, and would need to quickly build a second platform to fit both. Tones began to change slightly, and each of us got perhaps a bit more short in our utterances, when Jenn suddenly pivoted and headed toward her backpack. “I am feeling a little bit cranky and am realizing I need to have a snack and drink some water!” she announced, and then offered some of her snack up so that we all would do the same. I wanted to hug her, because that was exactly what was needed by all, and she demonstrated both friendship and leadership in that moment.

Friendship, and teamwork, and lifting, and strength, and movement (sing with me: "These are a few of my favorite things!" :)

Friendship, and teamwork, and lifting, and strength, and movement (sing with me: “These are a few of my favorite things!” 🙂

6. Community. I’ve said this before and I will say it again (and again, and again) but I love being a part of the climbing community here in Seattle,and have relished the way we have felt supported by our peers. I don’t know if we will succeed in reaching the summit on Denali, but if we do it will be because of the assistance, support, and guidance of dozens of big-hearted, bad-ass, and totally rad people.

7. Recovery. Good god am I proud of my ankle recovery! This past Sunday was 4 weeks since I wiped out on the ice at Denny Creek, and the weekend was the first time I have been outside, climbing, with a pack on in as long, and it felt pretty darn good! This is the first time I have ever followed my PT and doctor’s counsel to the letter, and doing the physical therapy movements on a daily basis, and stretching and icing and not overdoing it once I started to feel better, has been satisfying. It’s not 100% yet, but it took a pounding this weekend, and hung in there. Being an active participant in and taking responsibility for my ankle recovery has been gratifying.

8. The joy of being intensely busy. Having an all-consuming, life-shaping side project has been a revelation. All of my time outside of work (and during my lunch break) is informed by our Denali climb, and the things we need to do to be prepared. I do logistics over lunch, make phone calls before heading for the bus, read about training and the climb itself on my commute, do PT on and against and using the couch when I get home. All (and I do mean allof my disposable income (and some of my non-disposable income, aka credit) is dedicated to the climb right now. Anytime I have $50 extra in my week, it goes towards a gear purchase, as I lump together lists of the little things we need and buy them all at once to get free shipping! Anytime I sell a piece of clothing or jewelry through consignment, I do the same. I’m working every pro-deal that is accessible to me, and we as a group are reaching out to everyone we know in the outdoor industry for help and support. Before and after work I work out, and when I leave work I take the shipped items that have arrived back home with me. Even my relationship is structured around the climb – Tuesday and Thursday nights (and a long list of weekends) are devoted to group trainings, and Ed knows those are the most ideal days to go off and do his Ed things, while I sweat my way up stairs, or a mountain. Everything is about the climb, and that’s both a good and a bad thing – but the good part is about staying busy, and creating something together with my team.

9. Kitchen Cabinet-ing with Ed. A long time ago I came across a story about Andrew Jackson, who for reasons of political infighting eventually stopped relying on his official Cabinet for support and counsel, and began instead relying on an informal one, made up of trusted advisors and friends. Since Ed is also a climber and has himself climbed Denali, it has been a lot of fun (and oftentimes quite reassuring) to be able to head home at the end of a long weekend and talk through some of the challenges and questions that have arisen, and have him act as a sounding board and provide his own input as we Girls work towards a solution that is appropriate for our team. Each of us has our own Kitchen Cabinet in our lives – whether best friends, partners, or other climbing partners – and sharing the experience of preparing for the Denali climb with someone who cares about you and is rooting for your success is an immensely satisfying experience.

10. The Satisfaction of Working Towards Big Goals. This one is self-explanatory. You know all those cheesy “live your life” type adages and inspirational quotes that get circulated on Facebook (including by yours truly?) One of my very favorite parts of this, is that we’re actually doing it. We set a really high (truly, elevationally, high!) goal, a high bar for success, and are working towards it. And our goal is to accomplish something that not many people ever do. And that even fewer women do. And that even fewer women do without the participation of men on their team! How cool is that?! When I tire of planning or training or reading or worrying about what we’ll eat on the mountain, I think about that. And then I wonder about what will make for a suitable next big goal. If we can do this, what else might we be capable of?

…Tomorrow – My Top Ten Kinda Sorta Really Not My Most Favorite Things…!