Archive for July, 2012

Making a Life Instead of a Living

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2012 by moosetracksca

I can’t really afford to take a month off from work right now. The patient census has been painfully low, so much that I’ve really only been working a bit more than half time. I think I only have enough vacation time to cover half a week of the next four that I’ll be off. I’m beginning to worry that I won’t have enough money to cover my original goal of donating one penny for every vertical foot that I’ve gained over the past year. I think a chunk of my rent will come out of my savings for next month.

But then I look at my bed, a depositing ground for a spread of gear and clothing, waiting to be crushed and shoved deep into my beast of a pack. I see the bags of food on the counter, the plastic Ziplocs to one side, the box of freeze-dried dinners sitting on the kitchen table. I open the map once more to trace the route, numbers marking potential campsites, different color dots signaling primary, secondary, and tertiary peaks I’d like to climb. There’s a notebook with bullet points on routes. There’s a small tackle box, a bag with power bait next to an extendable pole.

Last year, I was unable to join my friends on Denali because my boss couldn’t grant me the requisite vacation time. I had no one to cover for me, to perform the evaluations, treatments, and discharges. I forced the issue on my work that fall, announcing last November that I was planning on a 30-day hiatus from my job at the end of July and through August. It worked: this spring we were able to hire a per diem PT, and my timetable was set.

Ten months ago, I had surgery on my left knee. It’s been a slow recovery, both physically and mentally, the road rocky primarily because I am so incredibly hard on myself. I had such an incredibly high standard to reach, all the while knowing it would take more time than I had allotted to attain that level of fitness once again. My own expectations of my performance actually created roadblocks, where my head would get stuck on negative thoughts and criticisms, making me a pretty damn miserable person at times. There were so many times I just wanted to curl up on a nap rock and sink into the warmth of the granite, rather than seek out the challenges of the heights.

I was terrified of failure: of letting myself, or anyone else down. I didn’t want to show that I was weak, slow, struggling.

But then came Mt. Huxley.

From camp at Wanda Lake, Huxley is a fairly trivial climb across loose talus and sand, some nice little class 3 scrambling near the summit ridge. In the heart of Evolution Basin, Huxley has a commanding view of all directions, and he was all mine to enjoy that lovely afternoon. I moved at my own pace, chasing after no one, leaned into the boulders to suck wind, perched on a rock to snack. I missed the easy out to the ridge, and the old fear of exposed scrambling reared its ugly head as I shoved myself up the head wall. But then I swallowed the catch in my chest, forcing the dread back down where it belongs, as a warning and nothing more. After a few moves, I was easily upon the ridge and looking at the traverse to the summit blocks. A small patch of snow offered something cool on which to munch, my mouth parched from effort.

I remembered this woman, standing with one foot on the top of the angled summit block, breathing deeply and letting a great call echo forth across my basin.

I’m not fast: in fact I drop into a deep low drive when I’m ascending steep terrain.

I’m not a great climber, often hitting the hardest stuff but then sketching out on a step-around. I recently told a friend of mine that the more Class 4 and low 5 that I solo in the Sierra, the more I want to be a better fisherman.

But perseverance I have in spades, a stubborn streak inherited from both my Mom and Pop that always helps me focus on achieving my goals. I’ve been blessed to have incredible teachers and friends who have shared both their knowledge and their passion for the heights. I have found comfort, strength, and determination in my various passions. In the backcountry, and then translating into the front country, it is more than acceptable to be a strong, confident, and powerful woman. Self-sufficiency is sexy.

In five years, I’ve had more adventures than I ever could have dreamed. The challenges are multiplying, and the personal growth continues.

This weekend, I am embarking on a return trip. Five years ago, I left the Whitney Portal under a 63-pound pack, not knowing what the mountains would have in store for me.

It was a trip that changed my life forever.

For me, it’s no longer about making a living. It’s about making a life.

And that’s something I can’t afford NOT to do.


From the heights of the high Sierra,

And from the luckiest girl in the world,


Climb Hard. Be Safe.


Letter to the Editor of Backpacker Magazine

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2012 by moosetracksca

To the editor:


I was thrilled to open the August 2012 issue of Backpacker and find a six-page pictorial devoted to the Sierra Challenge, an annual “event” in the eastern Sierra. Seeing my good friend, Bob Burd, receive such an accolade, knowing how much effort he pours into organizing the Challenge, made my heart soar. Being able to view all my other friends in action during the 2011 Challenge also filled me with pride. All of the participants are to be lauded for their courage, knowledge, and fortitude, and the fact that they return year after year to join in the fun is a clear attestation to how special this event is.


However, I was highly disturbed to see that the pictorial included not a single photograph of a woman participating in the Challenge, nor did the text suggest that anyone other than men set out to conquer the Challenge. Over the first ten years of the Challenge, approximately 10% of the participants were women. In 2010, I became the first, and only, woman to complete all 10 days and 10 peaks, placing fourth in the overall standings for the “Yellow Jersey”. Bob introduced me to the photographer, Michael Darter, following Day 3 (Cold Mountain), and he also included the title of “only woman finisher” in his description. I was limited in my participation in 2011 due to a knee injury (I had surgery 3 weeks later), but I was present for two of the days that the photographer was present, along with other women who were joining in the fun.


I can understand the role of editor in selecting the photographs for a spread; that space is limited; audiences must be considered; quality of photographs is key. However, to see that a single picture of any woman was omitted from the final cut was highly offensive. Mountaineering continues to be a male-dominated field, but there are those of us who have strived to make inroads and prove ourselves equal in route finding, stamina, and confidence in the backcountry. The Challenge represents the epitome of self-sufficiency to many, and to have denied acknowledgement of any woman who participates is a highly offensive gesture.


I am extremely proud of my continued participation in the Sierra Challenge, and I eagerly await the 2012 event, having now recovered from my knee surgery last fall. These gentlemen are my dear friends and mountain family. I believe that Backpacker Magazine, while issuing deserved recognition to Bob and the others, did a significant disservice to their women readers by denying them the knowledge that women do indeed participate, and, more importantly, succeed in such “wild hiking challenges”.


Sincerely, and in disappointment,

Laura Molnar

Bishop, CA