Making a Life Instead of a Living

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.


14 Responses to “Making a Life Instead of a Living”

  1. Beautiful reflection Laura. You are a GREAT climber. A smart and capable climber. Don’t be hard on yourself. Wishing you the best on the recovery of your knee…I know how it is with a couple of my injuries and some now chronic it seems. We love it too much to stop….we love mother nature, the challenge, the breathtaking moments whether in trekking, climbing or just admiring……living period. You’re going to do GREAT girl!

    • Many thanks to you, my dear Chris. I miss you and your spirit here, and you inspire me to explore what this life has to offer. Much love from the high Sierra!

  2. Scott the Barbarian Says:

    Be safe and have fun. You are still my inspiration. Heading out tomorrow for the first time since last year’s surgery. Just camping and a little hiking, but out just the same. Living is getting out. Have a great month. See you on the other side Lucky Girl!

  3. charles irving Says:

    Just go do it, Laura.

  4. Laura, (Laura, Laura) You are luckier than most. I can never stop admiring all that you have done. Just be happy you are not broke and living on the “west side” far from those lovely hills that you get to call home . . . have you read Arlene Blum’s book, “breaking trail” . . . I won it in a silent auction, put it on a shelf, never read it . . . finally, I am totally into it and I keep thinking of you, the luckiest girl in the world (or at least on the east side!!) it’s all good . . . (and so is this beer!!!)

  5. donald koon Says:

    Hey Moosie! Have fun out there, that’s the main thing, along with being safe, of course. But, I think you’re a pretty safe person, so I think you’ve got that covered. . Anyway, I was just up on Adams last weekend with a buddy. We both felt like we were moving pretty slowly, maybe me especially; it was a low-energy day for some reason. . But, we talked about it and both agreed: no expectations-we’re here to have fun, and get some exercise in the mountains. That was it! So, we did, and there were a few times I felt like, this it it, I’m done, can’t keep going. But, I did. Rest, steps, rest, slowly but surely I kept it up; I’m sure the couple of Gu’s I had helped. Finally, finally, we made it to the False Summit, and we both were very happy to make it that far. Rested, ate some, then clcked in for a fabulous ski down the SW. Chutes. Great ski outa there, and a bit of an adventure as well. Made the suffering struggle of the up worth it.
    So, I tell this story just as an example of . . . keeping the expectations low, not being hard on yourself, and having fun! Whatever we do, however high we get out there, will be fine if we have the right mindset. It’s really about having fun outdoors, after all. . .
    So, have a great time, and be safe!

    Ps. I’m sure this is all shit you already know, and I’m not trying to be preachy, just . . communicating the spirit.

    • Skooner, I am right there with ya. Much love from the high Sierra, and we WILL get to ski together in the blessed NW someday!

  6. Bob, believe me, I know how lucky I am, and I give thanks every day. I have indeed read Arlene Blum’s book, and I cherish it. Now it is my turn to, once again, go exploring.

  7. Heya Moosie, you’re so right. confidence is sexy! Get on with your beautiful self. I love hearing about your adventures and imagining all you must be feeling when you’re out there alone in that vast wilderness. All the best.

  8. You are an inspiration. Enjoy every step!

    • What a great and honest post. I wish I could do half as much. Take care of that knee… and post lots of pics for all of us who don’t get to do what you do.

  9. Life is all about what you make it… And YOU have decided to make it an ADVENTURE… nuff said 🙂

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