Ellie Briggs and Loki

WRM011: Ellie Briggs on Climbing All of Colorado’s 14,000-foot Peaks with Her Husky

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Visualize being close to 14,000 feet on a challenging peak in Colorado. You’re looking at a knife ridge on Capitol Peak that separates you from the summit. It falls off so deeply on both sides that if you fall … you die. And it’s not just you climbing it … your dog is also attempting the summit.

There are 58 peaks over 14,000 feet – or “14’ers” as they’re often called – in Colorado. For the past eight years Ellie and her dog Loki picked them off one by one.

The first peaks she climbed were relatively easy walk-ups. But as she progressed, the challenges in climbing them grew. Some – because of weather or other circumstances – she couldn’t climb on the first attempt. So she returned to them.

And now, here she is, looking at the last peak.

Welcome to Ellie’s world where focus, persistence and an amazing dog have enabled her to achieve something only two other owners and their dogs have been able to achieve.

In this wide-ranging interview, Ellie shares how Loki became her dog, and how he is so different from other huskies. She talks about how – after coming out of a challenging relationship – a chance friendship at a Meetup group – led her to climb Colorado’s highest mountains almost as a form of therapy, and as a way to rebuild her confidence.

And she lets us in on the unshakable bond and trust she has built with Loki.

I hope you enjoy listening to this interview as much as I enjoyed interviewing her.

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Full Transcript

This is Doug Greene with What Really Matters Interviews, and today it is my pleasure to interview Ellie Briggs. Well, let me tell you about Ellie. She is a hiker. She lives in Colorado, and what sets her apart – or what she’s done that’s amazing – is she’s climbed all of Colorado’s 58 14,000-foot peaks, which are often called 14’ers.  And that’s pretty good in itself there, but there are 5000 people that have done that. 

What sets her apart is she did it with her husky, her dog, which is a husky named Loki. And there are only three dogs that have ever accomplished that, and Loki is the most recent one. 

And just to give you a little bit more background on these peaks, some of these peaks are technical climbs. I looked at one of the pictures of the most recent ones she climbed – Capitol – and I was like, “there’s no frickin way I’m getting on that thing.” Meanwhile, there she is sort of straddling this knife ridge with her dog. 

So there’s so many things to explore here. Ellie, welcome to the podcast. And thank you for joining me.

Thank you so much for having me. It’s my pleasure.

So why don’t you talk about this … let’s start off with the most recent peak you did. I understand that on capital … s it called Capital Peak?

Yes. Capital. 

Okay. I understand that you … that was actually your second attempt on that peak.  You had come there the year prior, and a combination of weather and exposure and everything just kind of got to like, “Nah, maybe we should come back to this one.”

Maybe you can talk about that. And then also, what it was like the second time when you came back. So what stopped you the first time and then what inspired you to keep going and, you know, what challenges did you face the second time?

Sure. Well, the first time that we attempted capital was back in 2018. And it was the same month – it was September. And I chose September, on purpose because it tends to be one of the best months for having good weather. And on a peak like Capital that is so technical, and it is the hardest ‘teener in Colorado, I wanted to have the conditions be as perfect as possible before we attempted anything. 

So when we went up that time, we had to hike in about six and a half miles to our sort of base camp area, which is Capitol Lake, and it sits right at the base of the peak itself. And we set up camp, I had my partner with me, and of course Loki. And overnight the weather sort of changed, and the wind picked up. And we actually didn’t sleep a wink because the wind was so incredibly strong. 

And after basically just having a sleepless night, when our alarms went off – I think it was at four o’clock in the morning – my partner and I just said “Nope, this doesn’t seem like a safe situation wind wise, because … especially going over something like the knife edge where you really want to have as much balance as possible. So we didn’t even make an attempt. We ended up just going back to bed and sleeping in, and then calling it and hiking out the following morning. So that was a little disappointing. 

But then you came back.

Yes, yeah. So yeah, it took a full year to get back to it. We had already climbed all of the other 14’ers back in 2018. It was going to be our last one back then too. So it took us another year to finally knock this one out. 

But when we came back that second time, last fall, again, September, and this time we just got super lucky and the weather was absolutely perfect. Everything about that day was perfect. I had gone around to all the campsites for people that were going to be making attempts the next day and let them know, “Hey, I’m here. This is our final summit, I’m with my dog. This is our experience. If you’re uncomfortable, you know, we can talk about staging our start times to make sure that we’re not in the same area.” 

Because you know, hiking with a dog on a technical peak is somewhat nerve-wracking to people that don’t really know us or know our history or our expertise. So I just wanted to put their mind at ease. But then when we actually did go for the climb itself, everything just went as smoothly as I ever could have hoped for. It was really the perfect day.

 

So my understanding is the last 150 yards or something is the knife ridge to get to this summit?

Not quite. So basically what you do, you have to go from the lake, you have to climb up to a ridge line, and then hit go around the backside and sort of traverse for a while. And then you climb up another mountain called K2, which sits just directly adjacent to Capital Peak proper. 

But between K2 and Capital Peak is the knife edge. And that’s 150 feet wide or, excuse me, 150 feet long, so that you have to traverse that section. And then once you get across it, that’s actually where like the real difficult climbing begins. And then so that’s a couple, a few more thousand feet, I believe, from the end of the knife edge all the way to the summit. But really, basically that knife edge is like where the hard climbing sort of begins, I would say,

And what’s the elevation where that begins?

It’s not quite 13,000’ …  I can’t remember off the top of my head, but it’s a little bit lower than that. 

So when Loki saw this knife ridge, which sounds like is probably the most challenging of all the peaks, you climbed …  that area, that last part of capital?

You know, in all honesty, I would say that there have been other sections on different mountains that have been more difficult, because I think what makes the knife edge so scary is the exposure where on both sides you just have this year drop off of over 1000 feet. And so it’s more of a mental challenge more than anything. 

Physically it’s not difficult. The rock is extremely stable and you can sort of just like sort of inch your way like straddling it across – or you can actually even just walk it if you have really good balance and, and you’re not too afraid. So it’s not like physical talent is a mental challenge. 

But for him, we had practice we had done another peak that did have a shorter knife edge. So he had been in that sort of environment before, and he was prepared for it. 

So how does he climb it?  Does he just kind of straddle the knife bridge and sort of like his left legs are on the left side, and his right legs are on the night?

He literally just walked right across it! I had brought a running belay setups that we had thought about potentially rigging up my partner myself, just in case, because we wanted to make sure that we were prepared once we get up there for any sort of situation.  And if we needed to have them on belay for safety, then we would have it. 

But we ultimately decided that it wasn’t necessary to set that up, that we could very easily just have him walk across while one of us held him at all times.  And then I would say, was really more of a hindrance for him, because he was more than willing to just walk across on his own accord without us. But just for safety, for my own peace of mind, we decided that one of us would always have a hand on his harness the entire time.

So let’s go back a ways and go back to the beginning when all of this happened. I do want to get your thoughts on what it – well, you actually you know what, let’s go to the when you climb capital, and you were done with this.  What did it feel like to finally achieve this goal of climbing all of the 58 of the 14’ers? 

Oh, my God! 

 

What was it like in your inner world when you did that? 

Well, it was really great. I mean, when we hit the summit itself, I very much had like a surreal moment. I did get a little choked up. And there are a couple of tears – just because I’d been working on this journey for seven years at that point, and I wasn’t sure that we would ever get it. 

And after missing the Capital summit the first summer, and waiting a full year to get it that second time, I had sort of built up a lot of anxiety, and I was nervous, made it so much bigger in my head than it ended up turning out to be.  And so there was just this big wave of relief to be finished with this particular mountain. 

And I don’t want to say “finished”, because, in my opinion, a summit is only halfway. So there was no big celebration at the summit, because they wanted to save the celebration for when we were back off the mountain completely and, you know, in a safe environment. But when we hit the summit, there was definitely a wave of accomplishment coupled with relief. Yeah, sorry. We did have a little party at Taco Bell that night. Just the two of us for a celebration dinner in the car,

And down climbing can actually be more challenging than climbing up. How’s Loki with that? 

Oh, absolutely.  And in fact, in 2017 there were five deaths on Capitol Peak alone.  And all of them- well, not all of them, but several of them – occurred on the descent.  And with mountaineering, that’s usually the time when most accidents happen. People are sort of not focusing as much. They’re just relieved to have hit the summit. And so they’re sort of riding that high and the adrenaline has has come and gone. And that feeling of tiredness sort of starts to kick in. 

And so you may not be paying as much attention as you should be, or your feet may give out or whatever. And so, for me, I always have to make sure that I’m focusing in both directions and making sure that I’m keeping myself and him as safe as possible all the time. 

But as far as coming down at climbing, we have a very specific system that we employ that I’ve trained into him. And so when we’re going down something really steep, I say the phrase “Get behind”, and he will actually sort of get into a crab box position. And he’ll come right up behind me and he’ll press right into my back or my shoulder and sort of put his weight into me. And then I’ll just crab walk down as he’s pressing into me. 

And that way I’m sort of breaking his fall if you were to fall if it’s a really steep section. So it’s a great system that we’ve sort of compiled together

So let’s go back to the beginning. How did you come across Loki? And did you know from the beginning – like when you first saw him – that this was gonna be an amazing dog? Or is that something that developed later? Let’s start How did you Loki come together?

Well, it’s a very unique situation in the way that I acquired him. So he actually came from a puppy mill that got shut down up in northern Colorado.  And he is one of two dogs that were left to be taken from this place. And this other couple went to rescue what they thought was the last dog – and that’s when they realized they were two. 

And they’ve realized, “well, we can’t leave one”, we have to take them both. But they weren’t really in a position to care for two dogs. And so they ended up putting him up for adoption on Craigslist. And that’s how I came across him. I saw his photo. I was looking for a dog at that point. I knew that I wanted a northern breed dog; I’ve always loved them. 

So as soon as I saw his face, I mean, I saw his picture – and that was it for me. So I was typing as fast as I could to send out a message to them. And as it turned out I was the second person to reply to their post out of 400 people. 

So it was really amazing. I know crazy how many people fell in love with him. I mean, well, not crazy, because he’s gorgeous, but just such a lucky moment for me. 

So we set up a time to meet. And as soon as I saw him of course I was in love. And he took to me very quickly, thankfully, as well.  And I ended up taking him home that day. It was a very lucky situation. From the moment that we were together, we were just best buds. So really awesome.

So where did the climbing come into this? When did you start on that whole …?

What was interesting is that I – actually at the time that I adopted him – I was not into hiking. I wasn’t outdoors at all, to be honest. I had never been camping. I had done very little hiking in my life. I w as 30 years old, so that’s kind of sad. 

But I didn’t really have a lot going on in my life. I didn’t have many friends, I had just come out of a relationship that was kind of crippling at the time. And so getting him was sort of a way to get my butt off the couch, and to be more social, and to be more active, and to just have another presence in my house, a companion, so to speak.

So I had him for about three months when I went to a random happy hour meetup. And I met a girl there who was really into the outdoors. She was a big hiker, she’d done several of the 14’ers.  And she was just such a beautiful human and so excited about life. And I was so taken by her and her zest for life that I was just like, “Can we please be friends!” And, you know, “take me hiking!” 

And so yeah, we ended up doing a memorial weekend camping trip together. And we hiked my very first 14’er, which was now Albert, which is Colorado’s tallest peak. And after that trip – which I should mention was like the hardest thing I’d ever done at the time, trying to get up that mountain – once I finally made it up, just seeing that view was undeniably beautiful, and it was really a life changing moment for me.  And from that moment on, I just wanted to hike anything that I could get my feet on.

Something I want to add here is for those of you that haven’t climbed to 14,000-foot peak, altitude really is a thing.

Oh my God!  Totally a thing. This first trip I was wearing hiking shoes that I got it like a discount sporting goods store; they were $35 shoes. I had head-to-toe cotton. I was wearing like a Hollister sweatshirts, and I had no idea what I was doing.  And at one point I stopped and sat down with my friend and, like, my speech was so slurred. I was so dizzy; my lips felt like they’re about five sizes too big for my mouth. I was freezing. 

Yeah, totally unprepared. I mean, mentally unprepared and well and also physically unprepared. So yeah, I mean, it was so hard. And I really didn’t know what to expect as far as like being able to breathe. I had no idea how much more challenging it would be at those elevations versus you know, just being at our campsite or whatever. But yeah, it’s definitely a thing.

So how old was Loki when you did this first peek?

He was nine months old. So he was actually very, very young.  He was probably a little bit too young, in all honesty, to be hiking a peak of that height and of that mileage. But at the time I didn’t know better because he was my very first dog that I’d ever owned on my own. And I clearly still had a lot to learn about being a responsible dog owner. 

Luckily for me, and I think this isn’t a testament to his breed, he just did fantastically the entire time. And never got tired, never needed to stop … just charged the whole way and enjoyed every minute of it.

So you did the first peak, and like wow, okay, I’m, that was a challenge. I felt the altitude and duh-duh-duh. What got you inspired to keep going?

Once we got to this summit of that first one – and it was Memorial Day weekend, so this was May, but there was still quite a bit of snow looking out at the landscape. And you can see many other 14’ers from that one particular one, including Mount Elbert. And so seeing all the other ones, and that feeling of like being just one small being in this huge, vast landscape – that was really what did it for me. 

I love that feeling of, wow, “I just conquered this huge thing”, but at the same time, like, “I am so tiny in this enormous world.” And I love that sort of oxymoronic feeling. And that was really what motivated me to do another one was I wanted to have that feeling again and see another summit view like that.

Something I would add to that is – after having spent a good chunk of last summer in Colorado and climbing, did my own 14’er – is Colorado really is in a league of its own for natural beauty for majestic mountains. It’s just over the top, even compared to the Sierras in California and some of the other ranges.

Well, what I really love about Colorado’s peaks is, depending on which mountain range you’re in, they’re so different.  If you’re in the Sawatch, which is where mount Elbert is, most of those 14 years look very similar as far as the landscape. But then you go down into the San Juans, and each different 14’er looks – the land the geology itself is very, very different – versus going into the Elks and then you’re in this like sort of rotten, crumbly red shale sort of rock. 

And so it’s really cool to have all these different experiences and all of these different views within one area depending on where you are. You never get tired of seeing all these different views. It’s cool. 

We’re talking about huskies here and my experience with the husky I’m taking care of is that it’s the most stubborn, willful, whiny dog I’ve ever seen. I would not get one. I had an Australian Shepherd/ Border Collie mix that was the easiest dog I’ve ever even seen. He would heal left, heal right.  He was up for anything.  We could go do 35-mile mountain bike rides, and he was like ready to go the next day. 

In fact, he’d need even more distance once he recovered and got even stronger. But wouldn’t wander, was just always attentive, and was quiet.  Like, I sound like a strict dad I guess – but that dog was so easy.

This husky whines.  It’s willful, oh my god, it’s willful. And so I have a lot of respect for people that can deal with this breed and I think this leads into the next part. Loki sounds like a very exceptional husky. The way you’ve described him he sounds more like another kind of breed.

Well as I have said before, I really did hit the dog lottery with him, because he is just the anti-husky. You know, he looks like a husky. He obviously is a husky. But personality wise he couldn’t be any further from one in every sense of the word. Because, you know, he’s highly trainable. He’s a great listener. He’s off leash all the time. He does not wander. He will walk right by animals, which is amazing. 

Of course, all of this did take training. But the fact that he was even able to be trained to do this is incredible in and of itself. He’s a great conversationalist, I will admit that. And he’s an excellent singer. But yeah, he’s just a good dog. He doesn’t have that sort of independent streak that most huskies have. He’s not always trying to escape and wander. 

I live in a condo on the third floor, and he’s so super mellow. He just hangs out with me all day while I’m working, and chills out at my feet. Yeah, he stays by my side all the time. It’s great. 

When he was going through some of his initial training I had, I worked with a trainer. But as far as the mountaineering training, that I was able to do on my own. And that was after he’d already gone through his other training. And so we had built this foundation, and I was better prepared for how to segue into the mountain during specific training.

What special tricks did you learn in training that made it him a better dog?

Yeah, there are so many things that make him such a capable mountaineering dog – things that he was just, you know, as far as natural abilities, but then also things that we trained specifically for.  As far as like his natural ability, he’s very small for a husky – only 41 pounds.  So he’s a lot smaller and more compact than a normal sized husky would be, which is great because there are situations where I may have to carry him or we may have to lift him up or give him a boost or whatever.  I’m physically capable of doing that with him. 

But he’s also really agile and light on his feet and kind of … he’s kind of a prancy little dog.  So  he’s not really like a derpy husky that is just sort of like a bull in a china shop. He’s like just the opposite of that. And so it’s really helpful because when we’re on these more tricky situations on harder terrain or areas where there is like a higher danger for rockfall, he is a lot more agile as far as where to put his fee and not sending rocks raining down on me or anybody else.  So that’s really helpful. 

But then as far as like his training, his actual training, we did learn like you know, specific technique to be able to do these things safely, and then also incorporating specific commands. He does know “left” and “right” and “scramble up” and “get behind” and, yeah, just certain terms.  He can find cairns, which is insane.

Let’s fast-forward here a little bit, okay? So you did your first peak. It’s like “Oh, I like this. I think I’d like to do some more.” So you started doing some more peaks, and my understanding is you kept going up.  And they got more and more advanced as you went along. So describe that.  I assume that his skills got better, your skills got better.  Your connection with Loki probably kept deepening. 

So maybe you can talk about all of that. When did you realize that this was going to be a thing? And when did you like … “I want to do all 58.”   Where do we start? 

That’s a lot of questions for you. Let’s start with – when did you realize that this was a thing you wanted to do, and that Loki was up for it?  And it’s sort of cemented in is like wow, “we’ve got ourselves … “

 

Initially, after we did the first one – and then a few weeks later we did another one, and then a couple weeks after that we did another one – and I really just wanted to hike as much as possible.  And thankfully we did it very much in a progression. 

There are so many 14’ers here in Colorado that are easy and, you know, are easy walk-ups. And I don’t want to say “easy”, because none of them are easy.  But on a sliding scale there are easier ones that don’t require technical skills. 

And so we did all of those easier ones first. And that allowed us to sort of gain some experience and just learn how to work together as a team, and learn how to build up that trust and build up confidence for both of us. 

I had no idea what I was doing when I first started as a total newbie hiker. And so doing more and more, I was getting more experienced, and then also getting more experience incorporated with him. And he got more confidence. And then we learned really how to work together as a team and learn how to trust each other. 

So it wasn’t, it was probably about 30 to 35 peaks in. So a few years into this, this whole experience where I started thinking, “Oh, maybe this could be a thing” … really probably the first time that I even sort of started entertaining the idea that maybe we could finish this whole list. 

Because up until then I hadn’t really even been thinking about that. I was just enjoying the process. I loved getting out and hiking. And we weren’t only doing 14’ers. We were hiking plenty of other mountains as well. 

Once we got through the class one and class two easier peaks, and we started getting into the class three in the more technical terrain where it required more scrambles, and I was able to see his agility and see his ease of movement over the rock and into exposed terrain, and how willingly he was wanting to go – that was when I sort of started thinking, “Well, you know, maybe this could be something. 

Yeah, the more we started doing it, getting into these more challenging peaks, and it just kept coming together.  And I thought, “well, if we ever get into a situation where it’s too much, then you know, we’ll stop. We’ll, we’ll call it.” Because it’s never been an experience where like, “I will do it at all costs.”  

I’m only willing to climb something as long as he’s willing to climb it too. Nothing is ever forced. If he doesn’t want to do something, we’re not doing it. Because he is my partner. He’s as much of a partner as any human partner would be. He gets just as much say any human would.

So did you reach some points where was like, “Uhhh maybe we need to back off of this”, and then somehow you busted through that?

I mean, as far as like the physical aspect of it, you know, the technical aspect of it, because we did it as a progression and started doing easy, and then, you know, more difficult, and then most difficult and hard –  we never got into sort of, I should say, an “Oh shit!” situation necessarily where it was too hard for us. 

I don’t really remember there being any like really, really terrifying situations as far as the terrain. With the exception, there was one time where I got off-route and we ended up in kind of scary terrain. But that that was very early on in our hiking, and that was not the normal routes. And we were thankfully able to get out of that safely.  But just in our normal hikes, everything sort of went pretty well. 

Now as far as the mental aspect of it, that I would say, yeah, we definitely had a lot more highs and lows where sometimes I would sort of hit a wall mentally, and my heart wasn’t into it at times. And so we would sort of take a step back and do other things. And then eventually, I would miss being out there, and we’d come back to it.

Can you describe one of those times like, what happened specifically?

Yeah, there was this one time about two years ago, there’s a cluster of four 14’ers down in the San Juans, which is Southwestern Colorado. And this is an area called Chicago Basin. And Chicago basin is not easily accessible. There are two ways to access it. There’s one where you can either hike in from a trailhead that is about 16 miles away from your base camp area. Or you can take a train from town to a trailhead that’s a little bit closer. 

And so our first trip into Chicago basin, we took the train. And then that was about 45 minutes. And then we hiked in from there; that was about six miles to get to our base camp. And I was on a very tight schedule, because it was my weekend. And I think we had four days including travel time, and it’s a six and a half hour drive, and then a 45-minute train ride, and then the big hike in, and wanting to summit four peaks. 

So a very tight schedule. I basically had to do two summits on one day, two summits the next day, and that was it. Like we had to have perfect weather, and there’s no second chances. 

And so the first day that we were attempting to do our first two peaks, we got up the first one really quickly, really easily. And the second peak is right next to it, because the first one’s a sub peak. So it’s only about a 200-foot elevation difference between the first and the second one – so really, really close together separated by a tiny little catwalk that’s very exposed. 

Well, we summited first peak, and we were walking along that catwalk, and the weather changed in an instant. And I saw those clouds coming in, and I could tell that hail was coming. And hail was coming very quickly. And that second peak is a more challenging peak; it’s a lot more technical. It’s very, very exposed, and it’s ledgy. And so it’s basically a no-fall zone, because if you fall you die. 

And so it was not an area that I wanted to be in if there was any sort of crappy weather or rain or you know, being on wet rock would have just been a nightmare. So, unfortunately, in that instance, I realized we’re not going to get this summit. We shouldn’t even attempt it, and we actually need to get down away from this inclement weather as fast as possible. 

So yeah, we ended up having to basically just kind of run down to get further away from the storm, in case of lightning, and in case of hail. And I just remember once we sort of got back down a little bit more towards safety, I stopped in the middle of the trail, I sunk down and just sat in the middle of the trail and started bawling my eyes out because I was so upset, like so disappointed, being so close to that one, that other summit and not getting it. 

And now I’m like, “I have to come all the way back here because we didn’t get this summit and it was such a huge trip and such a long drive and the train ride and the hike and all this.” And I basically just had a big temper tantrum in the middle of the trail – a little pity party for myself. 

Thankfully, nobody was with me, so it wasn’t too embarrassing. But yeah, in that moment I started questioning like, “why am I even doing this? Like, why am I doing this to myself?” Because I was just feeling really overwhelmed with how much effort I put in, and still it was a failure. 

And so after that particular experience, I decided, Okay, maybe I need to take a step back and focus some more of my time on just doing other things that I enjoy. You know, maybe we’ll take a road trip, or maybe we’ll just do some really fun easy hikes, or maybe we’ll go swimming or you know, whatever. 

And so that’s exactly what we did. And I spent a few months just doing really fun easy things and a little bit more like casual exploring. We took a couple of trips, and eventually I remembered why I love climbing mountains, and it all came back and I missed it very much. And I decided, “Okay, it’s time to get back out there.”

So let’s ask that question. Why do you climb mountains? What is the allure, the attraction, to you?

Oh, gosh. Well, there’s so many things really. There’s not really one question. I think people are probably thinking I’ll go for the obvious “because it’s there” that most people seem to throw out. I know I’ve heard this story, but I don’t remember off the top of my head.

Do you know how that thing came about? By the way? It was George Mallory. He was the first person to potentially summit Everest. Somebody asked him at a press conference like, “Why do you do it?” And he very flippantly just said, “because it’s there.” And like alright, that was the sound bite – and off they ran with it.

Why not? You know?  For me it’s a little bit more personal, but there are several reasons why. I love the physicality of it; I love that challenge. But also the time that I spend in the mountains …  that’s sort of my time to recharge and reset my mind. 

I think the simple act of just putting one foot in front of the other in a repetitive motion – that allows your mind to sort of wander. And so any sort of difficult stuff that I may be thinking about, or dealing with in my own life at the time – that’s when I can really compartmentalize those things and put things in perspective. 

And I know like, once I come back from being out in the mountains, all those things just don’t seem very important. And especially once you get to a summit, and you’re looking out and you’re seeing this huge world, and how small you are, like I’ve mentioned before, it really puts a lot of your problems in perspective. You know, who cares that somebody like, cuts you off in traffic, like, does that really matter? The world is so much bigger than you. And so that’s such a great, gentle reminder. A nd so that’s really what I love about it most.

Something that I’ve … I’ve done a bit of mountaineering, not as much as you have – but one of the aspects I really liked about it, and also for alpine ski expeditions like crossing the Wind River Range and stuff, especially a peak  – there’s something so sweet about the singular focus. 

There are all these things that have to come together to get to the summit. But you’re always remembering that the reason you’re here is to reach the summit, or to try to reach the summit. 

And it’s something that marshals all of these different aspects together – the organization, the training, the gear and all of it – to come together for a single focus. And it really makes life nice, those moments, o clean and simple. It’s like there’s the summit, that’s what I’m going for, and everything else coming into this is in the efforts to get me on top of there. 

And there’s a real easy way to measure whether you succeeded or not – did you stand on the summit?

And I think you really hit the nail on the head there. Because, yeah, you do all this planning and training and all this preparation. But then once you’re out there, there’s really one singular focus, and that is to get to the top. And regardless of whether you actually reach the summit is not as important as the process itself. But you’re really focusing in the moment on – especially as you get into the more technical terrain – you’re focusing on, on what you’re doing. 

And even though like, if I’m just walking on easy terrain, my mind is wandering, sure. But then once you get into that harder stuff, you’re just thinking about, “okay, where do I put my hand? Where do I put my feet? Where does Loki need to be?” And, and that sort of hyper focus is, to me, it’s very soothing. It’s very calming, because it’s very uncomplicated. 

And sometimes we allow our lives to become so extremely cluttered and complicated. So just to be able to be physical with our bodies, but in a very simple way, I think, allows our bodies to sort of recharge and reset from all the outside noise that we’re always dealing with.

There’s this beauty of – especially on exposed ridges where you have these grand views and sort of challenging terrain and you’re dealing with altitude and there’s all these things going on – and it’s so almost otherworldly sometimes. And to me sometimes I feel like I go to almost an otherworldly or elevated place inside. You know what I mean?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. And there’s a reason why people say, the mountains to them, it’s like going to church. Because it is sort of like a spiritual experience. And I think when you’re at a higher elevation, you feel closer to the sky. And I mean, I don’t know, if you … I’m not necessarily as a spiritual person myself. But, to me, I feed off of that energy in the environment. And that is what is sort of spiritual to me. 

And so that’s just a refreshing feeling to be surrounded by beauty. And there’s so many studies that have shown that nature has so many healing properties. And that’s such a great natural treatment for a lot of … especially mental illnesses and things like that.

It is for depression. I actually went through pretty prolonged depression when I thought I might go blind from glaucoma. And nature was one of the places where I could really get out of that funk or at least, it wouldn’t hit as hard when I could get out in nature and hike and all of that.  I loved it.

You know, along the same lines for me, at the time before I started hiking, I was coming out of this really sort of horrible situation where I was really, really depressed. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t getting off the couch, and my family had to sort of stage an intervention for me because I was in such a low place mentally. 

And I think that was, you know, looking back, that was probably one of the biggest reasons why I took to it was because coming from such a low place, and then feeling that high of that first summit in such a stark contrast – I was eager to have that high again, that feeling of that sheer happiness again. And in that sense doing this whole process of hiking is what saved me from my darkest times.

Another aspect of this too would be your relationship with Loki.  I remember a divorce lawyer telling me “Hey, if you want to experience unconditional love, get a dog.”

Absolutely.

And you know that feeling when – I had a dog named Deco; it was an Australian Shepherd Border Collie mix – and I mean still decade after I had to put him down, I still feel this warmth around him.  I remember these incredible times with him and then more recently taking care of my friend’s dog named Jambo in Colorado. There’s just this feeling that goes so deep. I mean love I guess.  I don’t know what to call it. But it’s magic – unconditional love.

Yeah, it’s a very pure form of love.  It’s a very uncomplicated love I think. Because, you know, human relationships can be so complicated. It’s not just a very simple kind of emotion. You know, you fight, relationships are hard, and you have highs and lows. But with a dog or many other animals, you don’t have those highs and lows – it’s just highs. It’s just a very happy love. 

And going through this whole process with Loki has been so incredibly special because we both have learned so much and grown as a team. And I think being in such a unique path, having this unique experience, but also being in such a beautiful surrounding when we’re having this experience – has really made it even more special. 

He loves hiking, he loves climbing mountains. I mean, you can tell it’s his passion. The second I start bringing out the gear, he goes crazy because he knows we’re about to have a fun time. So I know that he enjoys it. So being able to have that fun experience together where we’re building this incredible bond, and we’re doing something that’s challenging, but we’re still overcoming that – that’s what’s made our bond especially tight, I think …

Yeah!  For those of you listening to this, I’m taking care of this husky that will not stop whining. And it is … how apropos for a podcast on interviewing somebody that took a husky on all of these great peaks. They are not my kind of dog. Hold on, I’ve got to deal with this … 

Unconditional love we were talking about unconditional love. Uh boy.

Let’s go into the bigger life lessons you’ve gotten from all of this. What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about yourself on all of this? Who were you before you were climbing all these peaks? And who are you now that you’ve climbed all of these peaks? What sort of growth did you experience in doing all of them?

Well, you know, to be honest, I have to say that my life – it’s like night and day difference between who I was before and who I am at this point in my life, before we … 

So describe who you were before.

Yeah, before we had ever stepped foot on one. I really, in all honesty, I really wasn’t much of a human being.  Which sounds terrible, but it’s true. 

I had come out of a pretty dark relationship, a pretty abusive relationship. And going through that process, I had sort of become just a beaten down person. I lost all of my friends through that period of time, so I had nobody to lean on. Once I got out of that, I didn’t have a clue who I was as an individual. I didn’t find enjoyment and, and things, you know, everyday things in life. I didn’t have hobbies. I didn’t really, I was just basically existing. I wasn’t living at all and I didn’t know who I was. 

But throughout the process of climbing all these peaks and having Loki and then getting through these, these climbs, I learned so much – some of them being kind of what I’m obviously what I’m capable of physically and mentally overcoming challenges. But then also like learning to trust myself, and learning to be self-sufficient, and learning to be sufficient with when it’s just – when I say self-sufficient, should say, with Loki and me – because we are of course always not depending on another person for my own happiness, I can create my own happiness. And it’s a very easy thing to do. 

But also learning to trust my instincts and becoming experienced and becoming a mentor to other people because I really enjoy that now. And in doing that, I feel very empowered. And so I’ve become more extroverted. I’m more confident. I’m more willing to take risks – and not crazy risks, not dangerous risks – but just risks in my everyday life. 

Now, I always say I shy away from what is “safe” because I don’t ever want to live a safe, comfy, cozy life. I always want to be challenged. I always want to step outside my comfort zone, because that’s when you grow as a person – when you are uncomfortable and when you’re scared and when you’re pushing yourself.  And so now that’s where I like to live all the time. 

So yeah, just going through all this like, going down, going from a broken down shell of a person to somebody who I feel like is really more of a force. And it feels so good. It feels so empowering to be this person. And although I don’t miss who I was before, I never could have become this person had I not gone through that initial experience. And then, of course, the experience of becoming a climber as well.

So what’s next?

I know. I get that question a lot. And I’ve been trying to think about it for a while after we finished. I didn’t even want to think about that, because I just wanted to sort of like revel in our accomplishment and just be comfy and cozy for a second. But now I’m starting to think about it more and I do want to get out to California this summer and start on some of those 14 ‘ers. 

Obviously, we’re not going to finish all of those because they are very technical. They’re actually multi-pitch rock climbs for several of those. But we’ll do some, whichever ones we can and just have fun with it. And, you know, I’ve mentioned kind of in passing and before, that a pipe dream is Denali. I would very much like to give that a go. 

Realistically, I don’t know if that’s possible. You know, Loki is eight years old. He’s still in fantastic shape physically; he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. But you never know. You know, we have we do have just a few years I think before that window starts to close. And so we’ll see sort of how far we can get with that goal, and whether that’s attainable. But if so, that would be a really wonderful experience, I think – something to aspire to.

Indeed – twenty thousand feet!

Big Boy. Yeah. I’ve done a few international climbs myself. And those have been really fun. And I think it’s great, you know, obviously living in Colorado and being in this environment that’s already high up.  And I’ve done a couple of summit camps as preparation for some of our more higher altitude climbs. And so it’s not such a shock to my system, I think as if I were somebody coming from sea level. So I think the elevation on that is less of a challenge than a lot of the other factors that would be present for that one.

So I have some questions here from some of my Facebook. One of them is – and she says this enormous tongue in cheek – Why? Why do you climb mountains? We sort of covered that. But why don’t you go ahead and give it another shot.

Yeah, we talked about that already. I think we covered that pretty well. But it’s fun. You know, it’s that challenge is – every experience is completely different. Each one is unique. We have collectively 85 14’er summits under our belt. And I can tell you I remember every single one of them, like crystal clear, because they’re all so different.  And each one has just been such an amazing experience. 

Not all of them have been awesome, obviously. Some of them have been really disappointing, or terrifying, or exhausting, or utter failures. But even that, that’s a learning experience. And so the experiences that I’m having, you know, these are creating life lessons for me that I can take into other aspects of my life and I appreciate that.  it’s teaching me who I am as a person and what I’m capable of. And I really, really appreciate that.

Okay, here’s the next question from Patti. She asked, Do you pack a SPOT – one of those location beacons? Or what emergency protocols have you established? And have you ever been in a situation where you had to actually activate emergency? 

Yeah, that’s a great question, especially in my situation, which is sort of unique. Because the the whole reason why I started climbing with Loki is because you know, I have some – I don’t want to say limitations but I have to take certain precautions – and so having him there as an alert dog is really helpful. Because we’re miles away from the nearest hospital if something were to happen to me. 

It’s not like I can just call 911 and have an ambulance come pick me up and take me to the nearest emergency.  So he obviously is a great addition to my climbing partner group. And so we’re able to prevent these situations before they arise. 

But as far as the SPOT or personal locator beacon, I do carry one sometimes, but not all the time. I used to not do that. But once we started getting into the more technical terrain, I felt like it was just a good backup to have if anything were to happen. Not necessarily with me in an emergency situation but if any sort of emergency were to happen – like if I were to break my leg or if something would happen to him. 

I have carried him one time when he was injured. I had to carry him about three and a half miles back and take him to the vet. And thankfully he’s small enough that I can do that. Yeah, he met a porcupine in the bushes. Yeah, we were in a backpacking trip on an approach. And trail was really, really thin. And on each side were these super tall bushes. And the bushes rustled and he stuck his face in and came out with a face full of 44 quills. 

That was a very scary, scary experience. I had to carry him about three and a half miles over my shoulders like a potato sack, and raced off to the vet. 

So in situations like that, obviously a SPOT is not going to come in handy. But I carry an InReach. So yeah, if something were to happen to one of my other partners, or if I tumbled down some terrain and was physically injured or something, it’s nice to have that line of communication.

And also just to be able to keep in touch with people who are back home if something were to happen. Like let’s say we run into some crazy weather and we have to spend the night out there or whatever, it’s nice to be able to text somebody and say, “Hey, I’m alive. I’m safe, but I’m not going to be home tonight. So don’t worry.” And just be able to communicate.”

Okay, this next question is from Peter. He asks, How many dogs have you been through?

Been through so far … zero! I mean, yeah, I’m on the one. Loki is actually my very first dog that I’ve ever owned on my own. Previously, I was a cat owner. Yeah, I don’t know how that they would do as far as mountaineering, or should I say “meowtaineering”?

Probably not too well.

That was a bad cat pun.

But yeah, he’s my first dog. So man, I know I’m like ruined for life with him because I don’t think I’m ever gonna have another dog who is on his level, at his caliber. So I don’t even allow myself to think about that day when that’s no longer an option.

Okay, next question comes from Glendle. And she asks, did you ever have a trip where everything went sideways right from the get go?

Oh my god. Yes. I sometimes have not the best luck. I try to be as prepared as possible, but I will admit that usually there’s always one thing that I will forget that’s like – not necessarily like the most vital – but like, really nice to have whenever I do a backpacking trip. 

There was this one backpacking trip last summer. This was not a 14’er. But it was again down in San Juan’s.  We were going into this area called Vestal Basin. I had to hike 10 miles in.  And this was seriously like the Murphy’s Law of trips. Like it was nuts. 

I remember, just hiking in, there were four different avalanche debris areas that we had to go up and over and I’m carrying this enormously heavy pack. And then the last mile or two of it – and it’s practically like straight up on just garbage screen – and I had I fell on that and like scraped myself up. 

We finally get to camp. And I’m so hungry, and I can’t wait to have dinner. And I realized I forgot my … oh no well even before that, so I stopped in one spot to have a drink of water. So I took out my little – I have like a bag where I keep all of my like sort of miscellaneous smaller items, and my straw was in there – my Sawyer straw so I can filter my water. 

So I stopped and drank I didn’t realize that I forgot to grab that little small bag with all of my other small items. And I left it at the river and I went two miles up to my camp. I didn’t realize until I went to cook my dinner “Oh my God, I don’t have my little bag” which had my lighter, my knife, my rope to be able to hang up my food bag. My headlamp was in there. I mean vital things were in that that I absolutely had to have. 

I set up camp super fast and then I had to run back down two miles and over 1000 feet of elevation loss to go pick up that bag, come back up after I’d already hiked 10 miles. I had to do that twice. And then I finally get back up with all of my stuff. And I realized I didn’t have my stove or my propane.  And all of my food was hot food. Like I had oatmeal for the morning. I had ramen for my dinners. I had freeze-dried … I mean, it was terrible. Like, basically I ate cookies for three days. It was cookies and a couple of nuts. 

And so yeah, that was terrible. And then the next day we went and hiked one of the mountains. On the way back down, I got kind of sidetracked on a social trail versus like the actual trail, I realized my mistake and like we sort of had to traverse like around the side of the mountain to get back to the real trail. 

And I lost my balance or something happened, and I tripped and basically like, log rolled down the side of this mountain – and just like completely busted up the entire left side of my body. Like just scraped it horribly. 

So I had to hobble back down to camp, triage my entire left side. And then the next night, I was awoken at two o’clock in the morning by an animal outside of my campsite, like charging through the campsite. 

And of course it’s two o’clock in the morning, I’m by myself I just have the dog. He’s like awake and alert and like “what’s that?” When you’re in that situation – like everything’s a bear obviously! 

And so I’m clutching my little tiny pocket knife like death grip, like “What’s out there?! Is there a bear?”  And it like it actually – whatever it was – approaches my tent.  I feel it boop the side of my rain fly. And I’m just like, “Ahhhh!” – just start screaming as loud as I can like, telling it to get lost because you’re supposed to do that when there’s a bear.

And it it took off. And so for like two hours after that, I’m wrapped up in my sleeping bag. My eyes wide as can be clutching my knife for dear life and …

… adrenaline just charging through your blood system!

Oh my god!  Just terrified out of my mind. And it turns out in the morning and the light of day –  and I went around and inspected myself. And it was deer prints. So that was a really fun trip.

Okay, this next question comes from Raven. I actually know her. I think she’s an animal whisperer or something, or psychic, or at least she used to do that. Anyway, she asks, How has doing these climbs brought you and your dog closer together?

Oh, gosh, in so many ways. I think it’s really solidified our bond as a companionship and as a team. Because as we took on the more challenging peaks, we really had to trust each other and put our faith – you know, him trusting that I’m going to always keep him safe. And always make sure that whatever situation we’re in, that we can handle it together. And never biting off more than he can chew. 

And so he trusts me in the same sense that I’m trusting him also to keep me safe – as far as medically safe. And so that’s created such an awesome bond. But then also building up our confidence together and taking on like harder and harder challenges. Because there’s such an awesome feeling of being sort of scared or uneasy, or nervous about something. 

But knowing that we are able to do it, we just have to make that take that first step and try it. And then once we do, and we sort of conquer it’s such a feeling of accomplishment.  And so to be able to do that together and feed off of that energy is really a special thing. 

And I love seeing that look of accomplishment in his face because he gets so excited when he is facing a challenge – maybe a certain section is really difficult for him. And he has to think about “Okay, how am I going to get up this”, and you can actually see the wheels turning through his eyes. And he’s scoping out the best way to get up it. 

And then once he does, his whole expression changes.  And he just lights up, his tail is wagging, and he’s so excited. It’s such a special thing. And I think going through those challenges together, and feeling those highs together, is what makes our bond so amazing and so extra deep for me.

Hmm. This sort of leads into the next question from Anne. She asked, Does your dog ever look at you with a worried face regarding a difficult technical area that you’re both attempting?

Yes, he does. And he has a very expressive face. I actually think it’s funny because, like I said, he doesn’t really have derpy face. I say he has “resting bitch face” because he’s a very stoic looking dog. He doesn’t smile a lot. He always looks like he’s kind of pissed off. 

But those moments where he is taking on something challenging, when he smiles, I think that’s what makes it so special is because he doesn’t sit around and smile and have that goofy dog face. 

But yeah, she’s very thoughtful in the way that he approaches terrain and approaches climbing.  And we certainly have been in situations where I can tell that he’s unsure. And he is very good at expressing that to me in a sort of unspoken language just using his body language. 

Normally what he’ll do, if we come to a more difficult section he’s uneasy about, if he wants to try it, he’ll just sort of go for a bit really slowly. It might take a couple of might take him a couple tries.  I usually like to let him lead or I’ll sandwich him if I have a climbing partner. My partner will go first, and then he’ll go, and then I’ll bring up the rear. 

But he always wants to follow. As long as there’s somebody in front of him that’s gone past a difficult section – that sort of tells him, “okay, if they can do it, I can do it.” And so he’s always more willing to give it a shot. 

But there have definitely been situations where he’s been legitimately nervous to the point that he actually doesn’t even want to try it. And in those instances, we’re done. We’re done for the day. 

I can never force him to attempt something that he legitimately doesn’t want to do. Because I think that would break that trust that we’ve taken so long to build up. And I think that’s a really important thing to always be cognizant about – is making sure that every experience for him is as positive as possible and encouraging him, because that’s what’s going to make him want to keep going. 

So, like I said, he gets just as much say. So if he is too scared, or he’s too tired or whatever, and he doesn’t want to try something, then we don’t.  And we’ll find either another way around or another route.  Or we’ll go home and practice doing the same kind of moves on similar terrain somewhere else. And then we’ll come back to it.  And by that point, once we’ve mastered it, he’s he’ll be more willing to do it and be more successful that time. So I think that’s been one of the tricks to our success.

Okay, the next question comes from Alan. Who’s your favorite mountaineer? Do you have one?

I don’t have one.  I know I should probably. You know, as cheesy as it sounds, Loki is my favorite mountaineer, which I know is silly. But as far as more famous mountain years, I don’t really have one in particular. I admire so many mountaineers, of course, but I don’t ever like to idolize anybody, or try to follow in anybody’s footsteps.

I really want to forge my own path and make this journey my own. I do find inspiration in other people. But at the same time I just want to stay really grounded. And I think by following somebody else, or watching their social media or whatever, that sometimes can affect how I am as a mountaineer, and the challenges that I put in front of myself or in front of him. And so I don’t ever want to be influenced by anybody else.

Do you have anybody that inspires you? It could be in any other field. It doesn’t have to be rock climbing or mountaineering or anything, but somebody that you really admire and I don’t know maybe emulate, or seek to emulate?

I can’t think of a singular person off the top of my head. I really love watching people who are doing unique things. Whether or not they’re more famous or whatever, that doesn’t matter to me.  I just I love seeing situations that are kind of going against the norm, or that are new and sort of stepping outside the box. And so anytime I see something like that somebody’s doing – like putting up a first ascent or whatever – I am always really inspired that, because that’s a totally unique challenge. 

And I feel inspired by that, especially because I feel like Loki and I are in that situation ourselves, where we’re doing things that very few other people have done. A few other dogs have done all the 14’ers in Colorado, which is incredible in my book. Just having gone through it myself, I know how challenging it is for a dog to be able to do it. 

But for us also having done Rainier –  and no dog has done all of the Colorado 14’ers and the 14’er in Washington aside from Loki. And so that’s a really special thing. 

But at the same time, realistically, that doesn’t matter, because Loki doesn’t care what we’re doing or how tall the mountain is or what box we’re checking or what list we’ve completed. And so I try to follow in his footsteps in that sense, and just enjoy every experience and not seeking a status or glory or recognition – just appreciating every moment for what it is.

So yeah, I kind of shy away from fame and celebrity in all other aspects of my life

That might bring about another question. But let’s continue with these. Do you ever get scared? Do you ever get scared? Have you gotten scared on some of these?

Yes. Not too many times. I feel like for the most part we’re pretty dialed in with our technique. And I don’t really get super scared with exposure, I’ll get butterflies or whatever, but I’m pretty good at focusing on exactly what’s in front of me and at the task at hand and putting all that other stuff. Sort of putting blinders on, I should say.  But we have been in situations where that had been a little bit more frightening. 

I would say one of the most frightening experiences was on a peak in the Salatch Range, which was Mount Columbia. Mount Columbia is right next to him at Harvard, and you can do them as a traverse. They are two and three-quarter miles apart, separated by a ridge line, right like a very long ridge line. 

And so that day, I had done a really super quick ascent set of Mount Harvard first thing in the morning, and summited at 8;30.  It was a beautiful bluebird day, calm wind, like just perfect weather. I was feeling really strong and decided to go ahead and make the traverse over to Columbia. And the whole thing is above treeline. The trail dips just below the ridge line off to the east side, so you can’t see what’s coming from the west. 

As we were making our way through or across the traverse, the weather shifted. Again, this is Colorado; it’s very unique with its weather, and it can come out of nowhere. We have very severe lightning storms here – not so much in the PNW where you’re from or, you have those volcanoes.  But in Colorado it’s very different situation. 

And so even though I had that perfect summit an hour prior, as we’re making our way and I can’t see the weather had changed, and all of a sudden the air starts feeling thicker, and the temperature dropped. And then, as the clouds came over the ridge from the west and southwest, I started realizing, “oh, this is actually turning into a storm out of nowhere.”  It ended up being a hailstorm. 

Thankfully I had service and I was able to text a friend of mine and ask him, “Hey, can you take a look at the weather model to see what’s going on? Is this a quick moving thing? Do I want to just hunker down here and kind of wait it out? Or do I need to make a run for it? What should I do? Because the clouds were looking pretty nasty at that point and hail was coming down, get down as fast as possible. 

And so, unfortunately, because we were on the traverse, the only way to get out was to go up and over Mount Columbia. And so that’s what we had to do. 

Once we got  higher in elevation towards the summit, we actually went into those storm clouds and were completely surrounded by them. That was like a lightning storm. There was a lot of electricity in that cloud. And I remember the buzzing from my trekking poles right at my ear, and feeling all this static.  

And the static from my clothes – everywhere it touched my body it was like 1000 tiny little shocks. Not painful but uncomfortable where you feel like you’re being jolted every time you move and your clothes hit you. And my hair was sticking straight up in the air. 

Loki was wearing a harness at the time, and I took his harness off because it had one tiny little metal piece. And I’m like, “no, we’re not going to take any chance!” I was trying to mitigate the dangers. So we just ran as fast as possible. 

I’m carrying my trekking pole as low to the ground as possible because it’s a lightning rod! Once we got back, maybe 200 feet below those clouds off the summit, it was beautiful again. It was just this one isolated area below that summit that was nuts. 

But anyway, what’s really actually sad about this story is, even though it was a frightening situation for us to be in, it was even more sad because on an adjacent peak, another 14’er on Mount Yale, that very same day in that very same storm, lightning did strike and hit four climbers and killed one of them. 

And for that to be right next to us, and to have happened at that same time that we were there is a very humbling moment, a very sad learning opportunity for me. It was very, very sobering. And it really made me more aware of always being aware of what the weather is doing – even when I can’t necessarily see it. And even when it seems like it’s going to be fine, it can change in an instant. You never know, and so being hyper aware.

Okay, so next question, and this is again from Alan. He asks “What mindset do you need to be a great climber?

Well, I think there are a couple. One is feeling confidence. Even when you’re nervous, you have to trust that you can do something. You can’t be frozen with fear. Because I think once you let the fear creep in, it eventually will take over.

I used to skydive several years ago. And it’s one of those things where you’re standing on the edge of the plane, and you’re ready to jump out. And the longer you stand there, the harder it is to actually jump out. 

You have to just keep moving and keep going through the motions, and don’t ever stop. Don’t ever second guess yourself. Just keep your body in motion. And I think it’s the same thing mentally – always keep your mind in motion, and don’t be crippled by that fear. 

But then also, I think, and this is something that sometimes gets forgotten in mountaineering especially, is to always be humble. I think as you start to get more experienced and you start to get more notches on your belt, it is very easy to sort of get a big head about things or to be more elitist. So always remembering there’s always something to learn … the mountains are the ultimate teacher, and they are always going to come out on top. They are number one and you may, if you’re lucky, be a distant two.

Being humble and being willing to learn and grow from every experience. You can be the best climber in the world, but the mountain is always going to win. So you can have one bad experience and it’ll knock you right on your ass and humble you.

A good friend of mine named Mark that got me into ice climbing and rock climbing and mountaineering and stuff when I was in Sun Valley, Idaho – I remember saying, “Let’s go conquer that peak.” 

And he said, “Conquer? Excuse me!” And he said, “when you go up on these mountains with me anyway, we’re not conquering anything. We are the invited guests of nature. And sometimes that peak, sometimes those mountains, will let us have a great experience up there. But we’re not conquering anything. If nature wants to kick our butts, it will have no problem doing that.”

So always be – I don’t think he used the word humble – but it was basically always be respectful and, you know, forget that conquering thing. It’s not why we’re here.

I totally agree. I never used that word either for that very same reason, because you’re not conquering something. You’re being allowed safe passage, or maybe sometimes not even safe passage.

Yeah.

Or maybe no passage! 

Yeah, maybe you’ll be passing on to the next frontier!

Right! So it’s always an important lesson to keep yourself in check.

So that finishes the questions from some of my Facebook compadres.  Sort of to wrap this up, what would you pass on – what top three tips would you pass on to others that are thinking about this or something similar?  

You know, some sort of big challenge in their own life that takes literally years, especially in your case, to pull this off, because there’s so many peaks to climb. What sort of encouragement inspiration and especially calls to action, could they do to be capable of doing this and to do it?

Well, first of all, I if we’re speaking specifically of wanting to summit all these 14 years with your dog, I’m going to flat out say ‘Don’t! Please, please don’t attempt that!” I do not want to be responsible for providing encouragement for somebody taking their pet dog up these incredibly dangerous peaks.

You know this was really a very unique situation for us to be able to do it, and to be able to do it safely. But there were so many factors that had to come together so perfectly for this to be a success, and for us to be able to do it. 

So in that sense, “don’t” with this particular situation. Have fun, you know, enjoy the class ones class twos, maybe an easier three or so with your dog if it’s especially skilled and capable and has experience. But the rest of the time just let him snooze on the couch and enjoy a peaceful day. 

But you know, for anything else, any other challenge non-canine mountaineering related, I would say, take the first step. For me, the first step was getting my butt off the couch and deciding to go to a happy hour Meetup  to meet people. I was by myself.  I knew not a single other person, and I’m so shy and had no friends.  So that to me, felt like climbing a mountain mentally – because I was terrified. 

So just giving myself the encouragement to say, “okay, we’re just going to start here and see how it goes. And from there everything snowballed. So just get up off the couch, make an attempt, because you never know the instant that your life is going to change and how

drastically different it can become by taking that one teeny, tiny little step. 

Number two, I would say, expect to fail. Because it is going to happen. It’s just the inevitability of life. There’s always going to be peaks and valleys. And sometimes it’s sucks, and you have to just have a little pity party for yourself in the middle of the trail by yourself, then get up, brush

yourself off and keep going. 

And I will say that that second time we went back we did get the rest of those three summits. It was okay to have that little temper tantrum that one time.

We’re talking about in the San Juans?

Yeah. But having taking that experience and realizing there are going to be times when there are failures, but that’s when you really need to like pick yourself up by your bootstraps, just dig in, try harder, train harder, be faster, get stronger, start earlier – you know, do all these things and learn from those failures. And just go out and try again. 

And then three, trust your instincts. You know what you’re capable of. So for number three, just just trusting your gut, trusting your instincts. You know your own capabilities and your own limitations. And trust how you’re you’re feeling in that moment. Does something seem too hard? Does something seem hard, but you know that you can do?  Does a situation seem just a little off? 

Maybe you’re having a bad day or maybe all of the components aren’t coming together. Just reading a situation and taking all the different factors and making smart decisions – but also not being afraid to take a risk.

Well, okay, here’s another one. This is a question asked by Tim Ferriss of his guests that I really like.  What books have inspired you?

Oh, I love to geek out on mountaineering books. And I love reading about different stories. Right now I’m reading Over the Edge, which is the story about when Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden were taken hostage. I’m reading that right now. And it’s such an enthralling read. 

There’s so many Everest books that I’ve ever read

There’s Into Thin Air, which is a classic by Jon Krakauer. 

Yeah, Into Thin Air was the one that got me really excited about reading more mountaineering stories. That was the first one that I read. No Way Down I’ve read, which was fantastic.

Into the Void.

Yep.  Into the Void I’ve read. And that’s such an inspiring tale. Oh my god. I think that’s probably my favorite, and the movie is fantastic too. I don’t know if you’ve seen that. I am really into climbing documentaries. You know, Meru was so good – that came out a couple years ago.  And the one about K2 called The Summit

There’s a couple about K2, which I just want – for the record – I have zero aspirations to ever climb that one. I do not have a death wish.

For every person that makes it to the summit X number died trying.

Three. It’s really really bad.  I think Everest is like one out of 12. But yeah, K2 is terrifying. 

Anything else you’d like to add? In closing?

Well, I will say that I hope that I will get to come out your way at some point in the near future. And since you’re situated right at the base of Shasta, and I’ve been more seriously considering putting that on the list. So I hope that our paths will cross in person and you can sort of be my Shasta tour guide and meet Loki.

Love too! Might even be up for climbing it again. 

My own trip guide – that would be so awesome!

It’s a fairly straightforward climb. There’s just the Red Banks, which is the only technical section at all. You do need crampons and an ice axe for the ascent. But there’s only one area where you really need it.

It looks like a beautiful climb. I go to the PNW maybe once a year. So I’m actually heading back up there in, what, three weeks I think. And so we’ll see what kind of trouble we can get into when we’re up there again. I know it’s the dead of winter but there’s still some things to climb.

This has been Doug Greene with another guest on what really matters interviews. You can find links to more information on this and other interviews in the show notes at WhatReallyMattersInterviews.com.  For this specific episode look for the Ellie Briggs Interview. Stay tuned for more interviews with authors, artists, adventurers and others with great stories and lessons to share.

 

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