From Bootcamp to Baker

by Krissy Bussmann

I am a woman of the outdoors. I love to hike to high alpine meadows, I love the moonscape scree fields above timberline, I love snowfields that persist into summer, and I love the flowers that wave “hello” in the mountain breeze. I love the raging summer rivers that burst forth from the glaciers. They scrub the rocks into silt and color the lakes that crazy aquamarine that makes you go: WOW! I also may or may not love to skinny dip in remote alpine lakes.

Only a few months ago, I found myself suffering from the winter blues, stuck indoors, feeling like summer was a thousand years away. Only this time, it was a deeper and sadder blue, colored by the steadily sharper realization that I was nearing the end of my thirties and my weak knees weren’t getting any stronger, nor was my willpower.

I had to do something.

So, after a short winter snowshoe excursion in Tahoe with my older brother, during which I totally freaked out at a tiny crack in the snow on the top of a hill, I signed up for an AIARE 1 avalanche course. The only course that was available was clear up near Rainier; I nearly bailed, but I busted my butt to get up there and back without taking time off work. It was rad and nerdy and overwhelming and I met some incredible ladies and we jived and then we decided to do something crazy:

We hired ourselves a guide and we planned to climb Mt. Baker, one of the most heavily glaciated mountains in the lower 48.

First, I thought I might “get into shape.” A co-worker had heard about the Wy’east Sisterhood Monday Night Boot Camp on Mt. Tabor, led by Jenn and Sarah. I subsequently pansied out and tried a yoga class for a few weeks. It was okay but super chill. I rekindled my motivation. I was determined to go to bootcamp and didn’t sleep for two days because of nerves, and finally, on one fine March Monday evening, I got brave and went. I shyly introduced myself to the strange ladies (of various sizes and abilities) and got addicted really quick! It wasn’t the squats or the iron cross or the endless stairs (even though these things, too, are important). It was the fierce women who are not at all afraid to be powerful players in their own lives. They have careers and kids and friends and obligations, yet every Monday evening is sacred, and we gather each time to sweat and suffer and laugh and plan the next adventure. Just when I would feel super lame and exhausted, I would hear Jenn or Sarah yell: “Baker, Bussmann, get it together!” And boom – ENERGY – for the next set of hops or squats or whatever creative form of torture they’d crafted for us that day. Seriously, only 10 seconds between sets?! Yep. Only 10. You got this.

And then what an amazing surprise to coincidentally find Jenn at my heels on my first major summit this year (Mt. Hood, with a friend, Corie), where Jenn sent up a simple yet very encouraging “you got this” from behind, as I was kind-of-freaking-out at the steepness of the Pearly Gates. On that climb I learned the importance of simply staring at the snow in front of your feet, putting one foot in front of the other, both up and then down again. Do not look down where you came from unless you reeeally want some perspective, it’s gnarly back there! Kind of like life in general. Take that first step, and the rest will follow, and then suddenly you’ll find yourself farther than you thought possible. On the top of Mt. Hood, the mountain bug bit me for realz. Two months till Baker.

I pressed on and slaved away at bootcamp. On my own, I ran (ahem, slogged) up and down hills, I spent time with my trainer at Evolution Healthcare & Fitness, I saw stars in the altitude room during my workouts, and I studied the gear list like homework in college. My knees ache, yet my legs are strong. I‘ve physically changed and I like that my legs are made of muscles and motivation, instead of blobs and sadness. Each is self-perpetuating.

So, we made it to Mt. Baker to embark on the Coleman Deming route, and we hiked the hike with the crazy heavy packs and the uncomfortable boots, and we learned the ropes and we pooped into bags. We got up stupid early and started trudging up the hill. We worked as a rope team, traveling at exactly the same speed, breathing in unison, all four of us peeing exactly 30 feet apart at a specific location as kindly planned by our (male) guide, in the early dawn light that provided just enough visibility to illuminate our bare butts mooning the moon. He politely faced the other way while we giggled and then grunted as we ungracefully realized how difficult it is to pull up your pants while tethered to a rope with a harness and a bunch of carabiners and sharp metal objects attached to your waist.

As a team, we coaxed each other over the crevasses and the snow bridges and hurried through the ice fall. We peered up at the looming cliffs of ice blue glacial seracs towering over our heads on the hottest day of the year. We stepped out onto disintegrating snow bridges full of holes, yawning over gaping crevasses that could swallow my house. We took the calculated risk. And it was fine. Just as it most likely is fine each time we merge onto the highway inside our hurtling compartments of steel, serenely sitting in the AC, consuming our music and podcasts on demand.

As we climbed the Roman Wall, the steepest snow section just below the summit, I fell into a rhythm of rest-step-rest step. I sunk into my head, worrying over a few personal things and an interpersonal relationship that troubled me back home. I thought of my husband asleep in bed in Portland, my dogs twitching in their dreams, and my co-workers holding down the fort. I dreaded the long drive home and getting up for work the next morning. I struggled and dwelled. Why was I there in my head and not here on this mountain? And then suddenly I realized that the place inside my head is HARDER TO BE than the side of this mountain. Seriously. This mountain and its deep crevasses and unforgiving architecture was EASIER than my head. So, I let go of all that mental stuff, at least for that moment, and then finding the top was pretty dang easy. I breathed, and I drank in the views. And then we had to go down and do the Roman Wall and those snow bridges and the ice fall and the super steep trek out all over again. And again, it was fine.

Mt Baker Summit

Mt Baker Summit

Next Monday, it’s back to bootcamp.

Krissy Bussmann