Take A Danged Class You Mountaineer

The start of this article may head in an odd direction for some but bear with me if you have a few moments. If your days feel heavy and you perhaps you find yourself engaged in a battle with unhealthy life choices, join a group or take a class. Now I know you’re thinking I mean take a class related to the unhealthy choices and sure that’s not a bad idea as I would be the first to say if you apply the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous to any obsession, it will absolutely help.

So, to the nitty-gritty. Just like a decision to never take another drink of alcohol and a commitment to surround yourself with folks bent on the same goal, identify your challenge, stare it down, turn away, and then get busy having a helluva good time. Immerse yourself in a passion and…


I took a class this past weekend in snow hiking and mountaineering to prep for a return to Mt. Whitney. The use of an ice axe was taught as well as ropes and crampons. The expert instructor, April Mayhew brought me up to speed both in snow travel and regular hiking but I have to say her humble attitude was a threat to this Banty rooster. The woman has guided Kilimanjaro twelve times and also led trips up Denali and Mount Rainier, just to name a few, so when a hiker in the parking lot observed my classmates and me all geared up (ok fine, we were only carrying backpacks with ice axes and crampons attached) and then asked what we were up to, I was ready to draw in a chest expanding breath and wave them away with “Oh you know, a little ice climbing and mountaineering”. I love the sound of “mountaineering” over backpacking.

Alas my reply was never delivered because April responded with “just taking a walk in the snow”. What!!? Sheesh! Walk in the snow, dang-it! I went from mountaineer to third grade camper in a nano-second. And that was the start of a class that both inspired and humbled me and had me learning that there are so many things I would benefit from knowing.

We began with a hike along a picturesque lake to a snowy mountain (yeah, yeah, I’m sure April would say “hill”) and then we settled and April inadvertently threw me a bone when she referred to the jumble of packs and sack lunches strewn about on the ground as our “base camp”. With visions of Everest in my head, I fell in line behind my daughter’s bestie, Bree, a college co-ed who had driven me up on the trip while cheerfully sharing that she ignores speed-bumps. This I came to believe might’ve been a conspiracy designed to prep me for impact when actual mock falling was announced to the group but who was I to complain as next in our student lineup was Pat, a gal older than I with a serious infusion of optimism and sass and Barry, a polite guy who looked like part of the REI management team. Barry loaned me a hat, thereby rescuing my ego, upon discovering that I’d forgotten my beanie and was forced into Bree’s extra which had been purchased in the kids department and sported horns. Seriously.

The loan of the hat was indicative of a day that unfolded to be one of mutual support and instant group enthusiasm. With April leading us through a thorough and well-presented curriculum, set by REI, we alternated between learning self arrest with ice axes and joyfully glissading (once again a term I love despite the fact that I think April called it “sliding”).

The class imparted great skills and a new-found respect for the backcountry was cemented. Stories were swapped and I thought surely I could hold my own with my tale of a pair of fingers broken years ago while trail running but of course April casually mentioned the near loss of multiple toes to frost bite on Mount Whitney. I was tempted to challenge her to a comparison of my bent finger to her still compromised toes but I knew in my gut she’d win and toe necrosis, coupled with lunch, did not seem a crowd pleaser.

The completion of the class sent us all hiking back to our cars and had me reflecting on the past few years of my life. The absolute turn away of an emotionally unhealthy way of being was one step for me but the next was a turning to what was and is emotionally healthy in my life. Over the last decade I’ve traveled to right smack-dab in the middle of the place that makes my heart thump. And continuing on this path is exciting even if means knowing it only requires something as simple as walking, however, I do plan to continue calling it mountaineering. That is unless April is around.

***If you want information on classes and/or guided trips, here ya go and I do want to add for anyone who is curious about this that tipping instructor/guides is appreciated and 20% of the class fee is a good ball park.

Sierra Guided Trips – Sierra Mountain Center (April Mayhew was our instructor and she guides as well).

REI classes