A Climber's Best Friends - an interview with John Porter

A Mountaineer and his dogs, and how they push each other to go further.
Suzanne Gerber Suzanne Gerber
April 07, 2015
A Climber's Best Friends - an interview with John Porter

John Porter is a hiker, scrambler and climber who joined The Mountaineers just a few years ago. He wanted to sharpen his technical skills and learn to climb. In the short amount of time that he’s been climbing, he’s summited more peaks than many do in a lifetime, venturing out every weekend without fail. When he can, he brings his two dogs, Cooper and Cody (a black and yellow lab). I interviewed him to discover what excites him about getting out into the mountains, and what keeps pushing him to go further. 

How did you first get into the outdoors?

It started with Cooper - my black lab. He needed exercise so I was taking him to the park, but I wanted to do more.

Labs in general are just so energetic. I was asking around, “What else can I do to wear off this energy?” One of my friends said, “Just take him on a hike.” It had never even entered my mind. So Cooper and I went to Rattlesnake. I actually thought it was somewhat strenuous looking back. It’s kind of funny. That was our first hike together — and then it just never stopped. It turned into kind of an obsession for me. I made a vow, or a goal, I should say — to hike once a week. That’s why my blog is onehikeaweek.com. I’ve been doing that for four years now.

Is your black lab four years old? 

Cooper will be seven. The yellow lab is Cody. He’s five now.
It took me 10 years to get my first dog because I’ve always lived in an apartment.

How did you choose your dogs?

Cody, the younger one, chose me. I was going to get another black male. They had three black puppies and one yellow puppy. When I met them, he just kept jumping — he was the only one that wasn’t lying there looking sedated. I knew I wanted an active dog - so he was the one. 

Did you grow up in Seattle?

I was born and raised in Taiwan. My dad was in the Air Force when he met my mom – a Taiwanese native. 

Is your dad American?

Yes, he’s African-American.

What made you move here?

Taiwan was not an easy place to grow up, being a mixed race. The culture there is very homogeneous and I stood out like a sore thumb, and the people can be very blunt. Somehow, I knew it would be better here. Having a citizenship helped, so I was able to come right over. My host mom also happened to be my High School art teacher in Port Angeles. She hosted or fostered 11 kids in total. I was introduced to her through an organization in Taiwan. I was 15 at the time.

That takes a lot of motivation at a young age. No wonder you’re such a driven climber. How did you transition from being a hiker to a scrambler, and now a climber? 

I hiked for the first year, mainly on trails, and there were so many to choose from. Granite was my first “real” hike. So I would just exhaust all my options on the I-90 corridor even, and pretty soon I was running out hiking trails since I was going out every weekend. Then I started scrambling, and I did that for a good three years before I joined The Mountaineers. So the time I joined, I was ready to climb.

What made you decide to join The Mountaineers? 

I joined The Mountaineers because I started working on Washington’s top 100 peaks — the Bulger list. I simply needed the technical skills to keep going. Friends introduced the first few on the list to me, then later I picked up a book and wanted to do them all.

How many of these do you bring your dogs on?

I tend to do a lot of hikes solo with the dogs. I find it’s hard to coordinate with people sometimes since I’m very much a fair-weather-hiker. The Bulger list has everything from hikes to scrambles to climbs. The dogs come on scrambles and hikes up to class three. After putting off class four-plus peaks for a while that’s when I realized I needed to join The Mountaineers. I thought, “OK, if I want to finish this list, I’m going to have to really learn climbing.”

How did you first hear about The Mountaineers?

My first experience seeing the Mountaineers in action was when I was scrambling up the Ingalls South Peak — and I saw things moving on the south side of North Peak. All the sudden I realized, “those are people!”

Then next year I was here taking the Basic Climbing course, and ironically my first official rock climb was on Ingalls North Peak. That was in 2012. I went on every single climb my SIG [small instructional group] leader set up that year — I had a really good SIG experience.

Do you enjoy climbing in a group?

When I do climb with people, I cherish the teamwork. You just know that we’re all there for one another. We’re all out there together, and we have to rely on one another to achieve our goal.

What’s the appeal of doing it solo?

Let’s put it this way: I’ve only been to Mt. Si once when I first started hiking. While I’m not much of a crowd person, I do enjoy the company of a few others from time to time. It’s the solitude I seek, that’s why I love doing scrambles very much. A lot of people don’t like to bushwhack or route find, so often times that means having complete solitude at the top of a mountain.

What are some of your more recent trips? 

This summer  I went to the ragged ridge, directly north of Black Peak. There are four peaks on that ridge on the Bulger list. It was probably the longest high traverse I’ve ever done. 

I did Copper and Fernow in one trip coming from the south, where I had to scramble along the ridge from Fernow to Copper, and then back to Fernow via the same approach. I bivvied alone for the first time, and I was more nervous about that than the climb itself. I tend to think about weird stuff when I’m alone in the backcountry, heard one too many ghost stories as a kid I guess, but it turned out to be fine. It was more that I wanted to get to these peaks and no one else was available, so I ended up overcoming my own fear.

Sherpa was another fun peak I climbed this year that has a lot of class four moves. In the end I went solo, since I couldn’t find a partner, and brought a rope so I could rappel down.

What does the outdoors do for you?

It’s an accomplishment to get out there and get up to the top. I’m really into views. It’s the icing on the cake. I get to have my dessert all around. It’s hard to explain to people — they see your pictures and they think “Wow!” But it’s nothing compared to actually being there.

Essentially, the mountains remind me of how small we all are. It’s like “What’s with all the BS and politics?” When you’re out there, you don’t deal with any of that. I feel such a sense of freedom to go off the grid and know I can’t make a call or text — except for my emergency beacon.

This article originally appeared in our January/February 2015 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the article in magazine form and read more stories from our bi-monthly publication, click here.

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