Belaytionships, Packmances, and Nature-Loves

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, we hear about the relationships our members forge in the outdoors.
Kristina Ciari Tursi Kristina Ciari Tursi
Membership & Communications Director
January 25, 2022

As far as blind dates go, meeting at 9,500 feet on Wy’East (Mt. Hood) is about as good as it gets. Our mutual friend Johnny invited Theresa Sippel and I to attempt a summit ski in July of 2013. Going into the weekend, I was hopeful that the team would be successful, but I had no idea I was about to meet my future “skilationship” life-partner.

Our skimance was love at first turn. I admired her deep knee bend and impeccable ski style. Theresa felt drawn to my not-so-subtle pink tutu and gusto for big objectives. We were both committed Turns All Year (TAY) enthusiasts – the silly pursuit to link as many months of skiing in a row as possible. We planned August turns together, then September. We enjoyed the face-shots of winter and began planning for a backcountry skier’s favorite time of all: volcano season. She bought a turquoise tutu.

Together we failed twice on Glacier Peak, took a “long two-day weekend” to drive to Shasta, summit, and drive home, and spent more time on the Muir Snowfield than I care to admit. We learned how to read each other, often communicating without words in the mountains. Our partnership became a critical part of my outdoor identity.

Months bled into years, and we grew to be the best of friends off the slopes too. At 32 weeks pregnant, I gave up my TAY streak at 107 months, and Theresa was the first person I called. When she got married a few months ago, I officiated her wedding with honor. Looking back, the outdoors is what brought us together, but the countless hours in cars and tents are what forged our bond.

People join The Mountaineers to learn new skills, but stay because of the relationships created through the outdoors. To celebrate our community, we wanted to shine a spotlight on your belaytionships, packmances, and nature-loves. These are your stories:

Starbucks and beyond

I married a guy I met in a Starbucks.

Don was stirring his caramel macchiato and I told him it might be cheaper if he just ordered a vanilla latte with caramel sauce next time. Our conversation carried into the parking lot and continued while we were in line for Oceans 12, a showing we were both attending by happenstance. That was in December 2004. Six months later, we were married at the Starbucks on Upper Queen Anne.

In the time since that fateful day, we’ve experienced many adventures together, in the outdoors and elsewhere. I love that we’re always learning about each other. Don is 6'4 and I'm 5'1. We literally see the world from different angles, and we move through the world differently because of our genders, size, and skin tones.

6Art0EYA.jpegDon and Stacy Sarver, volunteering at Green Mountain Lookout. Photo courtesy of Stacy Sarver.

Don and I both grew up poor and loving the outdoors, but this meant very different things for us growing up. My mom was a widow and an immigrant from the Philippines, so I grew up crabbing and clam digging, but not as sport, as a way to eat. Don also grew up with a single parent, often homeless moving from campground to couch, and he looked to the outdoors as an escape from the reality of his circumstance.

We’ve volunteered as fire stewards at Green Mountain Lookout and taken the Basic Climbing Course, but one of my favorites was the year we were lucky enough to score a permit to the Enchantments. We won the Colchuck Zone, and made plans to stay two nights, enjoying a day hike up Aasgard Pass.

We arrived at the lake and found a beautiful spot to set up camp, then decided to reward our hard work with a dip in the beautiful alpine lake. We probably spent an hour swimming, enjoying how the sun warmed the top 18 inches or so of the water. The next morning, Don woke up in pain, barely able to move. I was thinking he slept on a rock or something, but as he began to look at his body, he saw his fatal error: he was entirely crispy, like lechon at a birthday party. He was so burned that he could hardly bear to wear his pack, and we needed to leave to get aid. “How did this happen?” I asked. I didn’t realize was that Don had been cooking his skin the entire swim. This was the day I expanded my knowledge in skin care to include other skin tones.

I’m happy to report that Don made a full recovery, and we still drink coffee together. But now, instead of watching Matt Damon on the big screen (we named our son Linus after his character), we enjoy our coffee while watching the sunrise from our campground. And our packing list always includes sunscreen.

-Stacy Sarver

Snow in all seasons

Shortly after moving back to Bellingham, I was in need of an adventure companion, as well as a life companion, so I decided to go the digital route and look online. Having an unnegotiable list of standards, I had low confidence I would find a match. But to my surprise I found him on my first search. I took a quick trip from Bellingham to Winters, CA, for our first meeting, and it was a classic case of love at first sight. We have been inseparable ever since.

We immediately hit the trails. Buddy, previously a city dweller with no exposure to the outdoors, was at first a bit timid off the basic trails, especially around cliff exposure and stream crossings. With encouragement, he quickly grew a passion for the mountains, and the mountains became as natural and necessary to him as they are to me.

One of his greatest loves, which we both share, is snow - snow in all seasons. On a typical hike he always remembers the first patch of snow so that he can be sure to stop on the return trip, knowing it is the last snow he will see before his next adventure.

20191208_114111.jpgBuddy in his element on Heliotope Ridge. Photo by Joe Evenson.

Buddy also enjoys his adventure gear as much as I do. He seems to understand that the gear is there to make his experience more comfortable, and thus more enjoyable. When Buddy dons gear, he is transformed into an adventurer with purpose. His hard shell keeps him dry and stops the snow from clinging to his hair, his boots keep the snow from forming between his pads and building up into snowballs around his feet, and his goggles keep his vision clear. When the gear comes out, excitement ensues. Good times are ahead!

Together we have explored the backcountry and trails of the North Cascades during all months of the year. Buddy is a rock-star on the trail (and pretty much everywhere we go), and seems to give everyone else as much joy as he gives me. Seeing the joy he brings others brings me much happiness, but my favorite times are when it’s just us in the backcountry, blending into the landscape and enjoying the beauty around us in the company of each other.

- Joe Evenson

We’re just here for a bad time

I think it was late 2018 when I first slid into Amber Chang’s DMs. I am not even fully sure why I felt confident enough to befriend her since she is a badass ski mountaineer who, at the time, was planning on skiing all the Washington volcanos in a single season. I had just finished a basic climbing mentorship and hadn’t even stepped into ski boots yet. If I had to guess, I think I recognized a similar energy in Amber — a willingness to suffer outside for absolutely no reason.

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Amber Chang and Kaelee Chang on their C2C attempt of Glacier Peak. Photo by Amber Chang. 

We started our friendship like you treat a dating app connection: with a bunch of messages to get a feel for each other and to make sure we could spend 12+ hours in the wilderness suffering together. We met up a few times in 2019, but our friendship really took off during the pandemic. Once it felt safe to go outside again, we turned to each other to make ridiculous outdoor plans. We went from four to six-mile trail runs to a 20-mile day quickly thereafter. High on the success of that trip, I texted Amber, “I think I want to do a C2C of Glacier Peak someday.” Her response? “What about next weekend?”

We turned around just shy of the summit on that trip, but interactions like that are why I love my friendship with Amber. I am highly anxious and struggle with self-doubt. The second I make a goal, I already doubt my ability to do it, so I make sure to immediately tell Amber. If she knows about it, she is either out with me to make it happen or bluntly tells me that I can do it if I put in the work. She isn’t one to beat around the bush, so if Amber says I can do it, I believe her. I started skiing at the ripe age of 30 and made a goal to ski from the summit of Mount Saint Helens my second season. Amber pushed me outside of my comfort zone in the resort all season and was with me with skis on the summit.

For all our epic adventures together, I also appreciate that we are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. Our support for each other extends beyond our shared outdoor goals, and that’s arguably the most important part of our friendship.

So, the next time you find yourself wondering if that untouchable person on Instagram would want to be your friend, just slide into their DMs. It might work out better than you think.

- Kaelee Chang (no relation to Amber)

Discovering mountainlife

Hi Friends - Fitzroy here! I’m a Mountain Dog and I live in the mountains with my human Mom & Dad and my canine big sister River. What I love most in the world is exploring in the wilderness with my Mom. Mom likes to have Adventures so she takes me places where I can show off my Mountain Dog skills - finding the best way to travel over boulder fields, cross streams, and climb higher. River Dog is pretty lazy (she’s a Newfoundland - not a Mountain Dog like me) so she rarely goes with us.

One day Mom came home with another dog – my Cousin Hazy. Hazy is a girl like River but she looks like me (only smaller). Mom said Hazy was going to stay with us for a few weeks and it was my job to teach her about being a Mountain Dog. She had never been to the Mountains before.

The first time we had to cross a stream with just a board for a bridge Hazy was afraid to go across because it was so narrow. No problem I said - watch me and then just follow me across. I had to cross a few times before she got up the courage to follow and then it was easy and she ran back and forth. Soon she was balancing on logs and boldly splashing across streams with no bridges - good girl Hazy!

Before long Hazy was exploring on her own – always with one eye on Mom – and she was happy to follow me when I found a good dog path to travel. The most important thing I told Hazy is this: Mom likes to take pictures so you need to learn to pose for her. When she gets out her camera you have to stay still and smile - don’t run until she says ok. And best is to climb up high so Mom can take pictures of us being Mountain Dogs. If there is a big rock or boulder it will make Mom very happy if you climb on top of it and pose for her. At first Hazy was timid about climbing up but I kept encouraging her and then she saw how happy it made Mom when we posed together – she was really getting the hang of this Mountain Dog stuff!

After a few weeks, I realized how much fun it was to have Hazy around. I knew she was just with us for a visit but I liked having a sidekick – especially one who was happy to follow. Then Mom called a Family Meeting. She said she liked having Hazy around (so did Dad) and she wanted to know what Hazy, River, and I thought about having Hazy stay with us for good instead of going back to the City. We had a Vote – Yes or No – should Hazy stay for good? That was my easiest Vote ever - a BIG YES from me. Did I say River is lazy? Her Vote was “Whatever” because she likes to pretend she doesn’t care but I know she likes Hazy too. Hazy got to stay!

- Fitzroy Neilson, by way of his mom Ruth Neilson

P.S. Hazy has learned to be a good model too and Mom posts pictures of our Adventures because she thinks we are so handsome. Check us out if you want to see a couple of very happy Mountain Dogs: @mazamadog.

QQ8awYpg.jpegThe vote, featuring River, Fitz, and Hazy. Photo by Ruth Neilson.


This article originally appeared in our Winter 2022 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our  magazine archive.

Lead image of Kristina Ciari and Theresa Sippel not near the summit of Glacier Peak. Photo by Imran Rahman.


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