Conquering the world, one mountain at a time
Bad Ass of the week: Sarah Christine Bly
Working at NatureBridge as an Environmental Science Educator and Campus Coordinator, this bad ass doesn’t lounge on the weekends. She works tirelessly and saves every penny toward her love of climbing and adventure on paths less traveled.
On a trip to Yosemite a couple years back, Sarah guided myself and 5 other people through a pitch black cave. By pitch black I mean that quite literally you could not see your hand in front of your face. There was no light. How do you climb through a deafeningly dark cave with no light you ask? Sarah. She spoke to us and slowly gave instructions for each foot placement, each hand. No shakiness of breath, no stumbles, she knew what she was doing and it inspired courage in even the biggest of scared-ey cats (me). We all made it through. No accidents, no falls…I didn’t even think about how many spiders I must have come in contact with until we were out. She’s that good 😉
What’s life like after Yosemite, Sarah? How would you describe your role and responsibilities as an Environmental Science and Outdoor educator?
“EPIC. Currently living on site in the Marin Headlands with a 10 minute bike ride to work. I’m a walk away from the beach and a 20 min bike ride from the Presidio in SF. Not many people drive out here, no need. I’m fortunate to be part of a cozy, tight knit community. The kids are amazing. I am an environmental science educator whose main goal is to teach kids environmentally sustainable behavior, and one of the goals of course is to give them not only an experience they’ve never had before but also a skill set they can use and apply to many areas of their life. I sometimes work with “at risk youth”; I loathe the term but find it unbelievably fulfilling to get to show these kids a whole other world in nature than they may have previously been exposed to. The kids get to stay for 2-5 days at a time and live on site for the duration of their stay. The role that we play as educators in this environment requires the ability to work with diverse populations. We are here to facilitate the needs of the kids first and foremost.”
Man, where were programs like this and educators like you around when I was a kid? To date, what has been one of your fondest memories working with children in these types of programs?
“One of my fondest memories working with kids was when I had an 8th grade student who played bass guitar in a really great student band called “Phoenix Uprising”. His grandmother had just passed and he was having a tough time. I was (and still am) trying to learn bass and we had great talks about good bass technique, our grandmothers, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and other great bands. I still follow his band’s page on Facebook, and I secretly think he’ll be famous someday.”
Wow. I know what band I’ll be checking out next 😉 It’s rare to find educators that not only reach out to their students in a time of need but would continue to support them long after. Stay golden, girl.
What some of your students may or may not know is that you LITERALLY climb mountains. *We’re not talking hiking trails to tall hills here folks. We’re talking Denali, otherwise known as Mt. McKinley. It’s the highest point in North America, dudes. (Among others) This fierce gladiator scales and climbs 14,000 foot vertical walls. Sometimes made of ice.
Tell us what the journey before the climb is all about; what kind of mental and physical preparation does a climb of this magnitude require?
“Climbs are all encompassing. I work day and night shifts M-F as well as weekend programs, saving every penny to fund my trips. For me it requires a reformation of personality so to speak; I stop drinking, I severely limit social contact outside of work. You can’t very well workout for 2-3 hours a day if you’re hung over.”
I admire your tenacity. I don’t know many people (myself included) with that kind of motivation and pure intention. Rock the fuck on, dude.
Have you experienced any frustrations or sexism within your groups of peers while on climbs? I only ask as I’m willing to bet money that there aren’t many women out there doing what you do. Have those types of issues ever come up?
“I wish I could say no, but it has come up in various ways. For example most packing lists provided for preparation of the trip does not include some items specific to women. For example, a pee funnel to make pissing easier. Or tampons, a hairbrush, you get the idea. My recent climb to Denali I went 21 days with no shower, just baby wipes to do their damndest and I forgot a comb to brush my hair, so I had to use a plastic spork, or “dinglehopper” as Ariel from Little Mermaid calls it. It was all I had and I made it work. (haha) It can be challenging to be the only woman in a group of 5-7 dudes who can potentially snap when under pressure. By this I mean that before the climb he may have felt differently toward women giving direction than he does at 10,000+feet with a storm coming in. You most certainly see other’s true colors in times of extreme duress. Up there, if you fuck up even once, even a little, you die. That’s it. We all have to work together when sorting interpersonal issues for the greater good and safety of everyone involved.”
I hate to say I’m not surprised; however I hope that with more and more women like you in the world who continue to climb and never give up, that will change. By the way, kudos to you for makin’ it through with a spork. That takes a real lady.
I can’t imagine this would be easy but try to describe the feeling you get once you’ve conquered a mountain top. Is it the ultimate climax in the life of climber?
“I’d best describe the feeling as bittersweet. It’s the culmination of months of training, planning, scrimping and saving, yet it’s far from over. Most accidents happen on the descent in mountaineering and as much as you want to enjoy the summit, you’re also on the watch for inclement weather and struggling against massive fatigue. It’s all about making haste slowly and carefully all the way down, with thoughts of that first shower and beer once you get back to civilization. Ultimately, it isn’t until much later that you really start to decompress and process all of the turbulent emotions associated with the experience.”
Man, I think I’d need at least 6 solid IPAs after a journey like that. I am in awe of what you have and continue to accomplish on these trips. What advice would you give someone who wants to start conquering the world as you have? Did you have any fear or anxiety to battle when you started making big climbs and touring through caves?
“I absolutely had anxiety both before, during and even after all the climbs I’ve done! I think a little fear is healthy and keeps me vigilant. Without it, you can fall into complacency and apathy, and that’s when dangerous mistakes are made. I would say to anyone who wants to get into mountain climbing: Don’t let the fear stop you. Use it to your advantage. Use it to keep you focused. When something is really that scary you grow the most from attempting it. Have faith in yourself, and most importantly, the summit is not the end all be all of the climb! It’s about the discipline of planning and sticking to a workout routine, saving every penny and the camaraderie you experience with your fellow teammates. Honestly, my most pleasant memories of the climb center just as much around the deep conversations and ridiculous jokes we shared in the cook tent as they did experiencing the beautiful views we had along the way.”
My god man, that sounds like the definition of epic. What the hell do you do to unwind when you dedicate a few stolen hours to yourself?!
“Music, music, music! And bikes. I don’t have a car, so I spend a lot of time riding around on the weekends. I just got a new computer and pretty much every spare second is spent making electronic music these days. You can find my stuff on http://soundcloud.com/bleie. My sound doesn’t really fit a category. I’m still learning and trying to find my voice while giving myself the freedom to explore whatever happens to capture my attention sonically.”
You make music as well? Jiminey Christmas! May we all be so passionate and driven to fill our cups daily.
As has been true with every epic woman interviewed here, the term “Bad Ass” still doesn’t quite cut it when describing someone like Sarah and the courage she inspires in others while simply being herself.
(Smiling Sarah seen here sitting pretty in their igloo)
(The cook’s tent)
(Sitting on the edge of the world, Denali aka Mt McKinley at 14,000 feet)