Jessica Sagnella - Building Confidence Through Leading Mt. Baker

Jessica Sagnella

Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?

Hi my name is Jessica Sagnella and I'm from Puyallup WA, born and raised.

Despite living in Washington all my life, I didn't grow up in the outdoors other than the summer camping trips with my family but those didn't include hiking or anything of that nature. I grew up playing sports. Primarily volleyball. That was my joy for 8 years. I played from junior high through community college while also playing club.

In high school I participated in track doing the mile. I remember cross country in high school was trying to recruit me but it was at the same time as volleyball. My passion for running was nothing near my passion for volleyball. I actually don't enjoy running at all.

It wasn't until about 3 and a half years ago I went on my first hike. Packwood Lake. I remember being in awe there was a lake in the middle of nowhere that you can hike to. My 4th hike was the infamous Mailbox Peak. I was ready to call it quits after that. I thought the last 400 feet was terrifying and I was so out of shape it wasn't fun whatsoever.

Now I find the suffering enjoyable. Funny how things change. I later saw in a women's Facebook group (PNWOW) that someone wanted to do Rainier summer of 2018. I was interested and asked if I could be apart of it and that we should try for 2017. It would give us a year to train. I fell in love with training and all I could think about was summiting Rainier. I did just that.

I didn't really know anyone yet in the hiking community so I hiked once a week to train for Rainier at Mt. Si and the I90 corridor. Solo hiking is where it all began for me and at the time I was going through a lot in my personal life so hiking was an escape for me and so freeing.

I really enjoyed the solitude. It's where I started to find myself and find my happiness so there are many emotions involved and why hiking and climbing is such a huge and important part of my life.

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

I've lacked confidence in pretty much every aspect of my life and it showed in the mountains. I seemed to have hit a wall in my progress. I wanted to be a leader but I was very timid and always doubted my decision making.

I took a course through Kaf Adventures to help build those leading skills. The climb was north ridge of Baker. I had already previously climbed this route in may of 2019 so I knew I could lead the climb and the ice pitch but leading is so much more involved.

I really enjoyed the solitude. It's where I started to find myself and find my happiness so there are many emotions involved and why hiking and climbing is such a huge and important part of my life.

There's navigating and decision making even though it's a group effort. I wanted to be confident in my decisions. Also being competent in anchor building. It's all a combination of confidence, skills and experience. Leading anything intimated me because I was too worried what others would think if I wasn't good enough. 

Mick, the instructor, Larry and myself set out to Heliotrope Ridge around 8am. It was an uneventful hike but we paced ourselves at a nice easy, conversational pace. Once we reached the ridge we could gaze over the entire route. We discussed what would be the best route through the broken up glacier. I learned something very important on the glacier portion of the climb.

Its moments like these when its mental and to push through them because I am capable.

I tend to follow a boot path but the mountain is ever changing so knowing that may not be the best boot path anymore was eye opening for me. Assessing the terrain is very important. After crossing the glacier we practiced different belay techniques before heading up the ridge. Once atop the ridge we made camp. We had front row seats to the beautiful ice cliffs of the north ridge.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect as it started to rain. We set up our lightweight tent and made dinner. I find I can never sleep well before a big climb. Knowing only getting a few hours of sleep is stressful causing me to not sleep at all.

The sunset was so beautiful. The others were asleep so I'd just peek my head out to look and snap a photo. I did this for about 20 minutes because it just kept getting better. I think I managed to fall asleep for a short time.

Alarms go off and this is the moment I question why I do any of this but it's later on, I remember why. We make food and coffee, then we geared up. I have reynaud's so starting out my toes and fingers were cold and it takes probably a solid 20-30 to fully warm up once we get moving.

As we're making our way to the ice cliffs, I'm not feeling 100% confident in this. Being a leader is more than just leading this ice pitch but it was something I wanted to prove to myself. I knew I would regret it if I didn't do it.

Its moments like these when its mental and to push through them because I am capable. I definitely struggled but I stayed with it mentally. Once it mellowed out I built an anchor and top belayed the others up and continued up the steep snow with belays. I couldn't believe I just did that. I also couldn't believe I was bringing people up.

It was such a good feeling. I cried when we reached the summit. My teammate just wanted a summit of Baker. Never did he think he could climb the north ridge so not only did I walk away with more confidence in myself and my capabilities, so did my teammate.

Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?

If theres anything I've learned its that you can do anything you put your mind to. Every goal I’ve set, even if it sounds crazy I have accomplished it. If you want something bad enough, its possible.

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

Something in my pack that I love is my Rab Positron Puffy. It's like my security blanket even though I don't use it frequently. All my other layers are usually sufficient but once in awhile I'm grateful I brought it. I run cold so those windy and breezy summits are a little more enjoyable with this puffy.

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

My advice for new hikers is start small or you will get discouraged. You have to work up to the longer, more gain hikes and you want it to be enjoyable. There are hikes for everyone out there. 

Put yourself out there in the hiking groups on social media to connect with others. I knew when I wanted to get on more technical climbs I couldn't do them alone but so many others are looking for partners. Guarantee you will find someone interested at your skill level.

Lastly, dont compare your journey to anyone else's. I did that. I would see what people were doing and I was disappointed that I couldn't do that but they had been doing it for 5+ years. They started where I did at one point but if you put in the effort and learn the skills, it doesn't take long.

What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?

Colin O Brady. I started following him before his big solo Antarctica endeavor. His story behind his why is inspiring. I love his mentality and how anything is possible especially knowing he was told he would never be able to walk again.

After my big goal of 5 WA volcanoes I decided to do 10 peaks in 10 days which was inspired by him. The volcano's is a top PNW goal and I wanted something of my own.

I enjoyed reading Into Thin Air

Where’s your next adventure?

I have a few adventures planned for this year. The list is never ending but I would love to climb Little Tahoma, Shuksan and Olympus this year.

I've also made a tradition for summer to do one big sufferfest goal and go on a more fun trip somewhere I've never been. So this year I want to attempt the Infinity Loop on Rainier which is Rainier twice and the Wonderland Trail. Then after that I'm going to head up to Banff, Yolo and Jasper to explore.

Where can others learn more about you?

You can follow or reach out to me on Instagram @jessica.sagnella or website (

Want to share your Story From The Mountain?

Hey, I'm Greg Kamradt, the founder of Terra Mano.

We interview awesome hikers/mountaineers/climbers/photographers and share the stories behind their ambition. By sharing these stories, we want to help others become inspired to reach their goals.

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