Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?
Hi, my name is Mary Lane (@mountaingirlml) and I am a wildlife biologist, climber, hiker and desert dweller residing in southwestern Utah. I was lucky to have grown up in an environment where getting outside and exploring was a regular part of life.
As an avid hiker and mountain biker, my dad always took our family on camping trips around the Smoky Mountains where we would explore the dense forests, rocky overlooks, and towering waterfalls decorating the Cumberland Plateau.
The funny thing about my earliest memories of connecting with nature, is that they are full of dreamy waterscapes from tubing down the river to jumping into lakes and exploring waterfalls and caves. The irony lies in the fact that somehow I ended up a desert rat, specializing in the flora and fauna of some of the most dry and desolate places of the world.
I’m not sure when it happened, but my love of the lush mountains eventually made way for the weird and wide open spaces of the Mojave and canyon country deserts. I love knowing that while the world is full of billions of people clustered into overcrowded cities, there are still places that exist where you can turn in a circle and see that no other humans exist for a million miles.
As I entered my twenties, my love of the outdoors helped shaped not just my personal life, but my professional life as well. I spent the last decade building my career as a biologist, botanist, & ecologist by chasing opportunities to work with the National Parks, environmental consulting firms, and other land management agencies until settling into my role as a specialist with the federally threatened desert tortoise.
I also volunteer with the Access Fund as a Community Ambassador, helping to raise awareness about protecting access to public lands for climbers and outdoorists and creating events for my local climbing community.
What’s your Story From The Mountain?
One of my favorite stories to tell around the campfire is from early on in my climbing career on a lonely, little mountain on the outskirts of Las Vegas, NV where we lived for several years.
We used to sit around the dinner table discussing which routes we would climb the next day, and one January night we decided on a 900ft. tall route on the illusive Magic Mountain. The route sounded fun and bizarre but while it was not physically or technically demanding, it was a poor choice for the middle of January when the sun went down behind the mountain so early in the day.
We struggled up the first pitch which was a tight, cavernous squeeze chimney that my fiance barely fit through. As we made our way out of the cave, the route became more straightforward and posed no difficulties, but the shortness of the winter days kept creeping into the back of my mind as we made it higher up the mountain. The route contained no fixed anchors so the only way down was by reaching the top and descending the cliff on an alternate route.
We successfully topped out the route around 4:00 pm and began the process of descending to the ground, which involved a series of rappels, route-finding and downclimbing. As the clock passed 4:30, darkness began to descend over the canyon. The directions we had for the descent didn’t match the terrain in front of us, and the only anchors we could find fit the description for a route that required 2 ropes to rappel to the ground and we only had one rope.
Our headlamps were all but useless as we wandered around sketchy cliff edges that all seemed to fall off into a dark, scary abyss.
Faced with the risk of rappelling off an unknown anchor and being stuck like a fish on a line in pure darkness, we decided our only option was to wait out the long, dark night.
We were able to scramble up into a little alcove and while my fiance scurried around the edges collecting firewood, I delicately coiled our rope into a rug to help get our bodies off of the cold rock- keeping in mind it was January.
We spent the night huddled next to our fire, high on the cliff walls with only the scrub oak and chipmunks for company. I think somewhere I even have a picture of me sleeping with a rock as a pillow.
But eventually the early morning light finally broke over the horizon and we realized we had survived our first bivy! We had been able to get a text out to our friends the night before letting them know we were okay and they hiked out to the base of the route and greeted us with hot coffee like rockstars.
I can’t remember ⅔ of what I learned in college but I can remember everything I learned in Girl Scouts.
It was a wild journey and a couple months later, when the days were longer, we went back and climbed the route again, documenting the correct descent information, which I updated online so that future parties wouldn’t be cast to our same fate.
Five years later after my fiance proposed to me this summer, he said that after that night on the mountain was when he knew that I was the one. I had survived that journey and was ready to go back out climbing the next day, itching for more adventures.
Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?
When asked what I have learned from nature or my outdoor pursuits, the answer is everything.
I think that because my exposure to wild spaces has been present since Day 1, the idea of nature is inherently connected to every part of my being.
I can’t remember ⅔ of what I learned in college but I can remember everything I learned in Girl Scouts. And you better believe that as soon as I graduated, my bags were packed and I set off to explore the magic of the American west and see and experience things I couldn’t begin to imagine.
I never knew that a girl with a poly sci degree from Tennessee would end up a rock climbing wildlife biologist with a passion for protecting life in the desert and sharing the world around her.
While I spent years hiking & backpacking, I was eventually exposed to rock climbing and never looked back. One of the things that immediately drew me to climbing was the community and this idea of mentorship. I never took a class or went to a gym, I just met really generous people who donated their time to showing me the ropes.
And ever since I became a proficient climber, I took every opportunity to help introduce the sport to people who reached out or showed a genuine interest. Watching someone ride the rollercoaster of emotions from doubt and fear to an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, pride and happiness is a truly special process to be a part of.
I think if I wanted to be remembered for anything - that would be it. I would want people to say that they could see my passion for sharing ways to enjoy and protect the world around me with anyone that had a desire to learn. Wild places are meant to be experienced and to provide perspective. The more people that grow to love the special places in the world means more people that are willing to stand up and fight to protect it.
What’s your favorite item in your pack?
Since I live in the desert, I never leave home for the trails without my 32 ounce hydro flask or Camelbak, sunscreen, one of my awesome trucker hats, sunglasses, and a sun shirt. There is also a 99% chance I’m not leaving home without my fiance Josh and our dog, Mytha, a fluffy Australian shepherd/poodle mix who loves romping around in the desert even more than I do!
Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?
I think one of the most important things for folks that are just getting started in the world of the outdoors is to remember that nothing is ever out of reach. A lot of people I have met seem to think that sports like backpacking or rock climbing are elite sports that require the fitness of a professional athlete. But if I have learned anything over the last 7 years, it is that literally anyone with enough drive and desire to do it, can become a climber.
One of my dearest friends celebrated her 50th birthday climbing with us last year in Joshua Tree and led her second trad route ever! All you have to do is be proactive and set goals for yourself and you will find opportunities and amazing people out there willing to help guide you along the way.
Rock climbing and hiking require so many more skills than just strength. They require patience for learning, mental strength for when you get scared, problem solving skills and balance, even teamwork and trust.
Just remember, if there is something out there you have been itching to explore- you are so much more capable than you could ever possibly imagine, so just make a plan and make it happen!
What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?
The author who has had the biggest impact on me is Edward Abbey. I feel cliche saying that because we know his quotes have been beaten to death with a stick on Instagram, but when I was in my late teens and early 20’s, I read every Ed Abbey book I could get my hands on.
I let my imagination run wild down the red rock canyons of Moab and up to the fire lookouts of the northern Rockies, just waiting to get my own chance to explore the epic places of the west. Nowadays, I rarely have time to read a good book anymore, but I am always scrolling through Instagram and really do find a lot of daily inspiration and enjoy engaging with the outdoor community through that space.
I try to focus on following and supporting other women in the outdoor industry, pushing the boundaries of what we are capable of as a strong and connected community with an empowered voice.
Where’s your next adventure?
My next adventure is in the process of being lived out! A couple of years ago, my fiance and I made a 2-year plan to move to St. George, Utah. We met working together in Zion National Park in 2013, and while work and life took us away for a while, we have always wanted to get back to this incredible region.
We worked hard to plan and save until I quit my job in Joshua Tree last summer to hit the road. We spent 4 months climbing in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho where my fiance proposed to me on top of Devils Tower National Monument, before eventually making our way back to the desert.
We recently settled into a new house & our new lifestyle here in the canyon country of southern Utah and are currently planning our wedding! It feels good to know that our hard work and planning has paid off and it truly feels like we are at a moment in life where we are exactly where we are meant to be.
Where can others learn more about you?
If you find yourself traveling through southwestern Utah this year and you are passionate about protecting public lands, I encourage you to reach out to me! I am currently working with several local organizations to help support more events specifically for the climbing communities of St. George and Zion National Park.
The Zion Climbers Coalition will be hosting a variety of slideshows, falcon surveys, trash clean ups, and trail work projects within the National Park and we need all the help we can get! Feel free to reach out to me for more information about any of these opportunities, or if you have questions about exploring the local area- I am happy to help!
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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