Stacia Glenn - Life at 20,000ft: How I Kept Climbing Chimborazo Even When I Thought I Couldn't

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

Hi, my name is Stacia Glenn and I was raised in the San Diego area! Our family didn't get outside much at home, but every summer my parents would take my sister and I on a cross-country road trip where we would camp and hike along the way. 

My hiking picked up quite a bit during college and I spent many weekends and every long break hiking and backpacking in Yosemite National Park

When I was in my 20s, I decided to quit my job and move to Washington state so I could find more balance in my life. The mountains provided that.

Almost immediately, new friends took me rock climbing and mountaineering and in the first year, I climbed several PNW classics like Mount Rainier, Mount Olympus and Shuksan. I was hooked.

It wasn't long before I was spending every weekend (and many weeknights after work) on glaciers, scrambling peaks in the North Cascades and seeing how many routes I could lead at the crag.

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

My mountain story stretches back to 2013 when I was brand-new to mountaineering but eager to climb all the things.

I joined some friends in Ecuador with a plan to climb five volcanoes (Pasochoa, Guagua Pichincha, Illinizas Norte, Cotopaxi and Chimborazo), including the country's two tallest peaks, in 11 days. I had no clue what to expect at 20,000 feet but I was elated, hopeful and excited after successfully making it up our first four climbs. 

Then it was time for Chimborazo.

There was no chatter as we left the refuge with less than three hours of sleep and stepped into darkness. We traversed across a ridge, then it was just a slog. No switchbacks, just straight up more than a 60 percent grade.

We gulped half-frozen water from our bottles and struggled to suck in short bursts of thin, dry air. Snow conditions were less than ideal and we crashed through crusty layers of ice into thigh-high wet powder with nearly every step.

About two hours below the summit, one of the women on our team asked to turn back. We rallied her back on track. Then another woman admitted to being too tired, but we convinced her to keep going. We were determined. We kept moving even though we were on autopilot.

I would periodically stop, desperate for rest, but the rope would tug me forward again. There would be no breaks. We were in a whiteout and at temperatures that low, we had to keep moving. I wished for views to distract me, or better yet, a mug of hot cocoa. Anything warm.

My guide kept encouraging us, insisting that we were almost there. He told us the summit was a mere 10 minutes away. Unable to see more than a few feet in front of me, I trusted the man who had climbed this snowy monster too many times to count.

He was wrong. The summit was more than a half hour away, but we did it. My partner and I stood on the top, exchanged an exhausted hug and shivered for the next 20 minutes waiting for the rest of our team to arrive. We couldn't see anything. We couldn't feel anything. But we made it.

I've often joked about how Chimborazo was the only mountain I didn't enjoy, but it made me stronger and more determined. I learned that I can dig deeper than I ever imagined, that I can withstand such severe cold that my fingers suffered frostbite and blood vessels in my face burst, that I won't give up when I'm miserable and questioning my sanity, that I can do it.

I did it.

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

The outdoors can both test and rejuvenate you.

It has a way of being whatever it is you need in the moment. If I'm feeling stressed or have a bad day, hiking or climbing re-centers me and reminds me that I'm in control of my own life.

If I have an awesome day or something good happens in my life, I want to celebrate it outside with good views and better friends. 

The outdoors can both test and rejuvenate you.

No matter what you're looking for, I believe that you can find it within yourself by stripping everything away and immersing yourself in nature. You're enough. Let the outdoors show you. 

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

I always pack the essentials, but my favorite item is my Sony A6000 Camera. I love capturing moments throughout each trip so I can look back and remember all the laughter and all the tears, not to mention all the beautiful places I've been lucky enough to climb.

Those pictures are a reminder of why I do it and looking through a lens has helped me slow down and notice more detail in my surroundings.

If I get to pick a second favorite, it would be Seattle Chocolate. I’m a sugar junkie and there’s nothing I want more than sweets when I reach a summit or need a pick-me-up! 

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

If you're just getting started, go easy on yourself. Do your research, use the gear you can afford, have fun and know things will get better with each hike or climb.

You're not expected to know everything right away, or have the most expensive gear or be the fastest on the trail. Ask questions, listen when people offer suggestions and be kind - to yourself, others and nature.

When I climbed my first mountain, I wore a cotton T-shirt and ridiculously over-packed my bag because I just didn't know better. I forced myself to eat Mountain House Meals for a year even though they wrecked my stomach because that's what other people were doing.

I packed an entire bottle of lotion the first time I went snow camping because that's what I normally did on overnights in the city. 

There's a learning curve and you'll get there. Besides, don't you want to look back and laugh at yourself and realize how far you've come?

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

This is a list that is constantly growing for me. I gravitate toward podcasts like She Explores, where I can hear stories about women doing incredibly inspiring things, or Dirtbag Diaries, for the always entertaining stories. 

For books, I fell in love with Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" because it taught me not to take myself - or outdoor adventures - so seriously. I get pumped up after Christopher McDougall’s “Born To Run” and I think everybody should read Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire.”

The number of people who have influenced my climbing career are endless, but I owe a special thank you to Scott Schissel and Jay Griffin for taking a chance on a girl they'd just met, taking her up big mountains and patiently showing me the way. They changed my life and I'm eternally grateful. 

Where’s your next adventure?

Lots of things on tap for 2020! 

This winter I'll be viewing Yosemite Firefall, chasing Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska, and warming up in Idaho hot springs. 

By the time summer hits, I’m hoping to return to long-distance running and complete a 50k! I’ve broken my leg twice in four years and it’s created serious strain running, but I refuse to give up. 

Top of the mountaineering list for me are Mount Goode, the tallest peak in the North Cascades, and a return trip to the Pickets. 

The adventure I'm most looking forward to this year is rock climbing in Kalymnos, Greece. Many of my adventures are to cold, snowy places so I'm excited to climb in limestone caves along a sun-kissed coast!

Where can others learn more about you?

The easiest place to follow along is via Instagram. My handle is @staciagoesoutside. I love meeting fellow outdoor enthusiasts so feel free to drop me a line! Or you can catch me on some granite spires in the North Cascades!