Q&A with 'RockClimberGirl'

Sara Lingafelter is a writer and rock climber who lives in Seattle, where she runs the blog RockClimberGirl.com. She recently returned from Nepal with Expedition Hanesbrands during an attempt on Mount Pumori, a 23,494-foot peak on the Nepal-Tibet border. Lingafelter’s reports from the expedition — her first high-altitude trip — are archived at http://climbwithus.com/#/updates. Here’s a quick Q&A with Lingafelter. While she didn’t summit, Lingafelter conquered many personal firsts during the expedition.

Gear Junkie: What went through your mind earlier this summer when you were told you’d be heading to Nepal and Mount Pumori as part of Expedition Hanesbrands?

Sara Lingafelter: I was really surprised. [Expedition leader] Jamie Clarke and I met last spring and kept in touch as a result of the things we have in common as climbers, even though he’s a high-altitude mountaineer, and I’m a rock climber. Ultimately, when he called to ask if I’d be interested in joining the team, there was no hesitation.

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Lingafelter on the trek to Mount Pumori. Photo by Scott Simper.

GJ: You’re a rock climber, but not an experienced mountaineer. In fact, this was your first time above 10,000 feet, correct? What was that like for you?

SL: Every step above 10,000 feet was a new personal best. When we passed 14,000 feet, and I was still going strong, I felt like my heart was doing a happy dance. Reaching the top of Kala Patthar, at just over 18,000 feet, with its breathtaking views of Pumori, Everest and its neighbors was a highlight of my fledgling career as a “mountain girl.”

GJ: What did you do physically to prepare for the expedition?

SL: Right away, I changed my workout routine. I went from climbing three or four days a week with strength training to climbing just two days a week at an easier level. I did long hikes with a pack on involving elevation gain and loss at least once a week. I started running about six days a week. I also have traditionally had knee problems, so I eased in to running by starting with walk / jog intervals, and did at least two days a week of strength training with more emphasis on my legs and lower back. I had to gain weight for the trip, so I’d have weight to lose on the mountain. I knew I was physically ready for the trip when neither my skinny jeans, nor my cute boots would zip up any longer. From a mental standpoint, I spent a fair amount of time hiking solo. That helped me build my confidence and self-sufficiency, and, some days, my pain tolerance. I also completed a four-day basic mountaineering training class in British Columbia. That gave me some familiarity with moving on snow and ice and some rescue skills. I also reached out for advice from other women who climb. The most helpful was Lynne Wolfe, a member of the 1989 American Womens’ Expedition on Pumori. She’s now a mountain guide and avalanche instructor. She gave me an awesome pep talk, and some great tips.

GJ: Climbing to about 18,000 feet above sea level really took a toll on your body. What makes you think you’ll be able to reach the top of Everest — another 11,000 feet higher than you went — if you get the chance?

SL: My invitation was to participate in the Pumori trip, so I don’t know if there’ll be a spot for me on future climbs. But I have no doubt that I can reach Everest Base Camp. I missed my chance this trip to trek over there because the day I was going to go was the day Jamie, Scott and Todd were headed down the mountain, and I didn’t feel right leaving camp until they were down safely. As far as beyond Everest Base Camp, I don’t have any illusions about my competence or level of experience at this discipline. The last thing I would want to do is be a weak link on a climbing team when the consequences are as high as they are up there. I don’t currently have aspirations to summit Mount Everest. Looking over at the climbing route from Kala Patthar, I did get excited about maybe, someday, climbing below the death zone on Everest. There is a lot of breathtaking terrain over there.

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View of Pumori, through prayer flags on Kala Patthar. Photo by Sara Lingafelter.

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