Q&A: Climber Rosemary Saal Reaches New Heights
In four months, Rosemary Saal will embark on Expedition Denali with a team of leaders in the African-American outdoor community. But their mission goes far beyond climbing the highest peak in North America. With a true zeal for encouraging diversity in the outdoors, this group of trailblazers brought together by National Outdoor Leadership School hope to inspire minority youth to take part in nature and the activities it has to offer.
Sierra magazine spoke with Saal, one of the youngest team members, about her fear of mountain lions, the thrill of climbing and why she carries around a headlamp in her purse.
What made you want to start hiking and climbing in the first place?
I just love the way climbing feels. Pulling yourself higher and higher until you reach the top. It is like you are always reaching for the next step.
I feel like a champion after climbing the flight of stairs to my third-floor apartment. What does it feel like when you reach the top of the huge mountains that you’ve climbed?
I just feel really fortunate and grateful to be able to do it. I remember when I hiked the North Cascades. It was amazing because I had been looking at those mountains from my hometown in Seattle all of my life. Now I was climbing them!
I have gotten so attached to my headlamp I started to just carry it around in my purse. You never know when you might need it. But a less technical item would be my journal. It is super important to have when you’re out there.
What convinced you to climb Denali now, with this group of people?
It just seemed like such an amazing opportunity. I didn’t even think about it. I was just like, “Heck yeah, I want to be a part of that.” It is a sponsored trip to climb the highest peak in North America while encouraging youth to get involved in the outdoors. You can’t pass up an opportunity like that.
So there are no electronics allowed when you’re hiking and climbing for weeks with NOLS. I could probably do without a phone but no music seems almost impossible.
Yeah, it is not easy, but fortunately I am usually with people who are super cool. Sometimes we rap and freestyle. Having no electronics is the most beneficial and the most difficult thing to do without.
You are just 19 now, how does it feel to already be a trailblazer in the outdoor minority community?
I am just so excited and grateful. I have been climbing since I was a kid with Passages Northwest (now GOLD Mountain School). I think that it is so important for minority communities to speak up and get involved. The minority community has to remember that nature is just as much ours as it is everyone else’s.
When you're hiking, what is your biggest challenge?
Distracting myself from being homesick or tired. And keeping that mental and emotional focus.
I have hiked a few times and I am always scared that a bear or wolf is going to be around every corner. Which animal would you be most afraid to see on your climb?
Well since we have been trained to deal with bears and we have this bear spray, I feel pretty confident when it comes to them. But if I saw a mountain lion I don’t know what I would do!
Growing up, if you hadn’t been spending your time outdoors, what would you have been doing?
Art has always been a part of my life. That is sort of like my next big thing after climbing and outdoor activities. I would have been dancing, acting, drawing, all that artsy stuff.
Your teammate Tyhree said he was going to try and do a back flip at the top on Denali. What do you plan to do?
I think the first think I will do is cry — purely tears of joy. In my head I can just see the panoramic view; taking it all in. But after that first moment of reflection, I am sure there will be some cheering. But not too loud because I wouldn’t want to start an avalanche!
--by Brittany Johnson
--images courtesy of Rosemary Saal