Patience and partnership in the mountains.
Jeannie Wall doesn’t shy away from a suffer-fest. To the contrary, she thrives on grueling endeavors, and has dedicated her life and career to moving fast in the mountains. Hailing from Wisconsin, Jeannie started out skiing on snow-covered frozen lakes, and found a passion for endurance racing in triathlon and Nordic skiing. She went on to become one of the world’s fastest ski-mountaineering racers, but for Jeannie, it’s always been about the shared experience—the partners who have been by her side throughout decades of high-mountain adventures. Jeannie has lived in Bozeman since 1994, when she moved her job here from Patagonia’s corporate office in Ventura, CA. Check out her latest project at broadbeta.com.
So, Jeannie, tell us about the importance of camaraderie in the mountains.
In April 1996, my Swedish friend Lotta and I spent a week in Chamonix. We were training for a ski-mountaineering race in the Arctic Circle on Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise, where reindeer outnumber people. Skiing the steep, glaciated terrain of the Alps for the first time blew my mind—and scared the piss out of me. For Lotta, it was just another day in the mountains.
After our Chamonix adventures, we boarded a plane for Stockholm. I don’t remember what I ate on the flight, but it eventually ate my insides. I commenced purging in my friend’s apartment that night, and continued on the next day’s flight to Kiruna, in a snowcat traversing the tundra, throughout our first night in a rustic lodge, and up until the start of the race.
I was utterly depleted, but I didn’t want to let my partners down. We woke the day before the race to falling snow and moderate temps—it’s all a bit blurry to me still. While Lotta and Sofia spent the day training and getting organized, I lay in my hard bunk, willing myself to life. By the next morning I could stand, talk, and even ski. I managed to pull it together and we launched with the other teams, overnight packs on our backs, navigating through a milky fog.
I skinned and skied over what felt like endless distance and vertical while feeding off the energy of my two amazing partners. We crossed that day’s ephemeral “finish line” before any other women’s teams. There was a huge berm of snow where a bunch of men’s teams were digging to create their sleeping caves. It looked like some surreal version of a Siberian Chain Gang at work—but we were lucky and crazy enough to be doing this for fun. Soon we had carved out our own three slots and squeezed into our snowy abodes.
Sometime in the night, I felt an uncomfortable damp spot underneath me. I had clumsily let my hydration-pack tube get squeezed under my torso and empty itself into my thin sleeping bag—a rookie move that could have cost me the race, or worse, induced hypothermia. I survived the night. We packed up and were off and racing to the sunrise that we could not discern through the storm. We were the first women’s team to finish the race, although the storm’s avalanche risks kept us from the formidable yet coveted summit of Kebnekaise Peak.
Talented, confident, fast, smart, and always working for the betterment of the team, Lotta and Sofia are two women I will always revere. They left me filled with gratitude and memories of a wild landscape, and the endless potential in all of us when we’re supported by great partners who bring out our inner wildness.