Womxn of the PNW: Stacey Arnold

Stacey is an aspiring Adventureprenuer and adventure-obsessed woman that lives just outside of Portland, Oregon. No matter what kind of adventure she’s on, she always carries her 5lb camera and is well known amongst outdoorsy friends for stopping mid-strike to say “look at that mushroom!” She’s also obsessed with learning about local wildflowers, wild edibles, and picking up way too many rocks at the beach!

Successful summit of Helens with Cat Eckrode (August 5, 2018)

How long have you resided in the PNW? What brought you here?

I’ve been in Oregon since just before I turned three. My parents grew up in the Portland/Tigard/Beaverton area and after they met they ended up moving to Hawaii, getting married, and living there for 10 years. My brother and I were born there, but my parents moved us back here just before I turned three so we could go to better public schools than on the island.

Has the outdoors always played a significant role in your life? How were you introduced?

Oh man yes! When we lived in Hawaii we lived on several acres in the rainforest and there are pictures of me stark nekkid enjoying the warm breeze! When we moved back to the mainland my parents found a small farm on 8 acres and my brother and I grew up playing in the dirt, mowing the lawn, catching crayfish in the creek and all around being filthy little demons as often as we could be. Mom and her best friend would take us camping all the time in the summer to Eastern Oregon and we’d get dirty in the desert dust and then dunk ourselves in the Prineville Reservoir, chase lizards and go “snipe hunting” and try to catch bats by tossing mini marshmallows up.

Hiking Lava Canyon with my good friend, Carla Wakins (Summer 2018)

Where is your favorite place to adventure in the PNW? 

That is so hard to choose! Like choosing a favorite kid. I love all the places for different reasons. The Gorge is incredible because of the incredible history of the Missoula Flood that carved it. The North Cascades for how rough and wild they are. The area around Mt. Hood for how accessible it is to me, especially for a snow fix in the winter. Eastern Oregon for childhood memories with family and because it’s so different than the green trees near home. The Oregon Coast and Olympic Coast for the sea stacks, tide pools, and rockhounding that is available. Mt. St. Helens because that mountain is personal for me.

What is your favorite outdoor experience/memory of all time?

Two years ago I set out for a solo hiking/photography weekend near Mt. St. Helens. Even though it was July I was dealing with some seasonal depression-like symptoms from not spending very much time outdoors soaking up vitamin D. I had planned on getting up soon after midnight and driving up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory in time for sunrise, but when my alarm went off I felt mentally and emotionally lethargic and drained. Normally I would have stayed in bed, but something got me up and going. I felt really conspicuous walking around the observatory in the super dim light before dawn but finally found a spot I would wait for sunrise from. I fiddled with some timelapse settings while I waited for the conditions I wanted, and as I was waiting I heard what I thought was another photographer coming down the path. I felt SUPER self-conscious and looked around as I sat on my jacket in the middle of the trail over my tripod. No one was there, and when I looked forward there was a deer popping over the hill in front of me. My camera settings were all wrong for a moving subject and I fired off a ton of shots hoping to get a good one. That picture ended up being my favorite one I’ve ever taken. I was so excited about it that after I sent it over to my phone to give a quick edit I was showing everyone I met. On the other side of the mountain that night, a woman from the Mt St. Helens Institute asked if I was climbing the next morning and offered for me to join them. She had no idea but I was absolutely shocked – she asked me so matter-of-fact as if she had no idea that was something that I couldn’t do. I knew I couldn’t climb a volcano!

A couple of months later I did something else completely out of character and went to a Facebook group’s first meetup, though I didn’t know it was the first. I drove 3 hours up to Olallie State Park in Washington and I shook slightly as I got out of the car and fiddled with stuff in the back to calm my hands down. Soon after actually joining everyone I felt right at home, and I hated to leave. Since then most of those people have become close as family to me and the memories I make with them every month or so are so dear to me! Since then, I have done all sorts of crazy things like be on the podcasts of people I’ve admired for years, talk about a “Cluster-Bleep” of a first solo backpacking trip in front of a couple hundred people during a LIVE podcast event in downtown Portland, and gone to many meetups and met and hiked with tons of new people. As a (mostly former) introvert I hardly recognize my life anymore!

(Side note: The photo Stacey refers to in the above response can be seen below)

The picture and morning that changed my life

You mentioned that Mount St. Helens is “personal” for you. Would you be comfortable elaborating on this?

Like I mentioned about one of my favorite outdoor memories – I was asked to join a group heading up the next morning on a climb, and the woman thought nothing of asking me, like it was a given that I could – or would even be interested in – climbing Mt. St. Helens.  I’d never even thought of it before, and I made my excuses about not having a permit, as well as recovering a toe from a car accident. I wrote her asking me off at the time, but later on when I saw a post from the Mt. St. Helens Institute announcing when permit sales would be, something poked me in the brain and I found myself sitting on a pallet in the stockroom at work furiously trying for permits during the Great 2018 Permit Sale Catastrophe. I promised my employee I’d give up as many breaks in the coming days or weeks as it took for me to get permits. I miraculously ended up getting 4 of them for 1 year to the day from the day I took the picture that ended up changing my life. I started training my out-of-shape self for the climb, and convinced a co-worker to climb with me.  A couple of other friends were going to go, but had to bail, and it ended up being just the two of us. I gave Heather, my co-worker turned climbing partner, her trail name – Belch while we climbed up. The night before we climbed we were good girls and went to bed early. It poured so hard we couldn’t sleep part of the night. Heather is a sleep-flailer and I was on the receiving end of a couple of flying elbows and a spooning leg, to which I informed her I was not her husband and to kindly get off me, lol. Then at one point when I woke up it was an hour later than when my alarm was supposed to go off and we scrambled to get out of camp as soon as possible.

We finally started hiking up, and once we got to the boulder field I pulled the gloves I’d bought the previous day and stuffed in my pack. I had two left gloves! It was awkward but it worked. The snow obscured the first few poles showing the way, and we ended up scrambling up a very ashy/slidy area that made me super nervous having not been on a scramble like this before. Once we gained the ridge it was a little better, but I continued to feel slightly panicky, and it only got worse as we climbed up. I wasn’t eating properly on the way up because the foods I normally enjoyed were grossing me out! 2/3 of the way up I began to have a very quiet meltdown with silent, very pathetic looking tears. I’d looked ahead and everyone was scaling this wall of stone that went from about 30 degrees to what appeared to be 60 degrees, and I just could not see myself getting up it safely, let alone down!  I found myself irrationally irritated at the chipmunks cavorting around me showing absolutely no fear at the height they were at. Over the course of the next half hour I inched up further, before finally giving up. I was so damned embarrassed telling everyone coming up that we hadn’t made it when they asked how the top had been. I was embarrassed ahead of time to tell friends, family, and coworkers that I’d failed to due an anxiety attack doing something I loved.

Later that week I wrote about the failure as a way to get closure. I thought it was something I’d never try to do again – the idea was terrifying and I just knew I couldn’t do it. Then I got a  message from a woman who had read my story. I’d never met her, and never interacted with her online before. But my story resonated with her – she’d also had a screwy first ascent, and she had an opening in a group that she wanted me to have – one month after my failed attempt. Her group ended up cancelling, but she gave me two permits so I  could find someone to go with. This meant telling someone I was going to go, which I wasn’t going to do until the day of. I reached out to a couple of friends, but they couldn’t make it, so I posted in Toward the Mountaintop and a woman named Cat Eckrode said she would go. I ended up meeting her at the trailhead and realized I’d been interacting with her in a coaching group Anastasia Allison was hosting weekly. Cat had climbed it two weeks prior to my second attempt, and lead me up. When we got to the “Wall” as I thought of it – the part I’d freaked on the month before I saw zigzags of dust on the rock that had been washed off in the rain the month before. Switchbacks! You don’t have to go straight up the mountain! I laughed hard, and we kept climbing. At one point when we stopped for an hourly snack I got this beautiful, clear feeling and knew I would make it to the top that day. Once we got to the ash field I began to panic again but at that point there was no effing way I was going to turn around, even if I had to crawl the rest of the way up. And at times I did crawl, feeling like I would tip right off the mountain. One other climber asked if I was ok at one point, flat to the mountain. I told her I thought Helens and I both needed a hug.

When I got to the top, I laughed, and choked, and cried all at the same time. I had made it.

Now I dream of climbing all the Northwest volcanoes, and I am going to do it.

You eventually became an ambassador for the Facebook group you mentioned in one of your previous responses! What inspired you to become an ambassador for Toward the Mountaintop Inch by Inch? What do you do as an ambassador for TTMTIBI? How has this group influenced you? 

Many of the core people in the group are like family, and have allowed me to change and grow in ways that I never, ever would have guessed would happen to me. Instead of feeling like a dud because no one wanted to hang out with me, especially outdoors, I now have the opposite problem and end up wringing my hands trying to figure out how to make more time to spend with these wonderful people. I have become so much more than I was before I met them, and I thought it would be a great way to show them my gratitude and my love. As an ambassador to the group I reach out to members that have questions, lead hikes and meetups, and try to let new people feel the same incredibly warm hug of a welcome that I got during that first meetup just before my 30th birthday.

The first group of strangers I felt totally comfortable around that have become my community and family. First ever meetup for Toward the Mountaintop Inch by Inch

You’ve described yourself as an “aspiring Adventurepreneur.” For those who are unfamiliar, can you provide your personal definition of an adventurepreneur and describe your aspirations?

I take my definition of Adventureprenuer from Anastasia Allison. She has made a living doing outdoor-inspired things that most people would (and often do) say are nuts to think you’d be able to make money doing! My own brand of this is a company called Inclined to Adventure. I spent so much time when I was a kid climbing trees and walking the dry creek bed and all sorts of outdoor things that as an adult when I realized I was more and more depressed if I didn’t spend time outdoors. I currently work retail and have a super limited adventure budget. I want to be able to lead guided trips, photography classes, foraging classes, geology classes, orienteering, and a ton more on a sliding scale for those that need an extra boost to be able to get out there. I realize that the way my brain works to collect info that is interesting to me and not be overwhelmed by it is kind of unusual by the posts I see on PNWOW, WHC and other forums and I want to be able to make information more accessible to folks that don’t have what I do. I eventually even want to have a goat/llama/alpaca rental service on a sliding scale for those that have mobility issues. I already teach 1-on-1 photo classes now, and I have a plan in place to free up more time to go further down the Adventureprenuer path!

What are some goals you’ve set for yourself this year?

My adventure list!

    • Climb Helens in the snow
    • Climb a 2nd volcano – Adams likely
    • Circumnavigate 2 volcanoes
    • Walk/run the entire ~30 mile Wildwood Trail in one day
    • Swim in Colchuk Lake (in Allison Tapert’s wetsuit that she will be hucking up and down to said lake. This is her hairbrained way of getting me over my fear of swimming in open water)
    • Learn to surf (also Allison’s hairbrain!)
    • Start learning to climb
    • Run/Walk a 5k (and maybe a 10k?)
    • Go on a 5-night backpacking trip
    • Finally visit the Wallowas!
    • Spend at least 15 nights in a tent this year
    • Hike 300+ miles
    • Sell my house and…..? The 2nd half is a secret for now! But it will be very, very cool!
Snowshoeing at Packwood Lake with Kellie Dawson (February 2018)

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, Stacey! Is there anything else we should know about you? Fun facts, trivia, etc.?

I used to be afraid of garbage trucks! I’ve built birthing tubs with my dad for maternity wards. I rebuilt and drove a 1970 Ford Falcon when I was 14-16, and then I drove it for 13 years. I still have it, and I’m hoping to be able to fix the issue currently keeping it in storage soon! That little car was a beast on logging roads heading to trailheads! I’m obsessed with finding and identifying mushrooms, wildflowers, and wild edibles, and I am an info-holic!

Snow backpacking with Anastasia Allison, Allison Tapert, and Brenda Ullinski at Mt. Rainier (March 2019)

You can learn more about Stacey and follow her adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and at www.inclinedtoadventure.com.

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