Alpinist Community Project Flashback: Meg O’Neill

In 2014, I became obsessed with becoming an alpinist, and in 2012, I started rock climbing in Yosemite. If you called me daft, I would climb mountains, and I grew up in the urban area of San Francisco Bay, California, as a bookworm. I am now an outdoor educator who used to be a science teacher, spending ten months of the year in the classroom, lighting the fire on the carpet for the middle school English language learners.

I want to be a really good mountaineer. I have never done any climbing before. I want to be on the cover of Alpinist magazine. Smiling, wearing sunscreen and a helmet.

As an alpinist, I persistently insist on going until I reach the summit. Every night, I bivy in a different location, with a lightweight headlamp to see. I close my eyes every time, oh, every time I summit.

Growing up in the city as a punchy and result of my upbringing, I never even went camping until my twenties. I had never been to the mountains before, so it was quite a shock when some hikers on the summit of Crestone Needle in Colorado (14,197′) in July 2013 saw us climbing up the ice-covered pitch leading to the Ellingwood Arete (III) via the Yerkes and Tamara 5.7 pitch. It must have been a remarkable sight.

[Photo] Meg O[Photo] Meg O’Neill

In July 2009, I bought my first ice axe for a week-long trip in Bugaboo, Canada. Out of all the gear I owned, there was something about this new shiny metal piece that held more allure than any other. I felt compelled to give it a name. The first few names didn’t seem right, but after an unplanned bivy in an open storm, I gained a name for it – Bee Bumble. That metal piece buzzed and buzzed after climbing the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Spire via the Kain Route. In this photo by Dan Perron, you can see the rappels down the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, which we began after climbing. We had already hidden from the storm for a couple of hours at this point. Ultimately, we ended up pinned down overnight by the storm for a couple of hours. Bee Bumble is still the only ice axe I’ve ever owned for mountaineering. I had never had another night out like that, and neither had she – Bee Bumble.

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[Photo] Meg O[Photo] Meg O’Neill

I guess I grossly underestimated the conditions for becoming an alpinist. We climbed a 12-pitch 6b route called Amazonia in Nantillons des Pointe Premiere and then headed into Aiguilles des Envers. We realized that we were extremely underprepared for the conditions and weather, so we went back to town with our new warmer gear that we bought at a hilarious store called Extreme Technique. We looked down onto Blanche Vallee and decided to set our sights on the south face of Aiguille du Midi (3842m). On our first day in Chamonix, France, Lindsey Pearson and I realized that I had become somewhat stagnant in my climbing goals, which caused me to lose sight of my alpinist aspirations. However, buying a plane ticket usually marks the start of the best stories in my life.

[Photo] Pat Browlie[Photo] Pat Browlie

I had the great fortune to snap a photo of Australian Pat Browlie, whom I had multiple pursuits with, during the transit. This trip ended with a desperate race down Glace de Mer to catch a transit to Envers, where the background includes Les Drus (3754m). The route named “the Bridge of Sighs” is wedged precariously across a very challenging block, located in the climbing area of Aiguilles des Envers in Verte Tour (2760m). This photo was taken in July 2015 on the summit of the Tour Verte. After enjoying cheese and wine in the valley, I found myself sprinting down a glacier in my mountaineering boots, still carrying my gear and hugging the rope, in an attempt to catch the last tram back to Chamonix. Many alpinists have ended up with uncomfortable bivies in the lift station bathroom. The constant fear of missing the last train or ski lift back to town at 6 p.M. Is one of the worst things about climbing in the French Alps. One of the best parts of climbing in the French Alps is that it is possible to bypass thousands of feet of hiking by taking trains and ski lifts, providing access to the best climbing areas.

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[Photo] Meg O[Photo] Meg O’Neill

It was the most significant way for me to become an alpinist, with many different ways, but the shortest and easiest climb during my month in the Alps. I took a deep breath and grabbed my gear, as Samuel handed me my crampons to lead a 5.5 icy pitch. It was my first true alpine “mixed” climb, barely slept the night before, and it was a new experience venturing into unknown places. Especially when leading with my head, I always struggled. But something about being home in the Alps made me braver, maybe it was the same impulse that drove me to buy a plane ticket. I held a certain unknown for me in Chamonix.

[Photo] Meg O[Photo] Meg O’Neill

The sun rises over the Grand Jorasses (4208m) in this photo. On our way back, we carried our bivy kit so that we could descend the route. We learned that the conditions were deteriorating and met other climbers at the summit. Intending to descend another route, we carried our kit and made a short bivy. From there, we headed up the Traversee Monts 3, including Mont Blanc (4810m), Mont Maudit (4465m), and Mont du Tacul (4248m). Finally, we caught the last lift up to Aiguille du Midi and came back from a day of rock climbing in the threatening heat wave impending in the Alps. Although I am grateful for the experience, I always find it challenging and time-consuming. I don’t always want to wake up at 1 am to slog uphill in the snow or carry a heavy pack. This also hindered my career as an alpinist, as it was the biggest hurdle for me due to my strong aversion to suffering.

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[Photo] Meg O[Photo] Meg O’Neill

We were not gored by a moose and did not accomplish the climb we had set out to do in record speed car-to-car. However, we felt very accomplished that we summited and climbed the trail on this day. As we made our way back to the car, we were delayed for over an hour by a very aggressive bull moose that approached us. Sundial, located in the Wasatch Range, is my home and where I practice my craft as a local alpinist. I have been working as a teacher in Salt Lake City, Utah for ten months now, and I find time to continue practicing my craft. I have not spent every day in Canada’s Parkway Icefields or in Chamonix.

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