Crested Butte’s Mark and Janelle Smiley are sponsored by a host of climbing and outdoor companies—5.10, Prana, Feathered Friends, Nemo and La Sportiva have all signed on as they attempt to complete 50 climbs made famous by Allen Steck and Steve Roper, authors of The Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.
For six months out of the year, the Smileys live out of their van and climb extreme routes from Utah to Alaska. The ropes, climbing shoes, and outdoor gear their sponsors provide have been a boon to their adventures. But the most unusual donation they’ve received was ten pounds of vacuum-sealed bacon, a thank-you gift from a couple they met in the Wind Rivers Range in Wyoming.
For the Smileys, Wolf’s Head was a respite from traversing remote glaciers and climbing snow-covered peaks. As Janelle cruised to the top of an easy pitch, she came across a climber belaying his girlfriend, who had stalled in the middle of the next pitch—terrified.
“She’s yelling at him, and he’s yelling at her, and I show up and say, ‘Just tell her she’s doing a great job and you think she can do it.’ He looks at me and looks at her and shouts, ‘Babe, you’re doing great,’” Janelle says.
The girlfriend yelled back, “Really? You think I can do it?,” to which the boyfriend replied, “Yeah, babe, you got it.” And that was all it took. She finished the climb, and her boyfriend looked at Janelle like, Who are you?
Later that summer, Mark and Janelle gave a presentation in Seattle. The man from the Wind River Range approached them after the show. He and his girlfriend still used the tricks Janelle taught them, he said, about what it meant to deal with fear and encourage your partner.
“He said, ‘We really wanted to think of a way to thank you,’ so I thought, what do I want after a climb? Bacon!’” Janelle says.
The Smileys ate bacon for weeks.
Overcoming fear and understanding the role it plays in relationships, particularly between men and women, has become one of the unexpected cornerstones of the Smiley’s quest. Couples have begun to approach them, inspired by the lessons they share.
“Everything is amplified when you introduce fear into it,” says Mark, “and on a lot of these climbs there was a big fear factor that played a pretty significant role.”
On their first climb of the season, the Smileys summited the Titan in Utah—a tower of rough and breakable sandstone. The Smileys climbed cautiously, worried that a fall would cause the rock to break and their protective gear to pop free. Mark climbed first, and then belayed Janelle from the top, who carried their pack full of gear. She kept asking Mark to pull the rope tight.