However, as she picked up the phone and we began speaking, my nerves melted away. Once we started talking I also found out she is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. When I mentioned she was my first interview and that I was a little intimidated, she laughed, congratulated me and proclaimed that she “was honored.” Beaming and becoming way more at ease, we delved into the interview, which was filled with giggles and funny stories.
Me: You began major alpine climbing at the age of 21, which is how old I am, and that definitely encourages me to get off the couch and do more. It also makes me wonder what encouraged you to start climbing?
Stacy Allison: So I began climbing, and it was a fluke, a total fluke. Another student in the dorm, actually the RA, put a notice on the bulletin board that he was going to Zion National Park over Spring Break, and he was just looking for someone to share gas money with. So a friend of mine, Evelyn Lees, who is a phenomenal climber, and I thought it would just be a great adventure. We went down to Zion National Park and he taught us the very basics of climbing and that was it. That’s when I knew that this was what I was meant to do. I had no idea people could climb sheer rock cliffs. I grew up in Oregon, and we skied on Mt. Hood every weekend, so I knew people obviously climbed Mt. Hood and I thought, ‘One day I’ll climb Mt. Hood,’ but I just didn’t know. With that said this was a long time ago – 1977 – and there wasn’t that much rock climbing going on.
Me: How did you prepare or what kind of training did you complete in order to successfully reach the top of your first mountain, Alaska's Mt. McKinley?
Stacy Allison: Well, actually that wasn’t my first mountain. I started rock climbing, and then the first mountain was a winter blizzard ascent of a very small mountain here in Oregon, Mt. Washington. Again, it was my friend Evelyn and I, and we went with two guys who had been climbing for 10 years. So they had the experience, but it was ice climbing mixed with rock climbing mixed with snow climbing. And it was awful, (laughs) it was a blizzard, it was freezing. My hands got so cold – you know how when your hands get so cold and then warmed up and it causes severe pain, have you ever experienced that? You just want to cry, (laughs) and I did (laughs). We had to cross country ski to the mountain and then obviously ski back out. I was so exhausted I felt like if I fell over, I would never get up. What that experience taught me is that I had what it took- this was a conscious thought process- I can just keep going, and going and going and move beyond what I thought I was physically ever capable of doing. I actually progressed really quickly because my friends were experienced climbers who had been climbing for years. After that I did small peaks in the northwest and then went to Alaska and climbed some other peaks, and then climbed in Canada and then, then I climbed Mt. McKinley. But I had to learn the skills and, speaking of which, I never really allowed myself to dream bigger than the skills that I had. So, I had to learn the ice climbing skills, the rock climbing skills, the snow climbing skills in order to say, “If I can do this why can’t I do that?” When I climbed McKinley we actually did one of the hardest routes on the mountain. But that was after a lot of failures and a lot of not making it to the top of mountains and having to take a good hard look at myself and say, “If I want to climb these hard routes, these big mountains, what do I need to do?” Obviously it was getting in better shape and working on my skills. Just to let you know, when I stood on top of McKinley after doing this incredibly difficult route, I sat up there and I thought, ‘if I can climb McKinley, well why not Everest?’ I was so embarrassed by that thought. I actually remember looking at my climbing partner, hoping that he couldn’t read my mind because it was like who do I think I am, to think that I can ever climb Everest? Sometimes, we give up on our dreams not because of ourselves, but because of what we think others may think of us. So I kind of just tucked that thought away in the back of my head. However, after McKinley, I actually did go to Nepal to climb with a women’s expedition. We were the first women to climb Ama Dablam, Nepal’s Matterhorn.
Me: How do you pick which mountain ranges and peaks you want to climb?Stacy Allison: I look at a mountain and the beauty of the mountain is what inspires me. It’s like I want to climb on this mountain, I want to be a part of this mountain for however many weeks it takes, or days it takes, or hours it takes. You don’t conquer mountains, you work with the mountain.
Me: So you've bested many different peaks and ranges and you're the first American woman to conquer both Pik Communism and Mt. Everest. These are all insanely incredible accomplishments, but in your opinion what is your biggest accomplishment so far in your lifetime?
Stacy Allison: (laughs) Well you’re not there yet, but any parent will tell you that the biggest accomplishment is getting their kids out of high school, and into college and then hopefully giving them the foundation to be happy, healthy, productive citizens. I-I haven’t accomplished that yet, but that is my goal right now, [with] a sophomore in college and a senior in high school.
Me: I know that you’re an author and a mother of two; how do you find balance between the demands of motherhood, achieving your climbing goals, and also being a writer? I feel like I would be so overwhelmed but you seem to achieve everything flawlessly.
Stacy Allison: It’s not flawless, and if anyone ever tells you there’s balance,
there is no balance. You have to pick and choose and timing is everything. I stopped climbing big, dangerous mountains when my kids were born. First of all, having children is a conscious decision, it’s a huge responsibility and my children need me alive, and they need me present. When you’re climbing these big mountains for example, you’re gone for a month, two months, sometimes three months at a time, and that’s no way to raise a family. During these past years, and from when they were born up until they graduate from high school- it’s not about me. It’s been about raising my two sons. I will say, in light of that, I still climb. I don’t do big dangerous mountains, but I still climb, and rock climb. My kids love to rock climb. As a family we white water raft and kayak, we mountain bike ride and we travel extensively. We try to leave, it’s a little different now, but we try to leave the country at least once a year, if not twice a year, and we travel to developing countries. So, traveling is something that’s very, very important to me so my kids have traveled very extensively. I also run and I do marathons and half marathons. Now that my kids are older I actually spent 3 weeks climbing on the border of Canada and Alaska this past summer.
Me: Well, knowing how dangerous climbing is would you endorse your kids following in your footsteps? Or would you tell them no way you’re not doing it?
Stacy Allison: Well let me just tell you they have absolutely no interest in following in my footsteps (laughs).
Me: Oh well then you don’t have to worry about it.
Stacy Allison: Well it is interesting because, my older son, this last summer (my younger son had shoulder surgery so he could not go with us) but my older son and I, just the two of us, went on a white water kayak trip. I found myself really watching over him, and tried to just keep my mouth shut and let him do what he needed to do, but I’ve been a little mother hen at times. When we’ve been on river trips, and mountain biking I’ve been known to, be the first one going downhill, telling my sons they must stay behind me. I’m very slow going downhill! You know he can go as fast as he wants up hill, but downhill...we do single track mountain biking. It’s like ‘you have to stay behind me’ because I get so nervous. That’s one thing I struggle with because I know what the dangers are in all these sports, and I’ve had friends who have died in just about every activity. But, whatever my children [want to do], as long as it’s healthy, I will work very hard to zip my lip and support them in their choices.
Me: I would like to know what caused you to become interested in general contracting and how was the transition for you between crazy adventures and expeditions to owning and operating your own company?
Stacy Allison: My first husband was a builder and architect and that’s when I was introduced, at a very young age, to building, and I really like it. I don’t do new construction; I do all historical renovations and restorations on old houses. I love older architecture. My job is to bring houses back to life. I’ll tell you the biggest thing, and it’s not that climbing taught me this, it was my mother who taught me this: to take risks, and I’m not afraid to take risks and to fail and fall flat on my face. And I have done that. I’ve been totally humiliated before. But the key is to be able to go ahead and cry about it and then pick yourself back up and learn what you need to do so it doesn’t happen again. I’m very comfortable taking risks, and I’m not talking about taking physical risks. I mean emotional, and mental, and risking starting a business.
Me: So I know you also serve as a Chair for the American Lung Association of Oregon's largest fundraiser, Climb for Clean Air - would you like to tell a little bit more about the fundraiser and all that it entails?
Stacy Allison: It’s the Mountain Pacific Chapter of the American Lung Association, our fundraiser is Climb for Clean Air, and we include Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams in Washington, and Mt. Hood in Oregon. Our participants sign up for one of those three mountains and then have to raise a certain amount of money in order to participate. What’s great about this program is we take them through and help them with their fundraising. We have training hikes starting in February every single weekend in order help them to get into shape. We help them prepare every step of the way. Many of our climbers have never hiked in their lives and most of them have never climbed anything. We hire guides to lead the climbs safely, and we help our participants in achieving their goal. The reason I got involved and have been involved since its inception is because it’s a chance for me to give back to the community and use my skills. It’s really wonderful also for our participants because it’s a way for them to give back to the community and also do something healthy with their lives. Moreover, with the Lung Association, the educational aspects and the policy aspects of the organization are what I really support.
Me: As we bring this interview to a close, do you have any advice for young women who are aspiring adventurers or are currently trying to chase their goals and dreams?
Stacy Allison: Don’t be afraid to fail. Embrace failure and learn from it. Pick yourself back up and try again or figure out what you want to do. Once you can embrace failure you can embrace taking risk in your lives. People need to figure out what is important to them and not be so concerned with what everyone else wants and is doing. Once you figure that out, that’s what brings happiness. At this point in my life, I don’t have time to impress people, take it or leave it. Life’s too dang short. You gotta have fun. You gotta LAUGH!