Women's Health


Source: Professional guide Melissa Arnot (left) and writer Jen Ator (right) stand on the summit of Washington’s Mount Baker at 10,781 feet.

Ator (left) and Arnot hike toward 6,000 feet on day one.

Oh my god, why did I just look down?!

The forest-covered mountaintops that once felt towering while on flat ground now resemble teeny softrolling hills. A wave of anxiety floods my stomach, competing for space with my heart, which just dropped into the bottom of my chest. I’m standing somewhere above 9,000 feet on a 45-degree glacial slope known as the Roman Wall on Mount Baker in Washington.

Collecting myself, I pause to look at the asteroid-like rocks beside me when I feel a slight tug of the rope at my waist. It’s from Melissa Arnot, arguably the country’s best female mountaineer. (At 33 years old, she has successfully summited Mount Everest six times, most recently without the use of supplemental oxygen—a first for an American woman.) We’ve been tethered since 2:45 this morning, never more than a stretch of rope apart. My focus returns to the task at hand: Head down, I put one foot a few inches in front of the other, matching the methodical and rhythmic beat of Melissa’s footsteps ahead of

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