• Without Walls: Caroline Gleich

    The scale in Caroline Gleich’s bathroom is not for gauging whether or not she’ll be fitting into a new pair of skinny jeans; it’s for weighing her backpack before she heads out on a hike. After filling up two large orange juice jugs with water and zipping them into her backpack, she scurries off to make sure they weigh enough (the goal is to get them to be around 40 pounds, to properly replicate the experience of carrying ropes, cams, nuts, carabiners, food, water, and extra layers, not to mention her skis) before tossing the pack in the back of her RAV4 and pointing it in the direction of the mountains. 

    Caroline dreams about big mountains. Like, Himalayan big mountains. Since moving to Salt Lake City at 15, she’s been pursuing her dream of skiing professionally nonstop (other than a brief design stint—she’s a fashion school drop-out . And now that she’s fully sponsored—by the likes of Patagonia, Zeal Optics, and Nordica—she’s setting her sights even higher. Instead of taking lifts or helicopters to the mountaintop, she’s been working hard for the past two years to build her alpine mountaineering skills, learning how to climb in ski boots and use ropes and ice tools to reach new, untouched terrain—and ski bigger, more beautiful lines in places like Alaska and Chamonix. “It’s so much harder when you have to climb what you ski,” she says. “It adds a whole new dimension of training and skills.” 

    This morning, she swings into Utah's Rich’s Bagels for cream cheese-smeared fuel on our way to scramble up Bald Mountain and Reids Peak in the Uinta Mountains, east of Salt Lake City. “The access is so killer in Salt Lake,” she says. “You can go from downtown to a trail in 15 or 20 minutes. And then if you want to go farther, even under an hour and a half, you have thousands of options of mountains to climb, adventures to have. It’s so impressive how the mountains rise up 5,000-6,000 feet off the valley floor.” 

    As we wind up twisty Highway 150 through the last bits of rust-colored fall foliage, Caroline explains that being able to carry her own weight is important to her. Ski mountaineering is a dangerous sport, and she’s lost several friends to avalanches. Risk assessment and decision making in the big mountains is something deeply personal, and she’s focused on becoming self-sufficient, so if a time comes when she needs to follow her own instincts, she’ll have all the skills and strength she needs to do it. 

    An hour and a half later, Caroline is lacing up her burly green La Sportiva mountaineering boots and unfolding her trekking poles in the empty parking lot at the Bald Mountain trailhead. The trail to the top of Bald is a straightforward hiking trail of packed dirt and rocks, about 1,250 feet in about 1.75 miles. But Caroline has more interesting plans. About an hour later at the summit cairn, scanning the surrounding view of sapphire-colored alpine lakes and rugged, golden peaks, Caroline points to the ridge connecting Bald to the neighboring Reid Peak—where the trail ends and real adventure begins. Scrambling down about 800 feet of loose boulders, talus, and a few shallow late-October snow patches, we arrive at the saddle between the two peaks, and then begin the climb to the top of Reids, which is about 250 feet shorter than Bald. 

    While Caroline may be super devoted to her training, it’s not all water jug-filled backpacking and climbing; from gym workouts with a twist (think hanging leg lifts on ice tools) to skateboard rides, she’s a master of mixing it up. “In working out, if you do the same thing all the time, you’re just going to plateau,” Caroline says. “Skateboarding’s good to work on balance and coordination—it adds a whole different element.” Today, that means carving a few wide turns, taking advantage of the perfectly banked mountain road. “Part of me would always want to try to do the biggest day possible, add more hurt and more mileage, and what I’m learning is that’s not always productive,” she explains. 

    And though her big, heavy training pack is now stashed back in her car, Caroline insists that it’s been a big turning point for her training—yes, even though it’s meant that her speed has taken a hit. “It was really demoralizing at first, because it doubles the amount of time it takes me,” she says, pausing for a moment of reflection before adding, “But I think it’s going to be one of the most beneficial things for me in the long run.” 

    Here's how to have a Uinta mountain adventure like Caroline: 
    Where To Go: At almost 12,000 feet tall, Bald Mountain’s altitude will have your lungs heaving and your legs searing. The trail’s only about 1.75 miles, but gains 1,250 feet. For experienced scramblers, head to Reids Peak; if you’re comfy with high exposure and using hands and feet to climb without being roped up, you can follow the faint trail down Bald’s northwest ridge and scramble to the top of Reids. 

    How To Get There: From Salt Lake, head east on I-80 to 189 south, and then 248 east to Kamas, where it changes to 150. Take 150 northeast out of Kamas for about 29 miles through the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest to the Bald Mountain trailhead. 

    What To Pack: “If I’m out for a whole day, I’ll pack a real lunch”—think leftover Thai—“but if it’s just for a couple hours, I just pack Clif Bars," says Caroline. "One of my favorite backcountry snacks is actually sardines, because it’s compact and has all that oil, and it’s salty. It grosses out a lot of people, but I like it.” 

    Where to Fuel-Up After: “Salt Lake City's Lone Star, which has a fish taco salad. I love fish," says Caroline. "Or burgers at Hi-Mountain up in Kamas, if you’re on the way home from the Uintas.” 

    Photos by Louis Arevalo