Monday, July 8, 2019

Guide Like Liz Scholarship Winner: Jillian Strobel

Jillian Strobel, one of our 2019 Guide Like Liz Scholarship winners, grew up in rural, flat Kansas where she says, “only the rich kids went skiing, and climbing only took place in books.” She did not grow up skiing or climbing, but she did bike. She biked all the time.

“I guess how I really got into outdoor recreation all started from the seat of a bicycle. I was always on my bike. I was in one of those neighborhood bike gangs growing up,” Jillian laughs.

“When I went to college, I started bike commuting everywhere. Over time, I started doing a weekly ride with college friends and then that lead me to get into organized racing.”

Jillian lived 90 miles from her mom’s house when she was in college. After riding in longer bike races it occurred to her that she could probably ride 90 miles on a Saturday to visit her mom for the weekend and just ride back on Sunday.

“So I rode to visit my mom. And then I thought if I could ride to my mom’s, then I can ride to a hotel. If I could ride there, then I could probably ride with my tent and camp and stay where I want. That turned into bikepacking.”

Jillian has completed multiple long self-contained bike tours throughout the country. And from the seat of her bicycle, she opened up a whole new world for herself. Challenging herself on her bike translated well to other outdoor adventure sports.

Jillian climbs her first 5.10 onsight route in Nevada. Jaymie Shearer photo.
While completing her bachelor's degree in Spanish, she studied abroad in Costa Rica. She was introduced to bouldering in a gym there.

“My fingers were not fully covered in skin again until I returned to flat and (at the time) gym-less, Lawrence, Kansas,” Jillian wrote in her Guide Like Liz Scholarship application. She took to climbing like a fish to water.

Once she got back to Kansas, she didn’t have the opportunity to climb much. But a few years later, while on a bike trip from Tucson to San Fransisco, she was able to go to Joshua Tree National Park and toprope. While she was toproping, she met her life partner.

Since meeting and traveling together, they have river guided in Leavenworth, Washington, where Jillian learned to lead climb. They got jobs in Park City, Utah, where she learned to ski. And subsequently learned that she does not love skiing and says she belongs “in the heat of the desert.”

Then she and her partner, Nathan, moved to and got jobs in Springdale, Utah.

Her first trip to Yosemite Valley! Jaymie Shearer photo.
“Soon after that, I was leading trad and climbing chossy peaks in Zion where I had just landed a job at a local guide service. Now I am on my fifth year guiding canyoneering, backpacking, and hiking around Zion National Park.”

To say the least, Jillian is a go-getter. She is one of those people who sets her sights on a goal and sees it through to the very end to the best of her ability. She is all about quality in her work. And now she has added climbing to her guiding resume.

“In an effort to be the best guide I can and to lend some credibility to my guiding habits, I plan to take the AMGA SPI course. My hope is that when clients go on a guided rock climbing trip with me, the technical aspects of the day will go almost unnoticed by them and the mental and physical aspects will have the space to shine,” she wrote in her application.

With the Guide Like Liz scholarship, Jillian was able to take the AMGA Single Pitch Instructor course with us this past March.

“I really loved the course. I figured it would all be technical training, which was most of it. But I was surprised to learn about writing a lesson plan and having more structure. I was not expecting to spend time on teaching someone how to interact with the rock. I really liked that aspect of it.”

With the AMGA SPI course, Jillian has more technical training, some new skills and teaching techniques to help her in her climbing guiding endeavors and goals.

Jillian climbing in Joshua Tree National Park. Jaymie Shearer photo
“I have received minimal coaching in my personal climbing career. We have a new gym going in near my home, and I’m looking forward to learning from the coaches there, both to improve my own climbing and to improve my teaching for my clients.”

I asked if she could give another woman or young aspiring female climber/mountaineer a piece of advice either that she was given or she wishes she was given, what would it be, she responded:

“I wish that when I learned to lead, I had found partners who trained me to fall often and to catch falls.

Surround yourself with people who are more talented than you.

It’s cliche but never say never. I used to admire this dreamy climb at a local crag. I would walk by it with guests and talk about how beautiful and inspiring it is. The way I talked about it always led them to ask if I had ever done it. I would tell them it was way too hard for me. Ya’ll - I had literally never even touched it. I finally decided to try it, despite the fact that it was several grades harder than any route I had even top roped. I was shy to tell people I was working on it. I thought it was absurd. If you’re inspired, it doesn’t matter what the grade is or what is in your way. If you’re inspired, you’ll work around those hang-ups. I learned to use a stick clip to hang the top rope for myself and practiced the moves for months with extremely generous and patient climbing partners. I sent it last summer, with a crew of probably 10 friends and a handful of dogs on the ground cheering me on.”

Jillian on her first big wall aid lead. Nathan Mielke photo

One last note Jillian added on her application:

“Culturally, we value a clean finished product, but we hide the messy learning process. We tailor our social media so that we look like gods and model perfection. I strive to remove myself from that unrealistic headspace and to embrace my imperfections. The vibe I create both in my day to day life and in my guiding holds space for failure. When we go out of cell phone service, we go into ourselves and get in touch with our humanness. We have the opportunity to face ourselves and notice the things we love and, equally as important, the things we’re not so proud of about ourselves. Together in the outdoors, we will grow, we will challenge ourselves, we will fail, and we’ll have a great time doing it.”

Congratulations on being a 2019 Guide Like Liz Scholarship winner, Jillian! Thank you for choosing the American Alpine Institute to be a part of your climbing journey and we look forward to seeing your progress as a guide and climber!

--Sara Umstead, AAI School Certifying Officer

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