her intently focused on gymnastics. “I saw myself as a college gymnast, and I was just so competitive about it,” she says. But her body let her down; she suffered a stress fracture in her lower spine. “It was bad enough that the doctors told me that gymnastics was a major risk,” she says. “In fact, they told me I’d probably never be able to pick up a backpack, let alone go anywhere with one.” Even back then, Pack wasn’t one to take no as a long-term answer. “I didn’t want to hurt myself worse,” she says, “but I also wasn’t able to accept that this was going to be some prison sentence where I couldn’t be active any longer.” Pack’s response, fueled in part by her competitiveness, was anger. She’d planned to go to college on a gymnastics scholarship, and now that plan was blown up. What happened next was the unfolding product of drift rather than intent. Nothing rose to the scale of gymnastics, so Pack moved into what might be called a personal mini-Renaissance, a divided focus on the many rather than the few. As she moved into her college years and beyond, she embraced a host of sports: climbing, boating, windsurfing and mountaineering. She was good at all of them. She also turned to the visual arts, landscape painting in particular. Because she is prone to obsession, she fell hard for painting, attending the Vermont Studio School, studying in Paris and eventually moving to Seattle to set up a studio. “I was very, very serious about painting,” she says. During the same period, she finally started honing her interest in sports to a finer point: climbing, and more specifically alpinism. “I wanted to be out there, the one putting up new routes in new places, getting scared and depending only on myself and a partner,” she says. Alpinism necessarily involves ice climbing, an aspect of the sport that Pack took to with maniacal intensity. Ice climbing, which has only suffering and ascent in common with offwidth climbing, then spawned the disaster that morphed into the beginning of Pack’s professional climbing career. “I was into it pretty hard, and one day we’re climbing at the ice park in Ouray, [Colo.], and I’m done with a climb and suddenly I can’t take my hands off my tools,” Pack says of that winter’s day in 2006. “I mean, literally, my partner had to pry them off. Turns out it was acute compartment syndrome.” Once again, Pack faced a panoply of medical professionals telling her that her chosen sport was off-limits. She briefly turned to mountain biking—not doctor recommended, but accepted—as an alternative to climbing. But climbing pulled her back, if only for a swan song. While working what she thought might be one of her final climbs, she found herself in an offwidth too big for simple hand and fist jams. “It was a sort of eureka moment, when I realized there was a kind of climbing that didn’t involve crimping and pulling down hard on face holds,” she says. “Right then and there, I knew I was going to be an offwidth climber.” Not surprisingly, she went all in. “I figure if you’re going to do something, you try to be the best,” she says.
Outdoor Adventure Under the Big Sky