Laurelyn Sayah

This feature was written by NMLFF Ambassador Gretchen Gerlach. For photos of Laurelyn, see our Steller story. Laurelyn is based out of Nederland, CO but keep an eye out for her at a crag near you.

Laurelyn (in no particular order) is a volunteer firefighter for Nederland Fire Protection District, a rock climber, an ice climber, a mountaineer, an avid skier, a yogi, a “Cool Aunt”, a favorite daughter, a nature advocate, a teacher (to all those who will learn), a ball of fiery energy, and above all dear friend. Although these labels are accurate, they only begin to capture who this woman is. One of Laurelyn’s trademark qualities is her ability to frequently provide humorous and helpful advice. It is quite clear that her little slogans of wisdom have been crafted from a long history of experiential learning as she pushes the limits of adventure and life. However, the only way to truly know Laurelyn is to spend some quality time with her, as I have been lucky enough to do.

Flash back two years ago; one of my first afternoons with Laurelyn was spent climbing in Dream Canyon outside Boulder, Colorado. In flip-flops she lead us to the wall in early morning and proceeded to put up a few routes. She showed me how to place gear and before I knew it, I was gearing up to mock lead with Laurelyn’s words about gear placement: “there is good, and then there is good enough,” running through my mind.  My first time with a full rack on my harness, I had a sneaking suspicion it would not be my last. Unexpectedly, this afternoon together was cut short by an emergency fire call on Laurelyn’s pager. In a whirl of apologies she stripped off her harness, slipped on flip-flops and went jogging up the mountain, promising she would return as soon as the situation was under control. Sure enough, the next day, with cold beers in hand and plenty of stoke to get right back to the climbing, she came jogging back down the canyon, in flip flops, to rejoin our little climbing party.  

A few afternoons later I found myself belaying Laurelyn up one of the many multi-pitch routes in the Book and Sundance areas of Lumpy Ridge, in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Given that it was my first experience with multi-pitch climbing, she gave me a few lessons on anchor building, rope commands, hanging belay, and emergency rescue before we began. These lessons kicked off a typical day in RMNP with many run-out pitches of steep slabs, loose rock and wandering routes. Laurelyn pulled through each and every unexpected crux, carefully protecting me as a second climber from pendulum swings and dangerous moves. At the final cave roof, with a few pieces of “good enough” gear, Laurelyn pulled the roof, shouting “FUCK FEAR!” This was the first Laurelyn Lesson. This one would go down in our history and mark the beginning of a much longer friendship and partnership in climbing adventures.

Months later, while climbing in Lake Tahoe at Lovers Leap, Laurelyn (while half-jammed into an offwidth (OW) crack) shouted down a quote of Winston Churchill that was particularly fitting for the uncomfortable reality of offwidth climbing; “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” At the top of the pitch, laugh and nursing her bruised elbows, she told be about how her early mentor, Craig Leubben had taught her to regard offwidths with “amusement instead of dread.” He added that maintaining a childlike mindset was the only trick to “FUN OW.”

Soon enough, I realized that Laurelyn had become my first climbing mentor. It was September and we had packed up our lives and saved up our stoke with the goal of dedicating some quality time to Yosemite National Park. One of our first afternoons, Laurelyn was teaching me the best crack climbing technique. “Most crack is a no parking zone, you plug gear and go,” she relayed to me. Seemed simple enough as she flowed up the route, grabbing gear without looking, plugging, clipping, and jamming along gracefully. However, I internalized this advice much more slowly and painfully as I struggled to follow Laurelyn up numerous classic “Yosemite 5.9+” routes. Gobies galore, I finally came to the point in my apprenticeship when Laurelyn gave me the simple advice to take all of the knowledge and skills that I had gained and go climbing. This came with the added details to fail safely, have fun, and finally come back and tell her all about it. I did.

Although too much time has past since these first experiences with Laurelyn, our most recent conversation about the pressure of making life changing decisions (like deciding between a profession and a passion) brought up another token of her earned wisdom. She told me that “it doesn't matter a wit what, when or where I do something, so long as I am present with love and gratitude for the people and places that surround me. Maybe all choices are good and have potentials for joy and sorrow, but each moment in the process is more important than the final decision - always.”

While these few climbing stories barely scrape the surface of what Laurelyn has taught me, they represent her well. When she first began climbing, she was mentored by the greats in climbing history. She was given the opportunity to test her limits while flirting with the line of danger, all the while under an experienced eye. Now, she says that she is working on incorporating more “gentle danger” into her own life and accepting the conditions around her. Thanks to her many years of practice, personalizing, and perfecting her “life saving and fun making” skills, Laurelyn has gracefully stepped into a role of mentorship for the next generation.

Two years after our first meeting, Laurelyn and I found ourselves in Indian Creek. As if no time has passed, we sink into the familiar rhythm of dirtbag lifestyle together - from the campfire to the crag. Except this time, our mentor/mentee dynamic is less obvious. We are swapping leads, offering beta, exchanging stoke, and even teaching each other new skills and imparting self-discovered knowledge. Together, we swell with pride as we reminisce at the development of our relationship and all the adventures that fatefully landed us here. The Laurelyn Lessons from my first year of climbing are still so fresh in my memory that I end up reminding Laurelyn of many of her own wise phrases, bending the boundaries between teacher and student.         

The skills that I have learned thus far from Laurelyn have already created immeasurable fun and have likely saved my life more than once. Above all, the Laurelyn Lesson that I wish to impart and to never forget in times of epic-fun-crisis or painful-mundane-monotony is to merely “love living life as much and as often as possible.” Some say that Laurelyn lives at “too fast of pace.” I think that this is relative. Laurelyn’s speed is perfectly gaged to keep up with the world as it spins, no faster and no slower. This woman will never let life pass her by.