Mountaineer Jane Parnell said in some ways, climbing has been part of her DNA ever since it helped her recover from hardships.
Parnell, who is the first woman to summit the 100 highest peaks in Colorado, wrote the book “Off Trail: Finding My Way Home in the Colorado Rockies,” which takes readers through her decades’ worth of climbing experience.
Parnell shared that journey with Montrose residents June 28 at Montrose Regional Library as part of her book tour. She divided her time with fellow hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis, who also promoted her own book. (See Montrose Daily Press’ Saturday edition to learn more about Davis).
Parnell’s book is a memoir about how climbing affected her life for the better.
“It’s a healing journey and it’s about how mountaineering helps me recover from trauma,” Parnell said.
Parnell said climbing helped her after the news her only sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 19. Her family has a history of mental illness, she added.
Climbing also helped her through another dark chapter, when she was sexually assaulted shortly after graduating from college.
“Mountaineering became the vehicle through which I recovered from those losses; those hard moments in my life,” Parnell said.
After 50 years of climbing, she still hikes.
Parnell said she hopes that readers will, through her book, see how mountaineering shaped her.
“I really wanted to pay tribute to the landscape that formed the woman I am today,” Parnell said.
She also wanted the book to capture what Colorado looked like when she was hiking. She said the state has been changing, and not for the better.
“And I wanted to pay tribute to a time and place in Colorado history that is rapidly changing as a result of climate change because the tundra above the timberline is really affected by climate change,” Parnell said.
“So I wanted people who lived after me to get a sense of what it was like to be in the Colorado Rockies when there was still all of these plants and animals.”
Tania Hajjar, the reference librarian for the Montrose Regional Library who organized the event, said both Parnell and Davis’ books encourage readers to enjoy the fresh air that only Colorado can offer.
“While I’m not inspired to do a 2,000-mile hike or back-to-back 14ers (14,000-foot mountains), I think the message about how important it is for us as humans to connect to nature and how important it is to move our bodies and to not just sit at desks all day,” Hajjar said.
“... It’s relevant for all of us. It can inspire all of us to get outdoors and appreciate the area where we live.”
The honor climbing the 100 highest points in the state went to Parnell in 1981. She added she was able to complete the task without the help of a guidebook; instead, she and her former husband relied on diligent research to discover which peaks were the tallest.
Parnell didn’t stop climbing after achieving that noteworthy mark. She said she has summitted about 500 other mountain tops. Although she hasn’t been able to ascend to as many peaks more recently, she still tries to hike.
Before addressing Montrose residents Thursday, Parnell said she hoped they and readers would come to appreciate the healing properties that the open air can bring.
“I hope they come away feeling validated somewhat in their own relationship with the outdoors, with nature, because people in Montrose are living in an area that’s really extraordinary and close to some amazing places,” Parnell said.
“... I hope people realize it’s possible to recover from losses and tragedies in your life. One way to do that is having a relationship with nature.”
Andrew Kiser is the Montrose Daily Press’ sports/business writer. Follow him on Twitter @andrew_kpress.