Alan vs. the Volcanoes

Taking on a mountain—occasionally, even an avalanche—keeps life in balance for Alan Smith

Published in 2021 Washington Super Lawyers Magazine

Alan C. Smith remembers the day in 2018 when a small avalanche headed his way while he was climbing glacier-studded Mount Garibaldi in British Columbia. There had been a lot of snow, but it was warm, and he and his guide were slogging through wet snow—nearing the final, steep ascent—when the slide whizzed by. They got clear of it.

Then came a larger one—a wall of snow and rock and ice. Then came the sound. The entire face of the mountain where they had just been standing poured off a cliff, and for three minutes they watched as it roared past.  

“It was, um, a substantial thing to see,” says Smith, 49, who practices securities and corporate finance at Fenwick & West in Seattle. “My hair stood up; we hightailed out of there.”

A less devoted climber might have found a different sport. But for Smith—who grew up at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, Colorado—rock and ice climbing, skiing and backpacking are passions. He has lived in Seattle since 1997, co-founding Fenwick & West’s office here in 2008. The firm is based in Mountain View, California, which means lots of Alaska Airlines flights back and forth.

On one trip, as he found himself gazing out the window at Mounts Adams and Shasta, he got to wondering how many volcanoes there are in the Cascade Mountain range. “And I got the idea in my head—what would it mean to climb all of them?”

Turns out there were 20, and Smith had already climbed two: Mount St. Helens with his family and Mount Rainier twice with guides. So he made his list of the other 18. It took about a decade, but last August, Smith checked off the last one. 

“I had a lot of help from guides,” he says. “I found guides who became friends and have spent their lives becoming true experts in the mountains. They make sure I am not getting myself into trouble.

Smith thinks a lot about life when he’s out climbing. The mental relaxation—as well as the challenges of physical exertion—provide a needed balance to his daily work, he says. In addition to scaling mountains, Smith played hockey for 15 years. He found it almost meditative: It would take him out of his head and make time slow down.

In 2003, Smith was on the cusp of making partner, and his son, Owen, had just been born. While flying on another business trip, he read a magazine article about the top 10 sports for adults. Hockey was one of them, and at the time, Seattle had the largest adult hockey league in the country, stocked with lots of Canadians and an assortment of grunge rockers. He got pulled in.

Smith would work all day with venture capitalists, then play hockey at night with car mechanics, teachers and Boeing factory workers. It made life richer. Plus, “practice and games are at 11 at night, and that’s the one time when I could actually do it,” he says. “Come home and take first feeding of my son. … It was an incredibly cathartic stress release.

“I’m a big believer that you’ve just got to have something you love to do outside of work, especially with a high-pressure job,” he says. “Sometimes you’ve just got to play hockey and pour your head around trying to score that goal.”

In recent years he’s put hockey aside because the schedule conflicts with his travels with Owen, now 17 and a committed ski racer. Dad brings a laptop and works in the RV while his son competes.

The summits, however, continue to compel. “I like to be in the outdoors,” he says. “I can backpack on flat ground, sure, but there’s something about figuring out how to get from here to up there that appeals to me.”

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