Meet Shoestring Warrior and Optometrist Deborah Steinberg

Did you know that there are 15 mountains over 14,000 feet in California?! Known as the California Fourteeners, the mountain ranges are scattered across the state and mountaineers come from all over to climb them. Some ambitious mountaineers, like this week’s Shoestring Warrior, set a goal of summiting all 15 of them! Meet Shoestring Warrior and Optometrist Deborah Steinberg. After climbing Mount Shasta, her friend convinced her to climb the remaining 14 and in 2008 she set out to climb all of the California Fourteeners.

We were inspired on this mission to climb all of the California Fourteeners after a winter climb of Mt. Shasta, where I suddenly found myself with an empty bucket list.

How does one get physically fit to be able to climb such epic mountains? Deborah says trail running is the best way to train but she also recommends other endurance sports with hills like cycling and hiking. Keep reading to learn more about her experience climbing the California Fourteeners and to find out what she enjoys most about mountaineering! Check out her California Fourtneers website and the adventure racing company, Gold Rush Adventure Racing, that Deborah is involved with.

Shoestring Warrior: Deborah Steinberg


Los Angeles, CA

Current Location:  

Modesto, CA


Optometrist, Modesto Eye Center

What are your passions outside of work?

Obviously I love the outdoors and mountaineering, but truly any sport that gets me outside makes me happy. In the last couple years I had to give up running, so I have found for me mountain biking and road cycling are decent substitutes. Besides outdoor activities I enjoy creating things that are useful. I have been working on a “Bear’s Paw” quilt for the last two years.

Tell us about yourself!  

Although I grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, I feel pretty far removed from there these days, because I am not impressed by what kind of car you drive (add snarky emoji here). I find that I am pretty adaptable, and try to make the best and learn from any experience, even the sh**ty ones. I try to stay grateful for all the goodness in my life: my husband, my family, my friends, my job. I love Science and Nature, and Big Bang Theory is my favorite TV show, so you know I must be pretty nerdy.

How would you describe your level of camping experience?

Level: Advanced. That is, the more primitive the camping, the better.

Better yet, go backpacking and lose the sound of generators and boomboxes and really experience the quiet of the universe.

When did you first discover your love for the outdoors?

My parents would take the family to Yosemite every summer, and we would stay in the tent-cabins there. I never got sick of it, and l love everything about Yosemite: the views, the waterfalls, the wildlife, the hiking.

You’re on a mission to climb all of the California Fourteeners (peaks over 14,000 feet). What inspired you to set that as your goal?

We actually completed the mission in 2012, and now Adrian Crane and I are attempting to finish a book about our climbs, and it is in the editing stage! The book is called, The Truth Zone: Mountaineering Stories of Climbing the California Fourteeners. Our little group of mountaineers which includes myself, Adrian, Ryan Swehla, and Ray Kablanow, summited all 15 of the California Fourteeners from February of 2008 through September of 2012. We were inspired on this mission to climb all of the California Fourteeners after a winter climb of Mt. Shasta, where I suddenly found myself with an empty bucket list.

Since I thought nothing could be harder than climbing Mt. Shasta in winter, I agreed to Adrian’s suggestion to climb the rest of the California Fourteeners without much hesitation.

Then we decided we wanted to make it more meaningful than simply another athletic goal, so we decided to raise money for Cancer Research at STOP CANCER. It was a much bigger challenge than I expected.

What do you enjoy most about mountaineering? 

Try not to laugh at this, but mountaineering is very spiritual. I feel the closest to God when I am enjoying the beauty of the mountains.

Sometimes there are moments or hours of misery and suffering, but when you get back on to easier ground it is a pretty amazing feeling that you were able to power through instead of turn around.

What is your most memorable ascent and why has it left such an impact on you?

The most emotional summit for me was Mt. Tyndall, which is probably one of the easier Fourteeners, but we went during Mother’s Day weekend of 2010, and my mother Rose Green had recently been diagnosed with Merkel Cell Carcinoma. May in the mountains is basically a winter climb, and when we reached the top of Shepherd’s Pass we had a magical view of Sequoia National Park and ever changing storm clouds. We even found an ice cave. The day before our summit attempt on Tyndall we had failed an attempt on Mt. Williamson because we had slogged up the wrong chute. Our previous winter attempt on Split Mountain was also a failure, and our first attempt up Starlight the summer before was a failure. So we had 3 failures in a row, and when we finally reached the summit of Mt. Tyndall I was pretty much in tears, and happy to put a small picture of a green rose in the summit box for my mom.

Funniest outdoor experience/mishap?

There have been many! We have had many misadventures, where looking back it was pretty funny, but at the time we weren’t laughing. Early in our bid for all the Fourteeners we climbed Mt. Sill, and invited a few friends to join us. Mark Richardson is really strong and in great shape, so I thought to myself, “Great, we can give him all the heavy gear to carry.” He borrowed hiking boots from Adrian that apparently were a little too well-loved because 3 miles in Mark discovered the heels in both boots were completely delaminating. So he dropped his pack and ran back to the vehicle to get other shoes, and meanwhile we divided up his pack and continued slogging up the trail, taking turns carrying Mark’s pack. My plan totally backfired, but when he finally caught up to us he looked pretty tired!

Mountaineering requires you to be pretty fit. How do you train for your adventures?

Trail running is probably the best training, but any endurance sport with hills like cycling, hiking, and when you can’t get outside, stairmaster is sufficient.

What advice do have for people who enjoy hiking and are considering getting into mountaineering?

Most importantly do not depend on Google Maps or anything electronic, because they can often fail you.

You can lose your power source, you can lose reception, and they are just not reliable enough for safety. Get comfortable with a printed map and compass, and go with someone with experience for your first time.

What’s your next adventure?

Since we finished the California Fourteeners we are a lot more relaxed about picking our adventures, which means that although we have dates planned to go, we haven’t figured out what we are going to do yet, and it is just 4 weeks away! I am sure wherever we go it will be beautiful.

The perfect s’more? (If you don’t like s’mores, what’s your favorite campfire dessert?)

You REALLY appreciate food when you are exerting yourself in the mountains. I am not sure why, but everything tastes good. We recently discovered Backpacker’s Pantry Crème Brulee, which is pretty amazing for an “add hot water” dish. I don’t think anything can top that!

Photos © 2018 Deborah Steinberg

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