What it means to be a babe, or what I learned in an afternoon yoga class

This post is part of a series where Wild Wilderness Women is exploring the true definition of “babe” in preparation for our upcoming Babes Off the Beaten Path trip in Glacier National Park. Please consider supporting the babes forging paths for other outdoor women by making a donation on our fundraising page. If you’d like to share your words on “babe-dom” with us, please contact us!


Submitted By: Mia Zavalij, VP of Adventure Planning

You may be wondering why a group of adventurous, empowered women decided to call a wilderness trip to Glacier National Park “Babes off the Beaten Path.” To me, babe feels like an outdated term that was used in the late 90s to describe traditionally sexy women – I honestly don’t remember the last time I heard anyone refer to someone as a “total babe.” Nowadays, it’s occasionally used as a fun and flirty term of endearment, usually to make the request for a favor sound less so. “Hey babe, can you get the laundry?” sounds way better than, “Can you get the laundry?”

So, why then, why are we “babes?”

Well, the answer goes a little bit deeper than just using the right word for a good alliteration. And, I found my answer when I walked into an afternoon yoga class at a fancy studio in Boston. I started practicing yoga regularly to feel empowered and strong in my body, similar to the reason why I am so drawn to new challenges in the wilderness. But, when I walked into the sun-filled studio, I felt a familiar twinge in my stomach telling me that I didn’t belong.

The people filling the room seemed as flawless as the studio itself with its shiny wooden floors, perfectly placed twinkly lights, and golden Buddha statues. The outfit variety included Lululemon leggings in sleek black or eclectic prints and neon sports bras with a webbing of string that showed just the right amount through an open back Athleta top.

I wanted to cower in a corner in the back with my shabby gray tank top and my old yoga pants that were just beginning to unravel at the seams. They also have an ever-expanding hole in the left knee (note: ripped yoga pants are not yet a fashion trend, I could potentially be a trend setter). Instead, I took a good deep yogi breath and headed to a spot in the front of the room, next to the mirror, and facing a window that overlooks a bustling Boston street. I had my eye on this spot all week; if I ever wanted to even consider getting up in front of a room and teaching yoga, I had to get over the discomfort I have of people watching me practice.

It’d be nice to say that this was a life changing class, that seeing myself practice yoga made me feel like a goddess, and how now I always sit in front of the room. The truth is, I was mortified to find out that my black yoga pants stretch out to be slightly see-through in certain poses, and, in reality, some poses make me look like a Pinterest fail rather than a yoga model. But, it doesn’t really matter, because that tiny moment where I decided to push myself outside of my comfort zone and sit in front of the room felt more empowering than my yoga class itself.

That’s what made me feel like a babe.

We Wild Wilderness Women take pride in the accomplishments we achieve with our bodies. On each trip I go on, I am delightfully surprised by the combination of unconditional support and the hardcore challenges that we push each other to take. When I think of the word “babe,” I think of the time a group of us accidentally cross-country “skied” down a black diamond trail, misleadingly named Fern Gully, and made it out alive to laugh about it (note: we were all mainly beginners and “skied” is synonymous with “sliding down on our butts”).

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Wild Wilderness Women at White Grass Ski Touring Center in West Virginia. Photo Credit: Kelly Paras

When I think of the word “babe,” I think of the eight women who are gearing up to backpack in Glacier this summer. Some of them have never been backpacking before. Some of them are walking everywhere with weighted backpacks to train. Some are Googling and asking questions to learn everything they can, some are spending their free time fundraising to make sure the trip is accessible for everyone, and some are offering up their gear to ladies they have just met.

You may be thinking, “Oh, wow, backpacking through one of the most gorgeous parts of the country can’t really be that difficult.” But for women, backpacking isn’t always as accessible as it seems.

And that’s why we Wild Wilderness Women are babes.  We’ve decided that instead of being ashamed of our bodies, we are going to thrive in our bodies. Instead of competing with each other for the top, we’re going to help each other get there.

Instead of saying, “I don’t belong in the outdoors,” we are saying that everybody does.

Header photo credit: Sara Gassman

What is a Babe?

What is a babe?

This is the question we found ourselves asking after our group of over 40 adventurous women voted to name our annual adventure “Babes Off the Beaten Path.”

Was this setting the wrong tone? we wondered. Shouldn’t the backcountry be one of the places where a woman can truly escape from the constant barrage of societal expectations on her appearance? Can’t we be hairy and stinky and rugged and not have to worry about whether we’d be considered a babe?

I was once at an outdoor store perusing women’s apparel when I came across a display of women’s backcountry underwear. They were trimmed with lace and offered in seductive colors. The packaging read, “Technically Sexy!”yellow sun PNG

Technically sexy.

I felt so suddenly filled with rage. Really? I had to be three days unbathed and still worry about being sexy and wearing the right panties that would make me attractive to men? And that “technically” part—so that bit of lace is all that’s holding me back from being an otherwise undesired blob of unattractiveness? But, hey, all while being moisture-wicking, lightweight, and breathable, at least! Sigh.

Later, our group was discussing an article about women’s outdoor apparel where the author lamented, please stop making women’s activewear pink! 

Well, what’s wrong with pink? I thought. The point is that there should be options. We should be able to embrace the color, fabric, adventure in which we personally feel the most comfortable. This thought led me back to “being a babe.”

Maybe being a babe isn’t an objectifying thing. I contemplated. Maybe it just needs a more vocal group of advocates to speak its true definition.

As the gutsy gals of Wild Wilderness Women kept chatting about this topic, we realized just how perfect our trip name actually was. It would give us a chance to reclaim “babe.” It would give us a chance to explore its true definition. It would give us a chance to provide visual, verbal, and written evidence to the world of just how diversely bodacious being a babe really is.

In just over a month, eight of us head out for our inaugural Babes Off the Beaten Path annual adventure. We’ll be spending four days in the great wilderness of Glacier National Park—being total babes.

And, leading up to it, we’re bringing our exploration of “babe-ness” to you! Both our group’s members, and the wild wilderness women of our broader communities will be sharing their stories and art of what it means to be a babe—and we hope you’ll join us!

Interested in submitting a piece to our blog? Head over to our contact page and email us your pitch! Would you like to help our first eight babes in this August journey? Please consider giving a donation toward our trip, so that we can ensure this adventure is as accessible as possible.

Finally, make sure to check out this educational video from our Annual Adventure Maven, Allison Strauss, who has been critical in making this upcoming trip a reality. It’s a little lesson in babe-dom.

Thanks so much for following along on our wild ride—we can’t wait to hear and share in your stories!

XO—Korrin, Co-founder & President

Header photo credit: Mika Weinstein

 

Field Notes, Part 2

Submitted By: Allison Strauss, Annual Adventure Maven

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See Part 1 here.

April 26, 2011

Ponderosa Pine Forests

Field Example: Black Forest, Colorado

“Of all the pines, this one gives forth the finest music to the winds.” 

—John Muir on Ponderosa Pines

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Young ponderosas hugging at Section 16, Colorado Springs

Introduction to Ponderosa

“The range of ponderosa pine essentially defines the West. From Nebraska to California, and from Southern British Columbia to Northern Mexico, ponderosa pine is the dominant forest tree of the montane zone in Western North America.”

—Audrey Delella Benedict, The Naturalist’s Guide to the Southern Rockies

There are three kinds of ponderosa, the one in the Southern Rockies being the Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine.

Ponderosa is the Goldilocks tree. It likes a temperate climate—not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, not too dry.

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Ponderosa Dispersion & Fire

Ponderosa ideally grow in clumps in open grassy areas. American pioneer accounts describe ponderosa forests as “park like” with grass “stirrup-high.”

Trees, like most large species, favor longevity over high reproduction. Ponderosa saplings therefore grow in the open grass, away from the clumps of their mothers, sparing the mature trees competition. Each clump of trees, therefore, is of one generation.

Clumping in the grassland keeps fires regular and low impact. Fire, like water, takes the most direct course, which in this case is through the open channels of grass. Most saplings burn, but those that make it to maturity are then out of harm’s way.

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But Black Forest, like most ponderosa forests today, is not park-like. Europeans brought the practice of fire suppression to North America, and the U.S. Forest Service has followed in this tradition, putting out all fires, not distinguishing between emergencies and regular low-level ones. Without their population control mechanism (channels of grass), ponderosa forests have grown dense so now virtually all fires are emergencies.

Black Forest is in fact named for its density, displaying a random pattern of dispersion. The trees are all about the same age, probably around 100 years old, rather than there being clumps of different generations.

The European perspective sees forest fires as wasted lumber. Ponderosa pine is the second most harvested type of lumber in North America. (#1 is Douglas fir.) The irony is, now there’s nowhere for fires to go without burning these very trees.

This is further perpetuated by aggressive brush clearance, which has also taken a toll on wildflowers.

Ponderosa’s Best Friend

Underground truffles (fungi) are integral to ponderosa and other pines. They wrap around the tree roots, essentially becoming one with them. This combination is called Mycorrhiza (fungi-root). Mycorrhiza increase the tree’s intake of water and nutrients from the soil.

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Being underground, untouched by the wind, truffles rely on animals for dispersion. Animals dig them up, eat them, and poop out the spores elsewhere.

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Abert’s squirrels also eat ponderosa phloem (part of the trunk that transports sap), which they live off exclusively through the winter, making Abert’s squirrels an indicator species of ponderosa forest health.

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Ponderosa’s Enemy

Dwarf mistletoe is a parasite to ponderosa. It can only produce 3-4% of its own energy, so it grows on tree branches, sucking out the carbohydrates (sugar) and water, the tree’s own food. This makes it hard for the tree to photosynthesize, and may render it barren.

Dwarf mistletoe disperses its seeds in summer, when the fruit explodes, shooting gooey seeds as far as 20 feet at up to 50 miles per hour!

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Black Forest is highly infected with dwarf mistletoe.

Gamble’s Oak

There are also Gamble’s oak in Black Forest, the only oak native to Colorado. Like other oaks, Gamble’s mast. Masting species let seed heavily in some years, and little to none in others, but all members of a local population let the same amount at once. For example, one year, a population may drop all of its acorns, but then drop a few to none in the next three years. They’re “irregular and synchronous.”

Black Forest also has a ground cover of delightfully named kinnikinnick, which bears eat.

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Away is a Place

Submitted By: Ashley Barry, VP of Organizational Development

Last fall, I had the opportunity to combine two loves of mine: the outdoors and great company. Korrin and I set off on a long weekend in what we fondly call the Adventure Prius. Although rather small and of questionable wilderness driving ability, the Prius seems to get us to where we want to go: Away. Away from the city, responsibilities, task lists, mobile phones, the internet, and the other accoutrements of modern life. Cranberry Wilderness in West Virginia was the destination – ­about as “away” as one can get from Washington within a few hours of driving.

This photo essay is not a trip report, nor is it a backpacking “how to.” Rather, it is a call for women to get away, to get outside to discover what is inside and to reexamine what is really important in our lives. It is a call for women to put themselves and their spiritual growth first, a task with which many of us often experience difficulty. Put this task at the top of your list in 2016, and let the following guide you:

Get out and go

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Have a little fun (and enjoy your morning coffee)

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Stop to notice the little things

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Take a moment to feel small

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Accept that in backpacking, as in life, some trails are clearer than others (and prepare yourself with a good map, a compass, and orienteering skills)

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Take time to breathe and find your center

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Celebrate milestones

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Don’t forget to look up

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Celebrate the finish line (and have a pair of clean clothes waiting for you)

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Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro (Alternately Titled: “The Time that Mango Juice Made Me Cry”)

Submitted By: Kelly Paras, WWW member (This piece first appeared on Flip Flop Caravan)

Prologue:

I’ve thought about Kilimanjaro everyday since I left it’s slopes, but haven’t been able to find my voice in telling its stories.

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It’s hard to put into words something so big and profound, especially when you feel paralyzed in the wake of it.

Coming back from the mountain was almost as challenging as the climb itself – nothing in my daily life felt as important or relevant or exciting. It was like now that I knew this intense feeling of being alive, everything else was inconsequential.

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I’d try to explain THIS THING, THIS MOUNTAIN as best I could, but too much had happened; the details became suffocating and I could never find the words to properly articulate the experience.

So I let it sit week and week, trying to figure out how to put it into words – then I wrote thousands upon thousands of words that somehow just didn’t feel right. (As a writer, this was disappointing, surprising and stirred up an awful lot of self doubt. I mean, really? This is what I do and I just can’t get it right).

And the words still don’t feel quite right honestly. But this is my best attempt, at long last, to put the experience into words. To capture the insanely rewarding week I spent on Africa’s highest peak.

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I’ve decided to focus on the summit push – the hardest day of the climb, the day that tested me in every way possible.

To say it pushed my limits is somehow hyperbolic and simultaneously a woeful understatement. Have I been through shit that was more challenging than this? Yes. But was it the single most mentally, physically, and emotionally demanding day I’ve ever had? Yes.

And it was also the day that drinking mango juice made me cry. No joke.

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It only took about an hour for my Camelback hose to freeze solid. And it took me awhile to realize it. I would decide to take a drink, steady my feet and mentally prepare to suck the hose’s mouthpiece as hard as I could.

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But no water came out, and I was left gasping for breath. It was just after 1am and every movement took an excruciating amount of focus and mental capacity.

Each tiny step forward was calculated. By that point, I could scarcely feel my feet – they became a completely unreliable source for confirming that I was actually touching the ground. I had to look down, to see my legs moving, to will each step.

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My world became the two feet radius around me, cast by the glow of my headlamp.

There was nothing beyond this halo of light for me – this was my world. And it was hell.

A literal hell on earth.

I had to keep telling myself to push forward, to draw breath (shallow and labored though it may be), to focus, and to remember that I chose this. I was on a vacation of my choice. I wanted to do this.

But in the moment, I wanted to be anywhere else. Wanted it to be over. Wanted to be warm. Wanted a full breath. I questioned why I had wanted to do this thing at all.

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After four days of hiking 6-10 hours per day, we were bearing down on the summit push; the night we’d been working towards.

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We arrived at summit basecamp (15,000 feet) in the late afternoon, ate dinner, had a briefing with our guides and went through a health check. The long days on the trail, coupled with the altitude, left us exhausted as we collapsed into bed at 7pm.

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Sleep was elusive though. Maybe it was nerves or excitement. Or maybe it was the thin air that robbed us of sleep. I wanted to pop an Ambien, but I knew I had far fewer than the recommended eight hours to sleep.

In fact, I knew I had only about four hours to potentially get some shut eye. The summit day wake up call was coming at 11pm.

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I dozed off and slept restlessly, wrapped in layers of clothing; a cocoon of down sleeping bag with only my nose peeking out into the cold air inside my tent.

And then I heard it, the porter’s light tapping on the side of my tent.

“Dada’s (sisters) time to wake up. Get ready!”

Had I slept at all?

We’d slept (?) in our hiking gear so that all we had to do was groggily grab our packs and head to the mess tent for breakfast – porridge, cookies and tea.

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I wore my glasses for the first time on the trek after having been told that it was impossible to wear my contacts to the summit – it was too cold and they would freeze to my eyes.

What. The. Fuck. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible. It was then that I started to really get nervous.

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It was midnight when we received a few final words from our guides, stepped out in the bitterly cold night and began a slow march into the darkness.

All we knew was that we had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how difficult a task that became.

I should mention that there are only three rules on Kilimanjaro, and they had been drilled into our heads the entire climb:

  1. Listen to your guides
  2. Pole Pole (slowly slowly)
  3. Sippy Sippy (drink all your water everyday)Image 11

We dutifully followed our guides. It didn’t take long for it to feel like a death march; we had no concept of where we were going or what was around us, we just followed unquestioningly with our heads down.

How our guides knew where they were going is just one of the mysteries of the mountain I have yet to understand. There was no trail or path, no signs, no cairns, they just knew the way in the pitch black.

Within an hour, everyone fell silent and everything felt frozen; limbs, face, body – but especially hands and feet. They were bricks that constantly needed to be checked on.

Hands still holding my trekking poles? Check. Feet still moving forward? Check.

Aside from the freezing cold, the black, the lack of oxygen, and the headache caused by the altitude, it was the wind that was the most cruel element. Gale-force gusts swept across the side of the mountain with relentless ferocity.

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Vicious billows knocked us around, often dismantling our single-file line. We had to watch out for each other and help one another back into line when the wind blew one of us aside. All the while, we had no idea if we were next to a sheer cliff-face or an outcropping of rocks.

It was the blind leading the blind through a cyclone. (We found out later that the winds that night were the strongest the mountain had seen in years – lucky us?)

Even though I was wearing multiple pairs of pants and more top layers than I ever had at one time in my life (long johns, a long-sleeves shirt, an Oregon Ducks tee shirt, a down coat, a down vest, a windbreaker and a ski shell), I was still chilled to the bone.

Time became an afterthought somehow, an analogous concept really. And something I simply didn’t allow myself to think about. It was too awful and depressing to dwell on – 6 more hours until sunrise, 5 more hours, 4 more hours.

Instead of thinking about time, I thought about what the beach in Zanzibar would feel like; sand underfoot, the tide lapping my ankles, hair sweeping across my face from a gentle breeze.

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I thought of nights curled up on the couch cuddling – how warm and cozy and simple those moments were. All I could feel now were the hurricane-force winds lashing my cheeks, stinging my eyes. Tears froze to my cheeks as they fell.

And I thought about Annie and Bobbi Jo, my friends on this god-awful ascent. They very well could hate me for this – this was my idea, this moment indirectly my doing. I might lose friends over this and I wouldn’t blame them one bit.

Image 14When the wind paused a moment, I would look up to the skies, so full of brilliantly bright stars. More stars than I had seen since nights spent in the remote isolation of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.

I’d never been so close to the stars with my feet still on the ground (literally).

Some stars were so bright I felt as though I could reach out and touch them; hold the infinite in my hands. And then it donned on me…these weren’t stars at all. These lights, in horrific fact, were the headlamps of the other climbers ahead of us.

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They weren’t stars and I had to go to there – I actually had to go that high up. It seemed impossible and I hated myself for that moment of clarity. Ignorance had been a cosmically romantic bliss.

I felt desperate for an alternative truth, but the only truth was that I was freezing on the side of a mountain and I had to keep moving forward.

Even with all of these thoughts racing through my head, there was nothing; time disappeared.

Minutes felt like hours, yet hours just slip away. It was an instant, a forever eternity.

There was a constant flux between being in total awe of what I was doing and where I was, and wanting to lay down and cry and be anywhere else besides the side of this brutal mountain.

Then, just when I was really starting to hate everything, I looked up and saw color in the sky. Color! Not black! The sun was about to break the horizon. My happiness and exuberance were unfathomable.

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Minutes later came a moment of pure joy; the sun hit my face, the wind stalled for a moment and I looked out on to an alien landscape of black earth for the first time.

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It was another hour of hiking before we reached Stella Point (18,885ft) to take a much needed rest.

Our guides were all smiles and jokes – we were beaten down monsters. But one of our summit porters pulled a thermos of tea out of his pack and by some small miracle its contents were still hot!

We each savored a half a cup of heaven as we caught our breaths.

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How the tea managed to still be warm after seven hours in those conditions was truly miraculous. I mean serious mountain voodoo shit.

For reference – I pulled my Nalgene bottle out of my pack and it was nearly frozen through. The Snickers bar that I’d foolishly been longing to eat for hours, was also frozen; so hard and dense it could have been used as a weapon.

That tea was magic.

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After our break, there was another hour of mountain ahead of us. But this section was easier for many reasons; we caught a burst of energy, there was daylight, it was a bit warmer, the incline was less severe, we could see where we were going, and we had the knowledge that this ordeal was nearly over…or so we thought.

Annie, Bobbi and I set off with a guide ahead of some others in our group and pushed on. For the first time in hours, we spoke. Or rather we coughed up words at one another, our faint voices trying to be heard over the howl of the wind that continued to blow us around like tattered prayer flags.

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This last bit to reach Uhuru Peak took us along the rugged rim of the mountain’s volcanic crater, a vast expanse of black rock.

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My skull was pounding from an altitude-induced headache and I tried to remember what it felt like to take a full breath.

My attention was fully focused on the ground and the crater to my right. That was until I dared to look left. I stopped cold and stood staring with mouth agape. A massive glacier seemed to be suspended in the air – it was black pumice earth, bright glacier and sky.

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I can honestly say that I have never seen anything quite like it. It didn’t seem real that such a thing could exist. My wind-chapped lips couldn’t help but curl into a painful smile.

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Our feet carried us still higher until we caught our first glimpse of the iconic summit sign of Uhuru Peak. The sign that we’d longed to see for days on the mountain, months of anticipation and really, years of dreaming.

Now here’s the thing, it wasn’t the euphoric moment I had anticipated. I mean, it was incredible, but it wasn’t the moment of catharsis that I had imagined. Or at least not in the way I imagined.

Instead, I saw it, gawked for a minute and then a gloriously unexpected realization came to my fuzzy brain – it’s over! We get to go down now!

I felt relaxed in that moment, satisfied with what I had accomplished, in the pride that the three of us had done it together. And I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

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I thought of how glorious that first shower back at the lodge would feel. But that’s where my brain got ahead of reality.

First, we had to take pictures of this amazing place and snap a gals photo with the sign and our Ducks shirts – those tee shirts that were buried under so many layers of jackets. Instantly though, we knew we had a problem. Our hands were so cold that we couldn’t move our fingers, like at all.

I mean, I could only focus my iPhone photos by using my nose to hit the screen (I kid you not. I looked insane, tapping my nose to a phone over and over); there was no way I could grasp my jacket zippers. All dexterity was gone.

Thankfully, yet again our super-human guides came to our rescue. Props to Frank for dutifully unzipping 3-4 jackets (each), snapping some photos (dude wasn’t even wearing gloves during the climb. Seriously?!) and then zipping us all back up.

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We smiled the best we could through our monstrous condition. (Bobbi’s face to the far right sums up how we felt – fighting for happiness through pain, discomfort and exhaustion.)

We were on the summit less than 10 minutes, before we began bounding down the mountain thanks to another inexplicable burst of energy. It was 9:30am.

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On the way back down to Stella Point we passed another group of climbers in our team – they looked beat. One guy in particular could barely hold his head up, his feet dragged in an unnatural way. But we were all battered to varying degrees and he had several guides with him, so we thought nothing of it really.

My sudden burst of energy was short-lived as the reality of descending quickly came into focus. In the night, as we climbed ever higher, the ground beneath us was frozen, providing surprisingly solid footing even if we couldn’t feel our feet.

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Now I could feel my feet, but the sun had thawed the ground; no longer solid it was a 4,000-foot wall of dirt and loose rocks. It was slippery, treacherous and steep as fuck.

Every step turned into a slide and soon we were half-skiing down this damn mountain. That may sound potentially fun, but not when you’re physically and mentally fatigued. And not when the dirt sends clouds of dust into the air for you to choke on; to dry out your eyes. And not when this form of pseudo-skiing was wreaking havoc on your knees and smashing your toes into the front of your boots.

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These were probably the most dangerous hours of our entire time on the mountain.

I had long ago handed my pack over for a guide to carry (everyone had) so I could focus on not dying. Problem was, that guide was much further down the dirt slope than I was and so too was my water.

As the hours stretched on and the distance between hikers grew wider, my throat became sand paper; raw from the dust and lack of moisture.

I hadn’t had water or liquid of any kind since the summit and I was desperate for it. I would love to say that that was the only thing I could think about, my sole focus (crushing as it was) but I had bigger problems.

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My feet were in a loosing battle with the mountain. Every time they made contact with the steep angle of the slide, a dagger of pain shot into my toes, up my legs and caused my face to contort in what I’m sure were the most unattractive grimaces ever made. I honestly didn’t think I could take another step, and then I would take another step and the pain would spike all over again.

Annie and Bobbi were getting farther and farther ahead, each of us in our own personal hell. I simply gave up trying to catch up to them; I was just trying not to fall over, to make sure my toes didn’t fall off. Because that’s exactly what it felt like was happening.

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Between the pain, the dust, the exhaustion and the now the very evident dehydration, I was becoming delirious. When the path finally began to level out, my walk was slow, labored and ugly. In fact, everything was ugly at this point. Every damn thing about me.

I hobbled into camp and was met by an exuberantly cheery porter, wide smile on his face. He congratulated me on making it and handed me a plastic cup full of mango juice, “drink dada (sister)!”

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“Water?” I croaked desperately. I had never been so single-mindedly focused on anything.

“No dada, drink juice!” he replied in a sing-songy tone.

I burst into tears. Like full-on toddler tantrum-style tears. I would have thrown myself into a pile on the ground and screamed, but I simply didn’t have the energy for that.

Now, I know that the porter had my best interests at heart and that the mango juice would give me much needed sugars since my body had been physically punished for 13+ hours, but I couldn’t help it. The lump in my throat was too big and I had no control over my reaction.

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My little standoff lasted maybe :30 seconds before I just chugged the mango juice. It was better than nothing, right? And like magic, water was then given to me.

I had behaved like a child and was treated like one. I was reminded of my mother forcing me to eat my vegetables before allowing me to have dessert, the eternal parent/child negotiation.

I cannot tell you how silly and awful I felt about the tears – but I was a broken person in the moment. A broken person with no control over anything anymore.

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Annie and Bobbi watched the whole fiasco. I couldn’t tell if they were more concerned or horrified or entertained. But that’s the great thing about traveling with your best friends; these women have already seen me at my absolute worst, a complete breakdown on a mountain is nothing compared to what they’ve seen.

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And speaking of being at your worst, here we finally got a good look at each other. It was a goddamn freak show – we were mountain monsters. Battered, wind burned, sunburned, wrecked monsters.

I crumpled to the ground in front of my tent and dragged myself inside before slowly and excruciatingly taking my boots off. To my utter surprise, my toes were still intact and weren’t even bloody. They were however, bright red, swollen and brought new tears to my eyes when I touched them.

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I lay down and thought about what I had just done. Thought about what was still to come – an hour-long nap and then five more hours of hiking to get to our camp for the night. I started to panic about how the fuck I would possibly put my boots back on and hike another minute, let alone another five hours!

But before my mind could get to the brutal logistics of what lay ahead, I drifted off into the involuntary unconsciousness of sleep.

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Field Notes, Part 1

Submitted By: Allison Strauss, Annual Adventure Maven

Professor Marc Snyder left his one non-EV majors class for the last academic block of the year. By April, it was a pleasure to take general-requirement kids out to the woods every day and show them stuff.

In 2011, I was one of those general-requirement kids. The class was called Forest Ecology of the Colorado Front Range. That’s a colloquial term for the eastern edge of the Rockies where the state’s major cities are, including my school’s home of Colorado Springs. (Yes, Planned Parenthood-attack Colorado Springs. But sometimes known for Pikes Peak and the U.S. Olympic Training Center.)

Each morning, we piled into a van, and Marc would drive to a spot that exemplified whatever type of forest or ecological phenomenon he wanted to talk about that day. I’d jot down his commentary and sketch things in a small notebook that would inevitably get wet and crumpled.

In the evening, I’d convert my chicken-scratch to long form in a journal, then take notes on the night’s assigned reading, primarily from The Naturalist’s Guide to the Southern Rockies by Audrey Delella Benedict.

By the end of the course, my journal had become something of a guide book of its own, a layperson’s introduction to Forest Ecology of the Colorado Front Range. Now, with some editing and personal photographs, I’m sharing that guide here. Welcome to the first installment!

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April 25, 2011

Forests by Altitude & Direction

The Southern Rockies Life Zone (where there are complete ecosystems) falls between the upper and lower Tree Lines. Trees only grow so far down a mountain because of draught, and so far up a mountain (approximately 11,500 feet) because of cold and wind. Different kinds of trees have their elevation preferences within the life zone, so the type of forest changes as one moves up a mountain. These forests distinguish different ecosystems.

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North-facing slopes get less sun, meaning they’re cooler and hold snow longer. Higher elevation species, like spruce and fir, are more prominent on North-facing slopes, because the all-over climate is more like that normally just at high elevation. By the same token, South-facing slopes are the most temperate.

Ecosystem Participation

When a glacier melts, or a forest burns, or a quarry is a abandoned, the site becomes available for a new ecosystem. The order in which species appear there is called Succession.

First come the Colonizers. “Good colonizers exhibit rapid growth and a high tolerance for the sorts of environmental extremes associated with disturbed or newly exposed sites” (Benedict). Aspen and Lodgepole Pine are common colonizers.

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Aspen at Crater Lake, with view of the Maroon Bells, Colorado

Most species are Generalists. They can adapt to and are therefore found in a broad range of ecosystems. Probably the Southern Rockies’ most successful generalists are the coyote and deer mouse.

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Opposite of the Generalists are the Specialists. These species only live in specific conditions, like pika in high elevation talus, and Abert’s squirrel (Professor Marc Snyder’s specialty—I suspect he is one) in ponderosa forests.

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Pika and Abert’s squirrel

Because of their sensitivity, specialist presence indicates the health of a given ecosystem. So specialists are also known as Indicator Species.

 

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Much of this seemed obvious, things I had a sense of just by spending time in the environments described. Of course ecosystems change with altitude, for instance. But I hadn’t recognized that they do so in a consistent way from mountain to mountain. I’d imagined more of a patchwork where there were distinct horizontal bands. Having such realities parsed out and learning the vocabulary to sum them up gave form to my free-flowing observations from the trail. The overarching lesson for me was that very little in nature is arbitrary. The natural systems at work became all the more impressive.

 

Welcome to the WWW Blog!

Just thinking of the beginning brings a smile to my face. A year ago, Liz and I sat in the divey basement level of Bier Baron Tavern in Washington, D.C., sipping microbrews and cracking jokes while excitedly sketching out plans for a women’s wilderness group. I look at my notebook now, and it’s filled with manic scribbles representing dozens of our ideas and next steps from that night.

Once we’d decided to establish this small group of wilderness sisters, weyellow sun PNG made a list of the initial 10 women we planned to contact to see if they wanted to join. We also talked about plans for an annual extended backcountry trip, what we could do as a first outdoor activity, thoughts on a potential book club, ideas for empowerment activities, and more. On the second page of my notes, I had a list titled, “Things in Stone.” The only thing written under this list by the end of that soul-filling night was, “Name: Wild Wilderness Women (WWW).” The rest, we knew, would solidify in time.

Over the next several months, Liz and I worked together to co-found Wild Wilderness Women, and that process alone was a treat. I learned that great things happen when women partner. There was a comfort in knowing that when my life got busy, I could lean out while she stepped in, and that when she needed time for what life was tossing her way, she could take a step back, while I picked up the weight.

A year later, we’re over 30 members strong, and we’ve been cross-country skiing, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, orienteering, paddleboarding, biking, and camping throughout Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. We’ve also expanded beyond outdoor activities to acknowledge the full beauty of what makes us each wild, meeting to discuss documentaries, literature, and more.

In addition, we’ve established a leadership board to guide our growth and mission. Each one of the women who serve on this board is unique, strong, compassionate, driven, smart, and wild. I couldn’t be luckier to have such a committed team. It is a joy to share this movement with them, and leave our monthly meetings inspired by the feeling of knowing everything that is possible and everything that we’re capable of being.

Our growth in the coming year will include the creation of local chapters of WWW outside of the D.C. metro area, and the organization of our first big backcountry trip together through some of the spectacular public lands of the United States.

A year ago, I never realized WWW would develop into something bigger than our initial gathering of gutsy gals. However, as we’ve grown, WWW naturally shaped itself into something far beyond our own selves. WWW is about women everywhere and how we verbalize and visualize our population. It’s about creating a space for women to explore and learn, to push beyond what they believe to be their limits, to find catharsis and understanding through community, and by doing so, give other women everywhere permission and support to join in and do the same.

This website was created to be an extension of WWW’s mission to be a visible encouragement for other women to get outdoors and engage meaningfully with one another. It is a resource for every heart out there waiting to let herself be wild.

We plan to fill these pages with tips and tricks for starting your own group of adventurous women, commentary on a variety of issues facing women today, helpful gear reviews, photo essays and event recaps to inspire your next trip, and more! These posts and resources won’t just be coming from me, or any one voice. This site will highlight the many independent voices that form our whole.

WWW is one of the greatest initiatives I’ve ever decided to put my time toward. The experience has been nourishing in a way that only happens when beautiful, badass, talented women come together.

Thank you so much for being here—we can’t wait to share this journey with you!

XO—Korrin, Co-founder & President