Never Underestimate a Mountain

Submitted By: Kristen GraceBoard Member & Wilderness Ambassador in Denver

When two women set out to climb a mountain, they don’t let anything stop them.

They aren’t afraid to wake up at 4am. They don’t let fierce winds or freezing temperatures scare them off. And they definitely don’t turn back when the summit is in sight.

Even if they probably should.

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Climbing Mt. Bierstadt – 14,065′ (Georgetown, Colorado)

When we set out to climb Mt. Bierstadt, it was late September and the Denver highs were still in the 70s and 80s. Packing a heavy coat for hiking seemed excessive. We thought to bring hats and gloves, and to layer up just in case, but even that seemed like overkill.

Mt. Bierstadt was the first 14er I climbed after moving to Colorado in Summer 2016 and it taught me an important lesson: never underestimate mountain weather.

Because mountain weather is fickle and no matter how warm it is in Denver, in the mountains it’s always cooler and a sunny day can change to powerful storms in minutes.

The Climb

We hit the road around 4am so that we could arrive, stretch and start our climb just in time for sunrise.

The base of Mt. Bierstadt is only about an hour and half drive from Denver, making it one of most accessible 14ers in the state. It’s also a good choice if you’re looking for a quick and challenging day hike since the out and back is only a few hours.

The first part of our hike took us through a flat valley. It was deceptively pleasant and made starting out in the dark totally worth it. We watched the sun light up the snow-covered mountains with shades of pink and gold. This view alone was worth the trip.

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But once we started to climb, we realized something was wrong: it was windy. Really windy.

And windy means cold.

The part of this hike that people neglect to share is that you are completely exposed to the elements once you reach a certain point in the trail. That means there is no shelter from the wind, especially when you get closer to the rocky summit.

As we climbed, I questioned both our sanity and safety.

I couldn’t feel my toes, my face was completely exposed and it was really cold.

This should have been enough to make us turn back… but we were on a mission.

The summit was 20ft in front of us. How could we quit?

The Summit

I learned later that my hiking buddy, Chi, had been shouting for us to turn back, that it was too cold and the wind was too strong to keep going.

But I couldn’t hear her over the sound of the wind whipping around us. So as I continued to push on, she begrudging followed.

Not being able to communicate was another reason we should have turned back. If only I’d known.

But miraculously, we reached the top.

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We pulled out our signs and snapped a few pictures. “Click, click, okay, let’s go!” My mouth was too frozen to smile.

The pictures we managed to take showed a clear, wide open view of the Rockies that only the top of a 14er can provide. I just wish I’d been able to actually enjoy it!

Then a strong gust of wind threw me into a rock, nearly tossing me off the mountain. With the threat of death feeling very real, we raced back down. Mission accomplished — we were ready for the hike to be over.

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On the way down, the weather improved. It was actually warm enough to enjoy the view!

As we passed groups of people headed to the top, we noticed that many were even less prepared than we were. We saw hikers in shorts and tank tops. We saw sandals!

I was already feeling bad enough about misjudging the intensity of this hike, but I admit, seeing others more foolish than me attempt the climb made me feel just a tiny bit better.

We tried to warn our fellow hikers that they were in for a shock at the top, but most brushed us off. It was beautiful and warm at the bottom! How could it be cold at the top? A rookie mistake.

The Aftermath

In the end, we made it. All our fingers and toes intact.

But this experience changed the way I prepare for serious hikes.

First, I always check the forecast before heading out. I want to know if there is ANY chance of rain, wind or snow. When you’re over 10,000ft in elevation, it matters.

Second, I pack for every possibility, even if most things stay in the car. Extra clothes, raincoats, snacks, hand warmers, etc. You never know what you might need.

Third, I never underestimate the intensity of the climb. Just because you’re in shape doesn’t mean the elevation won’t affect you. When you’re at high elevation, you need to be aware of how you’re feeling and when it’s time to call it quits.

Finally, I’ve made peace with turning back. Finishing the Mt. Bierstadt climb was stupid. It was dangerously cold and windy, and we were not prepared. While I’m proud of us for pushing ourselves, it was a huge risk and we got lucky. When faced with a similar situation, I’ll never put my goals ahead of my safety again.

But at least it was beautiful!

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Swimsuit Season

Header image from xoJane’s “real beach bodies”

Submitted By: Allison StraussBoard Member & Wilderness Ambassador in Portland, OR

Every day, I see how deeply ingrained we are by body image standards. I work at a swimwear store.

In an aggressively progressive city, where “body-positive” is attached to every event description, the customers I work with don’t strike me as women who judge others’ figures. The store is almost a “sacred space,” where women step out of the dressing rooms and no one stares. Yet when it comes to their own bodies, the same non-shallow women feel besieged by age-old ideals. This includes women who embody those ideals! Dressing rooms grow hot and sweaty, and echo with declarations of, “I need a drink!” (We serve beer.)

Swimsuit season is here. No one should let the summer pass without getting in the water. So here are some strategies to combat self-loathing, and guide you to a suit that suits you!

  • Start shopping well before your outing or trip. You’d be surprised how many women put off shopping till the day before. The time pressure adds to their anxiety. No one wants to make more than one shopping trip, but leave yourself enough time so you can. That way you can hold out for a suit you really like, not just one that “does the job.”
  • Know your size. Dress size, band size, cup size. Swim sizes do vary somewhat by brand, but that goes for all the rest of clothing-dom too, so you should never get out of the range you wear day-to-day. The thing that makes me the saddest at work is when I clear a dressing room, and find a customer was trying on suits obviously too large for her. It’s amazing how our feelings can skew our perception.
  • Start with what genuinely appeals to you. Trying on everything that’s the right size is not an effective way of hedging your bets. It’s a recipe for overload. It’s also easy to simply lose track of how many suits you’ve passed onto me, the helpful sales associate, to put in your dressing room. Do yourself the favor of making your dressing room a curated gallery, not a museum. You can always branch out from there.
  • Don’t make concealment the point. When customers would say, “I hate my [part of body],” an old coworker used to respond, “What part of your body do you like?” Certainly go for that “tummy control” feature or that skirt to cover your thighs. But make sure you also choose something with an accentuating feature or design point of interest. This will keep you out of “granny suit” territory. You’re cooler than that. You’re still you!

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Sarah Jane Adams reflects in “Me My Body” for Advanced Style, photograph by Ari Seth Cohen

  • Something to keep in mind: Do you spend your time at the beach, lake, river, etc. judging others’ paunches, sags, wrinkles, stretch marks, cellulite, and veins? It’s true we’re not used to seeing these things, they can be surprising. But you just think, “Oh, well there it is” and move on, right? Which is not to say you discount the person. Trust that others won’t discount you either. If someone is that shallow, you can feel bad for them. 

    “…those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”
    –Dr. Seuss

Finally, when you notice a swimsuited woman with your same symptoms of a life lived, don’t you kind of admire her and feel a little more confident yourself? You can be that woman to someone else.

swim3Jazzmyne shared her first bikini experience with the world.

Guest Post: Babes Off the Beaten Path

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: LJ Dawson, A Wandering Vagabond

Days spent staring at my hiking shoes stepping, one two three; hanging from ropes above valleys, watching sunrises from the bare tops of mountains, holding my breath between a rivers crashing waves, grinning smiles full of powder, these are the moments that empower me as a person and as a woman. This is how I live my life most purely.

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I was lucky, raised in the outdoors as much as the city, schooled with mountains and deserts with a bit of books and brick buildings to go along. My upbringing was incredibly unique in this way, and I often think how I would have found the wild if I my father hadn’t bestowed me with it along with my blue eyes.

I love the challenge and growth that leaving paved roads and gridded cities delivers to me. Being outdoors as a woman means being off the beaten path in more ways than physically though.

Society never talks about the path towards being an independent woman in the wilderness. It is almost a secret covered in vague references from pop culture, with features on Lynn Hill and other complete badass women in the outdoors. These stories inspire, but are rarely relatable.

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If you are lucky, you have a family with outdoorsy females in it, but that is not common. Even if you have close female role models to look up to, getting into a part of society ruled by egoism and macho-ism is incredibly difficult as a young girl or young woman. This is not because women are meek and weak, but because our intrinsic traits are not valued as much as male values in the outdoor community’s social system.

Social bush whacking is required to become a Babe off the Beaten Path. Even with my vast background, I fought and am still fighting to gain knowledge and experience that male friends have picked up with less effort and work from the climbing gym to ski mountains.

My story is not an anomaly, and it leaves me wondering how many women miss out on the empowerment and happiness I gain from being outdoors. The reasons are obvious, but the solutions less so.

This is where the babe part comes in. When I get around the outdoorsy ladies, we always commiserate at the state of ego in the outdoors: “Gawd, I was trying to boulder at the gym and this guy would not shut up about this awesome V12 he sent in Moab,” or, “We were hanging out at the bar and ran into these cute skier guys, and then they wouldn’t stop talking about this crazy near death experience in the backcountry.” Or, “This one guy would not stop screaming ‘SEND ITTTT.’ I was warming up”

Any of us babes off the beaten path have run into the issue of how much we become one of the boys. Do we assimilate into the macho culture and join the competitive, adrenaline rushing practices? I thought that was what I would have to do join the inner circle.

All the macho-ism and ego has its benefits, but very little balance. A more feminine approach to outdoor activities, though rarely encouraged, has its own upsides. There is never one way to climb a mountain, but both paths lead to the top.

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More and more women came into my life who were heavily immersed in the outdoors. I was shocked when they wore skirts, spoke quietly, and mentioned their feelings. This was allowed? I wouldn’t get voted off the island?

These role models inspired me to drop the fake attitude. Suddenly, I discovered that not only was it okay to voice a perceived weakness, to say no, I am scared, or slow down, but that often my voice was expressing others’ opinions and empowering the whole group. I saw power in the quiet words and less hells fury attack many of my male friends took towards the outdoors. I saw women treat days of backpacking with elegance, including dangly earrings and important spa days, and fellow river guides bring fashion to the river with gorgeous jewelry. These ladies shoved the macho-ism aside and were still phenomenal at the outdoors pursuits they chased. I was beyond lucky to have these women in my life to change my perception.

When we go into the woods, it becomes an intimate dance between the wild and our souls. It can only be our authentic selves dancing. As women, we must let ourselves be and interact genuinely with wilderness.

Where most men conquer, I find women dance with the environment. We are much more willing to listen to our instincts and the mountain or river telling us no. We surrender to the wild while many men try to fight and win. Embracing these attitudes will open the door to a more female inclusive community.

The outdoor community is run predominantly by a system that discourages women from participating and learning new skills. I believe it is not about overhauling the system or pointing fingers, but creating space to be filled in by women. More women participating physically and changing the dialogue of this community will create a blank page that new ladies can fill rather than fighting to cut out a space for themselves.

Being a Babe off the Beaten Path means refusing to sacrifice who we are to go places we love. A more balanced outdoor community will benefit the mountains and us.

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So, just get out into the wild, ladies. Wear that dress down that river, or rock your pants. Take a risk and own yourself. Don’t try to fit into anything that you are not. Show up as yourself and dance and crawl up that mountain. Cry, laugh, and smile just get those feet moving. Be brave enough to take that leap in your own skin. And above all, bring other ladies out. Only good can come out of more women being outside.

Instagram: @awanderingvagabond

The Backpacker’s Wardrobe

Submitted By: Allison Strauss, Annual Adventure Maven

Excitement is building around Wild Wilderness Women’s backpacking trips this summer. For some, it will be their first such expedition, potentially mixing in nervousness with the excitement and raising many questions.

When someone else is doing the planning, the area you have the most control over before a backpacking trip is what you’ll wear. The clothes you bring will affect your comfort, and therefore how great a time you have. So discussing clothing seems like a good place to start in building first-timers’ confidence, whether you’re coming with us this summer or preparing for your own walk on the wild side.

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First, put REI out of your mind. But everything’s so cool! Says the excited You. But everything’s so expensive! Says the nervous You. Tell them both that those cool and expensive things are variations on just a few necessities. Over time, the backpacking wardrobe has been honed down to a standard set that applies anywhere in the continental U.S. This guide will “unpack” that set, sharing its reasoning and its options.

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1) Synthetic Underwear

Backpacking clothes are all about materials. Underwear should be made of some kind of synthetic (polyester, nylon, etc.). It wicks sweat, dries quickly, and minimizes odor. We tend to think of cotton underwear as the ultimate in comfort, but cotton is banned in backpacking, because it gets wet, stays wet, and smells. The cotton ban is particularly relevant for underwear, to prevent yeast infections. That said, I backpacked in cotton underwear for years and never got a yeast infection. The aim of this guide is to impart an attitude of intentionality, not fatalism.

–How many pairs?

One for each day, plus one or two extras. No need to get radical on your first trip!

2) Sports Bra

No complicated straps or plastic bits that might dig into you.

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3) Wool Hiking Socks

The thick toughness of these socks is absolutely necessary to keep your feet from blistering. And wool wicks moisture, which also keeps your feet from blistering.

–How many pairs?

As with underwear, there’s no need to go radical here. It’s more important not to get athlete’s foot. For short trips, you might as well bring a pair for each day. For trips of five days or more—not that you should be doing that your first trip–I’d say a pair for every two days.

Note: Some backpackers are firm believers in liner socks–specialty thin socks worn under wool socks to reduce friction. I haven’t found they make any difference, so I say one less thing you have to buy. You can always try them in the future if you get into backpacking.

4) Sacred Socks

Many backpackers bring a pair of comfy, warm socks just to sleep in. So they stay clean, these “sacred socks” are usually packed in the bottom of the sleeping bag and never leave there.

5) Camp Sandals/Shoes

Lightweight footwear to give your tootsies a rest from hiking boots. Many backpackers bring Teva-style sandals they can wear over their socks. Backless sandals or shoes are discouraged.

6) Knit or Fleece Gloves

Fingerless recommended!

7) Knit or Fleece Hat

8) Sun Hat

Baseball, bucket, or safari style, so long as it can be stuffed in your backpack.

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Rigid hats like those made of felt or straw are discouraged for two reasons. 1) The stiff brim in the back may bump against your backpack and drive you crazy. 2) The only thing to do with a rigid hat if you don’t feel like wearing it is to strap/tie it to your backpack. I encourage minimizing the number of things on the outside of your pack to keep items from getting damaged, tangled, or lost. This will also make it easier to pull on a pack cover if it rains.

9) Thermal Top and Bottoms

Think of thermals as your second skin. Their job is to insulate. Many backpackers sleep in their thermals.

Thermals come in silk, synthetic, and wool. Synthetic is ideal for backpacking, as silk can be too delicate for long-term use and wool can be too hot. But if you already own either silk or wool thermals, no need to run out and buy synthetic.

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Thermal Tops!

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Several examples of the popular thermal bottoms with shorts combo.

Note: Most of the folks in the photo above are wearing gaiters, those sheaths around their lower legs. Gaiters have stirrups that go around your hiking boots, keeping snow, sand, pebbles, etc. out of the boots. But I haven’t found them to make much of a difference, and am more comfortable without them. Unless your trip leader advises gaiters because of specific conditions, I’d say this is another item you can skip for a first trip, and test out on future ones.

10) Hiking Pants

These don’t have to be explicitly for hiking. Check the thrift stores! What you’re looking for is a tough material and a comfortable fit. Consider whether they’ll protect your legs if you’re pushing your way through bushes. You should be able to wear thermal bottoms underneath.

Note: Seriously, check the thrift stores. I’ve found Helly Hansen pants and Marmot shorts, both with the tags still on. And you’d be surprised at all the North Face jackets.

11) Hiking Shorts

These do not have to be explicitly for hiking either. Take them for a walk to make sure they don’t chafe or ride up between your thighs. Leave the shorts at home from late fall to early spring.

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Note: Pants that zip into shorts are great!

12) Synthetic T-Shirts

I used to make a cotton exception with t-shirts and you can too. But I noticed a B.O. improvement when I switched to synthetic, and the armpits don’t get holes with wear. Invisible mesh gives great breathability. Swab with an anti-static dryer sheet before your trip.

–How many?

I’d say 1 shirt for every 3 or 4 days. If that means only one shirt for the length of the trip (as it probably will on your first), then bring an extra in case you spill hot chocolate down your front.

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Note: Lots of women wear tank tops backpacking, but to give yourself the best shot at comfort (and therefore an enjoyable trip), I’d advise against tank tops, to minimize risk of your backpack straps from rubbing your shoulders. You can try tanks the next time, once you’ve decided you like backpacking come what may. Bring a t-shirt in case it doesn’t work out.

13) Fleece or Compressible Down Jacket

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14) Fleece Pants

Wear over thermal bottoms at night and/or to sleep. Leave them at home in the summer.

15) Fleece or Compressible Down Vest

If you bring a fleece vest, you should be able to wear a fleece or down jacket over it. If you bring a down vest, you should be able to wear a fleece jacket under it. (No point in bringing a down vest and down jacket, since they can’t be effectively layered.) Think of yourself as a matrioshka doll—everything’s got to nest. Leave the vest at home in the summer.

16) Rain Jacket and Pants

These should be shells, meaning not lined with any sort of insulation. That way they’ll be comfortable if you need rain or wind protection but aren’t cold. Make sure they are marked Waterproof, that they’re not just windbreakers. These are your outermost layers and should fit over everything.

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17) Hiking Boots

If you haven’t hiked in hiking boots before, or have not owned a pair you really liked, go to an outdoors store and try on an assortment of boots with a shoe department clerk. Tell him/her about the trip you’re going on. As you test different boots, describe what you’re feeling so the clerk can steer you in the right direction. Don’t be shy about taking however much time is needed and making the clerk go back and forth to the stockroom. (Go at a slow business time if possible.) If the clerk is pushing a boot that you don’t think is right, don’t settle for it just because (s)he is more familiar with boots. They’re your feet, and this is your big-money item in the backpacker’s wardrobe.

Before your trip, take your new boots for a hike or some walks on a dirt path. (Avoid wearing them down on concrete as much as possible) This will mold them to your feet and make them uniquely yours!

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In Review:

  1. Intentionality, not fatalism.
  2. Synthetics and wool are your friends. Cotton is banned.
  3. Lightweight and compressible.
  4. Be a matrioshka doll. Make sure your layers actually nest.
  5. Check the thrift stores.
  6. Set your feet up for success.

See you in the backcountry!

 

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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