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14 NW0614 BAKER 006 1024px

Among Women in the Mountains: A Female Guide’s Learning from an All-Girls Climb

Our climb began in the pitch-black dark­ness of a sky with no moon. It was 1 a.m. and I offered to lead our teams out of camp, even though I’d nev­er climbed the Eas­t­on Glac­i­er. I could only see the nar­row scope of my bright head­lamp, so I trust­ed intu­ition, weav­ing around rock out­crop­pings and criss­cross­ing across slopes. Step by step, we made slow progress through our obsid­i­an universe. 

At 2 a.m. I came to a bowl with steep cliffs on all sides. Unsure where to con­tin­ue, I passed the lead to my co-instruc­tor, Katie, a twen­ty-some­thing lady moun­taineer like myself. Relieved, I fol­lowed as she tra­versed up, plac­ing pick­ets to pro­tect our girls and us from the rocky run out below. We turned a cor­ner and rose out of the por­tal,” a nar­row, white chan­nel arriv­ing steeply above crevass­es so large a bus could dis­ap­pear into them and nev­er be recov­ered. This time Katie ner­vous­ly urged me to again take the lead.
The day pri­or, while prepar­ing for the climb, Katie and I dis­cussed qui­et­ly on our side of camp: Do six teenage girls real­ly belong on Mount Bak­er? Fif­teen year olds who pri­or to our train­ing didn’t even know moun­taineer­ing involved snow! I was con­sumed by a sub­con­scious sex­ist notion that fear and lack of men­tal sta­mi­na would pre­vent our girls from sum­mit­ing. I also, like many women across all dis­ci­plines, doubt­ed my com­pe­tence. Despite my expe­ri­ence, I believed it was by some over­sight that I was staffed on such a tech­ni­cal and his­toric course.
How­ev­er, when Katie passed the lead to me, instead of self-doubt and skep­ti­cism, I felt joy and excite­ment. I found I could eas­i­ly nav­i­gate around the holes. As our night turned from black to gray scale, the sur­round­ing glis­ten­ing ice cas­tles awed me. Soon, we were com­fort­ably swap­ping leads — a cater­pil­lar train, with each girl alone in the glow of her headlamp.
The moon final­ly ris­es over our team after climb­ing in the dark for hours. 
Katie was lead­ing when we came to our first major snow bridge. There were sev­er­al on the route, some even ten feet wide, twist­ing and turn­ing around and over cracks twen­ty feet wide. I led over a nar­row one with two kite-shaped crevass­es on either side. I saw water flow­ing down their blue insides like glit­ter­ing dia­monds and as I crossed, the sun rose and we bathed in its neon yel­low. We stood on the white snow over­look­ing the orange stripes in the hori­zon, and in my pink puff coat, I was part of the light­show myself. Sure­ly, mag­nif­i­cent moments like these make the risk of going into the moun­tains worth it.
At the crater, one girl com­plained of nau­sea and we stopped to assess. After ques­tion­ing, I learned it was not alti­tude caus­ing her stom­ach to churn, but fear of height. As our morn­ing passed, the expo­sure increased and we walked reg­u­lar­ly among cliff edges that appeared in the snow under our feet. Her fear val­i­dat­ed my fear that per­haps this moun­tain is not a place for girls. How­ev­er, when asked if she want­ed to con­tin­ue, she answered sim­ply and proud­ly, duh!”
Soon, we sum­mit­ed, and it was nor joy­ful or cli­mat­ic. Only at the top did the girls final­ly real­ize the sum­mit is only half way. We ate our frozen sum­mit snick­ers in the fierce wind, took pho­tos, and embarked on our jour­ney down.
Katie and I got all six girls up and down the moun­tain safe­ly and in style. We knew what we were doing, the girls were brave and strong, no men on the trail heck­led us, and no oth­er guide explic­it­ly doubt­ed us. Mak­ing all the deci­sions togeth­er and hav­ing no old­er male men­tor to con­firm our com­pe­tence or to take the lead when the crevass­es below looked too scary, felt extra­or­di­nar­i­ly dif­fer­ent. For me pro­fes­sion­al­ly and per­son­al­ly, the all-girls Mount Bak­er climb felt immense­ly val­i­dat­ing and liberating.
The most extra­or­di­nary thing is that I expect­ed the oppo­site: I doubt­ed our girls and myself and expect­ed the worst reac­tions from oth­er pro­fes­sion­als and clients on the moun­tain. I wished I could com­mu­ni­cate the sig­nif­i­cance of an all-girls climb to our girls, yet I also found it refresh­ing that they didn’t yet ful­ly real­ize misog­y­ny in their lives. I believe the courage, strength, and con­fi­dence they dis­cov­ered on Mount Bak­er that week car­ried on in their lives; I know it has in mine and that is how I know the val­ue of being among women in the mountains. 
Katie and I pose after a post-climb nail paint­ing sesh. Guid­ing with a peer felt incred­i­bly dif­fer­ent, val­i­dat­ing, and liberating. 
- Amber Smith