Written by Gaelen Engler, 2015 Liz Daley Scholarship Recipient
Finding your voice in the mountains is hard. Let’s be honest: finding your voice in any aspect of today’s world is hard. Logging into Facebook, I am instantly faced with epic photos of my epic friends doing epic things in every corner of the world. It’s always been hard for me not to compare myself, my exploits, and my attitude to others’, especially when surrounded by seemingly fearless, motivated folk who always have another adventure up their sleeve. But this past week, tucked into a corner of British Columbia’s Selkirk Mountains, was different. And it was magical. I was surrounded by women whose determination and passion towards finding their own voice – in the mountains that we love – was matched equally by my own.
This spring I was fortunate enough to have been granted the Liz Daley Scholarship for the 2015 SheJumps Alpine Finishing School. A bit of a mouthful, and yet the name still doesn’t entirely do the course justice. Set at the Selkirk Lodge, run by two of the most inspiringly hard-working and fiery women I have ever met, I was lucky enough to be a part of a week-long education in ski mountaineering skills. It was astonishing how much material our guides managed to cover, from glaciology to risk management to crevasse rescue. At times I was fully immersed in mastering a new skill, or re-gaining a lost one that I had neglected over time. Let’s be honest: it’s been years since I have taken a bearing with a compass. Other times I was grateful to be able to help teach my fellow females techniques that I was already familiar with, such as belaying and ascending ropes. Guiding and instructing in the mountains is what I love, what I do for fun, and what I am lucky enough to do as a career. Absorbing the different learning styles, techniques, and energy that our guides put into each lesson was something that I will take forward well into the future.
Reflecting back on this week spent surrounded by impressive glaciers under bluebird skies, what I am most grateful for is the voice that I witnessed emerging from each woman on our course, and from our group of participants and guides as a whole. As each of us felt more comfortable with terrain management, with companion rescue, and with navigation, each woman in the course took a huge step towards finding her own voice and feeling like a competent, capable backcountry partner. I have been recreating and working in the mountains for years now, and it was through the development of my own hard skills that I felt justified and responsible to speak up in the mountains.
At the Alpine Finishing School, our voices – our independence, our passion, and our experience – seemed to echo an inspiring wave moving through the outdoor community at this moment in time. There has been more women featured in mountain sports, from mountain biking to rock climbing, than ever before. I have had more male partners look towards me as a qualified and respected decision-maker than I’m sure many who have come before me ever experienced. And throughout my years of living on the road, sleeping at the trail heads of backcountry tours or at the base of a long climb, I have witnessed the momentum growing. After a week spent skiing and learning under the guidance of women already in the grips of this wave, I am grateful to have been a part of this phenomenon – of women realizing they are just as capable (and sometimes much more) of calling the shots in the terrain that we hold so dear. Writing this, I sense goosebumps creeping up my legs as I think of Liz, ever the inspiration, opening yet another door for a female adventurer such as myself to be even more confident, knowledgeable, and downright stoked in the mountains.