Bethany Garretson is a force to be reckoned with. She’s a SheJumps Community Ambassador, filming a documentary for Crua Outdoors, writing a book on her outdoor experiences, and just finished reaching 100 Fastest Known Times (FKTs).
Backing it up to 2020, Bethany had planned to leave in May for a Denali expedition. In a tune familiar for the time, that trip was unavoidably canceled due to the pandemic. Taking it in stride, Bethany decided to pivot her focus from high altitude mountaineering to trail running throughout the mountain ranges in her backyard.
Northeastern New York is home to Bethany as well as the Adirondack Mountains, a unique series of peaks that are pieced together in a circular formation. It’s also home to a difficult hiking route known as the Adirondack 46 High Peak Unsupported Thru-hike, a combination of all the summits over 4,000 feet without any aid.
Bethany and Katie Rhodes decided to tackle the challenge and set the record for the women’s FKT that September. This meant no car rides or food drops–everything they needed would be on their pack.
On September 17, 2020, they accomplished the task in 7 days and 4 hours, totaling 183 miles and 70,000 feet in vertical gain. It gained waves of support online throughout their journey, and marks a huge milestone for both Bethany and Katie towards their future endeavors.
How did you become involved with SheJumps?
I actually used to teach an outdoor recreation class on diversity and inclusion in the outdoor industry and would use SheJumps as an example when I talked about women empowerment in the mountains. So, even prior to joining them, I was familiar with the organization and admired what they did.
While on the Adirondack Thru-hike FKT, Katie’s husband posted updates of our travels each day and it gained traction online. Kristina Zampella, Regional Coordinator from SheJumps, reached out for us to give a two-part zoom presentation afterwards.
The first was just about the journey itself from day one to day seven. The second part was about the logistical pieces of what we packed, how we cut weight, and what we took for food. It really is an expedition where you have to be so dialed on those parts.
After giving the presentation and having such a powerful experience with that, I asked if there was any way I could volunteer or be a part of the community. And Kristina felt Community Ambassador would be a good fit for me.
Part 1: Unsupported Thru-Hike of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks
Part 2: How to Pack for an Unsupported Thru-Hike in the Adirondack Mountains
Outside of book writing, documentary filming, and being a community ambassador, what is your full-time job?
I taught environmental studies and social justice in college for eight years and now I'm an assistant program manager at Mountain Lake Academy, a nonprofit therapeutic boarding school in Lake Placid, New York that works with young men. We do a lot of outdoor therapeutic recreation and it’s been amazing. I take my students into the high peaks and they ask me lots of questions about the FKTs I do. I really appreciate working with young men and showing them just how strong women can be and how fast and how badass. I do think it's good role modeling.
Have you ever felt the sentiment, ‘Oh, she only got 100 FKTs because she's a woman?’ How do you deal with that internally and what would be your response to someone if they brought that up in a conversation?
It comes up in subtle ways. I can take criticism and just brush it right off. But I think when it’s solely negative voices that are put out there like, ‘Oh wow, that wasn't a really fast time,’ that might just make someone drop from the sport. I do feel women are more critiqued than men and they're less likely to speak up for themselves and defend themselves.
This subtle bias happened to me once on a podcast. The interviewer made a comment about me not getting the fastest times and it's just not true. I've had a variety of FKTs where I did get the fastest time on the board–men or women.
If you go to FKT on Instagram, a recent post showcases Courtney Dauwalter winning in a race out west. She’s one of my personal idols and I love what she's done for the sport. She came in sixth overall and first for women. The first comment is, ‘But wait, I thought she got sixth.’ And it's from a male. That is unfortunately a well versed tone–you’re fast, but you're not the fastest. You are going to constantly see underlying tones of sexism, racism, and homophobic tones online in the comment sections.
I don't ever doubt myself, but I do get pissed off at the attitudes that drive women out of the sport. And I do acknowledge my white, cis-gender makeup and how that has allowed me to establish myself in the sport more easily than others. We need to talk about the complexities of belonging in this field. For many of the FKTS I set, it’s about getting a time up for the women and making the statement, “See we are here.”
Bethany and Katie night-hiking during their 46 High Peak FKT.
In the outdoor industry, have you seen a change in diversity, inclusion, and equity throughout the years? Is it palpable?
When I first entered this sport it was 2009 and I was 23. It wasn't until I stepped on the trails of the Adirondacks that I started to experience gender-based comments. I ignored them. Early on, I did not see the trail running community being very friendly at all. I thought it was pretty privileged and closed off. I thought it was very male dominated, very entitled.
Over the past 14 years, there has been such a boom in talking about the roots of these white dominated, male dominated, privileged sports. I noticed a big shift with the Me Too Movement and I noticed a big shift around 2017 when Outside Magazine did a publication on women being the next face of adventure sports. I didn't see it right then, but I certainly agree with it now.
I do think the change came and it's still happening now. Social media has helped. I think if we had completed the unsupported through-hike in 2012, I don't think it would've made much of a historic dent like it did in 2020.
There's a lot of growth that needs to happen, and there's a lot of stereotypes around women that aren’t going to change overnight. There are people and organizations leading the way and at least addressing the elephant in the room.
How do outdoor sports empower yourself and have you seen it empower other women?
There's lots of studies around women participating in sports and confidence levels. I really credit school sports as a part of that empowerment for myself.
I see the confidence build in women who come into this trail running sport. I try to mentor as many women as I can, because I see a difference in their confidence as they get their first FKT. It's a huge impact. It's about using your body as something more than for others to look at. We're not just symbols of a certain thing–we're warriors and it brings out this warrior spirit.
What advice would you give to a woman who's maybe interested in participating in her own first fastest known time attempt?
I would certainly encourage anyone to connect with Women Who FKT on Instagram. Overall, I do think Women Who FKT are really helping that whole scene become more accessible. You can also go to the FKT website, look at routes in your area, and just start clicking around. Join a network and find something that's a good mileage and vertical gain fit for you. Anyone can reach out to me as well (@bethany.climbs), I am more than happy to help. I've mentored and then FKTed with many women. And each FKT we get matters because it’s a ripple effect.