“Will you come? You should come!”Those were the words of my good friend concerning a rapidly approaching all-women’s backpacking trip that she was planning. I was nervous. I was uncertain. And so…I was silent.

But I like to consider myself an adventurer. If I have to be honest, I ride most my adventures on the back of my husband. Or when I was single, on the backs of the guys who were with us. That is why we love the men. Well, that isn’t the only reason…

But I tossed and turned over the trip, wandering back-and-forth in my mind as to whether or not to jump in with both feet. What about safety? Am I fit enough to handle both the elevation and the weight? What about all the other women I DON’T know? But underneath it all, I doubted if I still had what it takes to head into the wilderness, haul all my crap and summit a few fourteeners in the process–with the knowledge that my husband would not be there to carry my pack should I NOT “have what it takes.” And God forbid, should my husband not be there to light the stove and get the hot water boiling in the frigid mornings.

A month later, I exited DIA (Denver International Airport), with a huge pack that was shouting “I am headed on an adventure!” on my back. And…my mom was coming with me!

During the next four days we backpacked into Missouri Basin in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness; a steep but short hike with a 19% grade. We summitted Belford [14,197′], Oxford [14,153′], and for a few women, Missouri Mountain [14,067’].

But mostly we made new friends, kept old ones, we laughed and conquered fears, we stuck together, drank wine, and watched the sunrise reflect off the faces of some of Colorado’s majestic beauties. We lived.

Safety: Arm Yourself with Knowledge AND Experience

When it comes to all-women trips, safety is usually the first and largest concern among critics. And as one of my fellow backpackers said, “We should be concerned! We are hiking a 14’er in the middle of nowhere!”

Every trip needs knowledgeable leaders and participants. This can mean a lot of things: those well-versed in route finding, well-educated in your particular trail, and well-researched in what to expect in terms of elevation gain, difficulty, and mileage.

But equally significant are the women with experience in the outdoors. Again this can mean many things… but those who know what to pack, how to handle wildlife, first aid, meal planning, and who will take initiative in setting up camp and daily tasks are invaluable.

And lastly, danger doesn’t always come from where you’d expect – terrain, weather, injury, wildlife. It can come from other people. On a previous trip, the women ventured out into the backcountry, and found out they weren’t alone. A loud, drunk, all-MEN’s group was nearby, with their alcohol, horses, and guns. Talk about uncomfortable. Our group leader commented on the incident: “I think we got a little taste of our vulnerability during the cowboy/gun incident. In reaction to that, some of our braver ladies started packing in their own heat. As far as mountaineering safety, we follow all of the recommended practices for avoiding encounters with dangerous animals, avoiding injury and avoiding situations where we could get separated or lost.”

Which leads to my next point…

Arm Yourself with Numbers

But what if something does go wrong…and all your knowledge didn’t stop it? Well, you cannot avoid every danger. But there is safety in numbers.

On our trip we had twelve women, and one fourteener doggie, and we worked hard to stick together. We came together. We hiked together. We summitted together. One of the women said, “I love the fact that the ‘younger generation’ doesn’t leave the ‘older generation’ in the dust.” If an injury occurs or a scary moment, everyone is there to offer help and encouragement.

In addition, embrace a multi-generational group! This doesn’t happen very often…that women from a variety of generations can come together and do a physically challenging task together. But we did. The life experience, various backgrounds, and differing personalities were invaluable. Not only in terms of safety, but growth and enjoyment! One of the “empty-nester” participants shared, “Along the way we got to know each other and bridged generational gaps.  It is rare to have an activity with such a broad range of ages, and we covered several decades.  It was great to get to know the youngest and admire their mountaineering skill. Hopefully those of us who were at the upper end of the age spectrum created an awareness that age is not a barrier to adventure.”

And that is certainly true. As a middle of the pack participant, I was deeply encouraged by the humility of the younger, fiercely athletic women, that stuck with the group joyfully! But I was also challenged by the older women out there adventuring, conquering new mountains and laughing along the way in their 50s and 60s.

Arm Yourself with Fitness

All being said, you cannot ignore another huge safety influence – fitness. Mark Wellman said “Climbing is not a spectator sport,” backpacking is no different. And while the intense support of all the women certainly helps you up the mountain…it is your legs and iron-will that get you to the summit.

One member said, “I had to be sure I was self-reliant and not take the easy way out… like I might have in a multi-gender group.” Ensuring that your women know how to hike carrying heavy packs, have experience at high altitudes and with steep terrain, certainly helps your safety odds.

Grab your Girlfriends and Go!

Ironically, as a woman, I have been a huge critic of women-only trips. Honestly, I doubted they could be any fun! Sometimes we women become more competitive when we are all together. We can compare, be driven by ambition, and all sorts of ego. I didn’t experience an ounce of this on the trip! I wrote shortly after the trip, “I have never experienced a group like this. Such diversity in age, ability and life experience. Such fun personalities. What I didn’t experience? Comparison. Competitiveness. Agendas. If anyone was proving anything, it was only to themselves.”

The youngest hiker said, “I believe that backpacking with all women creates less pressure for me to perform and exert myself beyond what I should to keep up with the group.  Our trip was very relaxing and not really time-based, so I was able to just enjoy getting to know other women.  Other huge pluses: I didn’t have to worry about what I looked like, and between all of us women we had packed enough to survive anything.”

For a more complete trip report please visit The Kid Project – Femina

 

 

 

 

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