My Wilderness and Civilization internship culminated on a cloudy spring day in early May. I sat on the forest floor with a group of women, the smell of pine needles and moist earth fresh in the morning air. Our introductions to one another brought up similar desires for the day: wanting to feel competent, understand how to assess risk, learn technical skills, and most importantly, wanting to gain confidence and act as leaders.
For my project, I partnered (through the Wilderness Institute) with an organization called SheJumps to run a women’s outdoor rock climbing clinic in Missoula. When I began searching for a topic I knew I wanted to use my love of outdoor adventure to create a project that was meaningful. Bridging the gap between my recreational lifestyle and my engagement with my community is something that has been on my mind throughout the Wilderness and Civ. semester. My advisor, Natalie Dawson, suggested working through SheJumps to create an event that would reach out to other women in the community. SheJumps’ mission is to empower women through increasing female participation in outdoor activities. Because the organization does not have a presence in Missoula, the objective of my internship (beyond my own personal learning and service) became introducing it to the area. A town full of athletic and adventurous females, Missoula has huge potential for being a hub of communication, sharing, and growth amongst women.
Creating this event was about a more personal exploration than simply fulfilling an academic requirement. A lover of mountains, I find my greatest internal growth in backcountry skiing and climbing. There is something incredibly satisfying about being competent and able to step up and take the lead, whether it is during a day of climbing at a local crag or the planning of a long, remote trip. Striving to work towards SheJumps’ mission gave me a chance to reflect on my own behavior as a female athlete and the relationships I form with my adventure partners, male and female. Too often, I’ve found myself in the position of backing down and feeling inadequate in comparison to my partners, even when I have valuable knowledge and skills. Why is it that women so often step back and take a submissive role? Is it at times easier than stepping out, speaking up, and being seen?