Mountain Girls

AMGA Rock Guide Course 2021

I stare at the worn spines of adventure classics, many of them required reading in my youth. Verne, London, Thoreau, Tolkien, Krakauer, and Abbey stare back at me. I was entranced with nature and adventure from a young age; not until recently did I see myself as a guide, worthy of creating my own stories in the mountains.

Historically, the outdoor sector has primarily represented a limited demographic, mostly due to the privilege of leisure, stigma about who is welcome in these spaces, emotional and physical safety, and financial or physical access.

It takes bravery to change. It takes making mistakes and admitting them. It takes holding ourselves and each other accountable as we grow together. And it takes leading organizations like the American Mountain Guides Association to intentionally break barriers to entry.

As a white, cis, het, able-bodied human myself, I have an immense privilege to travel to one of my favorite places for two weeks during a pandemic to climb and learn in the unceded traditional lands of Serrano and Western Shoshone peoples. Not to “bag” or “crush” anything, but to co-create a spacious community and help steer the future of guiding with amazing women from around the continent. This is not an end, only a beginning—and a strong beginning it is.

The AMGA Rock Guide Course I attended March 9-18, 2021 in what’s known as Joshua Tree National Park was not an intentional affinity program—although 5 out of 6 of our participants were women. More and more scholarships are being offered to shift the current reality.

I am grateful to the First Ascent Charitable Foundation for sponsoring my rock guide’s course. Their opportunity provided me a chance to increase my scope of practice from a Single Pitch Instructor to an Assistant Rock Guide. Here, I gained confidence in my leadership abilities, efficiency in my transitions, and learned best practices to keep clients safe.

This RGC helped destigmatize who can be considered a mountain guide while keeping the highest standards. This group helped me feel welcome and safe to ask questions and be myself. And without this partial scholarship, I would not have been there to experience it.

We all need nature because we ARE nature. And nature needs us. If we grow up believing the great outdoors and adventure is only for wealthy white men, we miss out on a major part of who we are.

When underestimated people only see the same faces represented (especially when so few of these people look like the one they see in the mirror) a self-fulfilling cycle continues. Instead of saying, “if they can do it, so can I,” they might say, “oh, that’s not for me, is it?” Outdoor leaders of culture, disabled outdoor leaders, queer outdoor leaders, women, and many other underestimated peoples—and especially intersections of these areas—break this cycle. 

The mountains can be harsh and triggering, they are also wonderful and healing. It is important for us guides to consider that both experiences often exist simultaneously. In this space, I hope to lift up many women, girls, and underestimated young people to see guiding as a legitimate career path, and that they too belong out here.

Lead me to the rock, higher than I.

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