Female Mentorship: Alpinism and Mountaineering

I didn’t want to embarrass myself right off the bat as I am just starting this blog.. But here it is:

I am guilty of dating guys for their climbing knowledge...

There! I said it.

Well, at least I can think of one guy. And although I would not make that mistake again.. Even years later, I can see why I felt like I had to.

You see, I wanted to climb. Like really climb. Not in a gym, not sport climbing (which I love) But I wanted to trad climb. 

And at the time it was hard to find female mentors. I use the word mentor to mean someone with a lot of experience who shares their wisdom with someone else; this is more than your average climbing partner: these are females that really know what they were doing, those who could correct my bad placements and tell me when I built a shit anchor, and who would offer solutions/alternatives.

I did climb with female friends who trad climbed… but it seemed that they were in the same boat/level I was: trying to find a mentor who would push them to the next level. A lot of them who were excelling were climbing with their boyfriends.

So I figured that I needed one of ‘those’.

Trad climbing boyfriend that is.

And to be honest, I did learn a lot (about trad climbing and about how hard it is to date someone you aren't that into.) But let's not get into that.. But because I was dating him, he was super committed to fully sharing his knowledge with me to see me grow as a climber. 

We obviously broke up.



I know there are experienced female trad climbers out there. But I wasn’t meeting them. And part of this is because they are very far and few between, especially compared to all of the males out there. AND part of this is because once you do finally find your groove, you only want to keep improving and pushing yourself, and not necessarily take the time to teach someone else. At least for me, and what I have seen, we are often more willing to teach someone who is a close friend or a boyfriend.. than offer our knowledge to someone we somehow see as less deserving (our merit based on familiarity). 

 BUT now I am starting to see the problems in this industry that got me dating someone purely for their climbing abilities in the first place... AND how important it is to make a change. 

I want to share my knowledge more openly and willingly. And I want to be able to gain knowledge more openly and willingly. 


Here I am again.. But this time trying to gain more technical mountaineering and alpine skills… and I am struggling to find female mentors. As in, it’s been basically impossible (and yes, I am about to start emailing sponsored female mountaineers begging them to take me on..)

AND I am not saying that having a male mentor is all bad. And I am not saying that all male mentors will eventually try to kiss you… 

But there have been studies suggesting that protégés may benefit more from same-sex relationships than cross-sex relationships. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001879101918093)

AND how awesome would it be to have a community of female climbers/alpinists/mountaineers who support each other, who teach and learn and grow from each other. Because there are SO many guys out there doing this. And they are beating us at this alpinism game.

Ladies: we need to seek each other out.

Because we are out there. Just fewer and far between. But this is why community and mentorship is even more crucial for females.

There needs to be changes in the mountaineering/alpinist community. The amount of female guides in the industry is a glaring statistic. I am one of three female guides for my company on Denali this year, which is in comparison to over 30 male guides for the same company.

According to an article by Dana Richardson on the AMGA site called "LEADING THE CHARGE: IN THE AMGA, WHERE ARE ALL THE WOMEN?" one of the most major ways to fix “ingrained biases, sexism and lack of opportunity” for female guides is through mentorship.

To spur change, Kerr, Engle and Derek Debruin, an AMGA-certified rock guide and the director of Weber State University’s Campus Recreational Outdoor Program, came together to create the Inclusivity Forum last October’s AMGA Annual Meeting. Before the forum, Debruin surveyed 20 female AMGA guides and candidates about issues they’ve faced in their career track. He presented the findings at the conference, where attendees discussed the problematic themes faced by female guides. From there, they broke into smaller groups to find implementable solutions.

“A big solution was mentorship,” Kerr says. “That was the largest finding.” At this point, while nothing is set in stone regarding a formalized mentorship program, the national-scale conversation has begun.

If the solution is mentorship…

Then let’s work on this together. Let’s not be hesitant to reach-out to each other, to grow this community. 

Feel free and please do… email or reach out to me via instagram: https://www.instagram.com/carlycain7/?hl=en


if you want to discuss a meet-up for female mountaineers/alpinists or have any other concern:)





So Tell Me: Does the Outdoor Industry Really Believe in Female Mountaineers?

“Don’t cry, we will figure something out,” said the flannel-clad, bearded man at the brand-name outdoor retailer store I stood in.

I stared at him blankly just blinking. As I was registering that he was indeed talking to ME, I stuttered that I wasn’t feeling like I needed to cry…

Honestly, I felt way more like punching him in the face than crying. In fact, I felt like punching the whole outdoor industry in the face.

This was the fifth location I had been to trying to find my size in double mountaineering boots, and this time I was at the source! (Hello Boulder, CO!) No luck, and only condescending and degrading comments.

There are two main problems we need to solve:

1.) Most Outdoor retailers don't carry women’s sizing in mountaineering gear such as double or triple boots

2.) Outdoor companies themselves don’t even make women’s specific boots in this category. Ladies, we are SOL.

Spending $1,000 on boots that don’t even fit your feet right is a harsh reality.

...As most advice for finding the correct boot says: “The important thing to remember is the heel-lock. If the boot fits around your heel and ankle, and securely holds the rear of your foot in place without it sliding up for forward".. You’re good to go!  The volume of men’s or even unisex boots makes this impossible for women with smaller heel cup size and typically a higher arch.

But YOU have no choice: buy the ill-fitting boots or don’t climb. Go see a boot-fitter, spend more money, and try to get them to keep your heel from sliding up. But don’t worry, we believe in you just as much as we believe in male mountaineers, right?

This struggle to find essential gear makes me wonder what’s wrong with being a woman in this industry? 

If I can’t fit into the boots, can I fit into the role of 'Mountain Guide'?  How accessible to women is this industry really, and is this accessibility an illusion of reality that the outdoor industry simply feeds?

And, If the outdoor gear industry believed in, or wanted to support female mountaineer endeavors, they would make a boot that actually fits... and really, let's be real, that's just for starters. 



"Sheldon Kerr, an AMGA-certified ski guide, suggests that ingrained biases, sexism and lack of opportunity are self-perpetuating issues of an uneven gender balance."

But one way to fix that is through increasing mentorship.

“Women tend to lack mentorship because folks who are established in the industry tend to mentor people they see themselves in,” says Kerr of the male-dominated field. “So it’s not necessarily some sort of conscious discrimination; it’s unconscious bias. For that reason, we have smaller, fewer opportunities to be with the mentors we’d like to have.” https://amga.com/leading-charge-amga-women/

Look, sexism and biases in the outdoor industry do exist in so many varying ways, all I am asking for is that the outdoor gear industry do their part.  Offer women gear that actually fits! That actually makes them feel good, feel worthy, feel empowered, feel like we can actually climb that goddamn mountain. Out of all the things that we have to fight for, in and out of this industry, ladies: this is one fight we shouldn't have to have. 





*Fun Fact: 372 different women have summited Everest