I’m a fixer myself. I want people to be happy and comfortable when they are around me. Recently, I was on a mountain with 10 other mountaineers. Three rope teams trying to go one pace can be annoying for the varying leg lengths and physical conditioning. But hey, that is what we signed up to do. Throughout the entire long weekend, I noticed something about one of the males in our group. He wanted to “fix” everything.
Let me take a step back. My outdoor progression, like most people, is a slow one. I’m not a pro athlete but enjoy driving to the mountains and not being constrained by four walls around me (unless they are tent walls).
I remember being on a hike in Zion many years ago and hiking a slower pace. Scared from the thousands of feet drop off on one side of me at all times. I hugged the inside of the trail until other hikers approached. My husband turning every corner with confidence when I was out of sight, I worried that no one would notice if I would fall or be able to help me.
Celebrating at the top of Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park. September 2010.
Little did I know, his distance is what I needed. It pushed me to hike faster and overcome my fears. My outdoor friends have learned the same thing about me. We go at our own pace most of the time and check in every so many minutes. It keeps everyone enjoying their pace and not being annoyed.
The more I would expose myself to fear, anxiety, and new heights, the more comfortable I became. When I would be at my limits, I wasn’t afraid to turn around and call it a day. Who cares if I didn’t summit or reach the end of the trail. I was outside and that’s all that matters to me.
Yes, everyone learns differently. But most people don’t like to feel like they are the slowest or the weakest. They want to be included without feeling they aren’t part of the group. I’m an instructor for an outdoor organization, and I see it all the time. Other instructors hovering over students. Yes, there is a need in some cases when it impacts a large group in the mountains and everyone needs to get down.
Below are a two fresh-off-the-mountain stories on how to help not only women in the outdoors but new adventurers progress.
1. Nobody wants to feel weak or vulnerable.
Loose dirt is scary. No one likes falling and bruising their bum or their ego. Loose dirt and pebbles are unpredictable. I take my time on the steep sections especially when there’s exposure, and that’s okay. When you’re in a large group like I was this past weekend, you want to hike with someone to pass the time or even hike by yourself in sections and then rejoin the group later.
One of the women in our climbing group is strong and confident on snow. However, loose rock on a scramble or the trail was making her nervous. Again it’s okay. After thinking we were done scrambling up loose rock and testing out every handhold. There was one more block we needed to do a couple moves around.
I approached one of the men standing on the top of the block and talking to me. Making sure I could “handle” the move. I got up the first, longer section didn’t I? Trying to “fix” the obstacle, he told me where to put my hands and was trying to give me a hand himself to pull me up. Hey, if you can do it, I can do it!
He continued to try to have a conversation with me as I maneuvered the few bouldery moves with a 50 lb pack on. I understand he had good intentions, but I needed to focus on the task at hand–pulling myself up the rock to hit the trail again.
After I was done scrambling, I encouraged him to continue with me and leave the others in the back to continue at the pace that felt comfortable. I gave up when he kept saying he could “help.” I met up with others who were taking a break, leaving him to continue to do what he thought was best even if it wasn’t.
Tip: Don’t provide beta unless someone asks for it.
2. When women around other women aren’t consoling each other, men, please pay attention.
Men don’t get it. Women have that time of the month that can make us weaker. For me, I’m tired, get cramps, headaches, etc. I started my period on a recent climb at 11,400 feet and still climbed to 14,000 feet and back down to 9,600 feet. Ladies, always have a tampon in your first aid kit! It was unpleasant, but I wasn’t going to let it ruin the day. I asked the other women on the rope teams with us if anyone had anything with them. It wasn’t a secret that I had just started my period.
On the way down, one of the men started to hover and tried to “fix” my discomfort–asking me if he could do anything to help me feel better. I continued to say no.
No, I didn’t need aspirin.
No, I don’t want you to take out your stove and make tea for only me.
No, I don’t need to eat your food. I have my own.
I take care of myself at home, so why wouldn’t taking care of myself in the mountains be any different. I know my body and what it needs, and at the time I just wanted to lay on my pack and close my eyes for a few minutes until it was time to continue the descent.
He persisted, and I snapped back because all my “no’s” weren’t getting through. I basically told him he’s a guy and he needed to stop trying to help. After all, he can’t understand what having a period makes you feel. I accepted his aspirin offer after several attempts in hopes he’d leave me alone.
Later in the trip, I mentioned my frustrations with the individual to our group leader. He said something that will always stay with me, “If all the other women in the group are quiet, they understand to leave you alone.” He nailed it!
Maybe I needed to rant about the man trying to “fix” everything, but I could name many other scenarios on other trips. I urge anyone in the outdoors to be cognizant of all levels of outdoors-people and know when to offer help and when not.