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Women in the Wilderness: Lessons From A Women’s Adventure Camp

Exploring Expectations On A Women’s Summer Camp Backpacking Adventure in Yosemite

“I never thought my rescuers would be a group of teenage girls.” 

That was the quote that really got us chatting, that had us roaring into conversation as we scooped peanut butter into our veggie ramen for a little extra protein on night 10 of our all-ladies expedition in the Yosemite backcountry.

In 2017, I was asked to lead Lasting Adventure’s Young Women’s Adventure. Oh girl, I was so excited. I was all geared up with Adichie readings, guided meditations, topo maps and really great lessons about peeing in the woods. It was going to be such a wonderful adventure.

As we typically do on our trips, my co-guide and I had slowly and deliberately given responsibility and leadership over to our participants. 11 days prior to this, some of them had never been camping, and on this day, day 10, they were leading fantastically. They had the maps. They were leading the hikes. They were reminding each other to stay hydrated. I was so proud.

We were traveling east, having just left the Sunrise Creek junction on the John Muir Trail. We were heading to Echo Valley and planning to camp near the Merced River that night with the hopes of looping back west and summiting Half Dome the following day. We ran into a group of two hiking west. “Have you seen a man hiking alone?” they asked us. We let them know that no, we hadn’t. They were kind and cheerful and seemed unconcerned. “He has everything he needs for the night, but if you see him, let him know we are heading to the Sunrise Creek junction.” The girls, of course, said that they were happy to do so.

About an hour later, as we were lounging, identifying wildflowers, and eating carrots, we saw a solo hiker coming our way. “I bet that’s him” said one of the girls. As he approached us, he said, “Hi there. Have you seen a group of two? I’ve lost my party.” He really had been lost. He didn’t have a map. He had missed his most recent trail sign and taken the wrong turn at a junction. He had no idea where he was and wasn’t sure which way to go.

The girls sprang into action. They pulled out the map I had lent them. They helped him locate himself on the map, gave him landmarks to use to orient himself, and then told him which way to go, how long it would be until he found his group, and how long that would take him based on his pace. They directed him to the next water source and made sure he had what he needed to get there. They were amazing! He smiled, and as he walked away, he said, “Thank you so much! I never thought my rescuers would be a group of teenage girls.” They were pleased and proud. As the day carried on and they mulled over their rescue operation, one of them spoke up and said, “Why not? Why didn’t he expect his rescuers to be a group of teenage girls?”

We talked a lot about this that night. We talked about expectations, and here is what we decided: expectations are a really big deal. There is plenty of research on this, and for good reason. When we expect a lot from people, when we expect them to be strong and capable, they are much more likely to be so. If we continue to expect certain groups to behave a certain way, they will, more likely than not, continue to do so. That goes for both positive and negative behaviors.

That being said, I can say with confidence that our Young Women’s Adventure is a wild call of expectation. This adventure is not a pat on the back for doing something that has been historically male dominated. It is a great expression on expectation, a beautiful way of yelling out, “I expect a lot from you. I expect that you can come to one of the most beautiful wild destinations in the world. That you can not only spend 13 days in the backcountry, but that you can thrive there. That you can be confident enough to help a lost traveler. That you can learn wilderness skills that will bring you joy and save your life. That you can leave this program a leader.”

Halfway through our trip we painted our nails. This was a fun way to relax and a real way to talk about being complex, multifaceted people. It was a great platform for discussing how it can be hard, especially at a young age, to be someone who paints their nails and also be someone who summits 10,000-foot mountains. We discussed how choosing to pursue a life full of real wilderness challenges doesn’t mean foregoing all of the things that someone has labeled as ‘not outdoorsy’ or ‘girly.’ To be a young woman can mean being strong, competent, and wild—and it is also worth mentioning, it doesn’t have to. The expectation does not need to be that all young women want to be wilderness savvy rescuers that will help you find your way back to Yosemite Valley. But everyone should expect that they very well could be.

Learn more about our Yosemite Young Women’s Leadership Expedition.

Another life-changing adventure: Yosemite Junior Guide Leadership Expedition

Read more: Why I Guide – A Leader’s Take on Backpacking

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