When women teach women

by • August 20, 2018 • HighlightsComments (0)145

Passing of outdoor knowledge provides more than technical skill

On my first real adventure in the outdoors at age 22, I made a friend – a best friend.

Charlotte and Sarah trek through the Khumbu in 2013. SARAH ZERKEL

In May 2013, I travelled to Nepal with my dad and a guide we hired to take us to the base camp of Mount Everest. Kathmandu,
a crowded, dirty, magical city in central Nepal, was our rendezvous point, home for three dusty days before we set off for the pristine mountain city of Lukla at 9,300 feet. Our guide was already there to greet us in Kathmandu. Her name was Charlotte and she’s taught me most of what I know about the outdoors.

Before our trip, I’d camped in a tent (though more often in a trailer) and I hiked now and then. I fumbled my way through the outdoors, wore the wrong gear, knew noth- ing about reading a map, and always, always ventured out with someone who “knew what they were doing.”

That spring I was just out of college and
facing new uncertainties; leaving the safety
of clear expectations and neatly measured
worth for the murky world of cubicles,
health insurance, and self-actualization.
During that time, I took out my fear and doubt on myself in a myriad of ways. I was a vulnerable, scared kid with perfect grades and no faith.

On the fourth day of our trip, we flew to Lukla. There we started
a 12-day trek through the Khumbu region of Eastern Nepal, along the Dudh Kosi and Imja Tse rivers, up and down 8,000 vertical feet. I marveled at the landscapes, the Zen of the Tengboche Monastery, and a way of life so different from my own. I walked through that new world on unsure feet. Charlotte approached it coolly, with com- petence, skill, and self-assuredness. I paid close attention, hoping some of it would rub off on me.

I soaked in all of her sage knowledge. I learned the mechanics of a proper rest-step, how to stay nourished at altitude, to barter for Wi- Fi in a teahouse, to elegantly dismiss sexist comments, and to fiercely defend myself when needed.

Whether she knew it or not, Charlotte guided my first steps into a tribe of women in the outdoors – a different sort of crew who know fear and strength, who struggle for recognition but still walk with certainty and skill.

I left that trip with everything a privileged Westerner expects from travelling to a third-world country: a sense of perspective, a new level of outdoor efficacy, an epic profile picture at Everest Base Camp, and a carry-on full of foreign trinkets and cheap knock offs. But hindsight is rarely about those details. Instead it’s a muddled amalgamation of feelings, snippets of conversation, and – if you’re lucky – lessons learned.

It’s now five years later. I’ve climbed major peaks and done more thru-hikes than I care to remember. I can now read a map, and often I find that I’m the one who “knows what they’re doing” in the outdoors. I’ve started a successful business and found my voice as a woman. I’ve defined my role as a wife, a sister, a daughter; and I’ve demanded what, at age 22, I didn’t realize I deserved. I still know doubt and imposter syndrome, but I walk with more certainty and more skill.

And now, I find myself passing on outdoor advice to other women – welcoming them into the tribe with the lessons of women before us. I’ve found a sense of joy and pride in the teaching of sacred knowledge; in passing on the thrill and dread of walking on blisters, and lighting a Whisperlite stove; of finding physical and mental strength to rival that of men who’ve walked, blindly confident, before us.

I’m still learning but there’s a feeling of resolution in reflection, like it’s come full circle somehow.

And Charlotte? We’re still friends. Best friends. There hasn’t been a major outdoor undertaking that she hasn’t been a part of. Whether she’s loaned me gear, or given sage advice on a route, we’re still walk- ing together, catching FaceTime calls when we can and planning new adventures. We’re friends in an ever-growing tribe of competent, badass women.

 

 

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