I didn’t ask for help.

Calculus Crack with Mary-Kate 

 

I reached the big tree at the top of the second pitch and surveyed the situation above me. Even though the route so far had been empty, the next few pitches of Calculus Crack were predictably crawling with people; I counted at least three separate groups on the granite above me, including one slow party of three. It had been a couple years since I had climbed this route, but I had climbed a variation to the right just a month earlier. I was excited to bring my friend Mary-Kate up this Squamish classic, but I figured it might be crowded. I knew we had other options. 

“Where are you trying to go?” There was a male climber above me and to the left, hanging out at an anchor, waiting for the same route above to clear. 

“We’re planning on climbing Calculus Crack,” I responded, leaning against the big tree. A few years ago, I had bailed by rappelling off of the same tree, facing a similar traffic-jam on the pitches above. 

“This is the route above me,” he responded, pointing at the climbers above. “You can build an anchor on that tree to bring up your second, or you can come up here and build an anchor where I am.” 

“Oh…I know I can use the tree…” I responded. I wrapped a cordelette around the tree and brought MK up to the ledge. We waited for about twenty minutes for the route to clear before bailing to the empty route next door. St. Vitus’s Dance was totally free of other climbers, and we had a great time cruising up the final four pitches at our own pace.

He was just trying to be helpful, right? How nice of him to look out for fellow climbers who need help. 

MK on calc crack
Mary-Kate on the top of pitch two

Snowfield Peak with Liza 

 

We were nearing the summit pyramid of Snowfield Peak, after crossing most of the Neve glacier. The glacier was large but straightforward; we were mostly travelling on a compression zone in the glacier, so crevasses were pretty small. The snow was in good condition and snow bridges felt solid. Liza and I had roped up when we started up the Colonial glacier earlier that morning. We had climbed up the Colonial-Neve glacier col and descended to the Neve glacier. As we approached the third class summit pyramid, we could see and hear other climbers on the scramble above us. 

We got closer to the pyramid and recognized two men that we had met on the approach the day before. We had briefly chatted with these guys on the hike up to the high camp; they were fast hikers, but they lost the trail at one point, so we ended up leap-frogging a couple times. As they came closer, we could tell they weren’t roped up yet, as they started coming down the glacier from the summit pyramid. 

“You can take your rope off, the glacier is pretty chill from here on out,” one of the men said to us as we walked by them. 

After another twenty minutes of walking on snow, Liza and I would transition to moving up rock and scree. Transitioning at this point wouldn’t save us any time, and we were moving pretty quickly, even with the rope between us. I wasn’t really sure what he thought we would gain from un-roping at this point. 

He was just trying to be helpful, right? How nice of him to look out for fellow climbers who need help. 

liza on snowfield
Liza on the summit pyramid of Snowfield Peak

Hidden Lake Lookout with Leah

 

It was Leah’s first time to the North Cascades, so we decided to do a day-hike with great views of some of the classic peaks in the range. Bonus if it had some nice rocks to lay on and draw pictures. Double bonus if it had a good alpine lake view. I had hiked up the Hidden Lake trail a couple times but never been to the actual lookout, so we decided to head up that way. 

After a couple miles in the forest, the trail opens up into a big meadow then climbs to a ridge. Hikers follow the trail along the ridge, first to views of Hidden Lake, then up to the lookout. In addition to the classic alpine lake scene, hikers are rewarded with views of the famous peaks of Boston Basin, including the formidable Johannesburg Peak. There’s a good spot to take in the views and munch on some granola bars before trudging up a little further to the lookout. 

Leah and I hiked up to the lookout, then came back down to the viewpoint overlooking the lake . There were plenty of big rocks, perfect for hanging out; we drew pictures and listened to the steady stream of hiker conversations as folks came to enjoy the views.

“The trail keeps going up that way to the lookout,” we heard a man telling a woman who had stopped at the viewpoint close to us. 

“I know,” she responded, “I was just waiting for my friend.” 

“Thank you sir, I’m not sure what I’d do without you! We’d be lost out here all by ourselves!” Leah and I joked to one another out of earshot, mimicking our desired response to that male hiker, had he given us directions on the trail. 

He was just trying to be helpful, right? How nice of him to look out for fellow hikers who need help. 

leah hidden lake
Leah at our rock overlooking Hidden Lake and Boston Basin 

 

I could keep telling these stories. 

This year, my summer was jam-packed with mountain time with almost entirely other women, and it was the best. Last season, dealing with the aftermath of overuse injuries, I barely spent any time in the mountains at all, so I decided to give this season to myself, for my own climbing. At this point in my life, I have a massive community of women who want to get outside, move uphill, climb, and try hard. This has not been always the case. In the past, I struggled to find partners, and I was almost always climbing with men. This season, I didn’t get out with half of the female crushers on my list (next season, ya’ll!), and I spent the majority of the summer climbing or hiking in groups of all women.  

Thanks to all my time outside without dudes, I’ve realized there’s something that happens frequently when I’m out with only women, that almost never happens when there’s at least one man in my group. Strange men tell me what to do. It’s subtle, disguised as sharing helpful route information or providing encouragement. But it’s unmistakable. Men keep telling me what to do when they run into me outside without a man. Or they tell me information, regardless of whether I asked them for it. In every story above, it is easy to defend the information they are offering as helpful advice. So why does this pattern continue to get under my skin? Why can’t I just say “thank you,” and continue walking, climbing, or skiing and forget about it? Why does this feel so frustrating and even damaging? 

Having spent most of my professional career in outdoor leadership, I have spent years learning, asking questions, building confidence, breaking down that confidence, recognizing my limits, not knowing, and pushing myself in different terrain. I’m still constantly learning, and I still need mentors in both outdoor and professional spaces. I’ve questioned my own experience and struggled with confidence issues. I’ve had several partners, both male and female, tell me that I’m a better climber or leader than I think I am. They tell me that I doubt my skills. 

Then random men in the woods tell me things I already know… 

…and my partners wonder why I have confidence issues. In my experience, female climbers are required to prove their skills, while the skills of male climbers are assumed. Once again, and again, and again, this is not just climbing; climbing culture continues to be a microcosm of every other space I enter. Men are believed and trusted. Women are questioned, given information, “helped,” doubted, asked to demonstrate. At this point I feel pretty confident in my climbing and leadership  abilities, and I can usually let the information overload from random dude climbers, or random dudes in general, roll off my back, but it’s taken years of me externally processing to you all on the internet to get here! 

So, to all the random, strange men I run into in the woods, mountains, or in the gym: if I need help, I will ask for it. Furthermore, if you forgot water-purification on your trip, and you ask me if I have any, I will be much less likely to fork it over if you just gave me unsolicited advice. I will probably lie and tell you I don’t have any so you’ll go away. Finally, if you got lost on the approach, I am not interested in listening to your opinion on how I should manage my rope system. 

I’m tired of being polite, but no, thank you; I didn’t ask for help. 

 


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