DOC plans Swiss Alps mountaineering trip for women

by Jasmine Oh | 1/11/18 2:00am

An upcoming Dartmouth Outing Club trip to the Swiss Alps will try to address gender discrepancies in the high-level outdoors. The trip, the first of its kind, will teach glacier travel and mountaineering skills to women, while focusing on risk management and gender dynamics in outdoors industry.

The trip will take approximately 10 students to Chamonix, France, an area of the Swiss Alps, during the interim between spring and summer. Mountaineering involves steeper, larger mountains and permanent snow and ice and taps into both ice climbing and rock climbing skills.

President of the DOC Mallory Byrd ’19, who is co-leading the trip, said she has always been invested in women’s issues at the College and within the DOC but got the idea for the trip when she met Margaret Wheeler ’97, the second American woman to become an internationally-certified mountain guide, which can take five years to achieve. Wheeler will be guiding the trip and teaching mountaineering skills.

“[Deputy director of outdoor programs Brian Kunz A&S’00] was pretty upfront with the fact that we probably don’t have the skill base in the club now to just go out and randomly walk up a technical peak,” Byrd said. “But we do have this wonderful alumni base and in particular, Margaret Wheeler.”

In the last few years, Byrd said she has conversed with other female leaders in the DOC about how they felt they needed to be “higher technically capable, stronger, more prepared” than men in order to prove themselves. When Byrd first got to Dartmouth, she said she eagerly signed up to go on hiking and climbing trips. However, she eventually noticed that most leaders for these trips tended to be men and there was a masculine energy. Despite having a mixed gender friend group in Boulder, Colorado, Byrd said that she felt implicit biases against her outdoor ability, since no one knew her well.

“Aside from experience, my primary motivation going into this trip is to really increase the presence and capability of female technical leadership in the DOC because a common trait in the club is that there’s plenty of entry level of female leadership, which is great because it gets people involved, but the high-level, technical leadership is very underrepresented in our body of female leaders,” trip co-leader Anna Ellis ’19 said.

The trip will be subsidized by the DOC and in particular, the DOC Women’s Fund, which was created during the spring of 2017. Both Byrd and Ellis expressed their belief that gender disparity existed in the outdoors industry and said they hoped to see an increase in technical leadership of women in the DOC.

“I would like to think that the outdoors is an incredible resource for everyone, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, you need a lot of gear, money, people who know what they are doing,” Byrd said. “That is typically expensive, and the group that has that is mostly wealthy white men.”

Additionally, Kunz expressed his excitement in using the College’s alumni base to connect current and former students to embark on the mountaineering trip, especially to a region like the Swiss Alps. Students will work closely with Wheeler throughout the trip.

“[Wheeler] is a great educator and mountaineer,” Kunz said. “She and the group will go across glaciers and safely navigate all the hazards in mountains. They can later come back here and be more prepared to climb America’s mountains. For many students, they’ll be doing more than they’re skilled for. So, they’ll be able to calibrate their skill level.”

Byrd said Wheeler hopes that risk management will be another focus on the trip as the DOC is constantly focusing on building a culture of safety. This entails not only being technically adept, but also creating an environment in which people double check their gear and are comfortable pointing out mistakes.

Participants will hopefully also give back to the Dartmouth community, such as to Women in the Wilderness, a DOC club, Ellis said.

“I think it’s really cool to see this trip happening because it’ll not only get girls into mountaineering, but also [be] really good at mountaineering, which will mean that they can teach other girls and members, which is a core part of the trip,” Women in the Wilderness president Lily Hanig ’19 said. 

Applications for the mountaineering trip are due on Jan. 15 and decisions are expected to be sent out by the end of that week. Although students of all genders are welcome to apply, the application will include a question on how gender has affected the prospective member’s outdoor experiences.