Never Stop Moving!

Call of the Wild Adventures tends to attract older clients than many expect.  It’s not the hard charging youthful women in their 20s and 30s – they are often too independent to use guided services, have career and/or family obligations, and are still on a budget.  The majority of our clients are roughly 45-65 with a decent chunk of superstars in their 70s.

I was so amazed by these women who were almost twice my age but who could out hike me if I let them run wild (I always manage my trips to a group pace to maximize the potential for everyone’s enjoyment and success).  I couldn’t help myself and with sincere interest and naiveté, kept asking the same question over and over expecting a different answer, a new angle, some special secret…but the answer was always the same.

NEVER STOP MOVING!

These women are not extreme athletes.  None are ex-Olympians.  Few are marathoners or triathletes.  All hike and workout regularly, often every day.  They garden, ski, cycle, walk, backpack…I could go on.  They take active vacations.  They eat healthily but don’t deprive themselves of a treat from time to time.

One such woman is my dear friend, Louise.  Louise finished the entire SPS list of 247 major peaks in the Sierra Nevada of California on her 70th birthday.  She and I climbed Mt Thielsen in Oregon last October which involved 10 miles roundtrip, 3,000ft elevation gain, and a 4th class rock climb ~100ft to the summit.  She’s coming with me on a Call of the Wild trip to climb Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania at 19.3kft. Afterwards just she and I are heading north to Kenya to give Mt Kenya a go.

Louise is one of the most active people I know, young or old.  She struggles with some knee issues but wears a knee brace and has a medical routine to control her pain.  She does not let it stop her!

MC, 54, and Louise, 73 at the time, on the summit of Mt Thielsen in OR

MC, 54, and Louise, 73 at the time, on the summit of Mt Thielsen in OR

Contrast Louise to the average 50yo I bump into who says, “Oh, I could NEVER do THAT!  I’m too <insert adjective here – fat, old, slow, unfit, afraid>.”  It makes me so sad that they have 25+ years of activity left that they won’t take advantage of.

I was further reminded of the power of moving last week when I was completing a full circumambulation of the Three Sisters mountains here in Central Oregon.  It was an amazing trip – 51 miles in 5 days with a wonderful new partner, Kristie around three beautiful Cascades volcanoes.

The weather was glorious, the views were astounding, and we saw no one on the trails.  That is until we bumped into Greg, a 77 yo old man backpacking with his daughter and son-in-law.  He let us pass and we could barely keep a pace to stay out in front of his group.  He was a lifelong hiker and backpacker.

I didn’t ask Greg what his secret was because I now knew the answer…NEVER STOP MOVING!

I was ruminating on this blog post about the power of movement as the fountain of youth, and within 24 hours I bumped into two more examples.  I was killing time before a doctor appt at one of my favorite places to borrow wifi, the tasting room at Humm Kombucha.  I couldn’t help but overhear one of these gentlemen say, “Now that I’m 70…”  My ears perked up and I took a second look.  The fellow on the left, Jack, doesn’t look a day over 50 (he was the 70yo) and his buddy, Gary, doesn’t look over 60 (but he was 69).  They both said they stay active daily and “Uncle Gary,” who has done yoga daily for 20 years and is blissfully married, proceeded to tell me his 3 secrets to staying young:

1. Stay social and get outside

2. Maintain a strong love of life

3. Don’t eat any cow products

Sounds like pretty solid advice to me…although I do love my cheese…

Jack and Uncle Gary at Humm Kombucha in Bend, OR

Jack and Uncle Gary at Humm Kombucha in Bend, OR

I came home with my outline in mind and saw that my Warrior Mind Coach, Gregg Swanson, posted an article on Facebook from Psychology Today.  The topic?  The one word answer to adding years to your life…MOVE!

Talk about serendipity!  The article provided more support for my anecdotal evidence:

There are many theories. First, let’s consider the Standard Model:
1. People who move around more have lower blood pressure.
2. If you move more, you make your arteries more elastic and less prone to plaque.
3. Greater physical activity makes you stronger, allowing you to avoid accidents, falls and physical debilities.

 

Next there’s the Regeneration Health Model:
1. The body is an information system. Physical activity provides a much greater load of information to the body than virtually anything done sitting still. If you walk outside, your immune system must respond to thousands of different—and mutating—bacteria, viruses, fungi and other organisms. It must counter many different chemicals and pollutants. Updating on the fly makes the system more resilient, and effectively smarter.
2. Moving in three-dimensional space is itself a tremendous stimulus to the body and brain, which must coordinate cognitive, sensory, muscle, connective, and skin tissue activity in real time. Just consider what your eyes and ears have to do in conjunction with immunity to keep your body aware—and alive. The biological rule is simple: Learn continuously, or die. The end result is growing more brain cells in memory regions, plus making the brain and body more resilient.
3. Physical activity improves mood, which allows people to remain engaged physically and mentally, and makes it easier and more reinforcing to stay active in all spheres.
4. Physical activity causes the heart and blood vessels to be stressed, causing more and sometimes quicker regeneration of tissue. Most of the heart, for example, is replaced in three days time, and more of it will be replaced from the greater use and material demands of physical activity. Many organs are more efficiently regenerated in activity than when left in a resting state. As a counter-example, sitting is increasingly recognized as an important risk factor to overall mortality.
5. Moving improves the ability to sleep and rest, increasing regenerative capacity overall. Walk in the morning, sleep better at night.
6. Moving causes frequent and ubiquitous hormonal shifts, including increased insulin sensitivity. The latter may help with greater energy efficiency throughout the body, as well as prevent build up of fat surrounding abdominal organs, now recognized as a hormonal gland in and of itself.
7. Increased physical activity leads to more engagement with the environment. That improves learning and can augment the ability to connect with others along the way. Notably, heart attack risk goes down 30-50 percent in British housing estates where people have greater access to green space—letting them move around and meet each other.

 

Source: “The Simple, One-Word Secret for Adding Years to Your Life.” Psychology Today, May 28, 2015.

I don’t need any more convincing!  Packing my car right now to go climb Mt Hood tonight…how are you going to get out and move today?  And tomorrow?  And the next day?

It’s never too late to NEVER STOP MOVING!!!

The Power of Dreams

I have never cried so much on a trip before.  Every time I summited one of the three high peaks in the Rwenzoris range, aka the Mountains of the Moon, I was completely overcome by emotion, welling up inside so that I could not speak and had to take a moment to compose myself, lest others see.  

Climbing Mt Stanley, Mt Speke, and Mt Baker was literally a dream come true.  Most will scratch their heads.  Where are the Rwenzoris (and how do you even pronounce that)?  Why were you compelled to go there of all places?  Why can’t you stop adventuring and just sit still for a while?

A region so unknown, I could only find 3 maps available out of the UK

A region so unknown, I could only find 3 maps available out of the UK

I first heard about the Rwenzoris back in 2005, 10 years ago!  I was just getting into climbing and picked the brain of a local woman, Alison Levine, about mountaineering.  In addition to being a mountaineer and professional speaker, Alison also founded a non-profit called Climb High Foundation that trains women in Uganda to be guides and porters.  That mountain range was called the Rwenzoris.  I then heard my mountaineering role model, Arlene Blum, mention the Rwenzoris in one of her talks at REI Mountain View.  Finally, my amazing sports podiatrist’s wife, Debbie, mentioned that out of all the things they have done (and they have done a lot – things like the Marathon des Sables, Ecoquest, climbed Aconcagua, etc etc), the Rwenzoris were the most beautiful they had ever seen.  All roads lead to the Rwenzoris…

The Rwenzoris also just so happen to have 3 peaks at or above 16k ft high – Mt Stanley at 16,763ft, Mt Speke at 16,137ft, and Mt Baker at 15,988ft.  My passion is high altitude climbing, so this put the Rwenzoris at the top of my list despite the time/expense to get there.

I obsessed about the Rwenzoris nearly every year, this mountain range almost no one else had ever heard of, researching/plotting/planning until the perfect storm of opportunity arose…

Celebrating 40

For some reason, turning 40 hit me particularly hard and I still can’t quite put my finger on it.  It’s not just checking a new box for the age bracket categories.  It’s not that I suddenly looked or felt older from my last day as 39 or my first day as 40.  My clients, most of whom are older than me, call me things like “kiddo” which is kind of annoying, but I also secretly love.  I think it was more the disparity between the perception of someone in their 40s being mature and responsible and how I feel.  I still feel SO young inside – there is so much to learn about the world and people, so many places to explore, so much inner growth to pursue – that mature feels like a ridiculous word to embrace at this stage.

I turned 40 on a particularly challenging Call of the Wild trip in Italy – the hikes and the terrain were not what was particularly challenging (especially because gelato and espresso were inserted between hiking segments!).  It was the first time ever that I did not personally gel with a group (that’s the diplomatic way to put it).  I never mentioned my milestone birthday because I believed most of the clients would feel like it detracted from their vacation and high expectations.  The rest of the summer rushed by as I ran like a chicken with her head cut off from one trip to another.  Something inside me felt empty for not taking a moment to celebrate. 

I sat with this for months trying to decide what I could do that felt worth to me as a great celebration.  I noodled and I brainstormed.  I foolishly asked for feedback on Facebook for ideas (to which I got the response, “But didn’t you get to go to Italy for your birthday?” and “How about going wine tasting?”).  Only Linda Sun mentioned climbing BIG peaks…exactly what I had in mind but how?  The finances are tight since everything I have goes into the business and I didn’t have the staff support yet to truly leave and be out of touch for any period of time.    

But if I set constraints aside, the objective that met all my criteria to be worthy of a 40th celebration???  The Rwenzoris.

My Mother

My mother passed away when I was 12 and she was 40.  After decades of never discussing my mother or her death with those who raised me, I always had a deeply buried sadness about growing up motherless, but I felt like she loved us until the end.   I only learned 2 years ago, accidentally from an extended family member, that she committed suicide.  This kind of information hits you hard, even as an adult.  Suddenly I felt abandoned all over again.  I will never understand why she did it – what depths of despair and hopelessness that she experienced.  Every day and every year I now live will be longer than she did.  It’s in her memory that I am dedicated to living an epic life worth living.  One that is full of vitality and happiness and pain and disappointment – whatever comes my way from the choices I make.

Me and Mom

Turning 2 years old

 

This is why I feel an increased responsibility not to waste the precious time that I have on this planet. I have the opportunity to, hopefully, double her life experience if I live until 80…but anything can happen any day.  On the journey back home, a passenger died on the flight that Eszter and Chris were on.  We don’t have details about what happened, but essentially one moment a fellow was coming or going to a faraway destination, and he never woke up.  No one wants to die, and few get to chose how they go, but I am dedicated to make the most of the time I have.  Exploring a remote mountain range on the border of Uganda and the Congo sounded like a fantastic way to spend my time!

Making My Own Dreams a Priority

Many regularly express envy of my lifestyle – with good intentions, they say I am “living the dream” and wish they could do it, too.  Not only do they not see the sacrifices I have made to leave the corporate world and try to make this combination of vocation and passion work, they are truly not interested. It’s easier and more fun to put someone on a pedestal than feign interest in the reality – the reality behind running any small business regardless how sexy the product is.   

I won’t go on and on about those sacrifices (I’ve been told I’ll hear the smallest violin in the world playing), but the last 3 years I have been dedicated financially, physically, and spiritually to helping others dreams come while putting my own on hold.

“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.”

-Jack London, The Call of the Wild

My personal dream is to climb – to have enough time and financial security to be able to take off a couple of times a year to do something BIG.  I’ve been cranky and pent up and downright bitchy at times focusing exclusively on others.  Climbing the three high peaks of Uganda was the realization of a nearly 10 year dream in the making – the perspective resetting impact of this trip is difficult to put into words.  Making my own dreams come true simply must be as important and making others’ dreams come true, too.

For me, climbing is to love, to live, even to forget and release.  It’s the purest celebration of life that I know – my own life and those who have gone before me.  To climb is to be whole, and I am feeling whole again…thanks to the Rwenzoris!

Another One Bites the Dust (but doesn’t have to)

EXPEDITION BUZZKILL

 

I came out of the Rwenzoris mountain range on the border of Uganda and the Congo completing the most successful personal expedition in over four years since a bad injury and surgery.  I was flying high as a kite. I completed one of the hardest treks in the world and climbed the three high peaks ranging from 16-17k ft high. “I’m back!  I was born to climb big mountains and I’m back!!!” was the refrain in my head…

 

Until I opened my email and saw the subject line:  “PathWrangler is CLOSING – March 21, 2015 (IMPORTANT!)”

 

My jaw dropped, heart stopped, and blood pressure spiked.  NOOOOOOOO!

 

The owner, Doug Heinz, is a good buddy of mine.  We worked together at Moody’s KMV in the quantitative fixed income analytics field in the mid-2000s, both of us going on to a few other jobs until ultimately fleeing the corporate world.

 

Doug started PathWrangler in 2010 with another buddy, Eric Remza, my favorite Alpine Ascents Intl guide who taught me all my early mountaineering foundation (legend has it they bumped into each other on the North side of Everest and found they knew me in common-I’d like to take credit for the birth of PathWrangler!).  I acquired Call of the Wild Adventures, Inc, adventure travel for women in 2012 to pursue my passion of empowering women through positive experiences in the outdoors.

 

PW front pageWHY PATHWRANGLER FUCKING ROCKS

 

I immediately made Call of the Wild a client of Pathwrangler, and as Doug tells me, one of his model clients in terms of fully embracing PW.  I didn’t become a client for Doug or Eric, I became a client because in the first few months of taking over the business I saw some MAJOR issues that were intense, costly administrative burdens that negatively impacted the client experience, including but not limited to:

 

    • Document control issues – Some people wanted pdfs so the formatting would look good.  Other clients didn’t have Adobe Acrobat and wanted Word versions.  Some had Macs and didn’t have Word on their computers. Version control was an issue…Buddha forbid you ever had to make a correction and send an updated document.  Staff would send the wrong ones, clients could never find the email with the right one.  We needed a universal format that people could access at any time and we could update simultaneously – PathWrangler does exactly that.

 

    • Improved gear list – Clients had long complained that the gear list didn’t have product recommendations.  We were challenged to provide meaningful recommendations and facilitate the research and purchase of appropriate gear.  I was so excited that PW allows for comments about each item on the gear list and we can even add direct links to the products that we could easily update.

 

    • Streamlined questions – Many clients have the same questions, or later they become frustrated to find out someone else asked a question from which they could have benefited.  The typical way to handle client questions is one on one email correspondence or phone calls, hopefully logging the answers that at some point should be distributed to the rest of the clients or incorporated into trip materials.  It’s time consuming and error prone.  With PW, we encourage clients to ask questions in the discussion area (and when they don’t we still post their question and the answer for all to see).  Everyone gets to benefit from that information.  Further, if a client asks a question that really should be in the official trip materials, we can easily and immediately add it to that trip’s overview section (without having to send out a new version of a document!).

 

    • Facilitating client communication – Not only do we encourage questions, we post who the clients are, where they are from, and encourage them to introduce themselves.  It’s totally optional to participate, and I would estimate around 75% of clients embrace this aspect.  They LOVE getting to know each other before a trip – it’s a great sign of success when a group already has inside jokes before they even show up on a trip!  Further, we are often asked to help facilitate carpooling, hotel sharing, etc between clients to help get their costs down and reduce the stress of traveling alone to a new place.  Due to liability and high administrative burden, we can’t get involved in these discussions, but the clients can have them on PW.  We have seen women indeed share rental car costs, hotels, even travel to other states to meet and train in preparation for some of our tougher trips.

 

    • Reminders – We love to post periodic reminders without flooding clients’ email inboxes. Once the trip is staffed, we post the guide bios and invite the guides so that they can get to know each other.  For trips that require training, we put reminders about where they should be with their program.  For trips with deadlines, such as procuring international visas, we can post reminders.  For international trips, we post travel recommendations 2 weeks before. All of these posts live in one place on the discussion forum so that the clients can see them at any time and don’t have to go back to an inbox to search for a needle in a haystack.

 

PW comments

The discussions are off the hook for Kilimanjaro 2015. Arranging training hikes and even weekend training trips. Tons of gear questions. Age comparisons with everyone vying for the title of the oldest. It’s also the first time I’ve been donned a trip nickname PRE-trip (“Excrement Expert” or E.E. for short) 🙂

I’ve already written too much about how PW makes our lives and those of our clients easier…but it’s critical to understand what a blow this email was.  I felt for Doug as I knew how hard he had worked over the last 5 years, how he was always available to service our account, how he had not paid himself and paid others from his shallow pockets because he believed in the value of PW.

 

 

But then I selfishly thought of the pain, time, and expense that myself and Call of the Wild were about to go through transitioning back to the old way of doing things, and I said, “You deserve this.”  Why would that be my first thought???

 

PATS ON THE BACK ARE NOT ENOUGH

 

Well meaning folks give entrepreneurs like myself and Doug lots of “pats on the back.”  You are amazing.  Your passion is infectious.  You are having positive impact on the world.  What’s it like to be your own boss?  Must be soooooo AMAZING.  Blah, blah, blah.

 

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful because positive feedback is wonderful.  But in the end, we are running businesses.  And businesses need to be financially sustainable to survive.  Words don’t pay the bills or create profits.

 

I gave Doug lots of pats on the back as well and had often pondered calling Doug and saying, “You know, PW adds so much value to our business, I just don’t feel right paying a piddly $25/month.”  The pricing is based on number of users, and as we only have one admin, we are at the bottom of the pay scale.  However, PW is now an integral part of the way we service our customers and create community.  Even though our margins are as thin as the rest of the adventure travel industry, I would easily justify paying $200/mo, one of our higher monthly commitments.

 

But I never did it.

 

Now, faced with the closure of PW, I am banding together with my advisory board and other PW clients to donate bridge money to keep it open.  PW simple cannot die.  It has no competitors.  It has revolutionized my adventure travel business.  It can revolutionize others.  Doug is a great visionary who can execute.  I truly don’t have $$ to spare, my pockets are shallow as well, but where there is a will, there is a way.  I still have some retirement savings, and I’m pulling what I can to keep PW afloat.  I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

 

MAKE YOUR CHOICE NOW

 

What are you willing to do to support a person, an idea, a great business that simply must stay in existence?

 

Think about it.  Don’t be one of those people, for example, who laments the closure of some small business in your community because you chose to shop at Big Box retailers when it was more convenient.  Or one of those PW clients who is using the service for free but haven’t converted to a (crazy low monthly) paid subscription. “Oh, it was so sad to see them go.  I should have done my part to support them more.”

 

Don’t wait, do it now!  Put your money where your mouth is for the things you believe in.  Oh, yeah, and sign up for a Call of the Wild trip while you’re at it!  😉

 

PW My Trips

The Case for Women’s Awards

Last night was the inaugural Bend Chamber of Commerce Women of the Year Awards ceremony where I delivered a pre-taped mini-keynote (as I won’t be back from Uganda until March 20).  I wanted to share this here as well as it’s critical to highlight the importance of women’s awards and provide inspiration to others!

 

“Hello! I am Emilie Cortes and I run Call of the Wild Adventures, adventure travel for women, here locally in Bend.  I would be with you all tonight but I am currently 9,000 miles away at the moment.  On this day I will be attempting to climb, Mt Stanley, the highest peak in Uganda and the 3rd highest peak on the African continent at 16,743ft high.  I hope that’s a good excuse!

I was ecstatic when I was asked to serve as a judge for the Bend Chamber of Commerce first ever Women of the Year awards.  It’s so important to recognize when in our businesses and in our community who are standing out.  But why is it important to hold an event that’s focused exclusively on women?

First, it’s important to recognize trail blazers!  Trail blazers, you say?  Are there really any trail blazers any more?  Don’t we live in an truly egalitarian world now?  Not so much.  After all, it was only 50 years ago that every industry was male-dominated and a women’s place was in the home.  There are many of us who experienced this directly or who saw our mothers’ struggle to make progress and fight for respect.  

This is why one of the awards, the Woman of the Year focuses on male-dominated industries.  Industries such as construction, finance and insurance, academia, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) are still heavily occupied by men.  Women who are leaders in these fields are indeed trail blazers.  By learning about what they are doing and how they have been succession, we continue to level the playing field by showing that women can master management in these fields.  It’s not at all about putting men down, it’s about lifting women up!

The second is that we cannot be inspired by what we cannot see!  In my own personal career, I worked in finance in San Francisco for 17 years before making a shift to move to Bend to run my own adventure travel company.  When I looked around me, I saw many qualified, intelligent, dedicated women, but when I looked into the upper echelons of my industry and the companies for which I worked, I saw few or no women.  I felt like I did not belong!  It’s a natural feeling.  If I had seem more women in higher management positions, I may have felt like that was a realistic  career path for me.

Instead I chose to forge my own path and to focus my company exclusively on women. I’ll often be asked if I’m not being sexist or discriminating against men by running women’s only trips.  To that I always answer – ‘The entire adventure travel industry is welcoming toward men.  The other companies are owned by men, the guides are male, and majority of clients are male.  The men are doing JUST FINE! It’s extremely rare to go on a trip in the wilderness with only women and with female guides, and the experience is in stark contrast.  

Women are more comfortable to be themselves, be vulnerable, and work through doubt and fear.  The impact of female guides is palpable.  After being told our whole lives that the female sex is the weaker sex, it’s empowering to see women in charge, leading with confidence and making decisions without a man in sight.  One of my Nepali partners, who I love to death, is always so incredulous when I tell him that there are no men around our trips in the US AT ALL.  He always says, “But Didi, what HAPPENS if something goes wrong and there are no men around???”  You can’t help but walk away from one of these trips with the realization, that yes, we can take care of ourselves and be successful, if in the wilderness then certainly also back in civilization.

It’s with every fiber of my being that I am excited about and dedicated to the lifting up of women around me.  So I sincerely hope that this event has the desired impact on each and every one of you – to recognize the trail blazers in our community and to showcase who we could not see before, and be inspired by them!”

The Case for Self-Nomination

I’ve recently joined the brand new Bend Chamber of the Women of the Year award judge panel.  It’s a great honor to be in the position of evaluating the nominations coming in of wonderful women in our community!

As we have been putting out the word about the nomination period, we are reminding women that they can also self-nominate.  We want to have a great turnout for the inaugural year, and self-nomination is a perfectly legitimate way to be considered!

However, most woman have responded reluctantly to my suggestion to self-nomination.  “Self-nomination really isn’t my thing,” responded one community super star. Another leader in her field said, “I really don’t want the recognition. What have I done to deserve it?

Women-of-the-Year-LOGO

Why are we so hesitant to self-nominate?  There are many angles we could explore but a few come to mind that are obvious:

1. We want validation from others.  Does a nomination for an award need to be submitted by someone else to be worthy?  If we have no one else to pat us on our back, we feel like what we are achieving is somehow less meaningful.  Or perhaps, we haven’t truly achieved success until others are willing to recognize us.  Let’s move past validation and chose to intrinsically believe in our own worth.

2. Humility and modesty are valued among women.  If we toot our own horn, we are immodest and full of ourselves.  Our accomplishments are seemingly less amazing if we bring attention to them.  Where did we get this idea from?  We must shout from the mountain tops all of the amazing things we are doing to change the world around us, to change the way the business is run, to change how women feel about speaking out.

3. We don’t feel deserving. How much do we need to achieve before we feel worthy of recognition?  If we have created a movement, run a company, or touch individuals one by one, don’t we deserve some accolades?  I would say so!

 

Your work is important!  Your contribution is important!  Perhaps what you have accomplished has not had much visibility or your work has been ignored despite your best efforts.  Showcasing your achievements, your company, your projects has the added benefit of providing exposure and increasing the probability of your success.

If you are worried about others judging you for self-nominating, the judging panel has asked that we do not see who nominated each of the candidates.  All barriers have no been removed, so please, nominate yourself today!

Nomination forms are due February 20 by 4pm and can be downloaded on the Bend Chamber website at http://bendchamber.org/chamber-events/women-of-the-year-awards/.

Best Training Hikes in the Bay Area

Training for backpacking and mountaineering has several components – cardiovascular (both endurance and interval to raise anaerobic threshold), strength training, and “sport specific.”

Sport specific refers trying to mimic the activity as best possible.  For example, in mountaineering, we typically carry heavy packs up and down steep slopes over several days for anywhere from 4 to 10 hours on average.  It’s tough to mimic those conditions in the gym, but we can do so out on the trails.

Hiking Montara Mtn gives training at sea level new meaning

Beautiful single track

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would recommend hiking with the pack you will actually carry in the mountains.  This achieves several objectives – gets you more familiar with your gear, gives you a chance to see if there are any issues with the fit (i.e., waist belt digs into your hips), and best simulates the actual conditions of your climb.

Water is the best way to weight your pack.  It’s easy to calculate (1 gallon is 8.8# and 1 liter is 2.2#), it’s plentiful and can be convenient on really hot days, and you can pour it out if you need to move faster or your knees are bothering you on the downhill.

A girlfriend of mine once brought 10# boxes of trash compactor bags in her pack, but when we started to run out of daylight and needed to move faster, she couldn’t do anything with those boxes. If she had water, she could have poured it out to lighten her load.

One disadvantage of using water is that it is more dense than the actual gear with which you will fill your pack.  This makes the center of gravity feel much lower than it will be on the actual climb.

Hiking the fire roads on Diablo

Company at the summit of Olympia Peak

One standard training principle is to carry the water up to the top of your hike, pour it out, and then descend with a lighter pack to save your knees and legs.  I never did this because I find the downhill to be quite challenging.  Its also the most dangerous part of most climbs – you have gravity pulling you downward, a false step is more likely to result in a fall, and you are the most tired when descending.  I always found it really valuable to train for the descent as well as the ascent.

When I first started climbing, I took the time to research all the major steep day hikes in the Bay Area.  I calculated the feet gain per mile to figure out which hikes would give me the best bang for my buck.  Mt Diablo tops them all for being a butt kicker that really simulates the strain you’ll experience on a mountain.  Mission Peak as also great for its relentless slope and was a great hike to do when I was more pressed for time.  Others are good for variety, but I didn’t feel were as beneficial as a staple.

Hike Miles Altitude Gain Feet/Mile Comments
Mission Peak – Main Trail 6.0 2100 350 Can be very hot in summer, but bring layers and liner gloves as temp can really drop once you gain the ridge near top
Mt Diablo North Peak Loop fm Regency Gate 9.9 3100  313 Real butt kicker –  when I’m really serious, I would do this one EVERY weekend. Bring a map and lots of water, can be VERY hot in summer.
Mt Diablo – 4 peaks of Diablo 16 4700 293 Start in Mitchell Canyon and summit Eagle Peak, main summit, North Peak, and Olympia Peak. Takes ~7.5 hrs.
Del Valle to Sunol 19.5 5600 287 Long long hike that requires a car shuttle. I’ve done this twice in about 8.5 hrs
Mt Tam – Mtn Home Inn TH  6.5 1500 250 Beautiful hike. Good for variety, but not nearly as hard as top two.
Montara Mountain 8 1800 225 Start in Mitchell Canyon and summit Eagle Peak, main summit, North Peak, and Olympia Peak. Takes ~7.5 hrs.
Windy Hill – Portola Valley Loop  7.2  1400 195 This has a long flat start and the grade is not consistent, but this is a good alternative for variety.
Wunderlich Skyline Loop 10.0 1800  180 Wooded and cooler in summer.  Well-marked trails.  Gentle grade but continuous slope.  Good for endurance but not very grueling.

All distances and altitude gains are based on publicly available info, my own recollection and use of an altitude watch, or maps.  If you redo any of these maps with your own GPS, feel free to send me your stats so I can improve the accuracy of this chart.

Please feel free to shoot me any questions or share any other local hike gems you may have.  Finally, I’ll put in a plug for my friends at BodyResults.  Most of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned from Courtney Schurman who has been writing my training programs for the last decade for big objectives.  Call of the Wild clients get special discounts at www.bodyresults.com/wild.

Hope this helps your progress toward your backpacking and climbing dreams!

The gang on a windy day on top of Mission Peak

Friendly tarantula on Mt Diablo in Oct

Why Women?

Last week, an audience member asked me a question that really made me pause during my Achieving Peak Performance talk at a Haas Alumni Network (Berkeley) event, “Why did you chose to focus on women?” I’ve been pondering ever since – how to express this in a way that is understandable and doesn’t make men feel excluded?  Be forewarned that I make lots of generalizations about each sex below which are based on my personal experience and opinions.

 

All of the lessons and stories I tell during this talk are relevant to both genders – importance of setting big, achievable goals, preparation, hiring the experts for topics outside your core competency, picking good partners, persevering through difficult times/milestones – but they seem to resonate more with women.  This is why I have a version of the talk called “Women on Top” for female audiences.

 

Toward the end, I usually reveal that it was the aggregation of my experiences in the mountains that helped me build the confidence to face my own biggest fear in risking financial insecurity to follow my passion.  I’m now running Call of the Wild Adventures full time and working hard to make it a sustainable business.  Many well meaning folks will state that I need to run co-ed trips in order to increase my profitability.  But answering the question of “Why women?” also tells the story of the decision to focus on all female trips and provide a presentation that’s targeted solely toward women.

 

The author attempting to impart wisdom from the mountains to urban professionals

The author attempting to impart wisdom from the mountains to urban professionals

 

THE FEMALE MARKET
There are TONS of co-ed adventure travel outfitters out there competing on price in a low margin business.  It’s a sexy product, but the reality of running such a business and trying to live off of it is in stark contrast to the glamorous impression.  If prices are low or suppressed by competition, then you must run a high volume of trips in order to generate sufficient gross margins to cover overhead.  In the case of the Call of the Wild, it has been a one woman show for 35 years.  I  aim to change that and increase our client base enough to support a higher volume of trips, but until then, it’s not feasible in terms of either my personal bandwidth to successfully manage a higher volume.  Additionally, I could be spreading the same client base across a higher number of trips.

Instead, I’m choosing to continue to run a set number of high quality trips while working hard to increase the client base through marketing and relationship building.  Further, there are so few women-only outfitters i n the market that I can use this aspect as a clear competitive differentiator.  Anecdotally, women’s adventure travel is supposed to be on the rise.  Hopefully, that is true, though hard data is not readily available.
Women ranging from 37-74 years old on a trek through the Everest region of Nepal

Women ranging from 37-74 years old on a Call of the Wild trek through the Everest region of Nepal

COMMUNITY
Every trip amazes me how women from diverse backgrounds – age, fitness, income, race, sexuality, marital/child status – can come together and bond so quickly.  Many of these women have experienced a major life change – empty nest, divorced or widowed, retired – and are seeking the camaraderie of other women during a time of transition.  Last year,  one woman on a backpacking trip had been recently widowed, and she and her husband used to backpack together in this particular region.  We held the space for her to chose to talk about the experience or not, but one thing is for sure, if she had broken down and cried, she would have been in a supportive environment within a circle of women.  Imagine if she was the only woman on a co-ed trip and broke down…surely the experience would be radically different!  She held it together and had a relaxing, enjoyable trip, partly, I believe, because she had the opportunity to express herself freely if she needed to.
Two women having a quiet moment on Pfieffer Beach in Big Sur

Two women having a quiet moment on Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, CA

STRETCHING YOURSELF
Adventure travel often includes stretching yourself.  Why else would you want the safety and comfort of guides?  Handling intimidating logistics, managing safety of a risk activity, going higher/further/harder/more remote…
When I first started mountaineering, I went on a lot of guided trips and was nearly always the only female in a group of 8-12 males.  Fortunately, I don’t find this situation intimidating and I was able to disarm the men enough that they didn’t feel like they had to be on their best behavior around me.  However, not all women feel the same way when they are vastly outnumbered in an environment that is physically challenging, and they may self-select out of those situations all together.

I was also very conscientious about the fact that I was a woman – if I had a bad day or lagged behind, was it because I was the woman in the group or was I just another climber having a bad day?  As a result, I trained my ass off before every climb just to make sure I could at least keep up (sometimes a difficult proposition for someone who is 5’1″ climbing with people who are 6’4″, regardless of gender) partly out of paranoia.  

It was similar when I was working in the male-dominated investment world – I felt I had to be that much more prepared/knowledgeable/certified/thorough.  If I ever made a mistake, it could be perceived that it was because I’m a woman.  This pressure can be instantly alleviated in an all female environment.
Gals who made it to Dewey Point, a 7 mile round trip snowshoe above 8,000ft with rewarding views of Yosemite in winter glory

Gals who made it to Dewey Point, a 7 mile round trip snowshoe above 8,000ft with rewarding views of Yosemite in winter glory

GUYS NIGHT OUT
Guys get the need for a guys night out, golf weekend, trip to Laguna Seca, whatever.  It’s nice to hang out with your gender, let your guard down, and maybe even bitch about the opposite sex.  Gals need the same thing!  

I bristle when people joke that I “discriminate against men” by offering female only trips.  I believe that discrimination is a situation where you hold someone back from achieving their personal or professional goals and satisfaction based on something they can’t help, like their gender.  Men have plenty of other options for adventure travel, and more chances than not, they will show up and find mostly male participants and male guides.  It’s a wonderful thing for women to show up to a trip and find all female participants AND female guides.  It reinforces the concept that women can be competent leaders in environments that require physical strength, solid decision making, and survival skills.

 

By the way, I run custom trips, gentlemen.  So any trip you see that you like, I can run it for you as well!  AND we can provide female guides so that you can feel what it’s like to be led by them.  I’d be curious to see what you think is similar and different about female leadership in the backcountry.
Instructors for the GirlVentures Transitions Course feeling right at home on the summit of Mt Shinn

Instructors for the GirlVentures Transitions Course feeling right at home on the summit of Mt Shinn, John Muir Wilderness, CA

IMPACT
Finally, and most importantly, when I left the corporate world last year, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do that would have a positive impact on the world.  When I was leading trips for the Sierra Club Snowcamping section, I would observe the progression of all the participants.  Many men would come in with a high degree of confidence despite an awareness that they lacked the technical skills.  Generally speaking, the women would come in wondering if they could hack it at all – could they handle the cold, carry the heavy pack, keep up with the group, and avoid becoming a burden?

 

At the end of each annual training series, it seemed that the men had acquired the skills and increased their confidence to handle similar situations in the future, while the women had been TRANSFORMED!  They would be surprised at what they could do physically and how much mental strength they had to get through some of the uncomfortable aspects of snowcamping and backpacking in the winter environment.  

As one gal on a ziplining adventure I organized last month stated so well, “Man, nothing I face in the office is going to seem scary any more after facing my fears here.”
Jessica says nothing will be scary at the office after facing her fear of ziplining

Jessica says nothing will be scary at the office after facing her fear of ziplining

At the end of the snowcamping training series, we would discuss all the participants and see who we wanted to invite back as assistant leaders based on their technical competence, risk management, and most importantly, leadership and communication skills.  We often leaned toward asking female participants back due to excellent leadership potential and ability to empathize with the participants.

The guys would nearly always say, “That’s awesome!  I totally want to be an assistant leader!”, and the women would usually say something like, “Really? Me?  What do you see in me?  I’m not sure if I really have the skills to accept the responsibility.”  It was eerily similar to my experience in Corporate America where, for a variety of reasons including corporate culture and societal norms, women would doubt themselves and hold back asking for a new job or promotion until they are 110% sure they can do the job.

The author cramming outdoor leadership concepts before a trip...

The author cramming outdoor leadership concepts before a trip…

My goal is to impact just one woman on each trip to go back to their daily lives and feel more empowered to face the challenges that come her way and take more risk that can lead to great reward.  🙂  That’s why I have chosen to focus on women.  How am I doing so far, ladies?