Chattermarks & The North Cascades Institute

posted in Happenings

Chattermarks & The North Cascades Institute

This March, I was invited to speak to a group of graduate students who are studying at the North Cascades Institute (NCI) outside of Bellingham, Washington. Program director Joshua Porter had read the article I wrote in Alpinist 52 about why there aren’t more women in the mountains, and invited me to lead a workshop for the students and broader NCI community. We shared a wonderful afternoon: I read my article, they asked thoughtful questions, and we had a beautiful dialogue about writing, inclusivity, communication, and decision-making in the outdoors. The students did a writing exercise and shared their thoughts, which blew me away.

After I left, one of the students wrote about the experience in Chattermarks, their community’s blog. Here’s an excerpt:

“As graduate students and adventurers in the North Cascades, we take risks. We take risks in living where we do and we often purposely pursue adventure in the outdoors because we believe the benefits we gain outweigh the risks we choose to take.

“A huge challenge to overcome is the inaccessible view that so many hold toward wilderness. Messages are sent to so many people that the wilderness is not a place for them to be…”

This quote by Rosemary Saal leads the article titled “Freedom in the Hills” by Charlotte Austin. An alpinist and writer, Charlotte recently published the research-based essay in Alpinist, a magazine featuring adventurers in the mountains, in which she introduces different perspectives on the variety of challenges met by women outdoor professionals. On March 3rd, graduate students in the North Cascades Institute’s 15th Cohort participated in a writing workshop with Charlotte, exploring forms of creative nonfiction writing and perspectives on how passion and hard work can translate into both a rewarding and challenging career.

Charlotte’s stories of alpinism and adventure led to a recollection of the personal barriers she encountered in her pursuit of exploration. In her early years of climbing, she noticed there were very few women in the alpinist community and sensed an underlying lack of camaraderie and support in her work. […] In navigating not only a physically and mentally challenging career path, she noticed exclusivity infiltrating the culture of the community. Still, she persisted to find her presence in the mountains and to give voice to these discouraging messages.

From her stories, we transitioned to a conversation on inclusiveness in education. What does it look like to empower young women in education and exploration? As we delved into the personal challenges we face as educators and adventurers, we also became aware of the importance of mentorship. Challenges we face ourselves or difficulties we see our students encounter can be met with the support of a mentor. By carefully choosing our language and the ways we support our students, we can avoid unintended microaggressions and find ways to teach to every student’s passions, learning and exploration.”

To keep reading, check out the rest of the Chattermarks post here. To read my article in Alpinist 52, click here. Photo (above) is courtesy of John Scurlock, aerial photographer and friend of the North Cascades Institute.