For the first time in CSU’s history, an all women’s group will travel to Mexico to partake in a mountaineering expedition and experience Mexican culture.
The trip is slated for Fall Break this year and will include two leaders — a student and a CSU grad //– and about six members. For 10 days, the women will climb, explore and learn, with leaders who hope to empower women in the outdoors.
“All women should have the opportunity to be in a group of all women and see the power of that,” said Kathryn Damby, a senior recreation and tourism major and group leader.
Only the strong can lead
Since the late ’90s Robert Ley, director of the Outdoor Adventure Program (OAP), has been looking for a woman to lead this trip, he said. The OAP has organized similar coed trips in the past and he has offered an all women’s expedition leadership position to three women over the years.
None accepted until he offered the position to Megan Voiles, a CSU grad and member of last year’s coed expedition.
Ley said he spent a lot of time looking for women to fit certain requirements, and that Voiles fits many of them because she is a good leader and a physically strong woman.
He said in the past, women have thought about the offer but were just not at the right point in their lives, whether it was because of kids, a job, school or marriage.
It just so happened that when he offered Voiles the position, she was at the perfect point in her life to take on the challenge.
“It was just kind of serendipitous,” she said. “The timing, the right people and the right expedition.”
Voiles was offered the position while on the coed mountaineering expedition in Mexico in November of 2007. When she accepted, Ley’s search was over and he was very excited, he said.
“She is as genuine and amazing as a people person as you can imagine,” he said. “She deserves it.”
After accepting the offer, she waited until late spring to choose her co-leader, which is where Damby entered the picture.
“It gave it a lot of momentum to have Damby on board,” she said. “Tons of momentum.”
Ley said Damby had good credentials to lead the trip, including outstanding physical achievement at altitude, multiple expedition experiences — three international — and good technical skills, like handling snow, ice and other risks on the mountain.
“It’s not that I built her,” he said. “She got the things together and got the credentials.”
Months of planning
After the idea was proposed and Voiles had accepted, the plans began unfolding immediately. She chose Damby as her co-leader and the two had to submit their logistics plan to the Office of International Programs, increase advertising, accept applications and begin interviews.
The trip will cost about $2,000 per member, including airfare, food and lodging. The women will split up their 10-day excursion into rest days, town days and climbing days, ascending mountains at heights of 14,000 ft., 17,000 ft. and 18,000 ft.
In order to climb at such high elevation, the group is required to obtain permits prior to the climbs, but they aren’t very difficult to get, Voiles said.
The women will stay in hotels and hostiles and use buses, taxis and vans for transportation, using a guide service only to get them from the towns to their base camp huts.
Voiles said the trip was a well-accepted idea and that they had hardly any bumps in the road with getting logistics in order.
Ley agreed, but said there were some risk management discussions involving the safety of eight to 10 women traveling alone in the streets of Mexico. But, ultimately, they decided the women were strong and could handle themselves if a bad situation were to arise.
Qualities of the six
There’s no doubt that anyone who can ascend an 18,000-foot mountain, male or female, has got to be buff and aching for a challenge.
For this trip, however, there are no prerequisite mountaineering skills, but instead the leaders are searching for different qualities in members.
“We want to look for people that want to learn,” Damby said.
The two said they are looking for well-rounded and balanced women with good attitudes; women in good physical condition who are excited about mountaineering and Mexican culture.
They are also looking to empower and comfort women by offering such a trip, they said.
“Doing a mountaineering trip in our world, for women, is empowering,” Damby said.
Ley got his master’s degree in adult education and did his thesis on developing leadership opportunities for women.
He said statistics showed a patriarchal system that couldn’t be broken and that an all women’s outdoor adventure group helps women realize their potentials.
“Men strongly influence women’s experience in the outdoors,” he said. “Women should have the option to have a completely women’s adventure experience.”
He said experience shows, during an outdoor adventure experience, about one-third of women want men with them, one-third where neutral and one-third prefer an all women’s group.
Ley said one of the challenges in planning this trip was finding the right pool of women, but when Voiles and Damby began finding them, a great energy was expelled.
“At one point, enough women agreed to do the same thing, which creates an energy,” he said.
What it feels like to be first
Not only is this expedition, the first of its kind at CSU, Ley said he thinks CSU may be one of the first universities in the country to organize an all women’s international mountaineering expedition.
He said this makes him proud and that he is very dedicated to being serious about the trip.
Voiles said this trip is a good model for women and for other outdoor adventure programs around the country.
“Not only is it a women’s trip, it’s mountaineering, which is a good thing for people,” she said.
Entertainment Editor Cece Wildeman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.