The outdoor scene has seen a change in the 21st century. There are growing communities of women in every corner of the globe who are confident and capable, leading the charge in their chosen outdoor fields and sowing the seeds of adventure for generations of girls to come. We’re proud to call some of these fierce, female role models Brand Ambassadors, and in talking to them, we discovered a few common themes: there is strength in community, there is power in self-belief, and there is freedom in losing your fear of failure. In this 4-part series, we’ll introduce you to 4 women who have made a life out of outdoor adventure. Gemma Wilson is a member of the New Zealand Alpine Team – the group of Kiwi mountaineers that we collaborate with on the research and development for our most technical range of apparel and equipment – the Alpine Series.
What are the challenges you’ve faced as a female mountaineer?
I have been lucky to be surrounded by a group of male climbers who are super supportive of female climbers. I have never felt that being a female has held me back from climbing or keeping up with my male climbing partners. I do have to train hard aerobically to keep up with my male climbing partners, but in terms of the actual technical climbing it’s not a problem. Women tend to make up for their physical strength with our ability to climb technically well. In saying that there is something empowering when climbing with female climbing partners. I often feel more relaxed climbing hard routes with females, however I am always stoked to get out climbing regardless of the gender of my partner.
One of the main challenges women face in alpine climbing is the choice to have a family. There are major risks when climbing in the mountains and there has been a lot of debate as to whether it’s selfish for women with children to go alpine climbing or on extended expeditions. Many women decide not to have children, whereas others do but continue to climb in less risky environments such as rock climbing or ski touring. For me, this is a challenge I’ll have to work out in the future.
Do you think women face more difficulties when it comes to outdoor activities than men?
No, I don’t. If you have a passion for the outdoors, gender shouldn’t get in the way. I was born and bred in central Otago, an area full of strong female athletes from climbers, skiers, triathletes and heaps more. It was ingrained in me from a young age that your gender shouldn’t stop you from doing what you enjoy, even if it is a male dominated activity. I also think that we’re especially lucky in New Zealand and Australia that we have a culture where women are really encouraged to get outdoors.
Is there a strong community of female climbers that you feel part of?
There is, but I have had to travel the world to meet female alpine climbers. We come together, but I’ve had to travel to Nepal, Europe, North America and Asia to make it happen. You don’t find many of us! There are a lot of women rock climbers crushing rock all around the world. It’s always fun to get out and climb hard rock with the girls.
How can other women tap into these communities?
Facebook groups, climbing clubs, Alpine clubs, Remarkable’s Ice and Mixed festival! Climbers are generally pretty friendly people. Get out there and meet them, make friends and go climbing! There are always courses through these clubs and organisations and it’s a great way to learn skills safely and meet new people
How can these communities continue to grow, and inspire more women to embrace outdoor adventure?
We need good female role models. Women who are strong, friendly and willing to share their skills. I have been lucky to meet lots of women like this, and they’ve inspired me to do the same. Every year I teach women how to ice climb in a “chicks and picks” weekend during the Remarkables Ice and mixed festival, it’s a great way to meet other female climbers and learn something new. It’s always one of the highlights of my year.
Are there women you’ve been inspired by in the adventure community?
All the time, some of them motivated me to start climbing and I’m constantly meeting amazing women all over the world that are incredibly inspiring.
Jane Morris and Pat Deavoll are two incredibly strong New Zealand alpine climbers that have made remarkable ascents in New Zealand and overseas. One of my best friends, Taylor Rapley an ex- ski racer and big mountain skier is now working to help women get into the outdoors empowering them through performance psychology, overall well-being and resilience training. We are really lucky in New Zealand to have some incredible women who have done some incredible things in the adventure community.