22,838ft. That’s the summit elevation of Aconcagua, the second highest of the Seven Summits and the highest mountain not just in Argentina but in all of the Americas - in fact the highest mountain anywhere in the western and southern hemispheres.
I’ve summited Aconcagua not once, not twice, but four times by now - and still the mountain keeps calling me back: a few weeks after Christmas I am going to embark on on yet another big mountain season in Argentina. I first climbed Aconcagua when I was still a weekend warrior, an eager high-altitude rookie wanting to cut her teeth above 20,000ft. Back then I was one of just a handful of women on the mountain that season, and one of only a handful of women ever to climb the White Sentinel solo and without mules or porters.
It’s a pattern that I was well familiar with from my professional life, having spent my twenties working in investment management and as a strategy consultant. Yes, there are plenty of women in business just as there are ever more women in mountaineering. And yet - just think of the numbers that have become familiar over the last several years (the career progression gender gap, women in C-suite roles, or pay statistics); the short story is the same across disciplines: women end up doing less. We end up doing less not necessarily because of systematic discrimination but because of a subtle but pervasive gap in (self-)perceived capabilities and confidence.
I have been lucky to experience first-hand the confidence that outdoor adventures can build. You know that feeling when you’ve completed a big hike or finished a trail race or descended a canyon or climbed a mountain - the moment you start thinking “Wait a second; if I could do THIS, what else might I be able to do?” This is the kind of confidence-building and and tangible empowerment that sticks. When we go out and try hard on big adventures, we walk away stronger and with a more refined sense of self than we had before. And it’s these kind of experiences that transcend boundaries; they carry over from the mountains to the cubicle and eventually to the boardroom.
That’s why I resolved to do my part in bringing more women into the high mountains. I want to see more women out and up there - both because it’s just plain FUN to have kickass women partners on a mountaineering expedition and also because I believe that more women mountaineers and the advancement of gender equality more broadly go hand in hand. Creating opportunities for women to adventure and explore - and have fun! - in the backcountry without feeling scrutinized or judged by men can go a long way in counteracting those engrained perceptions, be it others’ or our own perceptions, that tell us that women should or can do less than men.
By now I have led all-female teams on Aconcagua’s Normal Route and on Mera Peak in Nepal; I am excited to have more Andean climbs on the on the schedule for 2019 and 2020 (with both mixed-gender and all-women teams), as well as bigger long-term plans in the 8000m realm. It may be a long journey towards shattering what Masha Gordon calls the ice ceiling, but every step of the way counts.