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.  

 Happiness is only real when shared - particularly during a sufferfest mission in the mountains.  (Aconcagua Ruta Normal, Camp I)

Happiness is only real when shared - particularly during a sufferfest mission in the mountains. (Aconcagua Ruta Normal, Camp I)

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 gapwomen 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. 

 Aconcagua team photo

Aconcagua team photo

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. 

 Acclimatization hike on the approach to Aconcagua’s basecamp

Acclimatization hike on the approach to Aconcagua’s basecamp

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