Sierra Farrell had never been backpacking when she decided to embark on a three-month-long Outward Bound trip following her senior year of high school, traveling to Patagonia, the Everglades and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“It kinda just threw me into it,” Farrell said. “It was kind of the reason why I went to Bellingham, I wanted to be closer to the mountains and less in the city where I grew up in Seattle.”
Farrell attended Western Washington University where she studied kinesiology for three years before deciding to take a break and begin working. She recently became Northwest Outward Bound’s alumni engagement coordinator.
“I’ve wanted to come and work at Outward Bound since doing it myself,” Farrell said. “Northwest Outward Bound has never had this position before. I’m basically the first person to try creating a community between alumni, like myself. My goal is to reconnect people and do service projects to give back to the communities that we are a part of here in the Northwest.”
Northwest Outward Bound offers courses throughout the Pacific Northwest for backpacking, kayaking, bouldering and other outdoor recreation.
Farrell and her colleagues aim to raise $10,000 to provide scholarships for women and girls in their programs. According to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2020 outdoor participation survey, 48% of participants in outdoor recreation are female, 2% more than the survey documented in 2019.
Priya Tate participated in Outward Bound in the spring of 2020. She thinks about her 35-day backpacking trip in Joshua Tree and Odin Falls daily.
“I felt like I was in an environment where no one was second-guessing me because of my gender,” Tate said.
She said that she signed up for an Outward Bound trip in college. She started pursuing a minor in outdoor recreation her sophomore year and found out her school, Ithaca College, had a partnership with Northwest Outward Bound.
“I do feel very fortunate that I had such a supportive and understanding group,” Tate said. “I felt like I was on the most equal footing with men I had ever felt.”
She said her group made a wrong turn and had to climb up a steep incline. It was not safe to carry the 50-pound packs up the trail.
The leader and navigator decided to stand further up the incline and each group member passed up their bags; both the leader and navigator that day were women.
“I remember I had a moment, where I thought, are any of the men in this group going to doubt their strength? But nobody doubted their strength for a second, it was such an amazing moment,” Tate said.
While the women, in this case, were not doubted for their strength, Christina Alexander has noticed her snowboarding students often doubting their own power.
Alexander works at REI as a bike mechanic and as a snowboard instructor during the winters. Alexander has noticed that often girls have reservations when they are snowboarding.
“When I’m instructing, it doesn’t matter if they're a kid or an adult, automatically they have the mindset that: ‘Oh! I’m a girl, so I already might be at a disadvantage’,” Alexander said. “I feel like whenever they see me as a teacher, they think: ‘Oh my gosh! If she’s able to maneuver her board, I should be able to do that!’”
Alexander faced her own barriers in outdoor recreation. She began figure skating at 3-years-old and was involved in other sports that kept her from the camping and outdoor recreation her father and brother did.
When her partner encouraged her to find a winter sport in 2019, she began snowboarding and logged 40 days in her first season.
“It took a lot of encouragement from my peers to think about being a ski instructor because I don’t see a lot of people like me, especially because of my stature, I’m only 4 feet 10 inches,” Alexander said. “There’s a lot of giving that a girl has to do to try and learn these things. I had to seek it out because it didn’t come up in life. Especially since I didn’t have friends that did it.”
Alexander encourages people to support fundraisers, like Outward Bound’s, because everyone has a place outdoors.
Ani Lowe (she/they) is reporting for City Life for The Front. They enjoy going on hikes with their dog, bouldering and making art.
You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.