Alpenglow Collective: Breaking Barriers in the Women’s and Trans Climbing Community

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By Emily Mannisto.

When my friend Andrew and I made our first attempt on Mount Triumph in the North Cascades in early season conditions, we went to the Marblemount Ranger Station to check in and get our backcountry passes. The ranger looked at Andrew and asked, “So where are you looking to get a permit?” Andrew looked at me. I smiled politely at the park ranger and answered, “We’re climbing Mount Triumph.” He scribbled something down and again looked at Andrew and asked, “And which route are you planning on doing?” I replied, “The Northeast Ridge.” He scribbled. Looked up…at Andrew…who shrugged. The ranger looked uneasily at me. “And uh…where do you plan to…camp?” I answered confidently, pointing one dirty fingernail at the map displayed neatly in front of us, “At the col, above Middle Thornton Lake.” He filled out the rest of our permit as I asked him about snow conditions and trip reports, whether any climbing rangers had been up there recently, if the bivvy site had running water, notified him that I had been checking weather conditions on the mountain…

Photo by Kat Borchers

Due to whiteout conditions and slushy ice on 45 degree glacial slopes, Andrew and I had to retreat off the mountain before even making it to the roped part of the climb. But in August I returned with another friend who hadn’t done an alpine multi-pitch climb before.

This time as we were waiting to get a permit, I made sure to conspicuously point out to my friend where all of the most inspiring peaks in North Cascades were, which ones I had climbed, which ones I was looking to tackle next, and what grade they went at. I felt a little dumb afterwards, thinking, “Why did you feel the need to validate yourself?” I shouldn’t have to prove which climbs I’ve done or that I am the leader of this trip, not him. But, to put it simply…I often feel like I do.

Photo by Nicole Wasko

My ex-boyfriend taught me how to climb outside, to place cams and nuts, to travel efficiently across glaciers and snow, to build a complex trad anchor, to navigate a meandering alpine ridge. To be honest, I owe most of my climbing knowledge to him. But then something crazy happened. We broke up, and instead of my climbing career ending, it exploded. I climbed Mount Hood, and not just the standard route. I led three complex alpine climbs in the North Cascades. I led multi-pitch climbs at Smith Rock, Red Rocks, Yosemite, and Seneca Rocks. I learned how to lead above my grade, to place pickets, to rappel in the dark, to improvise, to make mistakes again and again and continue to learn and grow. I gained knowledge from my own experiences, and from the other strong, experienced women I climbed with.

Climbing with women and trans folks is a refreshingly different experience—I feel encouraged, comfortable, and driven in a unique way that pushes me to try my hardest. But it can be difficult to meet other climbers with the same ambitions, style of climbing, and availability. We searched for a forum where women and trans folks could connect and climb based on these criteria, and couldn’t find quite what we were looking for.

So we built it. Alpenglow Collective is a connecting force for the women’s and trans climbing community. It is an inclusive platform where women, trans people, and gender non-conforming folks can connect, find climbing partners, and create lasting relationships. The site is unique from existing women’s climbing forums in that it is not a blog, a message board, or a general meet-up site. It focuses specifically on pairing women and trans folks with others by creating a profile and browsing for climbers in their area with similar interests, schedules, and goals. We hope that Alpenglow Collective can create a welcoming community for women and trans climbers who want to improve their skills, plan trips, and just hang out with others who are passionate about the same things that they are.

We are really excited to foster these relationships and provide a way for women and trans climbers to find others at their skill level as well as mentors, particularly because climbing is historically a mentorship-based sport. By creating these mentorships, climbers can learn proper outdoor safety, and how to best respect and preserve our natural public spaces.

Photo by Brooke Jackson

Through these partnerships, we want to see more women teaching other women how to get past that hard move, how to perfectly place a nut in a constriction, how to use their petite stature to their benefit instead of their detriment. The barriers to entry are there, but maybe if we have women and trans folks leading the way, those barriers will seem less like a blank face and more like a tricky crux we’ve yet to tackle.

We at Touchstone are so psyched about this community and can’t wait to see everyone out in the wild. Join Alpenglow Collective and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram!