Great things can happen when strong, capable women come together. Now, couple that with majestic mountain views, ass-kicking hikes, and spring-fed, wood-burning hot tubs in the wilderness—incredible opportunities arise.

I spent this last weekend in the San Juan Mountains with twenty women who have demonstrated their ability to lead and their passion for whichever industry or project they find themselves immersed within. We came together for the Wild Women’s Project mostly as strangers, hiked into a backcountry cabin at 11,000 feet and quickly connected. Meaningful conversations—while peppered with bathroom jokes—flowed naturally as we were free from the distractions and demands of our daily lives.

High Camp Hut Lizard Head Pass

For me personally, everyday stress and worries were immediately stripped. I was able to forget about impending deadlines and focus on what’s most important: personal relationships, myself as an individual, and big ideas worth feeling passionate about. Most of which have seemed to have taken a back seat as I’ve been working non-stop since last fall to plan and launch new projects and programs for Outdoor Women’s Alliance with our team of volunteers.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to shape the future of this nonprofit organization that works to get more women outside and engaged in human-powered sports. But, ironically, this work means I get outside much less than ever before. The emails, planning documents, and meetings have taken priority over the past several months.

The difficulties of launching and managing a business or organization have arrived. And they’ve arrived with fury and force.

I knew, of course, that this experience would be tough as hell. And that it would come with a rollercoaster of highs and lows. All of which I thought I was ready to tackle and take on. But, I wasn’t quite expecting the struggle I’ve faced. The breakthrough moments feel so close, yet we’re still (and seemingly always) chipping away at all the of work leading up to it. We haven’t reached our goal just yet.

This past weekend, our group headed out on what we expected would be a relatively leisurely hike up to Round Lake. We could see the cirque from our cabin, where the glacial water would most certainly be waiting for us at the bottom. After a quick jaunt on the trail through the woods, we emerged in a meadow of wildflowers and expansive views of our target goal. It’s just a short distance over there; we’d point and discuss the best way to get from A to B since we no longer had well-maintained trails to lead us there. We surveyed the area and together we chose the path of least resistance through the marshy meadow, over the creek, and up the steep hill not too far in front of us.

Wildflowers San Juan Mountains

We took light and thoughtful steps through the meadow to avoid the deep, wet pockets scattered here and there. As we approached the creek, people fanned out to find the shortest section to jump across and a few crossed with ease. As my turn approached, I stood on a large rock at the edge of the moving creek and took one step onto the rock to my right to get a solid stance before I took the leap. But that rock to my right was deceivingly solid. In fact, it was moss and I quickly found myself knee deep in the creek. At this point, I just needed to walk across the creek; no need to jump to stay dry.

We found a small boulder field on the other side of the creek. We took a break for water, snacks, and to dry out a couple of shoes and socks. At this point, we realize that we’ve arrived to where we thought the lake would be. Together, this group of women has expansive backcountry experience. We’re able to read terrain and make educated decisions about our next moves.

But the lake clearly wasn’t there.

Once again, we’d convene, point, and discuss the best way to get from A to B. We realized had a bit further to go. The lake is up and over that scree field. You can tell by the way the cirque forms the basin at the bottom. We’d follow the snow line then take a hard left through the scree. Then climb a short, yet steep section to arrive at the lake.

Scree field hiking San Juan Mountains

It was hand and foot climbing all the way up. Take one step forward and slide back down a bit. Take another and loosen the area too much that some have let loose. ROCKK. We’d all scream in unison to keep the rest of our group safe. This continued for quite some time. I’m pretty sure we covered 1/4 of a mile in about an hour or so. But, we persisted and arrived at the foot of the cirque.

Except, there still wasn’t a lake. At least it was beyond gorgeous up there. Right?

We’ve now seemingly put ourselves in a more precarious position and need to find the easiest, safest way back down that scree field. Or perhaps, up and through that couloir would be the best choice because we knew Sheep Mountain, our target for the next morning, was just on the other side.

We were tired, a bit bummed, and running low on water because this hike had become way more than we all expected. And we weren’t done yet.

The descent back down the scree was long and arduous. We could only descend a few at a time, fanned out across the field, in order to keep our group safe from falling rocks. Despite our caution, that didn’t keep us from screaming ROCCKKKK repeatedly. In fact, a sizable chunk let loose from the wall and rolled and skipped it’s way down all the way to the snow line. We made it down together with just a few bruises and scrapes. Sure, we were bummed that there was no lake, but it was clear that this hike wasn’t all for nothing.

There was still stoke amongst our group.

While we didn’t exactly succeed in finding Round Lake—turns out we walked right by the small and unassuming pool of water—we were still surrounded by absolute beauty. We succeeded in keeping our group safe. And we knew there was lunch and a hot tub back at the cabin.  I was grateful to be with this group of women who took everything in stride. I didn’t know it while I was driving to the mountains where we’d meet, but joining these strong, supportive women for a weekend in the backcountry was exactly what I needed.

Backcountry hot tub High Camp Hut

The struggles and type two fun that come with climbing a never-ending scree field to no where was ironically so well-timed.

Wild Women’s Project, and especially this group of women, helped reinvigorate me. Our experiences and conversations  reminded me that what our team is working toward and already accomplishing with Outdoor Women’s Alliance is absolutely needed in our communities. We need more strong, capable, and resilient women in leadership positions.  And the challenges the backcountry throws at us will help us to achieve just that.

Hiking Sheep Mountain San Juans

SUCCESS! One of my favorite captures from the weekend.