Editor’s Note: On August 18, The Inertia’s EVOLVE Summit will celebrate people from the surf and outdoor worlds that use their influence to make a positive imprint on society. Caroline Gleich has definitely embodied that ethos. As a hard-charging ski mountaineer, she’s the only woman to have skied the Wasatch’s toughest lines as documented in the Chuting Gallery, Andrew McLean’s iconic guide to steep skiing Utah’s preeminent mountain range. And she’s used her athletic platform as an activist to push for environmental and social change. At our inaugural EVOLVE Summit, Caroline will speak on a panel about women and the future of the outdoors. Get tickets now and enter code LASTCHANCE at checkout to receive $25 off until August 11th, 2018.
Once, a woman called me a man-hater. I am not a man-hater; I love the men in my life. I love my dad, my brothers, my boyfriend. I love men, and I respect anyone who lets me shine. I respect anyone who lets me do me.
I’m not a man-hater, but I do hate toxic masculinity. I want to challenge the idea of toxic masculinity and make the mountaineering community more inclusive, not just for women, but for anyone who doesn’t fit the stereotype about who belongs in the mountains. People of color, disabled people—there are so many people who we look at and say, “that person cannot climb a mountain.” When someone tells you that you can’t go up there, that you’re going to die, that you don’t belong, it can be incredibly hard to overcome. But one person can have an extraordinary impact on creating a more inclusive culture.
I’ve focused on mountaineering for my entire adult life. One of the joys I get from it is going out and figuring things out for myself. It’s fun to learn things on your own, and that’s the whole beauty of it. Having faith in yourself to overcome any obstacle is something that only comes from experience—and often, that experience can’t be taught.
After I finished all 90 lines in The Chuting Gallery, a pro skier guy in the Wasatch asked me if I had paid a guide to take me down all the lines. I was deeply insulted. Although mountain guides are an amazing resource, in my home mountain range, I could be a guide. But as a member of an underrepresented group in the mountains, it’s all too common to have others try and undermine my accomplishments. Like so many other women, I’m asked over and over to “prove it again.” You have to prove yourself over and over, but no matter how many times you do it, you’re still doubted. It happens to anyone who is challenging a stereotype, whether it’s in the mountains or anywhere. But what you come to learn is that it’s not about you, it’s about them. There’s nothing that you’ve done—it’s about other people and how they feel.
I was harassed online for years, and it got to the point where my harasser found my phone number and left me a voicemail. He said some things that crossed the line. For years, I told myself that this is just what happens when you’re a public figure, but then I had a wake-up call. A friend of mine who wrote a piece about feminism for the Huffington Post was going through a similar thing. “This isn’t just boys will be boys,” she told me. “It’s not haters going to hate. This is hate speech. This is harassment and this is criminal.” I looked at the laws and decided to go public and talk about my case. It was liberating and emotionally draining at the same time, but going public with my story is what made it stop.
The mountains aren’t just for one group of people. The mountains are for everyone who wants to explore them. I want to highlight the stories of other people who are breaking stereotypes, and I want to set an example of what outdoor athletes can look like. Instead of coming in and saying, ‘let me do this for you,’ you can highlight what they’re already doing. You can be a supporter instead of trying to take the lead. And with any luck, everyone will be able to shine. The sexism and misogyny that exists in outdoor sports can be replaced with inclusivity, and when that happens, the mountains will be a better place for everyone.