You mentioned a girl who joined you in your hikes and although you spoke of her in passing, I feel that there was something in her that attracted your attention. If you are to encounter her again in the trails I have some words to share about how you should treat women who climb mountains.
First you must realize that women and men are more similar than you think – if you let go of your stereotypes about them. They can be even more down to earth, skillful, and strong than men are – but they can also be just as clumsy or reckless. Guides in the Philippines often blame women for slowing down the pace – “May kasama kasi kaming babae” – but surely you know better. Some of the people I look up to in the outdoors have been women: There’s Carina Dayondon – one of the first Filipinas to climb Everest – and my great mentor Jo Steven, the “Iron Lady” from New Zealand who caused both of my legs to cramp after a continuous ascent in Korea’s highest peak. Surely after seeing her hike nobody can say that “women are slow”!
But you must also realise that women and men have fundamental differences. When I speak of differences, I don’t mean in any way that they are not equal – we should no longer be debating about these things in this century. What I mean is that there are undeniable specificities of being a women that you should try to understand. There are times for instance when a girl has her menstrual period. How do you hike with a “bad day”? I don’t even know the answer (I should invite a female hiker to write about this) – but what I know is that it can alter their experience of the hike. Surely, you can try to be more understanding.
In our culture, most girls are more “sheltered” by their parents than most boys so if the girl is still living with her parents – or even after – she may have a hard time getting permission from her parents to climb mountains, in a way you never experienced. Be prepared for situations when she will back out because of this. Be prepared to talk to her parents and orient them about hiking, and they may yet change their minds. Once I had to do this and it turned out that all the parents needed was reassurance that their daughter isn’t with dubious characters. Her father only had one concern: “Wala bang NPA dun?” and when I assured him that the mountain we were going to hike was very safe, I sensed victory. When I added, that there was cellphone signal at the campsite and she can text them every day, I knew it was a success.
Be a good companion during the hike – not a show-off. A woman may admire a guy who climbs fast, but she will have more respect and admiration for the guy who climbs with her, hiding his impatience, letting go of his desire to be the first or to show his speed or strength.
Many of our women have been socialized to be “girly and “feminine” and sometimes they would act this way, but in my experience they’re much tougher than they would admit. In fact, they would rarely articulate something in their minds – the challenge is for you to interpret her actions and nonverbal cues. Once, I a girl I had brought on a mountain got angry at me and I was completely clueless, only to find out that it was because I wasn’t offering to take her pictures. She had brought this really nice camera and really looked forward to having nice shots – but I was too in a hurry. Bear in mind, however, that even guys have communication problems: many will never admit weakness or fatigue.
When you hike with a girl don’t treat her like a baby. Don’t scare her with limatiks or snakes as if you were an 8-year old boy scaring your girl classmates with a spider. One could say that boys and girls are equally afraid – but the boys just won’t admit it. I do think that many girls are genuinely afraid of limatiks but again, much of this is simply because when we were young we were socialized differently: boys tend to be more outdoorsy in childhood. I have a confession to make: There was this girl who told me that she’ll never hike a mountain with limatiks and I told her there are no limatiks in Makiling! Of course it was to test if she’ll do her own research – but also partly to get her to experience something I know is perfectly safe. When the first limatik came along she screamed, but by the time we were at the summit she couldn’t care less about them!
Don’t patronizingly ask her all the time if she wants to rest, and in doing so make her feel weak.
If she’s getting tired, cheer her up. Talk to her about her favorite things and she will find the hike more bearable. Your task is not to cover for her weaknesses, but to help bring out her strengths. Never underestimate the determination of a woman’s heart to achieve her goals, and climb the mountains of her dreams.
Perhaps the only time you need to step in is when you see that she is becoming uncomfortable in dealing with other men. Never allow others to disrespect a girl you’re hiking with. Steer the conversation away from sex, or from dirty jokes. Don’t talk about women’s bodies in front of a women.
But you yourself are in the position to fall into temptation. She may come to admire you or desire you, and this is easier in the mountains, not just because of the altitude. Don’t take advantage of situations that make her vulnerable to your gaze or touch…
The woman who climbs mountains is worthy of respect, admiration, and friendship. Treat her well: if you win her trust, consider it a great honor, for the woman who climbs mountains encounters all kinds of men, and the mountains must have taught her additional lesson of discerning authenticity.
If you wish to pursue her, there are two routes that you can take. The first route is that of friendship. The stereotype for girls is that they bring better trail food – but she can offer more than that. She can be the sounding board for adventures you’ve had, and adventures you’re always wanted. I’ve said it before: “Four feet are better than two. In any climb, a great companion is better than sunshine.” And I do think girls make great companions on a hike.
The second is the route of love. The heart is a lonely hiker, and companionship in life is just as fulfilling as companionship on a long distance trail. Indeed, love is an adventure in many ways similar to going outdoors: it involves opening your heart to the unknown, exposing yourself to both the epiphany of a sunrise and the misery of a cold night.
Whatever route you take, I wish you success. To the joys and hardships, ups and downs, sunshine and rain, may the mountains be witness.
I have a theory: Women become more beautiful when they reach higher altitudes. Perhaps this is just illusory thinking on my part, and perhaps I conflate physical beauty with the virtues within; the strength of character, the cheerfulness, the spirit of adventure. Whatever it is that makes me say that, there is something powerful, something beautiful, in seeing the woman on top, reaching for summits and the passions of her life.
Perhaps you have already met her, or perhaps someday you will meet her on the trail: Treat her well, the girl who climbs mountains.
9 Feb 2016
Photo credit: Toni Sy Gambala (Mt. Hapunang Banoi)
LETTERS TO A YOUNG MOUNTAINEER
Personal essays by Gideon Lasco
I: A letter to a young mountaineer
II: Why do accidents happen?
III: Of doing and loving
IV: A difficult situation
V: Wise words from an old man
VI: The Philippines that I love
VII: The calling
VIII: The girl who climbs mountains
IX: A mountaineer’s legacy
X: What beginners can teach us
XI: The friends inside your backpack
XII: Unfollowing one’s self in social media