These women have rocked the boat in the outdoors, and they did it by just being themselves.
By Brandon Mathis
From a soccer player turned cycling champion, a southern belle turned world renowned alpinist, a public lands advocate teaching a nation of outdoor leaders to the future of mountain guides everywhere, these ladies rock. Meet the women changing the face of the outdoors.
Who: Sarah Sturm
What: Graphic designer, professional cyclist
Where: Durango, Colorado
Sarah Sturm moved to Durango in 2008 to play soccer at Fort Lewis College, but the playing field in cycling was brimming with talent. Athletic by nature, Sturm enjoyed soccer but found a different calling and a new community on two wheels.
Ten years later, she won her first national title.
“A change of heart lead me to try something new and I joined the FLC cycling team,” Sturm says. “I started racing road and track cycling, then got into cyclocross and mountain biking where I found my stride. I raced on a local pro mountain bike team (Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Devo Sweet Elite) for two seasons and then the Ska/Zia MTB team before signing a pro contract with Specialized Bicycles. I just finished my first season of racing a full pro cyclocross calendar where I finished the season off by winning the single speed category at Nationals and placing eighth in the Elite women’s race (at Nationals).
Sturm isn’t your typical racer, and Durango isn’t your typical town. She says walking to the beat of a different drum has its advantages.
“I like when things get a little messy, and I embrace the adverse conditions. The cycling and outdoor community (in Durango) are different from anywhere else. We are the weirdos who do really well when everyone else is freaking out, and boy did I utilize that to my advantage this season.”
Who: Kitty Calhoun
What: Celebrated alpinist, co-owner of Chicks Climbing and Skiing
Where: Castle Valley, Utah/Ouray, Colorado
Fresh out of the North Carolina Outward Bound School, Kitty Calhoun knew one thing: She loved climbing. At the University of Vermont when she was introduced to winter mountaineering and ice climbing, things escalated.
“I finished school and I decided to drive out West,” she says. “I had a Subaru wagon and decided I was going to live out of my car.”
It was 1982. Her plan was simple. January in Colorado, February in the Tetons in Wyoming, March in the Cascades of the Northwest and April in the Palisades of California.
“I spent three winters alpine climbing, and I wanted to go visit mountain ranges all over the world. I figured each place had something different to teach me.”
And so she learned, eventually becoming a guide with an international operation that would send her around the world.
One she finally settled down and traded her Subaru wagon for a desert home in Moab, Utah’s Castle Valley, Calhoun was offered a position with the world’s first all women’s ice climbing program, now known as Chicks Climbing and Skiing.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she says.
Today “Chicks” is a world-leading women-in-the-outdoors program based in Ouray, Colorado, teaching women mountain savvy skills and creating a community of empowered females in a niche once dominated by men.
“When I started climbing, I didn’t know any other women ice climbers or alpinists,” Calhoun says. “When I started working with Chicks climbing and skiing, I didn’t realize what I had missed out on. Now it’s opened up a whole new world for me, and I think it’s important because there’s now a better understanding that women can do anything that men can do; they just have a different way of going about it.”
In addition to numerous first ascents around the world, Calhoun has also been awarded the American Alpines Club’s prestigious Robert and Miriam Underhill Award for her achievements and accomplishments in mountaineering.
Who: Shelley Silbert
What: Executive director, Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Where: Durango, and across the country
Don’t let the name fool you. This nation-wide organization stretches from Hawaii to Maine and every state in between, with 40 chapters of dedicated wilderness advocates working locally to protect public lands and wildlife. And Shelley Silbert orchestrates it from the home office in Durango, Colorado.
“Our leaders come from all different backgrounds, all walks of life,” she says. “They’re retired forest service biologists or retired lawyers or retired doctors who understand the health impacts of environmental issues. And what makes our grass-roots groups so powerful is that they are combining all of their skills with their passion for wilderness, and magnify the impact of our small organization.”
The “Broads,” as they refer to themselves, work hard but play hard too.
“We like to think of ourselves having fun doing serious work, Silbert says.”
The Broads create Broad bands, which are collected groups of stewardship advocates that set out to make a difference in their own territories. Every year they hold a training rendezvous called W.A.L.T.S.: wilderness advocacy leadership trainings sessions.
“The whole idea is that these Broad bands are actually working to protect the lands where they live,” Silbert says. “We want them to know those lands. To get out into them.
In the Four Corners, Broads might work to protect big shorn sheep or monitor pika, measuring changes in climate and what effects that may have on these animal populations. Regionally they join forces to address things like protecting national monument designations.
“From our backyards to D.C., ” Silbert says “You name it, and there is probably a chapter involved.”
Silbert says in addition to believing in the organization’s efforts, it’s the people who make the difference.
“The women I have met who’ve gone all across the world, who’ve skied across Antarctica, who’ve done just the most remarkable things and yet, here they are every day, out there working to protect our public lands. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Silbert says for some, just knowing is enough.
“They’re not all big outdoors people; they just want to know that wilderness is out there, so they get involved.”
Who: Lindsey Hamm
What: Mountain guide/2016 Gore-Tex Scholarship recipient American Mountain Guide Association
Where: Ouray, Colorado; Asia; Bishop, California
Lindsey Hamm is certifiably a one-to-watch on the alpine climbing scene these days. A recipient of the acclaimed Gore-Tex Scholarship with the American Mountain Guide Association, Hamm is driven, and you get the feeling she’s destined for great things. After attempting bold first ascents in India, and guiding on Alaska’s 20,310-foot Denali – the highest and one of the most challenging mountains in the United States – Hamm returned to the lower 48 to tick off an impressive hit list of summits, guiding clients around the West from California’s Palisades to the the Colorado Rockies to Cody, Wyoming. Hamm is climbing routes that would make a lifelong mountaineer proud. And she’s just getting started.
“There are ups and downs for being an adventurous human,” Hamm says. “I miss weddings, family events and pass on relationships because I am choosing to focus on me. I have a lot to work on, which I am excited to do.”
Hamm says it’s not about living life on the edge. She can see her lifestyle from a selfish angle, but in the end she just wants to push herself.
“It’s a balance,” she says “Figuring it all out. It’s exciting. I don’t see myself as ‘badass.’ What I see is a woman wanting to find out what she is really made of. I write down goals and I have been executing them. Some get pushed back due to weather or life events, but I am making it a priority to attempt all of them. If I don’t, I have failed.”
Any advice to the adventure seekers? She says takes those dreams, those goals and lofty ambitions and write them down.
“Train and go for it. Don’t listen to others opinions. Go. For. It. Expect to fail. Expect to succeed. At the end of it, smile. I’m smiling right now). Send it!