100 Peaks #14: Sahale, the “Girlfriend Climb”

I’m writing about 100 peaks I think are rad. Here’s the full list so far.

Also, for examples of other subtle sexism, this is hilarious and eye-opening.

When I was first reading about Sahale, I saw multiple forum posts where it was called a “girlfriend climb” or something similar, implying it’s easy to take your inexperienced girlfriend on and she will have a good time, presumably. It’s a great basic glacier climb/short class 4-ish scramble, which makes it a great beginner trip for people who are learning about mountaineering. This, of course, is why I was looking at it for me and Wade to take a day trip.

The more I read about basic glacier climbs, the more I realized how frequently they were mentioned in threads where men were asking what to take their girlfriends on. This isn’t a bad motivation for a question, and this isn’t a bad answer (super safe glacier for a two-person team). But it was funny to see how prevalent this trope was, as a girl who was looking to plan a trip to gain experience with their (somewhat less experienced) male partner. I didn’t see the opposite at all, girls looking for trips that their boyfriend could “handle.” This pattern is a strange combination of the deeply entrenched ideas that men are responsible for planning activities and that men are physically more strong and have more “grit.”

These patterns seem to manifest themselves in multiple ways. Men feel encouraged to lead trips, women are less encouraged to do so, and then many men assume women are less strong or experienced. It’s a cycle we all fall into, and it definitely contributes to the fact that I really and truly do see men “taking their girlfriends on trips” more than the reverse, and probably more men engaged in certain types of activities (like alpine climbing) in general.

In fact, after I got back, I had multiple men– who were not from Washington and had little experience– message me on Instagram asking if this hike was a good choice for their girlfriend. They acted confused when I suggested that they should be generally prepared for slightly more than a hike. “I’m not worried about myself because I’m very fit,” men frequently tell me when they seek out hikes for dates on my Instagram feed, “I don’t want to freak out my girlfriend.”

This refrain is common when I tell them there is a bit of exposed scrambling, that I took the photo on a day hike but the spot is 15 miles from any trailhead, that the hike has crevasse risk, or that it requires many miles of off-trail navigation. And I’m not saying all of these men are wrong that they could do these things, or that it’s wrong for them to look for something their girlfriend will actually enjoy. But the net effect of this happening so much (and literally never with reversed gender roles) leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In the back of my mind I wonder, how many of these men assume any photo I take is accessible to them as an “athletic man” because I am a woman? Are they assuming I couldn’t possibly be climbing something they find scary, or putting in more hours of frustrating slogging than they are willing to?

Of course, so many people of both genders do things much scarier and sloggier than me. But it’s definitely statistically very likely that many of these people would have bit off more than they can chew trying to copy my adventures on Instagram, even ignoring this false equivalency they are drawing between general fitness and preparedness. I only know because just as I’ve found women who do things that amaze me, I’ve taken my share of men who assure me they are boundlessly fit and adventurous on trips that were more than they were ready to handle at the time.

However, Wade is not one of those people. He is seemingly unbreakable, and while I may be faster or more excited to plan trips, he always stays calm and focused on long days. He also knows what he wants, and if he’s not in the mood for something, he will tell me. And he’s not threatened by us liking different things: maybe I run up hills, but he’s a stronger rock climber. On this trip, I was looking for a day hike that would feel like a full day for both of us but still give us time to hang out.

And it was just that. Sahale is a wonderful date. It’s extremely scenic literally the whole time. We climbed the gentle trail to Cascade Pass and left most of the tourists to climb Sahale Arm, past views of turquoise lakes through a stupidly beautiful meadow full of marmots and wildflowers. The trail is well-maintained and easy all the way to the glacier, which isn’t steep at all and is extremely short. There is a super fun scramble at the end, which we elected to rappel back down. The weather was perfect the whole time. The broken glaciers on the nearby mountains were stunning. We took tons of snack breaks. We laughed and took our time and saw a lot of other people having a good time.

The reasons I chose this hike weren’t just a gender-reverse version of the men from the internet, though. I picked it because not only did we both want to do something “just fun” with a high chance of success that day, but also because as a practical concern Wade and I like to find only rather safe glaciers when we are alone. We have an 80lb weight difference, so forming a two-person rope team would probably be a meaningless exercise. More than wishing for symmetry in the genders of people looking for easy glacier climbs on the internet, I find myself hoping people in general can eventually treat their partners as peers. My part in overcoming internalized sexism has been learning that I can ask men what they want and try not to make them miserable, rather than expecting them to just deal with whatever I throw at them. I’ve also been fighting a lifelong battle against the tendency to follow men rather than learn things myself (I’m not from a super progressive place, it takes time.) It’s their job to accept that I can challenge them, and it’s my job to learn to look out for other people’s needs and not assume they are stronger than me in literally every way. Everyone benefits from trip planning as a team.

On the way down, we were taking our crampons off by the camp. Wade had to take off his boots and change shoes, whereas I had been wearing approach shoes the whole time.

“Sorry I’m so slow,” he said. “Its just the shoes. I should get some approach shoes.”

“I don’t think it’s the shoes,” I teased, “I think it’s who you are as a person.” I patted him on the head while he finished tying his shoes and he laughed.

Someone poked their head out of a nearby tent and asked “are you married?”

Even after hearing this exchange, another member of that group stared straight at Wade and asked a question about the route.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just following Nastassia on this one.”

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