Carey deVictoria-Michel and Lizzy VanPatten are the founders of She Moves Mountains, an all-female climbing guide company based out of Bend, Oregon. In a world that is predominantly men, they are building a community of strong female climbers that will support, empower, and mentor each other and the next generation of aspiring female climbers.
The Missing Piece
Carey lived in cities for most of her life; growing up in Minneapolis and attending college in Seattle. After graduation, she worked at a non-profit, but soon realized that the 9 to 5 life wasn’t for her. She quit her job and moved to Bend, Oregon. “Bend is one of the happiest towns you can possibly find,” she laughs. “Its outdoorsy, sunny, lively, active, and it totally changed my perspective on things.” Up to this point, she had only climbed at indoor gyms, but she met a welcoming group of climbers that introduced her to outdoor climbing at Smith Rock, a world-class climbing destination outside of Bend.
“For me, a big appeal for climbing is pushing my limits. I think climbing has been the missing piece in a lot of things in my life,” said Carey. “Part of that is because I get to be in situations where logically I don’t know if I can pull a move, but then I try and realize I can. I think a big thing in climbing, and in instructing, is the simple act of trying. When we don’t think we can do something, we may not even make the move to try. I have to constantly remind myself to just try. Climbing has been a great lesson in that and in stepping out of my comfort zone. I feel like we’ve found success if I can bring confidence to another person and inspire them to try. Even if it’s a seemingly small act of stepping up on a small foothold. Even if we do fail, at least we tried.”
After gaining some experience in the outdoors, she went on a 6-month backpacking and climbing trip throughout Thailand, Laos, and Germany. “I was living super simple and cheaply out of my backpack.” This experience opened her eyes to a life of being spontaneous and living off of only the bare necessities, so she moved into her truck and decided to become a rock-climbing guide at Smith Rock.
She Moves Mountains
Carey was surprised to see another female at the first day of guide training. It was Lizzy VanPatten, who eventually became the co-founder of She Moves Mountains. The Guiding Industry is predominantly male so Carey and Lizzy were the only female guides that summer at Smith Rock. They soon realized that there is a need and a desire in the climbing community for women to get instruction from other women.
“I think this applies to a lot of outdoor activities, but really simply it’s about seeing another woman doing the thing you want to do,” said Carey. “Seeing another female rock-climber is just easier to identify with and makes it feel more within your grasp. Also, you can’t generalize for everyone, but I think groups of women often create a more supportive environment. Women can be more comfortable talking about being afraid or not knowing if they can do something. It becomes very empowering.”
To test their theory, Lizzy and Carey planned an Introduction To Rock Climbing clinic. It sold-out in three weeks. Twelve women came out to Smith Rock from all over the Pacific Northwest. “It was awesome. One of the best days I’ve ever had. Lizzy and I were just incredibly stoked,” she said. This event was the catalyst for starting She Moves Mountains.
However, not only are guiding companies run overwhelmingly by men, they are also usually founded by older climbers who have climbed in the same area for decades. So it was atypical for two women in their mid-twenties to start a new guide service.
“We launched She Moves Mountains last Spring and I don’t know if ballsy is the best word for this situation,” she laughs, “but yea it was a pretty ballsy move. Except balls had nothing to do with it. It’s not traditionally how you start a guide service company, but from my perspective we couldn’t wait. We had done the clinics and there was such an obvious need and desire for building this female climbing community and to get more representation of female guides in rock climbing. It was kind of this intuitive call.”
Overall the climbing community in Smith Rock has been very supportive. “There have been a few comments,” she said hesitantly. “But I feel very good about what we’ve done and if there is push-back then that’s fine. Lizzy and I have learned a ton.”
Currently, Carey and Lizzy are the company’s only two guides. Next season they will have two more experienced female guides on the She Moves Mountains team. “I’m stoked to have them,” said Carey”. “That’s the really exciting part. I know there are a ton of talented female guides and climbers out there that I want to give more work to”. Also, they hope to expand to new climbing destinations, but getting the permits and insurance will take time.
Women Mentoring Women
In rock climbing, there is a long tradition of mentorship. Since the sport has traditionally had more male climbers, most of the mentors are male. Carey and Lizzy’s goal with She Moves Mountains is not only to create a business of female guides, but to build a community of strong female mentors for the younger generation.
“It’s cool because right now there has been a huge influx of supporting women in the outdoors, but that hasn’t always been the case. I don’t think girls have [historically] been introduced to outdoor activities like rock climbing or mountaineering. I would even say that they haven’t been given the same confidence as boys and are less often told ‘you can do this’. Also, it’s about mentorship. It just gets a little difficult as a female to be mentored by a guy. It doesn’t have to be, but I think it’s a little less accessible. So if there were more female mentors, climbing would become more accessible to women,” she said. “[Learning to climb] was life changing for me. It gave me more confidence, strength, independence, and feelings of empowerment. So I love teaching new climbers and sharing that experience with them too.”
Living For Now
Breaking out of the conventional mold is never easy, but Carey is a firm believer in following her intuition. “It wasn’t easy to decide to move into my truck. That was a really scary move as a 24-year-old girl. It wasn’t what most people were doing, but I knew it was what I wanted to do. Sometimes it’s hard for me to explain why I want to do these things because a lot of times it feels more intuitive. I believe that if more people took that intuitive voice more seriously then they might pursue more of the things they really want. If you don’t take that voice seriously then it’s hard to convince yourself to do something that doesn’t seem logical or make sense.”
Although Carey admits that she sometimes worries about the future, at the moment she seems to have no regrets. “I’m not completely oblivious,” she laughs, “but I’m living for right now. I 100% know I’m doing what I want to be doing in my life. There’s nothing else I’d rather be spending my time pursuing. If that means less retirement then that’s fine. I’d rather know that I’m following my passion than be worrying about the future and regretting spending my time now.”
To find out more about She Moves Mountains, visit their website at shemovesmountains.org or follow them on Instagram @she_movesmountains. I hope you found inspiration in this story and if you did, please share. Comment below or email me at email@example.com to let me know what you think