Photos by Outdoor Studies student Addy Wright
APU regularly offers expedition courses, but this year’s mountaineering class was special. For likely the first time in program history, all participants were women.
The multi-week expedition – a graduation requirement for Outdoor Studies majors – spent May Block in the Alaska Range camping on glaciers, skiing on icefields, and honing skills in the mountains. The region is “the crown jewel of glacier travel worldwide,” said Associate Professor Eeva Latosuo, and it just happens to be a quick flight from campus.
Students registered over the winter and took prerequisite courses in climbing systems and winter camping. The course was open to all students, and five women signed up. Once Eeva saw the pattern, she recruited another female co-instructor – 2017 Outdoor Studies graduate Terrell Moore, who now guides for NOLS and Sheldon Chalet. While enrollment in Outdoor Studies is split roughly 50/50 between genders, this was the first all-female program Eeva has led in her 15 years as a professor.
Empowerment and trust
The Expedition Mountaineering course spent a few days together on campus, then flew from Talkeetna to Ruth Glacier for three weeks on the mountain.
Students were tethered together on 200-foot-long ropes while traveling, and camped in a close community of nylon tents. It’s impossible to get much space from classmates, and groups often become quite close. Eeva credits her students for creating a transparent, positive learning environment.
“Day 1 they’re figuring out all the gear strapped to them,” she said. “By Day 10 they’re all fired up.”
For most of the participants, this was a rare opportunity to experience the outdoors in an all-women setting.
“I’m always used to being one of the only females in what I do. This trip was mind-blowingly different,” said student Ayla Crosby. “It ended up being really, really empowering. We’re in this sport and this terrain that is so male-dominated, and we’re just this group of all females and we’re crushing it.”
“It was a good way to motivate me,” added student Chloe Steiner. With only female participants, everything seemed attainable and achievable. “We all pushed each other, but we were all very open with each other,” she said. “It was just really powerful.”
Students set the objectives each day, and took on more responsibilities as the trip progressed. One day they might traverse the glacier and find stable snow for a new campsite. Another day they might climb the base of Explorer Peak. Crevasse rescue was an important element of the course, and students took turns running scenarios and hanging in the vertical chasms of ice. It’s a necessary skill for mountain guiding, and one that’s very difficult to replicate in the city. All activities were closely monitored by Eeva and Terrell.
“We were really given the power to decide what we wanted to do and … we were given a lot of freedom and a lot of trust knowing that we could do it,” said Ayla.
Confidence and experience
For Chloe, the expedition course matched what she’s come to expect from APU.
“It’s a very unique experience that a lot of people won’t ever get to do, and APU has offered that to so many people around the country,” she said. Her professors are professionals, she added, and “they really care about the students learning.
“I’m just really stoked that they’re here to help us and teach us to be outdoor professionals, and teach us to love the world around us.”
Through the mountaineering course, students gained confidence, skills, and – importantly – experience. They’re now ready to plan their own mountain expeditions, or take on entry-level guiding work in Alaska.
And when you live in the crown jewel of glacier travel, it doesn’t take long to find opportunities. Both Ayla and Chloe already have guiding gigs lined up with Alaska Mountaineering School and Sheldon Chalet this summer.