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In Honor of Women Everywhere: 7 Female Pioneers

11/6/17 by Emma Walker

Mother’s Day is upon us—and chances are, you know some women worth celebrating. Ladies on the outdoor scene have come a long way in the last handful of decades, and not without significant challenges: our pioneering predecessors hiked, biked, climbed, and skied the same peaks and valleys as their male counterparts, but usually in ill-fitting gear made specifically for men—and amidst all kinds of assumptions about “the weaker sex.”

One thing’s for sure: no matter what color your gear is, and regardless of old-fashioned notions of womanhood, it’s definitely not a bad thing to run (or ski, or hike, or swim, or, for that matter, anything else) like a girl.

This Mother’s Day, skip the carnations and brunch, and give your mom a way better gift: tell her she reminds you of one of these badass outdoor women.


Next time someone asks if a woman in your party can keep up with the boys, remind them of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Corps of Discovery covered more than 8,000 miles in two-and-a-half years, and they might very well not have made it without their Lemhi Shosone guide, Sacagawea. She’s the mother of all pioneering badasses, literally—Sacagawea was pregnant when the Corps arrived in her village to winter over. After giving birth to her son on the trail, Sacagawea, also a knowledgeable naturalist and skilled linguist, strapped him to her back and continued keeping up with—nay, leading—the men as they made their way to the Pacific Ocean.

Claire Marie Hodges

The first woman national park ranger
The first woman national park ranger NPS

Here’s some perspective: when Claire Marie Hodges became the first fully commissioned female ranger in the National Park Service, the Nineteenth Amendment wouldn’t be ratified for another two years. That didn’t matter to Hodges, or to Yosemite’s Superintendent, Washington B. Lewis, who, as World War I raged on in the spring 1918, was desperate for bodies. “Probably you’ll laugh at me,” she told Lewis, “but I want to be a ranger.” Hodges patrolled the park on horseback that season, taking on the same responsibilities as the male park rangers, though she refused to carry a gun. Lesson learned: If you want that dream job, go for it.

Fanny Bullock Workman

Fanny Bullock blaha balhdaf
Fanny Bullock blaha balhdaf Wikimedia Commons

William Workman didn’t drag his wife out the door to adventure—it was the other way around. Fanny Bullock Workman, who once stood on a high Karakoram pass holding a sign that read “Votes for Women,” was a mountaineer, high-altitude trekker, travel writer, and, perhaps most notably, cyclist in a time when it had just become socially acceptable for women to wear pantaloons to recreate outside. In 1895, she and her husband embarked on a nearly 3,000 mile bicycle journey across Spain, often clocking 80 miles in a single day on their single-speed steel-frame bikes.

Gwen Moffat

We hear a lot about the romantic notion of dirtbag climbers—guys who live out of their vans, putting up big routes all over the country. But the first iteration of dirtbag was no dude: Gwen Moffat, the first female British mountain guide, made her living climbing in the 1940s and 50s, long before the Stone Monkeys of Camp 4 arrived on the Yosemite scene. Her autobiography, Space Below My Feet , details the many odd jobs she took for the sake of climbing.

Grandma Gatewood

This woman puts modern-day AT thru-hikers to shame
This woman puts modern-day AT thru-hikers to shame Wikimedia Commons

Long before today’s ultra-light hiking craze, Emma Rowena Gatewood became the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (only the fifth person to hike it end-to-end), and she did it in a pair of Keds sneakers. At age 67—after surviving horrific abuse at the hands of her husband, whom she eventually managed to divorce—"Grandma Gatewood" announced to her adult children that she was going for a walk, and walk she did. Gatewood carried just twelve pounds of gear, and used a shower curtain as a shelter.

Rachel Carson

Junko Tabei

The first woman to summit Everest
The first woman to summit Everest Wikimedia Commons

Talk about resourcefulness: without sponsors to fund high-end gear, Junko Tabei and the fourteen other members of the 1975 Japanese Women’s Everest Expedition sewed their own sleeping bags. Women in 1970s Japan were rarely given the choice to work outside the home, but Tabei, who organized an all-women’s climbing club after graduating university, climbed Mount Fuji and the Matterhorn before setting her sights on Mount Everest. On May 16, 1975, she made huge strides for badass women everywhere when she became the first woman to stand on the highest summit in the world.

Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.