Letter to the Editor of Backpacker Magazine
To the editor:
I was thrilled to open the August 2012 issue of Backpacker and find a six-page pictorial devoted to the Sierra Challenge, an annual “event” in the eastern Sierra. Seeing my good friend, Bob Burd, receive such an accolade, knowing how much effort he pours into organizing the Challenge, made my heart soar. Being able to view all my other friends in action during the 2011 Challenge also filled me with pride. All of the participants are to be lauded for their courage, knowledge, and fortitude, and the fact that they return year after year to join in the fun is a clear attestation to how special this event is.
However, I was highly disturbed to see that the pictorial included not a single photograph of a woman participating in the Challenge, nor did the text suggest that anyone other than men set out to conquer the Challenge. Over the first ten years of the Challenge, approximately 10% of the participants were women. In 2010, I became the first, and only, woman to complete all 10 days and 10 peaks, placing fourth in the overall standings for the “Yellow Jersey”. Bob introduced me to the photographer, Michael Darter, following Day 3 (Cold Mountain), and he also included the title of “only woman finisher” in his description. I was limited in my participation in 2011 due to a knee injury (I had surgery 3 weeks later), but I was present for two of the days that the photographer was present, along with other women who were joining in the fun.
I can understand the role of editor in selecting the photographs for a spread; that space is limited; audiences must be considered; quality of photographs is key. However, to see that a single picture of any woman was omitted from the final cut was highly offensive. Mountaineering continues to be a male-dominated field, but there are those of us who have strived to make inroads and prove ourselves equal in route finding, stamina, and confidence in the backcountry. The Challenge represents the epitome of self-sufficiency to many, and to have denied acknowledgement of any woman who participates is a highly offensive gesture.
I am extremely proud of my continued participation in the Sierra Challenge, and I eagerly await the 2012 event, having now recovered from my knee surgery last fall. These gentlemen are my dear friends and mountain family. I believe that Backpacker Magazine, while issuing deserved recognition to Bob and the others, did a significant disservice to their women readers by denying them the knowledge that women do indeed participate, and, more importantly, succeed in such “wild hiking challenges”.
Sincerely, and in disappointment,