Women on Mountains Seminar 2019

Held: 13 February 2019, Wednesday

Mountaineering has long been known to be a sport associated with men. There have long been, and there still are stereotypes that women and mountains are not synonymous – yet, through the course of history, there have been exceptional women who have broken trail for females in mountaineering.

Lucy Walker, the first woman to climb the Matterhorn in 1871 did so in a long flannel skirt customary of proper Victorian ladies in the era.

As beginner mountaineers, we were curious as to how Singaporean women pioneered the scene for mountaineering here at home. In hopes of gaining some insight into this question, we had the privilege of sitting down with Joanne Soo and Sim Yihui, both distinguished adventurers from the first Singapore Women’s Everest Team (SWET) for an open, honest discussion about women on mountains.

The session kicked off with Joanne briefly touching on the history of women on mountains. It was understood that even when pioneer female mountaineers in the 19th – 20th century achieved great feats, facing equal – or arguably, more – difficulties when compared to their male counterparts, their achievements were often undermined. Today, the stigma that women have to surmount in climbing is no longer as high. Yet it is generally acknowledged that the modern woman still faces some perceived barriers in the sport.

So how was the dream of climbing Everest with an all-women’s team born? How did they make it real? These questions were quickly answered when Joanne and Yihui continued with a sharing about their journeys in mountaineering, in which they also recounted their journeys with SWET.

Yihui delved into the story of the SWET, addressing issues such as the conceptualization of the expedition, the trainings and the struggles faced by the team. We learnt of the immense grit and hard work the climbers had to put in in their 5-year journey, as well as of the heavy decisions and delicate considerations that the team had to face long before they even set foot at Everest Base Camp.

Beyond speaking for the team, they also spoke of their personal struggles and learnings that eventuated in growth. It was especially inspiring to hear of their stories – not just of how the expedition began, but of how each of them balanced climbing with their personal commitments, relationships – essentially, the passion with which they persevered with to make their dreams a reality.

That was perhaps what resonated most with me. To so bravely rise against existing norms to pursue adventure in the spirit of learning, and love for the sport, is incredibly admirable.

The session then proceeded into a lively Question & Answer session in which various concerns were raised. Questions included what tips should be given to girls just starting out in mountaineering – that they should just go for it! – and how they managed to balance their personal commitments with their love for climbing. We laughed and we learnt about Joanne’s ever-ongoing progress with acclimatizing her mom with her love for climbing, and about Yihui’s learnings and experiences as the co-leader of SWET, despite being one of the youngest members of the expedition.

Joanne and Yihui never hesitated when speaking of their experiences on the mountains. They shared about how venturing out of their comfort zones have only helped them better themselves, and how the mountains gift you with experiences almost unexplainably like no other.

Indeed, the mountains can teach us lessons that go beyond ourselves. In the words of Joanne, the mountains do not discriminate between males or females. To go out into the outdoors is so fulfilling perhaps because we can learn that we are so much more capable than we think we are.

Maybe the only thing that we need to do is to take the first step, and naturally, the rest will follow.

Thank you Joanne and Yihui for showing us how you made it real.

Chiew Hui

MIR 18

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