Still a Ways to Go

By Kimber Cross

“Miss Cross, girls do not climb mountains.”
“Teacher, only boys lift weights.”

These are two real statements made by two of my kindergarten students in the last few years upon learning about their teacher’s passion for mountaineering and weight lifting. It’s the year 2024 and young boys, and no doubt girls, are still holding these archaic stereotypes about a female’s place. I was able to surprise both of these little boys, on each occasion, with pictures of their teacher doing exactly what they thought wasn’t something women did. Their responses gave me hope and honestly a little bit of a laugh. “OH, wow you’re a girl?” (That response was unexpected, but a great conversation starter nonetheless). 

Once the boys visually saw the fact that a female they knew was standing on the summit of Tahoma (Mount Rainier), their excitement was palpable. For the rest of the year, each Monday they asked which big mountain I had climbed that weekend. I’d show them a photo and they'd even see my female climbing partners in the pictures. By the end of the year, I truly believe these little boys had a new norm for a girl’s place in the mountains. 

Another boy thought that women don't lift weights because he had only seen his dad lift weights, was pleasantly surprised when I flexed. I showed him a video of me doing pull ups at my gym. He was excited for me. He said, “WOW you are so strong, I guess girls can lift weights too.” Children believe what they see, and it was something as simple as a photo that changed their understanding of what women can and cannot do. How simply representation can flip the script in the minds of young ones. 

Some of Kimber's mountaineering students on a mentor climb.

We have a ways to go, it’s clear to me, when it comes to stereotypes about what women can and cannot do. Stereotypes start early and take a long time to break. As a kindergarten teacher, I see first-hand when little boys start to form their understandings of gender roles. As a leader in my local Mountaineers chapter, I see the results of what happens when these understandings develop into stereotypes and prejudice. 

I currently serve as Chair for the Intermediate Alpine Course Committee in my local Mountaineers branch. In this role, I'm a part of decision making for my branch, as well as the organization as a whole. I love instructing and mentoring new climb leaders, and training the next generation of outdoor leadership. I also mitigate communication issues and monitor peoples’ accountability to the guidelines of the courses and precepts of the Mountaineers. Has this job been easy as a woman? Sadly, no. I was warned about it by other female colleagues but still did not expect that multiple times, my leadership would be overwhelmingly disrespected or avoided by male peers or mentees. My emails have been ignored, or responded to with gross egotistical elitist comments. Those same responders would email the male leader with completely different tones, ones that carried respect and acceptance.

In the field, I have been in climbing teams where I am the main leader, or where all of my co-leaders are women, and the participants are all men. In this dynamic, resistance to a woman’s leadership can jeopardize safety. In one particular climbing trip up Glacier Peak in the North Cascades (34 miles round trip over 3 days), I had to motivate all three men who were slowing down from physical exhaustion, dehydration, and lack of energy from food. It was a challenge at first to ask them to sit down and take a food and water break before the final summit push, as some just wanted to turn around. They felt that because it felt hard, it meant they weren’t capable.  In that particular moment, I knew with the conditions being perfect, it was possible for them if they took some rest. That said, you're never 100 percent sure as a female how stern encouragement or direction will be received by men in the mountains. There are times that you second guess how you come across because we've been given terms such as "mountain mom, nagging, overly emotional, etc." I needed to to believe in my leadership and the faith I had in the team to push to the summit.  

On Glacier Peak, these guys chose to listen and trust me, even though they wanted to turn around on their own (which would pose its own safety risks). We made the summit, and in the emails after the trip they thanked me for not letting them quit on themselves and for giving advice on how to take care of their body's needs. I was pleasantly surprised, and it made me more hopeful that positive experiences can happen like this for when all female leadership teams are guiding others in the mountains. I want women to be able to lead without feeling like they will be second-guessed. 

We have a ways to go, it’s clear to me. Stereotypes take a long time to break, and they start young. But this is the power of representation. Women make excellent leaders in the mountains, and the more women take up space there, the less surprised young boys will be to see girls climbing, and the less likely a man is to resist having to follow a woman's lead. We all play a part to show up, support, normalize, and represent. 

kimber cross


Kimber is an adaptive climber who uses a custom prosthetic ice tool to climb waterfall ice around the country as well as alpine ice routes in her home state of Washington. She was the first disabled climber to use a prosthetic ice tool on the Kautz Route on Mount Rainier/Tahoma. She is also a climb leader for The Mountaineers, a volunteer-based organization in Washington state that offers basic and intermediate courses and climbing trips. She instructs/leads field trips for the Mountaineers as well as private climbs year-round on glaciers, rock, and ice. When she isn’t in the backcountry climbing or skiing, she is a National Board-Certified educator, teaching Kindergarten. Kimber was born with one hand—she has adapted and modified to excel in sports as a kid and now climbing as an adult. Her passion is to teach children about the outdoors with her story of resilience and inclusion.


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