If you were to ask my husband, Brian and I, what made us decide to pull the trigger and move to Portland, Maine we’d have to say, the creative/outdoor community and the people behind it. Not only that, but the close proximity to New Hampshire’s stunning White Mountain range, Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park allows us to stay outside and connected to nature. Plus, all the food and beer — just being honest.
The Alpine Women Collective was one of those organizations that made me feel excited and inspired to explore this place and meet the amazing people who call it home. Run by Sarah McLean and Cait Borgault, AWC is an all-women’s hiking group for like-minded ladies to sponge up the benefits of being outside together. That in and of itself is special but to hear more about their love for this project is something else entirely. So, I’m thrilled to share that with you here. If you’re someone who has always wanted to spend more time hiking, backpacking or adventuring outdoors but don’t know how or where to start, make sure you read all the way through for some wisdom on breaking through that barrier. It’s real good, I promise.
Let’s start from the very beginning: you are both Mainers who love to hike, so what was the conversation like when you decided to start Alpine Women Collective?
We were just coming off of about a year of Cait and I first discovering hiking together. We’d made a major lifestyle switch from spending our weekends at the bar to spending them in the mountains, and with that switch we noticed more and more aspects of our lives improving. Additionally, we were eager as a pair of creative-minded best friends to combine our talents in photography and design along with the outdoors.
Having noted that hiking was the source of so much of our happiness, we came up with this idea to invite women to join us and we were so excited to share what we had learned. We’d felt that there wasn’t ample space welcoming women into the outdoors, so we decided to create one ourselves. We started by inviting four friends to hike a small mountain in Western Maine and we had more fun that day than we ever even anticipated. From there, the demand grew rapidly and we began talking about how we could increase our reach, and thusly, the #babehike was born!
Cait, besides being a professional photographer, you’re a certified Wilderness First Responder which is a pretty thorough course that covers a lot of ground. As an avid hiker and backpacker myself, I’d always thought that it would be useful to learn more about how to handle emergency situations in the wilderness, so you’ve totally inspired me! How has this impacted you as a lover of the outdoors and now, as a trip leader?
Taking the Wilderness First Responder course changed the way I prepare to go into the outdoors. I highly suggest it to anyone who hikes! The course provides a set of useful, potentially lifesaving skills and you’ll finish feeling confident that in an emergency, you’ll make strong decisions. It not only teaches you to be prepared with the appropriate medical kit when hiking, but also teaches you how to make do with the items you have and then items nearby in an emergency.
Our course days were usually spent inside during the morning, learning from our teachers and then outside practicing those skills during the afternoon. When we went outside, we’d participate in rescue scenarios in the woods with only the items we had in our pack. The hands on aspect of the course sharpened my skills and made me realize how easily a small injury in the backcountry can be a big deal.We’ve been very lucky on our AWC hikes and have not had any major injuries, but the comfort of knowing we’d be well prepared in case of an emergency gives us peace of mind when leading women in the outdoors.
The both of you work full-time in addition to running Alpine Women Collective. Is this your weekend warrior activity or do you have bigger plans in mind?
One of my favorite things about the Alpine Women Collective is the opportunity for both of us to use our creative thinking in the worlds of photography and graphic design to aid us in creating these outdoor-focused events. We are both so passionate about the work we do both indoors and out, so I don’t see us stopping either! That said, we have endless ideas for how we hope to grow the AWC. We hope to reach women of all walks of life, all over the world with our message, whether through hiking alongside them or sharing through our images and videos. We’ll never stop working to spread our message.
What drew me to AWC were the beautiful photos, gorgeous website and the mile-wide smiles on everyone’s faces that were so contagious—even from a screen! It just looks like you’re all having the best time. What’s it like to lead a group of women on a hike?
To be totally honest, they’re as fun as they look in the photos! We are still blown away after every hike just how much fun it is to hang out in the woods with a group of like-minded women. It’s crazy how easily we’re able to connect while hiking; the trail is a really good place to get to know people, let your walls down, and truly relate to someone with a common goal. We encourage each other, offer support, celebrate together. Our hikes are full of laughing together and we would not have it any other way.
I am all for getting more women outside so that they can feel a sense of joy, confidence and gratitude for their bodies and minds. However, there are plenty of physical and mental barriers that might stop them from just going for it. What would you say to convince a girl who wants to join a hiking group but feels nervous or unsure?
To the woman struggling to find her place in the outdoors: You are not alone. So many women we meet on our hikes tell us that until they joined us, they felt uncertain, intimidated, or unable to connect with the outdoors. It’s not uncommon to feel some anxiety toward breaking into hiking, climbing, camping.
You are fully capable and welcome in the mountains. More than likely, you know someone who has been dying to get out and try hiking, but has been intimidated too! That’s exactly why we exist, and our job is to create a space that is welcoming, approachable, and fun from the first step onto trail. You won’t be spoken down to, you won’t need an unattainable set of skills, we just take it one step at a time.