Chivalry in the Mountains

Thar Couloir

This post may ruffle a few feathers but it’s written with the intent to start a conversation rather than create an argument. I want to be very clear from the outset that I’m not saying people shouldn’t be chivalrous. I am saying that a male should be equally chivalrous to other males as well as females when it comes to being in the Mountains.

The Modern Western male is all about gender equality. However, some men still make caveats to this equality. They feel it is necessary to hold on to the old gender roles that they tell themselves “benefit Women”, we like to call this “Chivalry” or “Gallantry”.

You might say that if it isn’t hurting anyone then why stop? The male wants to do it and the female appreciates the kindness and attention. In a normal social context I’d wholeheartedly agree. Facing the elements and risking your life in the mountains is not a normal social context however.

The problem is that in an arena (eg. Mountaineering, Climbing) were a female needs to be equal to a male not only socially, but mentally and physically it does hurt them. It stunts their progress. Progress a male easily makes because nobody is trying to be “nice” to them and inadvertently holding them back.

My wife, Spring, is strong. She can run farther and faster than me. Carries a greater percentage of her body weight than me on her back when backpacking and rarely complains about the cold even though, as a female, she feels it more than males.

But, even though she has all of these qualities, she frequently confides in me that she doesn’t want to feel like she is a “burden” on the male members of our groups.

I often questioned why I don’t feel this way. If I’m slower than some in the group I accept it. If I’m faster I make allowances for those that are slower. I carry my share of the weight and look after myself. Why would Spring feel she could be a burden on the males in the group?

Then I seen it. At times some males in groups we would be in would offer to assist or help Spring way more than they’d offer to help other males (even the ones that appeared slower or weaker than her). When we’d take turns carrying our ropes up a mountain some males would insist that Spring should not have to carry it.

Now, I know all of these males meant well and our society has brought men up to feel they need to be like this to be a “Gentleman”, and, like I said, in a purely social context it’s perfectly fine, but a lot aren’t aware of the detrimental impact these manners are having on the modern Woman when it comes to physical and mental endeavors as a group.

Summit of Three Brothers

I see males doing this all the time in the mountains. When hiking a popular trail I will see the male carrying all the weight whereas the female with them will have no pack. I can’t begin to detail why, even from a general safety standpoint, this is wrong. At climbing crags if a male and female show up at the base of a climb the male tends to lead it first.

I was reading a book called “Ice and Mixed Climbing” by Will Gadd recently where he allowed Kim Csizmazia to write a short note about females who also climb Ice. She elaborated that the female climbers she knows will tend to not assert their leadership over males when climbing with them. If the male pushes to lead, even if they are capable, they will let him. They have since resolved this problem by climbing in all female groups to level the playing field.

What males don’t realize is that when they say “let me carry that for you” what a female who is trying to be seen as an equal in the group might hear is “carrying that additional weight is going to slow down our group, so I will carry it”.

If you’re a male reading this, just think about it, you’re climbing a mountain, you’re strong and fast, the weight on your back isn’t a problem for you and another male approaches you and says “I’ll take that rope from you, you shouldn’t have to carry it, let me take it”. How do you view that statement? What assumption do you imagine that male is making about you? Why wouldn’t a female see the same assumption?

If you’re a female who wishes to get stronger in the mountains, don’t allow a male to help you because they offer, only do so if you actually need help. Think of it like training for a marathon, if a guy pulled over in a car and offered to give you a lift when you are half way through a long training run would you take it? Of course not. Don’t allow the same thing to happen for any other activity where you wish to participate among males. Any help they give you makes them stronger and slows your progress.

I’m proud to say I don’t help my wife at all to climb mountains. I don’t lift a finger to make it easier for her. She suffers and enjoys every step of the way as much as I do, and you know what, when I reach the summit and feel that elation from having earned my place there she feels it also, exactly the same as me. Why would I want to take that amazing moment away from her and make her feel that without me she couldn’t achieve this when she absolutely can.

We work together so well as partners because once we set foot on the trail or grab on to the first hold of a climb we’re equals. Neither of us feels we are a burden to the other or possibly could be. For every ounce of chivalry that is lost between us we’ve gained countless amounts of respect and trust in each other, and, ultimately, that is way more valuable right?

Summit of Elusive

Author: Leigh McClurg

I grew up in County Dublin, Ireland and moved to British Columbia, Canada with my wife in 2010. I fell in love with being in the Backcountry and Mountains that are all around me here and try to spend all of my free time exploring those wild places. My main goals are to chase happiness, see as much of this planet and its cultures as possible and grow every day through knowledge and experiences.

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4 Comments

  1. Very good point. But situations usually dictate necessity, if you noticed this happening it could be for the very reason that the female is new to hiking/climbing and might have gotten in over their head. It is easy for someone to say ” oh that sounds like fun I would love to come with you” then get in over their head. I am all for pushing people male or female but you must know their limits in relation to the destination. If it seems they need assistance to make it safely to the chosen campsite No one should be looked down on for offering, accepting or even insisting in certain situation some assistance. A group is only as strong as its weakest member. What bothers me is when the opposite occurs and someone is left far behind on their own. Or in climbing is put in a dangerous situation because they/ or someone has over estimated their ability.

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  2. I agree. Assistance should always be offered based on an individuals ability, not because of their sex.

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  3. Great read Leigh. Agree 100%. One of my all time pet peeves is seeing a couple on the trail and the guy is carrying everything!

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  4. An interesting read Leigh. I have another perspective on this. I am female and was recently hiking with my male partner, who has pretty serious back issues/injuries.

    I typically take a single pack and let him go without one as it tends to aggravate his back, or take the larger pack and he will take a smaller one with minimal weight. This occasion I was carrying a fairly large pack (was happy to) and he did not have a pack on. The number of strange looks we received were countless from other hikers, and it wasn’t just our imaginations, a few people actually made some “joking” comments regarding why I (the female) was carrying the pack.

    At first, we stopped to explain why and most people felt bad when finding out why we had this arrangement, but after a certain point we realized we shouldn’t have to explain ourselves. If he had to carry a pack over a certain weight, we wouldn’t be able to do the hikes we were doing.

    I just find it interesting! Peoples reactions and assumptions/judgements… don’t judge a book by its cover 🙂 We are all just doing the best we can and try and get our time in the mountains…

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