What it’s Like to Take a Women’s Rafting Trip, as told by River Guides
By Kim Cassels • March 15, 2021
What it’s Like to Take a Women’s Rafting Trip, as told by River Guides
“It kind of speaks for itself about how amazing and empowering it is to have the opportunity to be all women on the river. It sets the bar high for other companies, and it’s something to carry on,” Mild to Wild’s River Operations Manager, Elena, said on the topic of women’s rafting trips.
“In the outdoor industry, it’s well known that there’s not as many women in it, and that they maybe won’t succeed as much in it. And yet you have women pushing these 2,500 lb boats down the river… People see us as role models.”
Last year was Elena’s first all-women’s rafting trip. In the company of giddy teenage girls and their parents, she and three other guides meandered through the summery ingress of Lodore Canyon.
“I think it was really special because it’s rare. You don’t ever see anyone feeling amazed by having all men guides on their trips,” she said. “The fact that we even have the opportunity to have all-women trips gets the ball rolling to have more of them.”
Mild to Wild currently has over 20 female guides, many of which hold leadership roles along with the office staff. At large, women have been a pivotal part of the company since its beginnings in 1994, when owners Alex and Molly Mickel started running Lower Animas trips out of an 8×8 wooden kiosk on Main Avenue in Durango, Colorado.
Plenty of the ladies of Mild to Wild have taken at least one gallivant down the river with just the gals, both commercially or with private groups. Here’s a bit of what it’s like to take women’s rafting trips, from the badass women who run them.
A Women’s Rafting Trip is Empowering
Anna Folks is the Multi-Day Coordinator at Mild to Wild, and has been running whitewater around the world for 17 years. She’s seen thousands of transformations manifest in the far-reaches of river canyons, including for women who— for the very first time— experienced their sense of independence in the wilderness.
“I did a trip once where a woman, her daughter and her friend were in my boat, and it came up that she used to do these trips all the time with her husband. He became terminally ill, and it was her first outdoor trip without him. At first she was kind of reliant on me to help her with a lot of things like her gear. And towards the end of the trip, I tried to empower her that she was capable of doing a lot of those things on her own.”
“I think a lot of women, whether or not they’re used to having a male figure that brings them to the outdoors, have this cool realization that you can do this stuff on your own. It frees you to be in these places and to really get to know yourself.”
Other guides who have found these trips empowering, like Elena, also speak to how it feels to be on an all-women’s guide team.
“I think having four female leaders was not only super empowering for other women to see, I myself feel a lot more comfortable being with women in my own skill range. A lot of the time, women have to use skill and technique through big runs, and so it was cool to see all of us to work together to work through runs technically.”
“I love doing all-girls trips and paddling with all women, I just always have,” Mild to Wild’s Office Manager, Natalie, said. And while she hasn’t been on an all-women’s rafting trip yet, she’s floated Brown’s Canyon with a group of fellow kayakers.
“I think because of the supportive atmosphere. Normally when you go on a usual trip there’s always more men, and with kayaking especially, it’s hard to find a group of women to go with. My friend is always trying to get women out there to try kayaking, for all skill levels. I really like the encouragement for more women to get out there.”
For Emma, Mild to Wild’s Daily Trip Coordinator, she’s noticed more open and effective communication with ladies on trips, as well as a greater sense of helpfulness from the crew and guests.
“The flow is easier to get things done, and it’s more supportive I’ve noticed. Women tend to jump in a lot more to complete tasks rather than leaving it up to individuals, and aren’t afraid to ask how they can help, or ask for it either.”
Natalie also noticed this on her kayaking trip, even when it came to goofing around in rapids.
“Everybody’s encouraging each other to try things and push themselves, all while knowing that we’re there to help by having patience with learning and helping each other. Patience was definitely a positive of going with women too.”
It’s Judgement Free
“Safety is really the first thing that comes to mind about women’s trips,” Emma said. “All of my trips that have been with women, I’ve always felt emotionally safe, as far as whether it’s my call as a trip leader, or having to deal with other situations. Generally, with women I feel safe and supported.”
Natalie said, “Guys can make for a really competitive atmosphere, and I’d rather be around a group of people learning together and supporting each other and being on the same page. I feel more comfortable personally.”
For Anna, the dynamic of conversation changes in all-women’s groups as well, “They’re usually pretty fun, and there’s more space to talk about things more comfortably. People just feel more open with each other… Sometimes it always comes back to peeing and stuff,” she laughs.
“But there’s always really good conversations and emotional support. I think having all female guides is a cool dynamic too, and having that example for other women while you’re experiencing the outdoors together.”
Elena said, “On my last women’s rafting trip, the girls felt more comfortable talking to us in general. One even said she wanted to join a guide school.”
It’s a Community
“I like the sense of community when I’m rafting with women,” Emma said. “Everyone rallies around each other to have a great and successful trip. I notice we’re all more in the moment, and check in with our feelings more often. We just take more time to absorb and enjoy everything on the trip, rather than focusing on what’s next, like the next rapid, or the next hike.”
Her sister Elena added to this point from the last trip they guided together.
“One of the girls really struggled with social anxiety, and it was kind of a struggle since, well, you know how teenage girls can be. But over the trip we got to watch her blossom with encouragement from us the guides, and the other girls and parents. I think it was really a transformative experience for her to be in a situation where she felt safe to break some boundaries.”
“I think it’s important to make these connections and bonds with women, especially in nature. We’re away from all the distractions of everyday life, you can’t just get on your phone when you’re uncomfortable. You have to be in your feelings. You get to feel the full extent of your happiness and all your other emotions that come out in these beautiful places.”
Emma’s perspective on that particular trip also speaks to the togetherness women tend to experience on rafting adventures.
“There’s a natural sense of camaraderie, especially with groups that don’t really know each other. There’s more intention to get to know each other when you’re with women’s groups.”
Elena said, “I’m so thankful that Mild to Wild gave us the opportunity to run an all women’s trip. It was fun to be a middle school girl again, to forget about the worries of the world and share that experience with young girls to get out in nature, and be with yourself, your friends and family. And all while being comfortable in that space. It was probably one of the best trips I’ve had.”
If you’re interested in taking a women’s rafting trip, please don’t hesitate to give Mild to Wild a call or send us an email.