Wild Sage Mountain Guides gets women into the Uintas for backpacking trips
Registration for excursions next summer is open
Ski patrollers Devin Wilkinson, Kate Foley and Marla Gutmann love the outdoors, and noticed a low number of women taking advantage of the surrounding Uinta Mountains.
So, they decided to band together last year and create Wild Sage Mountain Guides, with the goal of empowering women in the wilderness through two- to four-day backpacking trips, said Foley.
“We loved our own adventures, personally, with our female friends, and wished we could see more of that in our friend groups, and other groups,” Foley said.
Wild Sage Mountain Guides are currently booking trips for summer 2022, and the trips will usually run Thursdays through Saturdays, according to Wilkinson.
“Our flagship trip is a three-day, two-night backcountry backpacking trip, and we ask that the women take about five days so we can meet the evening before and do a gear review and a rundown of what to expect,” she said. “The next day, which is actually day one, is when we go out to the backcountry.”
The guides adjust each excursion according to options their permits allow, and usually will camp for two nights in a single spot, with a variety of options, Wilkinson said.
“Those options may include a summit attempt at a local peak or spending a day at a nearby lake,” she said. “It’s based on conditions, and what people desire. We also take into consideration fire and trailhead conditions.”
Groups, which are capped at 10 people and two guides, will hike out on the final day of the trip.
“We like to close our trips with some sort of ceremony of some sorts,” Wilkinson said. “While we understand people may need to fly out, we do ask if they can stay one more night so we can do a little closing ceremony.”
In addition to the flagship trip, Wild Sage Mountain Guides offers custom adventures that feature shorter or longer mileage hikes and overnight options.
“Once people sign up for a trip, we will send them a list of fitness requirements and gear,” Foley said.
Fitness requirements include being able to carry 30 to 40 pounds and hike at elevations, according to Wilkinson.
“We give recommendations of how folks can train for that, so they can feel comfortable walking between four to six hours on average,” she said.
As far as gear goes, Wild Sage Mountain Guides provides tents, stoves, fuel, pots and pans, meals and transportation to the trailhead.
“The list will give them an idea of what they need to bring, and when we meet the night before the trip begins, we will show them how to pack the gear so it will sit comfortably on them while they are hiking,” Foley said.
The idea for Wild Sage Mountain Guides was set a few months after Wilkinson, Foley and Gutmann met while ski patrolling for Park City Mountain Resort in 2018.
Foley and Wilkinson, who had met each other at another guiding company in Montana, got together with Gutmann last winter.
“Marla came to me with this idea, and she wanted to start working for herself,” Foley said. “She said since we all have these skill sets, we might as well bring them together and put them to good use.”
The idea of teaching women skills that include what to bring and how to pack, how to filter water and the practice of “Leave No Trace” wilderness camping struck a chord with Wilkinson.
“I remember taking my mom out for her first backpacking trip when she was in her 50s, and she kind of had this epiphany of an experience that was otherwise unattainable for her,” Wilkinson said. “At her age, trying new things from her perspective was intimidating, but then for her to be able to go out hiking three miles, do a single overnight, and cook her own meals, was a profound experience for her.”
After that experience, Wilkinson wanted to start working with women of all ages.
“I’ve guided children, and many different adults,” she said. “I’ve also worked with all-male groups as well, but working with women has a special feel than working with mixed-gender groups.”
Foley also caught the vision, because of her ties to people who love the outdoors.
“I started out as a river guide in college and never got away from the outdoors,” she said. “For me there was no way I could give up the community of people I continued to work with. That’s what has kept me coming back. I can’t get enough of this community.”
The three knew they wanted to do more than day hikes.
“We wanted to do backpacking, because that was the base of our different skill sets,” Foley said. “Backpacking is also the most accessible way to get people out to the backcountry, and getting out for two nights is a great way for them to help build their skill sets and start feeling comfortable sleeping in tents, cooking and eating outdoors, and making friends for potential future adventures.”
Although all three women have years of experience in the outdoors, they knew that starting a business “by women for women” would be a challenge.
“None of us knew what we were getting into,” Foley said with a laugh. “None of us have been to business school. None of us have done anything remotely like this before, because all of our combined skills are outdoors.”
The three had to learn how to build a website, apply for commercial permits and figure out the terms of liability insurance, according to Foley.
“It’s been empowering for me that I could figure those things out, and it’s been a massive learning curve,” she said. “I, personally, wouldn’t want to work with anyone else, because Devin and Marla are incredible business partners. They are highly driven, super skilled and super competent. And I know it would be so much harder without these other two women.”
One of the long-term goals for Wild Sage Mountain Guides is to provide backpacking trip scholarships for those who may not be able to afford the cost of the gear.
“We want to provide one, if not two or three, fully paid scholarships to make this accessible for those whose finances may be a barrier,” Wilkinson said. “We are already partnering with the University of Utah, which has a rental program, and we started one with REI, which is now on hold because of COVID-19. These partnerships, and others we hope to build with other gear companies, will help us provide more gear rentals, but also get people into their shops.”
In addition to its website, Wild Sage Mountain Guides can be accessed through Instagram and Facebook.
“We’re trying to get some followers here and get the word out to people who are coming to Utah to visit,” Wilkinson said. “The ability to have autonomy and stand behind a mission statement we support and believe in is powerful and meaningful for us. It gives us a clear sense of purpose with this type of work.”
Wild Sage Mountain Guides is currently booking trips for summer 2022. For information and registration, visit wildsagemountainguides.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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