MOUNTAIN LIFE - Coast Mountains | Fall Winter 2018

words :: Zanny Venner Holly Walker is silent slayer. An ACMG Apprentice Ski Guide, she’s stood atop the highest peak in Canada, hammered through a 30-day traverse in Tajikistan, climbed and skied Alaska’s infamous Pontoon Peak, and toured and shredded big lines in South America, the Alps, Colorado, the Canadian Rockies and at home in the Coast Mountains. Despite the lack of female mentorship in her past, Holly is on the front lines of a changing paradigm—she hopes to inspire more women to enter into the backcountry by providing them with the skills and support needed to push their boundaries. Because, as Holly knows well, gender stereotypes are slow to die in mountain culture. “Before 2014, I was always the token female,” she says. “My place in the mountains has been attempting big objectives with male partners. Through my development into ski guiding I never had a female mentor—my practicums were with male leaders.” When Holly was invited to summit and ski Wedge Mountain in 2011 for the first time, she was ecstatic. She joined a group of three men and climbed the south face to ski the NW Couloir. As they climbed, one member of the group lagged behind—the others even had time for a nap in the sun on the ascent. Everyone summitted, but it was just before dark when they finally returned to the trailhead and the weakest link sheepishly admitted, “I just assumed I wouldn’t be the slowest because we’d invited a girl.” Then there was the time in June of 2012 when, climbing to Camp 4 (5,243 metres) on Denali’s West Buttress route, Holly stopped to chat with an all- male team from Columbia—themselves struggling with the altitude—who were shocked to see a female leading the route. Or on Pontoon Peak in 2013, Holly was stopped by one of her partners before crossing the bergschrund. “The pitch had increased in angle and I later learned it was 58 degrees. He said it was okay if I was scared and didn’t want to continue.” But in fact, he was the one who was scared and didn’t want to continue. “Hell, we all have bad days,” Holly says. “We all have fear. It keeps us in check and helps us make better decisions. I felt good that day so he and I agreed on a safe spot for him to wait and I continued to the top, rejoining our other partner.” Holly would later learn she was the first woman to ascend and ski Pontoon without a helicopter. “I earned those turns,” she laughs. FALL/WINTER 2018 MLCM 49 Holly felt honoured by the invitation and in May 2017, she was part of a five-person squad that saw three females stand on the top of Canada. CHARACTER HOLLYWALKER Female-Driven Mentorship Gains Momentum In The Backcountry Holly Walker on another fine day. JASON HUMMEL