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January 2015 Issue
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Leading Ladies

Sylvie and Helen have won an FMC scholarship to lead a tramp over the Gardens of Eden and Allah

Students recognised for their mountaineering leadership skills want to see more women taking charge of the big trips. Matthew Pike asks what needs to change to make that happen…

Sylvie Admore and Helen Liley make a great team. Trampers entrust them to make the important decisions when they lead groups across the country’s rugged terrain.

A year ago, they completed a 10-day traverse of the Olivines, featuring seemingly endless bush bashing and several days of ice climbing. The weather wasn’t always their friend and the original plans needed to change, but their ability to plough through testing conditions and make the right calls when required has impressed the Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC). The organisation has given Admore and Liley a youth scholarship to help fund their next trip – leading a group of five over the Gardens of Eden and Allah.

The pair are extremely active in Auckland University Tramping Club, but say two women leading a party for a trip of this nature is unusual and more women should bite the bullet and have a go themselves.

“There are heaps of amazing women out there – Lydia Bradey and Jane Morris, for instance,” says Admore. “But you notice them because they’re kind of the odd ones out. There’s a tendency for fewer women to lead a big trip like this – they might go with a male friend perhaps and let them lead.”

Admore doesn’t blame the men for this, but rather a lack of confidence with a lot of women to take the reins. “Often you let guys take over because they just ‘do’ – if they’re confident, they tend to be keen to help out, which is nice, but with the Olivines trip it was nice to make our own decisions.

“The tramping club is one of the least sexist organisations I’ve been in. When I’ve been leading, people are always prepared to listen. It’s not that guys aren’t open to women leading, it’s just girls aren’t pushing themselves to do it.”

Admore, who studies law, was brought up in Auckland in a family of keen trampers. While at school she spent a year on exchange in Switzerland where her host family took her into alpine environments. Since joining the university tramping club she’s been keen to lead trips herself.

The 22-year-old believes a good way to overcome a lack of confidence, whether you’re male or female, is to take a more experienced tramper with you on a big trip – but try and make decisions without their advice. “It’s a safety net and if anything does go wrong they’re there to help, but try not to use them,” she says. “Debrief afterwards to work out what you could have done differently.”

Liley advises that a good way to gain confidence is to get yourself lost and find your way back. “Try and figure out what contours translate to in real life and recognise features,” she says, “so you get a better idea about the landscapes you’ll be travelling on. In the North Island, Pirongia is a good place to do this – there are lots of tracks and you can’t get too lost.”

Liley was born and brought up in Alexandra, from where family trips to the Great Walks and other classic tramping spots were common. But the 24-year-old, who’s studying for a PhD in biomedical engineering, says moving to Auckland has actually helped get her started in alpine climbing.

“Auckland’s a great place to start this sort of thing,” she says. “I’ve got friends in Queenstown who feel it’s too much of a step to get into technical alpine climbing because everyone seems so good at it down there. Up here, there are people who can work through the grades with you.” However, both Admore and Liley agree that if either were to become a top notch alpine climber a move down south would be essential.