One week ago, history was made. 32-year-old Juliana García became the first female mountain guide in Latin America to be certified by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA). The little metal pin, adorned to certify her accomplishment, signifies that García is internationally certified to guide climbers on mountains all over the world.
The exam for this certification did not revolve around your typical multiple-choice scenario. As part of the exam, García had to show her skills using ropes, crampons, and ice axes on the glacier of the 5,753 meter-high Antisana volcano in Ecuador.
While under the critical eye of national and international instructors, García, the only woman in a group of seven attempting the test, had to show her capabilities as a mountain climber within the scenario of a self-rescue. Her certification marks an inspiring moment for women who are reaching – and navigating – new heights in predominantly male fields.
The road getting there was not always easy for García (when is it ever?) As a young teenager, García often practiced mountaineering. A few years ago she attended a course at an international guiding school in Bolivia to test her abilities, but ended up failing the same IFMGA exam she has just recently passed. Through her time at the school, she witnessed a dominant presence and “strong culture of machismo among the instructors and her fellow students.”
This months-long experience almost made her give up her dream of becoming an officially certified mountain guide. Being the only woman in the room is a strange tension that can be difficult to overcome. However, García continued on this path, and in 2015, she became the president of the Ecuadorian Mountain Guides Association.
As the BBC aptly states, “as one of only two women in the world – the other is from the US – to lead a mountain guide association, she has won the respect of fellow mountaineers.” As she should. Even as a representative of this international assembly, García still knew what her real dream was. She set out once again for the certification – and passed.
This momentous achievement had its difficulties, as García soon learned that women are less trusted as guides than men are due to their infrequency within this field and the impact of gender stereotypes. “Some clients have told me to my face that they don’t trust female guides,” García states.
Despite comments like these, she perseveres.
A mountain guide carries great responsibility on every climb, the lives of their clients practically on their backs. If a climber falls, the guide must jump into action. If weather conditions are questionable, the guide must make crucial calls. All in all, the guide is the person who determines whether a party successfully completes a climb.
Women like Juliana García have taken on this responsibility and are proving to hesitant clients and the world alike that a navigator’s eye is not gendered. García’s success in achieving her dream proves that your highest hopes are worth pursuing, and that the strength it takes to pave new roads will pay off with a stunning view. As García herself so beautifully puts it, “the mountains are for everyone.”
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