BY MARISA CHERRY, RECIPIENT OF THE 2021 SUMMIT SCHOLARSHIP
My name is Marisa (she/her pronouns) and I was honored to receive a 2021 Summit Scholarship from AWExpeditions. Thanks to additional support from The Cairn Project, LOWA Boots, Nite Ize, and local partner Shasta Mountain Guides, I participated in a glacier school on Mt. Shasta in July 2021.
Mt. Shasta is a volcano in northern California, standing at 14,179 feet, or 4,322 meters. The town of the same name and the surrounding areas are home to several tribes, including the Wintu. (Fun fact: Mt. Shasta boasts the largest glacier in the state!)
A couple weeks before our trip, the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest was in full force. Multiple wildfires broke out in Shasta, and the extreme temperatures triggered a major rock slide on the mountain. Due to the conditions, we did not make a summit bid as we had previously planned. But, as I found on this trip, sport is about so much more than any one goal. At its best, it teaches us about ourselves and how we connect with the world around us.
Driving into town, I get a glimpse of Lake Shasta, licked dry by drought. My Lyft driver, born and raised here, tells me it’s the lowest he’s seen it since the ’70s. I’m shaken to see the lines on the walls of the lake, marking where the water level had been historically. In this moment, the climate crisis is made so real to me. I vow internally to not forget this.
Once on the mountain, the learning continues. We practice knots, using an ice axe to self arrest, and being part of a rope team. For all of us participants, it’s our first time walking with crampons. (I definitely did not get them tangled up and fall face first!) It was wild to have to trust these little spikes to catch on the ice, and to be so explicitly accountable for my and others’ safety.
My favorite thing about skills building was how much individual attention and constructive feedback we got from our amazing guides. Despite (or maybe because of) their wealth of experience, it was clear that they were there to learn from the mountain, as well as the entire climbing team. We had ongoing conversations about risk assessment and decision-making in high altitude environments — skills that I am especially interested in honing.
Our biggest day on the mountain, we get an alpine start. I see things I’ve been dreaming of since I was a child — the triangular deep blue shadow of the mountain. The thin orange curve of the horizon at sunrise, something I’ve only ever seen in movies. Witnessing these natural wonders, I’m suddenly made aware of the existence of a mental bucket list, though I’d characteristically never written one down. Apparently, these were the two items on it. When I got there, I knew.
This trip made me feel so grateful for the ways the Summit Scholarship broke down barriers to make it possible. It also made me see ways that the outdoor industry, specifically alpine sports, has room for growth. Though Black, Indigenous, and people of color are literally the global majority, it’s easy to feel like a minority in outdoor spaces. And this isn’t even scratching the surface of all the factors that make up our multifaceted identities. AWE is a relatively new, yet already key, leader in improving access to mountaineering for women. I look forward to seeing its continued growth over the coming years.
Personally, I’m determined to bring others along with me in every environment I find myself in, including sport. In my experience, talking about the barriers and power dynamics we face as athletes can be helpful and even crucial for our long-term participation, success and overall well-being. I hope to be part of this larger conversation. For anyone reading this who is considering applying for the Summit Scholarship in the future, I encourage you to apply, and would love to hear from you!
Overall, my trip made me more confident in my goal of becoming a professional athlete, despite looking different from most of the athletes I follow on social media. Now back home in Southern California after an adventure of a summer, I have a renewed sense of excitement to train for new objectives. I feel curious about the future — to learn more about myself, both as an athlete and as a human being. Big thanks to AWE, Shasta Mountain Guides, The Cairn Project, LOWA Boots, and Nite Ize for making this trip possible!