“They may not hike fast, but the Trail Dames sure know how to laugh and have fun on the trail.” That’s how I first heard about this all-women hiking club from the outfitters at Mountain Crossings on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. In the past four years while hiking with and then leading trips for Trail Dames, I’ve learned so much from these amazing and diverse women about how to slow down and truly appreciate being out in the wilderness.
The group originated in 2007 with the goal to get more “curvy” women out on the trail. Trail Dames founder Anna Huthmaker had backpacked over 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and saw few other overweight women out there. She decided to create a group for those who were afraid to get out or felt like they are too slow to hike with other groups. The idea has caught on, and the group has grown to over 2000 members and 10 chapters mainly along the Appalachian Trail corridor. Trail Dames has also expanded to include women of all fitness levels who want to enjoy nature and being outdoors and overcome their personal obstacles.
Trail Dames is primarily a hiking club, but also does other outdoor activities like backpacking, camping, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. Volunteer trip leaders, including some who are long-distance backpackers, ensure that everyone learns skills to hike safely and protect the natural environment. “ Meet and Greets” allow those new to the outdoors to learn the basics– what to expect on a hike, what to wear, and how to be safe so they are ready for their first hike in the mountains. Trail Dames also give back to the community by participating in trail maintenance and hosting Trail Magic for Appalachian Trail thru hikers.
What makes this group different from some other groups is that Trail Dames value hiking slowly. They “stop and smell the roses” and linger at viewpoints. They don’t take being outdoors for granted.
Because Trail Dames provides a place for women who previously have experience barriers to being outdoors, it includes women from varied walks of life and backgrounds. They may be retired, students, empty nesters, widowed, recovering from injury, recently moved, wanting to make healthy changes in their lives, or just looking to enjoy life to the fullest. Being outdoors is a great equalizer, and allows these diverse women to connect with one another though a shared enjoyment of the outdoors and to come together to work as a team. Even if few people know one another at the start of a hike, by the end they are helping one another climb difficult mountains and celebrating one another’s accomplishments.
Trail Dames prides itself on being beginner-friendly. There is an emphasis on education and sharing of information about hiking techniques and trail etiquette. Any and all questions are open for discussion. For example, I’ve heard some funny and frank discussions of the 3-P’s (i.e. peeing, pooping, periods). This openness is important because some of women may be spending the night out in the woods for the first time, or setting for for the first time on the Appalachian Trail.
I’ve learned from my experience as a leader for the Trail Dames that significant transformations take place at the back of the pack. Women who struggle to make it 3 miles on their first hike later go on to successfully (section) hike all 79-miles of the Appalachian Trail of Georgia. But the biggest changes are the ones that are impossible to quantify- in confidence and in the way these achievements inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
This post was written by Trail Ambassador Joan West.