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Jaclyn Valentine is no stranger to backpacking. Born and raised in Colorado, she got into hiking with her dog in her mid-20s. After a breakup, she also decided to backpack around the world for a year before moving to Australia. When COVID-19 derailed her plans to stay abroad long-term, however, she came back to Colorado in April 2020 and started searching for ways to get back into the mountains, joining casual groups and venturing out on her own.
During her adventures, though, Valentine noticed the females on the trails were rarely solo. “I couldn’t get a lot of women to come with me,” Valentine says. “So I was always the token girl on these trips. And the first question I was always asked was, ‘Who are you dating?’—just assuming that I was dating somebody because I was the only girl.”
When Valentine posted photos of her backpacking adventures with her dog on Instagram—both to share with friends but also to demonstrate that women do backpack—friends and followers started sending DMs asking for advice. Other women wanted to know how they, too, could get into the outdoors.
“Finally, I was like, you know, Why don’t I just plan something?” Valentine says.
Valentine ended up leading a group of seven women (all first-time backpackers) from Crested Butte over Maroon Pass to Aspen in August 2020. Later in the summer, Valentine found herself taking another group of 13 women through the Holy Cross Wilderness, making it clear that there was interest in women-only backpacking trips.
Inspired by the response, Valentine launched Wandering Women Co. earlier this year to create a formal structure for more of the same female-focused adventures. With four trips this summer (one already occurred, the Cirque of the Towers trip from August 12–15 is sold out, and two more—Chicago Basin, August 27–29 and Four Pass Loop, September 16–19—are still available), she’s offering something different from the traditional group trips put on by larger outfitters.
To begin with, there’s a great deal of personalization. Each guest receives a box prior to the trip that includes a printed guide to the trek, an itinerary with maps and checklists of what to pack (including tips for rentals if needed), a personalized notebook, and gear from women-owned businesses. A week before the trip, participants are added to a What’sApp group to get to know each other and share suggestions, tips, and even fears about the adventure.
The biggest hesitation for most of the participants? How physically challenging the trek will be. And though she doesn’t want attendees to get in over their heads, Valentine says that for most women, it’s simply having someone say, Yes, you can do this.
“The reality is that anyone can do it,” Valentine says. “It’s just the mentality that you set forth.”
The groups max out at 10 participants—not including the guides, one of which is a licensed therapist. Each trip includes a “discovery” portion that is focused on one word: bravery, fear, community, or strength. Valentine says that she wanted to include opportunities for women to focus on learning about themselves and learning from others. For example, the “dinner and discover” session, which takes place each evening, explores different topics and discussions focused on the word associated with each trip.
The format resonated with participants from the first trips in 2020. Rachel Feldman, who lives in Sloan’s Lake and went on the Holy Cross trip, says she was a bit apprehensive about the physical challenges of the hike, even though she had some experience backpacking. Valentine helped assuage her fears, and she ended the adventure feeling “empowered.”
“It was just amazing, doing something like that with a bunch of other people, especially as a woman and with other women,” Feldman says. “After I got home, then on the following day, you just felt so good, you feel really proud of yourself, you feel empowered and you kind of get addicted. You want to do it every weekend and you just can’t stop.”
It’s an experience that she would recommend to any woman.
“I think [you should] take a chance because it’s one of those things where anything that you are apprehensive about, you’re going to have support on, and you’re not alone,” Feldman says. “You’re going to be with a bunch of people coming in at all different skill levels—a lot of them are brand new and never have done backpacking. So, whatever you’re afraid of, they’re probably afraid of it, too.”
Wandering Women Co. is offering two more trips this summer: Chicago Basin (Aug. 27–29) and Four Pass Loop (Sept. 16–19). Trips are $400 per person. To learn more or reserve a spot, visit wanderingwomenco.com