Even in 2012, the military remains a man’s world. Sure, recent policy changes take women closer to the front lines. But that also means it’s more likely that females will experience combat situations—situations that are often a trigger for PTSD—for which counseling and treatment has long been male-focused. But one local organization is trying to counteract those consequences in a uniquely Colorado way.

Starting in June, Boulder’s Women’s Wilderness Institute will begin hosting backpacking trips that connect female veterans and their spouses with the outdoors. The goal? To help these women reacclimate to civilian life and to determine if Mother Nature can help vets cope with PTSD and reintegration after active service.

“There was denial by the military for a little while that women were experiencing combat situations. And therefore, there were some PTSD-type services that weren’t available to women,” says Shari Leach, WWI’s executive director. “One of the things that we’re finding with vets reintegrating is that the world and the rules that we play by don’t always feel like they make sense when you come home. [The outdoors, however] is a world of natural consequences. If you don’t put your tent up, you get rained on. If you do, you don’t get rained on. The rules are more clear-cut.”

Thanks to a $30,000 grant from the Sierra Club, these Wyoming trips let the vets be in control and escape the often overwhelming bustle of everyday life. Each morning, the group (10 participants and two staffers) decides what activities they want to do that day—hiking, climbing, yoga, fly fishing—as opposed to being told. They’ll also have some structured conversations and cook dinner together. “Our goal is to help women feel empowered, to discover their courage, and to build their confidence and leadership skills,” Leach says. “A lot of this is just making sure that women feel comfortable getting out into the wilderness and realize what a resource it can be for them.”

Get Involved: The Women’s Wilderness Institute’s six-day backpacking trips are $100/person (scholarships are available) and take place June 8–12 (one trip for veterans and a separate one for spouses/partners) and July 20–23 (veterans). Register by calling 303-938-9191 or visiting womenswilderness.org.

Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at daliahsinger.com.