November 21

Wild Wilderness Women Building Community and Healing in the North Cascades

By: Mia Zavalij

It’s our last night in the North Cascades. Our campfire circle offers the perfect backdrop for soaking in the last few moments of the Wild Wilderness Women annual Babes Off the Beaten Path adventure. Amongst the fire, there are 20 pairs of glistening eyes: Women who have just met, leaning against each other. Old friends, laughing over new adventures. And real conversations on sex, self-care, and how to lead a satisfying life.

As one babe sings lullabies to the group, I can feel a sense of healing come over meand many of the women around me.

“One bright morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away…”

Wild Wilderness Women

Wild Wilderness Women of Washington, D.C.

Wild Wilderness Women is a Washington D.C.-based outdoor organization led by women, for women. Wild Wilderness Women hosts a variety of events, ranging from documentary screenings and skillshares, to overnight backpacking trips and cross-country skiing. My first event with the group was a simple post-work walkabout in the woods. While it was nice to get a mini-dose of nature mid-workweek, what struck me most was the instant connections that formed between the women, many meeting for the first time. I, along with many others, felt like I had finally found what I was seeking for in a community: acceptance of my current skill levels and interests, and the support to take on new challenges in the wild if I desired to do so.

Babes Off the Beaten Path is the culmination of the values Wild Wilderness Women members hold near and dear to their hearts: empowerment, connection, education, and adventure. Through this annual trip, Wild Wilderness Women members with diverse backgrounds and skill sets come together for a multi-day adventure in the wilderness. Thanks to the generous support of donors and sponsors, such as Gossamer Gear, Wild Wilderness Women is able to keep trip costs low to minimize economic barriers to entry for members.

Wild Wilderness Women

Wild Wilderness Women in North Cascades National Park

For Babes Off the Beaten Path’s third year, Wild Wilderness Women traveled to North Cascades National Park. And, like with any good adventure, the trip wasn’t all serene singing and peaceful campfire circles. These blissful moments were shaped by the newfound trust we had for one another after the hardships and adversity we had along our journey.

Earlier in the day, before those campfire lullabies had begun their magic, we awoke to a heavy fog. It filled our lungs with thick smoke from a spreading wildfire. After cooking and devouring breakfast, we wandered to the visitor center to plot relocation options with the park rangers. While there, we quickly bought souvenir postcards and stickers before reluctantly having to return to break camp.

Wild Wilderness Women

Our spacious main campsite hosted our hammock village, a connected string of colorful cocoonsa getaway for quiet reading and journaling time, gazing up into the trees, or even inside jokes with new gal pals. It had also become the space for our group breakfasts and dinners, activity planning and pb&j (or pb&nutella!) sandwich making, gear sharing, and game playing. There was some disinclination to take down our carefully crafted campsite, but after three days of hiking and swimming and laughing together, we were filled with a renewed spirit and energy to keep moving forward to the next adventure. After a group discussion, where we patiently created space for everyone’s opinions, we quickly got to work deconstructing the home we’d built for ourselves.

We drove west to escape the fire and fog—each car filled with a group of women eager to bond, sharing stories and snacks. It took three attempts to find a campsite that would take last-minute reservations. We cooked and scarfed down dinner. Darkness quickly settled over our campsite, but several of us decided to spring for one final and wild escapadeskinny dipping in the night.

Wild Wilderness Women

We quietly giggled as we passed several cabins, the excitement of doing something risque overcoming us. A perfectly placed log by the water was quickly piled with flannels and wool socks. In pairs and trios, we yelped as we entered the cold Pacific water. Some babes dove in right away. Others entered inch by inch, waiting to adjust to the cold. But eventually, we all formed an impromptu circle, clasping hands to solidify our sisterhood. We took turns toasting to community, healing, women, and friendship.

Covered in sand and salt water, we slipped back on our clothes. We huddled together for warmth, and headed back for s’mores. And as the lullabies filled the night, I knew I was where I needed to be, and I was thankful for healing spaces like this. I had gratitude for these Wild Wilderness Women, and the wild women everywhere, creating their own adventures, and reaching out a hand for other women to come along, too. And I was thankful for all who lend support to make these spaces possible.

Mia Zavalij has a deep love for the outdoors, especially as it relates to self-healing and female empowerment. Primarily, she works on sustainability and food waste management at Eatable. In her spare time, she enjoys camping with friends, trip planning for Wild Wilderness Women, and writing about adventures.