Katherine Donnelly | 06.28.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I aim to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Emily Mannisto.

I've had the pleasure of meeting this Woman In The Wild on a couple of occasions at Alpenglow Collective events, and her love for people and the outdoors fills up the room. Get the full scoop below.

Photo by Katey Bisso.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Emily Mannisto is.

Emily Mannisto: Happy, love-filled human, she/her pronouns, founder of Alpenglow Collective, aspiring guide via help from the 2018 Guide Like Liz Scholarship, Marketing Manager of Peak Yogurt, lover of the grungy Portland music scene, urban planning/design nerd, mediocre but enthusiastic alpine climber, sporadic but passionate writer.

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Emily Mannisto: It’s kind of funny - five years ago I couldn’t possibly have foreseen that the outdoors would play such a huge role in my life. I grew up on Long Island and was never what you’d consider “outdoorsy.” I was into art and school, studied Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, and was planning to move back to Brooklyn after college to work for a city planning agency. I’m always joking, but I love saying that the PCT ruined my life. Without it I might be a successful employee of the New York City government, but here I am working four jobs in Portland, Oregon. The Pacific Crest Trail was my intro to the outdoors. A friend of mine, who I used to run marathons with, had done the Appalachian Trail after college - as we grabbed a beer to catch up and he told me all about it, I was hooked. He told me there were several long-distance trails, and because I’m from the East Coast, the idea of a West Coast trail enraptured me. I decided that night that after graduation I would thru-hike the PCT. Just a few weeks into the trail, I knew that I had found something different in the outdoors - I felt like I had come home to a place I’d never been. On the trail, every morning I woke up with just one clear goal in mind: walk north. A few months into the Pacific Crest Trail I knew I would not be moving back to Brooklyn, and I fully succumbed to the dirtbag life. Since then, I’ve created an entire life around climbing, hiking, skiing, and just generally anything that allows me to get into the backcountry. 

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Emily Mannisto: Being a woman in the outdoor industry has allowed me to explore my own confidence in leadership and education. I’ve had my fair share of frustrations and incidents where I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously, or had my knowledge and skill doubted, but it has actually resulted in a lot of learning on my end. I know when and how to speak up for myself. I know when and how to speak up for others. I also know that as a white, cisgender woman, I hold my fair share of privilege. As a woman in the outdoor industry, it is a continuous goal of mine to advocate for all underrepresented genders in the outdoors. And I’m definitely still learning how to do so every day. 

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Emily Mannisto: Being in the outdoors, both on my own and while involved in the outdoor community, has given me confidence in my own abilities, which I have been able to translate into most other aspects of my life. It has also provided me with an ultra strong and supportive community and an amazing set of friends. Most importantly, it has been a source of mental health care - I 100% believe in the outdoors as a source of physical and mental well-being. I find that when I’m feeling stressed, trapped, overwhelmed, you name it… spending time in the backcountry refreshes my brain and my heart, and I’m able to see a bit more clearly. 

I try to pay it forward by being a mentor in my community and by advocating for stewardship of our natural public spaces. For me, these two go hand in hand - I love teaching the folks the skills they need in climbing, backpacking, and mountaineering, and I always stress the need to not only be safe, but to also be respectful of the places you explore. Climbing and mountaineering are historically mentorship-based sports, and as more people get into these disciplines, we need to be cognizant of the way we utilize our outdoor spaces. By instilling an understanding of Leave No Trace ethics, crag ethics, and knowledge of risk management, we can attempt to make these places we care about last. 

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think climbers - and outdoor enthusiasts, in general - should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Emily Mannisto: As I started to mention in the previous question, I think mentorship will be huge in the conservation of our natural spaces. New climbers and hikers may not inherently know some basic ethics that more experienced folks take as second nature. For example: not lowering climbers directly through anchor bolts, not cutting switchbacks on steep trails, not using soap in natural water sources… the list goes on! But if we act as patient and encouraging mentors, we can encourage the next generation of outdoor community members to take care of the land that they recreate in. 

I also think it is immensely important to recognize Native Lands and to respect their cultures. We weren’t the first ones here, so calling it “our land” is not always correct, and it leaves out an entire population that has a deep cultural history in the places where we recreate. A way to start would be to educate yourself on these cultures, and to respect any cultural boundaries in effect. One example is Devil’s Tower in Wyoming - Native Name: Bear’s Lodge (Matȟó Thípila). This popular climbing area is sacred to the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Kiowa Tribes, who have asked climbers to choose to not climb the tower in the month of June, when tribes hold ceremonies around the tower. This is a matter of respect, and climbers should recognize this compromise and honor the request. 

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Emily Mannisto: To be honest, I respect the everyday climbers and adventurers in my life more than any famous figures. Todd Bradley, who was my OG climbing mentor and teacher. He taught me essentially everything I know about trad and alpine skills and had faith in my abilities as a wee newbie climber. Brooke Jackson, who plunges headfirst into pursuing her career in photography and writing. She is genuine and kind, but also unafraid to confront issues head-on, including standing up for herself and others. She has built a name for herself within the outdoor photography community but remains humble, approachable, and grounded. She is also a kickass adventure buddy. Kyla Pyrozek probably doesn’t know this, but she’s one of the reasons I was so amped up about starting Alpenglow Collective! She was one of the first women I climbed with outside, and she gently but firmly nudged me to lead a tough climb based on my capabilities, after which I realized how freaking great it is to climb with other women. And of course, my Alpenglow Collective Executive Team members: Elyse Cogburn, Lila Leatherman, and Halcy Webster, who are the most supportive, dedicated, and brilliant folks that I am lucky to call my co-founders.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Emily Mannisto: To me, adventure is anything that gets your blood absolutely pumping. For me in particular it’s being on an exposed ridge climb, thousands of feet above a crevassed glacier with my hand stuffed in a crack while fumbling through my trad rack. I am terrified, I am thrilled, I am shooting sunbeams out of my face. For someone else, it might be finally breaking the five mile marker on a hike. Whatever makes you feel slightly ill with excitement!

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Emily Mannisto: Someone who is pursuing their goals with every fiber of their being, and kicking ass at it. (And who also retains their humility.)

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

Emily Mannisto: To be honest, I am still trying to answer that question! It’s hard work, and you have to really be passionate about it, and not be in it for the money. Nothing that I do is even remotely lucrative, it all stems from this deep love for what I’m pursuing. I suppose my advice would be to enter into the outdoor industry with the intention to create something or be a part of something that you truly believe in, deep down in your gut. And also, maybe have a backup plan, for when it’s time to pay those unexpected medical bills…

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (LGBTQ), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Emily Mannisto: A huge aspect of Alpenglow Collective’s current work is developing education on language and inclusivity, especially as it pertains to gender. The first thing I’d love put out there in case folks were unclear is that trans women are women. Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of the word female - it kind of distills us down to this cold icky territory that leaves no room for gender identity or expression. Also, not all folks who are a part of Alpenglow Collective are women - we are are a climbing community for underrepresented genders - aka women (cis and trans), trans people of all genders, and non-binary folks. If you’re interested in learning more about gender beta, Alpenglow Collective’s About page is chock full of awesome and accessible info! We’re constantly adjusting our language as we learn and interact with folks - we’re not perfect, just trying our best! 

In a very personal sense, femininity to me means that I have the ability to be intuitive, to voice my inhibitions, to be proud of my tender/caring side, and to allow others to take up space. Being a woman myself, and being a part of the Alpenglow Collective community, means that I have the opportunity to surround myself with folks who value these traits and celebrate them.

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Emily Mannisto: “Be more kind.” For a while, several years, actually... my New Year’s resolution was to be less selfish. I would think to myself, “Don’t just do everything for yourself. Don’t leave things for other people to do. Be less lazy, be less disgruntled, be less forgetful.” But I realized that trying so hard to be less of something wasn’t the way to frame this goal in my mind. I’ve had a paradigm shift, and have altered my resolution to “be more kind,” because striving to be more of something encourages me to take the extra bit of effort. Now when presented with choices, I do my best to elect for the kindest option. Even if that just means picking up a paper towel when I miss the garbage so someone else doesn’t have to later. Just trying to be more kind! 

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Emily Mannisto: My dream would be for the outdoors to be a place where people don’t even have to consider whether this is the right space for them. There would be no second guessing whether you are welcome, or if this space/event/community was intended for you. Outdoor brands and media can start by addressing the needs of marginalized communities, and can do that by actually having conversations with folks in those communities instead of assuming they know what those communities need. Communication is pretty paramount here. I’m a firm believer in conversation. 

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

Emily Mannisto: Chapstick. I’m truly addicted. It’s awful because when I forget it, I am deeply aware that I am without it the entire time. I am literally searching for Chapstick as I answer this. 

OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Emily Mannisto: I think women’s-specific gear just needs to be more varied. I am very small, and nothing ever fits me. What does fit me is generally less technical and lower quality, because let’s be real - women don’t do technical things! Ha! But in all seriousness, it is quite frustrating when I can’t find a pair of alpine climbing pants that doesn’t gape at the waist, or a climbing pack that doesn’t fight for space on my hips with my harness because it’s way too long for me… Most of the time I end up having to buy men’s small, which is not the greatest fit. There are also many, many plus-sized women out there who are absolutely crushing it and can’t find a pair of hardshell ski pants (etc. etc.) in their size. Come on, outdoor brands! I think women’s-specific gear really just matters for sizing and shape - women are often shaped differently, and differently from each other! The response has been that it isn’t feasible because of the market size, but I beg to disagree. 

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received and what’s the story behind it?

Emily Mannisto: “The thing that’s stressing you out right now - pretend for a second that it’s not there. Now think about your life. It’s pretty good isn’t it? Just take that piece out for a moment and remember that your life is pretty damn excellent.” This is certainly not a direct quote, but it’s something my dad challenged me to do during one of my exasperated, tearful phone calls post-surgery; concerning medical bills, my career, my broken laptop, the general atrophied state of my body… And he’s right. Sometimes it feels like the world is ending and there aren’t any answers. But practicing gratitude and shifting your perspective to encompass the positive elements of your life works wonders. Thanks, dad. Actually, I’d love to take a moment here to really thank my dad. He has encouraged me to follow the strange directions that I’ve passionately sprinted after, even if he hasn’t quite understood them. 

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with Alpenglow Collective, what would it be?

Emily Mannisto: Don’t try so hard to be perfect. I am a nitpicky perfectionist at heart, and there is something always nagging me about what could be better. It took me a lot to be able to wholeheartedly promote Alpenglow Collective when it first launched because I was too fraught over it not being “perfect.” Now, a year and a half later, it is definitely not perfect, but what is? Past me could have benefited from some encouragement that people actually want this crazy idea to become a reality -  so promote the shit out of it! 

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Emily Mannisto: In our social media presence for Alpenglow Collective, we try to be as real, genuine, enthusiastic, and goofy as we are in real life. We don’t ever want to be precisely curated - there are plenty of brands and accounts that are, but that’s not our style. We want to effuse our online presence with our core values; inclusivity, advocacy, and respect, but we also want folks to know that we are approachable, real humans, and we are here to support each other! As for my personal social media, I am just a hot mess. I love posting photos of my cozy bedroom and plants as much as my alpine climbing trips. Because I manage aspects of two “professional” social media accounts, I make up for it by having a pretty dopey personal account. 

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Emily Mannisto: Well, for starters, I’ll be figuring out how to juggle climbing and guiding as much as I can while attempting to be a big kid with a few big kid jobs. With my Guide Like Liz Scholarship, I’ll be packing all of my guiding courses in next summer because I’m currently recovering from ACL surgery. This sounds crazy, but tearing my ACL has been sort of a great experience. I’ve been forced to slow down, to treat my body kindly, to focus on my career goals beyond guiding and hopping between restaurant jobs. I’ve learned how to ask for help and to receive it graciously. Once I’m fully recovered, the challenge will be keeping these lessons with me. 

I also am really excited about the growth and progression of Alpenglow Collective. We are currently in the stages of submitting our non-profit application, and I’m ready for this baby of mine to finally be a full-fledged entity.  We have so many different ideas in the works, and our Executive Team is stoked to unleash a plethora of events, educational curriculum, and collaborations with other outdoor organizations. Be on the lookout this summer/fall! 

OP: The title of your autobiography would be... 

Emily Mannisto: “I Was the Jelly.” I actually have a tattoo of a jam jar on the back of my left arm because of this! It’s a really long and strange story, but the gist is that there was this was the moment on the PCT when I decided that I was not, in fact, moving back to New York and that I was going to move to Portland on a whim. And that will be the name of my memoir. 

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Emily Mannisto: A pika. Those little fuzzballs get the run of the mountain! 

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Emily Mannisto: When I was little, when I faced the wall I would dream in black and white and when I faced outwards I dreamt in color. This is a true fact.  

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Emily Mannisto: I’d encourage anyone and everyone to soak up as much knowledge and experiences as you can. If you’re not a little uncomfortable, you’re probably not learning. Always be seeking out new things and working on making yourself a better human being, whether that means pushing your comfort zone, sticking up for someone, or just actually remembering to water your plants. 

Learn more about Emily and Alpenglow Collective online and by following along on her adventures through Facebook and Instagram


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