Katherine Donnelly | 06.13.2018

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 hope 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 Rebecca Ross. 

Mountaineer, climber, backpacker and storyteller based in the Pacific Northwest, this Woman In The Wild pushes boundaries and shatters stereotypes on the reg - and there really is nothing more badass than that in our books. Get the full scoop here.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Rebecca Ross is.

Rebecca Ross: I completed my graduate degree in public health, epidemiology, but my true passion is being outdoors. I picked up mountaineering in 2016 and have been actively climbing and seeking adventures ever since. I am also a featured athlete for Melanin Base Camp, where I contribute blogs about my outdoor experiences.

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

Rebecca Ross: I grew up exploring the outdoors. I lived in a remote area in central California with fewer than 200 people; spending the majority of my time outdoors was very much mandatory.

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

Rebecca Ross: In general, I think the outdoor industry for women is rapidly changing. More and more women are rocking it in the great outdoors. But on a more personal level, I often feel that all eyes are on me, especially being a woman of color. I often feel the need to represent all women as well as all minority women in outdoor sports. It has also made me take more outdoor courses so that I may hold my own and not be so reliant on others, mostly when I'm mountaineering or rock climbing. Having said that, it means I have to try a bit harder to be taken seriously. But with the growing number of women taking to the outdoors, I notice being held to an equal standard is slowly becoming more common.

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

Rebecca Ross: The outdoors has done a lot for me, especially during some vulnerable times in my life. When my mom passed away and I felt that I didn’t have a very strong support system, taking to the outdoors and getting involved in mountaineering courses helped me refocus and rediscover myself--finding strength that I had once lost. Since then my attention has been on helping to preserve our natural areas so that everyone may enjoy them. I also hope that writing and sharing my experiences will help others get involved outdoors and feel the need to advocate to protect these special places.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Rebecca Ross: My mom. Even though she’s not around for these next chapters of my life, she full-heartedly believed I could do anything I set my mind to, regardless of how many obstacles existed.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Rebecca Ross: To me adventure means exploring and connecting to nature through some sort of activity. Whether I’m kayaking in the Columbia River, finding new running trails, photographing waterfalls and sunsets, or backpacking in nearby state forests--all of those things mean adventure to me. However, with the influence of social media, it’s easy to discredit simple activities and only count the epic ones. For me, peak bagging new and old mountains and planning international mountaineering trips also count as adventure, but they shouldn’t be the only ones that count. So I try to remind myself that I can find epic activities all around me without spending a lot of money, time, and energy and have them be just as memorable because I simply got to get out and explore.

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

Rebecca Ross: I love this word! But this word has started to change meaning for me over time. At first it seemed pretty synonymous with being overtly adventurous or taking on sports that are usually male dominated--which I still think is often the case. But for me personally, it also means doing things that are WAY out of my comfort zone. I can’t advance if I stay within my comfort zone, so by stepping out of it I am faced with fear, self-criticism, and doubt, but it also means I’m pushing the boundaries and exploring new and intimidating territory. And for some, my absolute discomfort may be someone else’s total comfort zone and vice versa, but as long as I focus on my goals and keep making plans to accomplish them and try not to compare myself to others, I think that’s also badass.

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

Rebecca Ross: Breathe! I know there are a lot of really cool mantras, quotes, and phrases out there, most of which I never consistently remember or feel like I have a deep connection with. For me, to tell myself to breathe is so impactful. I often find myself clinched up with fear whether mountain climbing or rock climbing, mainly because I’m scared of heights. The one thing that gets me through it is to tell myself to just breathe! My fears start to melt away, my body starts to relax, and I can mentally get past whatever mental and/or physical block I may have had. It also helps me to rationalize the situation and to start using the training I’ve done to remind myself that I’m capable. If it wasn’t such a cliche, I would get the word breathe tattooed on my arm to remind myself...but for now I just have to try to remember.

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?  

Rebecca Ross: To start representing a variety of people doing a variety of activities. When only one type of person is depicted, usually attractive, white, and physically fit individuals doing insane things, it starts to mess with people’s psyche when they can’t relate. However, having said that, I’ve seen a lot of organizations out there trying to change that and represent a variety of individuals. I do appreciate that communities like Climbers of Color, located in Portland, Melanin Base Camp, and Outdoor Project recognize this pattern and are starting to change what the “average” individual looks like and acknowledge that there are amazing people out there who don’t look anything like what is being portrayed in social media.

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

Rebecca Ross: I would love to say something like sunblock or a hat or something that my grandmother would probably be proud of, but instead, it’s my camera. I never know when I’ll get an unexpected spectacular sunset, or a perfect candid moment with friends. A phone is great but can't live forever with a charge, so for me, a camera is important. The photos I capture on my trips are things that I will always treasure.

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?

Rebecca Ross: I hate it and love it. I personally hate women-specific gear. I don’t usually care about color, pattern, frills, etc, I just need it to work! However, I’m on the petite end of the spectrum, so I’m hypocritically grateful for companies making smaller sized backpacks, harnesses, and jackets. But I’ve also noticed this same women-specific gear is extremely limited, usually replacing comfort and functionality with style -- a HUGE pet-peeve of mine. I still have issues finding small enough gear and clothing that is built for being outdoors. At the moment, I’ve been having success with European gear, usually from Sweden or Denmark, but I haven’t quite put that to the test just yet.

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

Rebecca Ross: Ah! “It’s never one thing that goes wrong, it’s many things along the way...” or something like that. I don’t remember who said this, but when I heard it, it profoundly struck a chord. I had an incident that scared the living daylights out of me, and I genuinely thought my safety was in extreme jeopardy. Looking back at that experience, it was never one thing that went wrong, there were many small things that kept adding up, as if the universe was trying hard to tell me to just walk away from that particular climb. Since then, every trip I go on I try to be acutely aware of all the subtle clues that keep adding up.

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out as a climber/mountaineer and as an outdoor photographer, what would it be?

Rebecca Ross: Try not to compare yourself to others. There will always be someone better, more experienced, more talented, and with more adventures under their belts. Instead, focus on what I can do. Make realistic goals and do my best to fulfill them. It’s easy to compare myself to others and think, well geez, I’m nowhere near that good or powerful or fit...etc. Everyone’s circumstances are drastically different.  All I can do is aim to do these things for the enjoyment, and focus on setting my own goals and comparing myself to me.

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?

Rebecca Ross: I’m still figuring this one out. But ultimately, I try to get better at focusing on showing my true self, the good, the bad, the ugly. It’s easy to pick myself to shreds when comparing myself to other Instagramers with hundreds and thousands of followers. I would criticize myself for not being as likeable, and quite seriously pick myself apart comparing myself to everyone else. It was exhausting, it made everything I did very unpleasant because it was for the wrong reasons, and it made me dislike my appearance. I’m not saying I will never have insecurities, but over time I started sharing more raw experiences, and to my surprise I received a lot of genuinely positive feedback. Since then, I’ve come a long way posting photos that I think I look absolutely horrible in, but there’s also an interesting story that comes with that photo, and I really enjoying sharing that because it’s not just about the photo I’m sharing.

OP: The world of outdoor photography is rapidly progressing. How are you stepping things up to stand out from the crowd?

Rebecca Ross: That’s simple. I don’t. When I started backpacking and mountaineering, photography was a great paired hobby. But over time comparing my photos to others, most often professionals, turned it into work that was a losing battle, especially because I don’t have the patience to learn Photoshop and heavily edit my photos. So instead I decided I was going to capture views that strictly appealed to me, but also to include people in them. It’s much more enjoyable and less stressful capturing moments with people in them because those shots are strictly unique. Don’t get me wrong, I do love looking at similar Instagram accounts to get inspired, but my expectations of recreating a photo that probably took hours of post-production simply doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Plus it’s all about the lighting. Capture a mountaineering photo during sunrise--little to no editing will ever be needed!

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

Rebecca Ross: A lot! I have a list of climbs, some of which have been helping me train for my biggest expedition of leading a team to attempt Pico de Orizaba in Mexico at the end of the year. Granted, most of these climbs, such as Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Mount Shasta, Mount Whitney, and even Orizaba are all weather dependent, so I never really know. There are so many factors that go into mountaineering that you just never know if it will happen or not, but I try to stay flexible.

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

Rebecca Ross: Probably “Simply Rebecca--An Uninteresting Ordinary Life Story.” I really don’t know, but I know the title should be something simple because I’m truly not that interesting.

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

Rebecca Ross: Oh this is tough and I think about it a lot. If I’m being honest, with the world as it is, I think my biggest fear is coming back to this same unchanged world -- I don’t think I want another life. So far, I’ve been trying to enjoy the one I have, and I think that’s plenty.

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

Rebecca Ross: I had a pet goose named Daphne that would cuddle in my arms when I called her. I also had four pet rats growing up (not all at once) named: Cookie, Candy, Marshmallow, and Ginger--I guess I had sweets on the mind.

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

Rebecca Ross: Try to be yourself, but an honest version of yourself. Oh, and try to say yes to more adventures and to things that scare you a bit. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, and it’s led to some pretty amazing things!

Learn more about Rebecca and her work with Melanin Base Camp here, and follow along on her adventures by checking out both her personal and photography Instagram accounts.


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