Young women gain strength in Yosemite backcountry |

Young women gain strength in Yosemite backcountry

Courtesy photoKaitlin Antler takes a break from a hike with other Armstrong Scholars at Yosemite last summer.

Seventy miles, 10 young women and one endless wilderness were exactly what 16-year-old Truckee resident Kaitlin Antler had in mind when she dropped her application for the Armstrong Scholars Program into the mailbox.

And after two weeks in the Yosemite backcountry spent topping mountains, sleeping under stars and being devoured by swarms of mosquitoes, Antler found herself to be a new person.

“It’s a trip for young women to find out who they are and how to become good strong leaders,” Antler said. “None of us had ever met, and by the end we could see how we were changing, growing more independent, but more together in being a group.”

The Armstrong Scholars Program, hosted by the Yosemite Institute, gives 10 young women, ages 15 to 18, the opportunity to spend two weeks exploring the High Sierra backcountry. The three central themes of the program are discovery, challenge and leadership, and areas of emphasis include the identity and strength of women, wilderness skills, and communication and goal-setting.

“For girls at that age, an all-women’s environment can be so inspiring and unlimiting,” said Adonia Ripple, a program director for the Yosemite Institute who led Antler’s group last July. “It’s about finding their voice in this way that only the backcountry can illicit. It becomes this totally empowering and liberating thing.”

Over the course of 12 days, Antler, Ripple, and the rest of their group forged new trails and new relationships. They went without showers, without parents, and without limits.

“She went in a bud and came out an open flower,” said Antler’s mother, Linda Russon. “A lot of time she would think about things but not necessarily take action. It made her go the extra step to fulfill the dream.”

Applications for the Armstrong Scholars Program are now available. Tahoe Truckee High School students interested in applying should ask Sue Lowder for more information or visit

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