Alaska outdoor culture: Fostering women in the outdoors

women wanderers

Alaska boasted as the largest state in the union, with the largest mountain in North America and the greatest abundance of wildlife is truly a wild place. The inherent nature of Alaska inspires people to get outside. One look at Denali and it’s plain to see that getting outside is one of the best parts about visiting or living in Alaska. Alaska is an incredibly unique place that invites those who live here to go play outside.

With so much to offer in ways of outdoor activities there is a definite outdoor culture in the state of Alaska. Women who are often underrepresented in outdoor spheres are active members of the outdoor community in Alaska. No one is pushed away from being an adventurer in Alaska, where adventure still runs rampant and solitude can actually be found.

Monika Fleming, a University of Alaska Anchorage student originally from Chewelah, Washington came to Alaska after a slew of adventures that took her all the way to Nepal. Fleming found her home in the last frontier where there is a strong community of outdoorsy people.

“Pretty much every Alaskan I’ve met has done some stuff, like every single one of them, and some crazy stuff too. Even if they don’t do it all the time, the stuff they have done has been really kind of advanced,” said Fleming of Alaska’s outdoor culture. “I’m just like ‘Oh!’ …In the classes I’ve taken there’s this one girl Courtney, she’s the head of the sororities or something like that. She’s really hardy and outdoorsy, but she just looks like you know, just Alaskans always surprise you.”

However, Alaskans who’ve been here their whole lives don’t feel like they are doing anything out of the ordinary. Lifetime Alaskan Kendyl Murakami, who currently studies biology at UAA, is inspired by how there’s so much to do. Despite the cold she feels like it’s impossible to stay indoors living in Alaska.

“I feel like most of us when we grow up in Alaska we grow up with all this expertise surviving outside so I don’t feel like we [women] have any crazy limitations. We all know how to make a fire. We could chop down some wood or cut it in half or whatever, so there’s not a lot of restraints,” Murakami said of Alaskan women.

Not only is Alaska accepting of women getting outside it actually provides a community for it.

“If women, or men, doesn’t matter, if they really want to do something in the outdoors I think Alaska has a phenomenal community to foster that,” said Molly Liston a P.E. teacher at Pacific Northern Academy, a private non-sectarian school in Anchorage.

Pacific Northern Academy is just another example of Alaskan’s self reliant and adventurous way of life. The school’s mission is to “educate students to be exceptional learners and independent thinkers of vision, courage, and integrity.” Students at PNA are encouraged to play and be creative in their learning.

This self reliant attitude about education doesn’t end in the elementary and middle school of Pacific Northern Academy though. At UAA, an outdoor leadership program is offered to students via the health, physical education and recreation program. T.J. Miller the director of the program was Liston’s mentor when she went to college. Miller has lived in both Alaska and Colorado, working as a guide or outdoor instructor for the entirety of his life.

“You know I think up here, gosh, I see more mountain guides on Denali that are women than I saw in Colorado. I guess I would have to say it seems that Alaska has incorporated and embraced women a little more than other areas and I’m kind of comparing Alaska to Colorado, those are my two main states. And again maybe it’s social media, but I have seen more women in the industry doing well and excelling up here than other places.”

Regardless of what it is that makes Alaska such an outdoorsy place, one thing is for sure, there is no end to the possibilities of what one can explore. Undoubtedly there are thousands maybe even millions of untouched acres in the state just waiting to be explored and maybe a woman will be the next to conquer some astounding untouched outdoor feat in Alaska.


Cliff hanger: Kendyl Murakami

women wanderers

Starting at a young age Kendyl Murakami has been immersed in the outdoors. Kendyl has ten siblings and her mother fostered in her children a love of the outdoors taking them camping as a cheap alternative to other activities.

“Ten siblings is a lot to do like cell phones and all that stuff… We did everything outside.”

Kendyl to this day spends a lot of her free time outside. She enjoys camping, going to lakes, snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, kayaking and rock climbing.

“There’s so much to do in Alaska!”

Kendyl in recent years has been an avid rock climber and climbing is now her sport of choice. Kendyl first become interested in rock climbing after her older sister Julia took a rock climbing course at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Julia took Kendyl out and ever since they have shared a passion for the sport and partner climb with one another frequently.

“We went rock climbing in Spain, free climbing without ropes. That’s like what roped me down to rock climbing because that was so crazy! We went to this place in Spain that’s like the biggest free climb that you can do because it overhangs water. So it was kind of crazy like just falling because you get so high and you fall that far, but it wasn’t life or death scary, but you felt like you were dying.”

Kendyl travels frequently with her sister Julia. Traveling and rock climbing are Kendyl’s biggest motivators to work. Kendyl spent a year working for Village Inn and Suite 100 just to save money up for her trip to Europe which included her visit to Spain where she rock climbed with her sister Julia. After Europe Kendyl returned to work at Village Inn to save money for a trip to Hawai’i in February. That was then followed by a stint at ORSO’s to save for a visit to Myrtle Beach this last March. Kendyl now works as CNA. Julia always told Kendyl that travel is important and the two go as often as they can afford.

Kendyl and Julia in addition to their trip to Spain have done trips to Washington to chase routes.

“We’ve done other bouldering stuff in the Washington area where you bring your own pads, you hike in. Then you climb up however far you want or however far you’re comfortable falling. You either land on your pads. You only go ten or so feet up, fifteen feet if you’re really comfortable.”

There was also some more classic rock climbing the two did on the trip.

“When we were in Washington, there’s a thing they call tread climbing. It was already carabineered, clipped, routed so we just did that, but it was a double par. So that means you anchor in like 25 feet up so you climb like 10 or 15 feet and then you anchor into the wall and then you continue climbing. It’s like two pitch. It’s really scary because when you’re trying to anchor in you’re not actually tied to anything. That was probably the most coolest part we rock climbed.”

The two also spent time backpacking through California. They used the Rideshare service to get around and met numerous strangers along the way that quickly became friends. While in Sacramento they met two guys named Damien and Abel using Rideshare and ended up hiking Donner Summit to the Peter Grubb Hut which sits just of the Pacific Crest Trail near Sacramento with them.

Despite her vagabond lifestyle and the numerous places Kendyl has traveled there’s many places she’s yet to visit. And much, much more routes she would still like to climb.

“Yosemite is the king of all rock climbing. It’s crazy. They have so many pitches and it’s hundreds of feet up in the air. I’ll definitely go there one time.”

While Yosemite is her dream climbing destination, Kendyl is currently working as a CNA to save up for next trip. It won’t be long, however, before Kendyl travels to the mecca of rock climbing to finally conquer the great walls where women rock climbing legends before her laid the foundation for women in the sport of rock climbing. Kendyl may not be setting new paths, but she is conquering all the paths she has taken.


Kendyl Murakami is an avid hiker, rock climber and traveler. She's a 20-year-old biology major at University of Alaska Anchorage.
Kendyl Murakami is an avid hiker, rock climber and traveler. She’s a 20-year-old biology major at University of Alaska Anchorage.
Kendyl, Julia, BLANK and BLANK on Donner's Pass to the Peter Grubb Hut on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl, Julia, Abel and Damien on Donner Summit heading to the Peter Grubb Hut just off the Pacific Crest Trail near Sacramento. Kendyl and Julia met Abel and Damien via Rideshare while on a backpacking trip in California. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl in Spain.
Kendyl in Pathos, a Greek island, atop one of the tallest peaks of the island. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl and BLANK in BLANK doing some hiking and climbing.
Kendyl and new acquaintance Pentos free climbing the Angel Rock Mountain outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl and Julia getting ready for rock climbing. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl and Julia getting ready for a ropes course in North Carolina at the Adventure Center of Asheville. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl and her sister below the Hollywood sign in California. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.
Kendyl and Julia in Hollywood on their backpacking trip from Seattle to San Diego. Photo courtesy of Kendyl Murakami.