Gretchen Gerlach

Originally from Montana, Gretchen is now residing in her Purple Truck “Bison”.

I grew up on a dude ranch in “The Middle of Somewhere Montana”. Life consisted of horseback riding, backcountry anything (hiking, skiing, running, shooting guns, exploring), my one room school house, long winters, and an extraordinary amount of freedom. I spent the years before college exploring one of the many mountain ranges out my backdoor and riding in rodeos, and designing an 80’s fashion line. While my hobbies were thoroughly entertaining, I had an itching desire to get out of my Big Sky State and explore. I had caught the travel bug, gone international, and found the freedom that few rural ranch kids discover. But my travel vacations were not long enough and conveniently a college in Rhode Island accepted me.

Four years in the East Coast taught me a lot. First of all, my western roots (nature, farming, big spaces, and simplicity) are deeply ingrained into my personal constitution. So despite the priceless education I received at Brown and the opportunity for high paying and powered jobs in big cities, I chose the open space of the west.

My bizarre childhood allowed me to dabble in a number of sports (rodeo, cross country skiing, lacrosse, rugby, yoga) recreation activities  (backpacking, scuba diving, trail running) and various hobbies (fashion design, photography, mediation) but none of them have engulfed me as quickly and thoroughly as rock climbing. I climbed outdoors for the first time while in Viñales, Cuba. It was a fateful event, and it shaped my future life direction. After leaving Cuba, I climbed every opportunity I had. From little bouldering gyms in Germany, to castle-sized indoor gyms in Sweden, to chossy granite in Montana, to short hard routes in Rhode Island, and around various crags in New England I followed cliffs like it was my job…and  pretty soon I decided it would be my job :).

Since June I have been living out of a purple truck named Bison and driving around the West search for rock, and more rock. From MT to WY, CO, UT, NV, ID, to CA I have landed at some of the nations best climbing locations. I have progressed from a toproper to a sport savvy to trad-newbie-in-training. I have lost skin on granite, limestone, sandstone, and many more combinations of crystals. In addition to my rock climbing career (yes I consider it my job, rock is my boss, aren’t you jealous?!) I have learned a lot about life, especially female life. It may sound odd “female life”, but I believe that a girl, living on the road, and traveling solo is a lifestyle that is not taught in school or even common in popular culture.   

I was lucky enough to have a head start at figuring out “female life”. I was raised with the philosophy that men and women are equally capable. In an environment like rural Montana, this means that women are not only oxen-strong but also creative. I learned early on that if my muscles fell short of a man’s, then my mind better kick in to compensate. That was reality. There was no job I couldn’t do, just some jobs I had to do differently. In my life, there has been very little distinction between the roles of men and women, especially in regards to activities in the natural environment (everything from working to recreating).

Unsurprisingly, my childhood lead me to frontiers that where females were few and far between (rodeo, rugby, farming, boxing, firefighting, even rock climbing). Luckily, for me I had stellar, inspirational women to guide me. My mom, the one and only Betsy McDonald,  was the first woman to work as a wilderness ranger for the Forest Service. When I followed her footsteps and worked as a wildland firefighter one summer I had three female bosses leading our crew (including the region’s first ever female smoke jumper.) When I joined the Brown Women’s Rugby team, I played next to the Nation’s MVPs and the University’s most experienced and decorated coach. When I started climbing I was mentored by countless women who had not only began climbing when it was a man’s field, but also made a name for themselves by expanding and developing the sport for other women.

It is hard to articulate how grateful I am to the women that have inspired me. With their encouragements, histories, and successes in mind, I have set my sights on a future of adventure, focused on climbing, surrounded by nature, and justified by the woman that I share my experiences with. By working with No Man’s Land I am able to not only thank these women but share their inspiration with the wide community of badass female explores! Inspire on ladies!