Sharing the wilderness with women—of any age

by Alissa Johnson
Quetico Superior Wilderness News

Last spring, wilderness guide Peta Barrett and a client walked across a portage in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Her client, a confident, fit woman in her mid-60s, carried the canoe. She had expressed some concerns about doing so but was game to try with Peta nearby. When the pair reached a fallen tree across the trail, the woman hesitated.

Peta could see that stepping a foot or so higher than normal would do it to clear the tree. She encouraged her client to give it a try. “I said, ‘You’ve got this. I know you can do it. Just put the weight on your strongest side, and step over the tree with the other,” Peta said. “She did it, and she did just fine.”

Later, Peta’s client talked about how important it had been to be encouraged but not pushed—to realize she was capable of more than she thought. It was a gratifying experience for Peta too. As the founder and owner of Women’s Wilderness Discovery in Ely, Minnesota, she aims to not only guide but teach her clients. She prefers not to push but to encourage them, knowing the growth that stems from trying new things.

“There is a measurable amount of growth with every trip and every person I take out… And it really is empowering, especially for mature women who think that, physically, they aren’t capable anymore,” she said.

Peta started her business after selling her talent agency in the Twin Cities in 2012. She wanted to pursue her passion for sharing the wilderness experience. And though she didn’t foresee it, she’s found a niche guiding mature women. Peta estimates that 75 to 80 percent of her clients are in their mid-50s or older.

Some have always loved the Boundary Waters but their friends no longer want to go. Others make it a multigenerational experience with their daughters and granddaughters. Many of them find Peta through organizations like Great Old Broads for Wilderness, an environmental advocacy group started by a self-proclaimed “feisty bunch of lady hikers” refuting the idea that wilderness is inaccessible to seniors. However they find her, Peta helps these women make the wilderness a part of their lives at any age.

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