Liselle Pires and Quena Batres met during a summer backpacking trip on Mount St. Helens with a mutual friend. They immediately connected over their love of outdoor sports and, more notably, their skin color. Pires is Indian and Batres is Guatemalan American. The two avid outdoorswomen, both based in Seattle, rarely saw anyone else who looked like them in the outdoors.

As they chatted, they shared similar stories about the challenges of pursuing and excelling in adventure sports without mentors, especially as women of color. In groups or teams, they often stood out as the only women of color, felt isolated and noticed the lack of representation of people who looked like them in brand marketing.

“I was so excited that there was another woman of color on the trail,” said Batres. “We immediately connected over these conversations of inclusivity and exclusivity and I felt this connection that I’ve never really had with someone else in conversation.”

Many more conversations later, the two decided to do something to encourage women of color to get outdoors together, to feel more welcome and to increase accessibility to adventure sports.

In December 2020, just a few months after they had met, Pires and Batres launched the Trail Mixed Collective. Their mission is to increase access to outdoor sports for women of color by creating safe community spaces, to pair mentors with less experienced people to teach skills and build confidence in sports, and to provide equitable access to gear and education.

“We’ve found that there are many barriers to entry, including the cost of gear [and] lack of confidence, and we hope to address those barriers in one setting,” said Pires.

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Trail Mixed is for anyone who identifies as a woman of color, including cis women, trans women and nonbinary individuals. 

“We welcome anyone who decides that they want to be a part of it,” says Pires. “Generally, when someone is unsure, they probably should and can come. We want to be that space for anyone who has even wondered if they are a part of that community. We’d rather include someone who’s not sure than exclude someone who’s not sure.”

As soon as they launched the site, they saw instant interest from women all over the country.

Trail Mixed hosted an intro mountain biking clinic with Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, with 10 participants, many of whom had never mountain biked prior. The ongoing partnership will enable more women of color to gain skills in the normally expensive sport. (Blake Peterson)

Since launching, Trail Mixed has hosted a number of events, including a hiking series with HOKA, local run clubs, intro ski days at Crystal Mountain, a surf camp and a mountain biking clinic in Utah.

The founders credit much of the rapid growth to the appetite from people in the outdoors communities, as well as major brands like Black Diamond and HOKA that have impressed Pires and Batres by holding to their commitments to be more inclusive.

To gain momentum, Trail Mixed has partnered with existing organizations such as Climbers of Color, a Washington-based nonprofit that co-hosted a multiday mountaineering course on Mount Baker this past July. 

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Janet Henkai, an environmental scientist in Oakland, California, was born at 11,000 feet in the Himalayas, and her family emigrated to Washington, D.C., when she was a baby. She knew she was literally born to climb mountains, but felt deterred by the cost.

“I saw that all these white men were climbing in where my family comes from and being shepherded by people who looked like my uncles and cousins,” she said. “So I looked it up and saw that it was really expensive.”

In partnership with Climbers of Color, Trail Mixed was able to teach nine women of color the necessary mountaineering skills to summit Mount Baker, thanks in part to donations and sponsorship from Black Diamond Equipment and Isella Outdoors. Here, Mariko Ching teaches knot-tying skills to participants. (Wade Pritcha)

When she saw the listing for the Mount Baker mountaineering course on Instagram, she applied and was accepted.

“Being on the course with women of color was validating,” she said. “We talked about all of the things that we had to experience to get to where we are today. There is so much impostor syndrome and being able to share that with people doing this course was so liberating.”

Pires and Batres don’t take any compensation from their work at Trail Mixed, and don’t intend to do so. Both work full-time jobs and they want to see any money that comes in go right back to building community. Many of the leaders and educators volunteer their time.

Through the Local Leaders Program, women can sign up as ambassadors to host events in their community. Trail Mixed provides the tools to host the meetups, actively reaching out to brands and outfitters to act as partners, providing gear, expertise and financial assistance. Many of the events are heavily subsidized or free.

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“We’re really excited about building out more leaders in various regions,” said Pires. “It’s also important to go to places like Savannah [Georgia] and New Jersey, where there aren’t really those communities in existence already.”

Pires and Batres have big plans for Trail Mixed, and hope to host more clinics, launch a skill share program and run camps. Event information is best found on the Trail Mixed Instagram page.

“I’m grateful that we’ve been able to foster this community,” said Batres. “Even though we’re small, the impact that we’ve had is such fuel already, because I know there’s so much more potential for connection and safe spaces for people to learn.”

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