Swift Water Rescue w/ Emily

Emily was a recipient of the 2020 scholarship for outdoor education.

The spring season and early summer marks high water galore for any river loving individual. Snow melts, rivers rise, and the stoke for skiing shifts back to an excitement for kayaking. For me, the spring of 2021 marked my first high water season considering myself a kayaker. Coming into the spring, the thought of the rivers juicing up excited me…but it also completely scared the sh** out of me. More water meant bigger rapids but also bigger holes, faster moving water, and a whole collection of fallen trees in the river from the winter. I felt underprepared for these hazards, but more importantly I felt ill-equipped to keep my friends safe as well. I knew moving into the spring and summer I had to take a Swiftwater rescue course for the safety of my friends, myself, and the future I wanted on the river.

As I started looking into courses a limiting factor began to arise, cost. My desire to take a course was time sensitive. I didn’t have the expenses for travel, lodging, and the cost of the course in the time frame I needed to sign up. Luckily as I was just starting to set aside my aspirations for a Swiftwater course, I remembered the scholarship the non-profit provides! I submitted my application not really thinking I would get it, considering the amazing audience Backcountry Squatters has. Receiving my acceptance for the scholarship was exciting and felt incredibly validating in my quest to be Swiftwater Rescue certified.

I signed up for an all-women’s Swiftwater rescue course based in Jackson, WY. The opportunity to do an all-women’s course felt like such a great parallel to the mission of Backcountry Squatters. The group of ladies I met during my three-day course were amazing, and three of which were from Bozeman! The dynamic of our group felt so special, because we were always cheering each other on and giving each other words of encouragement. Our instructor told us he had never, throughout his career of Swiftwater Rescue instruction, seen a group support each other as much as we did. We also were the first all-women’s crew he has ever taught; I think the correlation is obvious.

One part of the course that felt important to me was our second day on the water practicing flipping rafts back over. Our instructor swiftly demonstrated the technique, which involved a lot of muscling up the bottom of the raft. When it was our turn to practice, every single one of us struggled to get on the boat using his technique. Because our whole group was having difficulty with the handle point placed on the raft, he realized he needed to put the rope in a different spot. After he switched it, everyone was able to successfully complete the exercise. I think this was such a great learning opportunity that would not have worked in a coed environment. If other men were a part of the group, the women would just be seen as weaker. Instead, we realized that we are not weaker but that techniques that work for men do not always apply to women as well. Once we changed the technique, everyone was successful!

Moving forward from this experience, I feel like I finally have the training to take my friends on the river responsibly. I have had so many amazing women approach me about getting into kayaking. I feel like I can finally indulge them more on the opportunity of getting on the river now because I know if things go wrong, I have the experience and knowledge to navigate the situation. Additionally, being involved on the exec team of the Montana State University Squatters chapter gives me the opportunity to take a leadership role in kayaking related events! Overall, this scholarship has created an amazing ripple effect in my life by giving me the tools to accomplish my river safety aspiration while maintaining the purpose of Squatters while I do it! I can’t thank the non-profit team, Darby, my Swiftwater instructor, and the amazing women I met in Jackson enough for this opportunity, you all are such a huge part of it!

-Emily Wiley

2020 Backcountry Squatters Non-Profit Scholarship Recipient

Emily Wiley is an undergraduate student at Montana State University based in Bozeman, MT. She found Squatters through the school and has been on the exec team for the club for the past three years.

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