Mountaineer of the Week: Karina Vanderbilt

Meet Karina, a 5-year Mountaineers volunteer and climb leader who cares deeply about creating inclusive and accessible experiences within the outdoor community.
Michelle Song Michelle Song
Associate Volunteer Development Manager
August 26, 2022

Each week we bring you a personal story from one of our members and volunteers. For our volunteer profile this week we talked to...

Name: Karina Vanderbilt
Branch: Seattle
How long have you been volunteering with The Mountaineers?  5 years
What activities do you participate in with The Mountaineers? I am a SIG leader and volunteer with the Seattle Climbing Committee, a ski leader with the Foothills Backcountry Ski Committee, and a volunteer with the youth club, The Mountaineers Adventure Club (MAC)

VOLUNTEER LEADERSHIP QUESTIONS

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO VOLUNTEER WITH THE MOUNTAINEERS?

My parents were active in the Seattle Mountaineers when they moved to Seattle in the 80s. Coming from Indiana, they had no experience in the mountains and their time in the club opened doors to a great community and lifetime of loving the mountains. Moving back to Washington after living in New Mexico, I was looking for an outdoor community that shared my passions for climbing and stewardship. I applied to join the Basic Alpine Climbing Course almost immediately after moving back to Washington.

WHAT IS THE BEST, FAVORITE, OR MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'VE HAD WITH THE CLUB?

That is hard because there have been so many great trips. Some of the best experiences have been on private climbs I have done with friends I made through The Mountaineers. One club climb that stands out is leading a climb up South Early Winter Spire last July. We had a group of four women, three of whom identified as women of color, and two for whom this was their first alpine rock climb and their climb to graduate from the Basic Alpine course. We were a powerhouse team, and the students pushed themselves to climb harder than they thought they were able to. Not only did everyone summit and climb safely and efficiently, but we had the best time together in the mountains. We came down ecstatic and full of energy.

HOW HAS YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE EVOLVED AS YOU'VE GAINED EXPERIENCE?

I am an educator, so I think that a lot of my leadership style comes from that background. I think others would describe me as a patient, supportive, and humble leader. I believe we are all teachers and learners and as an instructor I try to build off of the strengths and backgrounds that students bring with them. I think that this asset-based approach serves to create a safe environment for learning and gives students the confidence to push themselves in trying something new. As a student, it is very obvious when an instructor is making stuff up, so I try to be very transparent when I don't know something and seek out resources to provide the most information possible for students.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU DO ON TRIPS TO CREATE AN INCLUSIVE EXPERIENCE FOR PEOPLE OF ALL SKILLS AND BACKGROUNDS?

Making the outdoors an inclusive place for all is extremely important to me and I view it as essential towards protecting our wild lands and planet. I have always found it strange that the "outdoor community" has traditionally been white and male when it is indigenous people who have been stewards of our mountains and public lands since time immemorial. I think this also illustrates a big disconnect between the idea of mutual responsibility for the land and the individualistic conquest of the land through summiting peaks. To effectively address climate change, we need to shift our viewpoints towards a more collectivist approach and we need everyone to see themselves as connected to the outdoors. Some tangible ways that I seek to create an inclusive experience on climbs include:

  • Being clear about pacing and trip goals in advertising the trip, and making it clear that this is a team activity and I want good team players.
  • Having participants share their goals and expectations at the beginning of the climb and making it clear that our #1 goal is safety, #2 goal is having a good experience, and #3 is summiting.
  • Keeping a positive, calm attitude and providing encouragement, support, and of course snacks to share.
  • Providing honest and kind feedback during climbs.
  • A great thing about climbing is that every member of the team plays an important role. I seek to recognize and encourage everyone's contributions.
  • Modeling Leave No Trace practices and pausing to appreciate the beauty around us.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING LEADERS IN THE MOUNTAINEERS COMMUNITY?

"Be the change you want to see."

WHAT IS ONE SURPRISING THING YOU'VE LEARNED OR GAINED THROUGH VOLUNTEERING WITH THE MOUNTAINEERS?

When I started out as a Basic Alpine course student I didn't have the best experience. I was talked down to by some instructors and I felt I had to prove myself in order to belong. Then I entered the intermediate course and met leaders who encouraged me. I started volunteering with adults and with the MAC youth club. I found sharing climbing skills with others who share a similar passion to be incredibly fulfilling. I felt like I had finally developed a community. Now I try to help others find community within The Mountaineers and in the mountains by striving to create a welcoming and inclusive environment as a volunteer.

LIGHTNING ROUND

What's your go-to place for a post-trip meal? Anywhere still open
How about your best trail snack? Gummi bears!
What's your favorite close-to-home adventure? Skiing the Muir Snowfield at Rainier
Who is your Mountaineers hero? Tess Wendel and Sue Shih
What "luxury item" do you bring on most trips? Hand warmers
What's next on your bucket list? Night diving with manta rays in Hawaii and big wall climbing in Yosemite

IS THERE A VOLUNTEER LEADER THAT YOU'D LIKE TO SEE AS MOUNTAINEER OF THE WEEK?

Send an email to Michelle Song to make a recommendation.

Lead image of Karina on a Mountaineers climb at Mount Shuksan.