Call of the wild
Life lessons in the mountains with Debra Van Winegarden

Call of the wild

Van Winegarden at the ever-Instagrammable (but best left admired up close in person) Columbine Lake.

Missy Votel - 09/22/2022

What does it take to be a woman of the outdoors? Well, for local hiker extraordinaire and writer of the “Earthline” blog, it was all about starting young.

Van Winegarden, who started hiking with her family in the Sierras as a wee gal, had a Half Dome under her belt before most of us could tie our shoes.  That early experience – eight-day, 80-mile jaunts were de rigueur – fueled a fire for the mountains that continues to this day. She clocks in an impressive 80-90 hikes a year – her favorites are Snowden and Lavender Peak, in the La Platas. And she has managed to pass the passion along to her son, Forester, as well.

“I’ve climbed a lot of mountains with Forester,” said Van Winegarden of her son, now 32. “He’s as crazy about mountains as I am.”

Van Winegarden, who has called Durango home for the last 30 or so years, will discuss her love, and respect for, the mountains at the Women Outside Story Night at the Powerhouse on Fri., Sept. 30.

She said she will be taking this year’s theme of “permission slip” and turning it on its head, just a little bit.

As Van Winegarden explains, there are usually but a few defining experiences in one’s life.

“There are usually two or three that move us so profoundly that our life was indelibly altered,” she said.

For Van Winegarden, one of those moments came in the 1990s. She was living in Crested Butte at the time and set out with some friends to hike Avery Peak. What they thought would be a scramble turned into a near-fatal experience on a Class 5.7 pitch.

“Let’s just say, we got into a tight spot,” she said. This was before cell phones and gps trail apps, and before folks could just look up routes on the internet, mind you.

“The experience still informs my life to this day and changed my relationship with mountains,” she said. “I learned it’s a reciprocal relationship.”

Which is where the whole theme of “permission” ties in.

“Now, each time I go out, I ask the mountain to grant me permission and safe passage,” she said.

With such an impressive climbing resume, one may wonder if there are any mountains out there she hasn’t done. Surprisingly, the Weminuche’s Vestal Peak tops that list. 

“I kept trying to go this summer but got rained out,” she said, adding she has her eyes on the west side of the mountain rather than the notorious Wham Ridge. Other than that, she has no specific agenda. “I just want to go mess around in the Grenadiers.”

Check out Debra’s blog at: