Adventurous Women Break On Through: Traversing Age And Gender Barriers

Adventurous Women Break On Through: Traversing Age And Gender Barriers

Female-focused productions and media content has soared in presence and popularity, and we couldn’t be more excited to support the rise of women in the world of adventure. We strongly believe that media representation should match what’s going on out in the field; that space is held for adventurous women and equity is brought to the mass media we consume.

Two productions have particularly stolen our hearts and caught our eye, capturing the very essence of female strength and resilience. This Mountain Life: Coast Range Traverse, is a short film directed by Jenny Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin, and Break On Through, is a film as much about determination and persistence as it is about climbing. Both movies showcase the fierce determination and boldness of women on their quest to shatter expectations and push the limits of what’s possible, and both are featured in the 2019 Banff Mountain Film Festival tour of Australia.  Be warned, we cannot be held responsible for the sudden craving for adventure that may ensue!

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In the beautifully crafted film This Mountain Life, a bold mother and daughter duo, Tania and Martina Halik take on British Columbia’s Coast Mountains. It took them over six months to ski, walk, bush-bash and swim the entire 2,300 kilometre Coast Range traverse from Squamish, British Columbia, to Skagway, Alaska. They trekked for weeks during one of the harshest winters in recent memory, with -20C temperatures and high winds. 

Travelling through windswept frozen tundra and dangerously deep crevasses, the pair make their way through breathtaking, but treacherous mountain terrain, tackling head on the challenges that arise along their way; disappearing glaciers, treacherous river crossings, unrelenting snowstorms. All the while managing the huge logistical challenge of carrying all the necessary gear and re-supplying their food in the depths of the Canadian wilderness. 

Tania prepared a mountain of dehydrated food for their journey, while Martina plotted the logistics for weekly food drops. Small boxes of provisions were tossed from the window of a friend's Cessna to predetermined locations, each one containing a Bluetooth beacon. 

At first glance, this production is a great tale of adventure and endurance prowess, but the film also delves into the concept of letting go of control, hardship, and the capacity of humans to endure. The narrative dives into the past and takes us through Tania and Martina’s incredible journey in the face of austerity. Growing up in the Czech Republic under an oppressive communist government, Tania faced the impossible task of providing a better life for her family beyond the smothering walls of the Iron Curtain, with an infant in tow and another on the way. Through beautifully crafted animation, the filmmakers take us on a tear-jerking time-lapse of the Halik’s precarious escape on foot through mountain landscapes from oppression to the greener pastures of Canada, giving a whole new dimension to the pair’s ability to endure hardship, a reinforced appreciation of their unwavering will to keep moving forwards, and their determination to complete their goal.  

Their story also makes comment on ageism. Nothing curbs Tania’s enthusiasm to complete the 2,300 km journey, especially not her age, as she sets off on the dawn of her 60th birthday. Her daughter Martina says, “It’s one of the things I love best about my mom – she’s always been proud of where she is in life and what she has achieved. Embracing grey hair, laugh lines and worry lines alike, and utterly rejecting our cultural assumption that a woman’s life is simply over after 50.” With a lifetime of experience as a ski patroller, avalanche forecaster and paramedic, Tania tackles her most ambitious adventure to date with grace, steely determination, and her heart-warming excitement to share it with her daughter. 

Portraying relatable female role models from all walks of life in our media enables us to normalise and encourage the practice of adventure in the outdoors at any age or life stage. This Mountain Life is a poignant reminder that our ability to push ourselves is relative to our perception. As Tania so wisely points out, “I don’t feel old, I feel like I can do this. I think for me, ‘old’ is when I’m no longer capable of sleeping outside in a tent in the middle of winter. I think people make themselves old way too early. They accept they’re old because something hurts, they stop exercising, and I think once you stop exercising, then you’re getting old. You’re just going that much faster to your grave. So, I’m fighting it. It doesn’t even have to be outside, as long as you keep doing whatever it is. Just please don’t think you’re too old to do it, because you’re not.”

On the other end of the spectrum, is a young lady named Margo Hayes, who at 19 years of age became the first ever woman to climb the 5.15a grade, one of the hardest levels of climbing routes. In the thrilling production of Break On Through, we follow her relentless journey to be the best possible version of herself. As a child she was a star gymnast, qualifying for the Olympic recruitment program and displaying unbelievable discipline and drive. At age 10, Margo discovered the thrill of climbing and threw herself wholeheartedly into pursuing the sport competitively. After establishing herself as an up and coming climbing talent in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado, Margo heads to Europe, more specifically to the Mecca of climbing, Siurana in Spain. There, she shadowed former coach Matt Hong and Jon Cardwell in their attempt to climb the notoriously gnarly 5.15a route, La Rambla, feared by many, conquered by few. What Hong and Cardwell didn’t anticipate was Margo coveting her own dreams of sending La Rambla right by their side, using her gymnast’s flexibility and agility to her advantage out on the route. “It quickly became clear that she had done her homework,” says Cardwell, “She was ready for the fight. We started to realise that she could send this route, and she’s probably going to send this before both of us. She was relentless, she was focused.” After conquering the coveted route, Margo heads to the southern France to measure herself against the famous Biographie route under the watchful mentorship of professional climber Arnaud Petit.

Photo By Greg Mionske

Photo By Greg Mionske

With cameos by female climbing legends like Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou and Lynn Hill, and younger talent Sasha Digulian and Paige Claassen, Break on Through highlights the growing demographic of female climbers that are willing to push the ordinary and the boundaries of what we believe is possible. Robyn says, “Today there’s definitely an evolution of more women in climbing, pushing it in every discipline, training really really hard. The girls are catching up to the guys and leveling out the playing field. Right now, what we’re looking at is this big number of 5.15, and there’s a handful of women gunning for it. And we’re all sitting at the edge of our chairs saying… who’s going to do it?”

Break On Through follows Margo as she trains relentlessly and perseveres towards her goal with aggressive conviction and incredible clout, giving us an insight into what it looks like to fully live out one’s passion. The production has an adrenaline-fueled thrill to it and has us gripping our seats in anticipation. It also captures a softer side as we share Margo’s raw emotion in achieving the goal of a lifetime, experiencing her infectious joy and tangible vivacity. The film has us holding our breath as we watch her scale jaw-dropping cliffs making history with her fingertips all the while showing an impressive level of perseverance and self belief. Lynn Hill says, “Margo knows there’s a way, and she’s going to find it. If you have any doubt, and you’re right at that threshold, and you believe that 5.15 belongs to men, then that little bit of weakness can cause you to fail.” Break on Through highlights the importance of ridding ourselves from preconceived ideas of our limitations to make space for our greatest possible potential.

Both films showcase the absolute thrill and beauty of the outdoors, as well as being part of a movement that supports women in breaking down barriers to the outdoor. Whether it be incredible feats of endurance by women of all ages and backgrounds willing to put themselves on the line to achieve their dreams, or the women striving to take on the realm of the possible.


You can catch both Break On Through and This Mountain Life: The Rocky Mountain Traverse on the big screen at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Australia between April and June. The world’s most prestigious mountain film festival is committed to celebrating women on the big screen. Go to BanffAustralia.com.au to find a screening near you.

Jemima Robinson is an adventure lover, film buff, director of Adventure Reels, creator of the Gutsy Girls Adventure Film Tour, the Ocean Film Festival World Tour and the Top Dog Film Festivals. She has a passion for sharing the stoke and adventure inspiration of filmmakers and adventurers from around the globe with audiences in Australia, New Zealand and beyond.

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