Shepherding in the Next Generation of Mountaineers: Ava Keniston


Youth Participant Ava, right, laces up her new LOWA mountaineering boots on Mount Baker.

LOWA is proud to sponsor Summit Scholarship and its mission of empowering women to access big mountaineering. 

In the heart of the Pacific Northwest stands the 10,786-foot summit of Komo Kulshan, or Mount Baker. This awe-inspiring peak is a challenge for even the most seasoned mountaineers. However daunting, this mountain became a classroom for Ava, one of our inaugural youth participants with the Summit Scholarship Foundation. As Ava climbed, an unforgettable journey unfolded alongside peers and fellow women mountaineers.

Empowerment in the Company of Women

As Ava laced up her new mountaineering boots, she thought of all the things she hoped to learn: backpacking skills, mountaineering skills, and new terminology. But what Ava walked away with was so much more than just the technical side of mountaineering. At the age of 14, Ava found a community and an introduction to the transformative power of an all-women’s environment.




At base camp, Ava delved into understanding her surroundings and the grandeur of the mountain beneath her feet. At the same time, an overwhelming sense of empowerment crept in. Ava shares,

“I didn't have to hold back and be embarrassed about my needs. I was in awe when I heard some of the other women's stories about previous adventures, and I love to think that it could be me someday.”

The empowerment that Ava felt in this environment was palpable. Ava found herself imagining a future where she, too, could share tales one day with a younger generation. She felt her fears and doubts dissipate and replaced with a sense of community and shared strength. When we chatted with Ava before her expedition, she was well aware that women’s voices are often silenced in mixed-gender environments. She looked at this expedition as an opportunity to experience the amplification and support that comes with a like-minded community.

Confronting Challenges and Building Resilience

Mount Baker, per usual, was full of surprises for the team, testing their spirit in unforeseen ways. The unexpected onslaught of cold and windy weather made their summit bid quick and without fanfare or celebration. The entire team was able to summit in two groups, but not without thoughtful decision-making in the backcountry.

Ultimately, the team faced a crucial decision–whether to wait for the delayed members or move forward. They opted for the latter, a decision that would later bring them together on a ridge just a short distance from the summit. The entire team paused for a photo, a testament to their resilience and unity.



The entire team, on Mount Baker’s ridge line, for their official “summit” photo

Breaking Age Barriers and Inspiring Future Mountaineers

Ava's initial apprehensions about her age and experience dissolved on Komo Kulshan. Turning 14 just days before the expedition, she proved to herself and others that age should not be a barrier to achieving those big mountain dreams. Ava recalls feeling like an integral part of the team and self-confident in her abilities."The Summit Scholarship helped me realize that I was ready for bigger challenges."



Mount Baker Glacier School

All of us at the Summit Scholarship had hoped for this outcome, and we had no doubt about Ava’s abilities. In her application, Ava shared a personal story about climbing Mount Katahdin in 2022, where she realized how much she not only loves hiking but trekking bigger, more technical mountains. She was eager for the next challenge, and Mount Baker delivered. 

The Summit Scholarship played a pivotal role in Ava's journey, and Ava has played a pivotal role in shaping the Summit Scholarship’s future. Together,we are dismantling barriers and fostering a sense of community. Ava expresses her longing to be part of a community of women mountaineers, especially those her age. She envisions a future where your perceived ability to climb mountains doesn’t depend on your age or gender. We all know that often the odds are stacked against women, but lucky for us, the mountain sees no gender.

Ava's story is not just a personal win; it's a call to action. It calls mountaineers and aspiring mountaineers, regardless of age or background, to reach for their dreams. The Summit Scholarship, hand in hand with partners, recipients, and supporters, emerges as a catalyst for breaking stereotypes and building a community of resilient, empowered mountaineers.

Apply for a Summit Scholarship in 2024 

The Summit Scholarship is back for another year of scholarships! If you want to apply for a Summit Scholarship or you know someone who might be interested, applications are currently being accepted. You can access the application details by clicking here. This year, The Summit Scholarship Foundation is proud to offer six youth scholarships, a testament to Ava and her fellow youth recipients, Mendo and Callie.

Content courtesy: The Summit Scholarship Foundation