Mary Clayton has an impressive list of firsts.
She was the first woman to work on the avalanche control team at Rogers Pass, part of the first all-female ascent team of Canada’s highest peak — Mt. Logan and one of the few women to challenge the ACMG guiding exam.
“I’m a jump in with both feet kind of person,” she said.
|Mary Clayton stands on the summit of Mt. Logan. She was part of the first all-women team to climb Canada’s highest peak. (Submitted)|
While she was on the path to becoming a mountain guide, Clayton said she realized the career was not for her after a close friend died in the backcountry. So, she went to journalism school instead.
For 10 years, Clayton was a TV producer on CBC Newsworld — Canada’s first 24-hour news network. She traveled the country, reporting mostly on politics.
However, when Clayton was 42 years old she became a mom and decided to move to the smaller City of Revelstoke with her husband to raise their family in the mountains.
In response to 29 people dying from avalanches during the winter of 2002-03, including seven high school students, a new organization was created the following year with the aim to eliminate avalanche fatalities.
The newly minted Avalanche Canada needed a communications director and hired Clayton.
“It was perfect,” she said.
“Although the organization was small then, it was still mighty.”
Today, the agency provides daily forecasts for 14 regions covering over 330,000 square-kilometres (which is larger than Norway) and is credited with reducing avalanche fatalities from more than 15 per year prior in 2004 to 10 yearly today. Meanwhile backcountry use has skyrocketed.
With Clayton at the helm with her reporter’s background, she made sure Avalanche Canada was always open to taking media calls and using journalists to get safety messages to the public.
“The media is not our enemy,” said Clayton.
Executive director Gilles Valade said Clayton’s passion and continued commitment for Avalanche Canada during the last 16 years is inspiring. “She’s put her blood, sweat and tears into the organization. It’s like a baby she helped raise,” he said.
Clayton said it can be intimidating working as a female in male-dominated industries. In 2008, she was named an Avalanche Diva, an award that celebrates influential women in the snow science industry.
One highlight of Clayton’s life she said was climbing the east ridge of Mt. Logan in 1993. The first all-female team was forced to camp six times up the 5,959 metre peak, breaking trail through waist-deep snow.
“It was cold as hell,” recalled Clayton.
As the team climbed, occasionally they would stop for decision-making moments. To help find a resolution, they would roll and smoke cigarettes.
“None of us were smokers. It just seemed like the thing to do,” she said.
“It was a grand old time.”
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