Going Wild: An Interview with Mel McDermottInspiration
Written by Jenny Tough // Photography: Ian Finch / Musto
‘We hope to continue to encourage and empower all women regardless of their athletic ability, to connect them with our surrounding landscape, to get back into nature, to nurture, build increased confidence, creativity, fitness, mindfulness and adventure.’ – Mel McDermott
Galz Gone Wild is an all-female outdoors group based in Ireland with a simple mission: to connect more women to nature and the outdoors. We chatted to GGW founder and Musto ambassador Mel McDermott about her mission to reconnect with the outdoors as an avenue for mental health and healing.
Sidetracked: Thanks for chatting to us. Firstly, what was your background getting into hiking?
Mel: I grew up always being outside. We lived far away from anything in Ireland, so outside of school we would just go running around in the fields with our friends, climbing trees and stuff. But then, when I got older, I lost that connection with nature. I went to Dublin and eventually London to pursue my career, and during that phase of my life there were no opportunities to connect with the natural world.
In 2017, I returned to find that connection as a means to heal – it’s so powerful from a mental health perspective to be out in nature. I started looking for a hiking group so that I could expand my skills and find like-minded people to go on trails with.
In that time I completed my Mountain Skills 1 & 2 training with Mountaineering Ireland, and became Remote First Aid certified as well. I really committed to exploring my connection with nature, and became passionate about sharing it with others to promote mental health.
What was your experience with hiking groups?
The groups that I found were all male-dominated, and the only narrative was to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. The conversations were sort of regimented and focused solely on the pace, distance, navigation, etc. Even before the hikes began, as a younger woman I was always singled out – for not having the right (expensive) equipment, or assumptions were made about whether I could keep up or handle my pack. I’m pretty strong and confident, and totally willing to stand up for myself, but it made me realise that there needed to be a different type of group. This wasn’t my vibe. I wanted to experience nature in a different way. I wanted to pause, connect, and really explore. And I also wanted hiking companions I could have real conversations with. So, when I couldn’t find the group that worked for me, I decided to start it.
So that’s how Galz Gone Wild was born?
I guess I was originally held back by what you’d call imposter syndrome – I don’t have the best skills or an extensive background, so what right do I have leading a bunch of women into the mountains? This mindset held me back from starting GGW for half a year. But what changed for me was the realisation that the outdoors is for everybody. We hope to continue to encourage and empower all women regardless of their athletic ability, to connect them with our surrounding landscape, to get back into nature, to nurture, build increased confidence, creativity, fitness, mindfulness and adventure.
Why women only?
There’s something sacred about a group consisting only of women. It’s not just about the hike – it’s a powerful and magical place to combine those two things, the group of women and the connection to nature. It’s a place where women can reconnect with themselves, each other, and the land around them. It’s a place to be totally vulnerable, and leave all of it behind on the trail.
I realised that this was more than just a hiking group on our second anniversary, when one of the girls who has been with us from the beginning told us that Galz Gone Wild had totally changed her perspective on her body. She had struggled with body confidence her whole life, but through hiking she changed the narrative completely, and discovered that her body was something strong and powerful to get her up mountains – not just something that needed to look a certain way. That testimonial really blew me away.
What are GGW hikes like?
When we all meet up to start the hike, we have a chat in a circle where anyone who feels comfortable can introduce themselves and share how they’re arriving in the space today. Almost all of them will say something along the lines of being nervous, or worried that they won’t be able to keep up. When they realise that they’re all feeling the same way, it’s a great icebreaker. At the end of the hike, we have the same chat, and everyone’s mood has completely changed; they’re feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, empowered. It’s such a positive experience for a group of women to share.
Of course, it’s about so much more than just hiking. I get goosebumps when I think about all of the conversations I’ve had on the trails in this group – all of the big life stuff that all of us carry around. There’s something about a group of women connecting in nature – and with nature – that is so powerful.
Adventure is relative. We’re offering a space to make it accessible, and whatever your level, be it beginner or advanced, we want to connect women who can achieve adventures together. We don’t get on board with that traditional narrative of having the ‘right’ kit and getting from point A to B as fast as possible. We’re not like that at all.
And what’s next for you?
I’m working with Leave No Trace, which has me going into schools and connecting with the younger generation. I think it’s so hard being a kid now – Instagram is everywhere, and it shows a life that is so unachievable. I think that connecting with nature should be part of the curriculum, so I’m really excited to be engaging with young people.