Our everyday lives went sideways in 2020. Where do we go from here?

This summer, writer and activist Jenny Bruso, creator of Unlikely Hikers, interviewed outdoor leaders who are creating a whole new outdoor culture from the ground up. Read Jenny’s conversation with Erin Parisi, mountaineer and founder of Transending7.

A woman sitting on top of a rock holding skis.
ERIN PARISI | Photo Credit: Tahvory Bunting @Denver Image Photography
Erin Parisi (she/her/hers) is a stepmother, a partner, a lover of the outdoors and—in her own words—she “happens to be trans.”

In 2018 she launched TranSending7, a nonprofit breaking down stereotypes of trans people through athleticism. Since then, we’ve shared space in many outdoor arenas where she spreads her mission and goal of climbing the so-called Seven Summits—the highest point on each continent. “When I came out, I decided it was important for me to be seen,” she says. Growing up, Parisi says she internalized negative representations of trans people, to the point that she denied her own truth. The fix? “Going to the highest point on every continent where there are no more shadows, where I can just stand in the light and tell people who I am and not hide.”


Fewer than 500 people have reached all Seven Summits, and of those, fewer than a hundred are women. Parisi is doing one better: she will be the first known trans person to accomplish this feat. (So far, she’s reached Aconcagua, Elbrus, Kosciuszko, and Kilimanjaro—twice.)

This despite the tall odds stacked against trans athletes in the outdoor industry, who Parisi says struggle to get funding to take on their most ambitious dreams. “Why do you think no other trans person has climbed Mt. Everest? It’s because we don’t have the support the industry has given cisgender athletes.” But TranSending7 isn’t just about her. “I want to help trans people in the outdoors … I’d love to see a trans person sail around the world, or be the first to go to the North and South Poles, or bike across the United States.”

Parisi acknowledges that outdoor culture is becoming more inclusive, but queer and trans people are still left out. “I’d like to see more clubs and brands celebrating diverse partnerships and people in their advertising,” Parisi says, aiming to break up the dominant ethos of masculinity in mountaineering. “For decades, I heard men—my own friends—saying things like ‘Don’t be such a woman.’”

“I can just stand in the light and tell people who I am.”

Parisi says allyship means speaking up in situations like these. “Often, people feel like they need to be silent or agree with a bully in order to not be singled out themselves,” she says. “When you speak up, especially when other people are present, you isolate the bully and celebrate the person being othered.” As it has for so many of us, COVID-19 has challenged her approach. Typically, she pushes back against negative stereotypes by showing up in person, connecting with as many people as she can, dismantling ignorance and invisibility with her presence. Without these connections, “It’s too easy [for others] to accept the media’s portrayal of trans people being punchlines,” she says.

Changing individual minds matters—but few things change without institutional change. She calls for gender-neutral approaches to infrastructure like restrooms, programs like team sports, and even the language outdoor leaders choose. “When you go to a national park and you sit down at the fireside chat and they start with, ‘Hello, ladies and gentlemen,’ a person like me thinks, ‘Well, I better keep my mouth shut,’” Parisi says.

Parisi’s accomplishments and advocacy are all the more impressive because she’s faced such challenges to get this far. Mountaineering is a hazardous passion—but too many trans athletes face injustice and danger before they even lace up their boots. “We need to prioritize making people feel safe,” she says.

Follow and support Erin at transending7.org and on Instagram @transending7.

Read more conversations in this series here.