In 1987, a woman named Kathy Phibbs took four girlfriends to the top of Mt. St. Helens wearing a red chiffon dress. The mountain had been closed to climbing for 7 years after the 1980 eruption, and she felt the occasion called for special attire. At the top, she happened to run into a Seattle Times reporter, who snapped a picture of Kathy in the red dress along with the four ladies, who were dressed as can-can dancers. A week later it ran on the front page.
A tradition was born.
Now, every year on Mother's Day, hundreds of climbers and skiers visit St. Helens's summit wearing all sorts of festive regalia, mainly dresses and tutus. It was on Mother's Day 2012 when I first experienced this grandeur. My friend Johnny gets credit for officially launching #TeamTutu, as does my birthday-buddy Ben who took me to St. Helens that very first year. But it wasn't until after a 2013 trip to St. Helens, and a successful climb of Rainier that my personal tradition of the pink tutu was born.
The real reason I wear a tutu in the backcountry is because it invites conversation. It's the ultimate outdoor icebreaker. You cannot hike around in a tutu without getting noticed, and I would estimate I have 78% more conversations on the trail with a tutu than without. Just last month I hiked Angel's Landing in Zion with my grandfather. We were celebrating his 80th birthday. He wore a purple tutu that he picked out himself to mark the occasion. Everyone, and I mean ev-ery-one talked to us to see what was going on. When we got to the top they sang him happy birthday. The experience gave me chills. Lots of memories were made that day.
Aside from being fun, silly, and a conversation starter, the tutu has practical uses too. It doesn't exactly fulfill all of the 10 Essentials, but it comes pretty darn close.
Here are 10 practical uses for your tutu:
- Pillow. Who needs a pillow when you have layers and layers of tulle for comfortable head resting?
- Seat. Sap on the log? Moss on the rock? Slap this puppy down to keep your bottom clean and dry.
- Butt warmer. More layers = more warmth.
- Towel. Spill something? Tutu's got you covered. Mop it up then lay the tutu in the sun to dry in minutes.
- Gauze. The tutu might not be the cleanest (see #1), but in a pinch can absolutely be used to dress or pad your wounds.
- Sun protection. It happens: it's hot out, you're wearing shorts, and you manage to sunburn your bum from the reflection off the snow. That malady is much less likely if your bottom is covered in a tutu!
- Wind sock. Don't know where the wind is coming from? No problem. Whip that thing off and hold it high in the sky and watch it blow to your heart's delight.
- Fire starter. Not recommended for children under 12.
- Trail marker. Lost in the woods? Rip off a few pieces, tie them to a tree, and safely find your way back home.
- Locater beacon. I am not the type of person who should be left unsupervised. With the tutu - I'm not! Any one of my people, at any time, can ask, "have you seen the girl in the pink tutu?" Chances are there's been a recent spotting, and I'll soon be located.