Erin Howell and Sierra Lake always knew there was adventure in their blood. Now they want to help other Missoulians find adventure through their small business.
Mountain Mamas Outfitter facilitates hiking opportunities and physical training classes at Freestone Climbing Center. Their goal is to get people out in nature.
“We did a lot of solo hiking, and we did a lot of just us going out on the trail. We would hear from a lot of people when we posted our pictures on Facebook or Instagram, ‘I wish I could go out and do that,’ ” Lake said. “What we heard over and over again was, I don’t have anyone to go with, I don’t feel comfortable, I don’t have the experience. So that’s what fueled us to start this, because we wanted to get women out and to do the things that we do.”
The pair leads a free hike on trails around the Missoula Valley every Monday, and teaches strength and conditioning classes three days a week.
The idea for the business was entertained for a while, Howell said, but after Lake finished her degree in exercise science and Howell lost her husband to cancer in 2017, they decided to get paid for what they love to do.
Now they’re working on getting their recreational guide permits and volunteer for the Selway Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation to maintain and clean trails. They plan to write a book to help people get out of the house and explore the environment around them.
“We had always joked around on the river, because we’d like to go on camping trips down the river or hiking or whatever, so we were always joking around saying, ‘I wish we could get paid for this,’ ” Howell said. “We planted the seed, and it just started growing and growing.”
After her husband’s death, Howell moved to Georgia and worked as a chef. She later moved back to Missoula and met Lake, who had just graduated from the University of Montana.
They were both wondering about the next step in life, and a new start-up was the answer. Howell decided to become a volunteer firefighter for the East Missoula Fire Department and train to be a wilderness EMT.
“When Sierra and I started talking about this business and we went down this route, I was wondering, ‘well, what do I do?’” Howell said. “I decided to go wilderness EMT. I kept seeing the billboard for putting in an application to be a volunteer firefighter at East Missoula. It just drew me, I felt a crazy draw to it and I would pass it every single day.”
Since she became a first-responder, Lake and Howell decided to do a bike ride from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, stopping at fire departments along the way to raise awareness about first-responder suicide. Their journey begins in May, during mental health awareness month.
A majority of fire departments across the country are volunteer-based, and don’t offer the benefits that professional firefighters receive. Emergency first-responders experience sleep deprivation and high stress, which can translate into PTSD.
“More firefighters last year died by their own hand than in the line of duty, and those are only the ones who were confirmed suicides,” Howell said.
The pair will partner with Next Rung, a national organization that helps first responders combat mental health issues, and offer resources, like the organization’s suicide hotline and funds for counseling, to different departments.
“They’re there for that one-time crisis that we have and then they’re gone and they’re kind of out of our minds after that. It’s amazing that I can call a number and in minutes, help is there. What can we as a community do to support these people?” Lake said.
Lake and Howell are excited to see where their business takes them and hope more people decide to join them in their adventures.
“It’s really cool to see what your body is capable of accomplishing,” Lake said.
Reporter Mari Hall can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.