Meet Emilie Cortes
MEET THE MUSE: Emilie Cortes ~ a financier turned mountain chica on a mission.
I think perfect happiness may be a concept that is idealized in American culture and could set us up for perpetual dissatisfaction. The Buddhist concept of detachment has been really helpful to me in my personal quest for happiness. Detachment can be misunderstood as not caring what happens. It’s better described as not being attached to outcomes…so that when you don’t get that job, grade, date, whatever, you are not completely demoralized. Instead, you accept the outcome and simply decide to what to do next. Detachment doesn’t mean letting go of dreams, goals, objectives, relationships, but embracing detachment helps you recognize that this world is fluid, change is constant, and outcomes are never guaranteed. We are along for the ride. The more I accept the crazy obstacles that feel like they are inserted between me and my dream, the more I am prepared to deal with them and be undeterred in my personal mission.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear has always been and remains financial insecurity. My mother passed away when I was 12 and my sister and I lived with different family members, always hearing whispers in the background about how difficult and expensive it was to raise two young girls. At one point in college, I was working 3 different part-time jobs while taking a full load to survive. I chose a lucrative field, finance and investments, so that there would be no doubt I could be financially self-sufficient. Leaving that field to buy and run Call of the Wild Adventures, an adventure travel company for women only, was scarier than any big mountain I have ever climbed, but the potential to have positive impact on the world was the driving force in facing that fear.
What has been your greatest life lesson?
To feel the fear and do it anyway. I have so many examples earlier in my life where I held myself back. Don’t get me wrong, there are PLENTY of exogenous factors that can affect us, things out of our control that could impede progress to our goals…BUT sometimes we can be our own worst enemies and take ourselves out of the running out of fear. For example, I was in the top 10% of my class in high school, but I did not even apply to college!!! I definitely had low self-esteem and no external encouragement, so I didn’t believe any college would want me. I ended up going to University of Houston because they mailed me a pre-filled application with an invitation to the Honors Program. Later I transferred to American University in Washington, D.C. and graduated first in my class in the Kogod School of Business! I nearly fell through the cracks of the system, and it was my own lack of self-confidence that was the primary culprit.
There have been many events along the way that have helped me find courage to feel fear and still be compelled to move forward, but mountaineering had the greatest impact to face real danger in the mountains and learn to process that fear, make smart decisions about what to do, and to recognize that the risk and fear we experience everyday is only as great as our perception of them.
What talent would you most like to have?
The ability to take everything less personally!
Meditating! It’s the number one thing I know I should do, but the easiest to dismiss. Meditation is a very powerful tool to clear your mind, relax your body, and improve your focus. Yet it’s so darn difficult to feel justified to take the time to sit and not move. In this world of hyper-connectivity, short-circuited social interaction, and sensory overstimulation, the act of taking time out to just focus on your breath may be the most important thing we can do for ourselves and the universe. OK, after finishing this, I’m going to go meditate!
Where do feel most inspired?
In the wilderness. Feeling a connection to nature has helped me feel like a more grounded person. I have far greater appreciate for the creature comforts that our society affords us. I have vastly improved awareness of the little things like the sound of breezes rustling leaves or the sublet shifting of colors in a long sunset. The quiet gives me time to think, the space to let inspiration come, the opportunity to muse!
What one place makes your heart beat the fastest?
The summit of any mountain.
What trait do you most cherish in a travel companion?
Flexibility. Plans almost NEVER go exactly as planned, so the more you can roll with it, the better a travel partner you will be. A sense of humor is a great accessory to flexibility – being able to laugh at your situation makes everything both more tolerable and more fun!
What trait do you most cherish in yourself?
My humility. That may sound strange, but I’m really uncomfortable with all the hullabaloo about how inspiring I am. I worry that the day I feel comfortable with spontaneous admiration from strangers is the day that I will lose my humanity.
What is your travel motto?
Leave no trace! I believe in treading lightly in the world. Our presence can have unintended consequences that can be difficult to anticipate. Try to reduce your carbon footprint, don’t litter either in urban or wilderness environments, leave plants and animals in their natural state, and respect and do not challenge cultures that are different from your own (we are taking about travel here where you are simply passing through, not about ignoring human rights violations).
What is your definition of the perfect adventure?
Physical challenge, quiet that lets you to hear your own soul, laughter of good friends, breathtaking landscapes, and experiences that shift your perspective. This combination can happen close or far from home, but the trips with these aspects are my most treasured.
Who are your travel/adventure muses?
I have two and they are very similar. Alison Levine and Georgina Miranda are two women who are petite (under 5’4″) powerhouses. Both have MBAs, are wicked smart, but also humble and funny as hell. You would never guess that both have climbed Everest (both summited on their second try). Alison completed the “Adventure Grand Slam” reaching all seven highest peaks on the seven continents and both poles. Georgina is almost finished with the Seven Summits. Both are also entrepreneurs – Alison has a speaking and coaching business and is a newly minted author of the best seller On the Edge, and Georgina is on the second iteration of her vision, Altitude Seven, to provide better outdoor gear and clothing options to women. Both have a special place in my heart as I hope to follow in their foot steps and climb the highest peak on the planet…
Absolutely! Travel is more like being an OBSERVER in life. You may travel far and wide, expanding your mind and being entertained, but I always felt like I was simply left holding a box of photographs (this was pre-digital cameras!) back at home. Adventure requires being a PARTICIPANT. It’s a huge paradigm shift. Getting to know the locals, learning their language and customs, exploring, risking making a fool out of yourself, challenging your physical limits. These experiences are visceral, and the people you meet and lessons you learn are branded on your soul forever.
What is your most treasured travel item?
My Om necklace from Nepal. It’s a reminder to strive to align mind, body, and spirit. Buddhism is not so much a religion as it is a “practice.” Although I am “living the dream” running my own business, I can sometimes feel so stressed that I can forget to breathe. If I happen to touch the Om around my neck, it reminds me to take a deep breath and center myself. Just because someone is wearing an Om symbol does not always mean they have it together; rather, they recognize that they are a continuous work in progress.
What five things should every traveler pack?
A great camera like the Canon G15 – awesome point and shoot with optional manual settings
Photocopies of important documents – passport copy, vaccination records, credit card info/hotline numbers, flight itinerary
Wet wipes – amazingly convenient for a quick freshen up…of any body part
Journal and pen – for taking notes, especially those memories you don’t want to forget!
Language phrasebook – a little bit of effort goes a long way to show respect for a local culture when you are traveling…
What 5 things should everyone see in their lifetime?
There are so many wonderful things one can do at home or abroad, but these are my top recommendations:
Experience sunrise from the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro
Sleep in a tent in the Serengeti National Park listening to lions “whoompf” nearby
Visit prayer services at Tengboche Monastery in the Khumbu Region
See the shadows of the entire Sierra Nevada cast at sunrise
Watch the Northern Lights from a natural hot spring in Iceland (still on my list!!!)
If you could travel back in time, where/when would you go?
I would travel back to the late 1800s when women like Fanny Bullock Workman of the UK was exploring the Himalayas and American Annie Smith Peck was exploring the Cordillera ranges of Latin America. Both women were some of the first professional mountaineers in the world. They were truly pioneers! So much amazing ground has been covered by now that those in the mountaineering world must go further and further in terms of remoteness and difficulty to both literally and figuratively blaze new trails. The trails I blaze now are more the exploration of the inner world – how will I handle the same routes and mountains where others have gone before?
Where are you dreaming of visiting right now?
Out of all the amazing places in the world that have enriched my life and my understanding of the world, Nepal is the one place that calls me back year after year. My curiosity with the Buddhist faith, love of the Nepali people, and passion for the high mountains makes this place very special. Trekking around the Himalaya is truly an otherworldly experience. After getting a taste of 8,000 meter peak climbing on Makalu (the 5th highest in the world), I still dream of climbing Everest but worry about the geopolitical drama surrounding the “Goddess Mother of the World.”
Definitely when I left my investment job in San Francisco to move to Bend and run Call of the Wild. It was a gutsy thing to do as I was staring my fear of financial insecurity directly in the face, but now I cannot imagine any other path!
While there is still much work to be done to rebuild Call of the Wild into a sustainable business, the love and passion of the clients and the guides for Call of the Wild is what keeps me going. Clients send me letters all the time detailing how the trips have changed their lives. One woman with scoliosis who was anxious about hiking with a group said, “I can’t thank you enough. The horizon looks different to me now.” Another woman who is a corporate attorney self-described as unfit and intimidated by the outdoors said, “If I was with my husband or friends, I would have turned myself around on our snowshoe hike. Your guides encouraged me to keep going and I saw what I would have missed if I turned around. I realized I need to stop turning myself around in my life.”
The enthusiasm that others have for Call of the Wild validates that there is a real need in the world for a space for women to come together in community and in the wilderness to have fun, grow, and if they need it, to be transformed!
Thank you for the inspiration. xo, muse
Emilie Cortes has a mission – to inspire women to face challenge, risk, and fear differently and break down internal barriers to our dreams through positive experiences in the outdoors. Emilie is Owner/President of Call of the Wild Adventures, Inc., an all women’s adventure travel company and a motivational speaker. She left a 16-year career in financial services to align her passion and vocation. Emilie has climbed on six of the seven continents and leads backpacking, trekking, and snowcamping trips for Call of the Wild and non-profits such as GirlVentures, the Sierra Club, and the American Alpine Club.
Emilie holds an MBA from Berkeley, as well as the CFA and CAIA investment designations. She serves as the Treasurer to the Compton Foundation, is a member of Financial Women’s Association and Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition, and has served on the National Association of Women MBAs Board. She speaks regularly inspiring individuals to reach their own personal heights in their careers and lives.
Call of the Wild Adventures – www.callwild.com
Emilie Cortes blog – www.emiliecortes.com