Gender shouldn’t matter in climbing

I still suck at climbing. I’ve yet to build the strength and guts to get good at it. Despite that, after about 5 years of stop-start efforts this year I have been climbing more or less weekly, and I finally feel I can say – ‘I climb’.

On the road to becoming someone who can call herself a climber I’ve met some truly inspirational women. Women who don’t need to prove themselves and are bold enough to share their love of the sport with others. Of course there’s a lot of women who are just as ego driven as the men who climb – you know the ones – skimpy clothing, ripped torso and super toned arms with an aloof demeanour, just google ‘women climbers’ and you’ll see what I mean (that stereotype applies to the men as much as the women!) But there are equally just as many willing to help, teach and encourage women who wouldn’t otherwise consider climbing to be their thing.

Now, I’m not discounting men as a source of inspiration, in fact I have a couple of male friends who are really good climbers who have been kind enough to teach me a lot along the way, and equally kind enough to not judge me when I’ve been at my worst and clinging to the rock like a limpet unwilling to let go. (Yes, I’m still at that stage in my climbing!)

In a world where women are the greatest critics of other women, and we are constantly judged for what we look like and told to conform to an image of who we should be, I think it’s important that women support one another to be bold, to follow their dreams and to find within themselves the strength and skills to be good at sports. Climbing is quite a solitary sport, one where you are battling only against yourself. And yet it’s also one where our idols are still beautiful blondes in their twenties who could just as easily be on the cover of Cosmo as they are on the next issue of Climber. And when climbing gyms are still dominated by men who are generally ripped (yes you are!) as they haul themselves up the gym wall, it’s hard to not be self conscious about your ability or lack of.

Mountain Training Association and Sheffield Hallam University recently revealed that women’s participation in outdoor recreation in the UK is currently 35%, with many favouring hill walking than climbing. Women are also in the minority (as I can attest to) on mountaineering holidays (only 27%) and only 19% of Mountain Training award holders are women.

So while men might think events like the Women’s Climbing Symposium last weekend in Sheffield are sexist, I think that’s a good thing. Women need a space sometimes where they’re not going to be judged, where they can learn from other women and be inspired by some of the great achievers in the business. Where they can see amazing climbers but also feel confident to suck at climbing too. This years event was the first climbing event I’ve ever been to and was an amazing confidence boost to learn some practical skills on footwork and movement – some of which I’ve even carried on doing! It was also a fantastic opportunity to hear from inspirational women who have not seen their gender as a barrier or successfully fought against it, to achieving their goals in the sport.

Leah Crane coaching - from WCS 2015 facebook

Leah Crane coaching – from WCS 2015 facebook

As well as practical workshops I also listened to inspiring talks from women working in the field. Rebecca Dent, sports nutritionist and dietician, advocated that women eat not just healthily but crucially not to worry about gaining weight. Women are generally more healthy than men as we store our fat under our skin and not around our organs, and while this means we gain weight more than men we also burn it quicker too. I also learnt that as a vegetarian it’s even more important to make sure I eat enough protein for muscle repair before and after exercise. And also before bed when our bodies are most prone to using up protein leading to aching muscles the day after. I love anyone who tells me cheese before bed is good for me!

To also hear the amazing Alpinist Catherine Destivelle talk about her achievements in the Alps, most notably being the first women to solo the Eiger, is just what women need in a world full of male mountaineers. A women who hasn’t used the excuse of being a girl to hold her back. A woman who has pushed the boundaries for women, climbing high and hard. She’s such an inspiration I’ve already got my ticket for her talk at the Kendal mountain film festival next month.

from catherinedestivelle.com

In the last 12 months I’ve also become involved in a fantastic organisation called Womenclimb, which aims to encourage more women to take up climbing and to help remove the barriers women face in participating in the sport. They seek to provide women with a forum to learn, meet others and gain the confidence to pursue climbing as a lifelong sport. Womenclimb run regular workshops so if you’re in England, check out their website – Womenclimb.

Through being involved in Womenclimb I met Emma Timmis and Emily Pitts, two women who aim to inspire women to have great adventures whatever form they take (like being the first people to rollerskate across Holland!) Emma is beyond amazing as she has run 2472 miles across Africa, from Namibia to Mozambique, and this summer she went to the Dolomites – but not flying like me, she cycled there from the Uk (and after a couple of weeks climbing she cycled back). Emily on the other hand has taught me that whatever your ability in climbing it’s important to just do it, and do it often. With boundless enthusiasm she encourages women to give it a go and is keen to share her skills.

Being able to get involved with these two has taught me loads even if we’ve not been out climbing together (too many adventures, too little time!)

Bouldering Wall

So I still don’t trad climb, and terrified about the idea of leading even indoors, but with newly found women to inspire me I know that I’ve achieved a lot this year and who knows what I’ll achieve next.

4 thoughts on “Gender shouldn’t matter in climbing

  1. I am glad you enjoyed the sport even with the pitfalls. Your story is fascinating. It’s great that you have good role models. I was a free climber and it was fun because I had lots of support from men and women. When I tried indoor climbing I did not like it. I couldn’t do it at all. And there was that attitude you described. I find it easier to brave a rough cliff on a clear day with my bare hands and a mental map of my route. I’m glad I was able to climb safely for ten years and enjoy an intuitive approach. I hope you’ll continue to grow in the sport if you choose to stay with it.

    • I definitely don’t have the balls for free climbing! I agree I much prefer to be outdoors where it is less competitive, I just need to get leading trad. Free climbing is beyond my nerves!

      • Please don’t do it. I started when I was 17. It has to compel you. I feel that you will do some leading soon and it’ll boost your confidence even more. I hope to see you scaling a cliff in a commercial someday. x

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