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.


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.

Mortality, Leeches, Bucket Lists & Craving Adventure

Why I crave adventure… Honoured to be first published on someone else’s blog!

The Adventure Declaration

Emily talks about being a coiled spring, surreal dreams and running away with a tent:

Why I crave adventures is a really difficult question to answer, and to be honest not one I’ve really thought about before. No more than why I climb mountains (because they are there) or walk long distances (because I can).

I was bitten by the adventure bug early in life. My favourite book when I was very little was ‘Around the world with Ant and Bee’ – about two unlikely friends who decide to travel the world and see fantastic places. From that point on any documentary I saw or image in a magazine made it on to a mental bucket list of places I had to see before I die. In my 20’s I made that bucket list real as there’s no time like the present to start ticking off must do trips.

Quiet contemplation Quiet…

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Progressing from knees to elbows

I’ve just started regularly climbing again with a good friend and its taken the last 7 weeks for me to regain my confidence to really start to push my grade. It doesn’t help that Cath is fitter, more agile and braver than me but she’s a great confidence booster so good to climb with. I’m not the type who like climbing with cocky alpha males, I don’t like the competitiveness. I climb for fun and as a personal challenge. I’m not interested in egos.

Tonight with confidence a-plenty I’ve really pushed myself which has certainly identified what I’m lacking to get my grade higher- technique.

I reach, grip and haul my way up walls- occasionally I get it right pushing up with my feet. Sometimes I even manage to push up without quite having a hold in reach.

I have however found new ways to get around lack of technique. I’m not just whacking my knees as I smear my feet up the walls, I’ve now taking to using my elbows as a lever to shifting my weight to get up routes. I think the principle it right, learning how to move my weight to reach the holds more efficiently, but I’m sure the execution is wrong!

I’m lucky where I live having two great walls within half hours drive, Rokt in Brighouse and the new climbing wall in Huddersfield new sports centre which may be compact but has plenty of good routes and grippy.

Social enterprises in Cambodia

Its hard to travel in a country like Cambodia and not be affected by the poverty that exists. A relic from the conflicts and genocide under the Khmer Rouge that has left a country, with a powerful and glorious history, struggling to rebuild itself.

For the traveller, this provides an opportunity to see a country untouched by too much commercialisation (except perhaps in Phnom Penh where development is quickly racing along), and a place were the people are open to the opportunities tourism can bring, without being ruined by it.

The Khmer Rouge robbed the country of a generation, especially those best able to transform its future economy and infrastructure. Its hard not to notice that loss as you walk around the cities and towns – there’s few people over 50.

And its not hard to notice the impact of overseas aid, which has sought to assist Cambodia since the late 1980’s and led to noticeable economic development projects; everything from Chinese road building projects to Japanese and Korean supported schools.

There are also a significant number of overseas non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) operating in the country – supporting orphanages, schools and local community projects.

As I work for an Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in the UK, I am however surprised by the number of social enterprises, set up and run by the Cambodians which are making a greater sustainable impact on the local people than overseas support provided by some NGO’s.

Smaller in scale, social enterprises ultimately have lower overheads and retain all income generated in Cambodia and operate for the benefit of the people working for them. The majority of income is made through business, enabling them to create business models that can train local people to create their own income and making the most of offering services to the growing number of tourists.

Take care to learn about the projects and organisations you visit – for example there are lots of ‘orphanages’ set up to entice tourists but do not operate specifically for orphans but provide education to all young people on a couple of days a week. I’m not suggesting they’re not valuable but I personally do question the way they perpetuate the image of children awaiting salvation by Western donors and don’t seem to provide a means to access future employment opportunities for the children. Check out this website supported by UNICEF – Thinkchildsafe.

Hence the organisations I came across which I recommend you take time to find, are all locally set up and managed, and provide positive images of the future of Cambodia and opportunities for training and employment for different sections of the community. There is a wealth of other organisations I didn’t have time to find which are equally worth seeking out, and feel free to share them here.

– Phare Cambodian Youth Circus

The Circus provides a nightly show in Siem Reap performed by young people and it is a fantastic night out and alternative to wandering the bars in Pub Street. The circus was set up in 2013 by Phare Ponleu Selpak a youth development organisation providing vulnerable children and young people with a creative environment where they can access training, education and wider social support. The school provides free tuition to over 1,200 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with many of them developing skills in arts and creative activities. The school itself is in Battambang but having the Circus in Siem Reap enables them to access the growing number of visitors to the city. The circus is one of an number of spin off projects from the school offering young people an opportunity to gain employment and generate revenue for the social enterprise enabling more young people to gain training and skills.

I saw the show ‘Preu / Chills’ which was a fantastic story and I definitely recommend you stop by and see the young people performing amazing acrobatics through storytelling. they also have a shop where you can buy items made by young people at the school learning craft and arts skills.

Mekong Quilts

I found the Mekong Quilts shop in Siem Reap and then later in Phnom Penh. Since I love handmade products and it was coming up to Christmas I had to visit. Mekong Quilts was actually set up in Vietnam but also provides women in Cambodia with the opportunity to learn sewing skills and work as a community to create beautiful quilts to sell for which they receive a good income. Profits from the shops are reinvested in the enterprise and through the main charity Mekong Plus which also provides wider community development projects.

The quilts are a bargain in comparison to the cost of buying a handmade one in the UK and are beautiful, but if like me you are backpacking then there is plenty of smaller gift items you can buy.

– Daughters of Cambodia

Another craft based organisation, Daughters of Cambodia provides women with training, education and employment, as well as wider social support such as counselling, medical care and life skills. It works to help women escaping from the sex industry, many of them having been forced into it through poverty.

The saddest thing about the history of the Cambodia is that a generation of people have been robbed of the chance to have a good education and secure and good employment, meaning that the combination of poverty, low skills and a growth in tourism has lead to people being exploited by tourists, particularly for sex. Its not hard to find yourself in the ‘red light’ districts of both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and wishing better for the girls (and guys) being used by western and other Asian tourists.

The Daughters shop in Phnom Penh provides a great way to find out about the organisation and buy some fantastic gifts, everything from bags and t-shirts to jewellery and toys. They also sell products made by the ‘sister’ company Sons of Cambodia which through a similar model seeks to provide transexual males with a means to leave the sex industry too.

Having checked out their website since coming home I’ve found they also run a small hotel in Phnom Penh, wish I’d known about that!

Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre

I’ve mentioned this previously, but this butterfly conservation centre is definitely worth seeing when you are temple-d out. Close to the Angkor site they farm butterflies to sell to zoos and live exhibitions abroad. This income helps to sustain the centre, which in turn provides education to local farmers to prevent deforestation which is reducing many butterfly and moth species habitats.

Local farmers are also paid to collect eggs and caterpillars which the centre breeds, helping to prevent species extinction. At $4 to visit its worth an hours visit.

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Friends Restaurant

I love food. A lot. So there is nothing more exciting than discovering a restaurant which is offering young people an opportunity to gain skills in the restaurant industry as chefs or front of house staff. I visited the restaurant near the Royal Palace which serves a mix of Asian and western tapas and there is fantastic selection of vegetarian food. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that as this is a training restaurant that the food will be basic; I ate some of the best quality food at Friends that I had during my time in Phnom Penh. During the day they also have a shop next door selling items made by young people and you can also buy items from their stall in the Russian Market in the city.

Friends International also provides street children with support in other ways through ensuring they are able to go to school and avoid exploitation. They also have restaurants and shops in Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, as well as Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos.

Artisan Angkor

One of the first organisations I visited while in Siem Reap for a week and certainly the largest, Artisan Angkor is a bit different. It was originally set up by the Cambodian government in the early 1990’s in order to encourage the revitalisation of the traditional crafts and culture. If you’re in Siem Reap check out their demonstration site which shows visitors the range of crafts and skills being maintained  – from wood and stone carving (which is also helping the regeneration of the Angkor temple site) to silk painting, lacquering and silk weaving.

Training new apprentices annually the organisation now provides work to over 1000 people at different workshops around Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Now run as a social enterprise, reinvesting income back into training more people, the crafts made are aimed at the high end luxury market, which also raises the profile of Cambodian cultural crafts. Frankly I couldn’t afford anything in their boutique shops (of which there is even one in the airport in Phnom Penh which is a fantastic showcase of Cambodian crafts), but the work is of an amazing quality.

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If you visit the site in Siem Reap, get there early to get chance to catch a free lift to their silk workshop which is a 20 minute drive out of town. The silk workshops provided a fascinating insight into the time and skill needed to create silk scarves and clothing, which made it clear why they cost so much. 1 metre of silk fabric generally takes 4 months from extracting the silk from the cocoons to weaving the end product.

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Chi-Phat Community Eco tourism

I visited Chi-phat for 3 days on the way to Phnom Penh. It provided both a unique opportunity to see the Cambodian countryside and stay in a small village at the same time as seeing a positive change in the economy in rural communities.

Formerly a hotspot for poaching and illegal logging, the small Chi-phat community now earns income from approximately 2000 tourists a year visiting and staying with families. Originally set up with assistance of the Wildlife Alliance the community now have a social enterprise through which they provide opportunities to trek in the jungle, mountain bike and learn about the local environment and reforestation projects aimed at regenerating the natural environment.

I’ll write about my 4 days in Chi-phat later, but its great to find an eco-tourism project where all the income stays in the local community and benefits local people, and isn’t a commercial business or providing a façade of ecological and community development.

Travelling, a prayer for teleportation

I love travelling.
Or rather I love arriving new places unexplored by me before. I actually hate travelling.

Sitting in airports, waiting, in transit.

Flying to Cambodia has taken a very long time.
I had a 40 min flight to London, a 11 1/2 hour flight to Hong Kong and then 2 hours 45 to Cambodia. That’s 15 hours and 5 mins of flying. But then in between all that there’s been a lot of sitting about for flights making the whole journey 22 hours or so.
A whole day almost!

And in that duration I wandered around when I could, read, browsed over priced shops of stuff I don’t need, watched a tiny TV, ate prepacked reheated meals and drank rocket fuel strong coffee so I arrived in Cambodia spaced out, sleep deprived and confused. And minus my luggage which had a nice stop over in Hong Kong.

But I love seeing new places and so I travel. The world is huge and too big to see places more than once so I’m in Cambodia determined to see as much as I can while in here.
So there’s going to be a lot more travelling…..

Wandering down the Irwell

Manchester. Not somewhere I would have ever thought I’d write about on here. To start with its not my definition of an adventure since I spent 7 years at the universities there. Manchester is the city I feel at home in, if a country girl is ever going to feel at home in a city.

Nevertheless I found myself out on a city walk run by new manchester walks on Saturday and explored the Irwell, a bit of the city I’ve never really explored before.

We met at Manchester Victoria station which has my favourite map in a building –


I hadn’t realised though that this map was originally an advertising poster for the rail company which explains why the line between Manchester and Sheffield doesn’t exist on it. It doesn’t explain why there are stations for Meltham and Holmfirth despite neither of these places having rail lines!

Fun facts learnt:

– Victoria station once had the longest platform in Europe when Victoria had an adjacent station called Exchange, run by a rival company, and the platforms joined.

– Arches on the wall at the Irwell near the station are originally boat access point from a ticket office which was underground near the Cathedral. During the war these were used as air raid shelters.

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– Mr Brotherton was one of the founders of the Vegetarian Society

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– New Bailey near Salford Station is the site of the last public hanging in Britain in 1867,  for three men who were responsible for shooting a police officer. Their deaths were gruesome as only one died immediately from hanging so it was decided that executions would no longer be done in public.

– The old building next to the People’s History Museum was the pump house talking water from the Rochdale Canal for powering trams in the city and nearby buildings as well as the town hall clock.


– Spinningfields is not named after the textile industry (prevalent in the city) but from the name of a copse of trees in the area.


– Bees are the symbol of Manchester representing the industrial nature of the city, and the City’s crest represents the trade it did with the rest of the world. Salford’s crest emulates its relationship with Manchester as the hub of industrious working and packing.


– The name of the Irwell river comes from ‘ere well, meaning good wishes for trade.

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11 days to go…. Rescue Ramble 2014

Got a free day on the 13th September 2014 and fancy a day walking around the gorgeous countryside of the Holme Valley in Huddersfield?? Fancy doing so on behalf of the local Mountain Rescue Team to help raise a bit of money for their Headquarters appeal?

There are 3 length of walk to undertake – 8 miles, 16 miles and the full 25 miles of the Holme Valley Way.

All routes are on the Bradford & Hudderfield Explorer Map No. 288 which is 1:25,000 scale.  The major part of the routes will be along tracks and paths crossing fells and pastures, with some pathless sections crossing moorland.
While the routes are way‐marked and a full route description will be sent to you prior to the walk if you pre-register, the onus for route finding is with you, the walker. So the challenge is all yours!

If nothing more its a great chance to see the local area, grab yourself some homemade cake at each check point, and get chance to meet members of the team and learn about their work in the local area.

For more details and a registration form see:

The art of walking

I recognise myself in this and love the idea of ‘never walk just for exercise’, given that exercise isn’t in my dictionary I’m sure i manage that one!

The Unquantified Self

“Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

I’ve been a walker all my life.

When I was little, I walked from necessity. I spent my childhood outdoors, and to get from home to anywhere you had to walk.

When I got a little older I woke up to the liberating power of walking.

I walked hundreds of miles on the streets of Berlin when it was still fenced in, still somewhat pockmarked from the war, wistful and forlorn. I walked the ruins, I walked the East, I walked the West. I…

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A day training with RAF Search and Rescue

Mountain Rescue teams in some parts of the UK are more likely to see their local air ambulance respond to incidents than have the RAF Search and Rescue attend in their Sea King helicopter. In Cumbria, Snowdonia and Scotland the RAF Search and Rescue team provide a vital quick service to aid Mountain Rescue teams in getting casualties off the hill quickly.

As a member of the Holme Valley Mountain Rescue Team, in West Yorkshire, we rarely see the RAF Sea King helicopter. Our incidents are just not in very  remote locations which are far from a road or track accessible by vehicle. When we are lucky enough to not have to carry a casualty off the hill we’re more likely to see the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.

Despite that our annual training with the RAF is an exercise which is looked forward to by the team. Even if for the last 3 years they have been unable to join us due to low flying hours, or real incidents to attend to. So this year we went to their based at Leconfield instead.

After a morning briefing, we went out in 3 groups for a flight to practice being lowered in the strops and using the high line to prevent a stretcher from spinning whilst being raised by the winch.

Whatever your political views are of replacing the RAF Search and Rescue teams with private companies, it will certainly be a great loss to not see the Sea King helicopters providing their reassuring rescue service any more.

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