A Climbing Chat With The Ladies
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that rock climbing is primarily a male driven sport. Sure, there are lots of women who climb. There are even a lot of women who climb really well. But anyone who’s ever spent a day at the crag will quickly realize the male to female ratio rarely leans in favor of the girls.
Climbing routes are almost always established by men and climbing grades are almost always based on a consensus of men. Which means, if you’re not at least 5’8” with a super strong upper body and skinny little legs (sorry guys. . . it’s kind of true) you will often find that the “approved” beta simply doesn’t work for you.
I’ve lived in this world for nearly fourteen years. At first I had a hard time dealing with huge muscle bound guys that assumed I wanted them to hang a top rope for me on their warm-ups. I always dreaded the moment when these guys would figure out that I was a better climber than them and then make a big deal of it, like it mattered.
Throughout my climbing career I have made many female friends and I’ve always enjoyed talking to them about their experiences in a male driven sport. We share hilarious stories of awkward crag moments when we were misjudged or assumptions were made just because we’re girls.
Over the years I’ve kept a mental list of advice or suggestions I’d give to a girl new to the climbing world.
That list came in handy recently when I had the opportunity to sit down and chat about climbing with over a dozen women. They ranged in climbing ability and experience and all had lots of great questions. We sat down for nearly an hour during the Rifle Climbers’ Festival this past July.
Here’s what we came up with…
1. Sometimes girls cry
I did a poll of the group of women I was sitting with. Every single one of them admitted to having cried while climbing. Whether they were frustrated, angry, upset about a fight they’d had with a boyfriend, or just feeling defeated, at some point it had come out in tears while they were climbing.
It would seem that most men do not break down and cry while they are climbing and therefore do not really understand this phenomena. As a matter of fact, in life I’ve never really been in a situation where a guy had any idea how to handle the fact that I was all of a sudden in tears. The problem is, when you go climbing you’re almost guaranteed to have to return to the ground and be surrounded by men who are looking at you like you’re a crazy person.
My advice is simple. If you find yourself crying on a route, clip in direct and take a few minutes to calm yourself down. It’s safe to say that if you’re in tears you’re probably not going to be performing at your best. You’re not going to become less frustrated, angry, or sad if you keep throwing yourself at a bunch of moves that are beating you down.
Once you’re calm, you can either keep climbing if you think you can have some fun with it, or you can come down to the ground and move on with the day. Either way, leave the tears on the route.
2. You are not too short and you cannot use that as an excuse.
We’ve all said at some point or another that we’re too short to do a move. Believe me, I understand this idea. I’m 5’3” and have a negative two ape index (my wing-span is two inches shorter than my height). There are many times I’ve been unable to do a move the way I’d seen my male friends do it. And I have plenty of female friends who are even shorter than me.
Here’s the thing. I have always been able to find a way around not being able to reach something, unless it’s a mandatory dyno in which case I just find a route that’s less silly. Look for higher feet, find other holds that don’t have chalk on them, get creative. There are so many short women, and men, who find their way around long reaches.
Plus, this excuse is going to get you nothing but eye rolling and zero sympathy from the guys at the crag. And it certainly isn’t going to get you any closer to sending your project.
3. Learn how to politely tune-out beta from the tall, although well meaning, men around you.
It’s not that they aren’t correct, or that the advice isn’t sometimes useful. The problem with beta from big dudes is that their bodies are so much different from that of a woman. Even is the height is the same, our center of gravity is different and therefore the balance of any given move is going to be different.
I’ve been in many uncomfortable situations where a guy simply won’t let it go and insists that I try their ridiculous lock-off beta. Once I even had to make my boyfriend push my entire body against an extremely overhanging wall before the beta-spewer would except that his foothold was literally 18 inches too low for me to even consider using it!
My personal favorites lines for this problem are… “Thanks, I see what you’re talking about, I just want to see if there’s another way that I like more.” or “thanks, but I want to figure this out for myself.”
4. Sometimes it’s best to be upfront and direct about the grade of routes you want to climb on.
There is nothing more uncomfortable than telling someone you’ve just met how hard you climb. I’m not sure why this is, but I’ve always hated this part of a climbing conversation. I think it’s because I know that how hard I climb, or the person I’m talking to, has no bearing on whether I’m going to want to be friends with this person (see point 5).
However, as much as how difficult you can climb has nothing to do with a potential friendship, it can seriously effect a day of climbing with a stranger.
Case and point. Many years ago my dear friend Kate McGinnis and I were gearing up to go climbing at the Dark Side in the Red River Gorge. We each had projects there and were psyched to spend the day trying really hard. Along comes a very nice guy who asks if he can come climbing with us. He was new to the area and just needed a partner for the day. We told him where we were headed and figured that he understood that the easiest climb at the crag was 12a and that was going to be the warm-up for the day.
Apparently we’d all made some wrong assumptions that morning. Kate and I assumed that this nice fella knew what he was getting into when he jumped in the car. He assumed that he’d have a great day of hanging our top-ropes and maybe even get a girlfriend out of the situation.
Needless to say, this poor guy couldn’t climb anything at the crag and had to spend his day watching us send our projects. We finally had to drive to a different crag later that afternoon so he could at least do a pitch or two!
I think we all learned a valuable lesson that day. Assumptions… they’re rarely correct and therefore it’s best to be upfront.
5. Being a good climber does not make someone any better/or worse of a person.
This one isn’t just about women. After many years of climbing I’ve found that people tend to think that better climbers are better people and thus more fun to be around. I’ve found this simply isn’t true. How hard you climb has absolutely nothing to do with anything other than how hard you climb and therefore should have no effect on the friendships you choose (although it might effect the climbing partner you choose for the day).
Thanks to all the ladies who took the time out of their day to sit down and chat with me. I look forward to the next time and adding more points to my little list.
~ Jen Vennon, prAna Ambassador
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