Girl Gang, Assemble! Why New Female Climbers Need Each Other
WHERE YOU’RE AT
Climbing is a challenging sport, and women are already so hard on themselves when they feel as if they can’t achieve, or as if they’re not succeeding quickly enough. As a new climber, your strengths are different from those of your male counterparts. It’s so easy to beat yourself up when you can’t top a route, when you aren’t nailing a move, when you’re not even close. When you climb with women, even those far more experienced than yourself, you have a better benchmark of your skills, how quickly you should be progressing, and even how best to approach a route physically, to take advantage of your own strengths, instead of trying to mirror the strengths of the men climbing around you.
It’s an oversimplification to say that climbing is a sport in which gender doesn’t matter. Watching the world’s best, it’s so easy to see why people say women can climb just as hard as men, but when you’re just starting out as a woman in climbing, it’s so easy to get deterred because of physicality, to see climbing as a sport of raw power, and start to believe that you’ll never be able to climb the same routes as the men around you. New male climbers can rely on power and physical strength more than most new female climbers can. For women starting out, it’s all about learning the technique. Climbing in a predominantly or all-female group becomes a collaborative exercise in problem solving. Instead of burning up the centre of a route and pumping out your muscles, it’s about adapting to the challenging crux sections of the route through physical awareness. Eventually, that results in excellent technique, which often, male climbers don’t learn until much later. Once you start to take it outdoors, you realise that the ability to think laterally somewhat evens the field. There’s no wrong way to get up a route, and all the time you spend indoors trying to problem solve will really pay off.
Perhaps it’s because adult men’s sporting organisations are so much more established than their female equivalents, that so many women find the team aspect of climbing to be such an exciting novelty. Or perhaps it’s because we know that we doubt ourselves, and that we beat ourselves up when we fail. Whatever the reason, to climb with a group of women is to be enveloped in enthusiasm and support. There’s a cheer squad looking up at you from the bottom of the wall, encouraging you, sometimes driving you mad with ‘backseat climbing’. They’ll celebrate your successes, commiserate in your setbacks. They’ll make you feel like part of a tribe.
I’ve met very few male climbers who have put undue pressure on me to climb harder than I’m comfortable with, or capable of. The problem is that we all carry the social construct of gender, constantly whirring in the back of our minds, reminding us that we are expected to behave a certain way, to play a certain role, just because we are women. When we get on the wall with men watching on, whether consciously or unconsciously, we often get this niggling feeling that they’re going to see us as weaker, less experienced climbers, just because we are female. When we feel the urge to prove them wrong, are we more likely to take risks, to make moves we’re not entirely comfortable with, to push ourselves too far? Perhaps not always, but the fact remains that when we climb alone with women, especially when we are just starting out in the sport, it provides a safe environment in which we can establish how we like to climb, what level of risk we are willing to take, even the techniques that feel comfortable on the wall. That way, when we get out with a co-ed crew, we know what works for us, and the focus isn’t on proving ourselves, it’s just on having fun! And everyone knows, the best climber is the one who is having the best time!
Clear skies, and happy adventuring!