Female Climbing Spaces: Why is it so important for women to climb together?
Female climbing spaces are places within climbing where women can feel free of the burdens and expectations of the male ego. Women can climb together and mutually support each other while trying hard and sending. They are often small groups that form out of climbing gyms or climbing clubs in universities. But they have become more commonplace in the last few years, with events like Flash Foxy, (based out of Bishop California) and She Moves Mountains, an all women’s climbing company based out of Bend Oregon.
If you ask most women who climb what it’s like to climb with women instead of climbing with men, they will get a bit glassy eyed and say things like “it’s wonderful!” And, “it’s so supportive!” But if you ask them why, why is it so wonderful and why is it so supportive, their answers begin to fade out. There is an intangible kind of bliss that comes from climbing with women that is difficult to explain.
Female climbing spaces are important.
Climbing is a male dominated sport. And within that space, it can be challenging for women to blossom into their full potential. As a woman it can be difficult to feel isolated within your chosen sport. In my experience, feeling singled out does not enhance my performance, and it can make me feel self conscious or uncomfortable. Finding kinship with other female climbers has helped me, first and foremost, just feel comfortable at the crag.
But beyond that, it has been incredibly empowering to see women who look like me, and climb like me, do the things I wish I could do. If you surround yourself with only men who climb, it can be challenging to emulate the way they climb. Particularly if the men you are climbing with are a lot taller than you.
Body sizes are all variable, but on average, men are taller and have more upper body strength than the average woman.
It doesn’t help me to watch someone who can do 50 pull-ups in a row climb the thing I want to climb, it does help me to watch the shortest person in the group relying on the tendon strength in their fingers and the precision of their footwork climb the thing I want to climb.
There is something special about watching someone with your body type or hand size work a problem you’ve been struggling on and see how they do it. Seeing yourself reflected on the stone makes it possible for you to achieve what you first thought was impossible.
Climbing with women is healing
Recently, at a She Moves Mountains climbing clinic, I had the good fortune to be the photographer for a few women who were trying crack climbing for the first time. I find that when I’m up on a fixed line, working right up next to women trying their hardest, that I become more than just a photographer. I am an emotional coach, support system, and witness to an outpouring of some truly profound emotions that these women are experiencing on the walls.
Climbing can often force us into a fight, flight, or freeze state of mind. For many women, this is the first time in their lives that they are choosing to tackle this brain space within an environment that they can control.
We live in a society that does not teach women to be brave. We do not teach women to face challenges head on. We teach women to hide from challenges. And rightly so. For every woman that faces a challenge head on and succeeds, there is a pile of bodies behind her of women who did not succeed.
I find that for many women, this is the first time they have ever been told that they are strong and witnessed it to be true. They are realizing for the first time that women are both physically and emotionally capable of hard things. And it isn’t enough to just hear the words, but to feel the truth in them with your body.
That is the power of climbing with women. To know in your bones that you are strong, and that she is strong, and that together you are capable of so much more than you have been told all your life.
It’s just rock climbing. I know.
But women have spent centuries being denied the true power of kinship and strength that they have when they work together. And although it is just a sport where we go up to the top of things, it forms bonds beyond just a pile of rocks.
Climbing with women is HEALING.
When women climb with women they learn from each other. When women climb with women, they teach each other. When women climb with women, they form resiliency and bravery.
It is difficult to put into words because it encompasses so much of what women have been denied their entire lives. We don’t always have the language to explain things that are happening to us when we climb with women, but we should continue to seek it out whenever possible.
Cover Photo credit: Kaya Lindsay
About the Gear Tester
Kaya Lindsay is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker with a passion for rock climbing and the outdoors.
In 2016 she converted a Sprinter Van into a tiny home and has been traveling around the US & Canada to pursue her passion for rock climbing. Since hitting the road she has begun a career in filmmaking and is currently working on her One Chick Travels series, highlighting solo female travelers who live and work to pursue an adventurous lifestyle. Her films have been highlighted by major brands such as Backcountry and Outside TV. To fulfill her passion for writing, she chronicles her many adventures in her blog. Professionally, she writes for the adventure sports company Outdoor Prolink and The Climbing Zine. Kaya hopes to spend many more years in her tiny home on wheels, Lyra, and is currently living in Moab Utah.