There's just something different in the air. Spring has already sprung, graduate students are looking even more stressed out than usual, and the Tioga Pass is about to open. This could only mean one thing, SUMMER IS HERE!
Over at Touchstone land, we know that summer is a time where everything happens a little differently. Perhaps you're a student back in town for the summer, or a teacher who final has a little 'YOU' time. Whatever the reason, we've got an awesome deal on NOW.
Presenting... our 3 month Summer Membership. This pre-paid special membership is available now at every Touchstone Climbing gym. Stop by, check it out, and make the most out of your summer!
In early April The SF Park and Recreation department shut down climbing at the 'localest of local' crags, the Beaver Street Wall and Glen Canyon. While a reasons are unconfirmed, we are hoping to work with Bay Area Climbers Coalition, Access Fund and other local climbers to help re-open these areas.
Bay Area climbers Matt Ulery and Tresa Black have been working with the Parks and Rec department to set up a meeting and discuss how the climbing community can work with the city to preserve and protect these areas. "Sure it's small crag," said Ulery. "But if we let the little ones go, then what happens when a larger area is threatened?"
Touchstone Climbing has created post cards with the following text that are available at Mission Cliffs and Dogpatch Boulders.
I am concerned about the proposal to eliminate or prohibit rock climbing activity at Beaver Street Wall and Glen Canyon. Recreation in urban environments like San Francisco is limited, almost non-existant for rock climbers. These are valuable resources to the climbing community. Whether reported complaints are substantiated or not, the climbing community is as firmly against any form of modification to the rock or the associated environment as anyone. We can be part of any solution, if there really is a problem. Please don't restrict rock climbing at Beaver Street Wall and Glen Canyon.
We will be collecting completed cards to present to the Parks and Recreation Department. Please consider stopping by the gym to express your support and try to keep responsible outdoor climbing in San Francisco a reality!
Never been to the crag? Check out the description from Mountain Project:
Located in the city of San Francisco, this area is part of the San Francisco Parks system, so access is not a concern. You're in San Francisco, so the weather can be wonderful, but is most likely going to be foggy and windy. This small area holds some interesting climbing on very glasslike rock, that can be quite tough on the hands, and in places almost impossible to smear. On the harder routes, if you can find it a grip, finger hold, nub, anything, you'll probably need it.
This crag contains some great balancy moves, despite it's limited number of climbs. The area holds several climbs that are topropeable, and also several could potentially be climbed trad, though it would be a frightening lead on the tougher routes. To setup a toprope, walk around the left side of the rock and climb the loose rock in the trees for 20 feet or so. This will lead you to fence and a path, which will lead up to some rusty (but solid) chains that are directly above the main crack. Conceivably you could also top rope other sections using the fence for an anchor. If you're not comfortable with the 20 ft scramble and traverse over potentially slick grass and mud, the chains can be reached via a staircase and walk that ascend toward the Randall Museum about 5 or 6 houses south from Beaver Street. Just bear right as the Museum comes into view above the tennis courts.
The spring season brings longer days and bigger plans for many climbers. Moving faster and more confidently on big days requires a bit of strategy, planning and preparation. If you're getting ready for a big Yosemite climb, here are a few tips to make things move smoother.
Fuel Well- Many climbers eat big dinners the night before a big climb. Packing in all that food makes sleep difficult and eating in the morning becomes a chore. A better approach is to eat a large lunch and then eat lightly at dinner. Sleep comes easier and in the morning, you'll wake up hungry and able to digest food for the day. While climbing, eat light foods when leading. Energy gels and shot blocks digest quickly. When you have a chance to rest, eat some real food like a nice sandwich. Give your body plenty of time to digest. Make sure you are eating and drinking after each pitch.
Move Efficently- Diablo Rock Gym manager, Hans Florine offers some of the best advice for big days of climbing. "Start off fast, just won't last. Start off slow then go, go, go!" Running to the base of a climb, or bolting up the first pitch sounds like a great idea for getting up a route faster but this strategy will tire you out quickly. Climb slowly and be efficient. Having a plan before blasting off the ground can save significant time and prevent problems. Most epics come from poor decision making. Give your plan some thought before executing. 30 seconds of thought can prevent you from an hour of epic.
Look at the weather- Knowing when to go for your climbing objective can be crucial for success. A slight chance of rain can be ok if you are comfortable with bailing. The clouds can provide a pleasant relief from the blistering sun. Avoid climbing in the middle of the day, if warm. Good temps make climbing easier. Make sure to make the most of them. Mid day heat can be exhausting. The sun will burn the stoke right out of you. Check the route the day before for conditions and know what they mean. A dry route but snow on the top might translate into a very wet climb the next day. I made that mistake this morning. From the meadow, El Cap looked perfectly dry but the next morning, it seeped again. Whoops! The 3:30 alarm was a few days premature!
Be Comfortable- Become confident in your ability to bail. Not that you want to bail but bailing should be a non-issue. Knowing that retreat can be quick and easy is relaxing. Be confident on the terrain as well. Knowing that you can easily dispatch all of the pitches makes any impending storm easier or difficulty easier to handle. Learn to get off your hips at each anchor. Hanging in a harness will wear your body down. Take every chance you can to escape harness rash. Rest on ledges and then push through hanging belays. Being efficient at belays and making quick changeovers will help minimize your time hanging in your harness. Sometimes it takes longer to go down than to go up. Be comfortable with either.
Have Fun- Chances are you're in a beautiful place high off the ground with a good friend. These experiences are few and far between. Enjoy the moments that you get out climbing. Having a good attitude and keeping morale high will help things move significantly smoother.
Touchstone Blogger, James Lucas checks in to recount about his recent trip to Mesquite Nevada.
Located between Las Vegas and Zion, Mesquite offers perfect limestone climbing between the two sandstone meccas. For the months of February and March, I traveled in the area, sampling many of the best crags and bouncing between the long sandstone route of Las Vegas and the splitter cracks of Zion.
The desert surrounding Mesquite contains a few different climbing areas. The VRG resides a few miles east of the town. The Cathedral and Wailing Wall sit twenty minutes north east from town as do the Gorilla Cliffs and Black and Tan Wall. Each area offers a vastly different experience.
Dan Mirsky works on Route of All Evil at the VRG
The Virgin River Gorge provides roadside cragging on some of the best limestone in the United States. The VRG holds a high concentration of difficult sport climbs from 5.12 to 5.14 and was one of the primary haunts of Touchstone Stock Boy Scott Frye. The crimpy, technical nature of the climbing combined with the bold style makes the area difficult. Perhaps more bothersome at the crag is the highway. Sitting above a four lane highway with semi-trucks barreling down, hearing your climbing partner yell above the noise proves to be one of the cruxes of the climbing experience. Despite the noise, I managed to eek out the two 5.11 warm-ups at the crag and then injured myself by falling out of a heel-toe cam. Whoops! I spent a fair bit of time punting on the classics before realizing that the VRG was a great place to project difficult climbs but not the best place to have a fun and leisurely day of rock climbing.
Mary-Kate Meyerhoffer cruises up Pocket Line at the Wailing Wall
The Cathedral and Wailing Wall provide a significantly better setting. While the rock quality pales in comparison to the VRG, the areas host a variety of sport climbs from 5.10 to 5.14. I spent the majority of my time climbing on the more technical Wailing Wall as apposed to the steep cave of the Cathedral. The limestone edges strengthened my fingers. Getting to the crag is a bit of an ordeal as it involves driving from Mesquite to Beaver Dam then continuing on a small highway to ten miles of dirt road and an arduous forty minute hike to the crag. I spent the majority of my time climbing at this area with the goal of climbing all the 5.12 and under routes at the Wailing Wall. I accomplished my goal but not without breaking a few holds, lowering off slung limestone horns and doing enough on route gardening to make Martha Stewart impressed.
Matt Pincus cuts loose at the Black & Tan Wall
Beyond the VRG and the Cathedral area, the climbing around Mesquite has a number of smaller often overlooked crags. The Black and Tan wall offers VRG quality limestone in a significantly more boulder style. The routes required ballistic power. As do the short route of the Gorilla Cliffs. Just outside of town is an area known as Lime Kiln Road. The Grail, which is a large limestone diamond, sits a few minutes outside of town and has a number of longer, slabby sport pitches. Exploring each of these areas provided significant adventure. I found little to no information on the routes at the Grail Wall and did a fair bit of vision questing, hoping that the routes I climbed on would not prove to be over my abilities.
One of the best camping spots ever is located on the BLM land outside of Beaver Dam
While the limestone is awesome around Mesquite, the town leaves something to be desired. The town sits on the time change of Nevada and Utah. One moment the clock reads nine am and the next moment it says 8. The constant time change coupled with the casinos gives the town an odd, broken feel. Mesquite offers amenities in terms of a large Walmart, a decent grocery store and a number of bad Mexican restaurants. The public library provides the only free Wi-Fi and the aquatic center in town sells $5 showers.
Overall, the climbing around Mesquite is some of the best limestone in the states. The variety as well as the density of a number of the crags makes it an awesome fall through spring destination.
Where: Indian Rock - Castle Rock State Park, Los Gatos
When: Saturday, April 26
Hosted by: Bay Area Climbers Coalition
Details: Indian Rock (in the South Bay) is one of the premier Bay Area crags with amazing bouldering, top rope, and sport climbs. Many climbers know it as the "sweet free parking spots for Castle Rock" but many more know it as home to some of the best boulder problems in the greater Castle Rock area. Support your local climbing area and come to the Indian Rock Clean-up.
Volunteers are needed to help with the construction of a trail from upper to lower Indian Rock. The current trail is causing erosion issues, and in general is unsafe and unsightly for climbers, hikers, and other users of the park space. We will also be doing general clean-up of glass and trash around the different climbing areas.
Join the Bay Area Climbers Coalition in partnering with the Santa Clara County Parks department to take on some needed cleaning and maintenance around Indian Rock. Besides all the awesome work that we will be doing, there will also be tasty free food, VIP/reserved parking, sweet raffle prizes, and post clean-up event sloper crushing!
For complete info, visit the Facebook Event Page and Pre-Register Here!
Every hour of time you donate to a crag helps show land managers that climbers are responsible stewards. Grab some friends and a pair of work gloves and spend a day giving back to the sport you love! We hope to see you there!
Touchstone Climbing will be hosting SCS Youth Climbing competitions at three different locations this spring, bringing USA climbing to the Bay Area! We are excited to be trying something new and we’re thrilled to be able to make it a very exciting comp season for both youth competitors and our members.
Here is the schedule for the Spring SCS Comp series at Touchstone:
Locals: April 12th at The Studio Climbing
Regionals: May 10th at Berkeley Ironworks
Divisionals: June 14/15th at Mission Cliffs
“We’re really excited to be able to host these events and support our young climbers,” said Head Routesetter Jeremy Ho. Touchstone route setters will be setting the comp routes for the event with two guest setters. “Comp setting is different from our usual style of setting. You can expect more volumes, more mantles, and more intellectual movement. The setting doesn’t necessarily focus solely on the strength of the climbing, but on the mental growth in climbing.”
What Youth Competitors need to know:
Get psyched everyone! For the first time in [possibly] your whole lives, Touchstone Climbing will be hosting climbing comps right here on your home turf! This means that you’ll have the home field advantage while competing in local, regional, and divisional competitions.
These are USA Climbing events, which means to compete you need to register and pay an entry fee ahead of time.
Locals: The Studio Climbing The Studio Climbing is located in downtown San Jose and is built inside of an old movie theater. The route walls are over 45 ft high and the unique layout of the building makes it an awesome gym to climb and spectate.
Regionals: Berkeley Ironworks BIW is one of Touchstone’s oldest gyms and the lead cave is the stuff of legend! With plenty of free parking and Berkeley Bowl only a few blocks away, it’s a very commuter friendly gym to compete at. If you didn’t compete at two local comps, you can still compete at regionals, however you will not be able to move on to divisionals.
Divisionals: Mission Cliffs MC’s recent expansion added 5,000 square feet of brand new terrain to the gym, and boy oh boy do those new colors POP! Located in the Mission District of San Francisco, we are walking distance from a BART station and on several bus lines.
What members need to know:
Don’t worry loyal members, we haven’t forgotten about you! While the gyms will be a big of a zoo on the days of the comps, we will still be open for business as usual. Feel free to come by and climb, workout, or cheer in the little whipper snappers who are campusing your project.
But the real fun will be the day AFTER the comps. You know, when the kids have gone home but there are still a plethora of comp style routes…?! Yeah. We’ll be hosting events at each location the day after the SCS comps, so us big kids can have a shot at the routes! We’ll have scorecards, prizes, and vendors to make it a big event. Be sure to mark your calendar and come test your comp climbing skills!
We will have events at The Studio Climbing, Berkeley Ironworks, and Mission Cliffs.
“Comp style climbing at a Touchstone Climbing Comp? Yes Please!” said long time Touchstone Climbing member Alex Witte. I’m so excited to see the exciting movement that our setters comp up with!”
On March 13th, the world lost an amazing man in Zion National Park in a base jumping accident. Sean “Stanley” Leary was well known in the climbing world. In Yosemite, he had climbed El Capitan more than 50 times and established new rock routes across North America. He explored new lines in the Arctic, Patagonia, Baffin Island, and Venezuela.
Dean Fidelman photo
Beyond his climbing achievements, Stanley was an accomplished BASE (buildings, antennae, spans and earth) jumper. He often flew in a squirrel suit, a specially designed wing suit which increased glide ratios. He established new exits around the world and helped revolutionize BASE jumping.
Born in San Joaquin County on Aug. 23, 1975, Sean Leary grew up in the small Northern California town of Pine Grove. More recently, he lived between his family home in El Portal and with his ophthalmoligist wife, Annamieka in Sacramento.
Climbers from across the world, gathered in Zion National Park to help with the recovery. Because Sean didn't just rock climb and BASE jump, he touched people's lives.
While climbing The Zodiac on El Capitan with Bryan “Coiler” Kay, Sean neglected to bring a real wall climbing hammer. Instead, he dug through his draws in El Portal and produced a humble carpenter’s tool, a Stanley hammer. The nickname stuck.
I met Stanley in 2001, when I first arrived in Yosemite. He invited me to boulder with him in Curry. Over the years, we climbed together, we laughed together, we became friends.
Years ago, I pulled brush and tossed it in a pile. Stanley ran around the yard, sawing trees at random. A Yosemite local hired Stanley to clear the brush for fire hazards. I was there because Stanley had been complaining. He loved to complain. His hot wife wanted to have sex with him so he had to drive all the way from Yosemite to Sacramento. The upcoming Arctic expedition meant he’d never get strong enough for his Jailhouse sport project. Stanley could transform gold to iron.
“The owners are paying me a ton of money to not climb,” Stanley said. I knew Stanley could use the money and I needed a climbing partner. If we finished the job, then we could both go climbing. We spent half a day working before Stanley lost motivation. Stanley hated work, preferring to live.
“I’ll give you money when I stop by the ATM,” Stanley said. I shrugged. Stanley agreed to climb the West Face of the Leaning Tower with me. That’s what I wanted. Snow fell while we worked the route. Stanley freed a steep section of granite, a thousand feet off the ground. He climbed behind a white curtain. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Stanley sent the route the next week. I worked on the route for a while and eventually, I freed it. Stanley sent me an excited congratulation note, my hero telling me I was rad.
A year later, we stood by the Yosemite lodge. I’d recalled his climbing through the storm, having long forgotten about the job. He’d inspired me.
“Oh yeah, I finally made it to the ATM,” Stanley said. He opened his wallet and stuffed money into my hand. I laughed.
“1…2…3…go!” Stanley said, laughing. In the summer of 2013, Stanley hit the stop watch and I started running up steep granite. Sickle. Stove Legs. King Swing. I looked down. Stanley was fifteen feet below me staring at the birds swooping by. Great Roof. Changing Corners. Bolt Ladder. I looked up. Stanley was at the top, shouting for me to run run run. I touched the tree. Panting hard. Stanley laughed. I wasn’t sure what happened in between. I’d been attached to a bullet. We’d just climbed the Nose of El Capitan in 6 hours.
Stanley climbed fast. On El Cap, at Jailhouse, at the climbing gym, his gazelle-esque climbing style helped him establish numerous difficult free ascents and set speed records. When we climbed the Nose, all I wanted to do was go home and eat elk burgers. Stanley wanted climb more at the Cathedral boulders. He had a circuit there on lock down and could dispatch the classics easily. We would joke about going to "onsight" the Cathedrals. He would quickly tick away the problems. Stanley had an unbridled, manic energy.
Stanley owned two dogs. Nexpa looked like Stanley- thin and fast. He loved her dearly and would coo, “Oh Nexie.” Then he would end her shivering by wrapping her in his down jacket. Stanley found her as a puppy on the side of the road near El Potrero Chico, Mexico. Her throat had been slit. He nursed the dog back to health. Her scar remained. More recently, Stanley showed up at Mortar Rock with an energetic puppy. Bravo darted around with Stanley’s unbridled energy. Stanley and Annamieka rescued a second dog so Nexpa could have someone to lord over. They also wanted to add a little to their family.
In 2010, Stanley married Annamieka in El Cap meadow. The wedding was small and intimate. I had met Mieka in the parking lot of Toulumne years before. Quiet and beautiful in the rain, she’d smiled and been very nice to me. After dropping off his truck at the mechanics in Mariposa, getting medicine for Nexpa, and doing a bit of climbing, I dropped Stanley off at his place that he shared with Mieka in Berkeley. She smiled when I saw her and was very nice to me. Seeing Stanley with her, I saw their love for each other.
Beyond his many climbing brothers, Stanley was expanding his family. Mieka recently became pregnant. Stanley was nervous about having a child but he was nervous about all the important things in life. He would have made a great father. Mieka is due at the end of May.
Last week in Zion, climbers from across North America rallied to help search for Stanley. It was an intense time. I cursed Stanley for making me bush whack through the cactus in the desert furnace. It was an adventure that he wasn’t on. I loved him for allowing me to meet his family- his mother, his sister, his brothers, to spend time with Annamieka. Mostly, I missed him. He was a great person to have had in my life.
A memorial account has been set up for Annamieka and the baby.
Mountain America Credit Union
Sean "Stanley" Leary Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 9001
West Jordan, UT 84084
Join yoga instructor Sandra Razieli in a Yogathon to raise funds for Mind Body Solutions, an organization that makes yoga available to people who have suffered from trauma, loss and disability.
I am happy to share that I am participating in a yogathon called Kiss My Asana. It's a fundraiser for Mind Body Solutions, an organization whose members are doing great work in the world. I invite you to read more about it below or go directly to the website to sponsor me.
Those of you who have been in my classes, practiced yoga with me, played soccer with me, shared the bimah or have just hung out together, know that one of my favorite poses is what I affectionately call Bigasana. It’s simple -take your legs wide, take your arms wide and breathe. Open to the space around you, open to your potential, open to life.
This is what Mind Body Solutions does for so many people and in order for them to do it more, they need financial support.
Mind Body Solutions is a Minnesota based organization whose mission is to transform trauma, loss and disability into hope and potential by awakening the connection between mind and body. They are best known for adapting yoga for persons living with disabilities. They also offer innovative workshops for caregivers and healthcare professionals, teaching to integrate practical mind-body techniques into daily practices, resulting in more satisfied, committed caregivers and better patient outcomes.
To support them, I am participating in their Kiss My Asana Yogathon and I invite you to join me in this endeavor. For the month of April, I will dedicate my practice to focusing on opening up some of my constricted places; to step into what is more difficult for me. I tend to love forward bends and avoid backbends. So for this month, I'm going to dedicate my practice to backbends. You may find me teaching them more often in class too.
I invite you to sponsor me (all the money goes directly to Mind Body Solutions) or make your own page and ask others to sponsor you.
Connecting with this fascinating, sometimes frustrating, sometimes exhilarating experience of living with and in my body has led me to more fully embrace life and simply feel better. This is an experience that I want to share as widely as possible. And this is why I teach and practice.
I am grateful for any way that you can support this endeavor.
Reader Q and A
In a blog post last week entitled 'Learning to Sport Climb,' we included the following statement when giving tips on climbing routes. "..Feeling relaxed on a sport route is essential. Breathe well. Move efficiently. Despite 13 years of climbing, I still get terrified climbing. To overcome my fear on a difficult route, I test falls. “Every time I fall, I get less scared,” said Mary-kate. Being comfortable with the falls will help you move fluidly and well."
After the post, a reader reached out with the following question:
I wanted to ask this in message concerning your recent blog post. One of the things mentioned was 'test' falling. Everything I have read on climbing contradicts this idea. "If you fall, you fail" is what I have always heard. The equipment is a safety net, not an aid, and resting on your harness/anchor puts undue strain on it. Plus, you never know how good the bolt is unless you placed it yourself. Am I reading your blog post wrong, or am I mis-informed? Thank you for providing the gyms as a great place to learn.
We wanted to really tackle this interesting question that mixes safety, ethics, and climbing culture. Justin Alarcon, manager of Dogpatch Boulders and avid climber jumped at the chance to respond.
I'll offer you two answers, a short one and a long one. The short answer is that in the past falling was not okay because it meant you were likely to get hurt. Even to this day a climb is not considered a free climb unless it is done without the use of aid (including hanging on the rope) except at belay stances. In modern sport climbing and top rope climbing falling is a regular part of the activity, though one should not claim a free ascent of a route if they had to hang on the rope before making it to the top.
Long answer, and forgive me if I ramble here because there is actually a lot to say on this subject.
In early climbing history climbers had very little to protect themselves with. They climbed using static goldline rope tied around their waists and very little protection in the rock (if any) to protect a fall. If they somehow managed to escape a fall unscathed but were left hanging on the rope it would quickly start to crush their rib cage and make it difficult to breath. It wasn't a pleasant experience. This is why the 'do not fall' mentality is so ingrained in climbing culture even to this day.
As climbing technology improved, dynamic ropes were invented, nuts supplemented bolts and pitons, swami belts and eventually harnesses replaced a rope tied around one's waist, falling became less hazardous. Climbing standards went up as a result. No longer was 5.9 the limit. Still, the old mentality persisted. Yo-yo-ing a route was a technique that was born out of these developments. 'Yo-yo-ingA climber could try a difficult route, one that they might expect to fall on, but the ethics of the day dictated that they would then be lowered to the ground where they could begin again without having to pull the rope or all the gear they left on the climb.
The next development in climbing tactics was the 'hangdog' technique whereby a climber would fall, hang on the rope and try again to sort out the moves. Once the moves were learned they would lower, pull the rope and gear, finally starting again from the bottom with the intention of climbing it from bottom to top without falling.
In the early 1970s Kurt Albert of Germany started a free climbing revolution by developing a technique now known as 'redpointing' or 'Rotpunkt' in German. Kurt realized that by using hangdog techniques over a long period of time he could master very difficult climbs that he would never be able to climb first try, without any prior knowledge of the route (a style we now call 'onsight').
So, fast forward another 40 years and here we are today. There are a lot of people that really hold dear the old-school belief that onsight climbing is the purest style of climbing. These die-hards are the ones most likely to propagate the adage 'falling is failing' and they're not wrong in so far as the pursuit of their goals. Other climbers are more interested in testing their limits by climbing the most difficult series of moves they can possibly climb. Almost by definition, these climbers must rehearse the climbs they're trying, which means falling and hanging on the route. Neither camp is right nor wrong, they're just different.
As far as safety is concerned there are several things to consider. If you are sport climbing, bolts should be free of corrosion, nuts should be tight and bolt hangers should be the same type of metal as the bolt. Unfortunately, its impossible to know how well the bolt was placed, but with modern drills it is pretty easy and you can reasonably assume that a popular route with no signs of corrosion probably has decent bolts. For traditional climbs, even those with a few bolts, there are other considerations. The bolts on these routes (especially old routes) are often crappy and could snap or pull if they are in poor condition. If you are using cams or nuts you have to consider the quality of the rock and the quality of the placement. Even a well placed cam in fragile rock may fail. Conversely, a skinny nut on a thin wire placed in a perfect crack with solid rock can be as strong as a well placed bolt.
Regardless of what kind of climbing you're doing, you'll always want to be aware of the condition of your rope. A high quality rope can last a very long time and hold a ton of falls without any noticeable dip in performance. That said, even a brand new rope can be cut in half by a sharp edge on the very first fall if one isn't careful.
If you are climbing in the gym don't worry too much about the ethics of it all. Just have a good time and do what feels right.
I hope this helps, and wish you good luck in your climbing adventures.
By guest blogger Georgie Abel
"You're pretty strong for a girl," he says to me. I clench my jaw. I'm sitting around a campfire in the Buttermilks with three of my closest male friends. The apparent attempt at a compliment comes from a guy we met earlier that day. The space between my shoulder blades aches from multiple burns on my project and I'm mentally exhausted. I tilt my beer back, trying to muster the energy to come back with some witty response, even though I just want to pretend I'm one of those girls who isn't bothered by a comment like that. My eye catches a glance from one of my friends. His brow furrows and his mouth looks tight, he does not approve of what the dude said. I know in that moment that I shouldn't either.
"That's a really weird thing to say," I say to the guy. "That compliment was spiked with something that feels pretty demeaning." My friend's face softens and he nods, the other guy doesn't know what to say. He doesn't climb with us the next day.
Being a climber and a writer naturally makes me a curious person. Being a woman in a sport that is ruled (for the most part) by men makes for a lot of gender-related experiences, all of which I find to be really interesting. I knew that other female climbers were interested in this too, and that they had stories of their own about being a woman in the bro-ed out world of rock climbing. I wanted to hear their stories. So, I asked.
I asked almost 100 female climbers of varying ages and ability levels to tell me a story about a notable experience they had while climbing with a male. Most of the women are from the San Francisco Bay Area, some are from elsewhere in the United States, and a few are overseas. I have kept their names anonymous, mostly for the sake of the men who their stories are about.
I have arranged this article in the same manner that the responses were received. Initially I was told about moments when women felt degraded, looked down upon, or judged. Then, slowly, the positive stories started coming in--stories of empowerment, inspiration, and recognition. You'll find those accounts toward the end of the article. No matter the age, strength, or experience level of the woman, the themes of their negative experiences could easily be grouped under a few main categories. I decided to share only a fraction of the stories I received, selecting the ones I did because they echoed what many other women had expressed, or because they were particularly hilarious.
These are the true stories of female climbers--from five-year old girls who only climb the routes in the gym that have purple tape, to professional female climbers who have established routes on multiple continents, competed for national titles, and ticked countless 5.14s. And of course, all of us in between.
Here is what we've experienced while climbing with the boys.
- There was no conversation about who would lead what pitch, he just assumed I didn't want to lead at all.
- He told me not to worry because there were some smaller, easier boulders down the hill, unaware that I was completely comfortable with highballs and trying hard boulder problems.
- He set up a top rope on a climb I had led as a warm up several times in the past and told me it would be a little heady for me.
- He kept on shouting beta to me on a climb that was like five V-grades below what I usually climb.
- This guy was spotting me on Acid Wash, a really low climb in the Happy boulders. I really didn't want a spot because it's so low and I had enough pads, and he wasn't spotting any of his guy friends.
- One time a boy said I probably couldn't do the one he did because I don't play any sports.
- All of my friends had to leave Smith, so I met up with this guy who was a mutual friend. I had never climbed with him before. We got to the wall and he started teaching me how to tie a figure eight knot. This was the day after I sent my first 5.13.
Discouraging women from trying hard, heady, or powerful climbs:
- He told me I should stick to vertical climbing because girls aren't built to climb anything steep.
- We were climbing at the Red and he said I shouldn't try anything in the Motherlode because women don't usually like those kinds of routes.
- My boyfriend was belaying me on Pope's Crack in Joshua Tree and some random guy walked past him and said, "Bro, I hope you know this isn't one of those easy climbs. She probably shouldn't be on that."
- The same dude at Dogpatch tells me not to even attempt a problem because it's too hard for me because I'm short.
- I like climbing with girls because they say, "Good job! You're almost there!" And they cheer me on. Boys don't usually say that stuff.
- A guy told me I probably shouldn't try any highballs because women are all afraid of heights, and the only reason why they climb heady stuff is because they want to be seen as a badass.
- My climbing partner never encourages me to try anything harder than what he can climb.
- One time this guy I barely knew told me that if I was going to try this certain route that I should be very careful because it's sandbagged, has tricky pro, long runouts, and insecure feet. I did the route and yeah, it was hard, but none of what he said was true.
- He discouraged me from climbing a certain boulder problem because he said if I sent it, it would probably get downgraded.
Being Bro-ey, Cocky, or Douchy
- When I said that I wanted to onsight a route he started racking the quick draws on to his harness and said that putting up the draws was the only was he could control the situation of me leading.
- One time at a birthday party there was a boy who climbed all the routes I couldn't get to the top of and then he told me about it a lot.
- He told me that I need to wear Lululemons to do a high step.
- I was warming up in the gym and this guy started tickling me while I was climbing.
- I don't think I'll want to climb with boys when I get older because I usually don't like people who show their nipples in public.
- About five other girls and I were trying Go Granny Go in the Buttermilks and this guy came and did it in his approach shoes and then did pull ups on the finish jug.
- When we were climbing in Joshua Tree he asked me and my friend if our boyfriends had given us enough pro for the climb we were about to do.
- I climbed with a boy once and he got mad because he couldn't get to the top.
- I was climbing a boulder problem in the local climbing gym and about four guys were watching me climb, but none of them pulled the mats underneath me. I fell and landed on the floor, which is cement.
- There is this one guy at the gym who follows me around and only climbs the boulder problems I try, even though he is much stronger than me.
- One time one of the boys in my climbing camp was belaying me and I looked back at him and he wasn't looking at me so I got really scared. I think he was looking at his friend doing a handstand.
Attributing our strength to something other than...our strength:
- I overheard a guy say that the only reason why this girl sent Tales of Power in Yosemite is because she has tiny hands.
- He told me that I was better at slab climbing than him because having my center of gravity lower on my body gives me an advantage.
- After I sent my project, he said that it was probably easier for me than him because I weigh less.
- Whenever I send something that climbers typically think of as "girly" (slabby, balancy, delicate, or crimpy) he always mentions that I did it because I'm a girl.
- If I can climb a crimpy boulder problem he can't, he says it's because I have small hands.
- One time when I was climbing with a male, I suggested that we avoid a certain pitch because I had a bad feeling about it. It looked like it could be chossy and maybe even wet. We ended up doing a variation that led us to the left of the line we were originally planning to do, and as we climbed we could see that it was in fact chossy and damp. He asked, "Who told you to avoid that pitch?" totally assuming that I couldn't have predicted the bad conditions all on my own.
So there you have it. To be honest, when the stories started rolling in, I cringed a little (after laughing out loud in a coffee shop and nodding my head in agreement). I so badly didn't want to write some man-hating article that bashed on dudes and didn't address the fact that men can be valuable climbing partners. But, that's not what I was hearing from the girls. I thought to myself: where are the stories of that time you sent your highball project because you had some burly dude spotting you? What about when that guy said, "You're gonna crush this," even after he flailed? What about when he asked you if you thought you guys should rappel down or walk off the back, because you're always good at judging that kind of stuff? What about that time it wasn't about gender at all, what about when it was just rock climbing?
Slowly, I started hearing about these experiences. I didn't have to ask for them. It usually happened like this: a woman would tell me about a time a guy did something totally degrading, and then a few minutes or days later, she would come back and say something such as, But I have a lot of male climbing partners who don't act like this. Many of them treat me no differently than their guy friends and recognize that I bring something unique and valuable to the table, that they can learn things from me that they can't learn from male climbers.
Yes, how true that is: women experience this sport in a way that is so different from men, and we all have a lot to learn from each other. All of the negative stories were that of men assuming we had nothing to teach them. That's the common thread.
I received one story about a positive experience while climbing with a male that captures the spirit and character of all the other stories as well. Here is it:
I'm all racked up. My shoes are on, uncomfortable as always. They feel tighter than normal. The brisk Squamish air bites at the back of my neck. I tuck the remaining stray peices of hair behind my helmet. I take a deep breath and look up at my climb. I think of turning to my partner and telling him to go ahead. Tie in to the sharp end, I want to say. Lead this pitch. Lead all of the pitches. It's not that hard. You're much better than me anyways. My pride or my stubbornness stops me. My male counterpart is a much stronger climber than me and he's much more experienced - perhaps not in trad climbing, but he's certainly been exposed (and exceled) at this sport much longer than I have. Squamish used to be his stomping grounds anyways and for more than one reason I feel like I haven't earned my spot here. I feel pre-emptively embarassed and also that I have something to prove. You've got this, he tells me. Against almost exactly 50% of my will, I slip my hand into the crack. I make a fist and feel the granite against my knuckles. Right, I think. This is about climbing. Four pitches later and we're at the top, looking over a beautiful deep blue sky filled with clouds and mountains. I stopped being concerned with if the climb was hard enough or if my technique was good enough a long time ago, somewhere on Pitch 1. I looked at my partner and his male-ness did not concern me, impress me, depress me, or intimidate me. In fact it did not enter into my mind at all. It was just beauty and human-ness that filled my soul now. Weeks later we are sitting in his father's kitchen, recounting details of our Canadian explorations. He says, completey seamlessly, that I'm actually the better climber in a lot of ways. I think he's insane but that is besides the point. He tells of how he respects the way I push my limits, how I deal with my fear. He is being genuine. Honest. His ego isn't in the room and though he could walk up boulder problems I could only dream of one day touching, he isn't concerned with that. He's not trying to prove anything. I didn't need his validation; certainly not in the way that I as a female would want validation from a male. It's not about who the better climber is and in what ways. It never really is about that, for me at least. I didn't need his encouragement as a male, only as a climbing partner. And yet. I have to admit that I've had enough experiences as a female climber that make me weary; weary of being judged, weary of being undervalued, weary of being categorized by something other than my experience or my ability. I'm not afraid because I'm a girl. I'm afraid because I'm 30 feet up on a highball and this crimp is fucking tiny. I'm not sending my projects - not because I'm a girl, but because I haven't been training. You can go ahead and include me in the list of people who would like to lead this pitch. I'm a girl and I'm also capable of placing gear. Sometimes those dynamics are real and sometimes they are imagined. But what a nice experience to have had, a really lovely break from the chain of stereotypical bro-yness that can wear us ladies down sometimes. I'm sure we have our own stereotypes to break too. I've tried my best to let go of taking too seriously the gendered aspect of climbing now. There are those experiences that will re-affirm the great things about climbing with guys and there are the experiences that will inspire us to prove them wrong. It's kind of a win-win if you ask me.
A sincere thank you goes to all of the women who contributed their stories. You are the authors of this article. I'll leave you with more of their words; this is very important and overdue: To the males respecting and encouraging the females out there, a big thank you. We know you need the respect and encouragement too and we've got your back.